There’s no shortage of websites and top ten lists of the best places to retire. Keep in mind, though, that many of these lists are based on an average of very broad statistics including housing costs, state and local taxes, overall cost of living, medical costs, weather conditions, and so on. So, while these may be the “best places to live,” they may not be the best place for you to live.

Before you make a choice, there are a number of important questions you need to ask yourself. Weigh the following 13 factors as you begin your search.

  1. Cost of living. Depending on your financial resources, you’ll want to find a location where the cost of living is both reasonable and manageable. Cost of living includes more than just the the cost of the home itself. Property taxes, state income taxes, and sales tax all add to your overall cost of living — as do the cost of utilities, maintenance, groceries, medicines, gasoline, and other consumables. Cost of living is important, but it may not be the most important to you.
  2. Affordable housing. Are you looking for a single family home or would you prefer a condo where outside maintenance is included in the monthly condo fee? Will you be able to purchase outright or will you need a mortgage? Are there rentals available if you decide to go that route? Will you need extra room for visiting family or friends?
  3. Climate. Florida may be lovely in the winter but are you prepared for the heat and humidity of the summer months? Do you prefer four seasons or less? Be sure to consider the year around temperatures, amount of precipitation, and overall weather conditions when choosing your retirement destination.
  4. Population. Urban, suburban, or rural? Keep in mind that rural locations and towns with less than a population of 10,000 may not have the amenities and access to healthcare that you’re likely to find in the city or the suburbs.
  5. Culture. Entertainment, fine dining, sporting events, concerts, and other activities keep you active and alert. Are these activities important to you? If so, are they available?
  6. Healthcare. Easy access to a hospital and/or urgent care facilities are a must for most retirees. You should also consider the availability of a retirement home or community should the need arise further down the road.
  7. Transportation. Will you be driving? If so, are the traffic conditions suitable and safe? If you decide to stop driving at some point, is there convenient public transportation available when you need it?
  8. Safety. Many of the most popular retirement destinations have gated communities or other safe accommodations. Look for a safe, walkable neighborhood where you’ll be comfortable.
  9. Sociability. Friends and a social life keep you active and healthy. Will you fit into the community you’re considering? Do you prefer to be around people your own age?
  10. Employment. One way to meet people and bring in additional income is to take a part time job. Are there employment opportunities available to seniors?
  11. Education. Another way to stay active and engaged is to take a course or two — maybe you want to complete that degree? Auditing classes gets you out of the house, provides regular social interaction, and learning new things stimulates the mind.
  12. Proximity to family and friends. This is a critical concern for some folks. Even if you move to a very beautiful and affordable place, will you still be able to visit with family and friends? Will you have the room you need to accommodate the grandchildren?
  13. Future accommodations. Is there a retirement home or community available to you should you or loved one need it? If you’re a couple, will you have what you need to maintain quality of life should one of you pass on?

The Bottom Line

If you’re downsizing, about to retire or just beginning to plan, these are the most obvious questions to consider. And while you need your expenses to fall within your retirement income, access to healthcare, a vibrant culture, and available social interaction are equally important.

Lastly, baby boomers are retiring. This means that many of the traditional retirement destinations are growing exponentially. Getting ahead of the curve by visiting early can give you a leg up on the competition. You may want to consider renting. A trial stay will give you a chance to get a sense of the cost and the culture.