7 of the Top Places U.S. Expats Are Living in Latin America (and Why)
The U.S. State Department estimates that there are currently 6.32 million Americans living overseas, in over 160 countries. But where exactly are they choosing to reside?
Thanks to a new interactive map that uses migration data from the United Nations Population Division, we can now tell where Americans are living abroad (as well as nationals of any other foreign country).
Not surprisingly, many of the countries that top the list of popular destinations for U.S. citizens are located just to the south, in Latin America. Due in part to their proximity, pleasant climates, and affordability, the countries of Central and South America are a natural choice for would-be expats who are looking to experience something new.
Here are a few of the most popular countries U.S. immigrants choose, along with what makes them such desirable destinations.
849,000 Americans Live in Mexico
With an astounding number of U.S. immigrants (more than twice that of just a decade ago), Mexico is the #1 place Americans go when they leave the U.S. It’s also more than twice that of the second most popular country, Canada.
In fact, you might also be surprised to know that more people from the U.S. have moved south of the border than Mexicans have moved north. And the reasons for this choice are numerous.
For starters, relocating to Mexico is just easy. It’s close. There are plenty of other expats. You can access the country with only a short flight, or even drive across the border if you really want to.
In many places the infrastructure is good, quality health care abounds, and it can all be had at a fraction of the cost of living in the U.S. The long-standing U.S. expat presence has paved the way for newcomers, and there are plenty of the same U.S. franchises and name brands that foreigners recognize.
Yet despite its U.S. influence, Mexico maintains a rich culture that many say has been lost in other expat havens, such as countries in Europe. Mexico’s immigrants claim the country is alive with possibility and a vibrance that just isn’t found anywhere else right now.
39,000 Americans Live in Ecuador
Ecuador continuously battles nearby Panama for top billing as the world’s best place to retire. In 2014 it lost by only .1 of a point, according to International Living’s annual survey. Among the reasons for its consistently high scores are its unrivaled scenery and its extremely affordable cost of living.
A couple can live quite comfortably in most Ecuadorian cities on $1500 to $1800 per month, which includes housing and even luxuries like a part-time maid. That same feat can be achieved elsewhere in Latin America, but it won’t come with the same quality of life.
Ecuador has historic colonial cities like Quito and Cuenca with their cathedrals and Spanish colonial architecture. The weather in the mountains is pleasantly mild, and even on the coast the temperature rarely reaches 90 degrees.
There’s good private health care, particularly in the large cities. Infrastructure is also improving, with enhancements like a new airport just outside Quito and the widening of the Pan-American Highway.
The country’s economy is stable and growing, The friendly and welcoming Ecuadorians are thriving, enjoying better lifestyles than previous generations.
13,000 Americans Live in Costa Rica
For a few decades now, Americans have been flocking to Costa Rica for its natural beauty and the “pura vida” (pure life) atmosphere it offers. Named the world’s happiest country, accordingly to the 2009 and 2012 Happy Planet Indexes, it possesses a lot of factors that contribute to an overall fantastic quality of life.
Both Costa Rica’s locals (called Ticos) and expats enjoy a much slower pace of life than U.S. residents are used to. There are plenty of options for healthy living, including yoga classes and organic food options. The country is also committed to sustainability, and green initiatives abound.
The country’s public health system is among the best in the world (ranked higher than that of the U.S.). After a monthly payment that’s based on income (between $50 and $150 for most expats) residents receive health care that’s completely free and includes routine visits, prescriptions, and even major surgeries. No exclusions apply due to age or pre-existing conditions.
Costa Rica is safe, politically stable, and enjoys year-round warm weather, although the higher Central Valley is even milder than the tropical coasts. There’s also a great pension program for retirees earning an income of $1,0000 or more from an outside source.
12,000 Americans Live in Panama
Edging out Ecuador to take the top spot as the best place to retire in 2014, Panama is a popular choice among expats for its convenience and affordability, as well as its unmatched retirement program. Thanks to some new visa options, it’s also recently become an even easier place to live as an expat.
Its list of conveniences includes easy access, thanks to several international airports, a dollarized economy, widely-spoken English, and a thriving international community. The country is also undergoing a massive overhaul of infrastructure projects ranging from new highways and a metro system to an expansion of the canal.
Few Latin American countries can rival Panama’s variety and value. It has quaint mountain cities flanked by rainforests and coffee plantations, laid-back Caribbean beach towns, and a bustling first world capital city that has a national park within its city limits.
