The 15 Best Islands in the World to Retire To—Internationalliving.com

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You don’t have to be a millionaire to enjoy the romance of island living in retirement. A new report from the editors at InternationalLiving.com details 15 great-value, picturesque islands across the globe known for their friendliness and warmth, and which also provide the infrastructure and comforts of home.

Chania, Crete.

"Perhaps this year more than most, the idea of an island escape has real dream appeal."

“Perhaps this year more than most, the idea of an island escape has real dream appeal. After all, who doesn’t want to flee the pressures of day-to-day living in a pandemic?” says Jennifer Stevens, Executive Editor, International Living.

“But what most folks who fantasize about blue water and palm trees don’t realize is that—on the right islands—you could actually live well for less than it costs to stay home.”

The editors at International Living, a magazine and website devoted to good-value living, travel, investment, and retirement abroad, have created a report—The 15 Best Islands in the World to Retire On—profiling islands scattered around the world where anybody looking for a warm-weather getaway in picture-perfect surrounds can find it in 2021—and at a much lower cost than most folks probably imagine.

“While travel may still be restricted at the moment, it is a smart time to begin putting a travel plan in place. These 15 island picks all represent good-value locales that can make sense for a short-term getaway, a place to winter—or summer—over, or even a full-time escape,” says Stevens. “Plus, scattered as they are from Greece to the Caribbean to Vietnam, they’re also just fun to think about—because all over the world you have great options for good-value island living.”

#1 Malta

At only 122 square miles, the tiny island nation of Malta has something for everyone—from ancient walled cities and breath-taking coastal trails to countryside farmhouses and charming restaurants.

Home to a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the islands—with over 155 miles of coastline—benefit from warm weather year-round.

Here, the English-speaking population—a legacy of British colonization—makes it easy for new arrivals to fit in.

For centuries, Malta has been a sought-after destination and Valletta, Malta’s capital city—the European Capital of Culture 2018—is an especially desirable location with rolling hills reminiscent of San Francisco.

Dollars can go surprisingly far here, with couples living comfortably on $2,600 per month.

#2 Mallorca, Spain

Mallorca is the largest of the Balearic Islands, the autonomous Spanish region just off the coast of the Iberian Peninsula. You’ll find evidence of its long history in the Gothic cathedral of the capital city, Palma, and the hilltop castles in the mountainous countryside, as well as Arab structures built before the Reconquest. You’ll also find Roman ruins—clues to its importance as an outpost of that empire.

The whole coastline of this 1,405-square-mile island is ringed with marinas, harbors, and natural rock-lined coves offering privacy. It’s the perfect place to weigh anchor in the western Mediterranean—and the year-round mild climate helps there too.

Here, a couple can live well from $2,500 a month, depending on lifestyle.

#3 Penang, Malaysia

The island of Penang, off the coast of Malaysia, has been a firm favorite among savvy expats for decades.

A couple can live well on a monthly budget of between $1,500 and $2,500 a month. It’s a luxury life on an affordable budget with all the comforts and conveniences of home.

Penang’s international airport, which lots of low-cost Asian airlines operate from, makes exploring farther afield in Southeast Asia easy.

Known as a foodie haven, Penang’s largest city, George Town, is home to eclectic architecture, a vibrant art scene, and what many call the best street food in the world. Plus, as a former outpost of the British empire, Penang has a largely English-speaking populace.

#4 Ambergris Caye, Belize

Belize’s largest island, Ambergris Caye, is surrounded by stunning turquoise seascapes. This Caribbean island is a center for ocean sports during the day and for socializing at night. Ambergris and the small nearby islands are not overly developed, which means they’ve maintained a laidback vibe. San Pedro is the major population hub on Ambergris.

Moving to Belize is easy. It’s the only country in Central America with English as its main language. The U.S. dollar is accepted, credit cards are widely used, and well-known U.S. brands are available too.

A couple can enjoy a comfortable retirement in Ambergris Caye, including rent, for between $2,950 to $3,150 per month. If you own your own home on the island, then expats report it’s possible for a couple to live quite comfortably on less than $2,000 a month.

