When you think about retirement, there are a host of typical destinations that likely spring to mind. Florida dominates most lists with popular spots like Miami and Tampa, as well as sunny golf meccas like Myrtle Beach, or tax-friendly states like Pennsylvania.
But if you’re looking for unexpected places to retire that fly a bit under the radar, there’s no shortage of other locales that check many of those retirement-friendly boxes: affordable cost of living and tax policies, safety, robust healthcare, convenient amenities, and plenty of entertainment and activities.
“People might consider relocating to retire if they’re in a financial pinch or want to improve their lifestyle,” said Michael Collins, founder and CEO of WinCap Financial.
Collins also said that evolving criteria for retirement destinations is opening up more possibilities, particularly as people are retiring earlier in their careers. “That’s been a huge trend, especially during the pandemic,” he said. “When you hear that narrative of employers saying they can’t find workers, the stereotype is of a younger person. But in reality, it’s the 61-year-old with a fat 401k who’s had it with working.”
While these younger retirees may ultimately need the same support services as they continue to age, they’re also still craving adventure and independence that they expect to enjoy for years to come.
Collins’ top pick for a retirement destination is a two-hour flight away from Houston, nestled between Costa Rica and Colombia in Central America. The U.S. dollar is one of Panama’s official currencies, English is widely spoken, there is a large American expat community and the average cost of living is about 34.2% lower than in the U.S.
What’s more, the country is considered safe, with high quality healthcare, good infrastructure and friendly U.S. Visa programs. A government pension program offers retirees substantial discounts off everything from airline and movie tickets to utility bills and transportation. All of this comes in a package of dreamy tropical living that includes coastal beaches and rainforests to explore and plenty more activities under the sun.
Located along the gateway to Washington’s Olympic National Park, this small town (pronounced “skwim”), is recommended by Levon Galstyan, certified public accountant at Oak View Law Group in Glendale, California. The town has over 8,000 people and is known for its fragrant lavender farms, access to nearby old growth forests and rugged coastlands, and its comparatively drier microclimate than soggy Seattle, 45 miles away.
Sequim is a great option for retirees who want to say goodbye to the traffic jams and everyday hustle of city life, but still want the occasional trip to Seattle for cultural events like ballet or theater. Major medical facilities, restaurants and other amenities are 25 minutes from Sequim in the nearby city of Port Angeles.
The average monthly cost of living per person in Sequim is $1,931 — a real deal for a retiree ditching the gloomier $2,734 average cost of living in Seattle.
Much lesser known than nearby Tampa, Galstyan also recommended Dunedin (pronounced “done-EE-din”), which boasts stretches of unspoiled Gulf coastline, miles of bike trails and a charming downtown. The almost 36,000-population city also honors its Scottish heritage with its annual Highland Games and Festival and Dunedin Celtic Festival, and a celebrated pipe band at the local high school. Dunedin’s cost of living is 3% below the national average, according to Payscale.com.
Located 30 miles west of Vail, Galstyan recommended this small outdoorsy haven that avoids the trappings of the nearby resort towns, yet provides loads of access to skiing, hiking, biking, whitewater sports, fishing, golf and more. The weather is warmer and drier than surrounding areas thanks to its “Banana Belt” conditions. Life in Eagle doesn’t come cheap, though. According to Redfin, the median sale price of a single-family home is $690,000, as of late September.
If the desert is calling you, Galstyan had another suggestion of this historic border city on the edge of the Colorado River, which has a lower monthly cost of living ($1,566 per person) than other retirement destinations like Scottsdale ($2,050) or Phoenix ($2,374). Yuma has a rich artistic community, historic attractions and outdoor adventures from water sports to desert hikes and sand dunes.
Yuma is also within 30 miles of two vibrant Mexican cities, Los Algodones and San Luis Rio Colorado, both of which draw Americans over the border with their culture, entertainment and abundance of affordable dentists, opticians, pharmacies and other medical services. Just be prepared for heat: During the hot summer season, triple-digit temperatures are common.
Solomon Islands, Maryland
Another recommendation from Galstyan, weekend trippers from the Baltimore and D.C. areas head to this picturesque boating mecca on Chesapeake Bay for summer excursions and seafood. Once a hub for the construction of fishing ships, more than 2,200 people make Solomons (as the locals call it) their home year-round. Condos, townhouses and gated marina communities make popular homes for retirees here, many with water views.
Thirty miles from Boise, Caldwell is considered part of the Boise metro area but makes an attractive alternative for those feeling put off by the explosive popularity of Idaho’s capital. Recommended by Jeff Mains, CEO of Champion Leadership Group, Caldwell beckons with vineyards and wineries of the Sunnyslope Wine Trail, college town vibes and a welcoming downtown area that hosts plenty of events throughout the year. With low property taxes, Caldwell’s cost of living is less than in Boise ($1,986 vs. $2,215). Get there quick, though — Caldwell has also been named one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S.
Surrounded by wide open spaces and other-worldly Western scenery, Joel Ohman, certified financial planner and CEO of Quote.com, recommended this small Wyoming community that gets its name from its geothermal hot springs park where visitors come to soak in indoor and outdoor mineral pools. While winter temperatures can drop into the teens, the climate here is milder than elsewhere in Wyoming. Plus residents enjoy the low property taxes and benefits of no income tax that the state offers. If dinosaur bones, ancient petroglyphs and rodeos are your style, Thermopolis may be the perfect place to ride off into the sunset.
For strong community, historic charm dating back to the 1840s and four seasons of outdoor enjoyment, Collins suggested Linden (pop. 4,176), which is situated on the shore of Michigan’s Shiawassee River. It offers easy access to nearby trails and lakes, where hearty midwesterners embrace the cold on snowmobiles, cross-country skis and toboggans. As far as bang for your buck goes, several lakefront single-family homes were on the market for less than $650,000, and Linden’s cost of living is 3.3% lower than the national average.
The simple, quiet life gets top billing in this former agricultural community 22 miles from Nashville. Recommended by Alex Wang, co-founder and CEO of Ember Fund, Nolensville is known for its antique shops, Amish market and overall quaint charm. Nolensville was rated as the best place to live in Tennessee by a 2019 Homesnacks analysis aggregating numerous quality of life factors, including crime rates, health insurance coverage and home values.
Though the cost of living in Nolensville is a bit higher than the national average, Tennessee has no state income tax, making it a financially-friendly state for retirees.
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