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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“You’re crazy! Aren’t you scared? I could never do anything like that! I am so jealous.” These are just some of the reactions that Kris Cunningham and her husband Joel got when they announced that they were moving to David, Panama. They had been thinking of moving to Central America for a few years, but when the U.S. economy began to decline, they decided it was time to take the plunge and retire overseas. “We didn’t want to work forever, and we would have had a hard time making ends meet in the U.S.” After researching many possible places to live, Panama kept topping the list as a perfect retirement destination.
Jim and Kathy Suits had long been planning to move outside the U.S. for retirement. English-speaking, with a tropical climate, and close to North America… little Belize offered a lot to a couple looking to retire abroad. Plus, the feeling of independence they experienced there, and the focus on personal responsibility and family values, had great appeal for the Suits. Belize’s Qualified Retired Persons (QRP) program was one of the main factors in their deciding on Belize. This program makes the transition to a new life in Belize quite easy for expats…and cost-effective. “I liked the QRP. I like the tax advantages. It does have some drawbacks. You don’t get to be a resident. You’re a permanent tourist. But it makes it easy for someone to come down and retire without a lot of headaches,” says Jim.
In 2007, my wife and I were ready to make a change. We were looking for a more affordable, healthier way of life and there was one country that ticked all the boxes: Panama. Before we moved, we did a lot of research on Latin American countries that we could consider retiring to. Panama’s benefits really stood out. The country is stable, with a literacy rate higher than the U.S., health care is inexpensive, and the country’s diet is healthier. Additionally, the currency here is the American dollar and the culture is friendly and welcoming.
Erdi Knezic and her husband were ready for a change. They were both born and raised in Wisconsin. They had a profitable company that made molded plastic parts for cars and successful careers, but they were fed up with the extreme cold weather of the northern states. “I told Jerry if you don’t get me outta here, I won’t make it through another winter,” says Erdi. And so Jerry did just that… First the couple moved to Florida. But “we read International Living and liked the idea of moving overseas,” Erdi says. “We considered Costa Rica. But then we came to Panama and we really liked Chiriquí Province. It reminded us of the rural countryside in Wisconsin.”
With its tropical climate, low cost of living, and beautiful surrounding countryside, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s best-value retirement destination. In fact, it’s among the best “bang-for-your-buck” destinations in the entire region, attracting thousands of North American, Australian, and European retirees. Among them are Nancy and Roger Lindley, who never looked back after moving to this northern city, home to nearly a million people, six years ago. “We came over for a month in 2006 on a reconnaissance mission and threw ourselves into all the expat activities,” says Nancy. “We decided it could work, went back to the U.S., and proceeded to unwind our lives there. We returned in 2008 and have been here ever since.”
In their 30 years of marriage, John and Vickie Kendall had often talked of living abroad. But their work as nurses in the Pacific Northwest kept them occupied and tied to the U.S. They began formulating a plan to retire and then move overseas in the summer of 2013. “We had been to Thailand and were looking at that as a possibility. And we were looking at Panama, Uruguay, and then Ecuador came up, so we were considering all different places,” says John. “But when we got down to it, we realized we wanted to be in the Western Hemisphere so that we weren’t too far away from home.”
Bill Schuler spent a good 20 years working as a tech consultant in and around Minnesota’s twin cities. After devoting much of his life to his career and dealing with frigid Midwestern winters, Bill decided it was time for a change. In July 2012 he left his U.S. home and planted his feet in Ecuador. “I love mountains and was looking for that type of environment, and I was getting pretty tired of the cold winters,” says Bill. These days he doesn’t need a snow shovel, and his life of retirement in the northern Andes gives him just what he was looking for. He has daily views of majestic volcanoes, with a rocky river running through the gully below his house. Snow is nowhere to be found.
Ron and Debbie Goehring consider every single aspect of their lives better in Nicaragua than in their hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “We eat home-grown food, exercise, volunteer in our local community, and live a simple and fulfilling life immersed in the local culture. We have never regretted our decision to retire in Nicaragua.” Both teachers, they were travelers from the start. “Throughout our married life, we explored the U.S. and traveled abroad extensively. When it was time to retire, we wanted something quirky, inexpensive, and adventurous, with a simplified lifestyle—abroad. Nicaragua fit the bill.”
“You are crazy! You can’t leave Chicago. You have two successful businesses here. What will you do for money? That’s so risky!” That was the “support” my husband Mark and I were offered when we announced that we were moving to Penang, Malaysia. It was true. We did have two successful businesses. Mark owned a commercial real estate company that sold gas stations nationally and I owned a women’s wholesale clothing showroom.
“The people in my new community are some of the best I have ever met in my entire life. They are like my family. I feel safe, protected, and loved,” says Dawn Noel, who made the move to Nicaragua in 2012. “And there is a rich flora and fauna here. I am enveloped in beauty!” After a busy career as a traveling nurse, Dawn was ready for a new adventure. She longed for a place where she could feel free, be herself, and “be able to live out my later years without working myself to death.”
