10 Best Places To Retire for Military Veterans


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In order to receive a military pension, a soldier must serve a minimum of 20 years. In some cases, this could mean leaving and needing to find a new job, but usually, it means going with the hope of retiring altogether. When you are no longer dependent on the military for housing, what are the best places to start over?

The best places to retire for military veterans should have a low cost of living along with a high quality of life. Depending on your individual needs, several states do not tax military retirement pensions and have lower house prices, such as Texas and Oklahoma.

Upon retiring from the military, there can be a difficult transition period during which you and any family may leave behind military life and move off base. However, there are so many unique places perfect for retired military veterans. Read on as we discuss some excellent options, why each location is worth considering, things to consider before retirement, and what you may need to research before making any significant decision. 

Your Hometown

Moving home is not uncommon once deployments and relocations no longer bind you. For many, moving back to their hometown (or their spouses) is a popular choice. This is due to the familiarity with the area and proximity to family and friends. Chances are you moved a lot during your time in the service, and choosing to go home is attractive for those looking for a comfortable place that feels like home. 

Your Last Homebase

Most service families will find themselves moving every few years. However, after two to three years in one station, chances are you and your family have made friends and found lives in the area. Rather than moving away and starting over again, a common choice is to find a home close to the base and existing friends and jobs.  

Oklahoma City, OK

Oklahoma City is the capital of Oklahoma and regularly tops lists of best places for military members to live. It has a low unemployment rate (5.20%), and with the Tinker Air Force Base being the area’s largest employer, there are plenty of government and defense-related jobs available.

From the botanical gardens to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, there is no shortage of things to do in Oklahoma City. Home to many great restaurants, including Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse, along with local breweries and a selection of food trucks, Oklahoma City has enough to offer everyone something good to eat. 

Some noteworthy statistics include:

  • Veteran population: 42,000
  • Unemployment rate: 5.20%
  • Median home value: $155,485
  • Median individual income: $47,004
  • Average cost of living: 83.7/100

El Paso, TX

El Paso has become the central transportation hub for much of the southwest, servicing New Mexico and Western Texas. They boast excellent availability for veteran benefits and quality of life, along with adequate employment and economic wellness. 

Located on the borders of New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, El Paso effortlessly incorporates the Old West’s styles with the colors of Mexico. Between the vineyards, the zoo, and the many outdoor activities, there is a lot to do to stay busy in this sunny city.

Some noteworthy statistics include:

  • Veteran population: 47,484
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Median home value: $130,700
  • Median individual income: $42,037
  • Average cost of living: 80/100

Colorado Springs, CO

Colorado Springs is the perfect place to retire if you like the outdoors. Between the mild weather and clean air, residents are outside for much of the year. There are six military bases in and around the city, meaning potential employment is plentiful, as is the support network of like-minded people. 

With more than 60 local attractions, including the zoo, museums, and parks, Colorado Springs has plenty to enjoy. The mountains offer beautiful views, scenic drives, and lots of opportunities to hike. 

Some noteworthy statistics include:

  • Veteran population: 51,899
  • Unemployment rate: 3.3%
  • Median home value: $287,900
  • Median individual income: $54,228
  • Average cost of living: 71/100

Norfolk, VA

Norfolk is close to several military bases, and the state of Virginia is very military-friendly. Though Norfolk is on the coast, providing beaches and small-town charm. It is very close to everything Virginia offers, from the hiking and mountain trails to the larger cities. More than 20 military installations within the state and at least ten VA hospitals are available to retired servicemen and women.

The city of Norfolk boasts a number of excellent brewers and restaurants, along with small businesses and plenty of history to explore. 

Some noteworthy statistics include:

  • Veteran population: 26,924
  • Unemployment rate: 3.6%
  • Median home value: $185,900
  • Median individual income: $44,150
  • Average cost of living: 74/100

Kansas City, MO

10 Best Places To Retire for Military Veterans

Kansas City has a 13.8% lower cost of living than the U.S. average. The temperature can reach up to 90°F (32.2°C) in the summer and as low as 20°F (-6.7°C) in the winter, and the city averages 15 inches (38.1 centimeters) of snow a year. 

The city has many restaurants and businesses that accept military discounts, and the two military bases have offices specifically dedicated to helping retirees. They can assist with benefits and housing, along with assistance through the VA.

