International Living Daily Postcards
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After a trip to Costa Rica in 2003, Isabelle and Robert knew they wanted to move permanently to somewhere in Central America. “We missed living in nature, surrounded by nature,” Robert explains. “Central America seemed to have the natural lifestyle we were looking for.” They explored Costa Rica and considered Nicaragua. But it was after a visit to Panama that they fell in love.
In Ecuador, every day is a memory maker. But some more than others… Like the time three of us stayed at a friend’s beachfront house in Olón, with a bamboo bar overlooking the ocean. We dubbed it the “Sand Bar,” for its sand floor. (The owner paid just $50,000 for this house, by the way.) Long into the night, the guys played guitars and sang…
It just might be the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica. You’ll find it at the end of the road, literally, in the far southeastern corner, near the border with Panama. It’s on the Caribbean coast, the most undeveloped portion of the country. You drive two hours east of the capital San Jose, on Highway 32, and hang a right at the port city of Limon.
When you decide to go overseas, you don’t just get to enjoy your new host country—you also get the opportunity to experience all the other nations in the neighborhood. So, now that I’m staying in Buenos Aires in Argentina, I recently decided to use the opportunity to take a short trip to nearby Uruguay. It was a country that took me by surprise.
I am not a “dissatisfied” American. I have never had a desire to move out of the country. The freedom and principles of the U.S. are a treasure, but living there has gotten very hard since losing my job in the recession. So imagine my surprise to find that while a Social Security income will give you a subsistence level of living in the U.S.—it will practically give you a luxury lifestyle in Costa Rica…
IL correspondents sometimes share their monthly budgets to help readers get a feel for the ongoing costs of living abroad. Items such as rent, utilities, and food are self-explanatory, but what about that nebulous “entertainment” category? Expenditures can vary wildly from person to person depending on individual interests and taste.
Michigan natives Kristie and Jim Worrel moved to Paris 21 years ago when Jim worked for Total Petrochemicals. Jim’s contract was for five years but rather than leave their adopted country, which they had grown to love, Jim sought another job, and the couple successfully stayed on in France permanently. But it wasn’t until five years ago, as retirement neared, that the couple finally began the search for their dream. “It had always been a lifelong ambition of ours to buy and renovate an old historic house…
Lots of tourists to Belize never make it to little Punta Gorda. It’s just a bit too far off the beaten path for most folks. PG, as it’s called, is way down in southern Belize. It’s small (only about 5,500 people), and—although it’s right on the Caribbean—there isn’t much beach. Yet it’s one of my favorite places in the whole country. And if you love nature, it probably will be one of your favorites, too… Sea and sky seem to go on forever here. And inland is lush green jungle, just waiting to be explored.
I never tire of Bangkok. I’ve been coming here for years and although the city itself has changed, a new building here, a shopping center there, the essential feel of the place hasn’t changed at all…and that’s what I love about it. There’s something in the air in Thailand’s capital. It’s a city for city lovers…partygoers…travelers and adventure-seekers. It’s crammed with exotic, bustling markets…17th-century temples…art-deco hotels and has fast-food stalls on every corner. For 24 hours of the day, people are living and making a living all around you.
In Lakeland counties and villages along Ireland’s longest river—the Shannon—numerous properties are now selling for under $150,000. The starting figure for cottages with a small piece of land is down to the $67,000 level. With the euro tail-spinning, Ireland now looks temptingly affordable for buyers with dollars. A year ago, a 100,000 euro property would have cost $145,000. At today’s exchange rate, it’s $128,000.
Jim Finegan didn’t set out to make Panama his second home. While traveling through Costa Rica with a couple of his bartender employees from his home state, Pennsylvania, Jim went to a Columbus-Day celebration and made a lucky $50 bet that netted him $5,000. Armed with an unexpected extension to his travel funds, Jim and his buddies decided to head down the coast to Panama.
Many expats living here are thrilled when they experience significant weight loss and overall improvement in their health. Two friends of mine, David Akins and his wife Karen, relocated to Cuenca, a lovely colonial city sitting at 8,400 feet altitude in Ecuador’s southern highlands, a year and a half ago.
