Expat-Advice

International Living’s expat network is your key to a new life in a new country. Get real, honest advice from people just like you. Discover the tips, tricks, shortcuts, and strategies you can use to cut through red tape and improve your life overseas right away.

Read about and learn from real-life experiences our expats have had in their new home countries, from health care to taxes, earning an income overseas to buying real estate…and much more.

 

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Archives

Salinas

A B&B on the Beach Funds This Idyllic Life

When John and Heather Schmit sold their 10-year-old trucking business in Phoenix, Arizona in 2011 they found their dream home amid white sandy beaches, rocky headlands, gentle surf, and inland breezes… Their home in Punta Carnero on the coast of Ecuador “is our piece of paradise,” says Heather. “I can walk along the beach and be the only one out there. It’s so quiet and peaceful.” As they were considering their overseas move, Heather began conversing with a former classmate who lived in Vilcabamba for three years…so Ecuador made it on to their radar.

boquete

Panama’s Most Popular Expat Haven

Panama’s most popular expat town rests on the eastern-facing slope of the Baru Volcano—Panama’s highest peak, at 11,400 feet—in Chiriquí Province, western Panama. The elevation is a big part of the appeal. For one thing, located at around 3,900 feet, this town enjoys a spring-like climate year-round with average daily temperatures of about 70 F. For another, you’ll find plenty of picturesque views. Boquete (pronounced Bow-keh-tay) is home to thousands of retired North Americans. Apart from the climate they come for the low costs and the natural beauty.

Cuenca

Enjoy a Low Cost of Living in Cuenca, Ecuador

My wife and I have lived in Cuenca, Ecuador for years and continue to be amazed at how far we can stretch our dollars while enjoying a high quality of life. Let’s break down some of those costs so you can compare your current budget with what you might expect to pay in Cuenca, beginning with activities that are free. How much does it cost to attend the symphony and museums where you live? Guess what—there is no charge for either in Cuenca. How about your gym membership? The city offers free Zumba classes in parks all over town several times each week.

France

French Health Care: Why It’s Still A Bargain

It’s no surprise that many people considering a move to France are eager to know more about France’s universal health care program. The World Health Organization has recognized France as having the best overall health care system in the world. Health care costs are low, the quality of care is high, and nobody can be rejected for a pre-existing medical condition. What’s not to like? Expats usually gain eligibility for insurance benefits from the national health care system (known as Couverture Maladie Universelle or “CMU”) in either of two ways. First, you can become eligible by paying into the French social security system.

Cuenca

From Burnt Out to Chilled Out in Cuenca, Ecuador

“This is the best thing I ever did—in so many ways,” Jim Evans says. He’s talking about moving to Ecuador and opening a business. His small shop in the historic downtown district of Cuenca, Ecuador is close to the Concepcion Convent, an institution that traces its roots back to 1599. The rhythm of life surrounding the convent is simple, unhurried, and low-stress—exactly what Jim was looking for when he relocated in December 2009.

David

What I Discovered About Panama’s Health Care

My health care experiences here range from routine lab tests to extended hospital stays. Panama, like most other Central American countries, has a dual health care system, with both private and public options. Anyone may use either system, but the public system aims to provide medical services to citizens and residents who are enrolled in the Caja de Seguro Social (social security program). Tourists and expats (including my husband Al and me) primarily use the private system. You’ll find it better equipped and staffed, as well as more comparable to North American standards.

cotacachi

Football Games and American Rock in the Ecuadorian Hills

On any given evening, you’ll find Kasie Estevez serving up drinks and tasty snacks while laughing with the regulars at the bar she opened in Cotacachi, Ecuador. “I love it here,” she says. “The weather’s good, and you develop friendships like nowhere else. I think people have more time to invest in relationships.” Plus the cost of living is low. A couple can live on as little as $1,600 a month in Cotacachi. Kasie finds that Ecuador’s slow pace allows her to enjoy life more. It’s a far cry from holding down a sales job as a single mother in Las Vegas.

Vilcabamba

The Perfect Climate and Easy Income Opportunities

It would be a challenge for anyone to find a more perfect picture of paradise than Vilcabamba, Ecuador. This little valley is surrounded by the majestic peaks of the Andes and is the perfect example of the “eternal spring” that the country is well known for. With warm days, dependable rain, and little change in weather year-round, it is a lush South American Eden. Dennis D’Alessandro is one of the many North Americans who have come to Vilcabamba to enjoy the climate and opportunities presented. As a third generation organic farmer from Pennsylvania he brought his skills and knowledge to Ecuador.

