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.
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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.
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.
I wake up naturally, no alarms needed anymore. The sun greets me, as it does every morning, and my French doors open onto my patio, where I can watch the waves crash over the rocks in the bluest of oceans. Birdsong mixes with the calls of howler monkeys, letting me know that they are somewhere in the trees.
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.
There are people who plan carefully for the future—folks who weigh all the advantages and disadvantages of major decisions, then make life changes in careful, graduated steps… My wife Ann and I are not those people. When we announced to family and friends that we were selling our home and moving to the beach town of Salinas, Ecuador, they were—to put it mildly—shocked.
Most mornings Chuck and Kathy Baumgarten can be found leisurely sipping coffee and enjoying the sunrise from their porch. It’s easy to see why if you visit their home. They have one of the most scenic vistas in all of Ecuador. Mount Imbabura seems to rise from their backyard. A 180-degree turn showcases Mount Cotacachi’s golden-hour glow.
Five years ago, fun-loving Canadian cowgirl Blue van Doorninck was searching for a place to put down roots. “I had been living in Vietnam, but there weren’t good opportunities to own land. And I wanted to be in the same time zone as my family. I also wanted to be in a culture more similar to my own. Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama all made my short list,” says Blue.
Alfredo and Yvonne Villoria were just another fast-paced, career-minded couple in Los Angeles. But money-making wasn’t enough. “We felt that something was missing,” says Yvonne. “In 1976, we decided that 1980 was the cut-off year. In 1980, we would leave the United States. All we were doing was chasing the dollar. We wanted more. We thought there had to be more to life than just working and owning things.
Like many parents, my husband David and I have always told our children that they should follow their dreams. We’ve told them that they can be whatever they want to be and live wherever they want to live, but that, most importantly, they should pursue their passions. Of course, deep down we realized that they were never going to follow our advice when we refused to do so ourselves.
It wasn’t long ago that the major streets in the northern Cambodian town of Siem Reap were unpaved. There were no shopping malls, no cocktail bars…in short, it was a place only the most intrepid expats would consider living in. John McDermott, and Narisara Murray, were two of those adventurous expats.
It wasn’t practical reasons like lower cost of living, great—and cheap—medical care, and friendly people that convinced Dave Scott, 65, to move to San Ramón, a town on the western edge of Costa Rica’s Central Valley region.Though the country has all those advantages and more, and while those were factors in the decision, it was something else that drew him.“It was like an invisible string around my neck pulling me here,” says Dave. “It’s more of a heart thing than a head thing. It’s hard to explain. It was just the feeling we had.”
At 50 years old, Eugene Upham was too young for retirement. But he was too old for second chances—or so people said. Then Eugene had a heart attack. Though he survived, the part of him that listened to those voices didn’t. As Eugene was recovering, New Jersey was blanketed in several feet of snow. And, as his wife Lynne says, “We knew we had to reevaluate our life.”
For Rebecca and Keith Clower, and their two young children ages three and five, their house by the beach isn’t just an address…it’s a lifestyle. They recently built a home in a development on the Bahia de Los Piratas, or Pirate’s Bay, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, also known as the Gold Coast. They live on a hill, with an ocean-view, and you can see clear to Playa Flamingo and Playa Conchal, two nearby expat enclaves. The beach is mere minutes away on foot.
Advances in technology have opened up the world. Planes, trains and the Internet are all getting faster and—if you know where to look—you can embrace these changes and make your dream of exploring dozens of overseas destinations come true. Right now, living internationally…
Eleven years and dozens of countries after selling their California house to travel the world, Trish and Marvin Scott say they have never regretted their decision. “We look for places off the tourist track. We’ve set up households in 20 countries, and currently we are living in an old communistera apartment in St. Petersburg,” says 70-year-old Marvin.
It was New Year’s Eve 2012 and the view outside my window was perfect. In the darkness, I could just make out the rolling Italian hills, dotted with brick houses with terracotta rooftops. A lone bell tower rose from a small, ancient church into the sky. And as the bell tolled midnight, the sky lit up with fireworks from three different directions.
I’ve rarely seen such a stunning city…like Istanbul meets San Francisco, with its pastel-colored buildings and the wide river running right under a Golden Gate look-alike and sweeping out to the ocean. My husband Tim and I were in Lisbon, Portugal, on the way to our rented house at the beach in Copa da Caparica. For $1,500 we were set up with a rental for a five-week stay living in this beach town just 15 minutes from the Portuguese capital.
It’s like it was fate that brought Sandy, 69, and Chip Bublik, 75, to their home on Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast nine years ago. First, their step-son offered to give them land to build a home. Second, Sandy had just retired and the going-away gift from her employer—she was a receptionist at an ad agency—covered the cost of a container to ship their household goods to Costa Rica.
Alfredo and Yvonne Villoria were just another fast-paced, career-minded couple in Los Angeles. But money-making wasn’t enough. “We felt that something was missing,” says Yvonne.
Penny Ripple is perhaps Boquete’s most enthusiastic resident. “The landscapes here just blow you away. I can see Volcan Baru, a dormant volcano and the highest point in Panama, from my window. We’re about 3,500 feet above sea level in Panama’s Chiriqui province, near the Costa Rica border. I love it here,” she says.
The Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh was once called the “Pearl of Asia” for a reason. Wide boulevards, riverfront promenades, and elegant colonial buildings were all signs of the city’s French influence. Its bustling markets, golden temples, and smiling citizens rooted it in a rich and ancient culture.