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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Head out of San Jose, crest the cloud forest-covered mountains to the west of Costa Rica’s capital, and in about two hours you’re on the Caribbean coast. Another two hours or so south and you’re in the heart of the region. A pretty short ride…but it’s like a different world.
People ask me all the time what it is that I love about Ecuador and I rarely have a good answer. Not because it’s difficult to come up with an answer but rather there is so much to love that I never know where to start. Sometimes I fall back on the standard lines about the low cost of living, great climate, and close proximity to the U.S.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” That’s how the best weekends start in Panama. Last-minute invitations are never considered rude. And I’ve learned they should always be accepted…especially if you want to explore the country. So the next thing I knew, I was piling into a pickup truck with two local friends and heading to the little mountain town of Cerro Azul.
Nick Fawcus-Robinson wakes most mornings well before the sun rises. Padding around his bungalow in bare feet to make a cup of tea, while the cocks crow outside, I’m sure he ponders his past life now and again. Maybe.
Nick was an officer in the army for many years and a highly paid corporate executive in the tobacco industry after that.
Whether it’s for a summer or a lifetime, Italy isn’t only for the wealthy. I first got hooked on la dolce vita when I was young and had very little cash to spare. But as I was in love with the vagabond lifestyle, relative impoverishment was no barrier to doing my own version of a Grand Tour.
Last weekend my wife, Suzan, and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary in one of the most unique spots we’ve ever visited. We left our home in Cotacachi before noon and drove north, deeper into the Ecuador province of Imbabura. Our driver had asked if we wanted to take the “scenic route” instead of taking the Pan American Highway, and we happily agreed.
The attributes of a life of ease in Belize have been well documented: beautiful warm weather, friendly people who speak English, and lovely sand beaches with the Caribbean Sea lapping at the shoreline. Those are just some of the reasons my wife Char and I are considering Belize as our retirement destination.
Exploring the villages of Le Luberon, France, and beyond, it’s hard to ignore the overwhelming sense that the French have it all figured out. Here is my evidence: In Bonnieux a visit to the Musée de la Boulangerie (Bread Museum), followed by a flawlessly executed warm baguette snack perched on a wall overlooking the valley floor, was the perfect way to start the day.
Nadege Thomas lived in Toronto, Canada for 22 years where she was a successful financial planner. But as the pressures on her sector mounted and the cold weather wore her down, she began to yearn for an easy life in a balmy, tropical environment. “After 22 Canadian winters, I had had enough of the cold and was looking for a warm place,” she says.
It’s always a bit of a bummer when a vacation comes to an end, even if you live in Paris. I felt this way recently driving back north after spending one fabulous week with my family in sunny Aix-en-Provence in the south of France.
I grew up in a really small town in the northern U.S., where cows probably outnumbered people 1,000 to 1 and I, alone, made up 20% of my graduating class. If it weren’t for having our own postal code, we probably would not have even been considered a town at all—more like a rest stop, maybe.
My first year in Panama City, I started my mornings with a $0.15 cup of strong, dark coffee. (That’s how the locals drink it, and the only way it’s made at food stalls.) I would also usually buy a little bag of corn fritters, or torrejas de maiz, for $0.25. Very greasy and very tasty.
My husband Gary and I spent a long time researching all of our options for living overseas. We considered a range of countries during our search, including Belize, Argentina, and Uruguay… But as we researched, one country emerged more and more as a clear winner: Panama.
The capital of the Los Santos province, Las Tablas is in the heart of Panama—the provincias centrales or “central provinces.” And in an area known for its traditions and folklore, Las Tablas is as Panamanian as it gets.
A small colonial town with a big party reputation, Las Tablas is considered Carnival Central by fun-loving locals.
Whenever my husband and I have guests who visit us, we make sure to take them to the highland town of Volcan, in the Chiriqui Province in western Panama. Named for Baru Volcano, the only volcano and the highest peak in Panama—reaching 11,480 feet—Volcan is a pleasure to travel to. The drive from our home in the city of David involves driving past some stunning scenery.
I have never felt spring emerge the way I have in Aix-en-Provence. In April’s infancy, the plane trees were ghostly bare and the shoppers at the outdoor markets were still bowing to the wind, heads down and tucked into their beautiful French scarves.
