Fitting in isn’t just about making friends with locals and expats. It’s also about feeling at home.
The sooner you make friends, become involved in activities you enjoy and feel a part of the community, the sooner you’ll feel ‘at home’.
The Fitting-in category of the 2019 Annual Global Retirement Index studies the character of the expat community. How easy it is for a single or LGBT person to adapt, how welcoming the locals are, can you pick up your favorite familiar comforts when you need them, if English is commonly spoken, and other factors.
In the 5 easiest places in the world to retire overseas, it’s quick and simple to ‘fit in,’ so expats can settle in and enjoy a fulfilling, good-value life abroad quite soon.”
The countries that rank the highest in the Fitting-in category of the 2019 Annual Global Retirement Index are….
Ireland, takes the top spot in the Fitting-in category of the 2019 Annual Global Retirement Index, scoring 98 out of 100. Known as the Land of a Thousand Welcomes, it not surprising to see Ireland in pole position again this year.
Ireland really is just how folks imagine—green fields are hemmed with little stone walls, cheery farmers wave from tractors, and narrow lanes are the haunt of stray sheep and cows. You are never far from a beach, a fishing spot, a golf course, or a literary gathering.
It comes with a storybook landscape of castles, sheer cliffs, and swans gliding across looking-glass lakes. There are old-fashioned horse fairs, cozy pubs where fiddle music rings out into the night, and seaside towns with houses painted all shades of the rainbow. But it’s the people that make it distinct—full of mirth and music.
“Along its southern reaches is the Dingle Peninsula, the westernmost tip of Ireland,” says Judy Garrison, IL contributor who highly recommends Dingle in County Kerry as one of the most welcoming places to sample authentic Ireland.
“Hearts began to melt, when in 1970, the movie Ryan’s Daughter acquainted the world with its shore of lush landscapes and jagged coastlines. And then there was Far and Away, and soon, the world couldn’t help falling in love with this emerald gem.
“With over 30 pubs on the Dingle Peninsula, you’ll never go thirsty. Make your first pint (remember it takes about three minutes to pour a perfect pint—and a pint is always a dark stout Guinness unless you ask for something different) at the South Pole Inn in the tiny village of Annascaul, County Kerry. Antarctic explorer Tom Crean and his wife opened the famed pub in 1927.
“Inside the intimate pub, a sizzling coal fireplace and warm handshakes greet visitors, walls and shelves are dressed with historical artifacts of Crean’s South Pole journeys. Look for the bright sea blue building.”
The culture and tradition passed down through the generations makes Ireland special.
“No visit to Ireland is complete without bringing home traditional Aran wool,” says Garrison. “Named for the islands off the coast of County Galway, the Aran wool sweater, a symbol of Irish heritage, has been worn by fishermen and farmers for generations. Each stitch weaves the family legacy of an Irish clan, and owning an Aran Sweater is an acquisition that will stand the test of time and cold weather.”
Simple, English-speaking, easy-going, warm and friendly people—that’s how expats describe Belize. Bathing in the Caribbean waters, this Central American gem takes second place with 95 points.
One of the most popular places in Belize with expats is Placencia Village, on the southern tip of the 16-mile Placencia Peninsula.
“Funky, artistic, warm, and friendly, it is still considered a remote fishing village,” says IL Belize Correspondent, Laura Diffendal who lives in Placencia. “It looks picture perfect, with a tiny, pedestrian-only walkway, and only one main street in town.
“Although it counts only 1,500 full-time residents, it is frequently featured worldwide on travel programs.”
Canadian, Chris Applebe has been living full-time in Placencia for the last seven years.
“Previously, I worked for Sotheby’s in Canada, in sales and marketing for new project sales, mostly ski resorts,” he says. “For me, the main reason for moving to Belize was the weather. I was tired of winter, and skied out. Canadians work all year to spend one week in the tropics and I figured, why not all the time?”
Chris has a few years to spare until retirement, but he didn’t want to wait until then to start enjoying a year-round outdoor life. He transitioned to work in Belize in the same field of real estate.
Chris currently rents a luxury two-bedroom, two-bathroom beach condo overlooking the lagoon for $1,000 a month. “My home is in a beautiful marina with lagoon and sunset views. It’s relatively new and spacious. Every morning I open the curtains and there’s sunshine.
