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Gary lost his job as a producer selling commercial printing after 30 years with the same company. Louise says, “It was terrifying; we went from a very livable income to nothing in a matter of minutes.” Fortunately, as a stay-at-home mom, Louise had set up a lighting business several years before Gary’s job loss. “Gary joined me and we expanded my little business into a very lucrative lighting business. We designed and manufactured the most wonderful, whimsical lighting.”
A little distance away from Ecuador’s famed colonial city of Cuenca lies a small city that you might never have heard of…but which is rapidly becoming a retiree favorite. Just about an hour away from Cuenca, you’ll find Paute, a destination with a population of about 30,000 people—a tenth of Cuenca’s population. It’s fast becoming known as “Little Cuenca” as more “Norte Americanos” are finding their way to the outskirts of the city with its laidback lifestyle. Randy and Karen Kimbler are just two of the expats who are enjoying the slower pace of life in Paute.
For most of history, home was simply where you were born. It was your tribe. Your family. Your community—big or small. It wasn’t really something you chose. But today, you have more freedom to go your own way. You can—more easily than ever—travel the planet and find a place you’re always glad to come back to. In short, in an increasingly-globalized world, home really can be where the heart is—not just where you end up by default. I could delve into the reasons for this—air travel, the Internet, globalization. But you already know the world is getting smaller, easier to travel, easier to navigate.
When I think about my winter in Italy, I think of cobblestone alleyways sparkling with rain, mist-shrouded cathedrals in the “hill country,” days spent with tourist attractions almost all to myself, and a pleasant chill in the air—cool, but not too cold. I based myself, during my five winter weeks in Italy, in the mid-sized university town of Perugia, which is the capital of Umbria, Tuscany’s lesser known but just-as-lovely neighbor. It’s a place of rolling hills, world-famous wines, and postcard-perfect mountain towns. Because Umbria is nestled in between Tuscany (where you will, of course, find pretty, popular Florence, as well as a sunflower-dotted countryside that has inspired writers, artists, and tourists alike) and Lazio (the region that houses historic, grandiose Rome), it was the perfect place to do a little exploring.
It’s hard not to smile a lot when you live in Cotacachi, Ecuador. Take, for example, my walk through the leather-boutique-laden main street this morning. I strolled a total of five blocks and encountered more familiar faces than I could count. Alberto, a local landscaper, greeted me with a “Buenos dias, Señora Wendy” as he zipped by on his well-used bicycle. My Canadian friends Brian and Janette stopped to chat for a few minutes and catch up. As we finished our discussion I heard a shouted “Hola, Wendy.” I turned to see one of my regular cab drivers, Richar, rolling by in his freshly washed yellow taxi, arm out the window and wide grin on his face.
Eighteen years ago along with my whole family, I moved from Colorado to Ecuador. Most people thought we were crazy, but that decision opened my eyes to a beautiful world and changed my life forever…for the better! It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Ecuador…especially with our new home town of Tena. There is a vibe about Tena, a feeling of youth, fun, and adventure. That atmosphere is contagious and impossible to shake. It’s rather like a hip beach town…except instead of the ocean we have rivers, instead of sand we have jungle, and instead of surfers we have kayakers. The laidback lifestyle is one of my favorite things about Tena and about Ecuador as a whole.
I’ll be honest; Cuenca, Ecuador was not my number one retirement destination—it was Italy. My husband, Mark, and I lived there for six years in our 20s and 30s, our older son was born there, and it was the birthplace of Mark’s grandparents. Yes, I married into one big, loud, happy Italian family. It was the best of times—la dolce vita—a life of pleasure and simple luxuries. And what a life we had there…living in a villa on the Mediterranean…enjoying fresh fish and pasta every day…taking walks along the “lungomare” (seafront)…and watching spectacular sunsets from our terrazza every evening. I desperately wanted it all back when we retired at 55. But then we discovered Cuenca, Ecuador while doing an Internet search for the best places in the world to retire. Mark made his first exploratory trip in February of 2010 without me.
The best ways of life have been preserved in the heartland of Panama. You’ll still see ladies sitting on patios grinding fresh corn for fritters or embroidering traditional dresses known as polleras. And, instead of spending their days in front of the family TV, kids play outdoors in the fresh air. This rural region is like something out of a picture book. The small towns in the area usually boast a neatly whitewashed church, small bakeries selling pastries for 30 cents, and colorful little boats lining uncrowded beaches. One of the best of those towns, Pedasí, is also one of the world’s greatest fishing destinations. In that town, a small expat community is thriving alongside locals who value the simple pleasures of life: Sundays spent wading out into the clear waters of the Pacific…so warm here in the tropics.
