Does South America offer cheap living for retired expats?

by Ray Clancy on January 4, 2013

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Does South America offer cheap living for retired expats?

Retired people from the United States and Canada can have a more luxurious lifestyle if they move to South America, it is claimed. As retirement in North America gets more expensive, data reveals that people can upgrade their lifestyle by moving to another country in the southern half of the continent and live luxuriously on $2,000 a month.

Research from International Living shows that taking into account budget essentials such as rent, health care, groceries and utilities a couple can live well on $1,000 to $2,130 a month and names the five cheapest countries to retire to as Nicaragua, Malaysia, Ecuador, Panama and Mexico. It adds that price is only one factor and other attractions include good weather, pretty beaches, solid infrastructure and safety.

Nicaragua is the cheapest option with the firm suggesting that a couple can live well on $995 a month. It describes Nicaragua as one of the most beautiful countries in the Americas with a dramatic Pacific coastline, long Caribbean beaches and colonial cities like Granada and León. It also says that Managua is rapidly becoming a real world class city with top notch theatres and a range of international restaurants.

‘Nicaragua’s lower cost of living does not mean you have to sacrifice the quality of life you have been accustomed to in the US or Canada. In fact, you will probably be able to live in Nicaragua with even more luxuries than you are accustomed to, simply because the prices are so economical’ it says.

Quote from : “I’ll be moving to Lagos, Nigeria next week for a 6-month assignment. Though I was there a couple weeks ago on a preliminary trip, I had trouble finding housing in the range of what the small startup business I work for can afford.”

In second place is Malaysia with a monthly cost of living for a couple put at $1,076 and a budget of $2,000 per month would bring a luxury lifestyle. It says that a bag of fresh fruit including mangoes, bananas, apples, oranges, and pineapples costs just $4. Technology is also good value with reliable high speed internet for $30 a month and a premier cable TV package for $40 which includes favourites like HBO, CNN, and the BBC. A couple can eat out well for less than $10 and in the night bazaars chicken and rice meals are often only $1.

Ecuador comes third at $1,415 a month where the low cost of living allows retirees to increase their travel, take up new hobbies and generally enjoy a better quality of life. In fourth place is Panama with a comfortable monthly budget of $1,865 – bargains include taking a taxi across town in Panama City for $2, a haircut for a couple of dollars, and a dinner for two with a bottle of wine at one of the finest restaurants in Panama City for a mere $30.

In Mexico a couple would need a budget of $2,129 a month to live comfortably and with goods and services costing less this budget could include a maid, a cook or a gardener. Popular North American television channels are all available in the country and it has cheap and fast internet access.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron Bennis January 13, 2013 at 4:00 am

Excuse me, but how does The Federated Monarchy of Malaysia get into the "cost of living" comparison mix, for Central & South America?

Apparently, an update on Malaysia, is in order.

In addition, Malaysia is not the "Friendly Malaysia", the Ministry of Tourism likes to promote Malaysia as being. The overall social environment of Malaysia is restrictively Islamic, with the usual kaleidoscopic range of conflicting contradictions.

The infrastructure, in Kuala Lumpur and Johor is definitely First World quality, but public health and safety standards (especially in the native Malay, the Tamil Indian neighbors), leaves much to be desired, throughout most of Malaysia. Just the facts. Not just my opinions.

Best over-all retirement location, in SE Asia, is Thailand. It's clean, with good food everywhere, socially hospitable, safe on-the-streets and very affordable. The only problem with Thailand, is that they just can't seem get the phonics of the English language.


Dissillusioned January 22, 2013 at 4:40 pm


Like many others, I moved to Mexico a couple of years ago hoping to save some money on living expenses. I am 70 and retired, and have only my retirement income.

I live in a small condo (100 sm). I say small, because it is 1/2 the size of the house I moved out of in the US, which also had a 2 car garage. The first shock came when I got my electric bill, $12,000 pesos for 2 months, or roughly $1,000 USD. I now run as little AC as possible, and keep the house at 80F.

The topes (speed bumps) and unrepaired potholes have taken a toll on my car. Last year, I had rims straightened 5 times. My broken rear suspension cost me $1,500 USD. Lightning fried my brand new computer, just 3 weeks old, also a USB hub, my dishwasher, and one AC unit.

Then there is the burglary. Although I live in a gated community, things keep disappearing from my patio. I went searching for 15 of my moving boxes, and found that 10 were missing. Contractors leave in the middle of a job, and you wind up having to pay a second person.

I'm not saying life was perfect in the US, but this is no cakewalk either. At 70, I now have to struggle to find part time work as I watch my saving dwindle to nothing, since I run negative every month. Mind you, I do not live what I would consider an extravagant lifestyle. True, I could rent a single room with a hot plate somewhere, and give up my car, etc. But is that what we now have to look forward to at retirement?