“Life in Belize is simple,” says Chris. “Even though I work full-time, it feels like I’m on holiday. I no longer deal with many of the First-World hassles like traffic or crowds. People are also very friendly and easy-going, which makes everything seem easier.”
Malta and Roatán, Honduras are both tied for third place with 93 points.
Malta is known for the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, warm and sunny climate, peaceful lifestyle, and rich cultural offerings—a coveted destination for centuries.
Valletta, Malta’s capital city, is an especially desirable location. It’s not just culture that is on offer, Valletta is also Malta’s social, political, and transportation hub and is the center of the island’s bus network.
“It makes it easy for residents in the city to explore the entire country and meet new people without the use of a car,” says IL Contributor, Shawn Mitchell. “Getting around is further aided by the fact that English is an official language in Malta, and the country has positioned itself as a destination for students of English seeking to mix their studies with a sun and sea vacation.
“Getting here isn’t a problem either, as Malta is very accessible, with its nearness to the rest of Europe a distinct advantage.
“The islands are only 92 miles by ferry from the historic city of Syracuse in Sicily, and flights from Malta’s main airport are also quick and economical. You could be in Rome in around 90 minutes or Paris in under three hours for just $50.”
The flawless and normally ripple-free Caribbean Sea surrounds the stunning, jagged, and tropical jungle-covered landscape on this small island off the coast of Honduras. Known for its clear waters and reefs, Roatán is a divers’ paradise.
The warm climate–year-round temperatures are normally in the mid-80s F—attracts expats to the open-hearted, English-speaking island.
“We always planned to retire on an island,” says Angela Szuch about her and husband Mike’s decision to move to Roatán. “We started visiting about 20 years ago to dive. Mike and I moved with our son at the end of 2017. Now at college in the U.S., he completed his last year of high school online while living on Roatán.”
After a year in the more developed West End of the island, the couple moved to the quieter eastern part and bought a house where the former IT professional and her electrician husband have settled into island life.
“It’s an octagonal house on stilts, an island-style home. It’s on a hill just five minutes from the beach with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a big kitchen and living area with mahogany floors. We have a big porch, a swimming pool, and garden and we paid just $160,000,” she says. “The cross breeze keeps the home cool enough that we don’t need to pay for air conditioning.
“We spend a quarter of what we spent in New Jersey. We like to cook and the food is healthier and fresher. I’ve lost 30 pounds. It’s very inexpensive.
“We’ve joined the local chapter of the Rotary Club. One recent project was raising money to build bathrooms in some of the local schools. There’s a sizeable expat community here. The biggest adjustment is adapting to island time and realizing that manana means not today. But I don’t mind the slower pace. It’s part of the charm.
“It’s easier than you think [to move overseas]. Make a plan, execute and go. And there’s no reason to wait until your kid is out of school or you retire. There’s online schooling available like we used, and plenty of people work remotely. Jobs are more portable nowadays.”
Costa Rica—in fourth place with 91 points—is one of the most popular retirement havens in Central America. Expats have been flocking here for more than 30 years.
As a long-time eco-tourism destination, Costa Rica is well-known for its wide variety of spectacular natural environments. There are volcanoes, rainforests, tropical beaches, waterfalls, looming mountains, rushing rivers, and more in this little country the size of West Virginia.
“One of the things you hear very often from expats is how warm and welcoming the Ticos tend to be,” says IL Coastal Costa Rica Correspondent, Kathleen Evans.
“Overall, they are wonderful people eager to share the magic of their culture with foreigners. You will also find great communities of expats who will help you through the process of acclimating to new surroundings and language.
“I joined a girls’ dinner group and quickly bonded with women from all over the world. I found it very easy to make friends since many folks move not knowing anyone and are often looking to forge new friendships.”
Ticos (the moniker Costa Ricans give themselves) have established in their country one of the world’s most stable democracies. Costa Rica dissolved its standing army in 1949 and the reallocated funds are spent on education, healthcare, and pensions.
Jennifer Stevens is a Columnist at Grit Daily. She is the Executive Editor of International Living, a publication that has, for 40 years, been showing readers how to travel better, retire sooner, and enjoy a more international life—no big nest egg required.