Panama’s pensionado visa has always been a popular choice. It’s available to anyone, regardless of age, who can prove $1,000 per month income from a guaranteed source. For those who qualify, the list of benefits and discounts are too extensive to list.
Much of Panama is more affordable than its Costa Rican neighbor, in many cases with the same or better amenities, making it a great place to invest in real estate or the growing tourism industry.
8,000 Americans Live in Guatemala
Guatemala, known as the Land of the Eternal Spring, has also crept onto the radar of many U.S. expats in recent years. Its popularity is largely due to the fact that it shares many of the same perks as its Latin American neighbors (slower pace of life, beautiful surroundings, close proximity to the U.S.), without being too overcrowded.
It’s also a bit less expensive than some of its competitors, with expat couples claiming the ability to live comfortably on well under $1500 per month. Domestic help, like the services of a maid or gardener, is only $2-$3 per hour. And a week’s worth of fresh fruits and vegetables costs only $6-$10 at the market. Real estate in Guatemala is also on the affordable side.
One of the country’s biggest selling points is its authentic culture, particularly the area around Lake Atitlan, a popular expat destination. Located about 75 miles from Guatemala City, the lake is surrounded by volcanoes and a number of villages where natives still practice their ancient Mayan traditions.
Even closer to the capital is Antigua, which is full of cobblestone streets and colorful flora. Much of the country enjoys a mild climate with warm days, cool nights, almost no humidity, and little need for either heating or air conditioning.
4,000 Americans Live in Nicaragua
Two of Nicaragua’s most beautiful colonial cities, Granada and Leon, aren’t just impressive due to their shady parks and Spanish architecture. They’re also among the hemisphere’s most ancient.
Granada and Leon continually vie for the title of Oldest City in the Americas. Both boast colonial churches and public buildings, as well as plazas that are well-preserved specimens of the area’s rich history.
Equally breathtaking are the country’s two coastlines (one sand, one surf), its jungle and cloud forests, its lakes and volcanoes, its capuchin monkeys and rare orchids. Visually, Nicaragua is a rare gem, having much of the same ecotourism appeal as Costa Rica and Panama, just less discovered, less developed, and less expensive.
In fact real estate, even in some of the developed areas, is quite a bargain in Nicaragua. Land on the Pacific Coast selling at 40-50% below its peak, and a small Spanish-colonial home in Granada can go for as little as $40,000-$50,000. Many developers are quite eager to sell, offering special deals and discounts such as developer financing.
3,000 Americans Live in Belize
Like its Latin American neighbors, Belize offers an amazing climate and an affordable lifestyle. It also delivers stunning natural beauty, much of which is completely unspoiled. Adventurous expats can explore its sandy white beaches, tropical rainforest, ancient Mayan ruins, mountains, waterfalls, and more.
Most notably, the warm waters off the coast of Belize are home to the world’s second largest barrier reef (the largest in the western hemisphere), which makes for excellent diving, snorkeling, fishing, windsurfing, and a number of other aquatic activities.
Also, as the only English-speaking country in Central America (due to its origins as a British, rather than Spanish colony), Belize is an easy place for expats to make themselves comfortable. The country’s system of law is also based on British principles.
Another perk of living and investing in Belize is its stable economy. It has one of the lowest inflation rates in the world and a number of tax benefits for residents and investors. As a result, it’s also a popular offshore banking center.
So, if you’re considering relocating to Latin America, those are a few of the places where you might be most likely to have other expats as neighbors.
But don’t read much into the numbers other than just that. No single expat destination is right for everyone, so a country that draws thousands of new immigrants each year might have no appeal for you at all.
The decision to become an expat is life-changing one. The process of deciding where is the fun part. Start exploring today.
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Visited Cuenca Ecuador a year ago and fell in love with the place.
i need as much help as possible..looking to move to latin america..love the ocean fresh foods and the ability to catch and eat from the sea..medical is important ..as well as the local peoples being okay with a new person…actually open for all areas moutains ..valleys a new life 7/5/14 ready in jan.2015..thanks Chad
Chad thanks for taking the the time to comment! Check out our info on Boca Chica, Panama, and see if it stacks up to your criteria!
We are thinking of maybe living in south america we speak only english. Would b willing to learn need a area where it’s not damp can you help. Thanks
Chad what place in South America you looking for?
