Located at the tip of South America, Colombia is where the Pacific and the Caribbean collide with the Andes and the Amazon. It’s a country that is more beautiful, dramatic, and diverse than nearly any other. It offers sparkling colonial cities in the highlands and world-famous (and safe) resorts along the Caribbean. Cartagena, a walled colonial city on those turquoise shores, is one of Spanish America’s most beautiful enclaves.
What’s more, Colombia boasts beautiful areas where the cost of living is the lowest you’ll find anywhere in South America—lower, even, than in Ecuador.
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- Population: 45,745,783
- Capital City: Bogota
- Climate: Tropical along coast and eastern plains; cooler in highlands
- Time Zone: EST (GMT-5)
- Language: Spanish (official)
- Country Code: +57
As the savage North American winter begins to bite and the snow and ice pile up, many of us ﬁnd ourselves yearning for warmer climates elsewhere. Imagine a place that’s never too hot or too cold—just perfect. Outside, the birds are chirping, while gardens and wildﬂowers bloom in multicolored glory. You can walk around in a light tee-shirt at any time of year. Throw out your coat and boots. Forget about heating and air-conditioning bills and suffering through sweltering heat and humidity.
Waking up every morning to the beautiful views of Medellin’s Aburra Valley is like a dream compared to the corporate life I left behind in America. Back then I dreaded the buzzing alarm clock jolting me out of a restful sleep followed by a 60-minute, rush-hour commute to my office only 15 miles away. Then wasting eight hours in a cubicle doing work I hated only to repeat the one-hour commute to get home.
When 007’s speedboat cut through the waters of Phang Nga Bay in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun, he was zipping past some of the most breathtaking natural wonders in the world. Today you can tour this southern Thailand gem yourself. But with dramatic rock formations, turquoise lagoons, ﬂoating villages, and a vast array of exotic wildlife to view, you’ll need the whole day to fully appreciate it and a speedboat to see it all.
My daily life has improved immensely since moving to Medellín, Colombia’s charming “City of Flowers.” I feel calm and peaceful, unlike many of my friends living in U.S. cities. Every morning I wake up to the cheerful sound of birds. From my balcony I can hear the gentle trickle of the stream running past my apartment. I love to take these quiet mornings to practice yoga at a nearby studio and then head to my favorite coffee shop, Pergamino. It’s pleasantly quiet in the mornings when I go to read a book or write in my journal while I sip the best coffee in town for less than $1.
Before moving overseas, I spent 23 years working as an attorney specializing in litigation. My life was full of angry people and I was required to keep track of every minute of my day so my firm could bill the clients. I was basically living at the courthouse, and had very little time to relax or live my life. Then there was years of bitter cold and extreme snowfalls each winter in Northern Illinois.
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Social Security Administration, U.S. retirees overseas received more than $3 billion in social security payments in 2013. That number shows an increase of $160 million since 2012—and has nearly doubled since 2013. In total, 373,224 U.S. retirees received their social security payments as residents of a foreign country in 2013. Europe is home to the most U.S. retirees drawing their social security payments abroad (154,238), followed by Canada and Mexico (95,767), and Asia (70,586).
The light streams through my window as the birds wake me with their joyful morning chorus. Last night I was lulled to sleep by chirping crickets and the sound of the nearby stream. I peek my head out the window to see fluffy clouds dispersing, revealing another beautiful day in paradise. After getting ready, I grab a notebook and pen and head out the door. The neighborhood fruit vendor senses my morning hunger as I approach his stand. He cracks open an enormous papaya and perfectly ripe mango, and serves me the most delicious fruit salad for just $1.75. “Enjoy,” he says smiling.
Bogota, Colombia has a pace, rhythm, culture, and dialect all its own. It’s home to three of the region’s leading universities, two prominent symphonies, dozens of museums, art galleries, and performance centers. Living here you’ll have a calendar full of social, cultural, sports, and historical commemoration events.
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…
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.
Buga is a Colombian town that gets lots of visitors for several reasons. First, it’s directly between Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, and the stunningly beautiful mountains of Colombia’s Coffee Triangle area, a place that lots of people like to visit. Second, it’s the home of an incredibly popular site for religious pilgrimages, the Basilica del Señor de los Milagros. The Basilica is home to an image of Christ called the Lord of Miracles, or El Señor de los Milagros. Three million people a year visit the Basilica.
When our children found their various paths in the world, my wife, Jane Ann, and I watched them launch into their own trajectories in the world with pride…but also with some jealousy for their new adventures. I spent my career in healthcare and financial services, while my wife managed dental practices: staff, patients, and finances. We were well planted in our traditional professions, our community, and our home in Seattle. And we had now become empty nesters.
A new era of relative peace has allowed Colombia to prosper. In the past decade, annual GDP growth has typically been in the 4% to 6% range. In U.S. dollar terms, Colombian stocks have tanked. The local currency, the Colombian peso, has fallen hard against the U.S. dollar. The reason? Collapsing price of oil. Brent crude oil is down 50% since June 2014.