Steve Kamb left his native Oregon last year on a round-the-world trip starting in Los Angeles. Over the course of the next 10 months, Steve spent time in Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dublin, Madrid, and Buenos Aires. He took 15 flights and covered a distance of 35,000 miles. And he did it all for just $418.36.
Quiet. If you gave me one word to describe the Lake Arenal region of Costa Rica, that would be it. If I had a few more… Verdant. Contemplative. Relaxed. Although the area is increasingly on the radar of expats from around the world, it remains unspoiled and sparsely developed.
Tourism is a relatively new industry in Santa Fe, near the Continental Divide in Panama’s Veraguas province. And even now, those who find their way here are definitely not birds of a feather. “The people who come first are interesting and eccentric,” says Janet Hitchens. She should know—she was one of the first expats to settle in tiny Santa Fe.
The expats who have discovered Cebu find that it offers the nation’s best overall value. In a country where your dollar stretches (and stretches and stretches), that is saying something. Locate Cebu on a map and it looks tiny. But don’t let that fool you—this place has hundreds of beaches, in addition to rocky mountains, limestone plateaus, and coastal plains.
Café Tal “was born of the need for decent coffee in Guanajuato,” says the 53-year-old from Tucson, Arizona—a classic case of spotting a need and satisfying it. Today Café Tal, in operation for nearly eight years, is a favorite with both locals and expats. But Greg didn’t start out planning to be a coffee mogul.
Welcome to Boracay, the Philippines. This place has stretches of coastline that could put some of the world’s most popular beaches to shame. The tiny bone-shaped Island, south of Manila, is considered by many a local to be the crown jewel of the Philippines. And in a nation of over 7,000 islands, that is saying something.
In the summer of 2003, feeling a little apprehensive, I boarded a flight to Colombia. But I wasn’t going for a vacation…I had just secured my first English teaching job in a private school. The first thing that hit me when I stepped off the plane was the warm weather—the cold winters of home were gone. Now, my biggest challenge would be staying out of the warm Caribbean sun…
My recent trip to Costa Rica was an amazing experience. And to think it only happened because I needed expensive dental work, and that traveling to Costa Rica for it actually paid for most of my vacation. In recent years, dental costs have risen faster than inflation. And since only 55% of U.S. residents have dental insurance, that means half of us are paying cash out-of-pocket for dental work.
These days Caye Caulker, a five-mile-long island off Belize’s Caribbean coast, has the laid-back, beach-bum vibe that brought expats to nearby Ambergris Caye 20 years ago. The streets on Caye Caulker are still packed sand. Most people get around by bicycle. And for those who come here, life is all about the water. Small-town, island beach life isn’t for everyone. But if it’s for you…
Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, intrigued me with its historic architecture, plazas, and café culture. Punta del Este, South America’s premier beach resort, awakened my senses, with its beautiful beaches and endless menu of activities. The Rocha region, with its palm tree-dotted prairies and pristine Atlantic beaches, filled me with primal wonder.
I’ve photographed in over 40 countries but on a recent trip to China, I found what I believe may be the most picturesque place on earth. I was on an extended trip to Asia with my camera, hoping to photograph some of the Mysterious East’s beauty spots. What I found stands firmly in my mind as one of the most exotic and incredible landscapes I have ever seen.
As much as I love my job teaching English in Thailand, one of the best things about it is the three months’ holidays I get every year. I use this time to travel around Thailand or to neighboring countries like Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.
Weekdays, Paul squeezes in a little work. A perpetual smile on his face, the 64-year-old moved to the Philippines five years ago. There he found a new love and a new lease on life. Coming of age in the 1960s was fun. For Paul, the idea that you should “live for today” (and not worry about tomorrow) resonated deeply.
What’s drawing IL readers to Costa Rica? Take your pick—long stretches of deserted and undeveloped beaches (Caribbean and Pacific)…dense jungles teeming with exotic wildlife…towering volcanoes, lush green valleys, and hundreds of crystal-clear lakes, rivers, streams, and waterfalls… mesmerizing sunrises, sunsets, and star-filled evening skies…an affordable, happy, healthy way of life…
In 2011, I pulled up stakes in California and made Chiang Mai, Thailand my permanent home. My goal: to change my lifestyle, live a calmer existence, eat better, become healthier, do only what I think is worthwhile, and live a happier life. And while I haven’t yet achieved everything on my agenda, I’m headed down the right road.
