Are you dreaming of a beach life when you get into your senior years? Do you wish you could gaze out at the ocean with your morning coffee or at sunset on a regular basis, but assume that you can’t afford it?
You may be right if you stay in the USA, but there are plenty of other options where the cost of living is far less and you may get extra perks even as a retiree. If you look for the cheapest places to live in the world on the beach, your options expand a lot. In these spots it is actually possible to retire abroad on social security checks if you made it to 65+ without managing to sock away savings.
According to the Social Security Administration, the average American government retirement check is
$1,347 $1,537 per month. While that will have you living near the poverty line at any U.S. beach location, you can live in comfort–and then some–in many foreign locations. If there are two of you pulling in social security checks each month, you could live the high life and be better off than almost all the locals.
These cheap places to retire near the beach will allow you to take a mobile home and tuna cans budget in the USA and turn it into a water view condo and daily restaurant meals budget abroad. You’ll be able to live a better life for half the price—or much less.
For any of the retirement destinations below, you should be able to live a reasonably comfortable life for $1,300 for one, $2,500 for a couple, while still having enough left over to go home and see the grandkids a couple times a year. This is not an exhaustive list, so do some digging if you want more to choose from, but here are 10 countries and specific beach destinations where you can retire on social security checks alone overseas or abroad.
Puerto Escondido, Melaque, Troncones, and Progreso Regions of Mexico
It’s easy to retire in Mexico on Social Security alone, but only if you avoid the major tourist destinations. Life is not cheap in the places getting 30 flights a day from El Norte. If you’ve read about the place in a dozen travel articles, you’re probably too late. There are a few well-known resort spots like Mazatlan that are still reasonable, but you’re better off in a smaller beach town. With thousands of miles of coast, Mexico has plenty of beaches beyond the well-known vacation destinations priced for tourists. In these alternate places, rents are lower, taxi prices are fair, and it costs a lot less to go out to eat at a restaurant. You can still find some of the cheapest beachfront property in the world in Mexico if you’re patient.
Puerto Escondido is my go-to recommendation for travelers and expats alike, but that whole coast of Oaxaca has good deals if you don’t mind something sleepier. There aren’t a lot of international air connections from here, but Canada has a lot of flights to Huatulco and from there or here there are plenty of flights through Mexico City.
Speaking of Canadians, Melaque is filled with them in the winter months, when many snowbirds flock down for half the year. It’s close to the village of Barra de Navidad at the southern end of Jalisco, but you’d generally fly into Manzanillo. Two hours north is Puerto Vallarta, but this region will get its own airport at some point because a lot of pricey resorts are moving in to the north.
The area around Zihuatanejo is probably reasonable enough to make this list if you don’t need to be near the water, but there are lower rents and purchase prices in Troncones a half hour to the north.
The Caribbean coast of Mexico doesn’t have any bargains left, but it’s a different story on the Gulf of Mexico around the corner. I used to own a beach house in the sleepy town of Chuburna Puerto when I lived in Nashville and wanted a beach getaway for the family. We paid $45K for it counting adding a bedroom and a kitchen renovation, then sold it for $55K four years ago. In other words, it’s still quite cheap there along the coast near Progreso. This area is around 45 minutes from Merida and you can fly into there or come over from Cancun.
If you’re looking to retire on social security in Mexico, know that you can enroll in the INAPAM program after you get permanent residency. That entitles you to discounts on health care, admissions, inter-city buses, and more.
A Reasonable Cost of Living on Roatan Island, Honduras
The country of Honduras has a poor reputation when it comes to crime stats, but most of the problems are in the two big cities on the mainland, which foreigners avoid anyway. It’s much mellower on the island of Roatan, which rivals any of the Caribbean islands for beaches and diving—but at a price that’s much easier on the wallet. The word has been out on this place for more than two decades, but the bad press for the country has kept it from turning into Jaco or Playa del Carmen. You can get direct flights from here or change planes at another airport then hop over.
Just be advised that if you’re applying for residency as a retiree, you are technically required to show a monthly income of $1,500, which is more than you’d be getting from one social security check. Since most people have some kind of a pension, 401K, IRA, or annuity bringing though, it isn’t hard for most to make up that gap on paper.
Santa Marta, Colombia
I’ve written in detail here before about the low cost of living in Colombia. Many younger expats gravitate to Medellin or the coffee region it seems, plus Cartagena is too expensive if you’re trying to bring down costs. Santa Marta is a different story, however. It hasn’t really been discovered by tourists or expats and prices there are much more in line with the national average, despite its location on the water. Here you can find high-rises with ocean views around the city itself, or go a bit outside for more laid-back communities and hidden coves.
Getting a retirement residency visa in Colombia is straightforward and the requirements are not very taxing. It’ll cost you under $300 and will be good for three years, with an income requirement of less than $800 per month. It is set at three times the Colombian minimum wage. So if you are pulling in $1,300 a month from social security, you’re making five times the minimum wage—relatively wealthy in local terms.
Retire on the Equator in Ecuador
Beaches in Ecuador have some of the best real estate deals in the hemisphere if you want to buy a condo. On top of that, you only have to show an income of $800 per month to get residency in Ecuador. Residents over 65 get many of the same discounts as an Ecuadorean retiree. These include free health care at some facilities, a 50 percent discount on flights, 50 percent off on movie tickets, restaurant discounts, and some tax exemptions.
Which area is best depends a lot on what you want. The city is Manta offers airport access and it’s getting easier to get to this coast from Quito by road. The towns with expat communities stretch along to the north from Cucita to Canoa. For year-round living though, Salinas near Guayaquil might be a better bet. It has more sunshine, more condos with a view to choose from, and warmer waters.
