The List: Best Places to Be a Senior Citizen

Longer life expectancies and declining birthrates mean the world is older and healthier than ever before. So where are the best countries to live out your sunset years? In this week’s List, FP brings you the top five. But be warned: Today’s paradise for seniors may become tomorrow’s purgatory.

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Mexico

Average life expectancy: 75.6

Population 65 and older: 6 percent

Why its great for seniors: Seniors older than 60 can expect great perks, including discounts of up to 100 percent at supermarkets, pharmacies, and restaurants, and on public transportation. The government also supports a lively social scene for seniors through its operation of almost 7,000 community centers and clubs throughout the country. These are attended by more than 200,000 people daily, making them Mexicos largest social network. Mexico was also named the worlds top retirement haven in 2007 by International Living magazine for its relatively cheap lifestyle, the ease of finding domestic help, plentiful leisure activities, high-quality healthcare, and affordable medicine. Even foreign retirees with a valid Mexican residence visa can take advantage of the over-60 discounts.

Why its not: Roughly half of Mexicos population works in the informal economy, which means they are not entitled to pensions when they reach old age. This number is expected to increase during the next 20 years as Mexicos 65-and-older population more than doubles and hundreds of thousands of elderly Mexicans face poverty. Discounts for these seniors, then, will be a matter of survival.

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Andorra

Average life expectancy: 83.5

Population 65 and older: 14 percent

Why its great for seniors: Nestled in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, Andorra boasts fresh mountain air and the highest life expectancy in the world. Not only can its senior citizens expect to live a long and healthy life, thanks in part to the free healthcare the government provides, but they also can expect to live a long and prosperous one. Andorras GDP per capita, adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), is a tidy $38,800, placing Andorrans among the top 20 richest populations in the world. Andorra is also poverty free and practically crime free, and 80 percent of its economy is attributed to tourism, which means that Andorrans are experts in leisure.

Why its not: With the benefits of seclusion come the pitfalls of isolation. Seniors with serious health conditions must travel to neighboring France or Spain to seek specialized care.

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Italy

Average life expectancy: 79.9

Population 65 and older: 20 percent

Why its great for seniors: Aside from great food and wine, a vibrant cultural scene, and breathtaking surroundings, Italians also benefit from one other major advantage: time to enjoy it all. If youre an Italian 57 years of age with 35 years of contributions to your pension fund, you can retire early. This low retirement age, coupled with one of the worlds highest life expectancies, means Italian seniors can bask in la dolce vita far longer than people of most other nationalities. Plus, the Italian health system ranks second in the world, according to the World Health Organization. And government intervention in the pharmaceutical market means that drugs in Italya major expense for most seniorsare cheap.

Why its not: The Italian government is facing fiscal Armageddon. Public debt stands at a gargantuan 106 percent of GDP, making the governments generous retirement scheme increasingly unsustainable. Italy is also confronting one of Europes worst demographic declines, with a fertility rate of 1.3 children per womanwell below replacement level. The government has been raising the retirement age for more than a decade, and by 2013, the minimum age will rise to a more conventional 61 years. Even then, Italys public finance system will remain a basket case.

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Australia

Average life expectancy: 80.6

Population 65 and older: 13 percent

Why its great for seniors: Australia offers a relaxed lifestyle, a great climate, high-quality universal healthcare, and a vast and varied landscape for domestic travel. In fact, Australia was voted the No. 1 retirement destination in a recent survey of 15,000 people in 26 countries conducted by AXA, the insurance group. Moreover, Australian seniors themselves seem content with their lifestyles. Half of Australian retirees, according to the same survey, said they enjoy the same standard of living as when they were working, and only 29 percent said their standard of living had fallen. Additionally, more than 90 percent of Australian retirees said they were happy.

Why its not: Australia is experiencing its longest and most severe drought in a century. It has not only led to strict water-use restrictions and higher water bills, but also more-expensive food as the drought continues to destroy crops. These extra costs, along with the scorching heat waves that have accompanied the dry spell, impose exceptional burdens on the elderly.

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images Japan

Average life expectancy: 82.0

Population 65 and older: 21 percent

Why its great for seniors: Japans population has been graying for so long now that age is becoming almost irrelevant. Currently, more than 1 in 5 Japanese are 65 or older, and Japanese seniors continue to work, spend, and study in vast numbers. Seniors are enrolling in courses. Businesses are catering to the tastes of seniors by, for instance, creating easily digestible packaged meals that require no tough chewing. And convenience stores and supermarkets are lowering shelves for easy reach, placing larger print on price tags, and restructuring floor plans to incorporate wider aisles for wheelchairs. Governments and businesses are even investing in elderly-specific robots such as dogs for companionship and medicine dispensation. In addition, the governments contribution to health spending is more than 80 percent of total health spending, and Japans health system is one of the best in the world.

Why its not: As in Italy, the Japanese government is in serious debt, and with Japans aging trend, its hard to see this problem going away. More than 1 in 3 Japanese will be older than 65 by 2050, creating a huge social-security burden that a declining tax base cannot possibly address. Japanese seniors will likely be working longer for fewer benefits, which their practically bankrupt government will scarcely be able to afford.

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