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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We’re sitting on our upstairs deck, overlooking San Jose, Costa Rica, and I turn and say to my wife, “This is the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.” Since moving here from Colorado last year, we’ve developed a typical morning routine. We grind organic coffee beans together with a couple of organic cacao beans. Then we steep the blended grounds in our French press. Our chocolate-infused java brew pairs well with the cool Central Valley morning temperatures. Drinking our custom creation is a great excuse to enjoy each other’s company.
Ten years ago, I left the U.S. in search of a new adventure with my husband, Al—a decision that led us to the city of David in the province of Chiriquí, Panama. Panama has some of the best infrastructure in Latin America, high employment rates (higher than the U.S.), and a stable political environment… But one of the biggest benefits for retirees in Panama is the Pensionado (pensioner) discount program.
When visiting the charming university town of Montpellier, it’s tempting to spend all your time exploring the medieval city center, Ecusson. There’s good reason for that, of course. Ecusson’s winding cobblestone streets offer enchanting attractions—boutiques, artesian workshops, leafy squares—at every turn. But there’s so much more to see in Montpellier than its historic heart.
It’s Friday evening, nearly 5 p.m., and the Lady Leslie feels as eager to slip its bonds and head to sea as we, its passengers, do. This is, after all, a sunset cruise, and the ostensible reason for our sail seems to be too rapidly slipping toward the western horizon of Ambergris Caye, the Belizean island on which we all live.
Furniture to fill their new home…shop and car repair tools…TVs…scuba diving gear…a brand-new computer…decorative tiles…and “too many clothes” for the warm, tropical climate and their relaxed lifestyle. When Barry Munson, 60, and Dena Carey, 58, joined Belize’s Qualified Retired Persons program five years ago, they brought a shipping container full of household goods and possessions.
Before we moved to Costa Rica, my family and I lived in Colorado. While Colorado is gorgeous, for three to six months of the year, we were covered in snow; we found ourselves snowed in more often than not at our house in the mountains. We were also spending nearly $600 each winter month just to stay warm. We had fires in the fireplace, heaters running, and we still had a tough time getting our home to climb over 65 degrees during the cold winter days.
On a quiet stretch of Costa Rica’s Central Pacific you’ll find a low-key beach community. It’s been a fishing village for decades—the fishermen still go out every morning. It’s called Esterillos and if you’re looking for laidback life with a rural feel, it could be your perfect spot.
It’s ideal weather in Belize right now for lounging in a beach hammock, under a palm tree, as the emerald green and turquoise shaded waves gently lap up on the warm, golden sand beach… What could be better than sipping a frosty refreshment while gazing out at a tranquil seascape?
My husband Gary and I love to travel. Happily, since we retired to Panama, it’s easy and convenient to do. The proximity of Costa Rica, Colombia, Nicaragua, Brazil, Peru, and numerous additional Latin American countries, as well as many exotic Caribbean islands, gives us the opportunity to visit them all. Being retired we have the time…and, since our life in Panama is so economical, we can afford it.
In November, I was in Paris—just the latest in a long line of visits. My first night of that trip, I was invited to an international Thanksgiving celebration. The hostess, an American expat who has been in that city for many years, had made turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and had invited her international friends to join her for a celebration of gratitude. The room was full of people from all over the world—Parisians, of course, but also Australians and Venezuelans and Italians and Portuguese. The hum of languages was beautiful and unusual. And the joy of the gathering was universal.
If you thought Italy was beyond your means, this part of the sun-drenched south will prove you wrong. Whether it’s a cone-shaped trullo house in the olive groves or a city apartment, there are properties for every budget: $120,000 delivers a lot of options.
Most expats who have settled either part-time or full-time in this country will attest to the large number of readily available doctors, dentists, and opticians, combined with accessible, well-equipped, modern public and private hospitals. These institutions employ highly trained doctors and use cutting-edge technology and modern medical equipment that rival anything available in Western countries.
Vilcabamba is a great prospect for anyone who loves the country. The properties are diverse enough so that there is something for everyone. There are farms, upscale homes in gated communities, and houses inspired by the green movement, with a low environmental impact. There is even a little domed house reminiscent of Tolkien’s hobbit holes just a few minutes from town. One Vilcabamba expat has compared the town to Ojai, California. The springtime temperatures of Ojai would be on a par with those of Vilcabamba, but even more similarities are found in the lifestyle. Ojai is known for its health-conscious, spiritually-minded, artistic atmosphere. Vilcabamba is much the same, though on a smaller scale.
The landscape is bucolic and peaceful, with tremendous views of forested river valleys, green-covered hills and mountains, with the red rooftops of villages in the distance. It’s not a bad place to retire…to reinvent yourself in a new country.
The stunning architecture, broad boulevards and inviting sidewalk cafés you’ll find in Buenos Aires remind me of days spent wandering neighborhoods in Paris. Of course, the Italian influence is equally apparent–from the faces of the porteños (Buenos Aires natives), to their expressive hand signals, and abundant espresso, gelato, and pizza joints. In fact, two-thirds of Argentines are of Italian descent.
