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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My wife and I celebrated our 19th anniversary last week. The length of our marriage roughly coincides with the length of our journey of discovery exploring the world (and ourselves) on behalf of International Living. Married in 1997, it took three years of anticipation, trepidation, and preparation before we actually moved overseas, beginning our expat lives in Quito, Ecuador, in 2001.
Dave’s slower-paced life in the Philippines these days revolves around golfing, snorkeling, spending time with his family, and socializing with both locals and expats from around the world. There is no shortage of crystal-clear water and beautiful beaches nearby, and Dave and his family take full advantage of that.
Although less in the public eye than its swanky neighbor, Provence, the Languedoc has just as much to crow about. Nestled between the Pyrenees and Cevennes mountain ranges and the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean, the Languedoc is a wonder to behold. The region offers some of the most diverse and intense landscapes you’ll see in France, ranging from violet-blue lavender fields to dramatic rocky gorges and waterfalls, to flat marshlands dotted with pink flamingoes.
It’s been three-and-a-half years since my wife, Rita, and I moved to Cuenca, Ecuador…and in those years we’ve experienced things that would have taken a lifetime to accomplish living back in the U.S. In early 2012, we decided to retire early. Our life in New Mexico was similar to most: hectic, stressful, and costly, with little time for the things we wished we could do. After many discussions about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to do them, we signed up to International Living and began researching.
I’ve been living in Panama full-time since 2005, and one of the best things about life here is the medical care. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. Over the years I’ve met dozens upon dozens of expats who were deeply impressed by Panama’s healthcare. International Living editor Dan Prescher was able to experience Panama’s modern, affordable healthcare for himself when he visited an eye doctor in Panama City. Dan liked the doctor and the modern facility, so he signed up for laser eye surgery. He estimates he saved up to 50% by having the procedure in Panama instead of back in the States.
Have you ever wanted to live somewhere like Beverly Hills but just weren’t rich enough or famous enough? Don’t worry…we have you covered in Samborondon, Ecuador—about a 15-minute drive from Guayaquil airport. This exclusive area is filled with gated communities, shopping centers, theaters, trendy restaurants, and its own branch of the Kennedy Hospital.
Stuart and Elizabeth have been living in France since 2008. The Loire Valley, with its lush landscapes and chateau-dotted hills, captured their hearts. Stuart and Elizabeth bought their home in the town of Amboise in 2010. They spent 2011 renovating and improving the space, and then moved in permanently at the end of that year.
Weeks with the temperatures below zero. Snow, snow, and more snow. It was a particularly brutal winter two years ago that convinced Jim, 67, and Barb Kohlmetz, 62, that it was time for a change after living in Wisconsin all their lives. Now they jet down to Costa Rica after the Christmas holidays and stay in their home in a quiet beach community on the central Pacific coast until after the spring thaw. As retirees—they were in education for a combined 73 years—they have the flexible schedule perfect for part-time residents.
There I was, sipping a lovely white wine from grapes grown within 100 yards of where I stood at a community wine festival. You might think I’d gone off the beaten track to some remote corner of France where timeless traditions still hold sway… but I was in fact, right bang in the middle of one of Paris’ popular tourist areas—the bohemian quarter of Montmartre.
It may well be the best little beach town in the world… With 22 beaches for you to enjoy and a surge in foreign residents and travelers, San Juan del Sur, on Nicaragua’s southern Pacific coast, is perfect for any lover of ocean views, warm waters, and fun in the sun. After eight years of living here full-time, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Even if I’m away for only a few days, I find myself missing it. Many people come here to visit and end up staying or going home to plan their permanent return.
Wandering through the busy streets of Bogota, Colombia, you’re bound to come across some colorful street art. From murals to graffiti, the city has become a hub for urban art, a testament to the artistic freedom that Bogota awards to its inhabitants. Expat Christian Petersen first visited in 2001 and moved here full-time in 2011. “Colombia is completely different now in terms of security, tourism, opportunities, economics, and its global perception,” he says.
A few years back, I was working a full-time, regular 9-to-5 teaching job. My bosses were inflexible, I was stressed, and I couldn’t stand the work. When you’re a teacher, you can’t just take time off to travel. I’m also not a morning person, and waking up at 6 a.m. every day was tough. I was following the rules…and I don’t like following rules. Writing was always my passion, but I had no idea how I would go about actually earning a living writing. Writers don’t earn livings, everyone knows that. Right?
Certainly no expatriates I know have been forced to expatriate. They live somewhere besides their own country because they want to…because the weather is better, or the pace of life is slower, or the cost of living is cheaper, or they love the country and culture they’ve moved to, or they want to have an adventure. Or any combination of the above.
Costa Rica is a relatively small country, but it boasts one of the most diverse varieties of landscapes and climate in the world. It’s got the perfect harmony between the lush, green jungle teeming with wildlife and unadulterated beaches.
When the big day arrived, the temperature was warm, the breeze faint. As our boat, the El Gato, glided over the sea I could see everyone relax, hypnotized by the clear water and vibrant hues of the aquamarine sea that surrounded us. “I can’t believe I can see all the way to the bottom”, was a constant comment.
