International Living Daily Postcards
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Lee’s biggest business is advising people how to build eco-friendly homes out of shipping containers, throwing in alternative-energy systems, like solar panels, if they’re interested. He’s also the go-to guy in San Juan when expats and business owners have computer trouble. And he helps fellow expats transition to life in Nicaragua…
With a love for Latin American culture and an itch to travel, Jaime Johnson struck out for Panama four years ago. His life took a turn when he met a “special someone”—and a year later he found himself living in her hometown of Bogota, Colombia. “That first year, I traveled throughout Colombia,” he recalls. “In Medellin I found one of the most progressive cities I’d ever visited.
As I meet more and more people who are interested in moving here, I think back to the day in 2008 when I made the decision to move to Malaysia. It wasn’t that I was unhappy—in fact, far from it. I just made a conscious change in the way I saw things, the way I thought about my life.
Over the last 11 years of living throughout Latin America, my wife, Suzan, and I have missed lots of things we had back in the States. The first one for me was roasted red peppers. Eight brands in the supermarket back home… none in the first two countries we lived in. (For Suzan, it was Triscuits.)
“Pase al frente”… “Go to the front.” That’s the phrase I hear most when I’m with my Dad, who is 75 years young. When I was a kid in Oregon, I don’t remember there being a particular emphasis on respect or special courtesies for our elders. Now we live in Panama, where I’ve discovered that locals have very specific notions about how to treat mature citizens.
In my mind, there’s nothing better than watching a sunset in a beautiful location, drink in hand. Fortunately, in my new home of Costa Rica, there’s plenty of opportunity to do just that. There’s 780 miles of Pacific coast–prime sunset-watching territory, as well as several spots inland that give you a great view.
My teenage daughter, Sarah, and I were enjoying an afternoon at a beautiful spa near Cuenca after a full morning of shopping. Sinking into the warm mud, I couldn’t help thinking, “I’m getting paid to do this.” Perhaps I should back up. I began importing gorgeous, unique goods from Ecuador five years ago with no experience.
I didn’t know where I was. Well, that’s not totally accurate. I had decided to walk home through a neighborhood I’d never visited before. I was aware of my general location and direction, and I had a sense of how long it would take to be sitting at the dining-room table… so I didn’t need to know my exact coordinates to enjoy my spontaneous exploration.
Somehow, in my adult life, I developed the belief that I needed money to have a good time. However, living in Montevideo reminds me that’s just not so. Here, there are so many public spaces, celebrations, and ways to socialize… all for little or no money. In fact, the idea that the finer things in life should be available to all is so important to Uruguayans that they dedicate a whole weekend to it every spring.
In Ecuador we found one of the most beautiful and bio-diverse countries in the world. And with a low cost of living, a government that leaves us alone, and some of the friendliest people you’re ever likely to meet, Ecuador more than exceeded our expectations.
A 50-minute flight from the capital, Manila, the Philippine island of Boracay is a place of in-your-face beauty. There’s no waiting to get to the beach to see if the stories are true. The minute you step off the plane, you can see that the postcards don’t do it justice. The sands are as white as they say, if not whiter…a pearly glitter that stays cool under your feet.
We love living part of the year in the province of Chiriquí, in Panama’s southwest corner. Chiriquí is so diverse. Cerro Punta is a mountainous area where most of the vegetables are grown for the entire country. Coffee plantations, orange groves, banana plantations, and cattle ranches are scattered throughout.
“In 2004 we’d looked at property in Belize and decided to let the euphoria settle down while we really thought it out. But then a day came when it took me two hours to go 60 miles on the Florida Turnpike and cost me $13 in tolls. That was the final straw. I had it. That was the turning point. I called Kim and told her to contact the real estate agent.”
Recently some friends in the U.S. emailed me to say that they were planning a short trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Cancun is a direct, four-hour flight from their East-Coast home, so they could be snorkeling in the Caribbean by early afternoon. That’s about as close to instant gratification as international travel gets. And it makes a three- or four-day mini-vacation very feasible.