As a time to reflect on the past and envision the future, New Year is unrivaled among holidays. Especially in the northern climes, where the holiday coincides roughly with the Winter Solstice and the shortest day of the year, New Year is an important spot on the seasonal cycle. The nights are as long and the days are as short as they’re going to get… It’s all uphill, sunlight-wise, from there on. So it’s a time of hope, of renewal, of looking forward.
Imagine waking up every morning to catch the sun gloriously rising over the shimmering Caribbean Sea…that’s exactly how Peter Nolan, and his wife Lesley, begin their days on Ambergris Caye in Belize. From their second-floor deck, strong cup of tea in hand, they greet each day taking in the sunrise and breathing in fresh, healthy sea air. Any afternoon they can stroll out to the end of the dock near their home and relax under a palapa, with a good book, surrounded by shimmering aquamarine waters. They often meet their friends under the palapa, where they chat and enjoy the cooling sea breeze. On other days they jump right in and enjoy the crystal-clear, 82-degree water and cavort amongst the brightly colored tropical fish…
Love Europe but think you can’t afford it? Think again. I recently spent some time in Portugal and was wowed by the low prices. In Portugal, you can enjoy a low cost of living similar to that in Latin America’s more developed countries…with all the benefits of European life thrown in. For instance, you can get a sit-down lunch for about $15. You can grab a sandwich for less than $5 that’s big enough for two…but why bother? As in many Latin countries, lunch is generally a proper meal in Portugal, and you can get two courses, sometimes with beverage, starting from about $10. Or have dinner in a family-style restaurant for just a little more. Like wine with that meal? No problem. You can get a glass of wine in many restaurants for $4 or so…or half a bottle for about $7. Portugal is a wine-producing country, after all, and the local product is good, plentiful, and inexpensive.
There are many low-cost places to retire to in Panama. For those who enjoy the slower pace of rural living, Chiriquí Province, where I live, offers a delightful climate, easy convenience, and a quality lifestyle in an affordable retirement destination. While the city of David offers all the amenities of a good-sized city and the town of Boquete is a favored expat haven, some of the smaller towns in the area combine access to these desirable features with a lower cost of living. Dolega is one such small town in Chiriquí Province in western Panama. The four-lane highway that runs north and south between David and Boquete runs right through Dolega, so it’s easy to find. A new pedestrian overpass marks the main turnoff into town, at the Municipal Palace, shaded by a gigantic mango tree. Dolega is the administrative seat of the district of the same name, which encompasses a total of nine towns such as Los Anastacios, Dos Rios, Los Algarrobos and Potrerillos.
When it comes to telecommunications and technology, there’s not a country in the region that compares to Panama. This tiny powerhouse has long been recognized as a telecommunications hub, as five of the world’s major fiber optic cables intersect here. Land line and later cell phone calls were top notch here from the get-go, thanks to Panama’s outstanding infrastructure. And when the world entered the age of high-speed Internet, Panama went to great lengths to not only keep up, but be at the forefront.
I’m a beach girl—I love the sun, sand and surf. A few years ago I had a choice: to never be able to retire in the U.S. because it was too expensive, or retire 11 years earlier than planned and live in a tropical paradise, free of stress and close to the ocean, my favorite place to be. Nicaragua called me and the coastal town of San Juan del Sur captured me. In San Diego there was no possibility of ever living near a beach. I’d never have the millions necessary. But here in San Juan del Sur, I was able to buy a small, two-bedroom/two-bathroom house for $132,000…with an ocean view. My friends can’t understand how I keep so busy in a beach town the size of a stamp (the main part of town covers three square blocks), but I’m doing things that I’d never have done back in California.
Ecuador makes it to the top of the list for many people who are considering a move abroad. Climate, cost of living, culture, and ease of obtaining residence are some of the reasons often cited. But an often overlooked benefit is the potential for improved health due to a better diet. Most expats in Ecuador find themselves eating much more fresh produce than they did back home and the reason can be summed up in two words—variety and availability. While Ecuador does have supermarkets, every town has a centrally located farmer’s market. This is where most people prefer to shop, especially for produce. And the reason is simple. The variety of fruits and vegetables is great quality and prices are typically a fraction of what you’d pay back home. In addition, because of the climate, fresh produce is available year-round. This reduces or eliminates the need to buy frozen or canned foods.