Some noteworthy statistics include:

  • Veteran population: 25,119
  • Unemployment rate: 4.6%
  • Median home value: $146,300
  • Median individual income: $45,376
  • Average cost of living: 72/100

San Antonio, TX

San Antonia has quickly become one of Texas’s most popular tourist destinations, offering plenty of shopping, history, and sightseeing for tourists and locals alike. San Antonio has the feel of a big city and a smaller Texas town all in one and is great for families. 

Not only does the city have a rich military history, but it also has plenty of military resources. The lower cost of living does not affect the high quality of life, and plenty of military men and women are making San Antonio their permanent home. 

Some noteworthy statistics include:

  • Veteran population: 101,723
  • Unemployment rate: 3.3%
  • Median home value: $175,400
  • Median individual income: $46,317
  • Average cost of living: 70/100

Jacksonville, FL

Jacksonville is situated to the north of Florida, on the East coast of the U.S. The year-round sunshine allows its residents access to the beach even in the Winter. As the technology sector is beginning to boom in the city, the influx of young professionals is ensuring high quality of living and an expanding economy. 

Jacksonville has more than 60,000 acres of parks and is home to one of the largest urban parks in the United States. There are plenty of hiking opportunities, and given the temperate climate, fishing is possible all year. There are some museums and plenty of local sports teams to support those looking to get out of the sun.

Some noteworthy statistics include:

  • Veteran population: 78,558
  • Unemployment rate: 3.7%
  • Median home value: $180,300
  • Median individual income: $46,768
  • Average cost of living: 72/100

Cody, WY

As previously noted, Wyoming is a very tax-friendly state. Not only does it have no state income tax and low sales taxes, but it is also one of the states that do not tax military pensions. If you are looking for a quieter retirement, Cody might be the best option. 

Situated on the edge of Yellowstone national park, Cody is a small but friendly town, full of unique outdoor activities and a mild climate. Cody is a peaceful town that sees plenty of tourists during the summer months, with lots of Wild West entertainment. 

Some noteworthy statistics include:

  • Veteran population: 1,069
  • Unemployment rate: 3.5%
  • Median home value: $277,400
  • Median individual income: $53,598
  • Average cost of living: 71/100

Alternative International Options

When looking at the best places to retire after military service, there are some alternative options to moving out of state. Many easy and accessible international destinations provide a high quality of life, low cost of living, and access to home comforts. Some will require visas that are quite simple to attain, while others only require a passport and a plane ticket.

The Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands are a territory of the United States, and citizens do not require a visa to relocate. There are three locations to choose from, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John, or Water Island, and each has slightly different costs of living. A one-bedroom apartment will run from $500-$1800, with St. Croix being the least expensive option.

Situated to the East of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands have a sunny climate with temperatures rarely reaching below 70°F (21.1°C). Being a U.S. territory, there is a large expat population and great access to home comforts. However, there is also an island culture and plenty of exciting culinary delights to try. 

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a popular destination for U.S. expats. This tropical paradise offers a high quality of life, with a much lower cost of living. Everything from shopping to renting and groceries are much lower than the average American city. With the average price of an apartment in the city being $475.13, and those outside the city being $384.74, the average couple can expect to live comfortably for less than $2,000 per month.

Some key things to consider:

  • Costa Rica is relatively safe, though travelers should exercise common-sense safety measures, such as being aware of their surroundings.
  • There are two main seasons (rainy and dry), and the average temperature is between 70°F (21.1°C) and 80°F (26.7°C).
  • The quality of life is high, and people in Costa Rica are said to be some of the world’s happiest.
  • Costa Rica has some of Latin America’s best healthcare options, and expats are entitled to their universal healthcare system.
  • To move to Costa Rica, you must prove financial stability, including proof of at least $1,000 a month income (pensions included).

Mexico

10 Best Places To Retire for Military Veterans

Although it is easy to get a tourist visa to enter Mexico, this will only allow you access for up to 90 days. However, if you apply for a temporary residence visa, you will be granted a stay of up to a year which can then be renewed for up to four more years. 

Mexico has several beautiful towns and cities that are both safe and have a high quality of life for U.S. expats. Mexico City is one of the largest and safest places to relocate within Mexico. The multicultural city has all the top amenities, over 150 museums, plenty of beautiful architecture, and historical sights. 

