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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“We spent about five years researching good retirement destinations before actually moving to Panama,” says Bill Hamilton who moved with his wife Mieke to the country’s capital city. “I’m the type of person to look up every single thing…crime rates, politics, cost of living, real estate, health care…and Panama City kept popping up in my research as the best option across the board.” Though in their 60s and already retired from previous careers, the Hamiltons made the decision to move in order to take a stab at running the Balboa Inn, a nine-room B&B in Panama City.
Back home, you are energetic and enjoy a life full of activities, friends and diversity. You want it to stay that way and you have your priorities. Nature makes you happy. After a lifetime living in cold weather, you’d like to throw away your winter coats. Health care and safety are major concerns. Starting a business entices you, but isn’t it too late? You love your delicious coffee and going to great restaurants with your friends. You seek volunteer opportunities to help people and give your life more purpose.
“We were frustrated with extremely long, cold winters, high Canadian taxes, and we were weary of the rat race.” So says Denise Patrick, who—along with her husband Neil—moved to the beach community of Coronado—just 90 minutes from Panama City. The couple first fell in love with Coronado when they spent a vacation there in November 2010—so much so, in fact, that they decided on the flight home to sell their house and belongings.
The classic vision of Costa Rica that you find on postcards and tourism board posters is of the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. The white sand beaches…blue ocean…and the wildlife-filled rain forest as a backdrop.
Unlike the more popular beach towns in Belize, Punta Gorda—in the Toledo District—is seldom crawling with tourists. And you’ll find few expats in Punta Gorda, compared to towns like Corozal, San Pedro, Placencia or San Ignacio. Upon visiting earlier this year, I learned that a growing number of expats are visiting and trying out the region to see if it’s a fit for them.
As a 14-year-old schoolgirl, I didn’t know life would turn me into a travel writer and a wine enthusiast. So I didn’t appreciate Bad Dürkheim as much as I should have. When you’re treated to a meal inside the world’s largest wine barrel, you should at least remember what you ate and drank.
We were sitting in a rustic beach bar in the small town of Puerto Morelos on Mexican’s Mayan Riviera sampling what the bartender promised was the best margarita in town. The temperature was about 85 F and the ever-present sea breeze was wafting in from the Caribbean. Shore birds were circling overhead in a cloudless blue sky.
For years, Richard and Amy Griffin ran successful businesses in the southeastern United States. Amy’s focus was interior design, while Richard was a food distributor for restaurants, hotels, and country clubs. Things were going well until the economic downturn hit in 2008. “Charlotte is a banking community and all my customers were pretty much bankers, so they pulled the plug immediately, because they had no clue what was going to happen,” says Amy.
It wasn’t the practical reasons, like lower cost of living, great—and cheap—medical care, and friendly people, that convinced Dave Scott to move to San Ramón, a town on the western edge of Costa Rica’s Central Valley region. Though the country has all those advantages and more, and while those were factors in the decision, it was something else that drew him. “It was like an invisible string around my neck pulling me here,” says Dave. “It’s more of a heart thing than a head thing. It’s hard to explain. It was just the feeling I had.”
Check any list of the world’s best retirement destinations, including International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index, and you’ll find Costa Rica near the top. And it’s not a new trend; this little Central American country sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama has attracted North American expats for more than 30 years due to many diverse factors. Here are four reasons why many retirees think it’s a great place to live. One of the biggest attractions of Costa Rica is the weather. For those seeking relief from frigid winters, the warm temperatures year-round are quite welcome.
Owning a French vineyard is the ultimate dream for many expats—and it’s easy to see why. From Burgundy to Bordeaux, France’s vineyards lie in some of the most beautiful areas of the country and have produced extraordinary wines coveted throughout the world. To live in such an idyllic setting, drinking wine from your own grapes and playing some small role in wine’s ancient story, is a concept that’s both thrilling and gratifying.
With more than a million expats estimated to live there, Mexico is far and away the most popular destination for North Americans looking to move abroad. But—with so many places to choose from—where in Mexico should you move? It’s a very large country, after all. Much depends, of course, on what you’re looking for.
To live the big city life for less and enjoy a world-class retirement look no farther than the San Francisco neighborhood of Panama City. I chose to live in San Francisco because of its walkability, its amenities, and just how close it is to the kind of action that makes for a great city life…and from gourmet delis to evenings at the opera, I enjoyed every minute.