So you’ve decided to move to Costa Rica. Now you have to figure out how to get yourself, your stuff, your pets…your life…down to your new home in the tropics. It may seem overwhelming. But keep in mind that this country has been a haven for retirees and other expats for more than 30 years and tens of thousands of people have gone through the process just fine and are enjoying their new lives in Costa Rica. It’s a well-trodden path and there are services in place and strategies that have been perfected over the years…so your transition will be easier than that of the trailblazers who came before you.
If you are thinking about taking a trip to Southeast Asia, and if you aren’t you should be, then here are the 10 most beautiful natural attractions that you can add to your Southeast Asian bucket list. The only people that seem to know about this stunningly picturesque island are Malaysians, and they’d like to keep it that way. Unfortunately I’ve been and I think it’s about time that we lifted the veil and told you about it.
When visiting Costa Rica during a scouting trip, your goal is to figure out which region suits you and your lifestyle best. Even though it’s a small country, about the size of West Virginia, there are many different climates and lifestyles in each area. You might also be trying to determine if the country as a whole is the best fit at all. So you owe it to yourself to get the most out of your journey by gathering as much useful information about your possible new home country. Here are some tips to make for an educational—and fun—scouting trip to Costa Rica.
This year marks the centennial of the opening of the Panama Canal, and celebrations are taking place throughout the year. The first boat to make the ocean-to-ocean transit of the canal was the SS Ancon on Aug. 15, 1914. Most visitors who come to Panama make a point of seeing the canal, usually at the Miraflores Locks just outside of Panama City, or the Gatun Locks, just west of Colon city. Personally, I can think of no better way to honor and enjoy this wonder of the modern world than to see it at eye level and take a boat trip on the Panama Canal. The complete transit takes about nine hours, passing through three sets of locks. There are a number of ways to do this, and no matter which one you choose it will be a memorable experience.
Ten years ago it was mainly scuba divers, anglers and adventure travelers who knew of Belize’s natural treasures. At that time few tourists could point to Belize on a map. But there’s been a growing buzz about Belize for the last few years. The constant press coverage about predictions of what would happen at the end of the Maya calendar (December 21, 2012) catapulted Belize into the international spotlight. Ever since, tourism numbers have been on the rise. And a growing number of Baby Boomers are retiring there.
When people think about fine international cuisine, places like Paris, Rome, and Tokyo are usually what come to mind. If you’re looking for something with a spicy kick, head to Mexico. Want something healthy and delicious? Check out the Mediterranean. Rarely though do people equate the small South American country of Ecuador with great food, and in failing to do so they’re missing out on a whole range of tasty treats. It’s true that Ecuador does not have the gourmet culture that many other countries enjoy, but that doesn’t mean it should be completely dismissed. Take a look at a few of the regional palate pleasers that can be found throughout the country.
With Nicaragua just arriving on the scene as a top tourist destination, many people don’t know what this little country has to offer. Like Costa Rica about 30 years ago, Nicaragua gives you the same untamed beauty, exotic living locale, great business opportunities and the lowest prices around. Here are just a few attractions that you should not miss when you. Float on your back or swim lengths in this crystal clear turquoise natural pool in the middle of the forest. Ometepe Island itself should not be missed. A one-of-a-kind destination, you can hike up an active volcano, go kayaking in the 19th largest lake in the world, or relax in this stunning pool of water for the entire day. Cost of the day (approx.): Round-trip ferry ride—$6; hotel—$45 to $75 a night; scooter rental—$15 a day; food: breakfast, lunch and dinner—$50 for two.
Eighteen years ago Penny Sue Leonard visited Belize for the first time, on an assignment to teach nursing practices at hospitals. She was so impressed that a year later she left Orlando, Florida, and permanently moved to Punta Gorda in the south of Belize. “Something drew me in. The fact that it is so far off the beaten path. I fell for this part of Belize. I already loved the whole country, but Punta Gorda just pulled at me.” While she was initially attracted by Belize’s beauty and the warm waters of the Caribbean, another big draw for Penny was that English is the primary language. And the lifestyle in Punta Gorda is affordable. “It is so much less expensive to live here than in the U.S.,” she says.
