Throughout the year, my team and I scout the best places around the world where folks can live better, invest soundly, retire comfortably and follow their dreams. That research and expertise come to bear on the day we unveil our annual Overseas Retirement Index, in which we name and rank the top places to retire abroad right now. And this year we've expanded to feature 30 destinations — 10 that are brand-new — with more European locations than we've ever included previously.

 

But which of these represent the best places on the planet to live or retire today? Especially since there's no one way to determine the best place to retire for every person. That's why we consider 13 categories which represent the most important criteria that retirees must weigh when shopping the globe for the best place to live. These are cost of living, crime and safety, English spoken, entertainment, environmental conditions, expat community, health care, infrastructure, recreation, residency options and taxes, as well as real estate affordability and restrictions on foreign ownership.

So here is the crème de la crème, the Top 10 destinations where you could, right now, reinvent your life, chase adventure, have a great time and most likely reduce your cost of living dramatically

10. George Town, Malaysia

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Getty ImagesKek Lok Si chinese paper lanterns with new year greeting during the chinese new year holidays in Penang Island, George Town, Malaysia.

George Town is the capital of tropical-island Penang, located just west of mainland Malaysia, and offers one of the best overseas retirement opportunities in the world. This is a safe and reasonably priced little island with excellent health care, an interesting and eclectic community from around the world that communicates largely in English, and diverse lifestyle, entertainment and recreational options.

 

Penang has been featured in the book "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" and has been ranked by Yahoo! Travel as one of the top 10 islands to explore before you die. George Town was named the most livable city in Malaysia and the eighth most livable city in Asia by global consulting firm ECA International. We agree, Penang is one of the top spots in all of Asia for long-term living and retirement.

Retirees will find a lot to like about living here. Whether you're into roughing it, relaxing on the greens or attending symphonies, there is no need to travel elsewhere. English-speaking locals, exceptionally fine food, internationally accredited medical care and a low cost of living makes this area an appealing choice for almost anyone.

9. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

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Ferrantraite | Getty iamgesSan Miguel de Allende in Mexico.

In 2008, the historic center of San Miguel de Allende (and the close-by Santuario de Atotonilco) gained UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. In 2013, Condé Nast Traveler magazine named San Miguel de Allende as the best city in the world. And just this year, "Travel + Leisure" named San Miguel their "Top City Of 2017."

Attracting artists, musicians, scholars and bohemians for over half a century, San Miguel has a truly unique lifestyle and community to offer retiring expats. For expats, San Miguel is a social town par excellence. Opportunities to meet other expats abound. Classes in two-to-three dozen subjects are available at all times and the number of charitable organizations is reported to exceed 100. Add to that excellent health care backed by first-rate technology—medical tourism is a fast-growing industry here—and temperate weather throughout the year, and it's easy to see why tens of thousands of expats call this 18th-century colonial town home.

8. Budapest, Hungary

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Tomas Sereda | Getty ImagesBudapest, Hungary.

Budapest truly deserves its reputation as one of Europe's loveliest capitals. And although it's a fully modern city with all the conveniences of the 21st century, it's a breathtaking historical marvel.

Known over the years as the Heart of Europe, the Pearl of the Danube and the Capital of Freedom (as well as the Capital of Spas and Thermal Baths and the Capital of Festivals), Budapest has long held a special place in the hearts of those who have known her.

Hungary is well renowned throughout Europe for its super low costs. Here, you can enjoy a high-quality, European lifestyle at an incredibly low price, with everything a city mouse could hope for.

7. Lisbon, Portugal

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SeanPavonePhoto | Getty ImagesLisbon, Portugal

Blessed with warm sunny weather all year round (roughly 300 days of sunshine a year), ringed by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and protected on the other by the calm, deep-blue waters of the Tagus River (the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula), this traditionally sophisticated city seems to have it all. Few other destinations can boast the sophistication of a real city while also offering its residents a clean, swimmable beach.

Offering tranquil affordable living options and an authentic view into the past, Lisbon is renowned for its warm hospitality, friendly atmosphere and for having one of the lowest costs of living in Western Europe.

Lisbon has lifestyle choices for all tastes and budgets and has the advantage of offering an already well-established and large community of expats. The city's warm hospitality combined with its excellent food make Lisbon one of the most desired European cities to live in.

6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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Rat0007 | Getty ImagesPetronas Towers, also known as Menara Petronas in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur, located in the heart of the Malaysian peninsula, is a city of contrasts. The shining stainless-steel Petronas Towers, two of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, anchor a startlingly beautiful skyline that is truly unique to this city.

 

Modern, air-conditioned malls flourish, selling everything from beautifully handcrafted batik clothing to Tiffany jewelry. In the shadows of these ultramodern buildings, the ancient Malay village of Kampung Baru still thrives, with free-roaming roosters and a slow pace of life that's usually only to be found in the most rural of villages. Health care is first-rate, public transportation is modern and efficient, and the tap water is safe enough to drink. Beautiful beaches are just a short drive or flight away and cool mountain retreats can be reached in less than an hour.

5. Saint-Chinian, France

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Paul Atkinson | Getty ImagesVineyards near Saint Chinian, France.

