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A little over two years ago, my husband and I turned that quest to rescue our retirement into a reality and relocated to the Pacific coast of Ecuador. A big part of the process was shedding all the excess stuff we’d accumulated in pursuit of the “American Middle Class” ideal, in favor of the new experiences we’d be free to have once out from under it all. Swapping the hamster wheel for a simpler, less object-oriented way of life turned out to be the trade of a lifetime.
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.
One of the most common bits of advice given to those considering a move overseas is “Rent before you buy!” In Chiriquí Province of western Panama, where I live, there’s a very good reason to follow this advice…and it all has to do with the climate. You may be surprised to learn that this small area of a small country has quite a number of micro-climates.
I was accidentally napping (it happens sometimes) in my favorite chair in the den when I was awakened by the loud, unmistakable lowing of a cow. It was the local milkman announcing his arrival with an amplified recording. In just a few minutes, we received our delivery of milk and cheese from his specially equipped motorcycle and cart. Other vendors regularly wind their way through our middle-class Mexican neighborhood selling fruits, vegetables, prepared food, bottled water, and even pots and pans. It is not only charming, it is convenient.
The U.S. is not really International Living’s beat…and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. (It’s considered a territory; it uses U.S. law, and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.) But with its attractive property prices (still down since their hammering by the 2008 economic crisis) and newly-legislated tax breaks for residents, Puerto Rico clamored for our attention. We wondered: Were we ignoring an English-speaking, tropical beach destination right on our doorstep—one where we didn’t even need a passport?
If you’ve ever sat at a desk dreaming of owning your own jungle lodge in paradise, look no further 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.
Just walking down Málaga’s Calle Larios can lift the spirits. This pedestrian-only street at the heart of Málaga’s historic center is lined with shops and cafés that draw the eye. Overhead, several stories up, canopies strung across the street shade you from the bright Mediterranean sun.
Want to lose five pounds fast? Instead of spending mega-bucks at an exclusive fitness spa, how about moving to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Guanajuato, Mexico? A friend who tends to puts on weight drops five pounds every time she returns to town after a trip to the States.
Puerto Vallarta (often referred to as Vallarta or just PV) is known for its friendly atmosphere, so it’s not surprising that it attracts a lot of tourists. Many of the expats you’ll meet here started out as tourists. The ones I spoke to told me they came here on vacation but realized pretty soon that they didn’t want to leave. As soon as they went home, they changed their lives to move here. You can’t get a better stamp of approval than that.
I remember Costa Rica. How could I forget? In 1997 my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I were married there. It was the first time I’d been south of the U.S. border. We found a small boutique hotel in San Jose that offered wedding packages. They’d supply the notario for a civil ceremony (sort of like getting married by a Justice of the Peace) along with a bottle of champagne and a guy playing music on a portable keyboard. It was perfect.
Toucans and macaws glide around the lush jungle canopy and scores of monkeys parade through the overhanging branches. Neon-green and electric-blue butterflies of preposterous sizes flit across gurgling streams, while waterfalls drop into deep pools. Welcome to one of my favorites among Ecuador’s secret spots…a place hidden in the east of the country, where indigenous shamans still perform timeless rituals and a small number of adventurous expats have found new lives surrounded by nature.
For many prospective expats, the quality of medical care in the country they plan to move to is a very important factor. Of course, most hope to never find out how good the health care system is. But things happen.
The hotel’s website wasn’t lying. There really was a 180-degree view of the ocean from every room. And the view was amazing—enormous rock formations dotted the coastline, crashing waves, seabirds everywhere. We arrived just in time to shoot the sunset and get a feel for the place, before settling into our suite for the night.
This life could be yours. Plenty of everyday people are choosing to live on the water full-time—in their retirement, no less. After a bit of training and hands-on experience at home, they’re tying up beside mega-yachts in the Mediterranean…finding large floating communities of like-minded expat sailors in the Caribbean…and island hopping in the Gulf of Thailand, heading wherever their fancy takes them.
My husband, Paul, and I were happy with our lives in the United States. I was 45 and Paul was 55 when we met. We lived in the Baltimore area and had stable jobs making a decent income. Sometime in 2007 we started to talk about retiring early and moving somewhere cheaper to live.
The Southern Zone is about three to four hours from Costa Rica’s capital, San José, depending on what part of the coast you’re going to. It starts roughly at the funky surfer town of Dominical and goes all the way to the border with Panama. Most expats, including everyone from retirees to business owners with young families, live between Dominical and Ojochal, a village in the jungle about 45 minutes south
I’ve moved many, many times within the United States. The longest I stayed anywhere was in Santa Cruz, California where I vowed to keep my two children in school with the same classmates from kindergarten through high school graduation. That kept me grounded for 20 years.
I’m just a middle-class gal. There you can pay $1.5 million for something like that. Yet in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua I own a small two-bedroom/two-bathroom house, on an acre with an ocean view, which cost just $132,000. I pay real estate taxes of just $151 a year. And in my backyard, in addition to what I mentioned before, I also grow mangos, papayas, citrus trees, a cinnamon tree, and even moringa, the tree of life.
During my travels through Costa Rica in the last couple of years, I’ve met expats of all stripes, including many who decided to move overseas…and go into business at the same time. There are young families, middle-aged couples, single folks, and people of retirement age who definitely aren’t ready to quit working…all seeking opportunities in this little Central American gem.
