While the wind blows and the snow flies in Colleen Thom’s old stomping grounds of Alberta, Canada, she and her husband Bill are enjoying their new life in a year-round paradise. For the last year Colleen and Bill have been living a life of warmth, friends, and adventure in the small Andean mountain town of Vilcabamba, Ecuador.
Portugal’s capital—home to half a million people—is a gracious city, yet also one with an odd, pensive gravity: a world-weariness born perhaps of great age and of empires gained and lost. It’s also an amazingly inexpensive place: arguably the most affordable capital in Western Europe. A couple could live comfortably here for as little as $2,100 a month. If you’re budget-conscious, take heart. Lisbon is a place where you can enjoy a European lifestyle at Latin American prices, with history, romance, astonishing hospitality, and a seaside location to boot.
For a tiny country, Panama offers a lot of choice—city living, mountain hamlets, and more beaches that you might realize. Despite having both a Pacific and Caribbean coast, a host of affordable flights from the U.S., and stellar infrastructure, Panama’s beaches aren’t overrun by big resorts. Each little beach town has its own personality, so no matter your taste or budget, you’ll find a beach town to suit you. Just an hour’s drive west of the nation’s capital, on the Pacific Coast, you’ll find the beach town that’s favored by expa
For many years, Kathleen Evans and Steve Spada knew they wanted to live and retire abroad. So, they spent their free time researching locations, dreaming about the move, and even looking at real estate abroad. “Even before the internet,” Kathleen says, “we were subscribed to International Living and looking at properties when traveling overseas.” A few years ago, the couple got serious about selling their home in Austin and making a move. Kathleen had had enough of the rush and stress of the workaday life.
Financial struggles weren’t the only thing motivating our retirement abroad, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that’s what got us looking for an out-of-the-box solution to begin with. Like a lot of people during the financial crisis, my husband, Donald, and I took a big hit. Here we were nearing the end of our working years, and our financial security had evaporated in a seeming instant. My husband had his second heart attack in three years, and then lost his job—along with his medical insurance. We were tired, vulnerable, and drowning in stress. I remember my husband declaring that he felt as if he’d, “been running a marathon for 60 years.” We both worked regular jobs, and even started a couple of small businesses on the side to claw our way back. But it would be years before we could hope to retire, and we were spending all our time and energy just to hold on.
One of my absolute favorite destinations in the world is Guanajuato, a city in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands. It’s a place where every interest is catered for: Every time I return I throw myself into the wealth of cultural activities it offers: concerts, exhibitions, theater, food festivals, book fairs… Even Guanajuato’s street scene is lively. Walk down to the Jardin (Garden) area any given night, and you’ll see strolling locals and expats, bustling outdoor cafes, student troubadours, and mariachi groups making music, and more.
You know those moments where you see, hear, or smell a quick flash of something, and you’re suddenly reminded of another country or city that you’ve visited…a memory that fills you with an intense longing to return there? One of those moments happened to me the other day here in Paris. It was a beautiful, bright, late winter day—cold but so sunny I could feel the warm breath of spring. I was crossing a bridge, looking at the Seine river swirling below, when I was gripped with a memory of walking across a different bridge, in a different city, feeling the same cheerful anticipation of warmer weather ahead. The city I was drawn back to was Lyon in the Rhone-Alps region of southeastern France; the bridge was the Pont Bonaparte, spanning the Saone River. I had spent three days in Lyon last year in late winter, and my sudden longing to return was so intense that it surprised me.
There’s a statue in Rome whose history is of feuding artists.
The fountain—called The Fountain of Four Rivers—is located in the famous Piazza Navona. When it was commissioned by the pope in 1651, the story goes that the project was first given to an artist named Borromini and then stolen away by his arch nemesis, a man named Bernini.
The fountain features four god-like statues that represent the four great known rivers of that time—the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de la Plata. And all four of the statues seem to be turning away from the baroque Sant’Agnese church across the street…a church designed by that rival artist, Borromini.
They say the gorgeous fountain’s design is a result of the bitter rivalry. Of course, a little research shows that this is actually a myth.
One of the oldest outposts of the former British Empire, Penang delivers 110 square miles of tropical treasures. A lush, mountainous island oozing history and heritage, Victorians christened it “the Pearl of the Orient.” It lies anchored on the Spice Route, just off Malaysia’s west coast, a mere two-hour drive from the borders of southern Thailand. For these reasons and more, many foreign retirees opt for a new life on Penang, only a 50-minute flight from Kuala Lumpur. It’s also accessible by an eight-mile long road bridge and a ferry from the mainland that runs 24 hours a day. A second bridge was completed mid-2014 and a tunnel is planned for 2034.