I get a couple of emails a month like this from International Living readers: “I’ve been doing my research as you suggest. I know I want to make my move abroad, but no matter how many likely destinations I cross off my list, I still have too many to choose from. Where should I go?”
Spiraling healthcare and insurance costs are a thing of the past for thousands of North Americans who have found their dream retirement haven abroad. If you’re still mulling your overseas options, then the availability of quality and affordable healthcare is likely a primary concern. Over the next few pages, we explore five countries hand-picked by our expat experts for the exceptionally high quality of their healthcare. All five destinations have become expat hubs, and the North Americans who now call them home—including our correspondents—can attest to the high level of care they’ve received there.
Sophistication may not be the first word that springs to mind when you think of Colombia. But Pereira, at the heart of the country’s coffee triangle, is one of Latin America’s most stylish cities. Pereira is prosperous and you’ll find gleaming glass apartment towers, high-rise office buildings, chic, modern architecture, and venerable colonial buildings. The abundance of students attending the many universities gives the city a youthful vibe. Because of this, Pereira has some of the best nightlife in the region, and thanks to the multitude of clubs and theaters featuring operas and concerts of all kinds, there’s always plenty to do. With the Andes at your doorstep, there are also plentiful opportunities to immerse yourself in the great outdoors.
I’m standing on a floating footbridge over a piratedug canal once used as a secret ship hideaway. To my right lies the tiny island of Santa Catalina, birthed when the creation of Canal Aury separated it from the main island, where centuries-old cannons still stand watch atop a high bluff. To my left is the sleepy town of Santa Isabel, administrative center of Isla Providencia. Other Caribbean islands may be soaked in pirate lore, but Providencia is drenched in it. More than one buccaneer made this his base, perhaps the most notorious of whom was Captain Henry Morgan. Today he is most famous for the rum that bears his name, but in his time Captain Morgan made a name for himself by attacking Spanish strongholds.
For their 2015 Annual Global Retirement Index, InternationalLiving.com’s editors and correspondents spent months researching, surveying, and collating the data on the best places to live in the world…a task that included identifying the best climates worldwide. The Climate category in the Index assessed the hard data of temperatures, rainfall and humidity, and also the comfort level of each destination’s climate. “It’s difficult to quantify and qualify a ‘perfect’ climate,” says Suzan Haskins, senior editor at InternationalLiving.com.
Gray skies…dark mornings and evenings…and inches of snow covering your driveway… Those don’t need to be a fact of life. For the 2015 Annual Global Retirement Index, our editors and correspondents spent months researching, surveying, and collating the data on the best places to live in the world…a task that included identifying where you can find the best climate in the world. The “Climate” category assesses the hard data of temperatures, rainfall and humidity, and also the comfort level of each destination’s climate.
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.
If you dream about a different life… one lived on a sun-dappled beach… or in a colonial, history-rich town… or some exotic big city abroad… but you need an income to make it happen, sooner rather than later… Then you should know: There are proven, flexible ways you can fund your life overseas… and get paid to do something you genuinely enjoy… So you gain the freedom to pick up and go… travel when you feel like it… live in a place you love… and all the while earn $12,000… $25,000… $40,000… even $85,000 a year or more…
In a handful of noteworthy places on the planet right now, you could own a world-class property for $150,000 and have it throw off $1,000 a month, right from the start. These are what I call “exceptional markets.” Places where you’re looking at as much as an 8% yield… more than double the norm. But you don’t need mounds of cash on hand to get in – often less than $20,000. And these are gains you can pocket with little-to-no effort.
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.
“Wow…wow, wow, wow!” I said, as I walked into Popayán’s main square, Parque Caldas, for the first time. Glistening white colonial buildings surrounded me on three sides and a majestic cathedral stood in front of me. “Okay,” I thought, “now I see why Popayán is known as the ‘White City.’” Though beautifully preserved, this city is not just another pretty face. Popayán exudes a sophisticated, intellectual atmosphere, kept lively by the nearly 13,000 university students among its 300,000 inhabitants. And did I mention the climate? Mild, with highs around 75 F and lows in the mid-50s F, thanks to the city’s altitude (nearly 6,000 feet).
The best estimate points to a world population several billion larger than today’s just a few decades from now—Earth may host 9.6 billion people in 2050, according to the United Nations. This population growth is all going to be a strain on Earth’s already stretched-thin resources. So how do you invest in a world like the future we seem to be hurtling toward? A world of rising population and increasingly scarce resources?
In the 2014 Fast-Track Your Retirement Overseas Package we’ll introduce you to more than a dozen beautiful places in the world where you can live a caviar lifestyle on a hot dog budget.
