If you plan to live off just your Social Security check in retirement, finding the best place to retire in the U.S. will be a challenge.
Social Security is only intended to replace 40 percent of an average retiree’s salary, making it hard to get by in some of America’s more expensive cities. That’s why some retirees move to other countries in retirement, where living expenses are lower. If you plan to rely on Social Security in retirement, keep reading to see the countries where you can make your Social Security checks stretch further.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $56
Germany may not be a bargain compared to other countries on this list, especially in the utilities category, which will set you back a whopping $262.84 per month. Housing is also pricey, ranking second on the list at $821.70 per month. However, you’ll be living in a country with nine different borders, an efficient train system, beautiful scenery and world-renowned beer, all for a cost that’s less than your Social Security check. If you’re going to be living and working in Germany, beware — it is one of the highest taxed countries in the world.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $102
If not for the highest housing expense among all 25 countries at $918.44 per month, Canada would rank much higher on the list. Food costs are also high — second-highest on the list — at $286.03 — but utilities are quite reasonable for such a chilly country, averaging just $106.38. Beautiful scenery, a kind citizenry and a culture not too dissimilar from America make Canada a welcoming destination.
Social Security payment after expenses: $324
For some travelers, Spain has it all — beautiful beaches, great food, lively culture and fascinating history. It’s also home to some of the best cities in the world, from Barcelona and Madrid to Seville, Malaga and Valencia. To imagine you can kick it in the sun and still have $324 left from your Social Security check every month may seem surprising, but Spain manages it with the help of moderate monthly food, housing and utility costs of $231.95, $717.63, and $139.03, respectively.
22. Czech Republic
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $396
The Czech Republic has the second-highest utilities expense in the top 25 countries at $195.24 per month. Other costs are not nearly as high, with housing coming in at $619.76 per month and food costing just $202.48. Its capital, Prague, is one of the most affordable and enjoyable European cities. Like many countries in the EU, if you live in the Czech Republic you can expect a low crime rate, good public transportation, good healthcare and lots of outdoor activities.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $452
Located on Europe’s west coast, Portugal is one of the closest countries to America, if travel time is of concern to you. Living in Portugal, you’ll enjoy moderate costs across the board, with monthly average costs of $205.16 for food, $645.97 for lodging, and $109.90 for utilities. You’ll also enjoy seaside suburbs, medieval cities and ubiquitous glasses of port named after the city of Porto.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $542
Only a relatively high utilities cost of $183.82 prevents Poland from being a much cheaper country for retirees. Housing costs are moderate at $527.01, but food expenses are low, coming in at a monthly average of $160.37. Visitors and residents are charmed by the old-world feel of Poland, which also boasts scenic forests, white-sand beaches and buzzing cities.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $553
Taiwan garnered the name “Ilha Formosa” — the beautiful island — from Portuguese sailors back in the 1500s. The country still lives up to the name, with awesome scenery, hiking trails and national parks, and modern Taiwan is also home to temples, nightlife and great food. Although food costs are the highest on the list at $374.42, other costs are low, with average monthly housing at $412.50 and utilities at just $72.70.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $577
Chile, the long, thin ribbon of a country on the west coast of South America, is a land of beautiful contrasts, from the super-dry Atacama desert (complete with a giant sculpture of a waving hand) to the glacier-filled Patagonian ice fields. Costs are affordable as well. Monthly utilities are a bit high at $133.72 per month, but food and housing are moderate at $210.62 and $491.85 per month, respectively.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $578
Tourists from around the world are drawn to Hungary’s thermal spas, architecture and what Lonely Planet calls “Europe’s most exciting capital after dark,” Budapest. Retirees also stay for the low costs. Utility costs run high at $186.71 per month, but the average Social Security check can easily cover the country’s $175.65 food cost and $472.61 housing expense.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $601
China’s economic rise has been in the news for decades now, but this ancient wonder known best for its Great Wall has managed to keep daily living costs low, even for expats. Utilities, in particular, are cheap at just $53.07 per month, but other costs are reasonable as well. Housing comes in at $541.24 per month on average, and food rings up at $218.04.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $612
Thailand is referred to as the “Land of Smiles,” and if you plan to retire there, your smile might come from the extra money you get to tuck into your wallet every month. Although food is a bit pricey at $237.13 per month, Thailand scores points for housing costs of $489.73 and utility costs of $74.19. With everything from delicious food to world-class diving and hospitable locals, Thailand warms the hearts of many American expats.