I’m sitting on a bench, looking out at the deep blue waters of the Panama Bay. A row of tall palm trees lines the walkway in front of me. To my left is a small marina, and further off, the twinkling lights of the city’s impressive skyline. To my right, I can see the stately colonial facades of the historic district known as Casco Viejo.
I’ve enjoyed hammocks all over Central America. It’s a way of life in this region, standard home furnishing, and a pastime enjoyed by all. Truck drivers stuck at customs checkpoints string them under their tractor-trailers. Families on front porches take quick naps—nothing puts a baby (or anyone for that matter) to sleep faster than a gently swinging hammock.
We got as far as the town square in the small village of San Vicente on Ecuador’s northern coast when our car ran out of gas. I pulled to the side of the rutted, muddy road among a huge crush of writhing, smiling people as sultry Latin rhythms shook the windows of the car.
That’s the usual reaction my wife Cynthia and I get when we tell attendees at International Living conferences that we haven’t owned a vehicle since we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, six years ago.
When we were considering the notion of relocating abroad, part of our strategy was to find some special place in the world where as many of the negatives as possible could be eliminated from our lives. That included having to climb into a vehicle every time we left our home. After too many years on the suburbia merry-go-round, we were more than ready for a change.
We have always loved to travel; my husband David and I. Annual holidays gave us the perfect excuse. We first explored the U.S. on epic road trips, then Mexico, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Each time we returned, it was back to the “real world” of too much work and not enough play. Returning from our last holiday in 2003, I realized that I just wasn’t ready for it to end. We had visited Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia on a whirlwind trip. It wasn’t enough for me and it was during that flight home that I made a decision…I realized that I didn’t want to work at my full-time job as a registered nurse until I was 65. I didn’t want to wait to retire and hope that I would be healthy enough to travel and do all the things that I wanted to do before it was too late.
In the heart of Spain, nestled between mountains, sunburnt hills, and row after row of thriving olive trees, sits Madrid. Despite being the third largest city by population in the European Union, Madrid maintains the feeling of tranquility and neighborliness that is so often replaced by the rushed and stressed life of other big cities. That’s precisely why I, a fast-walking, fast-talking girl from New York, stepped off the plane and into the blaring July sun of Madrid, took a look around, and traded it all in for a slowed-down, low-stress life in Spain’s metropolis.
Three years ago, I left the United States and moved abroad as a divorcée with five kids. As a writer, I could live wherever I had an internet connection. As the breadwinner for a family of six, I needed a lower cost of living to maintain the standard of living I wanted. And, as a mother, I wanted my children to have the enrichment that comes from experiencing a new culture.
It’s 8 a.m. on a typical morning in my oceanfront condo in Salinas, Ecuador. My wife Rita and I have just returned from our morning exercise walk…down the malecon (boardwalk) beside the Pacific, past Chipipe beach and around a lovely old church and back. With that two-mile circuit done, we’re sitting out on the balcony enjoying our coffee and fresh fruit breakfast. The sound of the waves on the sand is accented occasionally by the call of flocks of parrots as they fly by, and by the splash of pelicans diving into the surf for their first meal of the day.
Life is a balancing act, but Dave and Sherry Johnson have found what they’ve been looking for in Cuenca, Ecuador. Before his first exploratory trip, Dave imagined a Third World country with old, worn-out buses, chickens and cargo hanging from every inch, and people riding on the roof. What he found instead when he arrived in Cuenca a year-and-a-half ago was a charming colonial city with cobblestone streets, wrought-iron balconies, majestic churches, and friendly people. And Dave’s first bus ride wasn’t at all like he had imagined; it was a Mercedes bus that he says was more lavish than most airplanes he has been on.
I am a bad traveler. That may seem like a strange admission to make for an expat. Travel is, after all, part of the deal…you can’t really live abroad without traveling—at least to the country in which you plan to settle. And to be sure, I love to see and experience other towns, cities, beaches, mountains…the lure of foreign lands and exotic adventures has not diminished for me during my years abroad.
Even if your coffers are bare, you can take a six-month trip if you save $10 a day for two years, or save $13 a day for three years to globetrot for a full year. You may have a healthy savings account already, but there are always ways to cut your expenses and make some extra cash. And it doesn’t have to be difficult, either.
As a young man, Bill was in the Navy and afterward went to work for the airline industry. “Eventually I became a supervisor and thought I had it made—good job, great benefits, nice pension, the works.” But that all changed when the economy went bad, the airline downsized, Bill lost his job…and all his benefits and pension. “We had expected to live on Bill’s pension when we retired, and when that was gone, everything changed,” says Mitzi. “We had to find an affordable place to live.”
“The cost of living here is so low that my bills only total around $1,200 a month, without having to budget,” says Brett Dvoretz, who lives in one of the country’s most popular beach towns. “I eat out wherever and whenever I want; a drink runs you $2, and I can have a fresh-cooked meal at a restaurant for as little as $2.50.”