Perhaps you long for your own cottage on a quiet beach… a grand apartment in a city vibrant with concerts and cafes… a mountain villa where the air is crisp… or even your own vineyard amid gently rolling hills…
Affectionately nicknamed the “Rose of the North,” Chiang Mai is Thailand’s charmer; a laidback, yet vibrant, university city famous for its many Buddhist temples, culture and good food. The warm climate, low costs and excellent, modern infrastructure have attracted expats in big numbers, and that includes thousands of retirees from all over the world.
Romania acceded to the European Union back in 2007… just in time for the global financial crisis to bite it in the neck. GDP growth, which at a robust 6% to 7% during the previous few years had been among the highest on the continent, promptly collapsed. The economy contracted by a whopping 6.5% in 2009 and remained in the red the following year. It’s been in a state of tentative recovery ever since.
Now this is why I live in Colombia: sunrise over the mountains and a view of puffy white clouds hovering over the valley. To get from my home in Líbano to Manizales— located in the Central Andes region—I can take the easy route, which passes through the Magdalena Valley, or go over the mountain and around a few volcanos… For my latest trip, I choose the mountain passage and a 5-a.m. departure. The road twists and turns through isolated farmlands, until it enters the Los Nevados National Natural Park, well worth dawdling through.
With a population under 450,000 people, you won’t have to fight your way through crowded sidewalks or sit in frustrating traffic jams in Manizales. Daytime highs rarely exceed 72 F and 53 F lows give you an excuse to show off your favorite sweater. Best of all, Manizales offers an affordable, relaxed lifestyle, with all the amenities you’d find in larger cities such as Bogotá, Cali, and Medellín. It’s the type of place I love most, with a comfortable climate, warm people, and loads of things to keep me busy.
Southern Colombia is like a rainbow of landscapes and subcultures. Cali, the area’s largest city, is a melting pot of ethnicities and the birthplace of Colombian salsa. South of Cali, Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities dot the landscape. And one hour north you’ll find one of Colombia’s true undiscovered jewels. With high temperatures reaching 80 F during the day, Buga offers its 100,000 or so residents an airy lifestyle, with doors and windows open wide throughout the day. In the city center, students from the University of Cauca’s Buga extension mingle in cafés, and in the main plaza children frolic in the shade while old men shoot the breeze.
I am living proof that dreams can come true. For more than 20 years, I worked in jobs that I never really wanted, all the while trying to convince myself I was getting satisfaction that wasn’t really there. Secretly, I dreamed of doing what I love best—traveling, taking photographs, and sharing stories of my adventures with the world.
Before moving to South America in 2008, I worked independently and couldn’t afford health insurance. Here in Colombia, where health care costs are low, I used to pay out of pocket for medications and basic services, such as a dental checkup, which costs around $25. Even so, I often went without the care I needed to avoid extra expenses.
Le Marche is a land of rolling hills topped with traditional stone farmhouses, honey-colored villages seemingly untouched since the Middle Ages, and farm-to-fork cuisine served up in rustic trattorias, where a meal will cost you as little as $7.
South of Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, the Pan-American Highway wends through the foothills of the Central Andean mountain range and into the Cauca Valley. Haciendas, orchards, and colorful fruit stands line the road and the air becomes warm and moist. Just past Tuluá, the sky seems to expand and the horizon fills with sugar-cane fields as far as the eye can see.
Former Alaska resident Russell Agnew, 43, doesn’t wait for the weekend to indulge his passion. “Before all of this, my profession was as a graphic designer. I was making way more money then and had great benefits, but I lived in a cubical,” Russell says. “So I moved to a ski town, Girdwood, Alaska, where I learned to paraglide. I was able to start a new career in paragliding and support myself that way.”
Bucaramanga is one of Colombia’s most beautiful cities. Colombians refer to it as the “City of Parks” because of its many green spaces. But when tourists come to the Santander department—of which Bucamaranga is the capital—they typically have one thing in mind: adventure. The landscape of Santander is a treasure trove of mountains, rivers, lakes, caves, and forests.
You might think you know a thing or two about Colombia, but I bet you don’t know everything. For example, did you know that Medellin now has a new title—the Urban Land Institute’s Innovative City of the Year for 2013? Or that UNESCO’s World Heritage List includes seven Colombian sites, and 19 more are currently under review for inclusion.
Atlantic beach towns that take you back in time…a foodie’s paradise in Southeast Asia where dim sum stalls beckon…an arts-rich bohemian haven in South America full of cafés and concerts… All over the planet you’ll find hidden gems like these—spots that rarely, if ever, earn even a passing mention in the popular press. It’s not surprising. Almost no publications bother to keep outposts abroad anymore. The quality and scope of international news coverage—and our understanding of and empathy for the world—has suffered for it.
It’s 10 a.m. in Buga, Colombia, and downtown is buzzing.I’m sitting in an open-air café with British expat Richie Holding, taking in the sights and sounds that make this a one-of-a-kind town.