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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Here in our home on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, we’ve taken back the weekends. We sleep in a bit. A small breakfast of fresh fruit and rich Costa Rican coffee follows—just something to hold us over. We pack up and drive from our condo in Tamarindo north along the coast about a half-hour to Brasilito, a tiny fishing village.
Great boulders in the distance, half wet, half dry…cobalt-blue waters scrubbing sands of downy gray…white seabirds soaring above, their cries for fish occasionally audible above the sounds of the surf. This is Coronado Beach, Panama’s most popular Pacific coast destination.
The only things Jeremy needed to make his living were a reliable high-speed Internet connection and a comfortable home for his family. Plus, he already had plenty of overseas experience. He had lived briefly in Peru, Argentina, and Costa Rica and had traveled throughout Central America. But he’d never been to Nicaragua—and that’s where he set his sights.
On my first two visits to Panama I tried, unsuccessfully, to get to the bizarre “Bahai Egg.” My first attempt, five years ago, (without a GPS) involved trying to navigate with a map given to me by the car rental company and an outdated guide-book. The “Bahai Egg,” also known by its actual name The Bahai Temple, sits on top of a hill with a beautiful view of the city, valley and jungle around it.
Boquete, in Panama’s Chiriquí province, is known for its expat community. Rated by the AARP as one of the world’s best retirement destinations, Boquete blipped onto the expat radar around 2001 when International Living first started writing about it. Its artsy social scene has been growing ever since. I first visited this highland town in 1998 with my family. Though you can fly an hour to the Chiriquí capital of David…
Local legend tells that the two volcanoes are lovers, and when there is snow on Cotacachi’s peak, it means that Imbabura has visited her in the night. The valley between them cradles Otavalo, a city about 34 miles north of Quito, Ecuador.
There are thousands of expats living in Panama: Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and many more from around the globe, who come here for the beautiful weather, the tropical beaches, low cost of living, and because Panama makes it easy to start a business.
After four years of 70-plus hour weeks in the cruise ship industry, I was ready for peace and playa. And of all the countries that could offer me that, I chose Panama. Why? For a lot of the same reasons so many first-time expats have chosen to move here.
As a native New Orleanian, Panama very much reminds me of the city I left behind. Friendly people, a laid-back lifestyle, fun culture, warm weather and outdoor recreation are all part of a full life here. Panama has been my permanent home for almost 28 years now.
“On an ideal day, I get up, sit on my balcony, and read a bit. Then I exercise or take a swim in the pool, and come back for breakfast. I might check my email or go for coffee with a friend. Later I might play bridge, or go to the National Theater, or meet with one of my clubs. There are just endless things to do,” says Joyce Perrin.
Coronado, Panama, is a relaxed community. Only an hour from Panama City, this coastal town—now popular with expats—was once a vacation getaway for Panamanians, who came from miles around to sun themselves on the black-and-white-sanded beach and swim in the Pacific Ocean.
I just received an email from an International Living subscriber asking a question that is becoming more and more common in my inbox. To paraphrase: “With the price of real estate so low in the U.S. right now, why would anyone move abroad?” Fair question. And if your only reason for considering a move abroad is to find inexpensively priced property, the answer is obvious…you really don’t need to.
The tops of the palms wave cheerily in the breeze like giant green feather dusters against a soft blue, cloudless sky. I’m bobbing contentedly in the warm turquoise waters looking back at the beach, its silky white sands speckled with tiny seashells. Despite it being mid-summer I’m the only one swimming in this small cove…the only one enjoying this flawless slice of beach this morning.
Each summer, my husband and I perch ourselves on the house’s upper terrace and gaze out at the valley below. Shimmering there in the heat is Florence. It thrills us that beneath the haze lies a trove of Renaissance treasures: Michelangelo’s David… Brunelleschi’s magnificent dome… Botticelli’s Venus, standing tall and tranquil on her scalloped sea shell. In just 20 minutes we can be down there…
“I was working in the wine industry when I decided I was ready for a new chapter,” says Louise. Though she considered other countries, Panama kept “popping up” on her radar as a good place to live. Panama offers excellent flight connections, which appealed to Louise’s desire to travel. “I just flew direct to Amsterdam via KLM,” she says, as she enthusiastically describes her visit to Europe.
“We don’t have white-sand beaches—we have a black and white one,” Ellen Cook says. “When the sun’s on it, it looks like diamonds, the sparkle on the black sand.” The beach Ellen is referring to is Coronado beach, located just two blocks from her house in the resort town of Coronado, Panama. This beach is one of the biggest perks of her life here, Ellen says.
“Don’t you want to kiss him goodbye?” asks Ronnie the deckhand. Er, no. Not really. Although I’m sure this handsome lad is incredibly tasty, size matters in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. The snapper I’ve reeled in doesn’t quite meet the legal minimum length of 27 centimeters (10.6 inches). So back into the Pacific he goes.
“I never dreamed I’d take up fruit farming, learn a new language or open a B&B in a foreign country,” says Phil Dankiw. “But after 28 years of owning my own businesses in Canada I needed a change.” After years of visiting Latin America, Phil decided to sell his home and snow removal business in Burlington, Ontario. It was time to make the big move.
We knew we would have to do considerable downsizing after retirement. We were living in Pasadena, California and our pension income would be one eighth of our working income. In Panama we found we could comfortably live off approximately $800 a month.
