You walk out of a gleaming new shopping mall, where you’ve just caught the latest Hollywood release in English and enjoyed a Starbuck’s coffee. You catch a taxi and head toward the edge of town. In less than 10 minutes your taxi stops, as a woman in traditional Andean dress—a skirt, short jacket, and multi-colored wool shawl—guides her small ﬂock of hesitant sheep safely across the road.
We began International Living as a dream. Now it is a reality, not just for us but for thousands of people. I’ve met hundreds of them myself. And never have I met one who regretted it. But let’s back up. When I launched International Living in 1980, I really didn’t know much about living overseas…and barely anything about living at all. I was only 32 years old. What I thought I knew back then came mostly from reading…and from my junior year abroad, which was spent in Paris in 1969.
As I came over the last hill on the road from Tilaran, a small town about 10 minutes from the shore of Lake Arenal, I could see what makes Arenal so special. The stunning lake vistas opened up before me… Most of the land here is forest, pasture, or farm—split by rivers, streams, and rocky waterfalls…natural and unspoiled. And it has that small-town feel, where strangers say “Buenas tardes” as you walk through town or wave if you drive by.
There is no question that retiring to the right place can dramatically and automatically cut your overall cost of living. Just think about your own monthly budget without the costs of heating, air conditioning, and vehicle maintenance and insurance. Those costs come right off the top of your budget if you relocate to a place with a year-round temperate climate and a good mass-transit system. I know, because I live in just such a place. And it’s wonderful.
A cobbled square, an outdoor café, a sky full of stars. Vincent van Gogh’s Café Terrace At Night is laden with the romance of place—I always want to step into the picture and sit at one of the tables…drink a glass or two of wine…join the patrons in idle conversation. Van Gogh painted the picture during his time in Arles—a small city in Provence in the sunny south of France.
The 24-hour media machine fuels this “fear of elsewhere.” Footage of revolutions in the streets and masked gunmen stalking the jungle makes for good TV. Footage of people peacefully and cheerfully going to the market, relaxing on their porch of an evening, and doing the sorts of things normal daily life brings, well, that’s not going to attract the TV news crews, is it?
The narrow lane spills onto a magnificent square. A group of young musicians fills the twilight with melodies. All around you are stunning buildings dating back centuries. And yet the people relaxing here and walking through these ancient streets are very much 21st century: students with books and laptops in hand. Folks from all over are enjoying evening drinks or dining on café terraces. Talk is of the art expo the town is putting on…an upcoming concert…or the latest news or trends…
Every morning Barbara Wastart rises to another glorious tranquil day, surrounded by fruit trees, coconut palms, and exotic tropical birds. As she looks out from her hilltop home, she takes in the spectacular view of the turquoise Caribbean bay below. A fleet of kayaks, and a pontoon boat, are tied to her private dock. A quick paddle through the mangrove forest and she can tie up to a private buoy near the barrier reef, and snorkel in the crystal clear waters abundant with fish, rays, and coral.
When considering a place to retire abroad, there are many factors to keep in mind. The availability of good health and dental care, safety, climate, the price of real estate, the “vibe”… Costa Rica ticks all those boxes (Stayed tuned for more on its dental care in your Daily Postcard tomorrow). It’s a naturally beautiful country to boot with an established expat community and a stable government.
The English-speaking island of Belize has a lot going for it. For a tiny country, it packs a big wallop when it comes to charm and scenery. For the would-be expat—especially if you’re looking for real value—there are many areas deserving of your attention. Places where you can live the laid-back, Caribbean lifestyle of your dreams.
Toward the southern end of Belize, you’ll find a 17-mile-long peninsula that has become a center of expat activity and tourism in recent years. Developments and homes can be found up and down its length, as can beautiful beaches and views of the blue Caribbean. But Placencia Village, the walkable community at the peninsula’s far southern tip, is where Paul Petit and his wife Gail decided to settle.
Applying for a Colombian visa used to be an ordeal. It was difﬁcult to ﬁnd correct visa information online—particularly on government websites—and even harder to ﬁnd the needed forms. Today it’s easy, thanks to Colombia’s revamping of its visa and immigration system, complete with modern facilities and up-to-date online information—even in English.
For U.S. citizens looking to retire overseas, one of the main concerns is their tax obligations. How will the big move affect the taxes they have to pay? And will they still be able to access their retirement income overseas without difficulty? By and large, these issues are more straightforward than you might expect.