If Ecuador isn’t on your short list of places to travel, add it. Ecuador has mountain towns…tropical coast…the Amazon basin…and it’s also home to the Galapagos Islands. But I won’t dwell on any of that right now; just suffice it to say that if you go, you’ll want to go back.
When Brian and Stephanie Gough went on vacation in Tamarindo, a stunning stretch of palm-fringed shoreline on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, their lives changed forever. They had such an incredible time that they couldn’t bear the thought of going back to their old lives. So they bought a local restaurant. “We fell in love with Tamarindo,” says Brian.
For travel writers, sampling local food specialties is part of the job. So to ignore the Antiga Confeitaria in Belém, Lisbon’s ancient maritime suburb, would be criminal. Decorated in blue and white azulejo tiles, this bakery/cafe is a shrine to the world’s most heavenly custard tarts—Pastéis de Belém. Famed throughout Portugal, these are pastries with history.
Health insurance—qualifying for it, paying for it, and keeping it—is one of the biggest worries we hear about from folks in the U.S. But since I moved abroad it hasn’t been a problem for me. And if you’re thinking of moving abroad, it likely doesn’t have to be a problem for you, either. As an expat, you’ll have a range of health care solutions available to you. Your choice is deciding which options makes the most sense for your situation.
Every expat who moves from the United States to Costa Rica has to make some adjustments. Things are slower, more relaxed. The lifestyle is about time with family and friends, not work and material possessions. You won’t find big box stores on every corner…
We’re near the top now when a cloud rushes in, and we’re immersed. Zero visibility. Better slow down and pull over. And that puts us in prime position a few seconds later when the cloud has passed to see the entire valley laid out before us. It’s been just a 45-minute drive from the city below but we’re worlds away. I’m in Costa Rica’s Central Valley.
Bless her heart, but my wife’s friend “Linda” (name changed to protect the embarrassed) has a knack for often saying the “wrong” thing when speaking Spanish. And during her recent visit to our home in Costa Rica she outdid herself. At breakfast she tried to tell the waiter she needed more coffee because she was tired (Estoy cansada) but repeated Estoy casada (“I’m married”) several times…
Last summer, I spent an action-packed month flitting around Europe following my lifetime passions of travel, history, and track and field. How did I pay for it? I found 11 different magazines willing to send me checks in exchange for articles about my experiences. I visit Europe every year for four weeks by selling enough articles in advance to pay for the entire trip. I even manage to bring in a good income over the following year…
They come to enjoy fresh fruits and veggies that go straight from the farm to market to your kitchen—for a half to a third of what you’d pay in the U.S. And then there’s the climate—one of the best in the world. It’s cool in the mountains year-round. It warms up along the coast but there are sea breezes to cool things off and shady trees by the beach to enjoy a cold beer under.
“Fish don’t live in ugly places” is Captain Ron Saunders’ motto. And that’s certainly true of his home of seven years, Lake Arenal, in the highlands three hours west of Costa Rica’s capital, San José. The 50-year-old former custom cabinet-maker from Las Vegas is living his dream here. A lifelong ﬁsherman, he turned his passion into a business—charter ﬁshing…
Moving into a “furnished” rental is always a bit of a risk. You never know if you’re going to get cheap particle board pieces or whatever cast offs your landlord could scrounge up. But when we moved to our new home in Costa Rica, we were totally shocked. Everything from the bed frames to the dining table was solid, high-quality tropical hardwood.
On a dusty corner in Panama City’s Casco Viejo sector, there is a bar/restaurant. It doesn’t look like much, but the name on the sign makes passersby stop and puzzle: Mojitos sin Mojitos. In English it means, “Mojitos without Mojitos.” Weekend nights, the place is full to overflowing. There are hipsters from the local art scene…young bankers from the financial district…backpackers from France.
Erin and Philip Whitley were getting itchy feet. “How do we want to reinvent ourselves?” Erin recalls. Mexico didn’t figure in their plans at that time. But one day a friend mentioned San Miguel de Allende—the scenic artists’ colony and expat haven in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands. “We made some connections here in San Miguel,” says Erin, “and everything just lined up for us.”