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The top 5 overseas retirement havens for Americans

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If you're looking to make your dollars stretch further in your golden years, you might want to consider following the growing number of Americans who have opted to leave home and retire in overseas destinations.

Statistics quoted back in 2012 by The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania found that about 350,000 American retirees were receiving their Social Security benefits outside of the U.S. It also noted some anecdotal reports that more than 3 million baby boomers are making plans to retire overseas.

InternationalLiving.com, a magazine devoted to relocation and global retirement opportunities, has announced its top 25 choices in its newly released 2015 Global Retirement Index. The top five are a diverse group, featuring nations in East Asia as well as Central and South America.

While everyone's idea of an ideal retirement spot is different, here are the five countries that International Living says stand out after the magazine evaluated factors such as cost of living, health care, special benefits, groceries, utilities, gas prices, entertainment, flights back to the U.S. and what they call hidden and unconsidered costs such as in-country travel.

Nicaragua

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This Central American country received a perfect 100 score in International Living's cost-of-living category. Real estate and accompanying taxes are low, as are the cost of rentals. A modest three-bedroom home in the Pacific Coast resort town of San Juan del Sur rents for around $200 a month, not including electricity, water and other utilities.

Food prices are also low, if you buy locally. A large jar of American peanut butter, on the other hand, can set you back about $12.

Some other things in Nicaragua might give a gringo sticker shock, such as the price of electronics, new cars and gasoline. But the magazine says a single person can live comfortably there on $1,000 or less a month, while a couple can "maintain a comfortable lifestyle" for between $1,200 and $1,400.

Vietnam

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Here's another country where the U.S. dollar can go very far. International Living says a couple can live well in Vietnam for $1,000 a month or even less. Real estate can be a big saving, with a one-bedroom, furnished apartment in a beach resort going for around $200 a month, and a three- to four-bedroom house clocking in at $600 to $800. Bargains can be found in the country's largest metropolitan area, Ho Chi Minh City, if you "dig around."

Utilities are also a value, with low electrical, cell phone and Internet costs. Some other steals, according to the magazine, are beer at 90 cents each, maid service for around $2 an hour, movie tickets for $4 and a kilo (2.2 pounds) of rice for 75 cents. And if you avoid Western-style foods and supermarkets, and shop instead in local markets -- ready to bargain -- your grocery costs will stay very low.

Ecuador

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Ecuador is also alluring if you're looking for inexpensive housing and a low cost of living. Real estate and rental prices are a bargain, although those prices might creep up in some of the larger cities.

According to International Living, some of the biggest savings in Ecuador are in utility and food costs. "Most places in Ecuador, especially the highlands, have a moderate climate," the magazine notes, "which means no heating or cooling expenses. Few expats who live in mountain towns spend more than $35 per month on electric, water, and gas combined."

And if you eat locally grown food, be prepared for a happy surprise. A full grocery basket of fruits and vegetables can be bought for less than $5, while a pound of locally made cheese clocks in at around $3 and a dozen long-stemmed roses can be had for about $2.

Thailand

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With a long tradition as a tourist destination for Westerners, Thailand is also becoming popular with expatriates and retirees. Housing costs remain low, with a furnished one- or two-bedroom condominium in the northern city of Chiang Mai going for under $600 a month. Real estate and rental prices, however, do increase if you consider the nation's famous beach resorts or its southern cities, but you can find deals.

Modern conveniences like high-speed Internet, mobile phone plans and cable TV are also affordable throughout Thailand. And if you shy away from Western markets and foods, your grocery bills will be a fraction of their U.S. equivalent. Eating out in Thailand, a real treat, can also be affordable: The bill for a couple's meal at a mid-range restaurant comes in around $10 to $15.

Belize

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Another nation with a growing international reputation as a tourist resort, Belize is the only Central American country with English as its official language. International Living says expats who "plan to retire primarily on their Social Security income" have several affordable towns to consider, while those who can afford a bit more can have a lifestyle comparable to more pricey parts of the Caribbean.

Real estate is a real bargain in Belize, as are local food prices. But homesick expats can also take comfort in the fact that some familiar discount shopping stores, such as Sam's Club, can be found just across the nation's northern border in Mexico.

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