The best countries to retire in

  •  By
  •  Murray Humphrey

With the current cost of living crisis, more than ever people are looking at alternative living arrangements as energy hikes and the economy impact the quality of living.

One aspect of this is retirees choosing to retire abroad to pursue a better quality of life.

Searches for “best country to retire to from the UK” have risen 94.1% in the last 12 months, demonstrating that there’s an ongoing, ever increasing demand for inquiries surrounding moving abroad from UK pensioners, a trend that is expected to continue.

Retiring abroad is a much-desired goal for many, but what makes some locations more popular than others?

Pensioners are beginning to choose to retire abroad at ever increasing rates. 12% of people aged over 50 in the UK wish to relocate in retirement, moving closer to family and friends, pursuing a better quality of life or even moving abroad, according to new research.

The top 15 countries to retire in

In 2020, the Office for National Statistics revealed that people of retirement age in England were deciding to leave urban areas for rural areas or coastal locations instead.

Analysing the various countries British expats wish to retire in, the following factors were assessed to reveal the best countries in the world to retire in:

  • Exchange Rate
  • Cost of Living Plus Rent Index
  • Healthcare Costs
  • World Healthcare Ranking
  • Environmental Protection Index
  • Distance of travel from UK
  • Average Flight Cost
  • Safety Index Score
  • Happiness Survey Scores
  • Average Yearly Temperature
  • Population aged 65+
  • Amount of Money Required to Apply for a Visa
table showing a comparison of countries you can retire in

Top 3 Countries to Retire in

1. Croatia

croatian landscape showing a valley, river and homes with red roofs

Croatia tops the list of the best countries to retire in.

Top benefits of moving to Croatia in retirement include the exchange rate, with one British pound equaling to just shy of 8.5 Croatia Kronas.

The cost of living, inclusive of rent, is also exceedingly attractive when compared to staying put in the UK. Croatia scores 28.47 within the Cost of Living Index, compared to the UK’s 46.42, meaning that rent costs and the price of day-to-day living is nearly half of that of living in the UK.

Croatia is also one of the more environmentally friendly locations within the countries listed. This means that those who decide to settle in Croatia can enjoy green spaces, with a high population of people of a similar age, over 21% in total.

Croatia scores highly due to the fact that it only takes an average of 2 hours 5 minutes to get there from the UK, with relatively cheap average flight costs. Friends and family can visit with ease, and flying home to visit is also made convenient.

Additionally, financial worries can be eased if any issues relating to healthcare emerge, and it also has one of the lowest bank balance requirements for those who wish to apply for a visa in order to relocate.

2. Spain

city scape of spain with a spanish flag in the foreground

Spain is well known as one of the most popular countries that UK expats choose to retire in.

While retirees from the UK choose Spain for its laid back lifestyle, hot weather, and beautiful beaches, the climate isn’t the only factor that influences retirees to settle in their golden years.

With cheap flight costs and a relatively short flight time to get there, Spain is one of the most ideal destinations to retire in.

Spain also ranks highly in terms of happiness, scoring highly on happiness surveys while also being one of the safest countries in the world to settle in, with a score of 83 out of 100 on the World Safety Index.

3. Republic of Ireland

the west coast of ireland

The third best country to retire in for citizens of the UK might be surprising. What Ireland lacks in its moderate climate, it makes up for in its phenomenal healthcare, bountiful green spaces and its close proximity to the UK.

Ireland is also one of the happiest and safest countries to settle in. To relocate to Ireland, pensioners will only require the equivalent of €7000 in their bank accounts, meaning that this country opens up its green gates to a much wider range of people, regardless of their financial position.

Why people are retiring abroad?

Making the decision to retire abroad doesn’t come easily. After all, leaving a life you’ve always known for a new chapter involves a lot of change.

There are many reasons UK citizens decide to opt for a new life abroad in their retirement, but ultimately, the main element is seeking a better quality of life.

Some of the most dominant factors that influence a move abroad for retirement include:

Better exchange rates

The currency exchange rate is one of the top reasons that might persuade people to retire in a different country.

While the Philippines doesn’t top the list of the best countries to retire to, with an exchange of over 63 pesos to the pound, it’s clear why moving abroad might feel like an economically wise decision.

Even countries with a relatively low exchange rate can provide a superior quality of life. European nations such as France, Spain and Italy have an exchange rate of 1.12 at present.

As long as the economy doesn’t crash too severely, it’s clear that moving to any country within the top nations listed will put you in a better financial position.

Cheaper cost of living

Countries like the Philippines, Thailand and South Africa top the list when it comes to the comparative cost of living, with costs halving that of those we’d expect to pay in the UK.

Out of the countries within the top 15 table, the following all offer a cheaper cost of living, inclusive of rent, than the UK.