My first stop was Las Vegas for a recent International Living conference. The conference was fabulous and I loved chatting with potential expats and helping answer all of those big questions that need to be asked before an international move. But, in my downtime I began to notice some differences in myself. To start, I found during my first nights away, that I missed seeing the stars. While the lights of the Las Vegas strip are a sight to see, it never truly gets dark in Vegas. I longed for my view from quiet Cotacachi where millions of celestial bodies are visible on a clear evening from the middle of the world. It may seem trivial, but I felt out of place surrounded by man-made replicas of world wonders, when typically I sleep right in the midst of the real thing.
The Serra Gaúcha lies in the northeast part of Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, which borders Argentina and Uruguay. It’s far enough south (29 degrees) and high enough (about 2,800 feet) to have four true seasons. Each winter the thermometer drops to freezing a few days. There is light snow some years. The Serra Gaúcha has three regions: the eastern Gaúcha region, which is largely farmland and villages; the central, German-influenced region; and the Italian region in the west, which—no surprise—is home of the state’s wine industry. Vineyards and wineries cluster around the town of Bento Gonçalves.
While most New Yorkers are busy trying to make a living and not a life, Diane and Jim Shanley are enjoying the fun life in sunny Cuenca, Ecuador. There was a lot to draw the couple to this city. Cuenca, the “pearl” of Ecuador nestled high in the Andes Mountains at 8,314 feet, boasts spring-like temperatures in the 50s to high 70s all year long. It’s the cultural capital of Ecuador with free concerts, an international film festival, and plentiful gourmet restaurants. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site with stunning colonial architecture, which attracts tourists from around the world.
Beautiful, friendly, perfect climate, inexpensive. There…I’ve just told you why I think Ecuador is the best place on earth to retire. The mountains and Pacific coast are remarkably gorgeous. The people are about as easygoing as people get. Being on the equator, the weather changes with the altitude, so you can pick any climate you like. And the cost of living can be astoundingly low, especially when you take high utility bills and property taxes out of the budget equation.
“Rio de Janeiro.” The name alone conjures up images of broad beaches populated by impossibly beautiful people. But while everyone has heard of Rio, far fewer know that “The Marvelous City” lies in a state of the same name. Rio de Janeiro state, though small in size, is geographically quite diverse. Mountains parallel the coastline, sometimes veering down into the sea. Broad swaths of the original mata Atlântica (Atlantic forest)—one of the most biodiverse areas in the world—still blanket the hillsides. Scores of lakes and lagoons lie within sight of the shimmering South Atlantic. Majestic beaches stretch literally for miles; others lie sheltered in secluded coves, accessible only by boat. Tantalizing palm-studded islands, most uninhabited, await the more adventurous.
The expat community was much smaller when my wife Cynthia and I arrived in Cuenca in 2010. Back then, there were maybe only 500 or so, and a lot of those were old Peace Corps folks who had been here quite a while and faded into the landscape. As part of the first big wave of gringos to hit town, all of us were pioneers who truly needed each other for assistance and support in our new adventure. Cynthia and I would introduce ourselves to every North American we saw (on the street, in a restaurant—it didn’t matter) and exchange contact information. It was actually a good way to get to know people; problem was, we really had no place to get together.
My stomach is happily full after a delicious rice dish stuffed full of clams and chopped vegetables. As I sit sipping the last of my fresh lemonade under the umbrella-shaded outdoor table, a cool breeze whispers past. Families amble by, politely wishing me “buen provecho” (“enjoy your meal”) while kayakers across the street load their gear into a shiny new pickup. All the while wild birds mingle their notes with the Latin rhythms spilling from the restaurant. Where am I? I’m in the Ecuadorean jungle town of Tena…and to be honest this is not at all how I had imagined the Amazon to be.
First, there’s the food… The supermarket produce sections in the U.S. are picture perfect: intensely orange oranges; big, shiny red apples; greens without a bit of brown. But, Nicaragua doesn’t paint, wax, and shine its produce, so I eat wonderfully sweet oranges with no beautifying chemicals added (for a fraction of what they cost in the U.S). I also eat fresh-caught (not frozen or farm-raised) fish twice or three times a week and real free-range chicken (that has been allowed to run free and is not injected with growth hormones.) The rest of my diet includes tropical fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm.
Like so many baby boomers, Suzy Giles felt she was destined to continue working full-time in the U.S. She wasn’t working a bad gig—conducting wine tours in Napa Valley, California—but it didn’t leave much time to pursue her passion for painting. So she began to explore her options overseas for a location affordable enough to allow her to retire…and discovered Cuenca, Ecuador. After visiting the colonial city twice, Suzy took the leap. That was almost two years ago and the decision has proven to be a good one. “I wanted an adventure,” says Suzy. “I needed to stay out of life’s ruts and to get out of my comfort zone.”
