International Living Profiles
Real life stories from people, just like you, who have made the move overseas.
For more than 30 years, International Living has been reporting on the world’s top overseas retirement and relocation destinations. We have editors all over the world, and in this time they have met many people who are living their dream overseas.
Some have retired…others have relocated and started their own business in their new country.
From Europe to Latin America, International Living profiles tell the inspirational stories of those who have taken the leap and moved overseas. If they can do it, so can you. See below for their stories.
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Stuart and Elizabeth have been living in France since 2008. The Loire Valley, with its lush landscapes and chateau-dotted hills, captured their hearts. Stuart and Elizabeth bought their home in the town of Amboise in 2010. They spent 2011 renovating and improving the space, and then moved in permanently at the end of that year.
Weeks with the temperatures below zero. Snow, snow, and more snow. It was a particularly brutal winter two years ago that convinced Jim, 67, and Barb Kohlmetz, 62, that it was time for a change after living in Wisconsin all their lives. Now they jet down to Costa Rica after the Christmas holidays and stay in their home in a quiet beach community on the central Pacific coast until after the spring thaw. As retirees—they were in education for a combined 73 years—they have the flexible schedule perfect for part-time residents.
“We were tired of punching the clock, making other people rich, losing time,” says expat Benjamin North Spencer of his and his wife Nadine’s decision to relocate to Sicilian wine country. Here they enjoy a rural Mediterranean lifestyle for half the cost of living in California. “In Sicily, we really can measure and appreciate so many things that escaped our awareness when we were trapped in the cycles of American culture.”
In the Loire Valley, the so-called “Valley of the Kings,” every day ends with a glass of affordable, delicious local wine. The mornings and afternoons are rich—full of leisurely cycle rides along the beautiful and famous Loire River, past verdant vineyards, visiting sprawling chateaux with their ancient towers and lush gardens, and strolling through historic, well-kept towns. The weather is mild and pleasant. And the cost of living is decidedly affordable.
I’d like to let you in on one of Spain’s best-kept secrets: Logroño. This small but bustling city in the heart of Spanish wine country is the perfect place to while away mornings sipping coffee and people-watching, and your afternoons with delicious wine from a nearby bodega.
It may well be the best little beach town in the world… With 22 beaches for you to enjoy and a surge in foreign residents and travelers, San Juan del Sur, on Nicaragua’s southern Pacific coast, is perfect for any lover of ocean views, warm waters, and fun in the sun. After eight years of living here full-time, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Even if I’m away for only a few days, I find myself missing it. Many people come here to visit and end up staying or going home to plan their permanent return.
Phnom Penh has hundreds of years of history that can be discovered by visiting the main landmarks. The Royal Palace allows visitors to join a special tour each day where you can see so many cultural highlights, including the Silver Pagoda (a royal tower with a spectacular silver floor, home to Cambodia’s Emerald Buddha) and the Throne Hall, where many national ceremonies take place.
That’s the usual reaction my wife Cynthia and I get when we tell attendees at International Living conferences that we haven’t owned a vehicle since we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, six years ago.
When we were considering the notion of relocating abroad, part of our strategy was to find some special place in the world where as many of the negatives as possible could be eliminated from our lives. That included having to climb into a vehicle every time we left our home. After too many years on the suburbia merry-go-round, we were more than ready for a change.
We have always loved to travel; my husband David and I. Annual holidays gave us the perfect excuse. We first explored the U.S. on epic road trips, then Mexico, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Each time we returned, it was back to the “real world” of too much work and not enough play. Returning from our last holiday in 2003, I realized that I just wasn’t ready for it to end. We had visited Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia on a whirlwind trip. It wasn’t enough for me and it was during that flight home that I made a decision…I realized that I didn’t want to work at my full-time job as a registered nurse until I was 65. I didn’t want to wait to retire and hope that I would be healthy enough to travel and do all the things that I wanted to do before it was too late.
In the heart of Spain, nestled between mountains, sunburnt hills, and row after row of thriving olive trees, sits Madrid. Despite being the third largest city by population in the European Union, Madrid maintains the feeling of tranquility and neighborliness that is so often replaced by the rushed and stressed life of other big cities. That’s precisely why I, a fast-walking, fast-talking girl from New York, stepped off the plane and into the blaring July sun of Madrid, took a look around, and traded it all in for a slowed-down, low-stress life in Spain’s metropolis.
Three years ago, I left the United States and moved abroad as a divorcée with five kids. As a writer, I could live wherever I had an internet connection. As the breadwinner for a family of six, I needed a lower cost of living to maintain the standard of living I wanted. And, as a mother, I wanted my children to have the enrichment that comes from experiencing a new culture.
Life is a balancing act, but Dave and Sherry Johnson have found what they’ve been looking for in Cuenca, Ecuador. Before his first exploratory trip, Dave imagined a Third World country with old, worn-out buses, chickens and cargo hanging from every inch, and people riding on the roof. What he found instead when he arrived in Cuenca a year-and-a-half ago was a charming colonial city with cobblestone streets, wrought-iron balconies, majestic churches, and friendly people. And Dave’s first bus ride wasn’t at all like he had imagined; it was a Mercedes bus that he says was more lavish than most airplanes he has been on.