#5 Ireland

A land full of poetry and song on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, the island of Ireland is extremely alluring. It’s a first-world, modern country where people still make the time to talk.

It could rain at any time, but the Irish weather is not something to endure, it’s to be embraced. This Atlantic climate has shaped the land and its people. It’s the reason fields are emerald-green and hillsides blaze purple with heather.

The English-speaking populace coupled with a welcoming culture, makes the Emerald Isle an easy place to fit in. It’s straightforward to get to and it makes for a convenient jumping-off point from which to explore Europe.

On a budget of around $2,800 a month, a retired couple could live quite comfortably in the Land of a Thousand Welcomes.

#6 Roatan, Honduras

The most populated of the Bay Islands, Roatán, is 35 miles from the northern coast of Honduras. Although, Honduras is Spanish-speaking, Roatán is largely English-speaking thanks to a long colonial relationship with the United Kingdom.

A mountainous interior covered with jungle gives way to white-sand beaches and rocky coves, interspersed with colorful fishing villages. The island is most famous as a diving destination and retirement haven in the western Caribbean. The Mesoamerican Reef just offshore provides the world-class scuba and snorkeling Roatán is best known for.

It’s the affordable Caribbean. A couple could live well here on $2,000 to $2,500 a month.

#7 Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Clear, azure waters and white-sand beaches are never far away in Isla Mujeres, about eight miles from Cancún in Mexico.

This relaxed island is a world away from its more tourist-developed neighbor—golf carts are preferred to cars as the main mode of transport.

The island enjoys a warm tropical climate (low to mid-80s F for most of the year), which means there is plenty to do on Isla Mujeres. Naturally, water activities top the list as the nearby reef offers amazing opportunities.

And the cost of living is far lower than a similar lifestyle would cost back in the States. A couple can live a nice life on Isla Mujeres for $2,500 to $3,000 a month, including rent.

#8 Isla Colon, Panama

One of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean may well be Panama’s tropical archipelago. Close to the border with Costa Rica, Bocas del Toro is a group of nine main islands and a few hundred smaller cays and islets, dotting calm turquoise waters.

Bocas Del Toro is also a perfect place to test drive the dream Caribbean lifestyle. The expat community is welcoming, it’s organized, and it gives back. A couple can live here on as little as $1,400 a month, renting a simple, cozy, island-style home.

The main center is Bocas Town—a seaside town of brightly painted buildings with many on stilts over the water on the large island of Isla Colon. Here, the water is the main focus—fishing, water sports, and whale watching are just some of the popular pastimes for locals.

#9 Bali

Bali is the rock star of the 18,307 islands that make up Indonesia. The mere mention of Bali evokes thoughts of paradise, but it’s more than just a place. There is a spiritual energy surrounding the island.

Floating in aquamarine waters, Bali’s interior is filled with intense green rice paddies and lush jungle—a place expats enjoy life’s little luxuries at a fraction of the cost of home, and where spas are part of the lifestyle.

Bali is only eight degrees south of the equator, so you can count on most days being between 78 to 90 F with 75% humidity. The mountainous regions get some slightly cooler temperatures and the monsoon season is from October to April. But even the rainy season has plenty of sunny days.

A couple can live well in most towns in Bali for $1,900.

#10 Koh Samui, Thailand

Although only 13 miles wide and over 15 miles long, Koh Samui is Thailand’s second-largest island after Phuket. It lies off the eastern coast in the Gulf of Thailand, around 400 miles south of Bangkok.

Expats come to this lush, tropical island for its white-sand beaches and laidback lifestyle.

Samui, one of an archipelago of 80 smaller islands, has a warm and mostly crystal-clear sea, with lots of opportunities for kayaking, sailing, and boating. It is also fast becoming a golfer’s paradise.

The island makes a great destination for anyone looking for a dream retirement by the sea. Expats live well here on a budget of $2,000 to $2,500 a month.

#11 Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Known for top-class beaches, excellent weather, and great golf, the Dominican Republic— just three-and-a-half hours from New York—is a front runner for affordable Caribbean living.