14. South Africa
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $643
South Africa makes the list as one of the most affordable places to retire thanks to low utility costs of $89.46. Food costs, at $190.13 and housing at $490.87 are also moderate. With the extra money in your pocket you can enjoy wine and art scene around Cape Town or look for the Big Five game animals on a South African safari. Retiring to a foreign country might be a brilliant retirement idea that works for you.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $667
Greece is a historical wonder, boasting the Acropolis and the birthplace of democracy. It’s also a sun-soaked paradise, with mythical islands ranging from the party capital Mykonos to the perfect caldera of Santorini. It’s also a great place to stretch the value of your Social Security check, with cheap housing of $336.71 per month and moderate food costs of $230.82. Utilities can run up the bill, however, with average costs hitting $178.07.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $771
Brazil is one of the best places to retire on a budget, with total monthly costs coming in at just $641.84. In between enjoying Carnival and the country’s legendary beaches, rainforests and the Christ the Redeemer statue above Rio, you can expect to pay $172.35 for food and $390.63 for housing on a monthly basis.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $773
Vietnam’s booming economy has put it on the world map, with former military strongholds like Danang giving way to luxury high-rise hotels and tourists from around the globe. American expats are taking note, attracted by low costs across the board, particularly utilities at $46.94 per month. Housing and food expenses are also low at $406.19 and $186.82 respectively.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $808
Romania cracks the top 10 on the list of cheapest places to retire in the world thanks in large part to low average food costs of $147.20 per month. Utilities are the highest in the top 10 at $108.65 per month, but housing is an affordable $349.13. If you’re a nature lover, you can enjoy the EU’s largest population of brown bears among other treasures in the country’s forests; city lovers enjoy the country’s castles and medieval architecture.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $839
Historic Turkey is one of the top 10 affordable places to retire thanks to a utility cost of $77.85, a housing cost of $333.98 and a food expense of $162.26 on an average monthly basis. Boasting Istanbul — the only city in the world that spans two continents with sections in both Europe and Asia — Turkey is multifaceted with plenty to keep retirees busy, from the palaces and mosques in Istanbul to the ruins of Ephesus.
8. Dominican Republic
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $884
The Dominican Republic is blessed with a sunny climate and low costs — you can expect to spend just $172.33 for food, $295.82 for housing and $61.08 for utilities on average per month. Most tourists come for the luxurious hotels facing the country’s idyllic beaches and white sands, but long-term residents also enjoy historic forts, museums and local cuisine.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $912
Big eaters, take note: Ukraine offers the best bang for your buck when it comes to food, with its $104.50 average monthly food cost ranking the lowest among the top 25 countries. Housing costs are reasonably low, at an average of $306.99 per month, and utilities won’t break the bank either, costing just $89.10 per month on average. As an expat, you’ll be able to enjoy a relatively tourist-free exploration of the country’s ancient castles, beautiful countryside and lively cities.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $921
Indonesia is one of the most inexpensive places to retire, with a very low utility cost of just $53.77 per month. While most Americans are familiar with the temple, yoga and party culture of Bali, Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world and offers everything from world-class dining to Komodo dragons and the largest national park in Southeast Asia. With average housing and food costs of $252.63 and $186.12, your Social Security check can really stretch far in Indonesia.
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Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $954
America’s southern neighbor is popular with expats, and with good cause. In addition to familiar, delicious cuisine and sun-drenched beaches, costs are exceedingly low. If you pay the monthly averages of just $36.20 for utilities, $279.73 for housing, and $143.22 for food, you’ll have nearly $1,000 of your Social Security check left in your pocket.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $988
If you’re concerned about the cost of your utilities, put Venezuela on your retirement map. At just $13.04, Venezuela has by far the lowest utility cost in the top 25. Other costs are low as well, as you can expect to pay $148.28 on average for food and $263.91 for housing every month. Of course, cost isn’t everything, and Venezuela is not one of the best countries for Americans to retire — the U.S. government currently recommends that its citizens avoid Venezuela due to a high level of violent crime and current political unrest.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $1,028
Algeria might not be the first country that comes to mind when you think about retirement, but a combination of historic sites and low costs might make it of interest. Algeria is the home to numerous Roman ruins, along with the legendary Casbah. Ultra-low utility costs of $37.99 per month are nearly matched by the extremely affordable $182.86 monthly housing expense and the $163.79 average food expense.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $1,094
India is one of the least expensive places to retire in the world, with monthly average costs totaling just $318.92. It’s the cheapest country to live in before retirement, too. The country is also full of unique experiences, from its trademark culinary style to wonders of the world like the Taj Mahal. If you can imagine enjoying all that great food for just $110.85 per month — plus paying only $174.59 for housing — India might be on your retirement radar.
Social Security payment remaining after expenses: $1,130
If you’re looking to maximize your Social Security check, Egypt just may be a dream come true. Of the top 25 countries, Egypt boasts the lowest average monthly housing cost at just $157.70, and food and utilities both rank No. 2, at $105.93 and $19.46 respectively. With all the extra money left over, you’ll have plenty of time to tour the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Sphinx and the Pyramids. All of these factors make Egypt the best place to retire in the wo/rld on a budget.
Where Your Check Stretches the Furthest
You’ll have more than half an average Social Security check left after paying for monthly expenses if you live in any of the top 10 countries where a check stretches the furthest. You’ll have 57 percent of your money left over if you’re living in Romania, and all the way up to 80 percent of your money left if you’re living in Egypt.
Keep reading to see the 50 cheapest places to retire across America.
More on Retirement
- 13 Low-Paying Jobs That Will Actually Pay Off in Retirement
- States Where Your Retirement Will Cost Less Than $45,000 a Year
- Why $1M Might Not Be Enough for My Retirement Dreams (or Yours)
Methodology: GOBankingRates analyzed critical cost of living factors, such as monthly food prices, monthly housing costs (average monthly rent) and monthly utilities, for 100 major countries around the world, sourced from Numbeo.com. Based on the average Social Security check of $1,413.08, sourced from SSA, we then subtracted cost of living expenses and determined which countries would allow for the most income left over.