For Hani and Roanne, living part-time in Europe was a long-time dream. After talking about it for many years, in 2008—on their third visit to the French Riviera—they took a spontaneous plunge. “We were on vacation and had some extra time on our hands, and we thought ‘Why not start looking at properties?’” says Hani.
I live in paradise—there’s no disputing it. My home on the island of Roatan is surrounded by gorgeous, lush jungle and faces out to the sea. The palm trees and flowers that fill my yard draw hummingbirds who zig and zag their way among the colorful blossoms.
Peter Roberts and his wife, Sally, were never really intending to move to Panama. They had even less inkling that they would buy a property—specifically a working farm. Two bird enthusiasts, Peter and Sally visited the mountain region of Boquete to take a bird-watching tour.
You wake up each morning for your daily walk on the beach. It’s flat, a long curve that runs for two-and-a-half miles, ending on either end in tree-covered cliffs. Your condo is just two blocks or so away. You’re renting, trying out the community before you commit to buying a property. It’s a one-bedroom condo in a gated complex, a nice mix of friendly expats and locals who congregate in the pool. You pay $500 a month during “low” season December through February and $700 the rest of the year. It’s fully furnished. A similar unit to this one with two bedrooms—in another part of the community—is listed for sale at $62,000.
In 2006, even though the U.S. economy was still going strong, I looked around at my life and said, “It’s time to go.” So I quit my job, sold my apartment in New York, and moved abroad. It sounds abrupt, but it actually wasn’t. I’d been thinking about it for years. I’m no financial genius, but I can add as well as anyone, and I can certainly read writing on the wall. And, having hit a milestone birthday, calculated my net assets, and estimated remaining work years, they didn’t add up to a retirement I’d enjoy. I saw absolutely no way to save as much money as financial wonks said I’d need to retire comfortably in the U.S.
Something strange happens when you’re buying property overseas. It happens to cautious folks, wary folks, even savvy folks that are seasoned pros when it comes to buying real estate. It’s something you need to watch out for. It’s getting caught up in the fine details of your contract…and, in doing so, losing sight of the forest for the trees.
Exactly one year ago, I was sitting on my couch in snowy Cleveland. At that time, I hadn’t left Northern Ohio for more than three weeks at a time. I was spending my time watching International House Hunter shows and researching on every travel blog and forum I could…trying to find out if living in Central America was a realistic dream for my husband, Dave, and I.
The Dominican Republic is the most visited destination of all the Caribbean islands. And while it’s best known as a vacation destination—a place to unwind and let the stresses of the world melt away—some are making this tropical paradise their full-time home. Two Dominican Republic coastal havens popular with expats are Cabarete and Las Terrenas. They’re culturally vibrant places where you’ll meet expats from more than 50 countries.
In International Living’s March issue, Roatan was named as one of the best islands to retire to in 2015. Having just returned from an exploratory trip of Roatan, that didn’t surprise me. So what exactly makes this island so special? Most islands are surrounded by a sea…but not all are created equal. If, like me, you find the Caribbean Sea’s aquamarine hues and vibrant sea life irresistible, this article was written with you in mind… I’ve experienced many seas during my many travels. But the Caribbean Sea is my all-time favorite. After my first trip to the Virgin Islands, my mind kept leading me back to the idea of investing in a property on the Caribbean Sea.
When I imagine the perfect beach, I picture sunny Italy. There are plenty of options to choose from. Besides the multitude of sandy Mediterranean coves and the glorious sweep of Adriatic beaches you’ll see in glossy brochures, there are numerous white and golden beaches along Italy’s Ionian coast.
My wife, Cynthia, and I moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, almost five years ago with no plans other than to have fun and look for interesting opportunities. Retirement had kind of taken us by surprise. The “Economic Tsunami of 2008″ slapped us pretty hard, so that retirement had arrived sooner than expected. Still, we had for years been envisioning what it would look like: a life where we were free to pursue the activities and interests we wanted to and not be held hostage by busy careers and hectic schedules.
People often ask about my transition from a hectic life in the U.S. to the laidback Caribbean island lifestyle of Ambergris Caye, Belize. Admittedly, it surprised even me how quickly I adapted, considering that I’d spent my entire life living in metropolitan areas. But since we moved to Belize from the San Francisco Bay area, our lives have been enriched beyond our wildest imagination, with adventures galore.
When my husband, Mike, and I celebrated New Year’s Day 2008 and our 7th wedding anniversary in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we were feeling good about where we were in our world. As with so many other people, that came to a crashing halt quickly—on February 1, 2008, we had to close our real estate business.
When I first came to Uruguay in 2006, I knew I’d found the place I wanted to live—just six months later, I’d changed my life around and moved to Uruguay. So what prompted such a big change? For starters, the culture of Uruguay is something special—the perfect blend of warmth and respect. Here, people are more important than schedules. Friends and coworkers greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. Neighbors take an interest in each other, and extended families get together on Sundays.
Expat life, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways that one move to the right place changed my life… No snow. Ever. I think back on all the times my wife and I sat huddled in our house in the U.S. listening to the sub-zero winds rattling the windowpanes and the furnace burning money just to keep us from turning into human popsicles. We’d look at each other and say, “You know, there are places on the earth where this kind of weather doesn’t exist.” Now we live in one. It’s called Ecuador.
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.
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.