Even though I live in Paris, I still look through my monthly issues of International Living carefully, keeping an eye out for intriguing spots in the world that make me think—“What if…?” Tempting occasionally…but when it comes down to it, I still prefer the idea of retiring in France to anywhere else. Naturally, this feeling partly comes from the fact that France has been my home for nearly 14 years, so I feel comfortable here. But comfort isn’t what makes me seriously consider spending my golden years here. What does? It comes down to four things: Practicality, beauty, location, and way of life…though not necessarily in that order.
At my sidewalk table, I smile to myself, and hoist my glass for another sip. Full-bodied German beer, a tidy Mayberry-esque town square across the street…and gauchos in full regalia passing by. Sometimes it’s still hard to believe I’m in Brazil And in fact, the locals proudly refer to their little slice of heaven as Outro Brazil: “Another Brazil.” Stretching east to west across Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s southernmost state, the Serra Gaucha (“Cowboy Highlands”) is a delightful little enclave reminiscent of the rolling hills of the Great Smoky Mountains of my native North Carolina.
There aren’t many places that can hold a candle to the romance of Italian life. Each time I go back to Italy, there’s somewhere new to fall in love with. But my most recent visit rekindled an old love—the region of Puglia, in the country’s deep south. I first came to Puglia in the early 1980s, before anybody outside of Italy, bar a lucky few, had even heard of it. With much lower costs than northern and central Italy, prices in Puglia will astound you. I found bars with coffee for 50 cents…pizzerias where you can sit down and tuck into a full-size pizza for $5. And if you thought that a fabulous fish dinner with wine for $20 was the stuff of imagination, think again.
Standing knee-deep in clear Caribbean blue water looking back at the white-sand beach and the swaying palms, I thought it over. I was on vacation, but what was stopping me from living here? Rent here was a fraction of what I paid for my apartment in Washington, D.C., the cost of living was low, and I hadn’t felt this relaxed in years. (It helps that it’s so affordable here: All in all, a couple who own their own home could live on a monthly budget of only $1,000. With rent, that couple would have a comfortable life for around $1,800.)
I moved to Cuenca 17 months ago from Canada on a pensioner’s visa and in that time, my life has changed so much…for the better. Twenty-three months before I made the move, I made a conscious decision to change my lifestyle, and to get away from the rat race, the pursuit of the almighty dollar, and its attendant stress levels. I needed to find a place, somewhere on the planet, where I could live a happy, un-politicized and uncomplicated life.
There are plenty of reasons to retire to Panama, and several reasons I love being a retiree in Chiriqui Province. What are they? Well, there’s the weather and the natural surroundings, the variety of fun things to do, and to top it all off, the low cost of living. In the city of David, where I live, a couple can live very comfortably on just $1,500 a month—including rent. The quality of life you get for that amount is hard to beat.
When you are considering where to retire, Nicaragua should be on your list. It has everything the other Latin American countries have…and then it has its own surprises that set it apart from the pack. For example, Nicaragua’s physical beauty is second to none. If you’re a nature lover, crystal blue lakes, turquoise rivers and pools, miles of surf-worthy ocean and sandy beaches, majestic volcanoes, cascading waterfalls, sun-flecked canyons, islands that look like pearls in the sea, and sunny blue skies will call you to this beautiful place.
For 10 years before my husband Mark and I left Chicago, I was working 24/7. As the owner of a wholesale women’s clothing business, my career left me little time to actually enjoy life. So, Mark and I made the massive decision to leave the U.S. 18 months ago. We did it because we needed to slow down and enjoy life now. We sold it all; furniture, cars, clothes, businesses and stuffed the rest into two suitcases. Then we moved halfway across the world, to a country that we had only visited for a total of 17 days. Our destination: Penang, Malaysia.
In 2008, when my husband Paul and I first started talking about the possibility of retiring overseas, we really only considered two countries: Mexico and Costa Rica. I often wonder why we didn’t consider more countries at the time; there are so many great options. At the time, though, we only thought of countries where we’d had some personal experience. First up was Mexico. Paul lived and went to college there in the ’70s and has always had a love for both the country and its culture, so it was natural that Mexico was on our short list. I had visited Costa Rica on a business trip in the ’90s and remembered it as a beautiful country that I always wanted to visit again.
