10 Best Islands for Retiring Early

December 30, 2014

Florida and Arizona are booked. Not so with these islands, where the cost of living is manageable, health care gets high marks, and there’s plenty to do to keep active.

Read more in our Ultimate Best Islands to Live On Guide.

Best Islands to Retire On: Vanuatu

No. 10 – Vanuatu

No. 10 – Vanuatu Jon Whittle

If you’re not looking to work or invest in Vanuatu, you just need a $3,000 minimum monthly revenue that you’ll be transferring to the local bank. Practically anyone can buy property, which often falls under a 50- or 70-year lease. And it is cheap. We found a four-bedroom beachfront house 45 minutes from Port Vila, for example, listed at $198,000.

Best Islands to Retire On: Bequia

No. 9 – Bequia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines

No. 9 – Bequia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines Zach Stovall

Artists and writers thrive in its little communities, fueled by the colorful tropical life surrounding them. But since the island is so small (only 7 square miles), megaresorts have blessedly left Bequia alone. The island is perfect for dreamers looking for a flower-filled Caribbean garden where you can set up a canvas and paint a free life.

Best Islands to Retire On: Cyprus

No. 8 – Cyprus, Greece

No. 8 – Cyprus, Greece iStock

A visa can be secured by proving a $7,500 annual income for retirees.

Best Islands to Retire On: Roatan

No 7 – Roatan, Honduras

No. 7 – Roatan, Honduras Jon Whittle

Islanders look favorably on American expats, and there’s a strong community of expats creating businesses and jobs. Lots of volunteer ops too.

Best Islands to Retire On: Isla Mujeres

No. 6 – Isla Mujeres, Mexico

No. 6 – Isla Mujeres, Mexico Zach Stovall

Retiring does not mean not working; it means not having to work. With lower cost of living than many parts of the US and a forgiving climate, this might just be the place to write the memoirs of someone who abandoned the mainland hustle and moved to the Yucatan at 45. Think about it over ceviche and a Dos Equis. A ferry ride to Cancun — and from there access to all of Mexico and world — varies the scenery.

Best Islands to Retire On: Belize
No. 5 – Belize Zach Stovall

Another Central American option? It’s hard to argue with the convenience and affordability of retiring to these closer-to-home tropics. Instant and friendly community on Ambergris Caye, an encouraging government, English spoken, currency pegged to the US dollar (at two to one) — it’s also hard not to make lists when considering island retirement options this appealing. A lush environment jeweled with blue holes sets Belize apart as well. Moderate income qualifications make it accessible. Ready?

No. 4 – Cebu, Philippines Shutterstock

The Philippines government encourages retirement here for anyone who can sustain themselves. Low housing and other costs (even lower in Cebu than in Manila), plus a favorable exchange rate, mean that’s almost everyone. Cebu City is the Philippines’ oldest city, but it has modern conveniences, with beaches and mountains both close at hand. English is widely understood here, and the people are unfailingly optimistic. To join them, start dreaming.

Best Islands to Retire On: Panama

No. 3 – Bocas del Toro, Panama

No. 3 – Bocas del Toro, Panama iStock

The weather (lots of sun, no hurricanes); natural beauty; adventure, dining and entertainment opportunities; the air-travel convenience of a major international hub—Mexico City for lunch, anyone—don’t hurt Panama’s case as a top pick for retirement. The government encourages North Americans with various visa options. The islands of Bocas take all that to the water’s edge, adding secluded beaches, ocean sports and fresh seafood. Here your “car” might be a kayak, your house like your own personal eco-lodge.

Best Islands to Retire On: Kauai

No. 2 – Kauai, Hawaii

No. 2 – Kauai, Hawaii Jon Whittle

Work the garden year-round. Eat fish caught a few hours ago. The most rural of the Hawaiian islands consists of beaches, cliffs and agricultural land. In 2040 the life expectancy on Kauai is estimated to be 85. Pace is a big reason. Kauai’s population density is half that of the other Hawaiian islands, and people of all ages can put more miles on their kayaks than on their cars (driving fewer than 1,000 miles a year is common).

Best Islands to Retire On: Malta

No. 1 – Malta

No. 1 – Malta iStock

Take the world’s most coveted weather (the high-end Mediterranean kind), throw in a strong health-care system (lower out-of-pocket costs than in the US), sound infrastructure and stable economy, and you’ve got one great place to retire. Accessible history in a cultural hub, numerous outdoor activities (diving, sailing, cycling) and a calendar dotted with colorful public celebrations defy boredom. Also the island harvests giant, sweet strawberries — in January.


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