Back in 2001, my wife and I decided to leave the cold climate of Nebraska behind and embark on an epic adventure to find our perfect retirement destination. We traveled to several different countries in search of our dream home, creating incredible memories in the process and opening our eyes to the immense possibilities that living abroad has to offer. On our travels, we enjoyed new food, new locations, made new friends, and lived the kind of happy, healthy retirement few could dream of just a few short decades ago.
Two years ago, after leaving our careers and selling most of everything we owned, my wife and I retired early to Costa Rica. Our life in Dallas, Texas was busy and stressful. After looking at our options, we chose to move to a foreign country, to live more simply and have time to pursue our passions. We found Costa Rica had many benefits that made it stand out. Those benefits that brought us here are the same reasons we’ve stayed…
When we lived in the U.S. my husband, Paul, and I both worked 40+ hour weeks and, like most folks, were busy after work and on weekends doing all the “stuff” of life—laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, and running errands. Now that we are retired and living in Costa Rica, we are only as busy as we choose to be. We’re still busy, but in a different way. First off, we can do those things anytime, usually during daylight hours. And secondly, things usually take longer here than it would in the U.S.—there isn’t such a thing as one-stop-shopping. But that’s okay. Part of the fun is the hunt for what we need. We weren’t necessarily looking for easier…we wanted different.
Our daughter in New Jersey hasn’t seen her yard for months because it’s covered with snow. Our son in North Carolina finished raking leaves a while back just in time to get out the overcoats in preparation for the frigid weather ahead. My wife Cynthia and I, we’re weather junkies, who like the climate to be perfect…not too hot and not too cold… The thermometer was already getting close to 100 degrees when we left Las Vegas for Cuenca, Ecuador almost five years ago. We’d had enough of that scorching heat—as well as the humidity and chilly winters in the southeast where we previously lived…
“I feel like it’s a real gift to be here,” says Vilcabamba expat Jeff Hutner. It’s a sentiment I have heard echoed time and again from expats in this part of Ecuador. What’s so enthralling about this little highland town just north of the Peruvian border? Well, for Jeff and his wife Jamie, it’s the ability to afford a quality life surrounded by beauty. Nestled into a warm valley ringed by high Andean peaks, the town of Vilcabamba leaves little to be desired. The warm (but not steamy) year-round weather is perfect for plant life. Trees with surfboard-sized fronds stand watch over neon flowers and creeping vines. Crystalline rivers tumble through the valley and there are plenty of hiking trails crisscrossing the slopes.
Nestled in an Andean valley at 6,000 feet, the Bolivian city of Tarija is truly one of South America’s great undiscovered gems. You’ll find colonial architecture, a near-perfect Mediterranean climate, and vineyards outside town stretching to the horizon. It’s also one of the most affordable cities in the Americas: you can live a comfortable retirement in a centrally-located apartment for $1,200 a month, including rent, enjoy a delicious three-course meal for as little as $4, or visit one of its many medical facilities from $20. Tarija is home to 235,000 people, among them a small community of around 250 expats— mostly from Europe, North America, and New Zealand.
Lisbon’s faded grace is utterly enchanting. In the old city’s steep, narrow streets, once-grand buildings display worn facades, battered shutters, and laundry hanging from the balcony. Tailors and cobblers ply their services from tiny, bedraggled shops, while the baked-sugar smell of custard and caramel wafts out the doors of ancient pastelarias. And up every steeply sloping street in this hilly city, it seems, labors a groaning trolley car, while far below glitters the River Tejo.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the quaint town of Cotacachi to the vibrant capital, Quito, from Salinas by the sea to the peaks of the Andes, Ecuador’s diversity is a key part of the massive appeal that sees it regain the coveted top spot on this year’s retirement index. Although prices have risen slightly in recent years, Ecuador’s real estate is still the best value you’ll find anywhere. This is bolstered by the generous array of benefits the government has afforded to retirees. Over-65s get discounts on flights originating in Ecuador, as well as up to 50% off entry to movies and sporting events. Discounts are also available on public transport (50%) and utilities, with the option of a free landline if you purchase a property.
Ecuador takes top spot in this year’s Annual Global Retirement Index. Every year, International Living releases this Index after months of research. With the assistance of dozens of expats and experts around the world…data is collated and numbers are crunched…to identify the very best retirement destinations in the world in 2015. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine 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. Twenty-five countries made it on to the list this year, and Ecuador gets the highest score.
