The best places to retire overseas where English is spoken

Check out these English-speaking options for retirement abroad.

  • By Maryalene LaPonsie,
  • U.S. News & World Report
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Warm weather, beautiful beaches and cosmopolitan culture lure many retirees overseas for their golden years. While some enjoy exploring far-off locations and don’t mind navigating language barriers, others may feel more comfortable knowing they can easily communicate with those around them.

“It's natural for people to be intimidated by the prospect of learning another language – particularly later in life,” says Jennifer Stevens, executive editor of International Living, a source for guidance on the ways to live, work, retire, travel and invest overseas. She adds that it’s usually not necessary to be 100% fluent in another language.

That’s been the experience of retiree Norm Bour who travels the world with his wife and documents their adventures on the website Travel Younger. “We’ve visited 43 countries since we began our travel in 2019, and truly, except for an occasional language barrier at restaurants or getting directions, we get by with no other language skills,” Bour said in an email.

Still, if you want to live in a country where English is widely spoken, you have plenty of choices. Obvious destinations such as the U.K., Australia and Canada can be expensive or make it difficult to obtain residency. Instead, consider retiring to one of these places, listed in alphabetical order, where English is spoken.

  • Belize
  • Ireland
  • Malaysia
  • Malta
  • New Zealand
  • Panama
  • The Philippines
  • Portugal
  • Puerto Rico

Belize

Conveniently located in Central America, Belize and its islands – such as Ambergris Caye – are among Stevens’s top picks for retirees who want to live somewhere where English is spoken.

“Belize is the only Central American country where English is the official language,” said Kathleen Peddicord, founder and CEO of the website Live and Invest Overseas and former U.S. News contributor, in an email. While the islands and shoreline are marked by beautiful beaches, the mainland is covered by a dense jungle, she said.

An added perk of Belize is its low cost of living and accessible retirement visa. The Qualified Retirement Program is available to anyone age 40 or older who generates at least $2,000 monthly or $24,000 annually in retirement income from a source outside Belize.

Ireland

If you are a person of independent means, Ireland welcomes you to retire within its borders. Independent means is defined as having an income of €50,000 per year along with a lump sum of money to cover sudden, major expenses. “This lump sum should be equal to, for example, the price of a residential dwelling in the state,” according to the Irish immigration website.

English is one of two official languages in Ireland. The other – Irish – is less common and more likely to be found in rural areas.

“You’d have to put up with rainy weather,” Stevens says. But what the country may lack in weather, it makes up for in hospitality. “The Irish are as friendly as reported,” according to Stevens.

Malaysia

English is widely spoken in Malaysia, which is a former British colony. “We had no problems there,” Bour said.

What’s more, Malaysia is affordable. A couple can live comfortably on $2,000 or “live like royalty” if they have $3,000 to $4,000 per month, according to Stevens. She recommends the Malaysian state of Penang as a particularly good choice for U.S. retirees and notes it is a melting pot of people and languages.

The country offers a Malaysia My Second Home program for those who want to retire to the country. Certain income and investment levels are required.

Malta

For a unique yet affordable retirement experience, look to Malta in southern Europe. “You’ll feel a little like you’re living in a museum,” Stevens says.

The nation is located in the Mediterranean Sea and contains five islands. Stevens picks Gozo – the smaller of the two main islands – for retirees because it is less populated and offers a more affordable cost of living.

The Malta Retirement Programme was created to allow foreign nationals to retire in the country. To qualify, people must demonstrate that they have sufficient regular payments coming from a pension or similar income source.

New Zealand

Less affordable but still desirable is New Zealand. Located in Oceania, its distance from the U.S. is its main drawback, Harvey says. The 16-hour flight deters some people from wanting to settle in this English-speaking country, and the time zone differences can make phone communication with the U.S. a challenge.

Still, the country is known for its natural beauty, safe and welcoming communities, and slower pace of life. These characteristics can appeal to a retiree who is ready to check out from the rat race. It is also politically stable and offers subsidized health care.

You’ll need significant assets to retire to New Zealand, though. Those age 66 or older can stay in the country for two years if they have NZD $750,000 to invest, NZD $500,000 to live on and an annual income of at least NZD $60,000.

Panama

Spanish is the official language of this Central American country, but U.S. retirees may find numerous English speakers, depending on where they choose to live.

“You can find pockets where there are so many U.S. and Canadian expats that you’d rarely need to speak Spanish,” Peddicord said. “The City Beaches and Boquete are two of those pockets.”

The City Beaches refers to a stretch of shoreline along the Pacific coast that is about 90 minutes from Panama City. “It’s a beach resort area with lots of amenities,” according to Peddicord. Boquete offers a very different experience in the highlands with rolling green hills and cool weather.

To retire in Panama, you need to demonstrate you receive at least $1,000 in monthly retirement income and that can include Social Security.

The Philippines

English is one of the official languages in the Philippines, and while locals may have an accent, many speak it well, according to Peddicord.

The Southeast Asian country is made up of thousands of islands “with postcard-worthy beaches and warm weather year-round,” Peddicord says. It also has a very low cost of living and is welcoming to foreign retirees.

The Special Resident Reitree’s Visa allows for an indefinite stay and provides other perks such as discounts. There are several ways to qualify for the visa including meeting minimum asset and income requirements.

Portugal

Portugal has seen an influx of interest from American expats in recent years. Locals may speak Portuguese, but there are plenty of people here who also speak English.

“You have a truly solid American expat community,” says Jean-François Harvey, founder and managing partner at Harvey Law Group, a global firm that assists clients in obtaining citizenship by investment. For retirees, the country’s quality health care system is also a benefit, he says.

The country offers visa options to retirees and those living off their own income. One popular option is the D7 visa which only requires a single person to have bank assets of €19,680 and a monthly income of €820 from a passive source such as a pension or retirement savings.

Puerto Rico

If you want to move overseas without actually leaving the country, consider Puerto Rico as your retirement home. Although Spanish is the native language of many residents in this U.S. territory located in the Caribbean, English speakers are also plentiful.

“Puerto Rico, believe it or not, has a lot of tax incentives,” says Micheal Foguth, president and founder of Foguth Financial Group in Brighton, Michigan. Not the least of those is that you may not have to pay federal tax as a Puerto Rican resident. “Your dollar is going to go a lot further,” Foguth adds.

Even better for retirees, since Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, no visa or other special permission is required for U.S. citizens to move there. Simply pack your bags and book a flight.

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