According to recent studies, heavy stress can shorten a person’s life expectancy by almost three years. And that got us thinking…
Which factors may add to your stress during your retirement? And which countries are best for keeping these stresses to a minimum?
Our team of researchers studied 63 countries across 14 categories to find out. From the cost of living and quality of healthcare to the amount of sunshine and moral freedom of each country, we’ve found the top 10 countries that offer the most stress-free retirement.
What did we find?
None of these countries will provide you with a 100% stress-free lifestyle, but, depending on what you find most stressful, whether it’s finances or quality of life, there’s bound to be a country offering a stress-free lifestyle for you.
The Top 10 Countries for a Stress-Free Retirement
1. Finland: Finland came out on top as the least stressful country to retire in, being particularly beneficial for outdoors lovers. A green exercise environment is great for physiological and psychological well-being and with Finland ranking highest for the amount of green space (73.7% of its land is covered in forest) and physical fitness (only 16.6% of inhabitants don’t do regular exercise), it’s the perfect place to de-stress.
Finland also ranked second for its low traffic index and low population density, with just 18 people recorded per square kilometer. Finland did, however, score worst in the top 10 for its divorce rates, along with Sweden, with 2.4 couples per 1,000 marriages getting a divorce. Sunlight hours are also limited here (1,861 per year in Helsinki).
- Best for – Outdoors and fitness fanatics. Hiking, skiing, fishing, ice skating, camping, and trekking, to name a few, are all activities that are easily accessible in Finland.
- Not suited for – City lovers. Helsinki is the most populated city in Finland with a population of just over 600,000 – small for someone who enjoys big bustling cities.
2. Spain: Despite not coming out on top for anything, Spain scores well across the majority of categories. It ranks highly for its healthcare index and comes in second for hours of sunlight with 2,766 hours on average per year (in Madrid). It did rank quite low for green spaces, (only 37% of the country is covered in forest) and it was also ranked the third most unsafe country to live in our top 10.
- Best for – Sun worshippers. The south of Spain with cities like Alicante are very attractive for retirees who love living in the sun.
- Not suited for – Lone retirees.
3. Austria: Overall, Austria enjoys average rankings across many of the categories, making it an all-around good place to retire. It ranked top for traffic thanks to its well-established transport system and ranked highly in healthcare, coming third in our top ten. It didn’t score so well when it comes to sunlight hours (just 1,938 per year) and has quite a high level of alcohol consumption (11.6 liters per person per year).
- Best for – Those looking for a great all-arounder. How about a train ride through alpine scenery, lush valleys, and historic towns?
- Not suited for – Sunseekers.
4. Brunei: For some, Brunei may be the surprise contender in our top 10. Yet, it ranks highly in a large proportion of the categories. Of the top 10, it’s the cheapest to live in, second (overall) for green spaces, and a high scorer for its low number of divorces and alcohol consumption. Nevertheless, the latter two points do emphasize the vast cultural differences some ex-pats may find upon moving there.
As an Islamic country, there is a strict ban on alcohol, and divorce is frowned upon. Plus, when it came to moral and political freedoms, it ranked significantly lower than the other countries. Out of 160 countries in the world ranking for moral freedom, Brunei ranked 150th. Despite this, there are a lot of positives to retiring in Brunei–it provides you with a cheap and healthy lifestyle for one–but you would need to be prepared to adapt to its individual culture.
- Best for – Cheap cost of living and a healthy lifestyle.
- Not suited for – Moral and political freedom.
5. Slovenia: Ranked the safest country to live in from our top 10, if your main cause of stress lies with your own safety then Slovenia might be the place for you. It also ranked second-best for the lowest divorce rates (1.2 couples getting divorced per 1,000 marriages). However, Slovenia came 10th in the healthcare category (something that’s mirrored by its relatively low GDP per capita) and it was also the country with the highest alcohol consumption (12.6 liters per person per year).