Back in the 1980s, Terresa Murphy arrived in the City of Lights. “I came with my guitar,” she says. “I played for money in the metro to begin with, then in cafes. Then in the ’90s, after much back-and-forth between Paris and the States, I got a job at the city’s International Cinematography Festival through a friend.” But it was food that really drew Terresa’s attention. “I fell in love with French food culture, particularly the artisan approach to both ingredients and cooking. It wasn’t considered artisan at the time,” she says. “It was just the norm.”
“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.
It was the middle of January and I was on a beautiful coastal walk with the sun warming my skin and a gentle breeze cooling my face. To my left, fields of bright green clover, patches of fresh thyme and chamomile, and small stone goat sheds made from pinkish-white stones stretched up a hill. To my right, sheer cliffs dropped into the ocean, which stretched into the horizon. Behind me, a small ancient fort stood watch over the coastline. And ahead, a dusty, but well-kept path led over rocky beaches, deserted swimming areas, and clay mudslides, now dried in the sunshine. When I describe this January scene, where do you picture me? In South America, where January is summertime? In Ecuador or Hawaii, with their year-round mild climates?
Every year, more than a million visitors travel to Ecuador for a taste of what this small South American country offers. The Galapagos Islands are undoubtedly Ecuador’s biggest attraction, but those who choose to explore the mainland itself are in for a cultural treat. This equatorial country is soaked in tradition—some of which originated in the times of the Incas, or even earlier. I’ve lived in Ecuador for three years and the longer I’m here, the more I learn and experience. And because the locals are so friendly and welcoming, I’m often included in their traditions—if you spend more than a few days in one place here, you will be too.
“Florida was nice but boring,” Maryann Risley says of her retirement to Orlando with husband, Steve. After all, “you can only visit Disney World so many times.” The couple craved some excitement and some new adventure, so they began to research retirement abroad. “I found IL magazine and started to read about the benefits of retiring in Panama,” Maryann says.
Lots of expats are already living their dream Caribbean lifestyle… Taking leisurely walks along the coast, cooled by the enticing Caribbean breeze…swimming and snorkeling in the living aquarium of the Caribbean Sea…feasting on fresh fruits, seafood and lobster…indulging in afternoon catnaps in a comfy hammock…meeting friends for a fresh catch lunch at a seaside café…Here’s the good news—this idyllic Caribbean lifestyle is still possible for those with a decent Social Security income—if they know where to settle, and how to cut corners…
Turquoise blue water, white sand, palms swaying in the breeze, and a cold drink in hand…it’s the setting for a new life on one of Central America’s picture perfect Caribbean islands. In a place like this, the cares of the world melt away and you are very much on island time.
Last year Kenneth Fung made his long-held dream of a snowbird’s life a reality. An accountant and project manager from Calgary, Canada, Kenneth first visited Belize in 2010. He was first drawn by Belize’s natural beauty. The country is a haven for those seeking tranquility and nature, a place where breezes make for natural air conditioning, and you’re lulled to sleep by waves lapping on the shore after a day of scuba diving and learning to husk coconuts.
We came to Cancun after beginning our expat retirement adventures in Ecuador. Our retirement plans were in serious trouble in the U.S. I had suffered my second heart attack in 2009…and soon after I lost a good job and the health insurance that came with it. I was unemployed, uninsured, and the medical expenses were stacking up. So, we decided to take a chance and live overseas, a decision that first brought us to the small fishing and farming community of San Vicente on Ecuador’s coast, just a short distance from the equator. We spent two great years there, but with my heart issues, we decided it would be wise to live closer to top-notch emergency medical care.
Once upon a time there was a girl named Goldilocks who wanted to move abroad. Now Goldilocks was very particular—she wanted everything to be “just right.” One day Goldilocks was reading her International Living magazine and learned about a city in Ecuador called Cuenca. The more she read, the more excited she became. Goldilocks thought, “Wow, this place seems perfect!” Being very particular, she decided to visit Cuenca to see for herself.
Doug and Diane Jones’ retirement dream had been a small organic farm in the Oregon wilderness… So it came as a surprise when, nearing retirement, they realized that they were tired of working sun-up to sundown on the farm and a new and unexpected retirement dream—of living in sunny, rural, authentic southern Italy—had taken its place. “We worked most of our lives because we didn’t come from money and we had to work for it. We always spent our vacations visiting family—you know, the guilt-trip thing. We never took trips abroad. We were too poor in both vacation time and money.
When my wife, Suzan, and I moved abroad in 2001, we were sure we knew where we wanted to spend the rest of our lives—on the beach. So, we tried out beaches all over the Western Hemisphere. And where do we live today? In the mountains. Here’s why.