I’m kind of a thrifty guy. I don’t buy the latest smartphone that comes on the market. In fact, I have the most basic model money can buy in Costa Rica—just $30, plus $15 a month for minutes. I don’t splurge on fashion—why bother? I’m in board shorts and a tank top pretty much 24/7 at my home in the Costa Rican beach town of Tamarindo. But when I travel to Nicaragua, I go a bit hog wild and feel free to indulge in many of the “luxuries” I normally deny myself.
Would you willingly move—lock, stock, and barrel—to a foreign country with your grade-school-aged children in tow? I mean, it’s a big enough leap to move yourself overseas, even if you have 60 or 70 years of life experience and a bit of a pension or some Social Security under your belt.
When the old man waved first, and offered the faintest of smiles, I knew we’d made progress in making Puerto Cayo, Ecuador our home. I begin almost every day with a one-hour walk from our home into town and back. And every day, without fail, I see the same local people, going to the same places in their own morning routine. In the beginning, the Puerto Cayans weren’t unfriendly at all. They just didn’t seem overly friendly.
New Zealand is one of the most scenically gorgeous countries on earth. For most people, it’s either the trip of a lifetime or a destination to only dream about. Not for me. I went there for the second time last November. A long way to go—but it’s not too bad when you can break the journey. This time around, I chose to stop off in Hong Kong—and of course I had to take in the harbor light show…
Cynthia Collett recently celebrated her first anniversary in Ecuador, although she admits she had been working on this idea of “retiring overseas” for nearly a year before she actually made the move. “A friend came to Ecuador for a work-related conference,” Cynthia says. “And she told me I would absolutely love Cotacachi. “That’s when I started the Internet research. The more I read, the more I fell in love with the culture.”
Eating like a local is one of the best ways to keep your cost of living low in Costa Rica. And for dining out that means frequenting your local soda, the equivalent of a diner or neighborhood restaurant in the U.S. They serve simple, nutritious food, including the casado, the unofficial national dish, which runs $4 to $6.
I guess you could call me a maverick English teacher. You see, for the last 10 years I’ve traveled and lived in many exotic destinations around the world, including Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, the Czech Republic, France and Spain. All this was achieved just by using the power of my words. You might be wondering what I’m talking about. How can it be possible to just use the power of your words to travel the world?
If you move to a foreign country where the native language is different to your own, I’m not about to tell you, “No problem.” On the other hand, even if you’re thinking about moving to a country like Ecuador with Taco Bell-level Spanish skills, I offer myself as evidence that you will not perish.
The early morning sky is cluttered with color. The large crowd that woke up as early as 5.00 a.m. to be here oohs and aahs in unison as yet another balloon inflates and calmly lifts off the ground. There must be nearly 30 of them up in the skies of north-central Mexico by now and many more to take off.
Moving abroad is a great way to make a fixed income go as far as possible. When you’re living someplace where the weather is warm… utilities are cheap… taxes are low… and medical care is affordable… you can transform a pension or Social Security payment (that in the States would be barely enough to scrape by on) into a comfortable monthly income with cash to spare.
Unsurprisingly, Paris offers fashion mavens a clothes-shopping adventure like no other. Just passing the glitzy fashion houses like Chanel, Prada, and Dior on the Avenue Montaigne or Faubourg Saint-Honoré will make you feel as if you’ve tumbled inside the pages of Vogue. But if you don’t have $400 to blow on a napkin-sized scarf, you’re better off heading to the Marais neighborhood, where you can find classic Parisian chic at more affordable prices.
Punta del Este, less than two hours from Uruguay’s elegant capital of Montevideo, has long been the most fashionable beach resort in South America. An apartment sold here a few years back for $7.2 million… but believe it or not, you can still find a nice condo in a coveted Punta del Este neighborhood for less than $150,000. There’s a secret to buying affordably here. And it’s simple.
