In an article by Kathleen Peddicord in Huffington Post titled "The World's 12 best places to retire in 2016", Penang has been given the #6 ranking.
The secret to taking control of your retirement in 2016 and making this phase of life a grand adventure, even if your retirement nest egg is modest, is expanding your horizons. Take your retirement global and you can maximize your quality-of-life return for every dollar spent.
Where should you go?
Here are your 12 best options for where to retire overseas this New Year:
#1 Algarve, Portugal
For the third year running, Algarve, Portugal, is our pick for the world's best place to retire, thanks to its low cost of living, low cost of real estate, great weather, established expat community, user-friendly and low-cost retiree residency program, and endless options for how to meaningfully fill your days and evenings.
In addition, you can get by speaking only English (thanks to the region's strong historic and cultural links with England), and I'd say that the stunningly beautiful Algarve coast is one of the safest places on earth right now.
The Algarve is home to more than 100,000 resident foreign retirees, all here embracing the best of Europe, from medieval towns and fishing villages to open-air markets and local wine. This is a land of cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses with lace-patterned chimneys, surrounded everywhere by fig, olive, almond, and carob trees.
Thinking more practically, the Algarve also offers great weather, with 3,300 hours of sunshine per year, meaning more sunny days than almost anywhere else in Europe, and some of Europe's best-kept sandy beaches. The Algarve's 100 miles of Atlantic coastline is punctuated by jagged rock formations, lagoons, and extensive sandy beaches, many awarded coveted Blue Flags from the European Blue Flag Association. In addition, the region boasts 42 golf courses in less than 100 miles and is generally recognized as a top golfing destination in continental Europe and the world.
Health care is international-standard in this part of the world, and medical tourism is a growing industry.
The cost of living in Portugal is among the lowest in Western Europe, on average 30% lower than in any other country on the Continent. The affordable cost of living and of real estate is compounded right now by a weak euro, meaning a retired couple could live here comfortably on a budget of as little as $1,500 per month. With a budget of $2,000 per month or more, you could enjoy a fully appointed lifestyle in the heart of Old Europe.
#2 Cayo, Belize
Belize is one of the quirkiest countries in the world. Geographically, Belize is in Central America, yet its strongest ties are to the English-speaking Caribbean. Belize is Caribbean, Central American... and, thanks to its history as a former colony, British. Belize City's roadways are built around a system of roundabouts, but shops alongside them sell rice, beans and tortillas still ground by hand.
Everyone you meet speaks English (it's the country's official language), but this belies the stories of their origins. The 350,000 people populating Belize today are descendants of migrants from Britain, yes, but also, more so, the surrounding Central American countries. You've got Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans mixed with current-day generations of the Maya who originally inhabited this land, the pirates who came later, the Mennonite farmers who began arriving on the scene in the 16th century, the British who ruled until 1981, and each other.
Belize is a nation of independent thinkers and doers, a country where you make your own way and where, while you're doing it, no one, including the Belize government, is making any attempt to thwart your efforts. This is a poor country. The government doesn't have enough money to get up to any real trouble.
Arriving in Belize, especially in its interior Cayo District, it doesn't take long for any other reality you've brought with you to fade. In this frontier land of rivers and rain forest, your mind and your body are occupied with challenge and discovery from sunup until you fall exhausted into your bed each evening.
Belize is a sunny country that's easily accessible from the United States and where the folks all speak English. It's also one of the easiest places in the world to establish foreign residency, as well as a banking and a tax haven. You could live and run a business here tax-free.
On the other hand, this is a small country where the infrastructure is most kindly described as "developing." The cost of living can be affordable, even low, but not if you want to live a more "developed world" lifestyle that would mean buying lots of things not available or produced locally. Anything imported comes at an inflated price.
#3 Medellin, Colombia
Twenty years ago if you told suggested that drug- and crime-ridden Medellín would be cleaned up and considered one of the world's best places to retire just two decades later, no one would have believed you. But that is the case.
Medellín is not only no longer unsafe or unsavory, but it is establishing a name for itself as one of the world's most progressive cities. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal made it official by naming Medellín the Most Innovative City in the world for that year.
What makes Medellín so innovative? It is a combination of unique public transit infrastructure, well-used and much-loved public spaces, and the accessibility of technology and Internet throughout the city. In addition, Medellín is a city of parks and flowers, pretty, tidy, and architecturally pleasing. Most every building is constructed of red brick and topped with red clay roof tiles. The overall effect is delightful.
Medellín is both an industrial, economic, and financial center for this country and a literary and artistic one. Newspapers, radio networks, publishing houses, an annual poetry festival, an international jazz festival, an international tango festival, an annual book fair, and, back in 1971, Colombia's answer to Woodstock, the Festival de Ancon, all have chosen Medellin as their base.
Thanks to its mountain setting, Medellín is one of a handful of cities around the world that bill themselves as lands of eternal springtime. This means no heating or air condition required and, therefore, controlled utility costs. Furthermore, the medical care in Medellín is excellent, with 5 of the 35 best hospitals in Latin America located here.
The European undertones in Medellín are strong, from the way the women dress to the way people greet you in passing on the street. This is South America, not Central America, and the differences between the two regions can be striking.
Thanks to the current exchange rate between the Colombian peso and the U.S. dollar, all of this is available to the U.S. retiree at a dramatically discounted cost. At the current exchange rate, Medellín is a more affordable place to live and to purchase property than Cuenca, Ecuador, for example, long recognized as one of the world's most affordable retirement havens. It's possible today to enjoy a luxury-level retirement in Medellín on even a modest retirement budget. Medellín stands alongside Portugal's Algarve in offering one of the world's most appealing and also most affordable retirement options.