Semi-retired and up for adventure, my wife Char and I have been traveling in South America for the last 11 months. We’ve rented a car for seven weeks to explore Chile; trekked in Patagonia; lived and cruised for one month in the Galápagos; ridden horses into a remote valley similar to Yosemite; hiked over a mountain pass to Machu Picchu; attended a gaucho festival (cowboys showing off their stuff); explored a remote Peruvian jungle; hung out in a grass shack on a beach; learned to cook Peruvian food; taken kitesurfing lessons; swam with baby sea lions; and cheered at soccer games.
Corozal, on the northern edge of Belize, might just be the perfect retirement destination. It’s certainly captured the hearts of the 1,000 or so North American expats who call it home.
To some folks, home is a place on a map or a house filled with memories and possessions. But for Ellen and Hank Barone, “home, it turns out, is something internal and portable. We’ve traveled to all 50 states and six continents and are curious and comfortable in the world,” says Ellen. “So in 2011, when we began looking for a new place to live—it wasn’t restricted to the U.S.”
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.
It’s 2 a.m. and the young bakers at the 333 Bakery arestooped and shirtless as they stack the first baguettes of the day against a faded French-colonial façade. Come daybreak, just about every eatery in the sleepy riverside town of Kampot, from the high-end guesthouse restaurants to the roaming street vendors, will be peddling the soft, airy loaves. But for now, I’m their first and only customer.
With the cost of living rising in the U.S., Walter and his wife Nancy began looking at their overseas options. Mexico and the tranquil lakeside town of Ajijic stood out after the couple’s first visit. “The fact that we could retire comfortably financially, afford to pay our own health care, and have sufficient funds to visit our children and grandchildren back in the U.S. was a major factor in deciding to make the move,” says Walter.
“My husband Fred and I haven’t felt as vital as this in years. It’s like we’re young again and just starting out. It’s a fabulous feeling. We wake up every morning to happy conversation and laughter, the guests in our Nicaraguan hostel all having breakfast together,” says Carla Batty. Back home in Queensland, Australia, Carla and Fred had a life of relaxed dinners with friends, easy jobs they enjoyed, and the odd night out.
These days, Michael Hayden is often found strolling the colorful, cobbled streets of his adopted home, Granada, one of the oldest Spanish colonial towns in the Americas. “There’s no other place like Granada. It has a solid center…you can walk in any direction and see beautiful homes. You have impressive Mombacho Volcano in view over the streets and a steady flow of breezes from Lake Nicaragua,” says Michael.
It’s impossible to keep Jo Thomson, 62, and her husband Marc Brand, 63, in one place for long. For them, living the “good life” means bouncing around the globe to hidden corners of the world that some of us only dream of visiting. For many years, they’ve had a particular interest in the delights and mysteries of Southeast Asia, and they’ve found a remarkable home base from which to explore the region: Nha Trang, Vietnam.
When Warren Ogden started planning his life overseas, there was never any question that he would call Nicaragua home. He felt a connection with the land and its people. “I grew up among Nicaraguan immigrants in the U.S.,” explains the Seattle native. “I came to live with their extended family in 1999, to work for an NGO, and study Spanish. During that four-month visit, I fell in love with the place.”
As luck would have it, Judy’s sister and her family had moved to Ambergris Caye before “Temptation Island” put it on the map… Judy notes, “We chose San Pedro because we had been visiting my sister and her husband since they moved to Belize about 23 years ago. We fell in love with the island through those many visits.”
We enjoy a busy social life here in Las Tablas, Panama. That’s partly because eating out is so inexpensive. We indulge several times a week and it’s easy for friends to join us. Dinner for the two of us averages about $15, and lunch can be as little as $2.50 apiece for the menú del día, which includes a soup, the main dish, and a beverage.
Picture this: You’re sitting with an iced glass of banana/mango/papaya smoothie in your hand, in a comfy chair on the terrace. A slight breeze tickles your skin as you enjoy a symphony of birdsong, the chirping of geckos on the walls, and iguanas nibbling the grass in the yard in front of you. You might even see a giant green leaf bug perched on the chaise lounge.
Before moving to Belize, the Cordts lived quite a different lifestyle in New York and New Jersey. They owned several successful clothing boutiques in New York and were involved in the local Greenwich Village scene. Their historic home, in nearby New Jersey, was a 15-minute commute from work. They were engrossed in the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan lifestyle, surrounded by 9 million others.
We live in the wild west of County Cork. It offers the natural beauty and the rugged remoteness we desired. Because I am a professional artist, I wanted to be in an area rich in painting sites. The laid back lifestyle is a pleasant change from the hurriedness we felt at home.