Thailand is one of Asia’s most popular countries for expats. It’s safe, women can travel alone without problems, the cost of living is low, and getting a retirement visa is simple. But buying property is tricky. Which is why so many expats in Asia rent instead of buy. Renting is easy, affordable, and sometimes the only way to live in a country. Plus, if you want to move on and try out a new place, you just pack up and hit the road.
Scott Dinsmore, 47, and David Russell, 52, keep busy running their Spanish colonial-style boutique hotel, El Castillo, on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. It sits 600 feet above the beach in the jungle-clad mountains that rise sharply from the deep blue waters.
You wake up early for work. But you’re not slapping at the alarm clock in disgust, then rushing out the door for a long commute. You want to get up…you’re looking forward to the day. You get to enjoy that first cup of coffee as the rising sun makes the Pacific glitter…watch wildlife—toucans, parrots, even monkeys—make their morning rounds in the trees…and bask in praise from departing guests…
We’re looking for someone to spend a month in one of our favorite retirement havens: Granada, Nicaragua. With new cafes, restaurants, boutique hotels and art galleries opening up all over the city, Granada has been transformed over the past five years. That’s why we want to send someone (plus a spouse, partner, or friend) there—on us. We’ll pay for the round-trip flights, accommodation and give generous living expenses.
Today Granada is one of Nicaragua’s most popular tourist destinations, even for Nicaraguans. People from Managua can drive down on a well-maintained four-lane highway to get away from the capital for the weekend and socialize along Calle la Calzada, the pedestrian street lined with bars, cafés, and restaurants just off the city’s main plaza.
Nicaragua is on the cusp. It’s being gussied up. Yet it remains—for the moment—a place for in-the-know travelers and adventuresome expats. They’re drawn to the elegant colonial towns and the natural beauty of the Pacific. Then there’s the super-low cost of living, real estate for a fraction of what you’d pay in the U.S. for similar locations, and the opportunity for a new way of life.
Tired of the risks and weary of working for someone else, Craig dreamed of opening his own beach bar. “I was sick of jumping out of bed each day to an alarm clock and fighting the crazy traffic. And each year, when the weather began to turn in the fall, I found myself wishing for the warmth of a tropical climate,” Craig says. So when a friend suggested he look into Belize, he did exactly that. “My friend had heard it was a great place to make a fresh start…”
“We first visited Panama in 2005 and joked about moving there. But the more we thought about it the more we realized it ticked all our boxes. In 2008 we spent a month trying out life in Panama City, and we liked it so much we bought an apartment in the San Francisco neighborhood.”
About a year ago, we sold our home and began a new chapter in our lives in northern Italy. We rented an elegant two-bedroom apartment one block from our favorite lake, Maggiore, for just under $1,000 per month. Verbania, Italy, where we live, is home to about 31,000 people. It sits on the western shore at the southern end of the long lake, which snakes up into Switzerland. An esplanade skirts the lakefront, with cafes and bars galore.
As I meet more and more people who are interested in moving here, I think back to that day in 1984 when Ecuador first came onto my radar… I ran out to the mailbox and saw the letter I had been waiting weeks for—my invitation to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer somewhere in the world. I tore open the envelope and read… My two-year assignment was to be a rural public health nurse in Ecuador.
For Janice and John-Marc Gallagher (ages 52 and 58) the opportunity was too good to pass up. They had moved to Granada, Nicaragua, in 2003 after spending almost seven years in Costa Rica. “We had fallen in love with Granada many years before,” Janice says. “So we moved there after we sold our business in Tamarindo.” And then life took a turn.
When my husband, Dan, and I were first married and first started thinking about living overseas, we pored over every issue of International Living and we read every International Living e-postcard. We compared and contrasted, planned and dreamed…Certain we would live in an exotic tropical destination, we wanted it to be relatively close to family and friends back home in the States…
The moment I arrived in Ecuador I knew my decision to abandon my old life in the U.S. was the right one. With the shrinking economy and very little chance of scratching out a living in the home building business, it was time for change.
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.