How about spending away the rest of your golden years amidst your own little piece of tropical sun-filled paradise? Or experiencing endless summer without ever having to shiver your way through another ice-cold winter storm? It sounds like the ultimate dream, doesn’t it? Well luckily, it’s easier than ever to achieve.
All around the globe, there are more than enough places for Baby Boomers hoping to spread their wings and venture off the beaten path in search of warmer weather, richer cultural experiences, and a more active lifestyle during those chillier months. From Europe to Central America or Asia, snowbird-friendly communities await to be further explored by those wanting to find sunshine and pleasure abroad. Here are the best non-U.S. destinations for Snowbirds.
Top Snowbird Destinations Outside of the U.S.
Blessed with a mild climate year-round, New Zealand, all by itself, is already an absolute gem. It’s got beautiful, unspoiled scenery that seems to change at every highway turn and it’s never overcrowded or too stressful or disruptive of a place for snowbirds looking to relax on the other side of the world. Plus, it’s always been a clean and environmentally pure land, featuring vast harbors, superb specialty seafood, and great coastal views.
There are plenty of things to do for retirees, especially in this 'garden city' of the South Island's east side. Choose from horse treks and cultural experiences to a variety of gardens and museums to peruse. Plus, it is only in this particularly picturesque New Zealand snowbird hotspot that you’ll an eclectic mix of English conservatism and European-style culture. Christchurch is the gateway to the south side of the island-- not to mention a golf-lover’s paradise, with over twenty-five golf courses within forty minutes of the city center (all costing a mere fraction of the American cost!). There’s also Snowbirds New Zealand, a Christchurch city-based inbound tourism operator offering older enthusiasts the "ultimate golf vacation” and the opportunity to experience a safe adventure while discovering the country at its very best. (It also provides snowbirds with exclusive access to the Christchurch Golf Club, one of New Zealand's most prestigious and longest established private clubs).
Christchurch, New Zealand’s closest major airport: Christchurch International Airport
With endless surf, sand, and beaches, it’s Portugal’s much cheaper alternative to the French Riviera and has long remained a favorite destination for northern Europeans eager to escape the Continent's wild winter winds. There are quaint villages and ancient Roman and Moorish ruins to explore, as well as dozens of golf courses, hiking, cycling, yachting, and fishing options that’ll keep snowbirds busy for weeks upon end.
Make sure to sample the various local cuisine and vast regional wine offerings available as well—all for more than superb prices. A dinner for two of piping hot fresh fish, with all the fixings, and wine will set you back merely thirty five euros or fifty U.S. bucks. A four-week-long stay during the winter (including airfare, apartment and car rental) starts at only under a couple thousand dollars. For retirees looking to get away in a spot with spring-like temperatures and a little European culture, this is the place for you.
Algarve, Portugal’s closest major airport: Faro Airport
Situated high in the mountains-- at an elevation of 2,800 meters above sea-- this one’s got a climate that’s slightly less tropical than most. Still, it’s one of the most comfortable and affordable retirement options in Latin America. Over-55ers who are free from that typical nine-to-five craze can pick oranges for breakfast and grows herbs for dinner at this number two world-ranked retiree favorite locale.
It lies within north-central Ecuador in the Guayllabamba river basin and is the country’s capital city (the second highest capital city in the world!). Today, it continues to grow as the political center of the country and was even named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 to preserve its colonial convents and churches, as well as its famed “Old Town,” which hosts over a hundred monumental buildings celebrating the city’s heritage. Simply put, the beautiful location, coupled with the area’s appreciation for its history makes it the perfect spot for any snowbird to explore. Plus, because of Quito's elevation and special location on the equator, it is said to enjoy eternal springtime. Winter worthy for travelers indeed!
Quito, Ecuador’s closest major airport: Mariscal Sucre International Airport
Get some permanently warm Asian spice within an exotic, lush, and mountainous island oozing with history and heritage. Anchored on the Spice Route, just off Malaysia’s west coast, these 110 square miles of pure tropical treasure was deemed by Victorians as “the Pearl of the Orient.” Plus, it’s conveniently located, just a mere two-hour drive from the borders of southern Thailand and only a fifty-minute flight from another retiree-favorite, Kuala Lumpur (which is also accessible by an eight-mile long road bridge and a ferry from the mainland that runs 24 hours a day. A second bridge was completed mid-2014 and a tunnel is planned for 2034!)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, George Town, Penang’s capital city, is one of Asia’s most likable urban areas and manages to blend the old with the new, as modern high-rises encircle streets packed with ancient Chinese shop houses. It offers everything from sprawling metropolises and sunny beaches to mountain peaks and jungle retreats—not to mention some brilliantly affordable healthcare (it only costs $20 to see a specialist!). What’s more is that the Malay government offers affluent retirees the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) Programme which allows foreigners to stay in Malaysia for extended periods on a renewable ten-year pass that allows them to come and go as they please.
Penang, Malaysia’s closest major airport: Penang International Airport
5. Costa Rica
Paradise meets convenience at this Costa Rican snowbird fave. It’s a bustling tourist town in the northwestern province of Guanacaste luring sun seekers of all sorts with its main draw—which is, you guessed it, the beach at Playa Tamarindo. With verdant green mountains set behind a long golden arc of sands and waves stretching along the Pacific, there isn’t any other tropical gem like this one out there.
