South America is such an exceptionally vibrant continent, inhabited by passionate people who live life to the full. As Lonely Planet puts it: “It’s as though the continent was built for travel.” If you’re currently exploring your global options in search of the best place to retire, and you’re looking for a place where you can have a low cost yet high quality living, South America is home to a handful of nations that you might like to closely consider.
In recent years many South American countries have experienced significant and sustained economic growth, which has seen at least the quality of infrastructure improve, if not the quality of life for many citizens. However, there remains a significant gap between rich and poor across the continent, and inflation can still be a serious issue which means that you have to plan your retirement to South America carefully, and do detailed research into which nation you could most comfortably call home.
The potential downsides of committing yourself to South America for the rest of your life are relatively few however, as long as you learn the main language of your chosen destination, (probably Spanish or possibly Portuguese), you manage your money matters carefully, and you select a town or location where there is the right balance between cultural integrity and relative sophistication.
For retirees it is critical that you explore your healthcare options before you commit to relocation too – and so this will include you looking at where you will be able to access any support or services you could conceivably need in the future. Additionally you need to look at affording ongoing healthcare insurance or services. Some expats go uninsured – paying as they go for any treatment or care. Others commit to an international policy which can be expensive, but invaluable if you do decide to live off the beaten track and therefore you put yourself in the position where you may need medical evacuation one day in order to access treatment for example.
The decision you will make will be determined by the nation you choose, the location within that nation that you decide to call home, the facilities available and your own budget. However, please do bear in mind this one consideration when exploring South America for a place to call home in retirement.
The other critical issue you will need to think about as you travel or research is whether you should be looking to live in a country and a location where other expatriates have already set up home, or whether you want to be a pioneer! Each alternative has its benefits…for example, if you live in an expat enclave you will be able to make friends fast and benefit from others’ experiences of setting up a new life in a new country. However, if you decide to fully integrate with the local people you will certainly be embracing the local culture, and if this is why you’re retiring abroad, it may be the level of experience you’re seeking.
Having covered the basics for you to keep in mind when examining where in South America you would like to retire, it’s time to look at what are perhaps the five best places to retire in South America.
Brazil is the largest country in South America, and it’s Portuguese speaking – which is perhaps the only main downside of this nation! Many people state categorically that Portuguese is harder to learn than Spanish – however, the good news is that many of the most popular destinations with expatriate retirees are the more touristy resorts on the country’s North Eastern coast where many people can speak some English. What’s more, there are plenty of people who happily live in Brazil and only pick up rudimentary language skills.
Naturally enough, if you want to get the most out of this incredible and vast country with its rainforests and mountains, its plains and highlands, amazingly exciting cities and beautiful resorts then you will need to embrace the language – and you will really need to speak a decent level of Portuguese if you decide you want to move away from the popular resorts such as Natal or even Rio.
Geographically speaking Brazil is exceptionally diverse, and this has a direct effect on the country’s climate. Most of the country is tropical – with many tourists and expatriates preferring the North East for its consistently beautiful weather. Although, if you’re seeking a more temperate balance then head much further south where you will come across marked seasonal changes and even experience frosts and occasional snowfall in the winter.
In terms of where exactly to live in Brazil the choice is vast! You have the international appeal and cultural accessibility of aforementioned Natal – although there are those who say the resort has been spoiled by over-development. You have the vibrancy of life in Rio – but then you have high crime rates and a distinct divide between very rich and very poor that’s evident in the city.
João Pessoa is perhaps a good alternative for those seeking a balance between sophisticated city living, tropical beach access, historical and modern architecture, culture and entertainment, a relaxed pace of life and an affordable cost of living. Or what about Búzios, Valença or Paraty to name but three alternatives?
In truth, the only way an expatriate will find the right home in Brazil is to travel to and then across this stunning country. Whilst swathes of the nation are considered inaccessible or inhospitable because of the terrain for example, it is also a nation with so many choices of wonderful cities, towns, villages and communities to call home.
Chile is certainly not one of the most popularly considered countries in South America for retirement by foreign citizens. It’s a country considered for travel and adventure, even for student exchange programs and teaching English as a foreign language jobs, however when you understand just what Chile can offer you, it soon becomes an attractive place to consider relocating to, particularly if you’re retiring abroad on a budget and you want a quiet pace of life.
Chile has many of the usually required and expected retirement abroad benefits going for it – for example, it can be a very cheap place to live very well. What’s more the people become quite welcoming once they see you’re committing to the country and immersing yourself in the language, and there are even decent health care facilities in Santiago and all major cities – although you will find that medical costs can run quite high if you go private.
You can find space in Chile to build and make a home – you don’t need to live in the crowded capital to feel safe or to integrate. Additionally you can travel within your new nation as a retiree and benefit from an exceptionally diverse landscape and never needing to go further than your nation’s borders to find true adventure.