- Best for – Safety.
- Not suited for – Those looking for top-notch healthcare or a place to make money.
6. Japan: Out of all our top 10 countries, Japan has the best life expectancy with the average person living to the grand old age of 85.03 (it was only just knocked off the top spot by Hong Kong with a slightly higher 85.29). In fact, Japan did pretty well overall, ranking highest for healthcare in our top 10, second-highest for safety, and reasonably high for the number of green spaces (68.4% of the country is covered in forest). It also scored top for political freedoms but performs much worse when it comes to moral freedoms (the second-lowest scorer in our top 10 and mid-table overall). Finally, Japan has the highest cost of living of our top-ranked 10. And you may need to head elsewhere for your vitamin D intake as its capital city, Tokyo, has a low number of sunlight hours (1,876 on average per year).
- Best for – Healthcare. Japan is also known for healthy food and lifestyle choices.
- Not suited for – Cheap cost of living.
7. Portugal: If you’re looking for somewhere sunny for the vast majority of the year, Portugal might be your spot. The capital city of Lisbon was ranked the highest in our top 10 for sunlight, with an average of 2,805 hours per year. Portugal also ranked second for moral freedoms and scored well for its political rights. Strangely, however, the weather doesn’t get people up and moving as Portugal was ranked lowest in our top 10 for fitness levels, (43% of people don’t do enough exercise).
- Best for – Plenty of sunshine and personal freedom.
- Not suited for – Fitness fanatics.
8. Canada: If you’re looking for somewhere spacious to spend your retirement, look no further than the world’s second-largest country, Canada. With just 4 people per square kilometer, you will have plenty of space to yourself. Canada also ranked highly for moral and political freedom but was the lowest-ranking country in our top 10 when it comes to its traffic index. If you want to explore this vast country, you might find its low traffic efficiency a problem, but if you’re looking for a more secluded retirement that takes you off the beaten track, you might find the peace and tranquility you’re searching for in Canada.
- Best for – Wide open spaces.
- Not suited for – Those who want to get from A to B quickly.
9. The Netherlands: Meet the most morally accepting country in our top 10, the Netherlands, which scored full marks for both its moral and political freedoms. It was also ranked the highest for GDP in our top 10 with a value of $52,447.8 GDP per capita. Some negatives to the Netherlands, however, include low numbers of sunlight hours (1,664 hours per year in Amsterdam), and only 11% of the country is covered in forest areas. It’s also the most cramped of all the top 10 countries with 508 people per square kilometer.
- Best for – Unbeatable moral and political freedom.
- Not suited for – Spending time in the great outdoors and/or sunshine.
10. Sweden: Sweden ranks second-best for GDP per capita (a value of $51,610.1) within our top 10 and second for fitness levels (only 23% of people don’t get enough exercise). It also does well for its amount of green space and scores full marks for political freedom. In contrast, it’s the worst-ranking country for safety in our top 10 as well as for its number of divorce rates (2.4 couples per 1,000 marriages – tied with Finland). So, although this Nordic country isn’t the safest to retire to, it features lots of other things that can lower the stress in your life.
- Best for – Leading an active outdoor lifestyle.
- Not suited for – Lone retirees.
The Top Performers in Each Category
Now we know which countries have ranked overall in the top 10, let’s see which countries ranked the best for each category.
Best for Population Density – Australia
If vast open spaces with very few people are for you, then Australia might be your next destination. With just 3 people per square kilometer, you can explore all Australia has to offer, from desert terrain to city life, all the while enjoying an abundance of space. Alternatively, if you prefer plenty of hustle and bustle or like to surround yourself with people, then Singapore might be the place for you with a whopping 8,358 people per square kilometer.
Best for Safety – Qatar
Qatar is ranked top for its overall safety. With extremely low crime rates and even lower violent crimes (especially towards tourists), Qatar prides itself on being the safest country in the world. As an Islamic country, it does have quite strict laws but this likely helps keep crime rates so low.