Do you dream of spending time in the Old World? If you’re not ready for a full-time commitment to Europe but would like to give its medieval market towns and historic cities a try than I have a hop-in/hop-out solution. Maybe you don’t want to give up ties in North America and prefer to live abroad only part-time. Some folks don’t want to take on the tax burden that can come with residence in some European countries like France and Spain. Still others just don’t want to fill out the paperwork. But part-time living in Europe, on a simple tourist visa, is pretty much obligation-free for North Americans. The only trick: You can’t overstay your welcome. So like other North Americans who spend part of the year in Europe, I’ve learned to count how many days I can legally stay, and I plan out my trips like a battle marshal.
With spiraling costs compelling more and more North Americans to retire overseas, retiring abroad has never been more attractive. But finding the right location among the myriad options available can be daunting. That’s what our Annual Global Retirement Index does. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine 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. Keep in mind that, even though only 25 countries feature on our list, all of them are worth your attention. We selected them from among all the countries in the world for their qualities as retirement hot-spots, so even the lowest-ranked nation on our index is still very much an option worth considering.
When I first started planning my move to Costa Rica years ago, I got some interesting feedback from more than one acquaintance. “Aren’t you worried about safety? They love to rob gringos there, you know.” I guess they pictured “banditos” crouched in the bushes ready for ambush around every bend in the road. It’s worth mentioning this seemed to be their view of all of Latin America, Asia, and most of Europe.
“How much does it cost to live in Ecuador?” That’s a question I hear a lot from readers. From masses of anecdotal evidence and my own experience of living here, I can safely say that a typical couple will most likely spend somewhere between $1,600 and $2,400 a month to live in Ecuador. But what you will spend depends very much on your own needs and wants.
“I never want to shovel snow again.” When you ask somebody who is thinking about life overseas why they’re investigating their options, more often than not their response has at least something to do with escaping the cold. So it makes sense that when you ask expats what they most appreciate about their lives overseas—they almost always include an enthusiastic nod to the pleasant climate. It’s convenient then that so many places where your dollars stretch also happen to be spots where snow is unheard of.
“The people in my new community are some of the best I have ever met in my entire life. They are like my family. I feel safe, protected, and loved,” says Dawn Noel, who made the move to Nicaragua in 2012. “And there is a rich flora and fauna here. I am enveloped in beauty!” After a busy career as a traveling nurse, Dawn was ready for a new adventure. She longed for a place where she could feel free, be herself, and “be able to live out my later years without working myself to death.”
The last decade has seen the rise of the low-cost carrier in Southeast Asia. Cheap, short-hop flights now criss-cross the region—much of it spread across the ocean in archipelagos like the Philippines and Indonesia. This boom in no-frills flights means cheap travel and it’s one of the reasons that my wife Lisa and I can travel so much. We live in Penang, Malaysia, but whatever Asian destination you chose for your home you’ll find it easy to explore the region.
One of the things my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I have come to value over the years that we’ve lived abroad are well-organized expat communities. We do know some expats who were determined to be pioneers and boldly go where no North Americans had gone before. But for us…and most other expats we know…there are undeniable advantages to having people around you in your chosen expat destination who have already blazed a trail, made the most common mistakes, and learned the ropes.
Unlike the more popular beach towns in Belize, Punta Gorda—in the Toledo District—is seldom crawling with tourists. And you’ll find few expats in Punta Gorda, compared to towns like Corozal, San Pedro, Placencia or San Ignacio. Upon visiting earlier this year, I learned that a growing number of expats are visiting and trying out the region to see if it’s a fit for them.
Conventional wisdom says that you have to get the travel bug out of your system early; that once you have children you have to abandon your overseas dreams—or at least shelve them until the kids grow up and leave the nest. But it’s just not true…and an increasing number of American families are proving it. Folks from all over the U.S. are bucking tradition and traveling the world with their kids—for a summer, a year, and longer.
Not everyone has a knack for languages…and studying a foreign language at the age of 50, 60, or 70 may seem challenging. For some people even the thought of it is overwhelming. So the good news is you don’t have to speak Spanish if you want to live in Panama. In Chiriquí—where I live—there are several thousand expats. Plenty of them are European and may speak multiple languages, but the majority are North American and I would wager that a good 75% of them do not speak Spanish.
I’ve always loved to explore the areas in which I live. Whether I was bushwhacking through wild Alaskan terrain or driving down dusty country roads in Minnesota farm country, I relished the thrill of seeing what’s around the next bend. It could be a fantastic little family-owned apple orchard or a mama moose with newborn twins.