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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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.
Opening a business, moving to a small town, changing careers, heading out on the road in an RV…they considered all these options. But once they started reading about retiring overseas, it seemed the way to go. And Costa Rica quickly rose to the top of their list of destinations because it’s an easy flight back to Dallas and there’s good infrastructure, healthcare, and Internet access. And the climate where they live in the Central Valley is perfect year-round.
I visited San Miguel de Allende recently while working on a video project, and I had a chance to catch up with an old friend from when my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I lived there back in 2007 and 2008. It pleased me to find him doing well and to hear that his two children were growing into handsome, intelligent young adults. Part of the reason for that, he told me, were the chances they’d had to travel.
We at International Living are sending one lucky winner (along with a friend or spouse) to Coronado, Panama for a full month in 2014—free. The prize includes round-trip flights from the U.S. or Canada to Panama City, furnished accommodation in the beach-resort town of Coronado, plus a living-expense stipend of $1,500.
Belize is well-known for its famous Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. For decades adventurous scuba divers and anglers have vacationed in Belize, in pursuit of their favorite marine sports. But this tiny country also has some fine beaches. But they aren’t always obvious to the first-time tourist. Fortunately, the majority of Belize’s beaches are public and accessible. The 60-foot strip of beachfront adjoining the Caribbean Sea is usually public property.
As I tapped away at my battered laptop that morning, sitting outside my beach hut, it came to me that I was living the dream. This was it—and I was doing it! I was living the freelance lifestyle. It was so perfect it was almost a cliché: I had just been for a long walk on the beach, followed by a breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, and muesli delivered to my hut, and there I was, dressed in a bikini and a sarong, sitting in a hammock strung between two palm trees, typing away.
A symphony of monks chanted as we sat kneeling on the grass. I held the wire rim of my enormous cylindrical paper lantern and waited for the cue. Finally, in one synchronized movement, a sea of hands—belonging to individuals from countless countries and cultures—let go.
My best friend from high school saves $84 a month because I live and work in Ecuador. My sister slashed her dental bills. And I recently discovered a way for family members to double the value of their cell phones…
From the first time I flew from the mainland to Ambergris Caye—in a small turbo-prop plane—I was hooked on Belize. Gazing down onto the crystal clear Caribbean waters, and at the waves breaking on the Mesoamerican Reef, I was overwhelmed by the scenic beauty around me. This stunning seascape was my intro to Belize. What later convinced me I could live full-time in Belize were the vibrant communities and comfortable lifestyle… So what makes Belize so appealing? I’ve outlined the top seven reasons to live here below:
My wife and I were enjoying coffee on our back porch the other day when we turned to each other and said, almost simultaneously, “Can’t beat this weather, huh?” And really, here at our home in the heart of the Central Valley, in the hills above the town of Grecia, I have to admit the weather is perfect. (My apologies to all those reading this up north who still have snow on the ground.) It averages about 75 degrees year-round and, up here at 4,500 feet, it gets cool enough…
When my husband and I wanted to escape the rainy Seattle winter weather in 2012, we planned a trip to South East Asia and spent a month on assignment exploring luxury resorts and spas in Bali, Indonesia. Last summer we relaxed on a luxury barge floating down the Burgundy canal, sipping French wines, visiting local villages and eating fine food along the way. And we did some other business while we were in the neighborhood—in Paris, London, and Wales (nice neighborhood!).
When Jo realized I was serious and that our move was a matter of weeks away, she said something I heard more than once before leaving the U.S: “I could never do something like that!” Of course, people have different reasons for thinking that way. And I’ll grant you, our move to Ecuador wasn’t what’s called “normal.” At 55 and 62 years of age we were supposed to be settling into a routine, shopping for rocking chairs…
We sold the house and had to decide what to do with all that stuff. So we took inventory—stuff we wanted to keep on one side of the ledger, stuff for the garage sale on the other. The idea was to get rid of all the things we didn’t need and keep all the things that we thought gave our life meaning and stability…the stuff we absolutely couldn’t live without.
In our years abroad, my wife, Suzan, and I have met expats who told us clearly that it was their intention to live someplace where they never saw another expat again. Although I admire the spirit and determination of this kind of total immersion, I can’t help but recall what an expat in the real estate trade in Mexico told us many years ago.
Costa Rica doesn’t get much attention as a culinary destination. The national cuisine (known locally as comida tipica) hasn’t extended across borders. And you won’t find Costa Rican restaurants anywhere but Costa Rica. Yet, most tourists and expats find that this country is actually full of some great food. It’s tasty, filling, healthy, and, in most cases, very reasonably priced.
I recently watched the Grammy salute to the Beatles commemorating their performance on the Ed Sullivan show 50 years ago. Yes, I was among the 73 million households glued to the TV set on that historic night. A song that Paul and Ringo performed on the show, “A Little Help from My Friends,” got me thinking about how getting things done where I live in Cuenca, Ecuador is so much easier when you are open to the assistance of others.
Before I arrived in Croatia, people told me that it was one of the most beautiful places in Europe. “If you love Italy, you’ll love Croatia,” they said. “After all, the Croatian coast is where the Italians go to vacation.” Most of Croatia’s coast is along the historic Dalmatian region—a place that perfectly meshes Italian and Eastern European inspirations in architecture, food, and even language. I based myself in Split…
John Sklute, a retired English professor from California, has lived just about everywhere—from sunny Spain to spacious Sweden. So when he says that Berlin has a special something, you know he’s done the legwork. John’s love for Berlin started when he spent a summer there in 1994 and fell in love with a local. The relationship didn’t work out, but John’s passion for Berlin never waned.
It’s great to have step-by-step guides, especially for big and potentially complicated tasks. Moving yourself out of your home country to a completely new and different culture…and language…certainly qualifies as a big and complicated task. It involves many more steps than just five, but considering only the preparatory phase—the phase before the actual move—here are five essential steps to take before you move to Ecuador.
As we approach our lucky 13th year of living overseas, my husband, Dan Prescher, and I are fortunate to have shared so many wonderful, memorable experiences in so many far-flung corners of the world—from Southeast Asia to Europe, and nearly every country of Latin America. We’ve lived in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, and Ecuador… In fact, we’ve lived in more than one destination in some of those countries. We’ve learned to speak Spanish, we’ve bought and sold property…