International Living Daily Postcards
Each day we uncover some of the most desirable--and cheapest--retirement havens on earth. In International Living's free daily postcards, you'll learn about retirement, property, travel and lifestyle opportunities from around the world.
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What makes for a happy expat? This is something I think about often, because honestly…not everyone is cut out for the expat life. The rewards are tremendous and it’s a wonderful, life-changing experience, but there are challenges—and most are easy to get beyond. From my experience (and I’ve been an expat for 13 years now), those who thrive living overseas are those who are well prepared ahead of time. They’ve done lots of research and they know what they’re getting into. Overall, they have positive, optimistic perspectives about most everything…
Why would anyone move abroad? Truth be told, nobody would move abroad…if they were completely happy with everything about the place they currently lived. If everybody lived where the weather was perfect, the cost of living affordable, the taxes low, the health care quality high, the people friendly, the food and water clean, the crime rate no problem, the politics sane, and the culture and geography interesting enough to satisfy an adventurous spirit of discovery…nobody would move anywhere.
If you’ve ever ordered fried anchovies and a glass of nuttily-sweet sherry at 10 a.m., did people stare at you like you’d gone mad? If so, then you should move to Arcos de la Frontera—a small white town clinging to the hills of Andalucia in southern Spain. (If not, you should still think about moving there…)
Whenever I meet new expat or Tico friends in Costa Rica, the question invariably comes up: “Why did you move here?” The answer is actually pretty simple. We were looking for a better lifestyle than we had in south Florida, where we were living before we moved. We found it—and our new and improved quality of life has meant that my wife, two young sons, and I are still here and happy two-and-a-half years later.
I’m sitting at a pastel green table on one of Italy’s most beautiful piazzas watching people parading to and fro for an evening stroll. Children scamper away from their parents, a group of elderly gents stand in the middle talking politics, and young couples, coiffed and stylish, stroll about greeting friends and meeting for drinks. The waiter arranges a glass of chilled wine and a plate of nibbles in front of me and I sigh contentedly.
Picture this: You’re sitting with an iced glass of banana/mango/papaya smoothie in your hand, in a comfy chair on the terrace. A slight breeze tickles your skin as you enjoy a symphony of birdsong, the chirping of geckos on the walls, and iguanas nibbling the grass in the yard in front of you. You might even see a giant green leaf bug perched on the chaise lounge.
The crystal-clear emerald surf rolls gently onto the white sandy beach. Combined with the pungent salty air and gentle sea breeze, it’s nearly lulling me to sleep on my towel under one of the empty palapas on the oceanfront. Except for a local dog frolicking along the water, I’m the only one on this stretch of beach, as far as I can see. That’s not because I’m here in “low” season. The town of Progreso, Mexico, is on the Gulf of Mexico, and it hardly matters when you go to the beach. With a yearly average high temperature of 83 F and average low of 73 F, there are no bad beach days in this paradise.
It’s a good time to be in Belize. I’m on the beach, in the shade of a palm tree with fronds swaying in the breeze, looking out over azure water. In front of me is a Caribbean lobster, fresh off a grill made of an old propane tank and welded together Rebar for the legs. The lobster is just right. Eric, the dreadlocked grill man, has been doing this for years. Sides of rice and beans cooked in coconut milk and a mellow cabbage and carrot coleslaw complete the package.
On that trip in 2000, the couple bought a lot for $30,000 in a gated community just outside the small village of Ojochal, which sits just off the two-lane coastal highway. Their aim was to build a home for their retirement and use it as a vacation property themselves and also for rental income. They visited often during the building process. In 2007, they moved down permanently.
My wife, Suzan Haskins, and I are new grandparents. And I have to say that, if this had happened 13 years ago, we may never have left the U.S. and become expats.
Before moving to Belize, the Cordts lived quite a different lifestyle in New York and New Jersey. They owned several successful clothing boutiques in New York and were involved in the local Greenwich Village scene. Their historic home, in nearby New Jersey, was a 15-minute commute from work. They were engrossed in the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan lifestyle, surrounded by 9 million others.
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.
