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.
Read about the destinations you want to know more about and some you may not have heard of yet. You can sign up for free in the box below and we will also send you a free bonus report on The World's Top Ten Retirement Havens.
Get Your Free Report Here
One of the places my wife, Suzan, and I have lived since moving abroad in 2001 is Panama City, Panama. And I must say, if it was a big, modern city I was after as an expat destination, Panama City would have to be it. The idea of craving the amenities of a big, busting metropolis as a place to retire or have a second home strikes some people as odd.
According to the “critical period hypothesis,” it’s easier to learn a language before the age of 13. That theory says that’s when you have a better chance of achieving fluency and being accent-free. When I started studying Spanish two-and-a-half years ago, I was already 40 years past that window, so I wasn’t sure how my attempts to learn Spanish would play out.
If you ask expats living in Colombia why they fell in love with the country, most will say because of its warm and welcoming people. But once you settle in, you’ll discover that hospitality is just the icing on the cake, because there are endless reasons to retire to Colombia. In Colombia, you can find unbelievable deals on homes and the cost of living is downright cheap. You can choose a town or city in which to live based upon the type of climate and lifestyle you most enjoy. Best of all, you’ll be able relish your retirement…
We had a friend from Florida visit us here in Costa Rica recently. She’s been a regular guest during our time down here—she loves travel, and Central America in particular. But it was her new husband’s first time in the country, even though he’s from Nicaragua, just to the north. He doesn’t speak any English, although he does recognize a few words and phrases.
The first time I visited Pedasi, I thought to myself, “Is this it?” Small colonial homes line the main strip, behind which you’ll find a small plaza flanked by a neat little white church. There are usually a few old-timers sitting under the gazebo, wearing the same sombreros pintados (painted hats) their fathers and grandfathers wore.
Wherever we live, whatever lifestyle we choose, our lives typically fall into a rhythm. Here in David, Panama, where I live, the weather is a major factor in the rhythm of daily life, and the things we do depend on whether it’s summer or winter. Winter in Panama? Yup, that’s what we call it, el invierno in Spanish.
As I sit here sweating in the middle of January it’s hard to imagine that it’s cold somewhere. Our friends back in the U.S. are still working, yet I’m only 53 years old and happily retired now for two years. The past two and a half years have gone by quickly as we’ve settled into our new life in Panama.
Sometimes my old friends back home have a hard time understanding why I moved abroad. Just last week I was wrapped up like a polar explorer in borrowed coats, helping a friend I was visiting back home for the holidays shovel the drifting, blowing snow off his driveway. “What’s the fascination with living abroad anyway?” he asked through the scarf wrapped around his face to avoid losing his nose to frostbite.
When I made the move to a small highland town in Ecuador two years ago I knew that my new lifestyle would also come with an education. In fact that was part of the appeal. I would learn Spanish, adopt new customs, and adapt to life in a country halfway around the world. It was going to be great. Guess what? I was right; it is awesome, but not necessarily for the reasons I thought it would be. Sure, my original intentions have come to fruition. My Spanish is coming along nicely and I’ve gained many new friends because of it.
Frances Jones leans back in her chair and motions to the rolling view from her terrace. Forest and coffee field-flecked hills stretch for miles to the Gulf of Nicoya and the Pacific. “When we found this place the house was simple—no porches—but the view was just killer. Even if it was a tent, we still would have taken it,” says Frances.
I often catch myself being taken aback by the stunning view of the Pacific that greets me from every western-facing window of my home in San Vicente, Ecuador. I don’t know exactly why I still experience a flash of surprise at the sight at this point. Maybe it’s because less than two years ago, such a thing was merely a dream. Like so many when the Great Recession struck, my husband and I were struggling to maintain the lifestyle we had built over the years.
For anyone who’s been there recently, it’s no surprise that Spain is one of the top five destinations in International Living’s Global Retirement Index—our pick of the top retirement destinations in the world. Spain is arguably the best bargain in Europe, offering First-World living at a cost that can compete with some Latin-American countries. Thanks to the ongoing recession, real estate prices in many parts of Spain have plummeted. Buying here is more affordable now than it’s been in decades.
My friend Ben lives in Panama City and wouldn’t live anywhere else. He thrives on the metropolitan vibe, the non-stop activity and being in a major commercial and business center. If you love city life, Panama’s capital has it all, with skyscrapers, huge shopping malls, live theater and music, and cuisine from all over the world. On a much smaller scale, the city of David, where I live, has the commercial and cultural advantages of a city, but in the countryside of western Panama.
Not long ago, I received a note from a high-school friend I haven’t seen in many decades. “Did you follow a dream to South America?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “but I’m not finished. I’m still following my dreams.” The thing is, I don’t know where my dreams will take me. I have a very full bucket list of places I want to visit. Who knows how long I might be seduced into staying in any one of them?