Ibarra is known throughout the country as La Ciudad Blanca (The White City), due to the many whitewashed buildings that line the cobblestone streets. One might think the city lacks color, but nothing could be further from the truth. Brilliant sculptures rise from traffic circles and murals brighten up many a street.
Moving abroad for any reason is a big decision…one that takes some thought and planning. Most people will never seriously consider moving out of their comfort zone in the first place. But for those of us who are willing to go to new places, meet new people, and try new things, the process of picking the right place and moving the right way can seem a little daunting.
“Gascony’s the real France,” Jean-Jacques said. “Everywhere else—it’s another country.” Jean-Jacques, a local farmer, was leaning from his tractor—behind him, a bright field of sunflowers and the 18th century farmhouse my parents call home. His sun-beaten face squinted down at me. “Gascony is the hidden jewel of France—it’s our best kept secret.”
If you’re planning your first trip to Belize, here’s a list of the top 10 activities you should consider. 1. Experience the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. To truly experience Belize you must see the reef. If you’re not a water person you don’t need to get into, or onto, the sea to appreciate the reef’s beauty. Just hop a local flight to Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker.
It’s largely thanks to these folks that Guatemala has such a rich and unique culture. And it’s this culture that entices many of the expats who have made their homes here. “I love how different it is, and I want it to stay that way, too,” says Jean Johnson who lives in the colonial city of Antigua. “It’s like traveling into some epic or bygone landscape,” says Portland-native John Kin, of traveling around the highlands.
We discovered our colonial highland home by accident. We were on a year’s sabbatical, exploring the popular expat haven of San Miguel de Allende, when a couple we knew invited us to join them on a day trip to the nearby town of Guanajuato. We climbed the steps from the underground parking lot to a view of lively plazas, colonial-style buildings in bright orange and turquoise, and plentiful pedestrian areas. After an hour’s stroll, we knew this was where we wanted to base ourselves in Mexico. After that first visit in 1999, we kept returning.
Two years ago Rob Hamm and Tracey Krause along with their two children relocated from Winnipeg to Cotacachi, Ecuador. Their goal as a family was to experience a new culture, travel, and learn a new language—which they’ve successfully done. But, there was a catch. Rob and Tracey are only in their 40s and still needed to earn an income to support their family. In preparing for their change in lifestyle, Rob took his interest in photography to the point where his photos could provide income. Several months before coming to Ecuador he began submitting photos…
During our months of preparation, we set about determining the criteria we needed to choose a location. The criteria we chose for ourselves initially were: a good health care system at a much lower cost; a stable government; not wanting a car, a walkable location with a good transportation system; good infrastructure; a Spanish-speaking country because Mike already spoke some but wanted to become proficient; a warm climate year round; and, of course, a lower cost of living.
“We’re looking at retirement options,” she wrote, “and I’ve appreciated your insights, particularly on Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and Uruguay. I know that seems like a lot of countries, so I’m hoping you can help us narrow it down. We plan to take a trip to at least two of these this year; one country at a time. Which country would you suggest we visit first? And can you please suggest some travel itineraries?”
There’s no shortage of natural beauty in northern Thailand. There are dozens of rivers like the Mae Ping, which originates in the forest-clad Daen Lao mountain range and flows down through the temple-laden city of Chiang Mai. Waterfalls gush into fertile valleys like Mae Sa, where you’ll find elephant camps, orchid farms, and miles of lush jungle. This is a peaceful—some might say serene—part of the country, where for very little money you can enjoy a high level of comfort. With just $1,200 a month a couple won’t want for much, and that includes rent.
I live in the heart of Costa Rica’s most populated region, the Central Valley. In fact, I live in the Gran Area Metropolitana (GAM), the name given to the capital, San Jose, and surrounding suburbs. The Valley has about 70% of the country’s population. It’s a center of culture and commerce. And the GAM, which contains towns popular with expats like Escazu, Santana, and Heredia, is honestly a sprawling urban area with traffic and noise.
Of all the places I’ve visited in Costa Rica, the Nicoya Peninsula is the one that feels most like the frontier. It’s a somewhat isolated region, with mile after mile of untouched coastline along the blue Pacific, craggy hills, vast cattle farms in the interior, and mazes of what are often dirt roads running through forests and fields. It’s also one of the world’s Blue Zones, where researchers have found that locals live longer on average due to a combination of diet, climate, and lifestyle.