My prior career as a tax preparer meant I was used to navigating endless flowing rivers—of paperwork—and I always seemed to be going against the current. I’ve since had a river-related experience in my new career as a travel writer…but it was a lot more fun. Here’s how it happened. My destination was the rugged Toledo District in southern Belize where an Indiana Jones-worthy cave begged exploration.
My husband Friedemann and I led our first Egypt tour in 2005 and had a journey of a lifetime. I’ll never forget seeing the sun rise during a private visit to the Sphinx. I still remember the feel of the sand underneath my feet, the touch of the sun on my skin and the quiet laughter and tears of joy from our group at the marvel of being in such an ancient and special place.
Granada is where Nicaragua puts on its best face for visitors. It sits on the shore of the vast Lake Nicaragua, just an hour’s drive from the country’s capital, Managua. Centuries-old colonial architecture fills the historic city center surrounding the neoclassical-style Cathedral of Granada and the Parque Central.
You can study all the collected data, analyze real estate statistics, crunch the cost-of-living numbers, study weather patterns and more…but nothing surpasses your gut instinct when it comes to choosing a place to live. And believe me, your gut can change—especially as you get older.
Good news about residence visas in Ecuador… In recent months the government has made huge strides to simplify visa applications. There are offices in Quito and Guayaquil, and to better accommodate the continued influx of foreigners, a new immigration office opened in Cuenca last year. All locations have bilingual staff. To live in Ecuador full-time, expats must obtain a residence visa, so getting your paperwork in order before arriving in Ecuador is a must.
When my husband Clyde decided to retire after 26 years, he realized that his pension wouldn’t go too far. With the high cost of U.S. health care and an ex-wife getting a portion of his pension, could we afford to retire on what was left? We could if we found a place with a lower cost of living and more affordable health care. Panama had all of this and more and even allowed us to retire in our 50s.
We look at everything a country has to offer when compiling IL’s Annual Retirement Index. We ask expats the important questions, like: What is the cost of living really like? Or: How easy is it to integrate into the local culture?
Exotic tropical islands, temperate mountain valleys, miles of deserted beaches, First-World cities packed with ultra-modern amenities, and ancient vineyard-shrouded hill towns… All of the countries in IL’s Retirement Index are worth considering. A destination that scores relatively poorly in a specific category is still a nation we believe ranks among the top 22 in the world for overseas retirement today.
My winters in Uruguay are very different than in my home state of Washington… There, my December, January, and February routine comprised keeping the house heated, wearing a coat to go outside, and occasionally scraping ice off the car windshield to drive to work. But in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite. Now, in Uruguay, my December, January, and February routine includes keeping the windows open…
Five hours of driving on paved highways with jaw-dropping views of mountains and farmland brought us from the international airport in Belize City to our destination: Monkey River Village in the Toledo District, the southernmost area of Belize. We parked our truck and hopped on a boat taxi for the five-minute ride to our new but temporary home, a two-story Caribbean-style home…
People come to live around Arenal, about three hours north of San Jose, because they fall in love with these views. The weather—not humid, just warm and breezy—is also a big draw. So is the affordable real estate and low cost of living. It’s laid-back, peaceful. These factors alone make it one of the best places to live in Costa Rica.
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.
Formed 5,000 feet above sea level in the western highlands of Guatemala, the 11-mile long Lago de Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America. It plunges to depths of over 1,000 feet. Three volcanoes dominate its southern fringe—Atitlán, Tolimán, and San Pedro; the latter two emerging from the lakeside. The lake itself changes as wistful breezes or surly gales whip up its sleek, glassy surface. The ever-shifting light reflecting off its belly…
It’s 5.00 p.m. on Monday afternoon. Time to start thinking about winding down the work day and getting ready to crawl home in rush hour traffic, then spending a few hours at home hopefully relaxing before going to bed… and getting ready to do it all over again on Tuesday. Except I don’t live that life anymore.
One thing that’s sure to make you homesick when you live overseas is the holiday season. Of course, one reason we left the States was to escape mall parking lot traffic jams, overcrowded superstores, and buying things we didn’t really need just out of habit. So I am glad to be away from the crass commercialism of Christmas shopping and constant TV commercials…
When I first moved to Paris, France more than a decade ago, I had high hopes for my first Christmas season. I just knew that this special city, already so magical, would transform itself into something extraordinary.
Known in Ireland as “the Kingdom,” County Kerry is spellbinding. A land of legends, lakes, and mountains, it comes with color-drenched little towns and craggy promontories that jut into the Atlantic. Fishing boats return at evening with catches of haddock, mackerel, monkfish, and scallops.
When my husband and I first started dreaming about taking a six-month “family sabbatical” with our four young kids somewhere in Central America, we’d considered Costa Rica and Panama as well as Belize. But then I met a British couple who lived in southern Belize. We stayed in touch and they often gave me advice about our unfolding plans.
There’s been a lot of talk this year about the Mayan apocalypse, due to take place tomorrow—December 21. Whatever happens, I figure I’m pretty much at ground zero for it: I live in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, home to the Mayans.
At just 25 years old, Emily made a decision it takes most people years to make. She was working 50 plus hours a week in a stuffy office building in Boston. Although her work in the field of environmental advocacy was interesting, Emily realized she was settling into a typical career path of long hours and little sunshine. She wanted something more…
Puerto Rico at Christmas time also gives me an opportunity to photograph beach scenes, rainforest landscapes and holiday decorations all in one trip. As an extra bonus, the weather is warm and I get to enjoy some of the best seafood found anywhere.