We live in the wild west of County Cork. It offers the natural beauty and the rugged remoteness we desired. Because I am a professional artist, I wanted to be in an area rich in painting sites. The laid back lifestyle is a pleasant change from the hurriedness we felt at home.
If you’re a regular IL reader—or you’ve been following the World Cup hoopla—then you’ve likely heard of the cities of Fortaleza, Natal, and Recife. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re all state capitals in the tropical northeast of Brazil. All are popular tourist destinations for Europeans, although North Americans have been slow to catch on to their delights. All are hosting World Cup games.
People often tell us how brave they think we are, and that they admire us for venturing out and doing this crazy thing—quitting our jobs in our early 40s, giving up all stable income, and moving to and living in a foreign country. Of course, some people have also told us that we’re crazy. And, it’s true: it is crazy…but it works for us!
Claire Ross had a great idea…no experience…and a small investment. It was all she needed to set up a bar in the beach town of Coronado in Panama. “When I first moved here, there was nowhere to hang out and meet people if you were single or new in town.” With new arrivals trickling in, Claire wanted to create a space where everyone would feel comfortable and embraced.
The most common thing I hear from friends who live in the States about my move to Costa Rica is: “I hear it’s getting very expensive there.” While it’s true that Costa Rica may not be as inexpensive as it was a decade ago, it’s still very affordable, and much less expensive than say Austin, Texas and Honolulu, Hawaii—two places I lived before moving to Costa Rica.
Yet, we moved away—first to Tamarindo, a beach town on the northern Pacific coast, because we kind of missed the beach, and then to Escazú, a suburb of the capital, San José, to be closer to the hospital there when my youngest son had a medical issue. We liked both places, especially Tamarindo with its super laid-back atmosphere and close-knit expat community. And sunset drinks on the beach with friends, of course.
When they left the States in the spring of 2012, Chuck and Anna were determined not to settle for mediocre. They wanted their dream. “We were looking for a mild climate, better health care opportunities, and lower costs,” says Anna. “We were looking for an adventure, amazing views, and lots of things to do,” says Chuck.
Back in Edmonton, Canada, Frank had his own building company and Sharon was a busy physiotherapist. Like most people, their lives revolved around their family and their jobs. But “Edmonton is a bitterly cold place in winter, and the truth is the winters were killing us,”
Not long after arriving, I’d bought a big lug of a car, a Toyota Forerunner Turbo that I called “Bruiser.” It clinked, razzed, burped, and generally sounded like a mobile hardware store in a blender. The CD player didn’t work, the four-wheel drive was broken, the radiator overheated after 15 minutes, and the security alarm went off indiscriminately. But it was my car, and it took me where I needed to go.
The waves are tall and the surfers are out in force. Across the dark blue cove, a lone white sailboat sways back and forth. The temperature is in the high 70s F and the air smells strongly of salt and sea. For Jennifer and Gary Culp, this is the backdrop to their retirement: salty ocean air, cotton candy-pink sunsets, fish tacos, and friendly, fast-paced Spanish.
A little over two years ago, my husband and I turned that quest to rescue our retirement into a reality and relocated to the Pacific coast of Ecuador. A big part of the process was shedding all the excess stuff we’d accumulated in pursuit of the “American Middle Class” ideal, in favor of the new experiences we’d be free to have once out from under it all. Swapping the hamster wheel for a simpler, less object-oriented way of life turned out to be the trade of a lifetime.
Spring is here, and in the markets plump porcini mushrooms, chestnuts, and long, elegant brown pears are giving way to figs and basil and zucchini flowers.
One of the most common bits of advice given to those considering a move overseas is “Rent before you buy!” In Chiriquí Province of western Panama, where I live, there’s a very good reason to follow this advice…and it all has to do with the climate. You may be surprised to learn that this small area of a small country has quite a number of micro-climates.
I was accidentally napping (it happens sometimes) in my favorite chair in the den when I was awakened by the loud, unmistakable lowing of a cow. It was the local milkman announcing his arrival with an amplified recording. In just a few minutes, we received our delivery of milk and cheese from his specially equipped motorcycle and cart. Other vendors regularly wind their way through our middle-class Mexican neighborhood selling fruits, vegetables, prepared food, bottled water, and even pots and pans. It is not only charming, it is convenient.
