December 31, 2006

Where does the greenback go farthest?

The Audacious Epigone has a clever table of potential countries to retire to showing where your American pension dollars would go the farthest.

His methodology was simple:


"To get an idea of how far my money US dollars will take me, I compared the GDP of the globe's nations at the official exchange rate with the US [dollar] to the CIA's best estimate of each nation's respective GDP in terms of purchasing power parity."


The bad news is that you pretty much get what you pay for.

Here's the dozen cheapest. (A $100 dollar Social Security check from America would buy you $1,073.30 worth of the Burmese lifestyle, such as it is.)


Where to get the most bang for your buck

1. Burma -- 1073.3%
2. Zimbabwe -- 801.1%
3. Burundi -- 740.3%
4. Ethiopia -- 734.0%
5. Cambodia -- 720.7%
6. Gambia -- 707.2%
7. Rwanda -- 690.1%
8. Uganda -- 603.9%
9. Nepal -- 588.1%
10. Ghana -- 582.8%
11. Dem. Rep. of Congo -- 555.0%
12. Vietnam -- 537.6%


Hooooh, boy. That's quite a list. I guess I'd pick Vietnam first as a place that's coming up in the world, with maybe Nepal second for scenery, but only if the Maoist uprising ever calmed down.

How about the bottom of the list, which consists of random islands, plus the really civilized countries:


174. Finland -- 87.9%
175. Ireland -- 87.6%
176. France -- 87.3%
177. Qatar -- 87.1%
178. Seychelles -- 86.7%
179. Japan -- 86.3%
180. Palau -- 85.9%
181. Netherlands -- 85.7%
182. UK -- 81.6%
183. Iceland -- 81.1%
184. Vanuatu -- 81.0%
185. Saint Vincent -- 79.9%
186. Marshall Islands -- 79.9%
187. Norway -- 79.5%
188. Denmark -- 77.8%
189. Sweden -- 77.1%
190. Niue -- 75.9% 191.
Tonga -- 73.2%
192. Liechtenstein -- 71.8%
193. Switzerland -- 65.6%


That $100 Social Security check that's worth $1,070.30 in Burma is only worth $65.60 in Switzerland. So, I guess I won't be retiring to the ancestral Sailer realm in the St. Gallen canton of northeastern Switzerland. Similarly, my 1980s dream of someday playing golf everyday in then-cheap Ballybunion, Ireland is now a pipe dream, with the greens fee on the Old Course at Ballybunion up to $250.

Where are the bargains? Well, Costa Rica at 235.7% remains a reasonable value for retirees looking for political stability, a pleasant climate without excessive altitude (around 4,000 feet -- really thin air can be a problem when you are old), a fairly middle class society, and enough other old yanquis to speak English with.

Newly separated from Serbia, Montenegro (214.4%) has Adriatic beaches and some fantastic architecture built by Venetian merchants. I was disappointed that "Casino Royale," although supposedly set in Montenegro, which I've been wanting to see more of, was actually filmed, like so many movies today, in the Czech Republic (186.6%). Prague wasn't destroyed in WWII, so it has great architecture.

Tough Midwesterners who don't mind cold weather might find Poland at 205.2% attractive. Prosperous, uncorrupt Estonia at 191.5% could be a bargain for a summer home when the sun shines 18 hours per day there.

It would solve a lot of problems if Mexico (153.5%) became a major retirement destination for American baby boomers, providing jobs at home in Mexico for people who would otherwise illegally immigrate to America, but the relatively small cost of living advantage at present doesn't look like it's big enough to compensate for the beheadings, dual Presidentes, and other harbingers of chaos. (Malta (151.4%) looks better than Mexico, except for distance from America.) Okay, Fred Reed has moved to Mexico and is very happy there, but most of us aren't as tough as Fred.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Uruguay (or 'U R Gay' as Homer Simpson calls it) looks like good value. It is one of the more stable South American nations and english is relatively widely spoken. Life expectancy is 77 and literacy is widespread.

Steve Sailer said...

I visited the town of Colonia in Uruguay in 1978. Nice little place. They had 300% tariffs on automobiles then, so half the cars in town were pre-WWII models. It was a real nostalgia orgy for my dad to see all the cars of his Depression youth rolling down the streets.

Anonymous said...

Don't overlook Malaysia. I know a couple people who have taken advantage of their retirement visa program recently. It's half-muslim but don't let that put you off; it isn't threatening. On the whole it is probably a plus; you are not surrounded by overweight, 70-year-old white men or Japanese with their sixteen year-old girlfriends. Advantages: orderly, clean, modern, decent facilities, English language, convenient travel, friendly, non-agressive people.

Next-door Philippines is the best deal on the list, economically. Advantages: sort of democracy, legal system in English, top class hospitals in Manila at 1/10 US cost, easy-going people, young wives easy to obtain. Disadvantages: crowded, disorderly, poverty obvious, you have to watch out for scams.

Northern Thailand (recently endorsed by Bill Gates in interview with Charlie Rose) is popular with several thousand westerners and Japanese living there. Main disadvantages; Language, hot in the hot season. Also consider Phuket in southern Thailand which has thousands of foreigners. Advantages: beaches, water sports, lots of prostitutes. Disadvantages: lots of prostitutes; somewhat decadent lifestyle of foreigners, if you are not that decadent yourself.