  • France
  • Italy
  • Cyprus
  • Spain
  • Greece
  • Croatia
  • South Africa
  • Thailand
  • Philippines

Healthcare costs and quality

Healthcare quality and costs are two different factors worthy of consideration when it comes to moving abroad for retirement.

Countries with a combination of an above adequate standard of living and reasonably priced healthcare provide a balanced, superior quality of life when people move abroad in their old age.

While Ireland has some of the best healthcare facilities in the world, ranking more highly than the UK, the cost of said healthcare is also one of the highest.

Equally, the Philippines has the lowest costs within the countries listed, yet the worst quality of facilities. Countries such as Spain can offer a combination of good healthcare, at a moderate cost, with facilities ranking number 24 in the world for their quality of care.

Number of green spaces

Escaping urban life in the UK is one of the key reasons that UK pensioners choose to emigrate.

Countries like France, Croatia and Australia rank the highest when it comes to their Environmental Performance Index scores, making them exceptionally attractive to retirees who wish to escape British city life for greener pastures.

Better weather

Just as many retirees seek out rural spaces for an enhanced quality of life, the weather is a major element that is considered when choosing a country to retire in.

The most desirable countries for pensioners moving abroad are those sunny weather, escaping the clouds of the UK for a more comfortable quality of life.

Spain, Italy, Greece and even further afield in locations such as Dubai are some of the key locations that are chosen, settling for average yearly temperature around the 20 degrees celsius mark.

Higher population of similar aged people

Community is essential, regardless of the chosen country of retirement. This often falls hand-in-hand with finding people of a similar age, who retirees are able to relate to.

Croatia, Greece, France and Italy have a huge number of citizens over the age of 65 at over one fifth of the population, whereas the likes of Spain isn’t far off.

Combining the enhanced quality of life with a desirable climate and opportunities to enjoy a social life make these countries the most appealing in the world.

Distance and cost of travel from UK

The ability for family and loved ones to visit their relatives who decide to settle abroad in retirement is an important factor.

Moving elsewhere in the world for a better quality of life shouldn’t mean that friends and family aren’t able to visit.

While countries such as Ireland aren't drastically different to the UK in terms of climate, this is made up for in the short travel time and low cost of flying.

Even hotter countries such as Spain can offer flights at an average of £72, with flight times as quick as 2 hours or less.

Safety levels

Finding a location that is as safe as it is comfortable is one of the most decisive factors when making a permanent residence abroad.

While the UK is considered relatively safe as worldwide nations go, matching that of Italy, the following ranked countries are considered to have higher safety ratings:

  • New Zealand
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • Spain
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Croatia
  • UAE (Dubai)

Happiness surveys

There isn’t any point in moving abroad if the chances of living a happy life are low. This is why looking at happiness surveys for each country is an important element in the decision making process when moving abroad.

While it’s hard to put a figure on happiness, it is possible to assess the current conditions in each country and use this as a guide when moving abroad in the later years of life.

New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the Republic of Ireland all score more highly than the UK when it comes to overall happiness, making them ideal locations to settle in.

Visa requirements

Many countries require you to have a certain amount of money in the bank to be eligible to apply for a visa. This can make moving abroad to retire difficult, but there are many countries that allow you to obtain a permanent visa without the equivalent of €10,000 or less in your account.

These countries include:

  • Canada
  • USA
  • Republic of Ireland
  • South Africa
  • France
  • Croatia
  • Philippines
  • UAE (Dubai)
  • Thailand

Additionally, the likes of Croatia, Philippines, Dubai and Thailand allow you to apply with less than €3000, with Thailand being the country that requires the lowest amount of just €545.50!

Can you access your State pension if you retire abroad?

While many people who retire overseas worry whether they will be able to access their state pension, it is possible to claim State Pension abroad if you’ve paid enough UK National Insurance contributions and are within 4 months of your State Pension age.

Personal or workplace pensions can be paid to you wherever you live and you’ll be entitled to any scheduled annual increases in the same way as if you were living in the UK.

Before moving abroad, it is important to figure out what pension scheme and provider is best for you as some providers may only be able to pay into a UK bank account, so be wary of providers who will apply extra charges.

Why save with Penfold?

Penfold allows you to find the best pension scheme that suits your needs.

Using resources such as our Pension Calculator, you can figure out how much you need to save whether you decide to stay put or relocate in retirement, while assessing how much money you will need to save.

It is also important to bear in mind that as your pension will be paid in pounds sterling, it may be impacted by fluctuating exchange rates when you convert it to your new local currency.

Using our Pension Guides, you can find the solution that is best for you, assess the various pension schemes available and find the right option to suit your needs now and in the future.

infographic showing the best countries to retire to in 2022

A photo of Murray Humphrey

Murray Humphrey


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