Dateline: Bratislava, Slovakia
For years, I’ve seen publications claiming to expose the “best places in America to retire”. For many people, these onshore “safe havens” have been places like Florida, Nevada, and even Alaska – places with no state income tax and warm weather.
Of course, by following the information on this site, it’s possible one could retire overseas and pay no income tax – state or federal – but let’s set that fact aside for a moment.
I just came across a list called the “10 Best Small Cities in America to Retire To”… and I have to say I’m shocked.
Granted, I’m nowhere near retirement age, and my penchant for a bustling large city with plenty of social options is likely to be different from the choices made by someone looking to settle down in their golden years.
However, considering that almost every retirement survey examines the cost of living, tax burden, and access to health care, this list misses the mark by a mile as far as I’m concerned.
According to real estate blog Movoto, Florissant, Missouri – a suburb of St. Louis – is the “best small city to retire” in the United States.
Other than having my car stolen there, I can’t say I have a lot of experience with St. Louis. But I do know the weather is horrible much of the year and that Missouri imposes a state sales tax.
According to Movoto, other cities to crack the top ten include West Des Moines, Iowa, Lakewood, Ohio, Hendersonville, Tennessee, and Fountain Valley, California.
Having lived in Lakewood, Ohio for part of my childhood, I have to call foul on this list. Most of the cities being touted as excellent retirement destinations have poor weather and high taxes. In the case of Lakewood, Ohio, you will not only pay federal and state taxes, but a city income tax as well.
And while Des Moines doesn’t exactly sound like an exciting retirement destination, I would avoid anywhere in over-taxed, bankrupt California like the plague.
For that level of taxation, you might as well live in New York City.
Of course, I believe you should live or retire overseas. If you’re capable of moving to Tennessee, you’re capable of moving to Panama. You’ll still have to fly to see your grandchildren, and on the occasions they come to see you, they’ll at least get a glimpse of culture outside of their own country.
Why you should retire outside of the United States
Let’s take the criteria Movoto used to determine their “best places to retire” list:
Cost of living
While retiring to another part of your home country could yield some cost savings, especially if you’re coming from a city like Los Angeles, living abroad could allow you to write your own ticket. I was just looking at apartments in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as an investment, and I happened to see a few of the rental prices: $200 a month, $250 a month, $300 a month…
Talk about reducing your cost of living in retirement. The same prices are available if you’re willing to go a little further out in cities like Bangkok. Meanwhile, here in Europe, you can get an apartment in Prague for as little as $400 a month.
If you want to seriously lower your cost of living, you can’t just focus on your home country. The monetary supply issues effecting prices where you live now will effect them in the city you move to. Only escaping your home country entirely will allow you to make real, lasting changes to your cost of living.
If you’re seriously concerned about reducing crime, the United States should not be the place you retire. In fact, the United States has a relatively high homicide rate among developed countries. Places like Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Iceland, and Switzerland have virtually no violent crime in contrast to the USSA and the UK.
Of course, past results are not the only barometer of the crime rate you should expect in a retirement destination. As the US economy gets worse, more people will theoretically turn to crime. What happens when EBT cards get shut off, or some other fiscal catastrophe happens?
Regardless of the current crime rate, a bankrupt country on the brink of collapse is probably not good for low crime rates forever.
This is where this list truly fails. Having lived in Lakewood, Ohio, I can say the weather sucks. Long, dreary winters matched with short, humid summers that bring mosquitos the size of… well, they’re big. Many of the other “top cities” on this list fit similar criteria.
By choosing a home overseas, you can write your own ticket weather wise. Whether you like a dry climate, a tropical climate, or a perfect balance of four seasons, there are places on earth where you can live for far less money and enjoy your dream climate.
In fact, whenever I see lists like this, I have to imagine there is a lot of settling going on. Seeing that the list doesn’t appear to take taxes into consideration, every retiree might as well live in Laguna Beach.
The reason these lists don’t suggest expensive cities like that is that they wouldn’t get any readers. Not many people can afford to live on the beach in California, and those that can don’t need a list to encourage them to do so.
Rather than settling for a place that’s just alright, why not dream of retiring on a gorgeous beach that actually meets the lower cost of living criteria? I have several friends renting villas on pristine islands in Thailand for $1,000 a month. Then, you could spend your retirement in a hammock rather than waiting by a dusty road for a Social Security check.
Ease of travel and distance to nearest international airport
This right here shows me that people do want to travel overseas; they’re just too afraid to live there. Of course, for the price of a two-week European cruise, you could live in luxury on a beach somewhere for months.
Who needs to mingle with other retirement age tourists when you can live a life they’d all be jealous of?
Again, none of the cities on this list have great access to international travel options. Lakewood, Ohio, next to Cleveland, is the closest at just eight miles away from Cleveland Hopkins airport. And while Cleveland used to be a large airline hub, it is a shadow of what it once was.
Today, unless you live in one of a handful of large, expensive cities, you can expect infrequent connections on small planes to get to an airport that actually serves international destinations. In fact, United Airlines is currently phasing out its Cleveland hub, meaning the city will be left with virtually no direct flights anywhere.
Meanwhile, you could easily avail yourself of an international travel hub in almost any other country on earth. Living overseas would give you access to a huge international network of flights.
The same goes for countless other cities in Europe and South America. Cities like London and Singapore are some of the best connected travel hubs in the world, with non-stop flights to practically anywhere you could imagine. The same goes for lower-cost cities like Kuala Lumpur, which serves as a huge hub for two major airlines.
Retiree amenities per capita (healthcare, senior centers, adult education)
Once again, I point you back to the “laying in a hammock” argument. Beyond that, the United States is highly uncompetitive for senior services.
Health care in the USSA is a joke. In fact, I’m thankful anytime I become ill outside of American borders. Last year, I paid just $131 for upwards of a dozen medications and full-time English-language care in Malaysia.
You couldn’t get a nurse to sneeze on you for that in the US. In fact, I’ll bet the average relatively healthy senior would pay less out of pocket getting health care overseas than they do for Medicare supplements.
Dozens of countries around the world are building high-end medical tourism facilities to attract westerners at prices as much as 90% less than they would pay at home.
While I can’t exactly relate with the retirement mindset, I would imagine that things like “senior education” would be more enjoyable in the form of learning a foreign language from local children or learning to cook a foreign cuisine. That sounds a whole lot better to me than borrowing a book from the “Department of Aging”.
As a quality of life and cost of living benefit, retirees could easily hire out most of the tasks they don’t wish to handle or are no longer physically capable of handling. Maids, cooks, butlers, and private drivers are all within your reach when you live overseas. That’s a benefit you can’t get in Hendersonville, Tennessee.
When it comes to finding the best places to retire, we need to start thinking outside the box. The idea of “moving to a Red State” won’t make a difference when the United States as a nation collapses under the weight of its own debt.
For lots of excellent tips on places to live overseas, medical tourism, and other expat concepts, check out my Passport to Freedom DVD series, where you’ll be able to peek in on a $2,000 offshore conference and learn ways to live cheaply and happily overseas.