Anonymous said...

Also, I should add about Malaysia: The standard of living of the natives is more or less middle class. This makes it easier to interact with the locals without assuming a colonialist attitude. They have cars, TVs, fridges, etc. They are more or less like us.

Steve Sailer said...

We probably should divide countries as retirement options for couples vs. for divorced/widowed men vs. divorced/widowed women.

Kipling endorsed ultra-cheap Burma:

"I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land
On the road to Mandalay......"

But I suspect you'd have a hard time convincing your wife of the advantages of Burma. If you push too hard, she might start arguing for Barbados.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how Canada ranks? Their dollar is still a little bit cheaper than ours. We have friends who live north of Vancouver, and I must say the climate and scenery are quite outstanding. Prices on some things, notably gasoline, seemed rather steep, but food, at least from farmstands and smaller markets, was cheap.

Note to Californians: I'm lying. The place is infested with clouds of biting insects and they close the liquor stores at 2 p.m.

Anonymous said...

Kitty ---

Shhhhh, don't tell.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the key points are: (1) stability; (2) safety (low crime); (3) sizeable middle-class population (to ensure availability of services and goods you'll want to buy); and (4) something that makes it a place where you'd actually like to live (pleasant climate or culture or comely natives or whatever works for you). I, for one, would worry about the lack of a strong customer-service orientation in Eastern Europe, not to mention the miserable weather.

I also spotted Uruguay on the list as a possible site. For those seeking a flashier, less sleepy country, is Argentina such a bad deal? Yes, the economy is perennially a mess, but YOUR money is coming from stable sources in the USA. Politically, there is frequent upheaval but no really scary, violent stuff in years. And, if you're a city person, BA is apparently a great town. Finally, Argentina is very much a part of the European culture system, if that's important to you. On the other hand, English is not widely spoken, and the Spanish is highly idiosyncratic, so language could be an issue.

India could be a good bet for living like a king on very little, especially in relatively calm, peaceful South India. They are stable, have a large middle class, excellent health care for those who can pay for it (which you obviously can), a warm climate and great food and other cultural attributes. However, this is where I wonder how geography affects the numbers. Would you really get 590.3% for your money in lovely Goa or similarly pleasant place? Probably not.

Finally, I can't believe we've all overlooked the obvious choice: Iran! It's a great deal at 314.5%, and look what you get for that: Stability, check; safety, check (seriously - the crime rate is extremely low); large middle class, check (including good health care, if the number of Iranian MDs in the US is anything to judge by); a complex and fascinating culture, including great food (a sine qua non for me). It's a paradise!

Anonymous said...

As counter-intuitive as it seems, Rwanda is actually a pretty good bargain. A great climate where the elevation keeps you out of the tropical disease zone, beautiful scenery, beach resorts on Lake Kivu, and a government that by African standards is honest and efficient and committed to economic development. Poverty around you is a lot easier to take when things seem to be getting better for the people involved.

Steve Sailer said...

A lot of awful countries have great scenery. There's probably a positive correlation between a civilized, functional society and boring scenery, e.g., Netherlands vs. Afghanistan. Switzerland would be an outlier, but then it is in many other ways, including being most expensive, which is in part because so many affluent people want to live in a well-ordered place full of towering mountains.

J said...

A generation ago the choice was obvious: Dirty Old Americans retired to Costa Rica. A met many of them drinking in the morning in cheap hotels. Since they spoke no Spanish, they could not enjoy the cultural life of the country. Besides, there were no bookshops in San Jose.

I believe that Costa Rica's attraction was, of course, the strength of the dollar. but even more the strength of American prestige, status, image. People loved America and Americans, everything American was good, the police would be polite to Americans, the Embassy was there like a real Government. Those were the times.

Maybe the Phillipines has still some of that spirit. Zimbabwe and South Africa, apparently very cheap, are not places to settle.

In my opinion, if you have enough money, even St Gallen, Switzerland, feels like San Jose circa 1970, including the Kiplingian cuties. Rural France and Spain are very nice places with very nice people.

The problem is the old woman who is attracted to Barbados and you know why.

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Anonymous said...

Switzerland is the worst of all and the most expensive. Odd, you pay the most but will get the least. Makes sense. 1. i am swiss and i know what i taling about. 2. long story short - it sucks. big time. 3. Overcrowed fk 8 mio peops in this little shit hole. mostly half of the population are immigrants ffrom all over the planet ... manly east europeans, african and not to forget the refugees from germany. so if you like a big zoo and its behaviour you are right in cow country. 4. dont forget the wired locals. i am one of them - and i would look ok to you but also prob only soso. they are really good in friendliness - espacally if y head into the alps. the more twisted the water comes down the mountains the more brain amuputated the locals are. 5. price versus money. catastrophic. you buy for 100 bucks worth of food in migros or coop -- y not even get a bag for free. not to mentioned that y have to pack the bs your self. if you compain you will get yelled at by a fat ugly person, which prob would itendify as a woman...but only if you are good in guessing. 6. chickas... zero chance. unless you are willing to dump shitloads of money and not even get a wank for if, y wont like it. further more most of them are ugly. 7. wheather. .... even i summer now its 15 degrees only -. must be the prevaling global fk warming ... so if that did chear you up - welcäme to cow stink country and good lück