From the city of Santiago to the seaside resort of Viña del Mar and the island of Chiloé, from the stunning southern Andes to Patagonia and the endless sands of the Atacama desert, Chile offers you beauty, diversity, freedom and an exceptional life quality. Seeing is believing however, and again, you’re strongly encouraged to visit the nation before deciding where in Chile you want to make a permanent home.
It’s hard to know where to begin describing the delights of Argentina…so let’s start with some facts. Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world, it’s a nation that offers every single climate condition you can think of, it has incredible wildlife, breathtaking landscapes, fascinating towns, lively and exciting cities, beautiful architecture, sumptuous food and wine. Its cultural heritage is steeped in European traditions and history, and the costs of real estate, healthcare and day to day living are genuinely low.
If these are not enough reasons for you to consider Argentina for retirement how about the fact that you can decide whether you want to live in a culturally rich city like Buenos Aires and benefit from museums and art galleries, or a more outdoor lovers city such as Bariloche. You can opt for the wine growing region of Mendoza or the cooler region of Chubut in Argentine Patagonia, and you can choose to live in a town and integrate, or set up a homestead on a large piece of land that you can probably barter for and buy at a knock down price.
Space is freely available in Argentina! So why not make the most of it and build a house or renovate a ruined old property and establish yourself well in retirement in this exceptionally beautiful nation. Your only dilemma will be where to settle because there are small expat enclaves all over Argentina, and the nation boasts so many beautiful communities that it’s hard to pick just one to make your new home abroad.
If you’re worried that Brazil is perhaps a little unsafe, Chile is a bit unsophisticated for your tastes and Argentina is just too economically unstable, have you considered Uruguay for your retirement abroad?
This country has been overlooked by Americans and Europeans seeking a retirement destination abroad simply because the country doesn’t market itself so aggressively as an amazing place to visit…however, don’t let that fact fool you into believing that Uruguay has nothing going for it!
Uruguay has the lowest crime rates in Latin America and it is politically and economically stable. What’s more the climate is stable, it doesn’t suffer from hurricanes or earthquakes, and it has fabulous beach resorts that could make for an excellent destination for those looking for the perfect retirement abroad.
The sophistication of infrastructure in Uruguay, the transportation links and the high standard of living mean that Uruguay is not the cheapest place to consider living in South America, but relative to the cost of living in Europe or North America, it is still cheap.
You have a choice of lifestyle destination – from the culturally rich city of Montevideo to the beach resorts along the nation’s extensive coastline such as Maldonado or Punta del Este for example. And perhaps the number one reason to consider living in Uruguay in retirement is because foreign sourced income – such as your pension – can be enjoyed tax-free locally!
Finally we come to Ecuador which has had its profile raised for the wrong reasons recently. Media reports allege that a coup attempt took place; local residents put it down to a strike that went wrong! The good news is that many expatriates already living in and retired to Ecuador report that life has not changed for them in any way, and that the negative reporting about the nation has had its benefits – such as stopping an influx of foreign retirees desperate to get in on the delights of this South American country!
Ecuador offers it all – from snow-capped mountains to rainforests, from beautiful towns to wild and wonderful coastline, and from the Galapagos Islands to colonial cities – this relatively small country offers its residents true and never ending diversity.
Ecuador borders on the cheap side of affordable – which is a real bonus for expat retirees on a limited budget – but it does have its drawbacks such as its relative lack of sophistication when you step away from the main cities, and its poor infrastructure once you really step off the beaten track.
One destination that has been cited as a true contender for those who want the ideal blend between a decent standard of living and an affordable cost of living is the coastal city Manta where you can find decent healthcare and entertainment, you can enjoy decent amenities and facilities, but you’re not having to afford big city prices.
There is no denying the fact that South America is an incredible continent of geographical diversity, offering every conceivable lifestyle option under the sun! The cost of living can be affordable in the right location in the right country, and the lifestyle benefits for overseas retirees are almost limitless.
There is also no denying the fact that a would-be retiree has to try before they buy in, and spend some time travelling the region to find the right place to call home. We hope this report serves as a good introduction to South America, and whets your appetite for exploration and adventure.
If you want to know more about these South American countries, you will find many more articles and resources on the EscapeArtist website. We have pages of free information on Living In Argentina, Living In Ecuador and Living in Uruguay.
About the author: Susan Beverley is a writer and editor for Escape From America Magazine and also writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – the expat news blog for EscapeArtist.com. She traveled extensively before becoming an expat herself having found a place to call home in South America where she has lived since 2005. She understands the concerns, needs and difficulties that expats face from first-hand experience and is dedicated to supporting and encouraging anyone who is looking for a new nation to call home.