In most larger areas, you can expect:

  • Low cost of living
  • Moderate to high quality of life
  • Large expat communities
  • English is spoken all over
  • Several international airports making travel easy

Belize

Belize is an idyllic little country on the east coast of Central America. It is home to a vast jungle landscape and a barrier reef, and plenty of tropical beaches. English speaking, just a short flight from the U.S. mainland, and offers a low living cost. 

It is possible to retire to Belize through their Qualified Retired Person Residency Program. To be eligible, you must:

  • Be over 45 years of age.
  • Be able to prove at least $24,000 per year income (pension included)
  • Pass an FBI background check
  • Show a full medical check-up
  • Be present in Belize for at least one month per year
  • Have $24,000 pass through a local bank account annually

What To Consider Before Retirement

After more than 20 years of service, retiring can be an overwhelming experience. Leaving behind the uniform and structure that comes with military life will be challenging, and there are a few things that you should do before taking that step:

  • Plan ahead with your finances.
  • Be as up-to-date on your medical checks as possible.
  • Assess your benefit plans.
  • Consider courses on transitioning to civilian life.
  • Know your options in terms of education

Finances

When on active service, you likely earned a monthly income along with benefits and housing aid. While in the service, many things are free for service members and their families, including healthcare and housing, which can make budgeting difficult in retirement. 

To ensure your pension will be used efficiently, consider the following expenses:

  • Healthcare and dentistry
  • Housing (rent or mortgage payments)
  • Clothing
  • Car insurance and expenses
  • Cost of living
  • Unexpected expenses, such as home remodels

You can prepare for all of these by assessing your military pension and adjusting your spending accordingly. Budget for these new expenses and include everything from clothing to take-out into your weekly and monthly payments. 

Health Care

Service members and their families receive free healthcare when on active duty. It is possible to enroll with Tricare in retirement, which is typically more cost-effective than other private health care providers. They have several plan options that include individual and family savings. However, no matter the provider, it will be an expense that needs to be assessed. 

Before retiring and losing access to free healthcare, it is advised to see a doctor and schedule a full check-up for yourself and your family. Given the higher costs of dental care, it is also recommended to visit the dentist before losing access to more affordable options. 

Benefits

Some benefits of being in the military, such as clothing and housing stipends, will no longer be available once you retire. Budgeting for the higher prices of everything from clothes to groceries will be an essential step.

Also, check on the status of your Survivor Benefit Plan. Unless otherwise adjusted, this will stop after the service member’s passing, meaning your spouse will not receive any further benefits upon your death. This can be changed to include a reduced payment to either your spouse or children, typically up to 50% of your pension.

Transition Courses

In many cases, retiring will not involve any further work. However, for those looking to rejoin the workforce in the private sector, there are two programs available to help with the transition:

  • Transition Assistance Program
  • Transition Boot Camp

In these courses, you can learn: 

  • How to adjust to life outside of the military
  • How to write a resume and search for jobs
  • Get information on industries and careers that are suited to post-military life
  • Practice interview skills

Higher Education

The GI Bill has a lot of options for retired military members looking into higher education. The Post-9/11 GI Bill gives you access to 36 months of benefits up to $26,042.81 per academic year for private schools that includes:

  • Tuition
  • School fees
  • Housing
  • Books and supplies
  • Moving costs

The costs of local schools may be covered entirely, along with fees and supplies. 

Things To Consider When Moving

When looking at finding a new home after retiring from the military, it is crucial to consider your needs. Depending on your rank and years of service, you may be eligible for a pension from $20,000 and upwards. 

Though higher ranking members will earn significantly more, consider the yearly amount before making any decisions. $20,000 a year will go much further and allow for a higher quality of life in the countryside when compared to living costs in a highly populated city.

Before making any big decisions, such as buying a house, consider the following:

  • What is your cost of living, including car insurance and other expenses?
  • What quality of life are you looking for?
  • What are the taxes like in the specific area?
  • Is climate important?
  • Will you need to travel?

If you are moving to a new city, consider starting with a trial run. This can include booking a short-term rental and spending a couple of months in the area before committing to a lease or mortgage. Make a list of what you are looking for and what is important, and thoroughly assess the area. 