I'm not saying don't move to Mexico. I'm saying do your homework first.


Christopher January 22, 2013 at 8:49 pm

NEWS FLASH South America isn't that cheap anymore. Unless you want to live like a local which most pampered gringos do not. Expect to pay more or equal to what you would pay in the states. IE. Lima/Buenos Aires….not great deals anymore. What you do get though is a different outlook on life and living. Something we don't give ourselves here.

The more the western world screws up and the more the dollar is devaluated the less likely that even Mexico will become affordable.

Anywhere gringos go is sure to get F'd up. Enjoy what you can now and don't tell anyone (where?) about it !


dsj;laa January 22, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Really, have to agree with above post. Your level of editing calls into question the accuracy of everything on this site. Maybe the author is confusing Malaysia with Margentina.? Also the above poster is right to bring up Islam. I lived in Malaysia for a year, and the people are very nice and friendly, but while I was there the govt raided a church bc. there were Malaysians at a church meeting, and the govt suspected that the church was trying to convert them. Noone ever admitted wrong doing or took responsibility for the raid. Also 2 16 yr old girls were arrested bc they kissed. Never heard what happened to them. On the otherhand Americans don't need a visa, u can stay for 3 months without 1, and u can go and comeback from thailand on the train which costs about 10 bucks one way


Richard January 23, 2013 at 1:05 am

Errr….. Malaysia is S-E Asia and Nicaragua, Mexico and Panama are in Central America not South America. Author needs a geography lesson.

Agree with Aaron, Thailand is best value for money and lifestyle in S-E Asia.

Would have good to have more costings on the popular places such as Brazil and Argentina compared to Chile, Venezuela and Colombia.


P J Proudhon January 23, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Living within your means can be done wherever you are. While it is true that your income will allow you a better standard of living in another country, it is also true that most live according to their means and not their need. This means that any surplus income will soon be absorbed by any new life style where income surplus is generated. The questions is not whether "EXPATS" can live "cheaply" in any given place but rather can the expat learn to live like a local. Having been exposed to expats from many nations all over the world including South and Central America, I have noticed that the English are amongst the worlds worst in their ability to adapt. I know of a group of British Expats that retired to Vancouver Island, Canada. They are an unpleasant bunch who gather at a local breakfast joint and moan about the late delivering of the Sun newspaper(?) and complain that the fish and chips are better back home. In Costa Rica I found Americans inflating and corrupting local economies of trade by throwing dollars at every problem encountered, being unable to even keep their own luxurious gardens. These gardens are of sufficient size to supply the average Tica family with more than enough food and surplus produce to provide cash crop supplement. The inflated cash value and ignorance of Tica culture and lifestyle are ignored by expats demanding a higher income for living costs. The result a very cheap cost of living country made expensive by lazy stupid expats. I to am an expats but always adopt the standards and values of the countries I reside in. Don't look for cheap look for lifestyle compatabilty. And if you don't know what that is, stay at home!


Mary Ellen January 23, 2013 at 5:15 pm

The problem with 80% of Americans who move to a foreign country (especially in Mexico) is they attempt to continue their more extravagant lifestyle and fail to perform due diligence BEFORE moving. I've lived in Mexico; both Tijuana and Rosarito for the past 2 years. Unlike most Americans, I have assimilated into the culture and speak Spanish as often as possible. I do not shop in American stores, i.e., Walmart, Home Depot, Costco, etc. as those are always more expensive than Mexican stores. Yes utilities including electricity are more expensive than in the U.S. but that should be considered BEFORE you move to an area with excessive heat such as Baja and the Yucutan and either adjust your tolerance to the weather or expect to pay the price.


Mary Ellen January 23, 2013 at 5:16 pm

And the current crop of babyboomers such as myself who will be retiring soon are very different from the past babyboomers as we don't have the hefty pension plans and limited employment so our lifestyle will be considerably different from them. Many of us choose to rent instead of buying a place and plan to be more mobile rather than being stuck with a property which is difficult to sell down the road. Anyway renting is usually much cheaper than buying with less hassles. So you will find that the age 60 or younger expats have a different opinion about living in a foreign country than those age 60+. And we stay away from the expat crowd as we know it means more bucks for everything. A good example is going to the veterinarian; if you choose one that speaks English the prices will usually be more than one who speaks the native language.


Quantum Eyes January 23, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Paradise is out there, but you have to adapt to it. No matter which country you want to retire, you must live like locals and have a good understanding of their culture to blend-in; and, respect it. If you want to live like a gringo outside of gringolandia, then I wish you all good luck, because you will need it. If you have plenty money to retire, stay home, dont come to these countries to screw up flasing off your wealth on expensive properties, cars and fancy restaurants. Best expats living style I have seen are on Europeans, excluding Brittish and some "ugly" US-americans who complain and complain all day long every days, OMG!


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