Best for Traffic – Austria
If you don’t fancy getting stuck in traffic on your way to the shops, then head over to Austria, which is ranked top for the lowest levels of traffic. Austria has one of the most highly-developed transport networks with the use of buses, trains, trams, and the metro. Cheap and efficient, if sitting in traffic is your worst nightmare, Austria might be for you.
Best for Healthcare – France
France comes out on top for one of the most important factors for many retirees–healthcare. Spending your retirement in France will help put your mind at ease if this is the case for you as it’s renowned for having some of the highest-quality healthcare in the world.
Best for GDP – Luxembourg
Luxembourg takes the win for GDP per capita, which in 2019 was a massive $114,704.60. Luxembourg’s high figure comes from the vast number of people working in such a small space, making it a very monetary-efficient country.
Best for Cost of Living – Algeria
The cheapest country for cost of living is Algeria which is great if you want to make your money go further. However, if you would rather treat yourself and push the boat out in those retirement years then you might fancy Switzerland, which is ranked the most expensive country for cost of living. There, a mid-range three-course meal for 2 can set you back $83.75, the same meal costing just $15.52 in Algeria.
Best for Hours of Sunlight – Qatar
If ample sunshine sounds like your idea of a stress-free life then the capital city of Qatar, Doha, is ranked as having the most hours of sunlight per year. Doha offers 3,433 hours of sunlight per year on average. Although all those hours of sun sound very tempting, be prepared to face scorching temperatures with 106ºF (41.5ºC) in the month of July. In contrast, if sunlight doesn’t brighten up your day, Colombia might be for you with less than half the hours of sunshine recorded here (just over 1,300 per year).
Best for Green Spaces – Finland
In 2020, Finland was recorded as having 73.7% of its land covered by forest, making it the country with the largest amount of green space. If you like lots of woodland walks then the fresh Finnish air might be just the ticket.
Best for Low Alcohol Consumption – Kuwait
While for many, alcohol is something to turn to when they’ve had a bad day, it’s also proven to add to stress and anxiety levels. So, if you’re trying to cut down on alcohol consumption, the best place for that would be Kuwait as there’s a full ban on alcohol here. In sharp contrast, the highest-ranking country for alcohol consumption is Lithuania with each person consuming 15 liters of alcohol each year.
Best for Low Divorce Rates – Chile and Guatemala
It seems Chile and Guatemala have the happiest marriages in the world with only 0.1 of every 1,000 people getting a divorce. This trend doesn’t appear across all of South America, though, as Uruguay is the place with the highest rate of divorce. There, 4.4 people per 1,000 get a divorce.
Best for Moral Freedom – The Netherlands
As we have already seen, the Netherlands is number one for moral freedom with the majority of the Dutch having an open-minded spirit where anything goes. Whether it be religious, sexual, bioethics, or drug-related freedoms you can take a free-spirited attitude when retiring in the Netherlands.
Best for Levels of Fitness – Jordan
Jordan was recorded as the country with the lowest level of insufficient fitness levels with only 11.9% of its population not getting enough exercise. Therefore, if you’re looking for a country to keep fit in during retirement, this Middle Eastern country might be for you. But, if you’re completely against exercise, you won’t have to travel far, as neighboring country, Kuwait, is the country with the highest levels of insufficient fitness. Here, almost 70% of the population doesn’t get enough regular exercise!
Best for Political Freedoms
You have the choice of 10 countries when it comes to political freedom. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list includes all four of the Nordic countries included in our study – Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. These are joined by Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Japan, and Uruguay, all of which scored 40/40 in Freedom House’s political freedoms index. So, if you like to voice your opinion or really enjoy getting into a debate, you would be free to do so in any of these countries. This type of freedom isn’t something you’ll enjoy in China, though, as this is the worst-scoring country with a -1 for political freedom. This is largely due to the government’s attempts to deliberately alter the ethnic composition of the country.
