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Unlocking paradise: Top 7 tax-friendly havens to retire for Americans

Unlocking paradise: Top 7 tax-friendly havens to retire for Americans

In the pursuit of tranquil beaches, delightful cuisines, and a relaxed pace of life, many are considering crossing borders to find the best countries to retire.

Coupled with tax-friendly environments, these destinations offer a divine cocktail of benefits for the discerning retiree.

"Retirement is a chance to make new choices unburdened by the constraints of yesteryears." - Catherine Pulsifer

1. Portugal: the Iberian sanctuary

Life in Portugal

Expat retirees find a treasure trove of benefits in Portugal. The welcoming locals, picturesque landscapes, and vibrant culture make it enticing.

The Portuguese lifestyle is laid-back, and the emphasis is on enjoying life. Portugal is renowned for its festivals, with Festa de São João in Porto and Carnival in Lisbon being the highlights.

A significant advantage for English-speaking retirees is that many Portuguese speak English, particularly in the service industry.

Furthermore, Portugal has been ranked as the third-best country for expatriate living by Internations, reflecting its appeal to the expat community.

Cost of living

In Portugal, you can live comfortably on a monthly budget of around $2,500. This is relatively lower compared to other Western European countries.

The cost of housing, utilities, and groceries are quite affordable, which makes it a lucrative option for retirees.


With one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, Portugal is a safe haven.

In 2020, it was ranked as the third safest country in the world by the Global Peace Index.

The community-focused culture ensures a sense of security and belonging for the residents.


The Portuguese healthcare system ranks highly. As a resident, you can access the National Health Service at low costs.

Portugal has an excellent ratio of healthcare professionals to the population, ensuring that medical care is accessible and efficient.

Tax friendliness

The Non-Habitual Resident (NHR) scheme offers tax exemptions on foreign income for 10 years for those who haven’t been tax residents in Portugal in the previous five years.

This includes pensions, dividends, royalties, and interest from investments.

Moreover, there is a flat 20% tax on Portuguese-sourced employment and self-employment income.

This favorable tax regime is particularly beneficial for retirees looking to maximize their income in a European setting.

2. Panama: Central American charm

Life in Panama

Panama offers a blend of modern city life and serene beaches. The U.S. dollar as currency and the presence of many expats create a familiar atmosphere.

Moreover, the tropical climate is ideal for those looking to escape cold winters.

Panama City is the epicenter of urban life with a skyline reminiscent of Miami. Outside the city, you’ll find charming villages, mountain retreats, and pristine beaches.

The Panamanian culture is a rich mix of indigenous and Spanish influences, which is visible in its cuisine, music, and festivals.

Cost of living

In Panama, a monthly budget of $1,500 to $2,500 suffices for a good lifestyle. Housing options vary widely, from city condos to beachfront properties.

While Panama City can be more expensive, other areas like Boquete and Coronado offer a lower cost of living.


Panama is relatively safe, but caution in certain areas is advisable. Like any country, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings, especially in larger cities.

However, expat communities often enjoy a strong sense of community and security.


Private healthcare facilities in Panama are of high standards. Many doctors and healthcare professionals are trained in the United States and speak English.

It’s wise to have health insurance, and several providers offer plans designed for expatriates.

Tax friendliness

The Pensionado program in Panama offers several tax breaks and discounts for retirees.

This includes exemption from import taxes on household goods, duty exemption for importing a car every two years, and discounts on entertainment, flights, and hotel stays.

NB! Additionally, Panama does not tax foreign-sourced income. This makes it one of the most tax-friendly countries for American retirees.

3. Malaysia: Asian Delight

Life in Malaysia

A melting pot of cultures, Malaysia offers delicious cuisine, friendly people, and a tropical climate.

The country is home to a mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures, each with its own unique traditions and festivals.

Expats often find themselves indulging in the gastronomic delights that this diversity brings.

Malaysia has a balance of bustling cities like Kuala Lumpur and peaceful islands like Penang and Langkawi.

English is widely spoken, which makes it easier for expatriates to navigate through day-to-day activities.

Cost of living

One can live comfortably in Malaysia on around $1,500 per month. The cost of living is remarkably low compared to western standards, and high-quality goods and services are readily available.

Accommodation, whether renting or buying, is affordable, and the utilities and groceries are reasonably priced.


Malaysia is generally safe, but, as with any destination, it’s important to exercise common sense, especially in crowded tourist areas.

The country has a relatively low crime rate, and the locals are amicable and helpful to foreigners.


Malaysia boasts high-quality healthcare at reasonable prices. Its hospitals and clinics are well-equipped, and many healthcare professionals are trained in Western countries.

Malaysia is also renowned as a medical tourism destination due to its excellent healthcare services.

It's advisable to have health insurance, and there are numerous policies tailored for expats.

Tax friendliness

Malaysia does not tax overseas income, which is beneficial for retirees who have income streams from other countries.

The Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) program provides long-term visas for foreigners wishing to live in Malaysia. It's a ten-year renewable visa that comes with various incentives including tax exemptions.

4. Mexico: close yet so different

Life in Mexico

Mexico is a land of contrasts with a rich culture, warm weather, and a diverse environment. Its proximity to the US is an added bonus for American retirees.

With its vibrant music, savory cuisine, and colorful traditions, life in Mexico is never dull.

The local population is known for its hospitality and friendliness towards foreigners. Many expats are drawn to Mexico’s colonial cities, beachfront towns, and rural villages.

Popular destinations include the Riviera Maya, San Miguel de Allende, and Lake Chapala.

Cost of living

Living in Mexico is relatively affordable. On a budget of $1,500 to $3,000 a month, one can enjoy a fulfilling and comfortable life.

