1. Hawaii’s Big Island
Combine all of the Hawaiian islands (Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, and their smaller siblings) and the entire land area still doesn’t add up to Hawaii’s Big Island. Yet the population is shy of 200,000. One colleague who moved here more than ten years ago says, “I wound up in a village called Volcano, atop Kilauea. To do it, I had to ignore the advice of more than a few friends. I eventually admitted, ‘Yes, I’m foolish. Maybe I’ll come back to Earth in six months.’ I haven’t come down yet.”
2. New Zealand
Away from the busy hubs of Auckland and Wellington are places like this: Mt. Nicholas Station, a working farm on the South Island. People who move to New Zealand’s more civilized regions praise the good roads, schools and health care system. But the biggest draw is the clean outdoors, which also means fresh organic foods and fresher air.
It’s cheating to lump the Bahamas into one spot on the top-20 list. On a sparsely-developed island like Eleuthera, entrepreneurs could find a niche (the place needs auto mechanics). Out in the Exumas it’s a different world, where high rollers have been buying private little island spits for as much as $85 million (hey, it includes a house with space for 22 people and the boats are included). And then there’s Nassau, the melting pot. As one friend says about her family’s life there, “Our kids are exposed to the whole world through their classmates at school.” Get started in the Bahamas.
4. Roatan, Honduras
Away from Roatan’s busy West End, the main island in the Bay Island group is largely undeveloped. There’s a close-knit American expat population and a growing list of direct flights to U.S. cities. “Expats don’t have time to rot in front of the TV,” says one local. Volunteering at places like the expat-inspired medical clinic bonds newcomers with islanders. See why some of our staffers have considered a move to Roatan.
5. St. John, USVI
St. John is the most frequently mentioned island when we ask our Facebook friends where they’d consider moving. Because it’s a U.S. territory, the transition is easier than most, yet the Caribbean vibe is strong (“the happiest happy hours and breeziest open-air lunches” according to contributor David Lahuta). The island has 7,000 acres of National Park and is notoriously hilly, which means a Jeep should be in the plans.
It’s one of our top-three choices every year for raising a family. Children can grow up in an exotic culture but still receive an education on par with that in major American cities (or better). Field trips embrace nature: whale-watching tours, hiking and snorkeling excursions. Being outside year-round has proven through medical studies to result in healthier and longer lives.
7. Turks and Caicos
The majority of people live on Providenciales (aka Provo), including expats who have obtained residency by investing at least $250,000 in property. Eight airlines offer nonstop service from the States, and tourism has created a job market. For those who want complete solitude, Middle Caicos is three times the size of Provo, but with a year-long population of only about 300 people (better have a job you can do from a really remote locale).
The average life expectancy on Kauai is among the best in the U.S., due in large part to the natural setting and fresh foods. The population density here is half of that on other Hawaiian islands and many people drive their vehicles fewer than 1,000 miles annually. One of the island’s nicest new communities is Kukuila where home prices range from $2.2 million to $8 million.
The expat community on Taveuni is growing because of available beachfront property and easy access to the main Fijian island of Viti Levu. English is spoken in schools, but lessons in Fijian culture are central to the curriculum. Property with ocean views and natural settings are found in the $400k range, depending on the island — often with solar power and rain-water catchments.
Yes, there’s still undeveloped beachfront property available on Siargao Island in the Philippines. But more “supply side” real estate is in the realm of rustic homes and villas — traditional island life. One Islands contributor who moved here says he did it mostly because of the people. “Everyone is quick to smile, old and young, and that kind of attitude is contagious. You can’t put a price on it.”
Most islanders speak English, and the currency is the U.S. dollar, yet your feet are far away from other population centers — 500 miles east of the Philippines. Those who move to this South Pacific island group typically do it for the diving.
12. St. Thomas, USVI
Most flights into the U.S. Virgin Islands go through St. Thomas, which helps explain why it’s home to the most expats among the USVI group. The infrastructure is hard to beat, with major home improvement stores (you’ll be a frequent visitor) and public transportation. The result is more jobs too. And the airport means more trips from friends and family back in the States.
13. Mallorca, Spain
The cost of living on this Spanish island is less than it is in many other European population centers, with villas and homes available from around the mid-$300s. A network of exclusive (and costly) private schools offers British curriculums and bilingual language lessons. All of that said, you can elect to pay $20 million for a perch on a rock overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
14. Bocas Del Toro, Panama
A solid expat community organizes barbecues and beach outings. There’s no minimum age requirement to be considered a retiree and collect benefits in Panama. We’ve seen jungle lodges (homes) listed at under $200,000.
Pictures of the island’s centenarian population line the walls of Anguilla’s National Heritage Museum — a positive sign for retirees. With enough beaches to visit one per day for a month, it’s no wonder people live to 100 here.
16. Ambergris Caye, Belize
Life moves slowly on this tax-free, English-speaking island off Belize. Transportation is by golf cart or bicycle, but telecommunications are modern. There’s a fun night-life scene in San Pedro, and as the town’s main sign says, “You won’t be a stranger for long.” Modern resorts offer real-estate investments. Belizean Cove Estates, for example, has a 3-bedroom, 2,300-square-foot furnished villa available for sale for $800,000, right on the beach.
17. Penang, Malaysia
Relocating here is a relatively simple process because of Malaysia’s “My Second Home Program.” Deposit $90,000 in a local bank, and you can come and go as you please. Major residential projects have been developed recently.
The laid-back lifestyle and need for very few possessions are huge attractions to people considering a move to these South Pacific islands. The island folks are among the friendliest in the world because, as photographer Jon Whittle says, “they don’t stress themselves with the things that occupy the Western world.” Beachfront homes start as low as $350,000. The town of Port Vila is more mainstream, with sidewalk cafes and an amateur expat theater group.
19. Culebra, Puerto Rico
Fifteen miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico is this tiny island with a public school and a year-round population of about 2,500. It’s quieter than Vieques even. Flying a family of four to the U.S. and back to San Juan can be done for a little more than $1,000 and the ferry to mainlaind Puerto Rico is only a few dollars (U.S. currency).
20. Hvar, Croatia
This Croatian island straddles “historic” and “trendy.” Villas with views of the sea can be found in the $500,000 range and up, while fixer-upper stone houses and vacant lots hit a much lower end of the cost spectrum. If island fever hits, ferries head to neighboring islands daily — islands that are rarely visited.