Editors' pick: Originally published May 4, 2016.Relying on nothing but Social Security certainly isn't a sound retirement plan. but many retirees would like it to play a larger role in their day-to-day expenses, which makes sense. The more bills you can pay with the Social Security check, the more you can free up your retirement savings for enjoying life and exploring new passions. Cutting back and budgeting could certainly help, but for the adventurous, there's another option: moving overseas.
In many countries the costs of living are so small that a Social Security check is more than enough to retire on in style. Payments might average only $1,335 per month, but in places where an apartment only costs $300 and a night out is $5, that can be more than enough. The idea isn't even that unusual.
"Some people nearing retirement age are looking at a fixed income," said Dan Prescher, senior editor of the magazine International Living. "You pick the right destination, and you can effectively double the value of your nest egg. And there are beautiful countries you can move to."
To help with that decision International Living has recently published a guide for expat retirees, but you want to be careful. Although retirement abroad can be a great money saving tactic, it's also an enormous lifestyle decision. The world is littered with what Prescher called "economic refugees," expats stuck in a foreign land not because they want to be there but because they can't afford to go home. Don't let that happen to you; if you go, do so for the adventure and the thrill of new cultures.
One issue that expat retirees have to be sensitive of is medical care. Calling it a "critical issue," Prescher noted that it's particularly a concern for anyone looking to "get away from it all."
"As you might imagine," he said, "around most of the world the health care is excellent in the major metropolitan areas, but as you get farther and farther afield it can fall off pretty quickly."
"Most," however, is the critical qualifier. For all but a few countries on our list, including Panama and Thailand, urban access to medicine meets first world standards. While that bungalow on the beach might be remote, the hospitals in Bangkok are second to none. Yet it's worth noting that for every country on this list transportation will move more slowly, so expats with particular health concerns should probably consider staying closer to the cities.
Out in the villages that ambulance may take a while to arrive, if it comes at all.
Then there are the places that struggle to deliver quality care at all. Two countries on this list stand out for this: Cambodia, due to its ongoing development, and Indonesia, due to the nation's archipelago geography. Colombia, too, suffers from criticisms of its health care system, although to a much lesser degree.
These are places ill suited for older retirees or those with particular needs. In all countries on this list a patient can reach good doctors eventually, but a short flight will not meet suit those who anticipate particular or chronic health care concerns.
Finally, expatriates of all ages must always consider health insurance, and this is true too of retirees. Preserving Medicare benefits as an expat is complicated and not always possible; Part D, for example, is only available for those who reside in the United States. In fact, as the Office of Health and Human Services has explained, "[i]n most situations, Medicare won't pay for health care or supplies you get outside the U.S." As a result, in virtually all cases a retiree should arrange for private insurance such as GeoBlue or Cigna.
When enrolling in private insurance, be aware of two concerns in particular. First, make sure that the plan allows for coverage inside the United States, so that your medical care is neither exposed nor complicated when you return to visit friends and family. Second, make sure that your plan does not have a maximum period of eligibility or renewal, so that you only have to shop around once.
With the caveat that you should be sure to make sure you have proper health coverage and care access especially as you get up there in age, here are ten countries you can retire to where that Social Security check will last for miles and let you get the most out of your nest egg.
While Cambodia didn't make IL's Top 10 retirement destinations, it nevertheless comes highly recommended and certainly makes ours.
Cambodia has its rough spots. With un-potable tap water, weak health care and more expensive air links, this country isn't for those who want to retire to sun, sand and the occasional round of golf with the boys. For the younger and healthier, though, this could be the perfect opportunity to have that adventure you've always dreamed of.
For starters, it's cheap. That $1,335 per month will cover all of your needs and then some. It also boasts a burgeoning expat scene, the world's largest religious monument and the beach town of Sihanoukville for those who want to let their hair down (or at least watch other people do so). Expats who want to give back will find a ready berth in one of the countries hundreds of NGOs, providing ample opportunity for the second-act careers that many retirees have embraced, and while Phnom Penh's infrastructure may prove wanting, Bangkok's top-of-the-line hospitals and global hub are a very short flight away.
To the southeast of Cambodia is Malaysia, a country split into the Malay Peninsula and a portion of the island of Borneo. Expats seeking to maximize their Social Security should head for the island of Penang rather than the cosmopolitan, yet somewhat more expensive, Kuala Lumpur. There they will find a clash of cultures that rivals anywhere in the world, a riot of colonial, Indian, Chinese, Malay and Muslim influence that makes this such a fascinating country, not to mention one of the best food scenes anywhere.
Malaysia, along with Penang's famous food gardens, is the destination for those who want to eat well in their retirement. It's also a relatively recent arrival on the American expat scene. Explaining its recent addition to International Living's own list, Prescher said that "for a lot of retirees, the thought of Southeast Asia is kind of daunting. It's easier to think of South America or Mexico... [But] Malaysia is making it because it's becoming more and more familiar with expats. The Australians have been going there for years, and expats are there now."