I live in Boqueron, a small community in the highland province of Chiriqui, an area almost completed overlooked by expats but filled with friendly locals. Here I rent a comfortable, air-conditioned house—fully-furnished—on a pretty little river for just $175 a month. For another $25 a month, someone comes regularly to maintain the yard. I live among great neighbors, manage comfortably on just a little money, and with decent internet connection, can chat to the folks back home whenever I wish.
I love living in Nicaragua. You might think it’s because I was able to buy a wonderful ocean-view home that I could never afford in the States. My house, on nearly an acre of land, would cost 10 times more in my home town of San Diego than the $132,000 I paid for it here. Or, you might assume that I love it so much because I was able to retire 11 years early…or because the sunny warm weather puts a smile on my face every morning. You could point to the more fulfilling life I have now, complete with fabulous friendships I’ve made with local people and other expats, and ask if that’s the reason.
One of the best things about living in Chiriqui Province is the ease with which I can change my environment to suit my mood. I live on the north side of the provincial capital of David, and from my home many of the best places to see and things to do are only about an hour away. Boca Chica, for instance, is a bit more than an hour’s drive east of David right on the Pacific coast. I went there with my husband recently for a brief birthday holiday, a little R&R.
Ah yes, another warm, sunny day in Panama is drawing to a close. It’s been just one of many afternoons spent reclining lazily on our terrace watching the iguanas, birds, and squirrels cavorting in our yard. Unfortunately the day did not start out that way. My poor husband suffers periodically from allergies and, after completing some vigorous yard work he had irritated, sore eyes and itchy skin. But after a quick trip to our local farmacia (pharmacy) he was symptom-free.
In Panama, you can choose where you want to live based solely on the climate you want. The fact surprises a lot of people. “Isn’t Panama a tropical country, lying so close to the equator?” Well, yes, it is, but here’s the thing…because of the wide range of elevations, it offers an amazing choice of climates. Suppose you’re a beach lover, seeking the warmth of the sun, balmy breezes tinged with salty humidity, and long stretches of sandy shoreline facing nothing but endless ocean to the horizon.
“Are you nuts?” This might be the first thing you hear when you tell friends and relatives that you’re thinking of retiring abroad. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to, now that Forbes and FOX News and The New York Times and just about every other major media outlet are featuring stories about people retiring overseas and where they’re going. Some are even putting out their own lists of the best overseas retirement destinations, a-la International Living. (I guess if you do something for 35 years, sooner or later somebody else will catch on.)
My husband Dan Prescher and I were in the States for the Christmas holidays last year—the most frenetic and stressful time to visit. There’s so much pressure, so much to do, so much to spend money on…and it’s icy cold! Temperatures for a few days running while we were visiting in Omaha hovered at about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. I hate to admit this, but there were a few days when I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house. I’m no longer used to (or very tolerant of) those kinds of bone-chilling, life-threatening temperatures. And that’s not to mention that the sun depressingly slips away at 4:30 p.m. on a winter afternoon.
If you like the sound of a laidback, English-speaking, Caribbean retirement at an affordable cost and with easy access to the States, you can’t do much better than Ambergris Caye, Belize’s largest island. Ambergris has racked up a series of impressive “best island” awards over the last few years; the island received a Traveler’s Choice Award for Best Island for 2013 and 2014. But Ambergris Caye is much more than a tourist destination. It’s a perfect retirement haven. Every day I can enjoy the gorgeous Caribbean Sea and the sight of waves crashing on the offshore Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. The Caribbean’s aquamarine hues never fail to dazzle me…
Coffee plantations and orange groves line the slopes outside of the town of Santa Fe. Sparkling rivers, like the Santa Maria and Mulaba, rush around huge boulders to flow gently between the trees. Giant peaks tower above, one after the other, with names like El Salto, Cerro Tute, El Sapo, and Cerro Mariposa. With an elevation around 1,500 feet, Santa Fe is blessed with year-round cool temperatures, averaging in the 80s F during the daytime and 60s F at night. Clear blue skies yield to misty clouds among the mountain tops and in the low valleys. For nature-lovers, it doesn’t get any better.
I’m on an English-speaking tropical island right now gathering data for International Living readers. The sea and beach views are hard to beat. The island’s surrounded by a fringe of coral reefs, so the water inside the nearby reef is that irresistible aquamarine color. The beaches on this island tell a variety of geological stories. Some are composed of soft, golden sand, with wide, welcoming shores.