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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I worked hard when I lived in the U.S. Not only did my husband and I have intense jobs, we also homeschooled our children and managed our 10 acres of land in northern Idaho. Additionally, because we’d built our off-grid cabin by hand, we had the pleasure of hauling, splitting, and stacking firewood along with pitching snow off the roof and out of the driveway come winter.
After researching Costa Rica in the pages of International Living and seeing the country featured in real estate TV shows, Victoria, 67, and Larry Torley, 65, were ready to check it out for themselves.
And it didn’t take long for them to find a new home. “On that trip we checked out Jaco,” says Victoria, referring to a popular Central Pacific coast resort town. “But the beach areas are too hot and humid. So we drove up here to Arenal on a Saturday morning. By 5 p.m. we had made an offer on a house.”
La vie française. Imagine relaxing in the garden of your own French home, a pretty stone cottage set among orchards, vineyards, and flowery meadows. The sun is shining, there’s not a cloud in the sky. The only sound is the drone of honeybees and the blissful strains of one of Satie’s Gymnopédies playing in the background. You’ve just returned from the market, and now you’re savoring the thought of lunch. It’s such a perfect day, you decide to dine picnic-style, spread out over an old oak table under a shady canopy of trees.
The aroma of freshly-brewed cappuccino is an essential ingredient of the Italian morning. While this morning delicacy can be enjoyed anywhere in Italy, a quiet café in a small Umbrian town provides an opportunity to truly savor la dolce vita—the sweet life. Tucked away in the southwest corner of Umbria and exuding the same Italian charm of nearby Tuscan towns, Orvieto is a wonderful alternative to its more famous and sometimes overly pretentious neighbors.
Every day in my travel research I come across the terms “hidden gem,” “off the beaten path,” “unspoiled, authentic, undiscovered…” The Dordogne region of France is the only place I have been to date where it is actually true. Castles sit like crown jewels along the river banks. My family and I often found ourselves beating our own path through the oak forests toward the river bank.
England is a magical place. The weather is unpredictable and this day was no different. The mists were heavy. The morning hours were marked by drizzling rain. The land around us was barren, exposed to the elements. Filled with stories of Merlin and the Giants of Mount Killaraus arranging stones on the open vista, we made our way to one of the medieval wonders of the world…Stonehenge. Overcome by the majesty of the sight before us, everything else seemed miniscule.
“Won’t you miss your family and friends if you move overseas?” That’s a question we at IL get asked a lot, and the answer is… “Of course you will.” It’s something my husband Dan and I have experience of. We didn’t think about it too much when we moved to Ecuador back in 2001. With the exception of Dan’s mother, none of our family—my parents and our siblings—lived in the same city as we did.
As International Living’s Panama Editor, I travel several times a year to speak at conferences. Often the image people have is of a country with pretty beaches, plenty of palm trees…and not much else. One of the questions I get most is: “Will I be bored there?” If you’re expecting to take it easy and have a quiet retirement, you may want to think again. Bluntly speaking, it’s nearly impossible to be bored or even inactive here.
In the summertime, socialites, celebrities, and tourists like to drop anchor in Portofino, Italy, to enjoy the picturesque coast of the Italian Riviera. One summer night, several years ago, I dropped half a month’s salary to stay at a posh resort, overlooking the harbor there…but ultimately got reimbursed for it. At home, I had a job working for a museum that didn’t pay well.
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.
If you dream of life among rolling hills dotted with stone farmhouses and patchwork views of cultivated fields, sunflowers, olives groves, and grapevines, Le Marche is the place. There are no large cities; the biggest is Ancona, the regional capital, with about 100,000 people. Towns here are on a human scale, often small enough to get around on foot, by bike, or scooter. Most are large enough to have shops, restaurants, cultural attractions, and services, yet remain small enough to be personal and engaging.
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.
Although retirement is still a good 20 years away for me, whenever I travel throughout France these days, I find myself thinking: “Now this place might be a great place to retire!” I thought it when I was relaxing on a sun-soaked café terrace in Aix-en-Provence a few months ago. And I thought it again as I strolled along a golden sand beach in Trouville, a seaside town in lower Normandy, a few days ago.
When people ask me what’s so good about Uruguay, I often talk about the various income opportunities, the natural beauty of the land, or the ability to live a simpler and less complicated life. Just a while ago, I was trading notes about life in Uruguay with Karen Michele—a single mother from the U.S. who moved to Punta del Este, Uruguay with her 12-year-old daughter, Etanne.
I still remember the first time I went to the feria, or farmers’ market, in Grecia, the Central Valley town I call home here in Costa Rica. It was a bit embarrassing. I was buying some carrots and potatoes and had dutifully handed over my filled-to-the-brim bags to be weighed. The vendor read out the total, and I handed over a 10,000 colones note (about $20). Still adjusting to the exchange rate, it took me a second to realize I owed him only about $1.50—and I was taking all his change for the day! I quickly counted out some coins and handed those over to the grateful vendor instead.
Skip ahead a year and a half, and we find ourselves still gazing with eyes wide open at the land where we began. Costa Rica completely captured this whimsical family, much to our surprise, with its total package. As nature lovers, we experience an ever-present awe for our intense surroundings—the tropical birds, countless waterfalls, incredible beaches, and stunning mountain views…so much diversity in such a small country.
Perched just five miles from Mama’s summit on her northern side is the town of Baños (population about 20,000). As the lore goes, Baños is Mama’s love child, and she protects it. She’s certainly passed on an inheritance, for—thanks to Tungurahua’s hot temper—Baños is blessed with an abundance of thermal waters. Those waters, and the stunning natural setting, have made Baños a popular spa and outdoor-sports town, as well as home to a small community of expats.