It’s interesting what you get used to—and what you forget about that you used to be used to. Since moving to Cuenca, Ecuador three and a half years ago my wife and I have noted how much simpler our life has become. For us moving abroad and retirement went hand in hand, so we’ve attributed this phenomenon to no longer having careers with the accompanying stress and pressure.
In my early years writing for International Living, I researched most of the countries drawing expats today. The different options for residence always caught my eye. One country welcomed retirees with a special visa. But the fine print? “Foreigners can own construction, but not the land it is built on.” Another country offered 10-year visas, but not permanent residence. (And you had to show a monthly income of over $3,000.)
I first discovered Paris while studying in London. One weekend spent exploring the city of light and I was smitten. Whenever an occasion arose, I would return, to walk the streets that spoke of history, to sit in the charming cafes and watch the passing of time, in this, the most beautiful city in the world. Yes, I dreamed to live there. One day.
“Follies are the only things that one never regrets,” said Oscar Wilde. Agreed. But travel writers needn’t look far to find excuses for their follies. After all, writers have a reputation for eccentricity. Whatever bizarre situation you find yourself in—and if any awkward questions arise—you can always blame it on the job. Why were you buying contraband from gypsies in the Czech woods? (“It’s my job.”) How come you spent half the night in a Berlin anarchist squat? (“It’s my job.”)
In much of Panama, sultry tropical days average 88F…but there are places where you can experience more temperate weather. Think mild and breezy—up to 10 degrees cooler (or more, when the sun’s not out). Places where rain will be your biggest concern…where there’s no hail, or snow, or hurricanes either. The most popular is the mountain town of Boquete, located in the Province of Chiriquí.
The worst part of my week used to be Sunday nights. That’s when I’d sit in my pajamas in front of the TV, a pint of ice cream in my hand, and desperately try not to watch the sun set outside my window. To me, that great orange fireball descending behind the mountains felt like sand in an egg timer bringing me closer to going to work on Monday.
My husband and I have been traveling full-time for a little over three years. It started in 2010 when we sold most everything we owned and moved into a 30-foot motorhome. We spent 14 months traveling the East Coast of the U.S., while running our marketing and technology business from the small dining room table—you know, the one that also converts into a single bed.
It’s hard to believe four years have passed since I moved to Panama. It’s even more incredible to think that I left the U.S. almost nine years ago. I live in David, the capital of Chiriquí Province in the west of the country. I didn’t plan to move here; it was never on my “to do” list. But when my husband, Al, and I first saw the rolling hills and slopes lined with rows of vegetable plants, acres of pineapple and rice fields, coffee plantations…
My wife, Suzan, and I rarely know too far in advance where we’ll be for the holidays. We haven’t lived in the U.S. for a dozen years now, but around about September or October we start making the decisions about what to do for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year…whose family back in the States we’ll spend which holidays with…and which holidays, if any, we’ll spend by ourselves at home, wherever home happens to be at the time.
It’s impossible to escape the geese in Sarlat-le-Caneda. Images of these plump birds adorn shop windows, and products of all kinds are decorated with the likeness of the animals that have been adopted as the unofficial mascot of the area. Often known simply as Sarlat, this town with a population of about 11,000 is in the center of the Dordogne region of southern France. Sarlat offers big-city convenience and activities packaged in a small-town setting that make it a delightful location to visit…
While my wife and I were on our daily walk the other day, 400 feet from the deserted Bejuco beach, we were stopped short by a white-faced capuchin monkey who raced gracefully across the bridge, then launched himself into a tree on the other side of the water. His family trailed close behind. Looking around me, I can’t help but think how lucky we are to have so much nature in our everyday lives.
I’m a small town girl. I grew up in the village of Mahomet, Illinois, and though I moved away, I’ve brought the love of simpler living with me. After becoming a dental hygienist—something I worked as for 33 years—I lived in the Florida Keys, before moving to the Bahamas. Both places were nice—but they didn’t offer that quiet, peaceful, simpler way of life and cheaper cost of living I was always looking for. So my husband Bob and I began to look further afield for such a lifestyle, including in Costa Rica and Panama
It is Christmas morning, and my wife Cynthia and I are celebrating the joyous occasion with our daughter’s family in New Jersey. Tomorrow we fly to North Carolina to do it all over again in the home of our son. When we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador three and a half years ago we had no grandchildren. In the space of 19 short months we experienced our own private “baby boom” and today we have three (and counting?).