An array of hotels, stores, bars, restaurants, and tour companies are just a short saunter from the seashore. So stargaze, sightsee, and zip-line, all in the confines of a remarkable rainforest within Central America. This one’s definitely the place to flock towards for snowbirds needing a big change—i.e. a difference in culture, a difference in language, currency, as well as scenic beauty. Plus, the entire country itself enjoys the third highest life expectancy in the western hemisphere. It’s also affordable, accessible, and even offers Canadian-run health insurance for expats. What’s not to love, Snowbirds?!
Tamarindo, Costa Rica’s closest major airport: Liberia Airport
It’s the largest island Belize has to offer and is protected by the second longest living coral reef in the world. It also boasts year-round beautiful weather and uses English as its national language—making it an even more ideal Snowbird destination for everyone.
Love diving or snorkeling? You’ll for sure enjoy the reef’s infamous “shark ray alley,” located just a quarter-mile off the coast, where you’ll be able to swim with nurse sharks and manta rays while seeing all other awesome sorts of fish in the sea. If you’re looking to spend time on the mainland, there are also plenty of good options for food or places to tour by car. Try the Mayan ruins, the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (home to the mighty jaguar), or simply just relish in some superb local culture and shopping.
Ambergris Caye, Belize’s closest major airport: Philip Goldson International Airport
Mexico and Costa Rica might have topped snowbird lists in past years, but this up-and-comer is also proving to be increasingly popular. Though it might not just yet have the ample array of housing options or infrastructure of mainstays, it does happen to boast gorgeous and predictable winter weather, friendly locals, and a currency that’s not just linked to the US dollar—it is the US dollar—which makes it much easier for everyone! Plus, not only is Panama inexpensive to visit, but it’s also safe, peaceful, and offers more than plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. Golfing, diving, or hiking, anyone?
It’s safe to say that this tropical hotspot is a thriving snowbird community all on its own, with retirees from all over the world blissfully enjoying the good life. It’s probably why Panama has topped International Living’s list of best places to retire for six years. Added bonus: this already enticing locale offers discounts to expats on everything from transportation to closing costs for home loans, so no property taxes for foreigners for up to twenty years!
Panama City, Panama’s closest major airport: Tocumen International Airport
Clear skies, sunny beaches, friendly locals, delicious food, and a cost of living that’s estimated to be just 10% of living in North America. What’s not to love? It’s really more than easy to see why snowbirds from all around the world are willing to brave a whole different hemisphere in order to settle amidst this culturally rich northern Thai city. Plus, it’s a nice escape from the whirlwind pace of life of its southern rival, Bangkok.
Nestled amongst fabulous foothills and lush green countryside, this former locale of the Lanna kingdom is not only a historic center, but also a blissfully calm and laid-back area-- feeling, many a times, more like a sleepy country town than a bustling capital. Unwind from utter chaos with plenty of fabulous food, leisurely wandering, and a vast array of activities to take part in—all without any major modern mayhem. Sip on fresh fruit shakes or chow down on some Thai curry while getting the most out of your buck (in Thailand, everything from rentals to transportation is cheap by North American standards!). What’s more is that Chiang Mai is ringed by a tangle of superhighways and bears some of the strongest infrastructures of trains, luxury buses, and cheap flights to anywhere within the country—or to neighboring countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia, which are also all excellent options for expat living.
Chiang Mai, Thailand’s closest major airport: Chiang Mai International Airport
With first world amenities, including marinas, yacht clubs, and golf courses, as well as an incredibly reasonable cost of living, this one’s a great retirement choice all year round. Be warned though: travelers really get the most out of the area by escaping here during those winter months.
Live La Vida and live out loud in this extremely desirable Mexican location where over-55ers can easily apply for a Rentista, a non-working visa that entitles them to stay longer than six months-- if they happen to fall head over heels in love with the city even after the cold has passed! So this holiday season, do something different by having yourself a sunny winter instead. Plus, the area’s already got itself a large expat population, as well as numerous nearby southern towns and fishing villages offering hefty bargains on the dollar. You’ll be calling this paradise home in no time.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico’s closest major airport: Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport
It’s an affordable retirement destination with a colonial flare, offering Snowbirds naturally beautiful landscapes, balmy beaches, quaint historical towns, and affordable prices. Go about exploring the various winding and weaving cobblestone streets of this five-hundred-year-old town, all lined with great restaurants, bars, and things to do.
From charming city excursions and annual poetry festivals, to numerous opportunities to enjoy some of the best cycling, swimming, and boating in the country, it’s no wonder why Granada remains home to one of the biggest and most established expat communities in the region—even today. Thousands of retirees continue to refresh, rejuvenate, and reinvent themselves in this popular snowbird nest. So plan that perfect winter trip by heading off to a sultry and tropical locale boasting fresh breeze blows off the waters of Lake Cocibolca, as well as views of the ever-looming silhouette of a stratovolcano-- Volcán Mombacho.
Granada, Nicaragua’s closest major airport: Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport
This article was written by Pamela Chan.