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Fed up with the harsh Midwest winters and tired of working too much to pay for a life we didn’t have time to enjoy, my husband, Junior, and I decided we weren’t willing to wait for retirement to see the world and enjoy life. Just before Christmas last year, we started researching our overseas options. We sold all of our belongings after New Year and at the start of April this year, we landed in Costa Rica…without ever having been here before.
With the coming of fall, my family and friends in the States find themselves thinking of the long, cold winter approaching. It’s not just the ice and snow they have to cope with, but the enormous heating bills, and not being able to enjoy the outdoors. But not me…living in Panama I don’t ever have a heating bill and I haven’t seen snow in years. The great outdoors is my playground all year round here in the Chiriqui province of western Panama. And that includes being able to go to the beach anytime I want.
I’m fortunate to live in Chiriqui province in a small, quiet Panamanian neighborhood near the tiny town of Dolega. We are centered between our province’s two main urban centers…both of which I love for different reasons. David is the larger of the two and is a 50-minute drive from my house. Although much smaller than Panama City, it’s a busy and bustling place. David provides everything we need—banks, supermarkets, repair shops, insurance agencies, car dealerships, and modern shopping malls.
Morning is my favorite part of the day…it’s cool and the day is new. My wife, Luz, and I sit on our patio, coffee in hand, and watch birds splashing about in the birdbath I made from stained glass shards. When I first moved to Panama five years ago, I lived in the city of David. But after exploring the country I decided to make Las Tablas, on the Azuero peninsula, home. It’s a charming town with a tranquil public park and the locals are a friendly bunch.
Mitchell McCardle’s day begins with an early trip to the market. Riding through the early morning light on his motorbike, he sees the locals start their day. Fishermen casting lines out, women shelling corn on the side of the street, and children walking hand in hand to school. Five years ago, with very little money in his pocket, Mitchell threw up his hands and said, “That’s it—I’m moving to the Philippines.”
Dick Walton, 53, and his wife, Dawn, 47, have always loved to travel. And they knew for a long time that they wanted to retire to English-speaking Belize…the tiny Central American country on the Caribbean Sea. But when Dawn had an aneurysm in 2009, the couple pushed up that timetable to escape the stress and fast pace of life in their hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“We love the weather, the beach, the people. Nobody cares what your last name is or your backstory. It’s very casual,” say Vicki Lyall of her home in Playa del Carmen, on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Vicki and her husband Scot had been visiting this Caribbean paradise for many years. And it was on a trip nine years ago they happened to stroll by a real estate office.
In 2012, Dani Leis quit her job and left Portland, Oregon for Thailand with nothing but a single duffel bag and a dream to start a new life. She fell in love with the northern city of Chiang Mai. “The people here are friendly, kind, and open-hearted,” says Dani “They enjoy a culture centered on sanuk, meaning to take pleasure in what you are doing.
Weekends, Rita Sosa tends to spend at her beach house, just over an hour’s drive from Panama City. “Our house is literally on the beach,” says Rita. “When I go up there, I just go to relax and swim. I’m very happy to sit and read a book outside and not do a whole lot of anything. It’s so great to have beach weather 12 months a year, and I love the tropical greenery.
From our new home town of Pedasi every beach seems to offer its own playground. From a launching point for Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge, to waves fit for championship surfers and beginners alike. Located on the Azuero peninsula on Panama’s Pacific coast, Pedasi is an ocean-lovers dream. Driving out of town towards the popular beach of Playa Venao offers picturesque views of rolling hills on one side and stunning Pacific views on the other.
Six years ago, I first visited Blaye, a small city less than an hour northeast of the French city of Bordeaux. I made friends, visited a dozen more times, and eventually decided this was a place I’d like to live. Choosing to live here was easy. It’s affordable, safe, has access to an excellent international airport, and good healthcare. And then there’s the amazing quality and reasonable prices of fresh food and good wines.
“I like the way things are now, and with family and a new grandson in Canada, the snowbird lifestyle works great.” When not embracing family life to the full, Kim gets to savor the many joys Playa has to offer. “I absolutely love Playa del Carmen,” Kim says of her winter home. “The beaches are world-class and the water sports are unlimited, with snorkeling, scuba, fishing, paddle boarding, surfing, boating, swimming, and just floating in the gorgeous tropical waters.” And it’s not only sun, sand, and sea that keep her coming back. It’s also the friends she’s built up over many winters here.
Donna McNichol says that moving to Cuenca, Ecuador, has been a grand adventure. But the truth is, the move to Ecuador is just the latest in a series of adventures… “After being widowed at age 58,” Donna says, “I spent part of a year traveling the U.S. on my motorcycle, covering 42 states and riding 27,000 miles alone. In another two years I sold everything I owned, bought a used Class C motorhome and started traveling full-time.”