Marty and Michelle Kramer know that the road to paradise is not always direct. They’re okay with that. As they will tell you, what counts is being happy where you end up. They found the right fit for their retirement dreams in the bright and breezy beach town of Playa del Carmen, on Mexico’s famed Riviera Maya.
In 1999, the 50-year-old Valorie Gallagher fell in love while vacationing along Mexico’s Riviera Maya. She’d been looking for her perfect match for years, and once they met, she instantly knew that her life would never be the same. This wasn’t the typical affair of the heart, however. Valorie had fallen head-over-heels in love with one of the lesser-known jewels of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the fishing village of Puerto Morelos. And 17 years later, she’s still in love with it.
“What would we do in Wisconsin in retirement?” says Lance Koehler, reflecting on his new life in beachside Tulúm. “Go to the mall, shovel snow. Here I love the warm weather, the sun, and going to the beach.” Lance and his wife Jeanette have found more than their place in the sun. They’ve also found their place in the local expat community.
Sue and George’s interest in Belize was piqued in 2010, while still living in Los Angeles. Sue read an AARP article about retiring in Belize and George watched an International House Hunters program about building a home there. George had long dreamed of building their ideal retirement home. But the Paolettis knew that it would be exorbitantly expensive to do so in Southern California.
San Diego-native Tom Richter, 57, was already living in paradise when he decided to move to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A corporate sales executive, he’d decided that moving to Central America was his best option for an early and affordable retirement. So he’d moved to a house in the Costa Rican countryside, where he could enjoy retirement on a Social Security pension.
Tired of cold weather and the workday drudgery in his native Minnesota, Dave Christopherson was eager to turn his back on the working world. Having snow nearly five months a year was just too much.
His love affair with his new home is understandable. For him, the tropical climate, the beaches, the Filipinos’ friendly, hospitable nature, and the low cost of living make it a dream come true. He lives in a big city, yet he still feels that he has the typical “island lifestyle” that you’d expect from the Philippines. Life is simpler, like the 1950s U.S., but with all the First-World amenities he could want. And “if you ask me for just one thing I love about the place, it would be the people. Their seemingly never ending smiles brighten each and every day.
“My favorite thing about my new life is the kindness of the people,” says Carol Blair Vaughn, 63, of her rustic retirement in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone. “I have never been treated so warmly and generously by anyone. They are gems.” For Carol, the people may be the main benefit of life in the small town of Quebradas, but they’re certainly not the only one. Here she has found her perfect spot for a peaceful, rural retirement.
I’m here to tell you that I’ve found the Holy Grail of expat destinations. Each of us has our own priorities, but to find a place that ticks the boxes on nearly everyone’s list is something special. A perfect climate that’s neither too hot nor too cool (60 F to 80 F all year); amazing natural surroundings; plenty of cultural events; history-filled cities; superb healthcare; friendly people; and a welcoming country…all with a fantastically low cost of living—figure $1,500 a month for a couple, all in.
Picture a jumble of honey-colored stone houses with russet lichen-covered roofs nestled together in a valley, thick with lush green trees. Rising above the village, a medieval château of pale stone stands protectively, its slate-grey turrets piercing the sky. At the foot of the village, a river slides by with deceptive slowness. This is the kind of sublime scene you’ll find in the Dordogne, again and again.
If you drop by Dan and Mary Elizabeth Crofts home in Corozal, Belize, you might find Dan indulging in one of his favorite new pastimes…feeding the local iguanas. Mary Elizabeth explains, “We have a family of three that we have named: Greta, Gary, and their son, Genghis. They love bananas and we have a video of Dan feeding them”.
Frank and Dale Reams took their first vacation to the quaint fishing village of Puerto Morelos on Mexico’s Caribbean coast in 1998 and knew, instantly, that they belonged there. “We fell in love with this area and after several more vacations, we decided that Puerto Morelos would become our retirement home when the time came,” says Frank.
When my husband Dave and I first visited Belize we were blown away by the island lifestyle and culture. We loved seeing swaying palm trees and white-sand beaches everywhere we looked. We loved seeing people actually enjoying their day, walking to get their groceries, the lack of materialism, and the fact that we could be outside 12 months a year.
Many people say that you cannot possibly come to Belize and not have some kind of a big adventure. I have to agree.
My first visit to Belize was in 1995. I vacationed for a week of scuba diving off Glover’s Reef. I met my Belizean husband, Marcos, during that trip, and he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico with me in 1996. I was a practicing psychotherapist and my husband launched a small business. We enjoyed living in Santa Fe, but were intensely busy virtually all of the time.
When most people think of retiring to Thailand, they think of relaxing on white, sandy beaches or enjoying the spectacular sunsets from their beachside condos in Phuket, Koh Samui, or one of the many tropical islands that dot the Kingdom’s coastlines. Not so Carl Barrow, who has found his own personal-retirement Shangri-La on a farm in Isaan province.