The cost of living varies depending on the location, with beachfront properties generally being more expensive. However, even in the more costly areas, the cost of living is significantly lower than in major cities in the US.


As with many countries, safety in Mexico can vary by region. While some areas are known for their high crime rates, many of the places popular among expats are safe and have tight-knit communities.

It is essential to exercise caution, especially in regions close to the US-Mexico border or known for drug-related crimes.

Staying informed and taking necessary precautions can ensure a safe living environment.


Mexico offers both public and private healthcare systems.

The public healthcare system is accessible and affordable, while the private healthcare facilities often provide a higher standard of care, albeit at a higher cost.

Many doctors and healthcare professionals in Mexico receive training from the US or Europe, ensuring quality healthcare services.

For retirees, it's advisable to have health insurance that can cover treatment in private hospitals.

Tax friendliness

While Mexico does have taxes on income, it has treaties with the US to avoid double taxation, allowing American retirees to get credits in the US for taxes paid in Mexico.

NB! Mexico does not tax Social Security income from the US, which is beneficial for American retirees.

5. Costa Rica: the pure life

Life in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a gem of Central America, embodying the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle, which translates to ‘Pure Life.’ This philosophy centers around happiness, well-being, and a laid-back attitude.

The country’s focus on environmental sustainability and peace (it has no standing army) has drawn many expats seeking tranquility and a connection with nature.

The Tico community (as the locals are called) is warm and welcoming, adding to the quality of life.

Cost of living

A monthly budget of around $2,000 is generally sufficient for a comfortable life in Costa Rica, although this can vary depending on lifestyle choices and location.

Housing, utilities, and healthcare are significantly less expensive than in the United States, while imported goods might be comparably priced.


Costa Rica is often considered one of the safest countries in Central America. The government's dedication to peace and social programs has created a stable society.

However, as with any country, it’s wise to take general safety precautions and be mindful of one’s surroundings, especially in tourist areas where petty theft can occur.


Costa Rica boasts an excellent healthcare system with modern facilities and services.

The country offers a public healthcare system (Caja) that expatriates with residency can join. Additionally, private healthcare is available at reasonable prices.

Many doctors in private healthcare speak English and have received training from the United States or Europe.

Tax friendliness

Costa Rica operates on a territorial tax system, meaning that foreign income is not taxed. This is particularly advantageous for retirees who receive income from outside Costa Rica.

However, it’s important to understand local tax obligations for any income generated within Costa Rica and how the US Foreign Earned Income Exclusion may apply.

Pro tip. To ensure proper tax planning, it’s advisable to consult a tax expert.

6. Spain: European elegance

Life in Spain

Spain is known for its rich culture, delectable cuisine, and historical heritage.

With a Mediterranean climate that boasts warm summers and mild winters, Spain offers a high quality of life.

It’s a country where you can enjoy laid-back living, punctuated by vibrant festivals and events.

Cost of Living

In Spain, a monthly budget of around $2,000 to $2,500 is generally sufficient for a comfortable lifestyle.

This includes housing, utilities, groceries, and leisure activities.


Spain is a safe country with a low rate of violent crime.

However, like many tourist destinations, petty crimes such as pickpocketing can occur in crowded areas. It’s advisable to be vigilant, especially in tourist hotspots.


Spain’s healthcare system is ranked among the best in Europe. Both public and private healthcare services are available, with a high standard of care. As a resident, you may be eligible for state healthcare.

Tax friendliness

By becoming a non-resident for tax purposes, you can avoid Spanish taxes on foreign income.

However, it’s important to understand the legal requirements and implications of residency status.

7. New Zealand: a Pacific paradise

Life in New Zealand

New Zealand, often referred to as Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, is a Pacific paradise known for its stunning landscapes, friendly locals, and high quality of life.

With its diverse terrain of mountains, forests, and coastlines, it is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The culture is a rich blend of indigenous Maori heritage and European influences.

English is the primary language, making it easy for American retirees to communicate and adapt to life in New Zealand.

Cost of living

Living in New Zealand is generally more expensive than some other countries on this list, but still affordable.

Depending on lifestyle choices and location, one can expect to spend around $2,500 to $4,000 per month for a comfortable life.

Rent, groceries, and utilities are the primary expenses, and while some things may be pricier, the high quality of goods and services often balances it out.


New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world, with low crime rates and a strong sense of community.

The locals, known as Kiwis, are known for being friendly and welcoming. The government is stable, and the country has been recognized for its peaceful nature.


New Zealand boasts a high-quality healthcare system. As a resident, you have access to public healthcare services, which are either free or heavily subsidized.

There is also a range of private healthcare options. It is advisable for expats to have health insurance to cover any private healthcare costs, which can be higher than public services but generally have shorter waiting times.

Tax friendliness

New Zealand has a comprehensive tax system, and residents are taxed on worldwide income.

However, there is a four-year transitional resident exemption for new immigrants, during which overseas income is generally exempt from tax.

NB! New Zealand has strict immigration policies, and it is important to understand the visa requirements and options for retirees before planning a move.

It's crucial to get proper tax advice and understand your obligations as a retiree in New Zealand.

Bottom Line

With a myriad of options, selecting the best country to retire requires careful consideration of various factors, including tax implications.

Navigating the complex terrain of international taxes can be daunting, but experts at Taxes for Expats can guide you through this process.

"Retirement is not the end of the road. It’s the beginning of the open highway." - Unknown

Reach out to us for personalized assistance and embark on this new adventure with confidence.

Also see - "Webinar: Pensions and Other Retirement Accounts Outside of the U.S."

Ines Zemelman, EA
Founder of TFX