Steven King has lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, since 2006, after being attracted by the country’s exotic charms as well as by its fantastically low cost of living.
“You know Mr. Murray, you are in the gayest hotel in the gayest city in Mexico.” That was the greeting I got from the hotel clerk in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
It’s at times like these I realize how being part of International Living can take you to the most interesting and unusual places! And that’s how I ended up in Puerto Vallarta…I was here on an exploratory trip to find out what this well-known vacation destination, on Mexico’s Pacific coast, offered as a retirement location.
George Town, the capital city of the island of Penang, is full of wonderful surprises. It is one of the most interesting and colourful cities in Malaysia, as well as being home to great healthcare, modern infrastructure and First-World amenities.
It’s the country that brought us Leonardo Da Vinci, mouthwatering cuisine from pizza to pasta, enchanting art and culture, world-class fashion capitals, wine, and the very best of it, and perhaps most importantly the concept of la dolce vita (literally translated as “the sweet life”). It’s where you’ll find history-steeped Rome with its well-kept ancient monuments and food culture…Venice with its air of mystery and its famous masquerade balls…and Florence with its art and culture and vineyard-covered surroundings.
A recent British Airways survey of 2,000 baby boomers found that their biggest regrets in life are working too much and not traveling enough. This hit home for me, first because I’m a baby boomer myself. I was born between 1946 and 1961. It also struck a chord with me because, for the past 15 years, I’ve been working for an outfit that directly addresses both these issues.
I’m a middle-aged woman who pays taxes, owns property, and has a career of sorts. I’m a Serious Person, and so are my friends. Mostly.
So when I find myself standing by the side of a road in rural Spain, holding a sign written in lipstick (Burt’s Bees Raisin, to be exact—my favorite shade—and sacrificed for the occasion), I can’t help asking myself: How did I get here?
The road is empty and so is the Spanish landscape, which stretches for miles around me, except for the six-house village across the road.
As my husband Clyde approached the taxi, the driver looked surprised to hear a gringo speaking Spanish. After all, this was the tourist town of Banos, Ecuador, which attracts visitors from all over the world. The streets are lined with little shops that display signs in English offering tours of the quaint little village.
My husband and I had no intention of retiring to Mexico when we came to Lake Chapala for a visit nearly three years ago. Our original plan was to spend six months traveling the U.S. in our travel trailer and six months outside the country, in an exotic location. But that changed when we came to Chapala.
Lake Chapala is paradise for retirees like us, who want to be active and be involved in the community. The area has a large expat population, so we were able to find many options for Spanish language classes, local tour groups, and social organizations. We felt “plugged in” right away. By the time we had been here for three months, we had joined a church, enrolled in Spanish classes, and found volunteer opportunities.
Before moving to Tamarindo, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, my husband and I lived in Chicago. We were accustomed to brunch as the key to socializing with friends. If you set a weekly date with someone or made plans to catch up with an old friend, oftentimes you would do it over a weekend brunch. We had to re-learn some of the “rules” to socializing when we moved to our little beach town. When we began to meet people, it struck us as odd that the common invite for social gatherings was to go and watch the sunset together…but we quickly learned why.
When you move overseas, you don’t just benefit from the better weather, lower cost of living, and the affordable healthcare…you also open up a world of travel possibilities. During our working lives, we’d take those one- or two-week trips, and were lucky enough to see a few highlights.
But when you live in a foreign country, you have the opportunity to use this new location to travel to other countries as well as to explore the place you’ve chosen to live. This happened to me when I moved to Nicaragua.
Ever since I’ve known my husband, he has declared 72 F to be the perfect temperature. When we arrived on the Costa del Sol on Spain’s southern coast, we knew we had found 72 F at its finest. The Costa del Sol averages 320 days of sunshine per year and there are plenty of long, powdery, white-sand beaches on which to enjoy that warm weather. We had come to Southern Spain to explore what was on for offer for a long-term stay…and what we discovered was an abundance of sunshine and bargains. We decided to base ourselves in the popular coastal town of Benalmadena Costa due to its proximity to Malaga (it’s just a 30-minute drive on the highway) and access to the glittering Mediterranean Sea.
As an airline employee, Brian Yates traveled to many places during his career. It wasn’t until he hit retirement age, however, that he considered living abroad. After visiting South America three years ago, he realized Ecuador had everything he was looking for—low cost of living, amazing coastal lifestyle, affordable healthcare, political stability, and an amazing sense of community. Brian chose to live in the small city of Manta, on the Ecuadorian coast, which has hot weather all year round (averaging 85 F during the warm season and 80 F during the cold season), and offers an amazing coastal lifestyle at a low cost.
Maybe it’s the music. Or the breathtaking landscapes. Or the witty humor and long, effortless conversations. Even without a drop of Irish blood in your veins, it’s easy to fall in love with Ireland’s charms, traditions, and strong sense of community. The recession that followed the Celtic Tiger boom hasn’t altered the essentials that make the Emerald Isle special.