Chile is a wonderful place to live..look into it. Depending on what you like, you can choose cold or hot weather, mountains or ocean, it’s probably the safest in SouthAmerica, people are friendly and many speak some English. Good luck
can you tell me if you have no or little knowledge of Spanish, will it be okay to live in Chile.
Thanks in Advance
I have no Ide why mexico seems to be even on this, to me I’d say 1) chili then panama,Peru,costa rica,Belize,Ecuador,Argentina etc. in any order but chile probably number one, I only speak english and can’t rember to much french(Canadian, but struggled with french) but would like to try learning more Spanish, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get into south america I’d like to see Iceland but pots illegal, new Zealand’s probably my first choice But I’d love to try living in India, but most industrialized countries you need to have a university education. Only have a Ontario high school education…….Chili’s like the most developed south american country, so how hard is it to get into?
Thinking of heading SOMEWHERE that general vicinity in next year at the most. Single so easy to adjust. Just want some ideas. Is having a car benificial? To drive or buy once there? All sorts of questions and not sure where to start! Thanks in advance
Dont even think about driving in a Latin country until you become accustomed to traffic *which can be utter chaos as cars run stop signs and lights, pass on sidewalks and into oncoming traffic( Also be aware that on a Tourist Visa, in most countries you will go to jail if you have an accident, no matter who is at falt. Once you have residency everything will be fine. I have lived in Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador and Bolivia. Currently in Nicaragua. I came to Nicargua 6 months ago. Food prices as well as manufactured goods are much more costly than Panama or Costa Rica. For infrastructure, Mexico would get my vote. Watch out for bad water in volcanic areas. It can be loaded with mercury and lead. Enough so I had mercury poisoning in Manta Ecuador just from showering in it. I knew better than to drink or cook with it. Being single you will find it cheaper to eat out. Also might consider meeting someone on line before going there. Unless you have good Spanish skills to be convincingly Latino, you can expect to pay 2 to 3 times the going rate on many things. Big tip. When you rent, should you have a girlfriend have the landlord specify two adults only. I had a girlfriend and right away she had invited 8 members of her family to come sty with us. I already was caring for her 3 children. Which was fully agreeable. Bus not her brothers, sisters and cousins.
Oh and dont even think of driving here. You likely would never make it. By bus dont travel at night in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras. Highly inadvisable in any of the countries in fact. Take the Executive and Club buses. Nice thing with bus travel is you can bring more luggage. Airlines are starting to charge for more than one bag and over 30 kilos.
RE the driving rules and behavior, as many other things in Latin America, it varies from country to country. It is true that in some, or perhaps most countries, people follow their own rules and you have to be careful as stop signs and red lights aren’t always deterrents for bad drivers. I will say that in Chile, though, the laws of transit seem to be strictly applied by what is considered a very well-trained and professional police force. So in Chile you have to be more careful and not assume that it is Mexico, Colombia or some other country. I was in Mendoza, Argentina some years ago and noticed that no one seem to pay any attention to stop signs, nor could you completely trust that a car would stop for you as you crossed the street. Drivers seem to go by their own rules. After crossing into Chile things were very different. People did seem to drive more responsibly, following transit rules, most likely because they have a police force that enforces them. I actually saw a pedestrian get stopped by a policeman for crossing before the light change. So rules of traffic are definitely more strictly applied there. Chilean police is also known for being free of the corruption that affects many other countries. I mentioned this because I know of a Mexican lady who got in some serious trouble while visiting Chile after she assumed that a public official would require a special payment (bribe) as is it often done in Mexico. So one cannot assume that the same rules of behavior apply in all of Latin America.
Hello, Christiene. Quenca, Ecuador and Quito are beautiful and perfect for our 50th! I like Mexico, Uruguay and Nicaragua. Uruguay is very European. It’s kind of like Switzerland …. Clean and quite. I’m ok with Belize. email me if you would like to talk. Yelena.
This sounds like a headache. To worry about water and driving and busses. Really? I want the same freedom as the U.S. Safe water for bathing and cooking. I want a nice car to go when and where I want. You make moving there sound scary.
Hey, just discovered vivatropical.com today, great site!
I have actually been both wanting to move (From Canada) for a while now. As well, I have been studying a lot on Central/South America, as well as the Carribean and Mexico.
I’ve been to many places located in these places. I want to move somewhere with a good amount of farmland (Not too expensive), opportunities, friendliness/acceptance of foreigners.