Chiang

Festivals Around the World: Mexican Carnaval and Volcanic Jazz

February sees Saint Agatha’s Feast Day take place in the city of Catania, on the Italian island of Sicily. The patron saint of the area, St. Agatha died at age 15 in the 3rd century, and every February 4 commences with a mass held at dawn in her name. Her statue is then given pride of place atop a massive silver carriage and carried to the top of Mount Sangiuliano by over 5,000 men. The ensuing days offer the chance to enjoy Sicilian food and wine, and the ceremony closes with a massive fireworks display. From February 11 to 17, you can experience the magic of Carnaval without having to take a flight to Rio. Just hop across the border to Mexico. It too is noted for its carnival celebrations, which take place in cities across the country. The most notable Carnavales take place in Veracruz, Mazatlán, and Mérida. You’ll have an exciting selection of parades, displays, live music, and cuisine to choose from, as the party atmosphere sweeps the nation.

Page-4---Da-Nang-Vietnam---

Culinary Paris, Cheap Flights to Denmark and Much More…

Vietnam has plenty to offer expats, including some of the best beaches in Asia, an extremely warm and friendly population, low costs, wonderful weather, and cultural and natural splendor unsurpassed anywhere else in the region. From its colorful and energetic cities to its lush, tropical rainforests teeming with exotic plant and animal life, Vietnam has become a magnet for tourists and an exciting destination for adventurous expats. In this month’s cover story we guide you through some of the country’s most appealing destinations, reveal how incredibly affordable it is, and provide a quick guide to retiring here part-time…

Oil-chart

Pitfalls for Energy Over the Coming Year

The plain fact is that the world is awash in oil…for the moment. So it’s no great surprise that the oil price is tumbling, as are the shares of oil and gas companies. But I think we’re getting close to a buying opportunity. Global oil supply is already 2.7 million barrels per day (bpd) higher than it was a year ago. Meanwhile, global oil demand is only 700,000 bpd higher than it was a year ago. Don’t panic—this is a seasonal thing. The difference this time around is that we already have a 2 million bpd oil surplus on the market, and production in the U.S. and Middle East looks set to rise through next year. The good news is that not all energy companies are loaded with debt. In fact, some should do quite nicely. But they’re all getting pounded lower now. Of course, that means we’re coming to an incredible buying opportunity in select stocks.

Page-8---David-Panama---Cre

A Good Life on $1,200 a Month in Panama’s Laidback Second City

“You’re crazy! Aren’t you scared? I could never do anything like that! I am so jealous.” These are just some of the reactions that Kris Cunningham and her husband Joel got when they announced that they were moving to David, Panama. They had been thinking of moving to Central America for a few years, but when the U.S. economy began to decline, they decided it was time to take the plunge and retire overseas. “We didn’t want to work forever, and we would have had a hard time making ends meet in the U.S.” After researching many possible places to live, Panama kept topping the list as a perfect retirement destination.

Page-14---Tulum-Mexico---Cr

Easier Residence in Mexico

Looking to move to Mexico? If so, here’s some good news: Mexico has recently reduced the amount of income and assets you need to qualify for a residence visa. Combined with the already-streamlined visa application process, it means that getting legal residence in Mexico is cheaper and easier than it’s been in years. For temporary residence visas you now must show monthly income of only about $1,553 for the last six months or average financial assets of about $25,880 for the last year. For a permanent residence visa you must show monthly income of about $2,588 or average assets of about $103,523. Expats have a choice of two main categories of visa: a temporary residence visa or a permanent residence visa. Within these categories there are several ways to qualify. For instance, you can qualify if you’ve been hired by a Mexican company.

Puerto-Vallarta

A “Medical Miracle” in Puerto Vallarta

These days I’m pain free. I have all my flexibility back, I can enjoy the things I love doing, and it’s all thanks to a trip to Mexico. I’m one of many people who have traveled to Mexico for medical care. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my hips four years ago, and it came upon me quickly. I was at the height of my career but was forced to stop working due to pain and difficulty walking. I had been an athletic person all my life and an enthusiastic golfer…no more.

Page-20---Paraguay---Credit

Discover Paraguay: South America’s Forgotten Heartland

Bumping along on the back of an ox cart, I’m wondering why some of the locals look amused. “Well, usually it’s the kids who like riding in Domingo’s ox cart,” says my new friend and guide, Adrian. “They don’t usually see a gringo in it.” In fairness, they probably don’t see all that many foreigners anywhere in the beautiful colonial town of Santa María de Fe. On the site of a former Jesuit reduction (mission town), Santa María de Fe is a small town in Paraguay’s Misiones Department, 152 miles south of the capital, Asunción. Paraguay is one of the least-known countries in Latin America. And the little that people do know about this landlocked country at the heart of the continent is often about its history of eccentric dictators and military coups.