Finding a Community

A community may consist of being surrounded by like-minded people, access to activities you enjoy, and overall life quality. Before deciding on a location, take into account how you like to spend your free time. Do you have hobbies that you want to continue into retirement? Is proximity to shopping malls and movie theatres important, or would you prefer to be out of town?

Consider the costs involved in your desired activities and compare them in a few places. Though one area may have better access, it may be more expensive to live in such an area. Similarly, if you are social and want an environment conducive to meeting new people, it may be worth paying a little more to be in a larger community. 

Post-Military Job Opportunities

Retiring from the military does not always mean retiring entirely. If you plan to find work, you may need to look in bigger cities and suburban areas accessible to employment. For example, if your military work was in the medical field, many locations will provide access to hospitals and clinics. However, if you are looking for engineering or defense contracts or looking to work within the government, the field begins to narrow. 

Some of the best areas that provide excellent access to defense and government jobs include:

  • Oklahoma City, OK
  • Norfolk, VA
  • Austin, TX
  • Manchester, NH

These cities have been rated as some of the best relocation options for retired military based on the cost of living, access to work, and reduced taxes on military retirement pay.

Tax Laws

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On average, Americans spend $2,471 on property taxes, with Hawaii being on the lower end of the scale, paying just $606 a year on average. Some state-wide averages on property taxes include:

  • New Jersey – $5,419
  • Illinois – $4,942
  • New Hampshire – $4,738
  • Alabama – $895
  • District of Columbia – $1,221

However, there are a few other factors to consider, especially if you plan to work after retirement. The amount of State Income Taxes, for example, vary widely from state to state, some not imposing any at all. Sales taxes are another area to consider, especially considering you will no longer have access to a Civilian Clothing Allowance. Some of the most tax-friendly states include:

  • Delaware has a higher state income tax (2.2%-6.6%) but has no state or local sales tax on goods.
  • North Dakota has a lower state income tax (1.1%-2.9%) but has a higher average state and local sales tax (6.96%).
  • Florida has no state income tax and a relatively low average state and local sales tax (7.09%).
  • Wyoming is one of the most tax-friendly states, with no state income tax and a low state and local sales tax (5.33%).

If taxes are a worry for you, consider one of the following states, which do not tax military retirement pay:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

Owning Property

House prices and cost of living will likely be significant factors in deciding where to retire. However, it is not always possible to have the best of both. In many cases, the higher the quality of living, the less accessible it is, especially for military families. 

The VA does offer certain home loan benefits to help military members to become homeowners. They provide financial help by reducing or eliminating the need for a downpayment, along with lower interest rates. 

When looking at moving, consider the median values of homes. This will help establish what you can afford and what your home may be worth if you decide to sell later. The following chart will compare two of the least expensive and two of the most expensive states based on their 2020 median house values:

Top-Tier Homes Single-Family Homes Condos
West Virginia $199,651 $106,840 $126,199
Oklahoma $235,037 $134,995 $83,881
Massachusetts $732,598 $447,367 $393,196
California $1,065,479 $588,050 $525,594

Travel Needs

In choosing a new place to live, it is a good idea to assess your future travel needs. Should you have family in different states, it might be a good idea to find an area with access to a larger airport. For example, many smaller towns require hours of driving or connecting flights in order to reach their final destination. 

Similarly, should you require consistent medical care, it would be advised to find an area with access to a VA hospital or local clinic that can service your needs without having to travel too far. 

Final Thoughts

Retiring from a life of service can be a big step, and it’s important to know you’re making the right decision with where you land once you leave the military. Before making decisions, make a list of the essential things, such as climate or cost of living, and different research areas thoroughly.

Depending on your needs, states like Wyoming and Oklahoma would make excellent options. Both have very low costs of living, with Wyoming not taxing military retirement funds. Although Virginia has a higher cost of living, it is very military-friendly and offers everything from the beach to the mountains. 

Sources

Ruth

Hey there, my name is Ruth, I'm in my late fifties. My life was turned upside down a few years ago as I experienced a burn-out. But I saw it as a sign that something had to change in my life. I'm happy I used this tough experience as a stepping stone. I now feel happier than ever and hope to inspire you to do the same, no matter how old you are.

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