In the true south of the country on the shores of the Mediterranean, this town of about 2,000 residents is a bustling market town popular with locals who come from all around the region to taste the locally grown produce and artisan goods — a truly French experience. Though it may be small, Saint-Chinian has everything you need for daily life — local produce shops, restaurants, bars, doctor's office, dentist, pharmacy, a health shop, wine cellars — yet it is still a small, charming little town, barely more than a village, typical of the region and packed with history and lots to see and do.

What else do expats cite as the reasons they chose this part of the world for retirement? Better weather tops the list for the mainly British and northern European expat population seeking bluer skies, but also the opportunity for more outdoor living… good-quality, fresh food… fantastic and accessible art, history, and culture… dependable and high-quality health care… beautiful and varied countryside… good infrastructure yet little to no traffic… and, above all, a slower pace of life that comes inherent with this tranquil, peaceful town.

4. Abruzzo, Italy

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Getty ImagesPacentro,Abruzzo,Italy.

Abruzzo has everything Tuscany offers and much more—at a fraction of the cost. And the region even offers the opportunity for owning a nice plot of land—enough to allow would-be farmers to become self-sufficient.

Known as one of the greenest areas in all of Europe, Abruzzo stretches from the Apennines to the Adriatic and is home to over 3,816.25 square km (about 1,474 square miles) of protected national parkland. Abruzzo is ideal land for going off-grid. The weather is temperate year-round, the earth is fertile and the land is largely divided into small plots for individual owners. Living off the land is a great way to enjoy the fresh air, control your own schedule, and embrace peace and quiet. Foodies rejoice... aside from just wonderful recipes, Abruzzo enjoys incredibly fresh, locally produced ingredients. With its fertile land, pristine mountains and uncontaminated ocean and lakes, nearly everything you consume here was grown, caught or farmed within a few miles. Above all, food in Abruzzo is cheap. Incredibly cheap. Eat out or order in… no matter how you do it, eating is affordable. And, of course, it helps to not have to import wine.

3. Mazatlán, Mexico

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Rick Gerharter | Getty ImagesMazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico.

A real city with beautiful beaches and a walkable colonial center... a popular expat choice that remains an authentic Mexican resort town that manages to feel homey… It's hard to pin Mazatlán down. Located about midway along Mexico's Pacific coast, Mazatlán has been out of favor among tourists and expats for decades but is making a comeback. The renaissance has been focused on the city's historic center, which has undergone an impressive facelift and now rivals Mazatlán's 20 miles of beach in drawing attention.

This is one of the few places in the world where you can walk for miles on an uncrowded beach within the city limits.

Mazatlán is at once a real Mexican city of about a half-million people while being home to a sizable American and Canadian expat community. You can choose to associate primarily with fellow expats, speaking mostly English and easing your way into your new life in Mazatlán aided by people like you who've already made the move.

2. Valletta, Malta

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Zoltan Gabor | Getty ImagesMarsaxlokk market with traditional Luzzu fishing boats in Malta.

Malta is becoming both an investment and a retirement hot spot — and it's easy to see why. The Maltese archipelago (made up of three main islands) is one of Europe's smallest countries. But, while it may be small, it has a lot to offer. Its rugged coastline boasts dramatic cliffs and tiny coves dotted with ancient forts and quaint fishing harbors. Inland, stone walls separate fields cut into strips of olives, wheat and potatoes. Wine production is also popular, and vines hang heavy with grapes all over the island.

Malta, from its weather and its food to its history and culture, is quintessential Mediterranean Europe. And, notably, Malta is the only place you can experience the famed Mediterranean way of life among locals who all speak perfect English. And, especially when compared with most other Western European countries, Malta is a cheap place to live.

1. Portugal's Algarve Region

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Jacek Sopotnicki | Getty ImagesCarvoeiro, Algarve, Portugal.

This Old World region on the Atlantic Ocean is the best place in the world to retire that nobody's talking about. Located at Europe's westernmost tip and boasting 100 miles of Atlantic coastline, Algarve could be Europe's most famous secret. This region boasts Europe's best beaches, Europe's best golf courses, some of Europe's friendliest folk, and Western Europe's lowest cost of living. It's also Europe's newest tax haven.

This is a land of cobblestoned streets and whitewashed houses with lace-patterned chimneys, surrounded everywhere by fig, olive, almond and carob trees. The Algarve also offers great weather with 3,300 hours of sunshine per year; meaning more sunny days than almost anywhere else in Europe.



The Algarve, Portugal, is the top retirement option in Western Europe for the retiree on a budget—the cost of living in Portugal is on average 30 percent lower than in any other country on the Continent.

Bottom line, the Algarve offers the best of Europe — from medieval towns and fishing villages to open-air markets and local wine— so you can savor the best of an old-school, Old World lifestyle at a very affordable cost.

Kathleen Peddicord is the editor and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, a website and newsletter about living, retiring and investing overseas. She has covered the international beat for more than 30 years and currently lives in Paris with her husband and son. Follow Live and Invest Overseas on Twitter @LiveandInvest.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.


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