The U.S. is not really International Living’s beat…and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. (It’s considered a territory; it uses U.S. law, and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.) But with its attractive property prices (still down since their hammering by the 2008 economic crisis) and newly-legislated tax breaks for residents, Puerto Rico clamored for our attention. We wondered: Were we ignoring an English-speaking, tropical beach destination right on our doorstep—one where we didn’t even need a passport?
If you’ve ever sat at a desk dreaming of owning your own jungle lodge in paradise, look no further than Wendy Green for inspiration. On the outskirts of Ecuador’s cloud forest town of Mindo, two hours from the capital, Quito, Wendy runs wellness/yoga retreats on her five-acre parcel of land, complete with three waterfalls and a freshwater spring.
Just walking down Málaga’s Calle Larios can lift the spirits. This pedestrian-only street at the heart of Málaga’s historic center is lined with shops and cafés that draw the eye. Overhead, several stories up, canopies strung across the street shade you from the bright Mediterranean sun.
Want to lose five pounds fast? Instead of spending mega-bucks at an exclusive fitness spa, how about moving to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Guanajuato, Mexico? A friend who tends to puts on weight drops five pounds every time she returns to town after a trip to the States.
Puerto Vallarta (often referred to as Vallarta or just PV) is known for its friendly atmosphere, so it’s not surprising that it attracts a lot of tourists. Many of the expats you’ll meet here started out as tourists. The ones I spoke to told me they came here on vacation but realized pretty soon that they didn’t want to leave. As soon as they went home, they changed their lives to move here. You can’t get a better stamp of approval than that.
I remember Costa Rica. How could I forget? In 1997 my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I were married there. It was the first time I’d been south of the U.S. border. We found a small boutique hotel in San Jose that offered wedding packages. They’d supply the notario for a civil ceremony (sort of like getting married by a Justice of the Peace) along with a bottle of champagne and a guy playing music on a portable keyboard. It was perfect.
Toucans and macaws glide around the lush jungle canopy and scores of monkeys parade through the overhanging branches. Neon-green and electric-blue butterflies of preposterous sizes flit across gurgling streams, while waterfalls drop into deep pools. Welcome to one of my favorites among Ecuador’s secret spots…a place hidden in the east of the country, where indigenous shamans still perform timeless rituals and a small number of adventurous expats have found new lives surrounded by nature.
For many prospective expats, the quality of medical care in the country they plan to move to is a very important factor. Of course, most hope to never find out how good the health care system is. But things happen.
The hotel’s website wasn’t lying. There really was a 180-degree view of the ocean from every room. And the view was amazing—enormous rock formations dotted the coastline, crashing waves, seabirds everywhere. We arrived just in time to shoot the sunset and get a feel for the place, before settling into our suite for the night.
This life could be yours. Plenty of everyday people are choosing to live on the water full-time—in their retirement, no less. After a bit of training and hands-on experience at home, they’re tying up beside mega-yachts in the Mediterranean…finding large floating communities of like-minded expat sailors in the Caribbean…and island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand, heading wherever their fancy takes them.
My husband, Paul, and I were happy with our lives in the United States. I was 45 and Paul was 55 when we met. We lived in the Baltimore area and had stable jobs making a decent income. Sometime in 2007 we started to talk about retiring early and moving somewhere cheaper to live.
The Southern Zone is about three to four hours from Costa Rica’s capital, San José, depending on what part of the coast you’re going to. It starts roughly at the funky surfer town of Dominical and goes all the way to the border with Panama. Most expats, including everyone from retirees to business owners with young families, live between Dominical and Ojochal, a village in the jungle about 45 minutes south
I visited the Lake Arenal region a few weeks back with family from out of town. When people visit us here in Costa Rica, we usually end up there at some point. Just three hours by car from our home in the Central Valley (and the international airport), it’s an easy drive—very picturesque as you pass through the rain forest, farmland, and small villages of the countryside.
I’ve moved many, many times within the United States. The longest I stayed anywhere was in Santa Cruz, California where I vowed to keep my two children in school with the same classmates from kindergarten through high school graduation. That kept me grounded for 20 years.