My husband Mark and I live around 10-minutes’ drive away from several beaches. On weekdays we can let the dogs run loose, as we have the beach to ourselves. Mark, an avid cyclist, rides with a group of locals several times a week. Twice a week I go to the nearby pool for aqua aerobics and gossip.
Two years ago Duane and Judy Allen moved full-time from Tampa, Florida, to Ambergris Caye, Belize. “I always wanted to live right on the beach, but not in a condo,” says Duane. “I wanted a home, and space around me to roam. For years I scoured Florida’s coasts, looking for an affordable property. But everything was out of reach.”
“To call something breathtaking around here is almost redundant,” says Chuck Mollenkopf. Pay a visit to the home Chuck, 66, shares with his wife Anna, 73, and you’ll probably agree with him. Just 10 minutes outside the town of Atenas, in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, they enjoy priceless views from their spacious terrace.
Most evenings Sharon and Frank Moorhead can be found leisurely sipping sundowners and enjoying the sunset from their penthouse balcony. Theirs is one of the most scenic views on the tropical island of Penang.
My daughter Talia brought me to Nicaragua in 2006 for my birthday present. When I exited the plane and my foot hit the tarmac, I literally felt a shot of electricity course through my body. That two-week trip blew me away. Suddenly colors seemed brighter, the food more delicious; sunsets were spectacular in gold, purple, pink, blue, and orange; the water clear, the air fresh, the native people kind and friendly. I felt more alive.
If you’ve ever sat at a desk dreaming of owning your own jungle lodge in paradise, look no farther than Wendy Green for inspiration. On the outskirts of Ecuador’s cloud-forest town of Mindo, two hours from the capital, Quito, Wendy runs wellness/yoga retreats on her five-acre parcel of land, complete with three waterfalls and a freshwater spring.
During our months of preparation, we set about determining the criteria we needed to choose a location. The criteria we chose for ourselves initially were: a good health care system at a much lower cost; a stable government; not wanting a car, a walkable location with a good transportation system; good infrastructure; a Spanish-speaking country because Mike already spoke some but wanted to become proficient; a warm climate year round; and, of course, a lower cost of living.
Gary Thompson first fell for Mexico at the age of 12, thanks to a classmate’s slideshow of a family trip south of the border. “I was overwhelmed by the beauty and diversity, and that sensation stayed with me,” he says. “Even today, I never get tired of the green mountains and ocean views around me.”
John Sklute, a retired English professor from California, has lived just about everywhere—from sunny Spain to spacious Sweden. So when he says that Berlin has a special something, you know he’s done the legwork. John’s love for Berlin started when he spent a summer there in 1994 and fell in love with a local. The relationship didn’t work out, but John’s passion for Berlin never waned.
Spring is here, and in the markets plump porcini mushrooms, chestnuts, and long, elegant brown pears are giving way to figs and basil and zucchini flowers. In the streets, young women glide along in five-inch heels, leather jackets, and American jeans, chic scarves draped carelessly at their necks. Along the river Arno, newlyweds stroll hand-in-hand in the warm sunshine.
When Melissa Adams stepped out of the airport and into Amsterdam for the first time, it felt like coming home. “The minute my feet hit Damrak—the street leading from Central Station to Dam Square—I said ‘I’m moving here.’ Everything—from the city’s physical beauty to its tolerant vibe and rich history— entranced me.” But while Melissa’s experience of Amsterdam was love at first sight, she also wanted to be practical and make sure her passion had some staying power.
Imagine falling to sleep to the soft sound of waves lapping the base of rugged cliffs. The flash of a faraway lighthouse gently illuminates your room and the mild breeze brings the purest of air in your open window. In the morning there’s bright sunshine and the singing of small birds in the shrubbery outside. A distant tractor can be heard as a farmer carries hay to his cows. There are no cars or sirens. And, as you look outside, the sun shimmers off a hundred square miles of ocean.
If you live on an English narrowboat, you have choices to make. Find another town to explore, with a charming tea shop, an Old-World bookstore or a cozy pub. Take a walk to a church, a castle, or through a field of golden millet or lavender…or find a village in which to stay a while, moor your floating home, and get to know the locals.
Cynthia West bounced through the door vibrating with the news she was about to tell her husband Robert. He listened with mounting glee as she explained her medical company’s plan to inject some younger blood into the workforce. They were offering an early retirement package—one that would give Cynthia “an avenue of escape” from her high stress, 10-hour-a-day job in Silicon Valley. She grabbed the opportunity. Though Robert, 62, was working part-time…
Steve Doane is a guy’s guy. A retired member of the NYPD, this keen surfer has an athletic physique and likes his rock ‘n’ roll. So when he describes his new life in Panama as “like falling into a Walt Disney movie,” there are no raised eyebrows. Rather, there are nodding heads. “What I mean is everything’s so intense…the sights and sounds,” he says.