I’m a very lucky guy to be doing what I’m doing, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t remind myself of that. Sometimes I say it to my wife, too, but she already knows how lucky we are. My wife and I moved to the island of Penang in early 2010. A small island—15 miles long and 12 miles wide—on the west coast of Malaysia, Penang, which is connected to the mainland by a six-lane bridge, is just two hours’ drive south of Thailand.
If you’re in the process of planning your move abroad, I’m betting you’ve spent a fair amount of time daydreaming about your future experiences, too. But despite the advantages and excitement that a move abroad brings there was one stumbling block that nearly prevented us from taking the leap: fear of commitment. And we’re not the only ones who have faced this. From talking to other expats it would seem that many people experience a mental block when it comes to making a final decision on where to settle.
I’m writing this postcard from a veranda overlooking the Caribbean Sea on a nearly forgotten tropical island. The ocean is showing off several shades of blue and a slight breeze teases the palms. The piña colada at my side completes the picture. But as my family’s annual vacation draws to a close I’m actually a bit anxious to return home to Cotacachi, Ecuador.
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” or “perfect” country for health care—it depends on what you want/need. There will always be trade-offs, just like in the U.S. For example, if you want to live in the country or remote beach towns, you probably won’t find the health facilities you’d expect to find in a big city. But while health care is a major consideration in deciding if/where to move abroad, it’s not the only factor.
Why stare at cold gray skies and dirty snow when you could enjoy warm sea breezes? That was the question I asked myself back in 2008. So I decided to search for an ocean view. I conjured up a vision of an international community in a town with an Old World feel, a tropical setting with hills, trees, and water. I was sure I could find a place to rent somewhere south of the border.
As a busy carpenter and contractor in his native Canada, Steve Quinn relished his regular trips to Costa Rica to relax and unwind on the beach. After six years of short visits, he decided to make this beach lifestyle permanent. He took over a beach bar and restaurant in Tamarindo, a funky surf town on the country’s northern Pacific coast. He’s leasing the property for three years, with an option to buy, which is a great way to test the waters without committing to purchasing property right off the bat.
Brothers Khalil and Abasi Chapman—and friend Rocky Leming—first landed in Costa Rica in 2005. At the time they worked in the restaurant and bar industry in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and heard rumors of the impressive surf down in Costa Rica. They headed south for a vacation somewhere on the Caribbean Coast…but ended up finding a new home. Today they run The Lazy Mon beach bar and restaurant in Puerto Viejo and draw huge crowds…
Most expats who consider moving to Belize dream of living near the Caribbean Sea on a beach. Fortunately for them, Belize offers several beach lifestyle options. Right now, the three most popular beach areas expats settle are Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, and the Placencia Peninsula. Here’s a quick peek at each of these popular beach retreats… Ambergris Caye is the island that I’ve called home for the past six years—and I’m not the only one who has discovered its charms.
Going abroad sometimes comes as a response to a personal shakeup: the end of a relationship, a financial loss, or the passing of a loved one. Getting out of Dodge, at least for a while, can provide the opportunity to gain a fresh perspective and explore your options.
When my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I told our family and friends in 2001 that we were selling the house, quitting the business, and moving abroad, we got some looks of sincere concern for our sanity. But I don’t think we were crazy for going overseas back then. Here are the six biggest and best reasons why we’re so happy with our move overseas: 1. Our nest egg is actually growing. That’s because our cost of living is so low compared to back in the States. We still work as writers, and thanks to that lower cost of living we usually have…
Are you dreaming of a California lifestyle…but think that you’re unable to afford it? If so, you’ll want to consider Coronado, Panama. Just an hour’s drive from the only First-World city in Central America, at first glance you might notice that Coronado isn’t the cheapest retirement choice in the world…or even in Panama. A couple would want a total of $2,000 to $3,000 a month to live comfortably within the Coronado gates (including rent). Monthly rentals can be found for $1,000 to $2,000, and homes sell for $175,000 to $300,000…
There’s a lot to love about Ecuador—the amazing biodiversity; great weather; the low cost of living. And in the larger cities like Cuenca, where I live, the excellent medical care and cultural amenities are an added bonus. I’ve been kept up to date on the miserable winter in the States through Skype conversations with my two children. Right now I’m looking out the window at blue skies and am looking forward to yet another day with temperatures in the 70s.