Bill and Mitzi Martain are living the retirement of their dreams. “We have a lovely new home, a beautiful farm, wonderful friends and neighbors, and each other,” Mitzi says. “There’s no way we could have this lifestyle and quality of life in the U.S.” Bill and Mitzi have what they consider an ideal life. They own 10 acres of fertile land in a rural valley, surrounded by hills and mountains. They enjoy sunny, warm weather year-round, with no snow, no ice, no hurricanes or tornadoes.
You can take Rob Baker and Lisa Blythe out of Wisconsin, but you can’t take away their obsession with the Green Bay Packers. The dynamic duo left their snow-covered home for a beachfront business in paradise, and they’ve brought their favorite pieces of home with them. “Our restaurant was the ﬁrst ofﬁcial Packer Bar in the whole country!” Lisa proudly exclaims. “Football season is so much more fun on the beach.”
From the moment my husband Tyler and I landed in Quito with our two kids, two-and-a-half years ago for his assignment at the U.S. Embassy, I knew the city was one of the most beautiful I’d ever seen. We’d lived in the U.S. and other countries around the world but we immediately fell in love with Quito. We’ve always enjoyed the places we’ve lived in but I haven’t adored a city in the way I adore Quito since I lived in my hometown of Chicago.
“We have everything we want here,” Chris Gallimore says of his and his wife Katherine’s new life in Panama. “A nice home in the country, perfect climate, plenty of friends, and a social life. Before we moved to Panama, work just got in the way of our hobbies. Now we do what we want.”
“We love the fact that our retirement income goes so much further here,” says Leanne Crawley of her and her husband’s retirement in the mountain city of Cuenca, Ecuador. “Our quality of life is so much better than it was in the States, when we were both working too hard. We’re thankful for the friendships we’ve made with people from all over the world. Living in Cuenca, we experience a sense of peace and joy that we’ve never known. We are truly blessed.”
Feeling burned out by their busy careers, Clive and Janet Brewster made the big decision to leave the working world behind in October 2014. That’s when they embarked on a new life on the Belizean island of Ambergris Caye. Today you’ll ﬁnd them living a life of leisure and luxury on this laidback Caribbean island.
How do you see yourself spending your ideal retirement? Does it involve strolling the cobbled streets of an historic city in Europe? Or maybe you’d rather lounge, cocktail in hand, on a lounge chair by a tropical beach. If you’re like me, you’d prefer the abundant clean air and farm-fresh produce in an Ecuadorian mountain town, relaxing in the local expat hangout when you’re not exploring awe-inspiring valleys and colorful local markets.
When asked what they like most about their new life in the small mountain town of Cotacachi, Ecuador, Jay and Nancy Keattering reply, “No alarm clock!” The couple escaped their busy corporate jobs in 2014 and can be found still enjoying everything that life in the high Andes offers…a slow pace of life, fresh produce, low-cost healthcare, and great living for under $2,000 a month.
“Every morning I wake up in Quito, it’s with a sense of amazement at how great my life is,” says Rami Amit of his new life in the Ecuadorian capital. “I absolutely love my hometown,” says his wife Daphna of their retirement haven. “Quito offers so many options that it’s impossible to be bored.” This diversity of cultural, entertainment, and dining options enticed the Amits to Quito in the first place.
For almost two years now, I’ve been living with my wife in a beautiful beachfront condo on the Pacific Ocean. That sentence alone might lead you to believe we live an expensive lifestyle. But not so. Thanks to the savings we made in moving our lives to Salinas, I have been able to retire this year at the ripe old age of 57. Here, I am happier, healthier, wealthier, and enjoying life to the fullest.
“Buenas,” he says, nodding his head as he rides past. Leathery tan on a face framed by a worn cowboy hat, he’s the very picture of a Marlboro Man. Except he’s Panamanian. I’m sitting in an ancient Lada Niva—a Russian 4×4 made for rugged terrain. We’ve stopped so our cowboy (and his herd of cows) can pass safely. It’s a chance to take in the view… In the distance I can see the national park, where hiking trails crisscross hills lush with rainforest. In the treetops above me, I’ve seen monkeys and toucans and several species of birds I can’t name. This is Santa Fe de Veraguas, Panama—a tiny mountain hideaway about 200 miles west of Panama City.
Justin and Sarah Fahey did everything the way you are “supposed to” in the U.S. They focused on their educations, both ﬁnally getting Master’s degrees at Boston universities. They got married. Justin landed a sales job for a large research company and Sarah worked as a counselor in a private Massachusetts school. The road to the American Dream stretched out before them. Everything was perfect. Or was it?
“I wanted to run away from the cold weather and perfectly manicured lawns,” says Kiona Hartle of her decision to start snowbirding with her son. “I needed to ﬁnd a simpler, more authentic, and warmer life in a picture-perfect beach town. I researched places online and Playa won by a large margin!” Kiona, 41, and her seven-year-old son, Luke, ﬁrst came to Playa del Carmen, on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, in 2010.