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.”
I couldn’t keep my eyes off the Caribbean Sea in Belize—whether I was cruising around by boat, watching tiny islets fade into the distance…swinging in a hammock strung between two palms on the beach…or beating that tropical heat with a cold Belikin beer in the shade of a palm frond-roofed beach bar. Belize has a lot to offer those seeking a new life abroad. The low cost of living means a couple can live well on $2,000 to $3,000 or less a month. Established expat communities make for a ready supply of new friends, and it’s English-speaking, even if it’s the second or even third language for many locals. (I spoke only English during my time there and had no issues.)
There’s a small city in Ecuador that you might never have heard of. But if you’re looking for a retirement destination, it’s got a lot to offer. Called Ibarra, it’s Ecuador’s northernmost mountain city. You’re not alone if it’s unfamiliar to you. Though I, and several hundred other expats, live just 30 minutes away in the small town of Cotacachi, Ibarra gets too little attention considering how attractive it is as an expat destination. Why doesn’t it get the recognition it deserves, you ask? Well, it’s partly because Ibarra lost much of its original colonial architecture to an earthquake over 100 years ago. Not that you’d notice much—the buildings that replaced the wrecked ones are a pretty good replica of colonial style.
I’ve mentioned before how Ecuador made me a huge fan of mountain living. But it’s more than just the mountains that did it for me. After all, there are mountains running the entire length of the Americas, from the far north of Alaska and Canada to the very tip of South America. Almost any mountain range you choose in North, Central, or South America is in some way majestic and breathtakingly beautiful. But—and this is the crucial thing that makes Ecuador’s mountains different for me—none of these mountains are directly on the equator. In nearly every other mountain location in the Americas, seasonal changes make living up at a high altitude a part-time thing, at least for a guy who dislikes snow and cold as much as I do.
I’m often asked about life in Ecuador and what it might be like to live or retire here. And I’m not shy about sharing my opinion on that topic. I’ve lived in Ecuador off and on for 13 years now. We spent a year in Quito beginning in 2001 and returned here in 2008. So yes, I think Ecuador is one of the best places on the planet to live.The people are wonderful. For the most part, they love foreigners and will go out of their way to help us discover how to fit into their culture and life here. (And they do it all with a warm smile.) The weather is superb. I’m from Nebraska so I am used to frigid temperatures in the winter and steamy hot summers. Here in the Andes Mountains where I live, temperatures hover around 75 F every single day of the year. I don’t need heat or air conditioning, keeping my monthly utility bill at about $24 every month total.
Costa Rica is a small country, about the size of West Virginia. Overall, you’ll find a low cost of living (many retired expat couples I meet live well on around $2,000 a month)…top-notch, low-cost medical care…friendly people—the national motto is Pura Vida, which translates to “life is good”…and bargain real estate—you can rent from $300 a month and up and find North America-style homes for $150,000 or less. But tiny Costa Rica has a tremendous variety of climates, lifestyles, and landscapes within its borders: bustling beach resorts, quiet fishing villages, high mountain towns, vast farmlands, looming volcanoes, lush rainforests, isolated rural areas…
Recently, I was talking to some IL readers. They’d heard about Panama’s mountainous Chiriquí Province and had a lot of great questions for me. One, in particular, gave me pause. “If you had to pick the one best place to live in all of Chiriquí, where would it be?” asked a retired gentleman from Saskatchewan. “Well,” I mused, “for me it would be about halfway between David and Boquete, because it’s just right.” Take the climate: Boquete, an area that is particularly popular with expats, rests on the slope of the Baru Volcano at about 4,000 feet elevation.
This postcard is a special delivery, direct from Belize’s Placencia Peninsula. I’m on an editorial assignment in the Stann Creek District and I have to admit, life seldom is sweeter than this! After spending the better part of Monday flying and driving, I arrived at my destination—near Maya Beach—anxious to settle in and check out our friends’ beach home. Also prominent in my mind was which of the many recommended restaurants we’d pick for that night’s meal. But we’ll return to that topic later… The next day, after a solid night’s sleep, I walked out onto our bedroom veranda to behold a cloudless, brillian t blue sky, the sun’s rays reflecting off a sea surface as smooth as glass. In other words, the perfect day to explore the beach…
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