It’s a lifestyle that’s waiting for you in Panama’s Los Santos province. Beaches here come in all shapes and sizes, but each is unspoiled and often deserted. These perfect stretches of sand and the warm waters that lap them are what draw most foreign folks to the region.
Five years ago, my husband, Jeff, and I started looking for a vacation home where we could eventually retire and—after extensive research—we decided on Las Terrenas in the Dominican Republic. It has everything we were looking for.
Enjoying beach life comes relatively cheap in the Ecuadorian town of San Clemente. Expat Linda Irwin moved there in March 2013 with her son Logan and says food is her biggest expense. Even with a growing teenage son, her weekly grocery bills run just $100 a week.
I’m a writer. And in the age of the Internet, that’s a great thing to be. I didn’t plan it that way, of course. In my case it was just dumb luck. After a dozen years as an undergrad searching for something to hold my interest long enough to actually get a degree, I stumbled on journalism.
Wanted: intrepid explorers…adventurers with a thirst for different cultures…must be willing to taste new and exotic foods…have a deep and friendly smile…age unimportant…you choose your working hours but remember to leave enough time to travel, an instant social life filled to the brim with colorful people who will genuinely try to make your life as easy as possible and you’ll even get paid!
The smell of fresh tamales mingled with whiffs of sweet atole and my stomach grumbled. Throngs of people of all ages were crammed into the dark plaza with lighted brujas (lamps) as the only source of light. Someone came onto the stage: a roadie setting up a mike. An excited murmur moved the crowd.
Six months ago, Lester Herrera, 31, was unemployed in the San Francisco Bay area…a victim of “down-sizing”, despite having a business degree from USC. He had been laid off from a non-profit organization where he worked as a career counselor. After several attempts at finding another job, he decided to retire early…to Spain.
When I’m back visiting the U.S. and tell people I live in Costa Rica…I already know the picture they have in their mind. It’s a shoreline. First, the brilliant blue water…a strip of sand unmarred by footprints…a fringe of palm trees…then a rain forest with towering trees and lush vegetation alive with toucans and capuchin monkeys…and finally jagged green-covered mountains looming behind it all.
Jen, a Wisconsin native, met and married her husband Greg in Dallas where Jen worked in commercial title insurance and Greg as the vice president for a company that handled paper and electronic discovery for law firms. They enjoyed city living, flashy clothing, and fine dining without much concern for cost.
Head out of San Jose, crest the cloud forest-covered mountains to the west of Costa Rica’s capital, and in about two hours you’re on the Caribbean coast. Another two hours or so south and you’re in the heart of the region. A pretty short ride…but it’s like a different world.
People ask me all the time what it is that I love about Ecuador and I rarely have a good answer. Not because it’s difficult to come up with an answer but rather there is so much to love that I never know where to start. Sometimes I fall back on the standard lines about the low cost of living, great climate, and close proximity to the U.S.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” That’s how the best weekends start in Panama. Last-minute invitations are never considered rude. And I’ve learned they should always be accepted…especially if you want to explore the country. So the next thing I knew, I was piling into a pickup truck with two local friends and heading to the little mountain town of Cerro Azul.
Nick Fawcus-Robinson wakes most mornings well before the sun rises. Padding around his bungalow in bare feet to make a cup of tea, while the cocks crow outside, I’m sure he ponders his past life now and again. Maybe.
Nick was an officer in the army for many years and a highly paid corporate executive in the tobacco industry after that.
Whether it’s for a summer or a lifetime, Italy isn’t only for the wealthy. I first got hooked on la dolce vita when I was young and had very little cash to spare. But as I was in love with the vagabond lifestyle, relative impoverishment was no barrier to doing my own version of a Grand Tour.
Last weekend my wife, Suzan, and I celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary in one of the most unique spots we’ve ever visited. We left our home in Cotacachi before noon and drove north, deeper into the Ecuador province of Imbabura. Our driver had asked if we wanted to take the “scenic route” instead of taking the Pan American Highway, and we happily agreed.
The attributes of a life of ease in Belize have been well documented: beautiful warm weather, friendly people who speak English, and lovely sand beaches with the Caribbean Sea lapping at the shoreline. Those are just some of the reasons my wife Char and I are considering Belize as our retirement destination.
Exploring the villages of Le Luberon, France, and beyond, it’s hard to ignore the overwhelming sense that the French have it all figured out. Here is my evidence: In Bonnieux a visit to the Musée de la Boulangerie (Bread Museum), followed by a flawlessly executed warm baguette snack perched on a wall overlooking the valley floor, was the perfect way to start the day.
Nadege Thomas lived in Toronto, Canada for 22 years where she was a successful financial planner. But as the pressures on her sector mounted and the cold weather wore her down, she began to yearn for an easy life in a balmy, tropical environment. “After 22 Canadian winters, I had had enough of the cold and was looking for a warm place,” she says.
It’s always a bit of a bummer when a vacation comes to an end, even if you live in Paris. I felt this way recently driving back north after spending one fabulous week with my family in sunny Aix-en-Provence in the south of France.
I grew up in a really small town in the northern U.S., where cows probably outnumbered people 1,000 to 1 and I, alone, made up 20% of my graduating class. If it weren’t for having our own postal code, we probably would not have even been considered a town at all—more like a rest stop, maybe.
My first year in Panama City, I started my mornings with a $0.15 cup of strong, dark coffee. (That’s how the locals drink it, and the only way it’s made at food stalls.) I would also usually buy a little bag of corn fritters, or torrejas de maiz, for $0.25. Very greasy and very tasty.
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