This year, Panama holds the number one spot in International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index. Being a retiree in Panama myself, I agree that it’s a great place to retire. The word for retirees in Spanish is “jubilados.” I’ve always loved that, because to me it sounds like “jubilant” and shouldn’t we all be jubilantly happy in our old age? In Panama, jubilados are treated with respect and receive special benefits due to their elder status.
Café con leche is the typical Spanish coffee. Now you could head to the American-style shop a few blocks from my apartment for a $7 plain coffee. However, I prefer the local café where you can sit outside on the cobblestone patio and sip leisurely while people watching.
It’s 1 a.m. and I’m sound asleep in bed when I hear a big boom. I’m startled awake, so I jump up, grab my robe, and run onto our giant balcony that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. Directly in front of me the moon is shining bright and sparkling off the water.
I’ve always loved to explore the areas in which I live. Whether I was bushwhacking through wild Alaskan terrain or driving down dusty country roads in Minnesota farm country, I relished the thrill of seeing what’s around the next bend. It could be a fantastic little family-owned apple orchard or a mama moose with newborn twins.
Travelers flock to Ecuador each year to enjoy the country’s diverse regions, exotic wildlife, and of course the famed Galapagos Islands. Some visitors become so enthralled with Ecuador that their vacation becomes a permanent stay. But whether you’re a passer through or a smitten expat, don’t miss out on Ecuador’s vast cultural options.
Certain images are fixed in my mind of the French town of Montpellier. When I think of it, I remember cobblestone streets filled with students and a cheerful energy. I remember riding a sleek tramway entirely painted with bright, intertwined flowers. And I remember eating one of the most extraordinary meals of my life there at the charming Lozèrois restaurant, Cellier & Morel.
The bright Andean sun is bursting through the cloud cover and slowly breathing fresh life into this bustling mountainous region. The waitress smiles pleasantly as she pours me sticky, black Peruvian coffee. I pause for a second and savor the aroma before taking a big gulp and wash down the pastry that I’ve just eaten. I’m in Cusco, Peru, the historic and spiritual heart of the Inca Empire and a designated World Heritage Site.
Vikki Gold from Colorado is delighted with her move to Costa Rica. “I love it here. I’m at peace. There’s beautiful scenery, a great climate, and so much wildlife. It’s our little paradise,” she says. She came here just over a year ago after she and her daughter, Hollee, bought and renovated a boutique hotel in the jungle.
Salud! Ching, Ching! These three words are so simple, yet they hold so much meaning. Friendship, happiness, and a lifetime of health—that’s what we toast to as we raise our sparkling Catalan cava to the blue sky. A refreshing glass of sparkling wine is just what the doctor ordered to celebrate this sunny day with friends in Sitges.
In 2005, I left my job in the cruise industry and decided to try my luck in Panama. I had a wonderful group of international friends—some from the Americas, and others from as far off as Australia. And I told them all to come visit me in Panama sometime. To my surprise, many of us actually did keep in touch and visit each other. I remember a girl from Venezuela asking me how come there were so many U.S. products on the shelves here.
Spain is one of my favorite countries. It’s both a fascinating destination to visit and a great place to live (and I’ve done both). So when people ask me what’s so great about Spain, I can list a lot of advantages off the top of my head. But to get you started, here are my top five reasons why Spain is a great place to live:
When my husband, Al, and I left the U.S. nearly 10 years ago I had no idea I would make my home in Panama. We set sail from southwest Florida to navigate the Caribbean Sea and study the Maya culture in person. With our boat secure at a marina in Isla Mujeres, we explored eastern Mexico for six months, then sailed to Belize and on to Guatemala. In the Rio Dulce we found a community of boaters that embraced us, and a marina to call home for the next three years.
Jutting out into the Pacific on the country’s northwest corner, the Nicoya Peninsula is set apart geographically from mainland Costa Rica. It’s more than an hour’s drive to the nearest sizable city, Nicoya. And from the capital, San José, and the main international airport there, it will take the better part of a day and include a mix of rough dirt roads and pavement winding through forest, farmland, and mountains. One route, to the southern tip of the peninsula, even includes a ferry crossing.
I arrived in Alicante planning to stay just a few months, thinking I’d wait out Spain’s scorching summer months here beside the city’s languorous stretch of Mediterranean coastline, a chance to relax and recharge before returning to a larger city. My German landlord eyed me dubiously. He’d moved here almost a decade ago, planning to stay just one year.
