International Living Daily Postcards
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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.
I’m sitting at a pastel green table on one of Italy’s most beautiful piazzas watching people parading to and fro for an evening stroll. Children scamper away from their parents, a group of elderly gents stand in the middle talking politics, and young couples, coiffed and stylish, stroll about greeting friends and meeting for drinks. The waiter arranges a glass of chilled wine and a plate of nibbles in front of me and I sigh contentedly.
Picture this: You’re sitting with an iced glass of banana/mango/papaya smoothie in your hand, in a comfy chair on the terrace. A slight breeze tickles your skin as you enjoy a symphony of birdsong, the chirping of geckos on the walls, and iguanas nibbling the grass in the yard in front of you. You might even see a giant green leaf bug perched on the chaise lounge.
The crystal-clear emerald surf rolls gently onto the white sandy beach. Combined with the pungent salty air and gentle sea breeze, it’s nearly lulling me to sleep on my towel under one of the empty palapas on the oceanfront. Except for a local dog frolicking along the water, I’m the only one on this stretch of beach, as far as I can see. That’s not because I’m here in “low” season. The town of Progreso, Mexico, is on the Gulf of Mexico, and it hardly matters when you go to the beach. With a yearly average high temperature of 83 F and average low of 73 F, there are no bad beach days in this paradise.
It’s a good time to be in Belize. I’m on the beach, in the shade of a palm tree with fronds swaying in the breeze, looking out over azure water. In front of me is a Caribbean lobster, fresh off a grill made of an old propane tank and welded together Rebar for the legs. The lobster is just right. Eric, the dreadlocked grill man, has been doing this for years. Sides of rice and beans cooked in coconut milk and a mellow cabbage and carrot coleslaw complete the package.
On that trip in 2000, the couple bought a lot for $30,000 in a gated community just outside the small village of Ojochal, which sits just off the two-lane coastal highway. Their aim was to build a home for their retirement and use it as a vacation property themselves and also for rental income. They visited often during the building process. In 2007, they moved down permanently.
My wife, Suzan Haskins, and I are new grandparents. And I have to say that, if this had happened 13 years ago, we may never have left the U.S. and become expats.
Before moving to Belize, the Cordts lived quite a different lifestyle in New York and New Jersey. They owned several successful clothing boutiques in New York and were involved in the local Greenwich Village scene. Their historic home, in nearby New Jersey, was a 15-minute commute from work. They were engrossed in the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan lifestyle, surrounded by 9 million others.
You might think you know a thing or two about Colombia, but I bet you don’t know everything. For example, did you know that Medellin now has a new title—the Urban Land Institute’s Innovative City of the Year for 2013? Or that UNESCO’s World Heritage List includes seven Colombian sites, and 19 more are currently under review for inclusion.
We live in the wild west of County Cork. It offers the natural beauty and the rugged remoteness we desired. Because I am a professional artist, I wanted to be in an area rich in painting sites. The laid back lifestyle is a pleasant change from the hurriedness we felt at home.
If you’re a regular IL reader—or you’ve been following the World Cup hoopla—then you’ve likely heard of the cities of Fortaleza, Natal, and Recife. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re all state capitals in the tropical northeast of Brazil. All are popular tourist destinations for Europeans, although North Americans have been slow to catch on to their delights. All are hosting World Cup games.
People often tell us how brave they think we are, and that they admire us for venturing out and doing this crazy thing—quitting our jobs in our early 40s, giving up all stable income, and moving to and living in a foreign country. Of course, some people have also told us that we’re crazy. And, it’s true: it is crazy…but it works for us!
Claire Ross had a great idea…no experience…and a small investment. It was all she needed to set up a bar in the beach town of Coronado in Panama. “When I first moved here, there was nowhere to hang out and meet people if you were single or new in town.” With new arrivals trickling in, Claire wanted to create a space where everyone would feel comfortable and embraced.
The most common thing I hear from friends who live in the States about my move to Costa Rica is: “I hear it’s getting very expensive there.” While it’s true that Costa Rica may not be as inexpensive as it was a decade ago, it’s still very affordable, and much less expensive than say Austin, Texas and Honolulu, Hawaii—two places I lived before moving to Costa Rica.
Yet, we moved away—first to Tamarindo, a beach town on the northern Pacific coast, because we kind of missed the beach, and then to Escazú, a suburb of the capital, San José, to be closer to the hospital there when my youngest son had a medical issue. We liked both places, especially Tamarindo with its super laid-back atmosphere and close-knit expat community. And sunset drinks on the beach with friends, of course.
