Let's get this out of the way right at the start: Retiring abroad isn't for everyone or even for most people.

But the adventurous can find comfortable, even luxurious, lifestyles in many places that cost them far less than what they would pay at home, said Kathleen Peddicord, the author of How to Retire Overseas: Everything You Need to Know to Live Well (For Less) Abroad.

We asked Peddicord, who has written about living and retiring overseas for more than 25 years, to pick out five cities where a couple could retire comfortably on an average allowance of $1,200* a month. Access to good medical care is a must, of course, and all five places on Peddicord's list offer it, as well as very low crime rates and emerging communities of expatriates to help show you the ropes.

"You wouldn't be the first gringo in town, but [in most cases] you wouldn't be joining an established community of thousands," as in some other cities already discovered by expats, said Peddicord, the publisher of the Live and Invest Overseas group. "The places with the truly established and thriving expat communities are going to be more expensive."

People who are considering retiring abroad need to do their research, because countries vary dramatically in how welcoming they are to foreign nationals who want to become residents. Tax laws vary as well, and most Canadians will want to buy health insurance -- either a local plan, which may cost less, or an international plan, which typically offers more flexible coverage. Peddicord said that in Panama, where her family of four lives, local, or "in country," health plans cost as little as $$100 a month but aren't available to people over a certain age (usually early to mid-60s). An international plan with a $3,400 deductible might cost a 60-year-old about $180 a month.

Peddicord's five picks:

Cuenca, Ecuador
Peddicord calls Cuenca "the most affordable place you'd want to live in Latin America." There may be cheaper locales, but in her view they're too far removed from the conveniences and amenities of a city.

Cuenca has the colonial charm of cobblestone streets and soaring cathedrals as well as a mild climate and plenty of cultural happenings. Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar as its currency.

Peddicord has a friend who lives there for less than $1,200 a month, including $550 in rent and fees for a 2,600-square-foot apartment with a doorman and underground parking. If you're willing to make do without those amenities, Peddicord said, you could rent a smaller, 600-square-foot "local"-style apartment in an older building for $100 a month.

If you were to buy a home with cash — say, from the sale of your current home — you could live comfortably for $700 a month, including utilities, groceries and entertainment, Peddicord said. Hiring full-time household help would add about $200 to the bill.

* Explore Cuenca on Bing. Check the weather.

Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thousands of expatriate Westerners have discovered the largest city in northern Thailand, where the cost of living is about half that of its better-known (and bigger) rival, Bangkok. Chiang Mai is in a river valley surrounded by mountains, with year-round daytime temperatures in the upper 20s and lower 30s.

* Learn more about Chiang Mai on Bing. Check the weather.

A comfortable apartment costs about $400 a month, with $150 for utilities (including high-speed Internet, cable TV, telephone and electricity), $100 for groceries, $150 for full-time household help and $150 for entertainment, including eating out (people rave about the food and the variety of restaurants). Foreigners can't own land, although they can own apartments and condos.