The little beach town of Las Terrenas in the northeast, on the Samana Peninsula, offers some of the most pristine beaches in the D.R.

French and Italian vacationers have been coming here for decades to enjoy the island’s 19 miles of public beaches.

A couple can live in this tropical paradise for around $2,000 a month, although most choose to spend closer to $3,000 a month.

#12 Crete, Greece

Crete, the biggest island in Greece and the 88th largest in the world, is an ideal choice for anyone who wants to experience Greek island living. Geographically, it is about the size of Delaware in the U.S., and with a population of over 630,000, the island is active and lively all year round largely because of local industry and agriculture.

Crete makes an excellent retirement choice for many reasons. While it offers many of the attractions that go with island living, including world-class beaches, seaside tavernas, and a relaxed vibe, it also has an effective, functional medical infrastructure.

Getting adequate medical care on an island is often a major challenge, but in Crete, because of its size, you have access to good care without having to leave the island.

The cost of living in Crete largely follows the cost of living in mainland Greece and because Crete is so big, you’ll have lots of housing options.

A couple can live here on as little as $1,800 a month.

#13 Cozumel, Mexico

If you’ve ever imagined yourself lazing on a tropical island, cold drink in hand, and wriggling your toes in the warm, clear aquamarine waters of the Caribbean Sea, the island of Cozumel in Mexico could be perfect for you.

Just 12 miles off the coast of Playa del Carmen, along Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya, Cozumel is a well-established, world class vacation destination. Especially known for its warm, tropical water, snorkelers and scuba divers from across the globe enjoy exploring the island’s reef, teeming with aquatic life.

Cozumel offers good value for dollars spent, even when it comes to housing. However, it can be hard to find an apartment as the market is geared toward short-term vacation stays.

A couple can enjoy a comfortable retirement here, including rent, for less than $1,900 a month.

#14 Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker, a five-mile-long island off the coast of mainland Belize, is a charming Caribbean island where “go slow” is the motto. This island is known for its stunning seascapes, diverse water sports, eco-tours, and friendly community.

It takes only 30 minutes by water taxi to reach Caye Caulker from its big sister Ambergris Caye. While it is much smaller, with less than 2,000 residents compared to Ambergris’ 20,000, it’s just as beautiful on this island and the pace is much slower.

The island’s lifestyle is simple, laidback, and close to the sea. It’s a desirable spot for expats who enjoy outdoor activities, especially those that are water-related. The gorgeous setting provides abundant inspiration for artists, photographers, and writers, as well as those who appreciate nature at its finest.

Most expats can live comfortably on this island for $1,500 to $2,000 a month.

#15 Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Though it’s only about the size of Chicago, with barely 100,000 full-time residents, Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s largest island. It’s a lovely place for adventurous retirees. Over half of the island is protected parks and reserves. Over 20 beaches dot the coastline, with many more on the 27 nearby islands that make up the Phu Quoc Archipelago.

About 200 expats live on the island; the majority of them stay in Duong Dong, the commercial center of Phu Quoc with a population of roughly 20,000.

Phu Quoc offers everything needed in a retirement haven. The island is full of natural beauty, with mountains, trails through lush jungle forests, coral reefs, and intriguing beaches. A leisurely drive around the circumference of the island takes about a day, but discovering its many hidden gems could take years.

A couple can live here on as little as $1,210 a month,

The report can be found here: The 15 Best Islands in the World to Retire On

Editor's Note: Members of the media have permission to republish the article linked above once credit is given to Internationalliving.com.

Further information, as well as interviews with expert authors for radio, TV or print, is available on request. Photos are also available.

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About International Living

Since 1979, InternationalLiving.com has been the leading authority for anyone looking for global retirement or relocation opportunities. Through its monthly magazine and related e-letters, extensive website, podcasts, online bookstore, and events held around the world, InternationalLiving.com provides information and services to help its readers live better, travel farther, have more fun, save more money, and find better business opportunities when they expand their world beyond their own shores. InternationalLiving.com has more than 200 contributors traveling the globe, investigating the best opportunities for travel, retirement, real estate, and investment.

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