Page-22---Da-Nang-Vietnam--

Vietnam: Exotic Part-Time Living in Southeast Asia

It’s a tropical night. Families and friends throng the café terraces along the waterfront. Everyone can see the Dragon Bridge. It’s lit a brilliant orange and designed to look like a dragon flying across the Han River. If you turn up at 6 p.m. any evening, you’ll see fireworks pour from its mouth. Cross it and you’ll find neighborhoods where expats rent for as little as $400 a month just a few blocks from miles of sandy beaches. The city of Da Nang is my first experience of Vietnam. I didn’t know quite what to expect, but I really didn’t expect what I found…

Burma

Burma’s Oil and Gas Market is Set to Take Off

A war looms in Asia, though you won’t have heard of it. This will be a war fought for resources and strategic positioning in the global economy of tomorrow: a war for economic dominance in what is emerging as the most crucial region of the world. The challenge for us—investors—comes in knowing where to go to profit from this new war in Asia. And I know where. Burma…a country less than two years removed from a military junta that ruled, often violently, since 1962. The aging military leaders have finally released their death-grip on power and now businesses from pretty much every major country you can think of—Australia, Japan, China, Canada, Singapore, Korea, India, Great Britain, Thailand—are beginning to swarm to opportunities that exist everywhere.

Estonia

Estonia Could Be Your Digital Offshore Haven

In October 2014, the tiny Baltic country of Estonia invited people worldwide to register as “e-residents,” opening its digital borders and moving toward a world in which a person’s identity online matters just as much as their identity offline. The eastern European country invited anyone, anywhere, to open a bank account or start a business there. This means that now, anyone with an Internet connection can live their financial life based in Estonia, without being physically present—which is great for business and investment.

Page-32---Xunantunich-Mayan

“Enjoying our Business in the Cayo, Belize”

Jamie and Barbara Quinion have no regrets about their move to western Belize. “We’re not just living our dream of the good life,” Barbara says of the couple’s new life in the ancient Maya village of San José Succotz, in Belize’s Cayo District. “We are living the ‘excellent life!’” Five years ago, they decided to sell their winery in Canada and move abroad, for several reasons. “What attracted us to Belize is that it’s English-speaking—that was a big plus—with a good climate, really friendly people, and incredible diversity for such a small country. We live in the farthest point west on the mainland, where we go swimming, tubing, hiking, biking, birdwatching, or just enjoy the great view from our property.”

Running a Fishing Lodge in Armuelles, Panama

“We love our life here, meeting new people who come to the resort, fishing when we want to, and relaxing in our new house,” say Texans Rex and Connie Hudson of their new life in Panama’s Chiriquí province. “It’s just about perfect.” Rex and Connie are the owners and managers of Hooked On Panama, in partnership with two other U.S. couples. Hooked On Panama is a fishing lodge and resort in a remote area of Chiriquí province. The property is located south of Puerto Armuelles near the end of Punta Burica, a narrow peninsula that extends into the Pacific Ocean and borders Costa Rica.

Cerro Negro

Five Once-in-a-Lifetime Adventures in Nicaragua

I’ve lived in Nicaragua for seven years, and I can tell you that this is one of the most beautiful, affordable, and exciting countries in Central America. You can leave your stressful life behind and relax in the tranquility of a liquid gold-touched sunset, listen to a gentle forest rain, or watch from your patio as thousands of fireflies make it look as though the stars have descended from the sky. And if you like excitement and adventure, Nicaragua will not disappoint. Here are just some of the once-in-a-lifetime activities Nicaragua has to offer, whether you’re stopping over for vacation or staying full-time.

Panama-City

Find Your Paradise in Panama

Over the years, Panama has built up a well-deserved reputation as a world-class retirement haven. In the pensionado program, it offers the most comprehensive array of retirement benefits to be found anywhere in the world; 30% off public transport, 50% off entertainment, 20% off medical consultations and much, much more. But there’s a lot more to being a pensionado in Panama than retirement benefits. The country blends modernity with some of the lowest cost of living to be found anywhere; expect to pay a fraction of what you would at home for quality real estate and everyday items.

rio

Downsize: Enjoy a Simpler Life

I arrived in Rio in 2008 with just two suitcases and a backpack. While I’ve accumulated a few things since, I still own very little. Interestingly, I don’t miss my old stuff. And I had a lot of stuff. My home was perhaps less cluttered than many American homes with electronics, knickknacks, and the latest must-have gadgets from The Home Shopping Network. Still, I was a single guy with a three-bedroom home, and an SUV parked in the garage. I had stuff.

fiji

A Dream Home in Fiji and $1,800 in Four Days

I am the only one on the planet with this particular view. The sun is rising over three beautiful islands and an ocean that’s pale aqua-blue turning to turquoise where the untouched coral reef is, then to cobalt in the deep water. I watch the lazy boat traffic and ever changing light from my covered hanging bed. There’s a trick with hanging beds I’ve discovered—get one side slightly shorter than the others, and it will automatically sway.