So far I’ve been looking at Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize, Ecuador, Chile, Panama, Uruguay, Dominican Republic.
What about finding gainful employment? My husband and I are both college educated (I am a respiratory therapist and my husband is in the engineering field). I would love to leave the US lifestyle behind but am always afraid of making a living in another country as we have 3 children.
I think people in Chile or Brazil drive better than new yorkers do. Not comments about Florida. Wisconsin or San Francisco differ from the rest. Do not put caribeans in the same bag with others. It is not UP the movie.
Brazilians drive better then New Yorkers, your joking right. Brazilians rarely stop or let pedestrians cross even in the cross walks while not as crazy as some other SA Countries driving here in Brazil is more dangous then USA or Chile with better trained police…
Great list! Thank you for sharing 🙂
i am european living canada ..i will love to move to south america any where .i dont like north america this only the reason why i wanna move …so i any of u amazing people know something ..lets me know peace
Chile is a good country. I was on vacation in IL, NE and NY if you can drive in these cities wherever you go is easer. Traffic is a chaos despite the police effort.
just curious, why don’t you like north americans . specifically canadians?
Trudeau is one good reason to stay away from Canada. Also it he ban on free speech and influx of muslims who are treated special.
I live in the U.S. but my job allows me to work remotely from outside the country. I just need an awesome, reliable internet connection to do my work. Is this a concern in Costa Rica or Belize that you know of? Or does it depend on exactly where you want to live? Thanks.
We have lived in Quito, Ecuador; Asuncion, Paraguay and Arequipa, Peru. In all locations we have reliable internet…especially in Ecuador. While many Latin Americans still don’t have personal computers almost everyone has smartphones. Malls are very modern and always have the dominant cell phone/internet providers shop located within. We never paid for the highest speed internet and still had minimal troubles even streaming movies while other devices were connected…and there were higher speeds available. SO, I can’t speak regarding Costa Rica directly, but I am willing to bet that it is much the same.
I am not sure what you consider good internet but I can tell you that both Dominican Republic and Brazil have unreliable Internet. Brazilian internet is a bit better in larger cities but even in Rio I had problems with down loads especially videos. Panama City has some fastest internet in Latin America but with a cost of living on par with the USA. I here Chile has good internet and offers cash incentives to certain foreign start ups combined with a great climate and some of best infrastructure in South America while having lower cost of living then most USA cities…
What are the best places to start a business in Latin America as an American ex-pat?
I am interested in finding out the same as you.
so far Ecuador sounds the best.
that sounds rich in culture
looking to revive my soul.
Explorer and learn secrets of the Ancients.
have you learned anything
from this post?
the more I read about places to go
the more I am confused
Check out Chile they offer cash incentives for certain foreign startups
I am a single woman (51) looking for an adveture. I would like to rent a place for about 6 months or so just to check it out. I want to go to a place that is friendly (relatively safe) for single women living alone and with a large enough ex-pats community that I could meet new people besides locals. Would anyone offer any ideas/suggestions? I am open to anywhere.
Cuenca, Ecuador!!! LOTS of retired expats, the weather is amazing, the city beautiful and the price absolutely affordable. We lived in Quito for about a year and enjoyed it. Ecuador has a lot to see and do, plus they use the USD which makes buying and pricing seamless if you are new to Latin America.
I found this webpage and your comment about being 51 and wanting to find an adventure… I just turned 51 in January and find myself in the exact same shoes (Canada’s just not doing it for me anymore!) Did you find an adventure, tips, or information you could help get me going with?! Would love to hear from you and where this post took you 🙂 Cheers.. Christa in Canada
My husband and our two daughter are interested in moving to a Spanish speaking country for one year. Our kids would go to school there. We want a safe city with quality healthcare/hospitals and good, healthy, fresh food. High speed internet is also a must for my husbands work. We have been told that Montevideo, Uruguay was a great option. Any more recommendations. My kids will be 12 and 8 at the time of our move. We are hoping for a move July 1, 2016- July 31, 2017. Thank you for your recommendations.
Hey, I’m a young single American guy who is trying to get away from the fast paced life and into a more slower paced, settle down with a family life. I love the Latino culture; the food, the family orientation, music, soccer. Im very interested in moving to a safe place in Latin America where one can get a decent job, good healthcare, and has a decent temperature (not too hot or cold). Slow pace of life, but also fun to take future wife and kids out. I was doing a lot of research and it seems like Costa Rica, Bogota Colombia, Nicaragua or even a nice town in Mexico would be my best bets? Do you agree?