Back when my husband and I started to have children, a dear friend began giving us beautiful Christmas village houses every year to collect and someday pass on to our children. Every year, as we unpacked the village, one building at a time, we would imagine what it would be like in a place like it. We would place the china characters carefully, connect the cobblestone paths, and talk about what the crunch of the snow sounded like on Christmas Eve. When it was set up perfectly, we would turn out the lights and the amber glow would pour from the windows and lanterns casting an ethereal radiance befitting the holiday season.
The ocean breeze blows in through the open door as I sit in my rocking chair—a surprisingly favorite Nicaraguan furnishing. Sunlight glitters on the ocean, almond and coconut trees sway in the wind. This is my office for today, a four-bedroom house right on the beach that we rent for $350 a month. Previously we spent time on the shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, beneath the shadow of three majestic volcanoes…swimming in one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, shopping in the local markets, and interacting with the indigenous people who still wear their traditional clothing and speak Spanish as their second language.
Alfredo and Yvonne Villoria were just another fast-paced, career-minded couple in Los Angeles. But money-making wasn’t enough. “We felt that something was missing,” says Yvonne. “In 1976, we decided that 1980 was the cut-off year. In 1980, we would leave the United States. All we were doing was chasing the dollar. We wanted more. We thought there had to be more to life than just working and owning things.
Crucita is about 40 minutes north of Manta, Ecuador’s largest coastal city. But while Manta is big and busy and full of shopping and social opportunities, Crucita is the opposite. It’s a little fishing village with a produce market, a fish market, but no supermarket… You can get eggs, bread, beer, toilet paper, soap and other necessities of life at some of the local mom-and-pop shops, but for anything more exotic than that, you’ll need to go to Manta or the closer town of Portoviejo.
I’m typing this from the comfort of a lawn chair on the patio of my house in Quito. It’s early December and even though Quito is moving into winter, today is warm and sunny. Quito, Ecuador’s capital (a UNESCO World Heritage site), sits on the spine of the Andes nestled between two mountain ranges and several ice-capped volcanoes. The climate is mild, with high temperatures in the 70s and lows of around 50.
You might not “get” Coronado, Panama’s fastest growing beach town, immediately. There’s no main square or plaza, and at a glance it looks rambling and unremarkable. But trundle down its mansion-lined lanes, and you’ll find there are many hidden gems.
“So why did you move to Cuenca, Ecuador?” Even after three and a half years I’m often asked this question, and there are many answers—the low cost of living, temperate climate, proximity of the U.S., excellent medical care, and the wonderful mix of historic architecture plus modern conveniences.
It’s easy to see why Penny Barrett was so enamored with Boquete when she visited in 2003. Located in the highlands of Panama, near the border of Costa Rica, this town is a shock of color and natural growth: rich green mountains and valleys, bougainvillea and other flowers growing wild, and plantations and farms growing everything from coffee to bananas and pineapples.
I know I made the right decision to move to Belize when I start my day with a warm first light and song birds…instead of a buzzing alarm clock and an icy wind rattling the window.At first light, the dog and I are strolling along Laguna Seca. The village has yet to start its day, so we share the lagoon with the coots, ibis, and flocks of parakeets. As the sun peeks over the horizon it splashes my pre-dawn world with tropical color and a sparkling lagoon.
I have discovered my favorite way to view a property for sale. First, you get an hour-long massage costing just $45. Then you eat your fill of fresh-off-the-boat tuna for just $8. And finally, you take a five-minute walk through the streets of Pedasi, Panama and take a look at this house on the left. For sale for $80,000, it’s a two-bedroom, 743-square-foot home currently renting for $600 a month unfurnished.
When my husband first proposed the idea of retiring early outside of the U.S., I thought he was being unrealistic. Could we really afford to retire in our 50s if we found a place where we could live on less? I was skeptical…but I’m happy to report that we’ve been living that dream in Panama for over two years now and have never looked back. Here we could actually afford to retire, live comfortably and even travel. The little country of Panama is fast becoming a haven for retirees.
Low cost of living…stunning natural beauty…warm, friendly people…and the best retiree discount in the world. There are so many good reasons to live in Panama that it’s easy to see why Americans are choosing this country as their retirement haven. It’s a country that has something for everyone. Want to live by a white-sand beach, gazing out at miles of clear-blue Pacific Ocean or Caribbean Sea? You can here. More of a quiet mountain town kind of guy or gal? You’re in luck. Panama has a range of little mountain towns to choose from.
“Don’t worry, you won’t have a problem finding a place to stay,” said my friend as we drove into General Villamil Playas (commonly just called “Playas”), the closest beach town to Guayaquil. “The hotels here never fill up.” He should know. He owns a condo in Playas and drives there easily in just over an hour from his home in Guayaquil to spend weekends and holidays at this beach town on Ecuador’s southern coast, named by some as the “sunniest beach” in the country.