Ecuador offers a long list of incentives for retiring in the country, including huge discounts on flights, plus they make it very straightforward to get residency these days. Since you can also find some of the cheapest beachfront property in the world here, priced in dollars, this is a good destination to consider for beach-loving retirees.
Da Nang, Vietnam Retirement Living
If you want to be near a beach but still live in a thriving city, Da Nang is the best choice in Vietnam. It has nice parks, plenty of cafes, a good array of restaurants, and cultural activities to join. There are also a fair number of expats living here, usually getting by on somewhere between $600 and $1,300 a month total. A couple pulling in two social security checks would be living large here, eating out every meal if they wanted to. Then when you want to get out of the city, there are lots of island beaches nearby with umbrella cocktail resorts. Da Nang has a sizeable airport and connects to other cities by train.
Vietnam is best suited for still-traveling couples with ample mobility, however. There’s no retirement visa here, so your one-year multiple entry visa requires that you leave the country every 90 days. It’s a quick hop to other parts of Southeast Asia, but this is not a good system for homebodies. Also understand that it’s quite difficult to buy property, so most expats are renters, not buyers.
Living the Good Life on Ko Samui, Thailand
If your idea of paradise is being near a palm-fringed beach with open-air seafood restaurants where you can eat well for under 10 bucks, fly into Ko Samui and figure out where to hang your sun hat. There are plenty of other beaches to check out in this country, but Ko Samui is not a party paradise for 20-somethings, building regulations have actually been enforced, and it has much better infrastructure than most.
The visa laws are constantly in flux in Thailand, but it is a lot easier for retirees than the younger people jumping through hoops to stick around. You are going to have to stick some money into a Thai bank or buy a condo to put down roots, for starters. See the general requirements here and then do your due diligence to figure out the current status.
Sihanoukville in One of the Cheapest Destinations in the World: Cambodia
Even by Southeast Asia standards, the beach towns around Sihanoukville and Kampot in Cambodia are a bargain. It’s not unusual to find a nice apartment or house in the $250 to $500 per month range. Some expats say they have to really work at it to spend more than $1,200 a month unless they go traveling. See some details from expats in Cambodia here.
This country is just flat-out one of the cheapest places in the world to live. There’s just not much that’s going to grab an outsized portion of your income except maybe the electric bill for air conditioning if you have a big house with central air. Costs for groceries, eating out, drinking, and transportation are all a small fraction of what you’d spend in the USA.
Just understand it’s going to take time and money to get back to North America and you may have to fly to Bangkok if you need a first-rate hospital for health issues. Also, you probably want to go beyond the city itself, which has gone through some boom and bust cycles fueled by Chinese business interests.
Beach Life Retirement in India
Most people don’t have India at the top of their list when they think of retirement, but kicking back in Goa would definitely have its charms. You can get a 10-year multiple entry visa for the asking if you’re American, which lets you come and go as you need. There’s a rainy season in Goa, but it never gets cold, plus this is the most laid-back state in the country when it comes to being able to get a drink anywhere and even order pork vindaloo if you want.
Goa’s beaches are rather spread out, with a vibe to suit almost every taste in different sections, so you can probably find a nice place to rent for a reasonable price that will be right for your choice kind of location. This would be one of the easiest countries in the world to retire on social security alone by a beach. Living on a couple grand a month in India puts you clearly in the top-10%.
Pick Your Ideal Beach Retirement Spot in the Philippines
As with Mexico, it doesn’t really make sense to pick a single beach in the Philippines since there are so many of them scattered around. I’m partial to Palawan, which has plenty on just that one island, but you’ll find some picture-perfect stretches of sand on lots of others. Many like it here because it’s just plain easier to communicate. While the local language is Tagalog, anyone educated speaks English fluently. The cost of labor is quite cheap in the Philippines, so it’s easy to afford a daily maid, a gardener, or a visiting health care worker.
Here’s another big advantage: you can “retire” at age 35. So if you’re not even old enough to be getting social security checks yet, you can still ease into retirement and get legal residency. There’s a catch though. If you’re between the ages of 35 to 49 you must have $50,000 to deposit or invest in a condo. If you’re 50 or over you can qualify with a deposit of just $10,000. After that, the monthly income requirement is just$800 for individuals or $1,000 for couples. So, sell something worth $10K or more before you take off…
Can You Retire on Social Security on a Beach in Europe?
The last location on here is a two-part one. If you’re really careful with your money and you have a bit of an emergency fund saved up, you could live in Portugal as an expat for under $1,300 each, especially if you’re a couple sharing that times two. The more tourists and foreign residents there are in an area the tougher it will be to find reasonable long-term rent prices, which is the main sticking point. It can be easier if you have enough to buy a house in Portugal on the proceeds of one you sold elsewhere. Be prepared for a long haul to get residency here though and it’s a multi-step process.
The best bet though is Albania, where you can go try it out for a year on a tourist visa. The prices to live in Albania, even on the beach, are quite reasonable since the word is not yet out on this former reclusive communist dictatorship. Most people don’t realize it’s right across the sea from Italy, with a similar climate at a fraction of the price.
Are you living on a beach somewhere that’s it’s easy to retire on social security? If you’ve moved to a better living situation abroad, tell us what you’re spending in the comments. We know there are pros and cons of living abroad so we always like to hear the local take on adjustments.
If you’re looking at joining the “lucky” ones, pick up the book A Better Life for Half the Price to do it right and avoid a lot of mistakes. If you’re still in the dreaming mode, get on my Cheap Living Abroad Insiders newsletter list for monthly updates and advice. You’ll get a report on where you can stay four months or more on a tourist visa to try things out or be a snowbird.