#4 Pau, France
No border marks the entry to the Basque region, but you'll know when you've entered this part of France. The most obvious change is the architecture. Every house is painted white with accents of Basque red. You buy the paint at any Home Depot-type store; the can will be labeled "Basque Red." In this part of the world, there's just one red. This collective approach to home decor has the effect of making everything appear pristine and cared for. The Basque people also have their own language, music, dance, sport, cuisine (one of the best in France), myths, flag, and even alphabet typeface.
France's Basque region is made up of seven provinces that sit astride the French-Spanish Atlantic border. The geography is intense, bringing to mind a young child's drawing of the countryside where every type of geographic feature is squeezed onto one sheet of paper. Small steep valleys, rolling hills, towering mountains, meandering rivers, a wild coastline, forests and woodland, all crammed into about 31,000 square feet and all gloriously green and lush.
The water in many parts of the bay is shallow, giving rise to spectacular surf. This coastline, specifically Biarritz, was the birthplace of French surfing in the late 1950s.
France is recognized by the World Health Organization as having the world's best healthcare.
The retiree who has dreamt of France but who can't afford Paris should consider Pau. A couple could retire here on as little as $2,000 per month.
#5 Abruzzo, Italy
It's hard to think of a lovelier corner of Italy than the Abruzzo. The beaches are golden, and the sea rolls out like a giant bolt of turquoise silk. There are mountains, too, meaning that, living here, you'd have both skiing and beach-combing on your doorstep, depending on the season.
This region is one of Italy's secret treasures. No over-crowding, no heavy industry, only castles, vineyards, and villages made of stone. Life in the Abruzzo hasn't changed much over the years, and exploring here is like wandering into a gentler, kinder yesterday, a time with little or no crime and neighbors who watch out for one another.
Old ladies in pinafores bring their chairs outside and sit in gossipy groups, stringing onions into plaits. Instead of playing computer games, young boys are outside playing soccer. Families shop at open-air markets, not hypermarkets, and if they don't produce their own wine, they buy it from local vineyards.
Relatively unknown to foreign visitors, the sparsely populated Abruzzo is where central Italy merges into the languid realms of the deep south. Even though many parts of the area are only an hour's drive from Rome, it clings onto its secret feel.
The main town in the region, Pescara, has one of the best city beaches in Europe and not far away is some of the best skiing outside of the Alps. In spring, it's possible to combine a morning on the Apennine ski slopes with an afternoon at the beach.
Food is important in the Abruzzo, as it is everywhere in Italy. In most trattorie, everything is home-cooked and just like nonna (grandmother) used to make. In fact, sometimes, nonna still makes it. On the coast, dishes feature fish; inland, the cuisine becomes heartier, based on roast kid, baby lamb, and wild boar.
This delightful and culturally rich region of Italy is also one of Europe's best bargains. A couple could retire here on as little as $2,000 per month or less, including rent.
#6 George Town, Malaysia
Penang in general and George Town in particular have a great deal to offer the would-be expat and foreign retiree. The natural surroundings are beautiful, and you have many options for how to spend your time. In addition, Malaysian immigration laws are welcoming, including for retirees. For these reasons, thousands of foreigners, both working and retired, have settled in the area, creating a network of support for others who'd like to follow in their footsteps.
Historic George Town, the capital of the state of Penang, got its start in the 18th century, when the British established a colonial outpost to control trade in the Straits of Malacca and exploit a thriving opium market. Commerce prospered and, by the 19th century, George Town had developed a busy financial district, an active seaport, and scores of wholesale shops. Immigrants flooded the town hoping to improve their fortunes.
The city has grown a great deal in the 200 years since, but it has not lost its colonial flavor. Wandering around the historic downtown, it's easy to imagine yourself living in another era and, as well, another place. Here, you're in old China. Around the corner, you could be in India. Another neighborhood is reminiscent of an old Malay village. Impressive British-colonial buildings serve the same functions as they did more than a century ago; they are banks, churches, and residential mansions. Many of the dilapidated Chinese shophouses have been scrubbed, painted, and renovated into attractive hotels, community centers, cafes, galleries, and private homes.
The city is home to at least a dozen museums. Venues for indulging in high culture include the Penang Philharmonic, ProArt Chinese Orchestra, Performing Arts Center, and the Actors Studio at Straits Quay. Free concerts are offered in various locations across Penang Island during the summer months. Jungle parks reveal secluded beaches and indigenous wildlife. Amusement parks provide family fun. Expat clubs meet regularly to serve the large and growing foreign community. And everywhere are eateries serving delicious and inexpensive gourmet fare. When the sun goes down, cooking smells permeate the air and tables fill with enthusiastic diners from around the globe. Unless you're eating in an upscale restaurant, you can eat very well for about $3 per person.
Indeed, the low cost of everything is a big part of George Town's appeal. In some Asian cities, it's easy for a foreigner to feel something akin to a walking wallet. Not in Malaysia. Foreigners pay the same prices as the locals.
In addition, health care is first-rate, public transportation is modern and efficient, and the tap water is safe to drink. Beautiful beaches are just a short drive or flight away, cool mountain retreats can be reached in less than an hour, and the thriving city-state of Singapore is easily accessible in a few hours by car, train, or bus, or an hour by plane.
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