When they left the States in the spring of 2012, Chuck and Anna were determined not to settle for mediocre. They wanted their dream. “We were looking for a mild climate, better health care opportunities, and lower costs,” says Anna. “We were looking for an adventure, amazing views, and lots of things to do,” says Chuck.
Back in Edmonton, Canada, Frank had his own building company and Sharon was a busy physiotherapist. Like most people, their lives revolved around their family and their jobs. But “Edmonton is a bitterly cold place in winter, and the truth is the winters were killing us,”
Not long after arriving, I’d bought a big lug of a car, a Toyota Forerunner Turbo that I called “Bruiser.” It clinked, razzed, burped, and generally sounded like a mobile hardware store in a blender. The CD player didn’t work, the four-wheel drive was broken, the radiator overheated after 15 minutes, and the security alarm went off indiscriminately. But it was my car, and it took me where I needed to go.
The waves are tall and the surfers are out in force. Across the dark blue cove, a lone white sailboat sways back and forth. The temperature is in the high 70s F and the air smells strongly of salt and sea. For Jennifer and Gary Culp, this is the backdrop to their retirement: salty ocean air, cotton candy-pink sunsets, fish tacos, and friendly, fast-paced Spanish.
A little over two years ago, my husband and I turned that quest to rescue our retirement into a reality and relocated to the Pacific coast of Ecuador. A big part of the process was shedding all the excess stuff we’d accumulated in pursuit of the “American Middle Class” ideal, in favor of the new experiences we’d be free to have once out from under it all. Swapping the hamster wheel for a simpler, less object-oriented way of life turned out to be the trade of a lifetime.
Spring is here, and in the markets plump porcini mushrooms, chestnuts, and long, elegant brown pears are giving way to figs and basil and zucchini flowers.
One of the most common bits of advice given to those considering a move overseas is “Rent before you buy!” In Chiriquí Province of western Panama, where I live, there’s a very good reason to follow this advice…and it all has to do with the climate. You may be surprised to learn that this small area of a small country has quite a number of micro-climates.
I was accidentally napping (it happens sometimes) in my favorite chair in the den when I was awakened by the loud, unmistakable lowing of a cow. It was the local milkman announcing his arrival with an amplified recording. In just a few minutes, we received our delivery of milk and cheese from his specially equipped motorcycle and cart. Other vendors regularly wind their way through our middle-class Mexican neighborhood selling fruits, vegetables, prepared food, bottled water, and even pots and pans. It is not only charming, it is convenient.
The U.S. is not really International Living’s beat…and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. (It’s considered a territory; it uses U.S. law, and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.) But with its attractive property prices (still down since their hammering by the 2008 economic crisis) and newly-legislated tax breaks for residents, Puerto Rico clamored for our attention. We wondered: Were we ignoring an English-speaking, tropical beach destination right on our doorstep—one where we didn’t even need a passport?
If you’ve ever sat at a desk dreaming of owning your own jungle lodge in paradise, look no further than Wendy Green for inspiration. On the outskirts of Ecuador’s cloud forest town of Mindo, two hours from the capital, Quito, Wendy runs wellness/yoga retreats on her five-acre parcel of land, complete with three waterfalls and a freshwater spring.
Just walking down Málaga’s Calle Larios can lift the spirits. This pedestrian-only street at the heart of Málaga’s historic center is lined with shops and cafés that draw the eye. Overhead, several stories up, canopies strung across the street shade you from the bright Mediterranean sun.
Want to lose five pounds fast? Instead of spending mega-bucks at an exclusive fitness spa, how about moving to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Guanajuato, Mexico? A friend who tends to puts on weight drops five pounds every time she returns to town after a trip to the States.
Puerto Vallarta (often referred to as Vallarta or just PV) is known for its friendly atmosphere, so it’s not surprising that it attracts a lot of tourists. Many of the expats you’ll meet here started out as tourists. The ones I spoke to told me they came here on vacation but realized pretty soon that they didn’t want to leave. As soon as they went home, they changed their lives to move here. You can’t get a better stamp of approval than that.
I remember Costa Rica. How could I forget? In 1997 my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I were married there. It was the first time I’d been south of the U.S. border. We found a small boutique hotel in San Jose that offered wedding packages. They’d supply the notario for a civil ceremony (sort of like getting married by a Justice of the Peace) along with a bottle of champagne and a guy playing music on a portable keyboard. It was perfect.
Toucans and macaws glide around the lush jungle canopy and scores of monkeys parade through the overhanging branches. Neon-green and electric-blue butterflies of preposterous sizes flit across gurgling streams, while waterfalls drop into deep pools. Welcome to one of my favorites among Ecuador’s secret spots…a place hidden in the east of the country, where indigenous shamans still perform timeless rituals and a small number of adventurous expats have found new lives surrounded by nature.