Uruguay is a nation of immigrants—which means that if you’re looking to retire overseas, you’ll fit right in. This unique country’s citizens are descended from all corners of the world; about 90% of Uruguayans have ancestors from Western European, with the highest percentages from Spain, Italy, and France. And, because most Uruguayans are descendants of immigrants (and many know and can tell you their family’s relocation story) newcomers are generally treated warmly.
These days, Michael Hayden is often found strolling the colorful, cobbled streets of his adopted home, Granada, one of the oldest Spanish colonial towns in the Americas. “There’s no other place like Granada. It has a solid center…you can walk in any direction and see beautiful homes. You have impressive Mombacho Volcano in view over the streets and a steady flow of breezes from Lake Nicaragua,” says Michael.
Costa Rica has a lot going for it as a place to live and retire: Natural beauty, exotic wildlife, warm weather year-round, beautiful beaches, warm and welcoming people…the list goes on. But one of the most attractive features of life in this tropical Central American country is the lower cost of living. Retired couples average about $2,000 per month in expenses, including housing, transportation, food, and medical costs.
Another perfect day in Costa Rica. It’s bright and sunny and the temperature is a comfortable 72 degrees. A hummingbird flutters outside the window. Then there’s a knock at the door. It’s one of my tica friends (the name Costa Ricans use to identify themselves). She’s come to visit, walking 2.5 miles to get to my house.
“You can learn to scuba dive,” my friend said. “You can learn to repair diesel engines. You can learn to do your own taxes. People will teach you how to do just about anything… but nobody teaches you how to retire.” My friend was an attendee at our last Fast Track Your Retirement Overseas Conference in Las Vegas.
It’s been 18 months since I moved to the tropical land of my dreams, Costa Rica, and I am still smitten with my new surroundings. Every time I return to the States for a short visit, I am reminded of how intensely I’ve transformed my life…and I realize I could never go back to my previous, mundane reality in Maryland.
I’m single. And you wouldn’t believe all the questions I get about living abroad on my own. “How do you do it?” people ask, as though there was some secret formula. And, yes, “What’s the secret?” is another question I get. In part I get so many questions because so many singles are thinking of moving abroad. And to them I have one short, sweet piece of advice: Just do it.
When I quit my job to travel the world for a year‚ the last thing I wanted to do was work. Well, at least not in the capacity that I used to as an editor in Manhattan. In fact‚ part of the reason I left the country was to take a break from the New York corporate rat race. When I first moved to Quito, Ecuador in 2012‚ I worked at two language schools teaching English. But after several months‚ I wanted to explore another way to make money.
When my wife Jen and I chose Costa Rica as the country we would retire to, like many moving to a tropical climate, we had visions of morning runs on the beach, learning to surf. We imagined ourselves fishing and snorkeling in crystal clear waters, and watching the sun sink into the ocean as we sipped cocktails with friends. In short, we envisioned beach life.
One of my favorite surprises upon moving to Costa Rica was the open-air ferias or farmer’s markets. They can be found all over the country, and offer delicious fresh fruits and vegetables at very affordable prices. For example, at my favorite market (located in the town of San Isidro de General and held every Thursday and Friday), you can buy three pineapples for $2, mangoes for less than a dollar a pound, and a head of lettuce for 50 cents.
Do you have any regrets? That’s a question I often ask my friends who are living overseas. And I’d venture that 99.9 percent of the time I get the same answer. “I wish I’d done it sooner,” they say. “If I’d only known back then what I know now…”
My husband and I just returned from a trip back to the USA, to spend quality time with our family. After such a trip it’s natural to reflect upon why we relish our lifestyle in Belize…and there are many good reasons. We first visited Belize in 1999; almost a decade later, in 2008, I moved permanently to Ambergris Caye.
Mangoes are falling, ripe, to the ground. A light breeze flutters through the fruit-laden trees, and a yellow tanager takes flight. A couple passes me, wearing tank tops and shorts. I’m at one of Panama City’s many parks, thinking life just doesn’t get much better than this. It’s warm, the sun is shining, and everything around me is dripping in rainforest green.
When Edward Shelton worked as a journalist, he had no idea how to make a pizza. In fact, it was the furthest thing from his mind in the years when he lived between London and New York. Today, he owns and operates a pizza restaurant and B&B in the coastal Chilean city of Valparaíso, known for its hills, colorful homes, and bohemian vibe.
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.”
As luck would have it, Judy’s sister and her family had moved to Ambergris Caye before “Temptation Island” put it on the map… Judy notes, “We chose San Pedro because we had been visiting my sister and her husband since they moved to Belize about 23 years ago. We fell in love with the island through those many visits.”
Writing for International Living over the years has inspired me to take a pretty hefty interest in all things related to retirement. And, having just celebrated my 60th birthday, that interest has sharpened. After all, moving abroad is one of the most intriguing ways to improve your retirement situation…or to lay the groundwork for an active, interesting, and affordable retirement if, like me, you find retirement rushing at you faster than ever.
Steeped in memories of Moorish Al-Andalus, the narrow streets, shady gardens, and stunning architecture of Granada make it one of Spain’s most iconic cities. In the Realejo, the old Jewish quarter, a refurbished 913-square-foot apartment close to Campo del Príncipe (which has some wonderful tapas bars) is reduced from $162,000 to $134,000.
We enjoy a busy social life here in Las Tablas, Panama. That’s partly because eating out is so inexpensive. We indulge several times a week and it’s easy for friends to join us. Dinner for the two of us averages about $15, and lunch can be as little as $2.50 apiece for the menú del día, which includes a soup, the main dish, and a beverage.
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.