Uruguay is the most economically, politically, and socially stable country in the region. The property registration system is among the best in Latin America. And you don’t need to become a resident or get a local tax ID number to buy, own, or sell real estate in Uruguay. Even though real estate values have climbed in recent years, with a little research it’s still possible to buy property in the most popular areas of the country for a very reasonable price.
It was sports that first brought Jim to Panama in 2004. “I lived in Boston and was running a sports-marketing company for American football. I handled recreational events, tournaments, leagues, and celebrity events. “While coaching a start-up flag-football team here, I first met my wife Priscilla. We went back to the U.S. and worked together in sports marketing, but when we decided to start a family in 2009, we returned to Panama and made our new home in Las Tablas. We wanted to be near Priscilla’s family.”
Nha Trang lies on southeastern Vietnam’s Nha Trang Bay, about 275 miles northeast of Ho Chi Minh City. It’s a popular Vietnamese vacation destination, with more than four miles of beaches. And it’s home to 400,000 people, including hundreds of expats. The city has a tropical climate, with high temperatures ranging from 82 F to 91 F and lows in the high 60s F. Best of all, Nha Trang has a long dry season, which runs from January to August. It experiences its heaviest rainfall in October and November. Mountains surround three sides of the city, and a large island just off the coast shelters Nha Trang during heavy storms.
When many people think of “Brazil,” they immediately picture Rio de Janeiro. But Brazil is a huge country—the fifth largest in the world in area—and quite diverse in weather, geography, and culture. This truly is a country which has something for everyone. While Brazil is not as cheap as many other Latin American countries, in most areas it isn’t expensive by North American standards either.
I go to Spain whenever I get the opportunity; this is my third vacation there in the past five years. This time I’ll head to the North of Spain…to the little-known but very affordable region of Galicia. Previously, I’ve visited artistic Barcelona, historic Seville, and sun-soaked Malaga…three cities with their own distinctive characteristics, appeals, and benefits—and I’m anxious to follow up this vacation with another soon, to picture-perfect Valencia, the bull-running city of Pamplona, and the traditionally preserved hillside towns of Cuenca and Ronda.
Until a few days ago my knowledge of coffee was as follows: buy a bag at the store once in a while and drink a couple of cups to get me going each day. I’ve just returned from an extremely interesting tour, organized by the owner of a local coffee shop here in Cuenca, Ecuador, with a new-found appreciation for my morning beverage.
Every visit I make to the Toledo region of Belize brings unexpected discoveries. Some folks call it the country’s “forgotten district,” and it’s true that Toledo is a bit of an enigma. On the surface it appears peaceful and serene. But look closer and you’ll find a contrasting alter ego. This Toledo is wild, untamed, enticing…
For more than 150 years, well-heeled Parisians have descended upon the golden shores of Deauville each summer, earning it the nickname “the 21st arrondissement” of Paris. And who could blame them? The small town is a mere two-hour train ride from the City of Light, on lower Normandy’s lovely Côte Fleurie (Flower Coast). And the natural, open beauty of Deauville’s beach effortlessly holds its own against the prettiness of beaches in France’s south.
Cosmopolitan, indeed—as well as comfortable and convenient. In Santiago you’ll find modern skyscrapers, including the tallest building in Latin America. There’s a sleek and efficient subway system. Popular cuisine from around the world is paired with fine Chilean wines in the city’s many upscale restaurants. And opera, ballet, Broadway hits, great museums, and dozens of galleries abound.
I’m in no way an expert on the subject of health. What I’m about to tell you is simply based on our experiences and those of folks we’ve talked to here in Ecuador. But we are happy with how things have worked out. With good food, more exercise, fresh air, and the relaxing sounds of the waves in the background, there is no doubt that we are living a healthier lifestyle in Ecuador.
Belize is well-known for its aquamarine Caribbean waters, Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, idyllic cayes and miles of coastland. But not all expats opt for a coastal lifestyle. An increasing number have been captivated by the Cayo District’s charms. They’re drawn to the verdant broadleaf jungles…lush Maya Mountains…meandering rivers…and mystical Mayan ruins… Some come to stake out a piece of fertile land… Others yearn to live off the grid…
“So why did you move to Brazil?” Without a doubt, this is the question I hear most these days, whether from Brazilians, foreigners here in Rio, or Americans when I visit back home.My love affair with Brazil dates back to 1993, when I first visited here. I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina. One day at my gym I met my now good friend Junior Botelho.
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.