People used to ask me what I was going to do with myself all day when I didn’t have to work. Believe me, I haven’t had a problem finding things to do since moving from Florida to the city of David in Panama. I spend many hours biking around the city and exploring the surrounding countryside. I work on my blog, I have more time for my photography and I recently started painting classes.
The place they now call home is a Cape Cod-style cottage on the hillside of a popular neighborhood. But this is a relatively recent development. For nearly two decades, they’ve been sailing around the world together. Years ago, they discovered that a sailing retirement was a lot easier (and cheaper) than they ever could have realized. And they didn’t need a vast amount of knowledge to get started.
“The main attraction is the beach. People don’t come here to do stuff, they come here to relax,” says Canadian Robert Stanley, owner of Bobby’s Bar & Restaurant, a popular expat gathering place at the south end of the Thai beach town of Hua Hin. With a population of around 90,000 people, Hua Hin (pronounced “Wha Hin”) is around a three-hours’ drive south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand’s west coast. The country’s royal beach resort for almost 100 years, Hua Hin is also home to a community of between 3,000 and 5,000 expats.
“We love the culture and the people in Roatán. The quality of life is fantastic here and it’s really just so affordable. We couldn’t afford to do everything we do in Roatán in most other Caribbean locations,” Bill explains. “I’m a member at Pristine Bay Golf Course, we own a beachfront condo, and we own a boat that we can take out for a joy ride anytime. That’s not something we could do in Florida or on most other islands.
A million shades of green surround me as I drive. Above, the sky is a deep cornflower blue. I’m on the perfectly paved (and newly expanded) National Highway, driving down the Azuero Peninsula’s eastern coast. As is customary in this region of Panama, the sun is shining. A five-hour drive will get you from Panama’s sultry capital to Pedasí, a gem of a village. Banana trees, sugar cane, and countless varieties of palms line the flat horizon. There are no highrises here…towns in the greater Pedasí district are tiny.
As retirement neared, Bob Beavis, 66, and his wife Linda, 59, thought they were all set. Bob’s last job was as a HR director near Dayton, Ohio, which made him eligible for a state pension. He found his job rewarding and he had a plan. He would put in his 10 years then get free healthcare in retirement, with $50 per month to cover Linda, too.
When workaholics looking to retire in Mexico wonder aloud how they’ll avoid boredom, I don’t know what they’re talking about. Recently, out of curiosity, I checked my local events calendar here in Guanajuato. And just as I’d suspected, there were interesting activities for every single night of the week. And many nights offered more than one option.
Adrienne made the move to Nicaragua with Pax, her one-year-old son. As a 41-year-old woman, she still had to create an income. Back in Whistler, Canada, she had a successful nail salon business that she sold in 2012. When she arrived in Nicaragua, she had just under $10,000 to invest.
Just south of resort and tourist-packed Cancún, Mexico, lies the small town of Puerto Morelos. Although there are a few small resorts and hotels, it’s still a working fishing village, albeit with a sizable expat population. Anthony Chalas had never even heard of Puerto Morelos until he was online with his brother Nick a few years ago. He was helping plan the annual vacation he took with his family. Someplace affordable. Someplace warm and with a nice beach.
Home to 4.4 million people, New Zealand and its awesome landscapes are admittedly a long way from North America. But as our winter is their summer, you could consider retiring here part-time. In a pollution-free environment, it’s much easier to embrace a healthy lifestyle.
You can do nothing anywhere. But it takes a special place to make doing nothing a real treat. My wife, Suzan, and I live in the mountains of northern Ecuador. It’s so easy to do nothing here that it’s almost a form of meditation.
The modern vacation mecca has everything needed for a great life, according to the couple. They haven’t felt the need to learn much Spanish, as many of the locals speak English in this tourism oriented area. They say they also don’t need a car. A continuous stream of buses runs along all main routes, offering clean, convenient, and inexpensive access to all areas of the city. Major chain stores such as Costco, Walmart, and Sam’s Club have outlets in Cancún, so shopping is easy and familiar. These days, there are also tons of major brand restaurant chains, along with some great local eateries.
Nestled in a majestic valley in Southern Peru flanked by three volcanos and the Peruvian Andes is Arequipa—a colonial-style city with an ideal spring-like climate and warm people, known as the gastro capital of Peru.
Along with being a low-cost and tropical retirement haven, Thailand has long been an international destination for medical tourism. Why? Because healthcare is low cost and excellent quality. I should know. I’m a retired Canadian schoolteacher living in the northern city of Chiang Mai, with personal experience of two hospitals here—one public and one private. In both I felt welcomed and unrushed. And in general I’ve found the health professionals in this city maintain a high quality of empathy and caring for all their patients.