Learn the Language
You may be several years from retirement, but it’s always a good thing to prepare in advance. This is especially true if you intend on moving to another country for your retirement. One important aspect of fitting in quickly and reducing stress is to learn the language.
French? Italian? Spanish? Start learning your new language on apps like Duo Lingo or Busuu before you move.
To begin our research we selected 100 countries with the highest life expectancy in the world (only those where full data was available were included in the final results). We then chose 14 categories that are closely linked to stress and/or can add to stress on a day-to-day basis. These were:
- Population Density: Ranked from highest to lowest based on the number of people per square kilometer. The more people living per km2, the more stressful an environment this may create.
- Safety Index: Countries ranked based on how safe they are and how low the levels of crime are. Living in an area with high crime rates can add to stress and anxiety. Knowing you are safe where you live will be one of the top priorities.
- Traffic Index: The traffic index looks at the amount of time consumed in traffic due to job commute, how dissatisfied people are with the amount of time spent commuting, CO2 consumption estimation in traffic, and overall inefficiencies in the traffic system. That morning commute causes everyone stress, or even getting stuck in unexpected traffic.
- Healthcare Index: An estimation of the overall quality of the healthcare system, health care professionals, equipment, staff, doctors, cost, etc. Knowing that you will be in good hands if the worst were to happen can definitely lower stress.
- GDP per Capita: Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the sum of gross value added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products. The data was in current U.S. dollars ($) and ranked countries from highest GDP rates to lowest. Countries with higher GDP boast greater economic growth and a higher standard of living, easing stresses like access to good healthcare.
- Cost of Living: This is a relative indicator of consumer goods prices, including groceries, restaurants, transportation, and utilities. This index doesn’t cover the cost of accommodation such as rent or mortgage and each country is ranked relative to the cost of New York City. If a city has a Cost of Living Index of 120, it has been estimated that it is 20% more expensive than New York (excluding rent). The lower the cost of living, the lower monetary stress can be..
- Hours of Sunlight: The average amount of sunlight hours per year by the capital city of each country. Example: For the USA, we used the data from Washington D.C. to get a yearly average of the total sunlight. It is valid that there are likely to be places with greater/fewer sunlight hours within each country, but the capital city provided a fair, consistent measurement for each one. Studies have shown that sunlight can boost happiness, therefore lowering stress.
- Green Spaces: % of a country’s land that is covered by forest. Similar to sunlight, green spaces get you outside and in the fresh air which is known to lower levels of stress.
- Alcohol Consumption: The number of liters of pure alcohol consumed per capita by a person aged 15+ per year, as recorded in 2016. Alcohol consumption is known to add to stress and anxiety levels in some people, and being part of a culture of big drinkers may further increase these stresses.
- Divorce rates: The number of married couples getting a divorce per 1,000 people in the country. Divorce is arguably one of life’s biggest stresses so countries were ranked higher for low levels of divorce rates.
- Moral Freedoms: This category looked at the total combined score of religious, bioethical, drug-related, sexual, and gender/family freedoms a country has as of 2018. Stress can often be caused by not being able to express yourself or be who you really are.
- Fitness Rates: % of insufficient physical activity from both sexes. Exercise is a known factor in relieving stress.
- Political Rights: The global freedom score looking specifically at political freedom answered questions like “Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?” and created a score out of 40. Similar to moral rights, having a voice to state your opinion and choose who will run your country can lower stress for a lot of people.
Our scoring system ranked the 10 least-stressful countries to live in based on 14 categories that related to stress. For each criterion, the country was given a point based on where it ranked between the highest-ranking and lowest-ranking countries. Countries with the best scores were given 100 points, while countries with the worst scores were allocated zero points. All of the countries in between these two scores received a score on a percentile basis, depending on where they ranked.
The total score was achieved by averaging each country’s score across the fourteen categories.