Super-affordable: Nicaragua, specifically León, Granada and San Juan del Sur
Nicaragua is more attractive than ever for one important reason: It's a super-cheap place to live. I've been a fan of this misunderstood country since my first visit nearly 20 years ago. Property values, especially for beachfront property along the Pacific Ocean, reached bubble status last decade. Yet prices are more realistic and more negotiable today. The cost-of-living, meanwhile, has remained seriously low. And last year Nicaragua inaugurated a new-and-improved foreign retiree residency program. For all these reasons, 2011 is the time to put this country at the top of your super-cheap overseas retirement list.
Super-affordable: Ecuador, especially Cuenca
Ecuador is well-established as an affordable retirement choice. A friend calls it "the cheapest place in the world where you'd want to live." This expatriate-friendly country also has a pleasant climate.
Super-affordable: Colombia, specifically Medellín
This moderately priced country is cultured and sophisticated. To live an expat-standard lifestyle in Colombia, I think you would need to spend more than you would in Nicaragua or Ecuador. Real estate, on the other hand, especially in certain areas of this country, can be a screaming bargain.
Super-affordable: Thailand, specifically Chiang Mai
This exotic and adventure-filled country can be, in parts, extraordinarily affordable and even peaceful.
Moderately priced: Panama, specifically Las Tablas, Boquete and Panama City
Panama City has the best infrastructure in all of Central America, but it no longer qualifies as super-cheap. Other places in the country can be affordable, but the cost of living and real-estate prices in the capital and other more-developed parts of the country have risen so much that I wouldn't include Panama on a list of bargain havens.
Moderately priced: Uruguay, specifically Montevideo
Uruguay, on the Atlantic Coast of South America, is safe and stable with a good standard of living.
Moderately priced: Argentina, specifically Buenos Aires and Mendoza
This is another country that used to qualify as super-cheap but has grown steadily more expensive. Still, Argentina has much to offer in the way of lifestyle.
Moderately priced: Belize, especially Ambergis Caye and the Cayo
Ambergris Caye has white sand and the best diving in the Caribbean. This area isn't absolutely cheap, but it can be relatively affordable, compared with the cost of living and of owning beachfront real estate on other Caribbean islands. Other areas of Belize can be far more affordable than Ambergris. The Cayo, for example, is a beautiful frontier where you can escape from the real world and create your own future. Belize is also an English-speaking country.
Moderately priced: Malaysia, specifically Kuala Lumpur and Penang
This is the most expat-friendly choice in Asia. Malaysia is the only country in this part of the world that makes it relatively easy for a foreigner to establish legal full-time residency.
Luxury on a budget: Mexico, specifically Puerto Vallarta
My recently rediscovered top pick for living the good life on a reasonable budget is Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. This is a fully turnkey overseas retirement option that, unlike Ajijic and Chapala, has managed to retain its Mexico-ness. This charming town boasts great restaurants and nightlife, and its beaches, marinas and golf courses are beautiful. This is my top 2011 choice for a five-star beach retirement on a three-star budget.
Luxury on a budget: France, especially Paris and Languedoc
France is a country of superlatives and one of the best places on the planet to live well. Paris has the world's best luxury lifestyle options, while Languedoc offers quintessential French country living.
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