Belize

Four Great Places to Retire Where It’s Easy To Fit In

When looking at great retirement destinations overseas, low costs and cheap real estate may be well and good, but you need to feel at home. How easy it is for expats to integrate into each country? Do the locals speak good English or do you need to speak the local language? Are the locals welcoming and friendly toward expats, and is there an existing expat community with lots of groups and clubs to join? Whether it’s through shared passions, shared learning experiences or volunteering, the easiest way to become part of a community or acquire a friendship network is to get involved in an outside-the-home activity. This will help tremendously with integrating.

David

Panama Keeps on Getting Better and Better

In 2007, my wife and I were ready to make a change. We were looking for a more affordable, healthier way of life and there was one country that ticked all the boxes: Panama. Before we moved, we did a lot of research on Latin American countries that we could consider retiring to. Panama’s benefits really stood out. The country is stable, with a literacy rate higher than the U.S., health care is inexpensive, and the country’s diet is healthier. Additionally, the currency here is the American dollar and the culture is friendly and welcoming.

Las Tablas

Find a Traditional Life in Colonial Panama

The first time I visited the small, colonial town of Las Tablas, I was there for one reason only: to party it up Panamanian style. I’d heard that the yearly Carnival celebration here rivaled Louisiana’s Mardi Gras, and I wanted to see for myself. The festivities did not disappoint. Everything was loud and raucous and colorful…and wonderfully so. Gorgeous Carnival queens danced on floats that had been crafted into big intricate displays. People were dancing in the streets and offering me drinks. Craziest of all, big fire hoses were being used to douse revelers with cool water…so at high noon when the sun shone hot and strong, the party didn’t stop.

Ecuador

Revealed: The World’s Best Retirement Havens in 2015

InternationalLiving.com’s just-released Annual Global Retirement Index profiles the best destinations for good-value living around the world today. Using input from a large team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, the Index combines real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. “The world’s top retirement havens for 2015 may dot the landscape from Asia to Latin America to Europe, but they share certain assets,” says InternationalLiving.com’s executive editor, Jennifer Stevens. “They’re safe, offer good value, and are places you can settle with relative ease.

cotacachi

Foreign Banks – Confessions of an Account Holder

My wife, Suzan, and I have lived abroad for almost 14 years, and we’ve had several foreign bank accounts. I wasn’t allowed to write checks on any of them. Not that foreign banks don’t allow check writing—they have all the same services U.S. banks do. But the banks we dealt with in Latin America all seem to be much more serious about signatures than our banks in the U.S.

koh-samui

Great Health Care on the Island Paradise of Koh Samui

When you come from San Diego, California, most people think, “You are already in paradise, why would you ever leave?” But after traveling throughout Thailand and Malaysia, Ron Bond fell in love with Koh Samui, Thailand. So he went home, tied up loose ends, and moved there three months later. Back in the States, Ron had it all: a booming hypnotherapy business, a beautiful home near the beach, and great friends and family. But he also had a severe back problem that left him constantly needing prescription drugs to manage the pain.

Is There a Wealth Tax on the Way?

I’ve raised the prospect of state-sponsored financial tax confiscation many times in the past. It’s becoming a more common government grab than you may have noticed. It happened in Argentina in 2008 and Cyprus in 2012. And last year, Poland followed suit. Could an act of financial tax confiscation happen in America? Could your hard-earned retirement funds forcibly be transferred to federal control to enable more politicians’ out-of-control government spending? The guarded answer is, yes.

ireland

The Biggest Lie You’ve Been Told about Going Offshore

Is it un-American to go offshore? In the United States, government officials and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service have for years done their best to convince people that obtaining a second passport is somehow crooked, even unpatriotic. The media persists with this steady drumbeat of negativity, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the legal and constitutional right of U.S. citizens to hold dual or even multiple citizenships. Indeed, a second passport—a second citizenship—is one of the most important tools in any sovereign person’s personal and financial toolkit.

