While it’s getting harder and harder to stretch a Social Security check far enough to cover basic expenses in America, many retirees are finding that living abroad is the answer. In addition to enjoying a new culture, American retirees may find that a Social Security check really is enough to live off overseas, sometimes comfortably.
To determine the best cities abroad where you can live on Social Security only, GOBankingRates used data from the Social Security Administration and Numbeo to find the cost of living in various foreign cities vs. the amount of the average Social Security check as of May 2023. However, affordability alone was not the only factor in these rankings. GOBankingRates also used both population and a city’s global peacefulness index rating, as determined by the Institute for Economics & Peace, to underweight smaller and/or undesirable cities in terms of high levels of conflict and militarization. The results are presented here in reverse order.
- Monthly Savings (Social Security-Expenditures): $436
China’s capital suffers from a poor peace index of 2.009, based on its high level of militarization. However, Beijing is a world-class city with nearly 22 million residents that remains very affordable.
- Monthly Savings (Social Security-Expenditures): $999
A single person could expect to live on just $385 per month in Mumbai, excluding rent. That makes the city one of the most affordable in the world. A very poor peace index of 2.314, however, prevents it from climbing further in the rankings.
- Monthly Savings (Social Security-Expenditures): $1,130
Chongqing might not have the cache or global recognition of Beijing or Shanghai, but it’s also more than twice as affordable as either of its siblings. If you’re living off the average Social Security check, you can expect to pocket more than $1,100 of it after paying all your basic expenses. A single person, for example, could live off just $709 per month — and that’s including rent.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Monthly Savings (Social Security-Expenditures): $1,038
For many, Buenos Aires is the best of both worlds, offering South American flair while retaining the European influences that have led to it being dubbed the “Paris of South America.” The country’s peace index of 1.837, while not exemplary, is actually second-best among the top-10 cities, behind only Japan’s 1.336. It also has the smallest population among the top 10, at just over 15 million.
- Monthly Savings (Social Security-Expenditures): $1,301
In addition to the wonders of ancient Egypt — and a thriving, modern city — Cairo scores very well in terms of being affordable. American retirees can expect to keep over $1,300 in their pockets from the average Social Security check every month. Worth noting, however, is that the country scores quite poorly in terms of its peace index, which checks in at a very unfavorable 2.267.
- Monthly Savings (Social Security-Expenditures): $457
Shanghai is an exciting, modern metropolis, chock full of history and cutting-edge technology. It’s also the home to over 29 million residents, meaning you can likely find anything you could possibly need. Yet, the city remains very affordable, with American retirees able to pocket hundreds of dollars per month from the average Social Security check. Worth noting, however, is that the country’s peace index of 2.009 could be unsettling for some.
- Monthly Savings (Social Security-Expenditures): $578
Although it couldn’t score quite as highly as its sister city Tokyo, Osaka actually provides much more financial cushion for Americans looking to live on just a Social Security check. Japan’s overall peace rating of 1.336 is the best among the 50 cities used for the survey, further enhancing Osaka’s position.
- Monthly Savings (Social Security-Expenditures): $1,339
If you’re just looking for pure monthly savings, Dhaka is a place you might want to consider. With average monthly expenditures of just $500 per month — including rent — a single person could end up with more than $1,300 left over from the average Social Security check. Bangladesh doesn’t rank highly in terms of its peace index, however, which reaches an unfavorable 2.051.
- Monthly Savings (Social Security-Expenditures): $1,252
Delhi’s gigantic population of nearly 33 million — combined with its huge monthly savings factor of over $1,250 — pushes the Indian city near the very top of the list. However, its poor peace index rating of 2.314 keeps it from escaping with the No. 1 position.
- Monthly Savings (Social Security-Expenditures): $176
Tokyo occupies what some may see as a surprise position at No. 1 in terms of the best cities abroad where you can live on Social Security only. But in spite of its reputation as an extremely expensive city, the data shows that American retirees could barely squeak by on the average Social Security check. The city’s ranking is boosted tremendously, however, by its immense population and its extremely favorable peace ranking.
To find the countries where your Social Security check goes the furthest, GOBankingRates first found (1) the average monthly Social Security payment according to the Social Security Administration’s May 2023 Monthly Statistical Snapshot report. Then, GOBankingRates used Numbeo to find estimates for the average monthly cost of (2) rent, calculated as the average of rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center and for a one-bedroom apartment outside the city center; (3) groceries, calculated as the recommended minimum budget for a Western food types monthly grocery basket; (4) transportation, calculated as the cost of a monthly public transit pass; and (5) utilities. Factors 2-5 were then added together to create a conservative (6) total monthly expenditures estimate. This was then subtracted from factor (1) to find (7) the amount left over from the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit after monthly expenses. Before creating a final ranking, GOBankingRates also considered each country’s (8) global peacefulness index rating from the Institute for Economics & Peace, which takes into account the “level of societal safety and security,” “the extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict” and “the degree of militarization” in each country. Lastly, the  population was included as the top 100 cities by population were analyzed and the top 50 were kept. The population, global peacefulness factor and monthly savings were scored with population and the global peacefulness factor being weighted as 1.0 and the monthly savings weighted as 1.5. The scores were added together and sorted by the highest to lowest, showing the cities abroad where you can live on Social Security benefits only. All data was collected and is up-to-date as-of Sept. 5th, 2023.
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