If you’re considering a home in the Emerald Isle, now is a great time to buy. After years of price falls and stagnation, the property market is starting to come out of the doldrums. And for North American buyers, the currency exchange rate means that your dollars now go further than they have in a decade.
“I guess I was just sick of the corporate stuff. I felt like if I didn’t make a move to get something going…it would never happen,” says John Dykes. John and his wife, Mimi, were doing pretty well. They had a nice home in Texas where John was running a large automotive supply store and Mimi had her own staffing agency.
I’m on a terrace, shaded from the bright midday sun by an overhanging palm frond roof. On the plate in front of me: three fish tacos—tortillas filled with fried filets and a coleslaw seasoned with lime and chili. From my perch I can see the tidy town square below where a few locals have claimed patches of shade to stop and chat. School kids in uniform scurry across the plaza in groups. And looking the other way I can just glimpse a sliver of the blue Caribbean between buildings. The sea breeze is light…but enough to cut the tropical heat.
“My husband and I were happily living in Arizona in a retirement community when, in 2008, everything changed,” says Patty Grimm. The ﬁnancial crisis dealt the couple a heavy blow, and they no longer felt they could live the same quality of life on their retirement income. “We knew that if we wanted to keep our nest egg, we’d have to look outside of the U.S. to live.”
Advances in the internet have changed so much about living or working abroad. My wife, Suzan, and I have seen it happen before our eyes. When we first moved abroad in 2001, “instant” messaging was just taking off. If you could get a decent internet connection (which was a much bigger “if” back then than now) you could type a message to someone and get a reply in just a minute or two…which was pretty much “instant” at the time. It was truly amazing for us and for our family and friends back home.
After spending a crazy weekend in Paris decades ago, dashing madly from the Louvre to the Arc De Triomphe, with chaotic traffic and irate Parisians, I had no desire to return to France. That was until my husband Michael and I spent a few weeks at an award-winning vineyard in southern France. It was a far different experience than the chaos of Paris.
Trailing in the footsteps of tragic poets is one of my favorite pastimes. So after reading the words of a letter sent by Spain’s best-known poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, I had to visit Lanjaron. Lorca and a host of writers, musicians, and intellectuals spent the summers of the 1920s in this Andalusian spa town.
The E&O Hotel has hung on to the majesty of its colonial past. Sitting outside on its manicured lawn sipping a gin and tonic it’s not hard to imagine colonials in their crisp white suits doing exactly that just 100 years ago. The evening light filtering through the coconut grove and the warm evening breeze makes for a perfect evening.
Long before I had any idea I’d eventually live on Ambergris Caye, Belize, I took a trip to the Greek Isles. Sitting at a tavern table on the beach, eating fresh, grilled fish on the island of Mykonos is a memory I’ll always cherish. The stars were shining as waves gently lapped the beach…
That dinner on the Mediterranean Sea took place over 30 years ago. But the delight of a seaside meal has stuck with me all these years. It’s one of my favorite simple pleasures…and something I get to do every day now that I live in Belize.
You walk out of a gleaming new shopping mall, where you’ve just caught the latest Hollywood release in English and enjoyed a Starbuck’s coffee. You catch a taxi and head toward the edge
of town. In less than 10 minutes your taxi stops, as a woman in traditional Andean dress—a skirt, short jacket, and multicolored wool shawl—guides her small flock of hesitant sheep safely across the road.
I’m never making chiles rellenos again. Note: I didn’t say I’d never eat chiles rellenos again, because I will. I love them. But they’re messy to make. And ever since I realized that I can buy home-cooked ones in my local market in Mexico for just 10 pesos apiece—that’s about 63 cents—and take them home to eat, my kitchen stays clean.
“In Pedasi, Panama, we live a life we couldn’t have had back home,” say Connie and Mikkel Moller. “If we were in the U.S., we’d both be working, at least part-time, and constantly worrying. After visiting for a few days in 2012, the Mollers fell in love with Pedasi. “We loved it. We fell for Pedasi. The people, the ambience…everything about it.” Located five hours by car from Panama City (you can also fly; it’s just under an hour from Panama City in a tiny commercial plane), most days of the year are sunny. Average daytime temperatures are around 88 F, but evenings and mornings can be 10 to 15 degrees cooler, thanks to the ocean breezes.
After nine years of living in Nicaragua, Darrell and Amy Bushnell still feel it was a great choice for their retirement. The people are friendly and accepting, the cost of living is low, and a welcoming expat community provides a busy social life.
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