Why Switzerland? My Simple Answer

For most of history, home was simply where you were born. It was your tribe. Your family. Your community—big or small. It wasn’t really something you chose. But today, you have more freedom to go your own way. You can—more easily than ever—travel the planet and find a place you’re always glad to come back to. In short, in an increasingly-globalized world, home really can be where the heart is—not just where you end up by default. I could delve into the reasons for this—air travel, the Internet, globalization. But you already know the world is getting smaller, easier to travel, easier to navigate.

Alaska

Safaris…Glaciers…Volcanoes…And a Paycheck After the Trip

If someone told my younger self that one day my photographs would rescue me from the daily grind…allow me to spend more time with my family…afford me the opportunity to travel the world…and foot the bill to boot…I would have told them they were cuckoo. But photography has led me to climb volcanoes in Hawaii…go dog-sledding on Alaskan glaciers…drive game safaris in South Africa…and chase storms across the globe! Thirty-two countries have stamped my passport…and that is just the beginning!

Italy

A 5-Week Adventure in Italy’s Hill Country

When I think about my winter in Italy, I think of cobblestone alleyways sparkling with rain, mist-shrouded cathedrals in the “hill country,” days spent with tourist attractions almost all to myself, and a pleasant chill in the air—cool, but not too cold. I based myself, during my five winter weeks in Italy, in the mid-sized university town of Perugia, which is the capital of Umbria, Tuscany’s lesser known but just-as-lovely neighbor. It’s a place of rolling hills, world-famous wines, and postcard-perfect mountain towns. Because Umbria is nestled in between Tuscany (where you will, of course, find pretty, popular Florence, as well as a sunflower-dotted countryside that has inspired writers, artists, and tourists alike) and Lazio (the region that houses historic, grandiose Rome), it was the perfect place to do a little exploring.

Granada

Escape the Office Cubicle to Travel the World

Shaking as much from the cold as from my barely contained excitement, I set up my tripod on the edge of the pier and pointed my camera towards the sky. The Northern Lights were silently dancing, dressed in green and purple silk above Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. Moments like these are what make me pursue my passion…traveling around the world and capturing the beauty of different environments and cultures through my lens. I had always been told that following a passion or a hobby and making money online was difficult. I had to be a responsible person and have a good job, which in my case, was in the human resources department in a big company in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Paris

How My Hobby Funds My European Travels

With relatively little effort, I’ve earned hundreds of dollars a month, selling photos from my European vacations at art festivals…private school fundraising events…and art gallery shows. I’ve sold my photos through corporate art consultants…and even at a Christmas tree farm in Pennsylvania. These are simply photos that people want to hang on the wall. I began taking photos during vacations while I was still in a job…sometimes I even took photos when I was commuting. I always carry my camera with me and these days I make a living from it.

Thailand

Enjoy Your Overseas Travels With This Simple Income

There are many things I love about Thailand. First off I love the people. Thailand is known as “the Land of Smiles,” and in my experience the people are some of the gentlest and friendliest people I have met anywhere in the world. I also love the food. While I enjoy Thai food at home in the States, the food here is amazing and took my taste buds up a notch or two on the heat scale. But these are not the reasons I come to Thailand…I don’t come on vacation.

Cuenca

Living “La Dolce Vita” in Cuenca, Ecuador

I’ll be honest; Cuenca, Ecuador was not my number one retirement destination—it was Italy. My husband, Mark, and I lived there for six years in our 20s and 30s, our older son was born there, and it was the birthplace of Mark’s grandparents. Yes, I married into one big, loud, happy Italian family. It was the best of times—la dolce vita—a life of pleasure and simple luxuries. And what a life we had there…living in a villa on the Mediterranean…enjoying fresh fish and pasta every day…taking walks along the “lungomare” (seafront)…and watching spectacular sunsets from our terrazza every evening. I desperately wanted it all back when we retired at 55. But then we discovered Cuenca, Ecuador while doing an Internet search for the best places in the world to retire. Mark made his first exploratory trip in February of 2010 without me.

Thailand

Coastal Castles and Holland in Spring—Make Photos Pay Your Way

In 2003 at the age of 45, I left my legal career. Since then I have traveled to exotic destinations like Morocco…Turkey…Thailand…and India, as well as closer-to-home locations like the Colorado Rockies, Utah’s great national parks, and the Grand Canyon. The common theme throughout my travels has been photography. I make money from my pictures and it gives me the flexibility to pick travel destinations that suit my passions. Because of my love of history and architecture—for example—a couple of years ago I embarked on a trip to Northumberland, England, an area known for its coastal castles.

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