Hi Chris, a bit of advice for you. I have first hand experience with Costa Rica as I was born there but have lived in NJ, US for more than 40 years. Love CR have visited a few times. Before you make a big move to anywhere, you should take a couple of vacations there and experience the culture first hand and find out everything you can about the place. Talk to other Americans who live there (big plus). The Tico Times in CR is an English newspaper where you can find areas or clubs where Americans hang out. Heads up…Beware of CR woman who want to snag an American husband. Sorry ticas but it’s the truth. I have seen it happen too many times resulting in a bad decision. Good Luck! Pura Vida!
My wife and I are planning to move to somewhere in Latin America. We want beaches, a good language school, decent cost of living, low crime, and access to 1st-world comforts. Right now we’re thinking either Panama or Equador. Anyone lived in both places and have some insight?
We run a bed n breakfast right on the beach on the coast of Ecuador.
Here in Crucita life is slow paced affordable and has many other advantages but good language schools would be 30 min away in Portoviejo.
If you would like us to answer some of your questions feel free to write back.
Ryan, (or anyone with knowledge of their country),My wife and I would love a country where we could fish (ocean) from the shore, and plant a vegetable garden, plus help others to live or learn while we learn their culture.
I wrote to Ryan, and it should have been addressed to Al
Can you popst details of your B&B?
I would love to find out more about Crucita. We are looking to relocate for the winter months in the USA and have long looked at Ecuador. As we are retired we don’t need to earn an income but we do need to live frugally. What are typical living expenses for Crucita? What cultural, recreational, and volunteer opportunities are in Crucita or nearby?
Thanks for your information.
My boyfriend and I are considering a move to South America. We need a place with good internet connections, and excellent skiing. We have discussed Argentina or Chile. What specific places should we consider? Where is the best skiing?
Thanks for your help!
Santiago Chile is your best bet for Internet, good infastructor, near both mountains and ocean, cheaper then Monviedo Uruguay and Buenos Aires. But all 3 have difficult to understand Spanish Accents.
I am single and want to retire in South America. I am 57 is there work down there for and expat. I will probably have to work since I won’t have alot of money but part time only. I was thinking about Costa Rica, Chile or Panama. Any info would be nice, thanks. I really want to do this I don’t want the LA life any longer.
I have a dream to go off-grid and away from the corrupt, near Marshall Law era of the United States. I want to be at peace and not worry about answering to anyone but myself, so staying away from 1st world countries like Chile is ideal. Are there any good, relatively safe places to live mostly unchecked in South America?
My family is considering moving to latin america in a few years. We are not wealthy so affordability and jobs are a plus. We have 2 deal breakers though. 1. We do not want our kids in public schools so homeschooling must be allowed. 2. We do not vaccinate our children so no strict vaccine laws are a must as well. What are our options?
cheapest country to live is Bolivia. plus it has much variety of places, the mountains, the valleys
the tropic jungle amazon
I gave Brazil 3 months and didn’t like it for living. I was in Rio. Too crazy. Too easy to get caught up in the BS. People were either absolutely amazing or absolutely horrible. Violent area. I tried Costa Rica for 3 months. I was in La Fortuna. It got super boring. People were cold with me there. I have now spent 1 year in Mexico. I live in the state of Nayarit right no the beach. I plan to stay here longer. Everything seems to be just right for my needs. Hot weather. Amazing food. Incredible people, minus the pinche narcos. 2 of us live off of $800 a month. Sayulita is the hot spot here, i don’t enjoy that town at all because of the drunk-ass tourists. San Pancho is better but still can be flooded with the bad kind of Americans abroad. The beach towns beyond those spots is where it gets amazing. Quiet. Magical. Cheap.
Just my personal experience. I’m a very easy going person. I trust others too much. I am also an ex-junkie. So for me, being away from the assholes trying to push drugs down my throat is important. I have found it here. 🙂
Thank you for you words of advice. I will take them in consideration for me and my immediate family. God bless.
My husband and I would like to leave US for a friendly expat community. He is a physician (pathologist) and I am an interior decorator. He could work in his current field or teach. We don’t want to worry about crime or water quality. Also looking for affordability. Would love anyone’s thoughts on employment and best communities. We do not speak Spanish but intend to (try to) learn. Thank you!