International Real Estate
Real Estate Overseas
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Foliage presses up against the perfect, charcoal gray road. Though this time of year is known as the “rainy season” in Panama, the sky in this region is a powerful blue, and the sun is shining hot and strong. It’s quiet, and I pass very few cars…and perhaps just as many horses. For my recent scouting trip I drove the five hours from Panama City to Pedasí, a town of about 2,500. It’s a place that’s been growing in comfort and convenience— slowly but surely—since 2004. Over the past couple years in particular, it has become a burgeoning expat hub. Still, it remains a place where a couple can live on $1,300 a month including rent, and as little as $950 if they own.
Little Uruguay is a country that has advantages for producing food. It has good productive land, and a temperate climate allows the cultivation of up to three crops a year on average. Thanks to increasing wealth and food consumption in emerging markets, farmland here could generate a yield of between 3% and 9% (depending on the type of land and management option you choose), and also enjoy long-term appreciation. And Uruguay is where the small guy can directly get in on this food trend with ownership control. Uruguay has an advanced domestic farm industry. The domestic infrastructure of farm management companies, routes to market, and professional services caters for foreign investors.
Contrary to what your broker, banker, or financial advisor has probably told you, you can own just about anything in your retirement account—not just the products they choose to pitch at you (generally stocks and bonds). You can own all sorts of investments within your Individual Retirement Account (IRA)—and 401(k), too, for that matter—including foreign real estate. Most IRA custodians have a list of approved investments that they won’t deviate from. I do understand why they keep options so limited: They must endure grueling audits. If they do anything wrong, they can be fined or shut down by regulators. It’s just easier to say “no” to anything even slightly off the beaten track.
The original Riviera (from the Italian word for “seashore”) sprang up in southern France and the bordering region of Italy. Upper-crust Brits, northern Europeans, and—later—well-heeled Americans flocked here for the beach resorts, casinos, and parties. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald had a villa here in the Jazz Age, although it’s said he was a horrible party guest. The term riviera has been adopted by regions all over the world, in places where the sun, surf, and vacation vibe live on. And when we hit the new-school rivieras in the developing world, expect to get a real bang for your real estate buck.
Carlos stares into the afternoon sky, scans the horizon, and glances at his cell phone to check for messages. Then, using his machete and with a few deft flicks of his wrist, he slices through the scrub. Brightly colored butterflies float on the breeze. Whenever they come close, Carlos gently brushes them away from us and away from any danger to them. Carlos, though hardly five feet tall, wears the wide smile common among Mayans. It’s contagious. He’s one of the most successful developers on the Riviera Maya but here in the scrub, he’s a world away from bustling Mexico City where he spends a lot of his time. In the Riviera Maya is where he’s at his happiest—not in any boardroom or first class airline seat.
Costa Rica is one of the most popular and well-known vacation, second-home, and retirement destinations for North Americans. Though a small country, Costa Rica’s regions offer a wide variety of climate, lifestyle, and landscape. And renting in Costa Rica is a great way to experience day-to-day life while looking for your own place under the tropical sun. Much of Costa Rica’s lush tropical forests and sun-splashed shoreline has been designated as national parkland or reserve. Costa Rica is rapidly approaching carbon-neutral status in energy production and emissions, and its health care system is one of the most affordable and highly rated in the world.
Each morning I wake to a symphony of songbirds and roosters. Somehow, my wife, Nancy, usually sleeps through this, but for me it’s the start of another relaxed day in retirement. We live in a 968-square-foot condominium in the center of Chiang Mai, the principal city in northern Thailand. We have two balconies overlooking a large wooded farm—an uncommon rural oasis in this growing city. Despite this, we’re close to everything—trendy cafés, glitzy malls, and craft beer pubs.
Imagine a morning walk that takes you along a winding path shaded by towering pines. Nestled in the woodland around you are homes with pleasant gardens, flower-filled pots and bougainvillea-draped walls. A few minutes is all it takes to reach the low-slung dunes. You pause on top to take in the view: 18 miles of brilliant golden sands fringing the warm tropical waters of the South China Sea. About 10 miles out are the Cham Islands, a biosphere reserve where you can dive on coral reefs and explore the ancient ruins of the Cham civilization.
This valley reminds me of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Here, as there, ancient rolling hills are blanketed in a mix of pines and broadleaves. Then the bus I’m on passes a clutch of palm trees. Okay, not quite North Carolina. The Serra Gaúcha region, in southern Brazil, is practically unknown abroad, but it’s very popular with Brazilians. They flock here to enjoy the temperate, highland climate, so different from much of mostly-tropical Brazil. (Serra, in fact, means “highlands.”)
We typically see Path of Progress opportunities in places that are on the up…we usually discover distressed opportunities by finding high-quality inventory somewhere that’s broadly in crisis. It’s rare that we see the convergence of both these trends—but today that’s the opportunity we have along a stretch of Spain’s Costa del Sol. San Pedro is a pleasant sleepy Spanish town of leafy squares and pedestrian streets. Marbella is 12 minutes away (by car…25 minutes by public bus).
A view, good-value real estate, low cost of living, friendly locals…they’re all important as you search for a new community to settle in abroad. But if you have a green thumb, you may have some special requirements for your dream home. You’ll need good soil and the right light. Maybe you want multiple growing seasons, which is possible in some tropical areas.
Right now, you could buy your own piece of property right off the beach in Brazil…in a location where millionaires are putting their vacation homes…and all it will cost you is a few hundred dollars a month. The beaches here are spectacular—brilliant-white sand stretches for miles. Along that long stretch of coastline, multi-million-dollar homes are dotted. Over the past decade this part of Brazil has enjoyed an economic transformation. Very little has happened here—but now we’re seeing an opportunity.
Last month I visited the historic Gangi in Sicily, a 14th-century hamlet voted ‘Most Beautiful Village in Italy” this year. I was there to scout out undervalued real estate—and you can’t get more affordable than what Gangi offers. I’d heard that Gangi was pretty special—besides being home to an incredible real estate opportunity, it’s a hidden gem whose beauty and historic significance has been overlooked by all but the savviest vacationers.
Costa Rica is a great place for retirees for many reasons. Think warm weather year-round, bargain real estate (foreigners have the same property rights as locals), friendly people, the Pura Vida (life is good) vibe, and low-cost but high-quality health care. Plus, it’s easy to qualify for residence as a retiree with the pensionado program. All you need is $1,000 per month per couple from Social Security, disability, or a pension.
Not so long ago, you could pick up properties around my home province of Chiriquí for a fraction of their boom-time prices. In the hills and villages around Boquete, where an estimated 12,000 expats live, spacious mountain-view homes were selling for as much as 50% off. This drop was due to the 2008 financial crisis, which left many North Americans and Europeans with homes in these lush valleys in need of funds.
When it comes to the ideal beach lifestyle abroad, many expats look to Koh Samui, in southern Thailand, where the palm-lined beaches, azure ocean, year-round tropical weather, and affordable costs make for ultra-easy living. Just an hour-and-a-half flight from the Thai capital of Bangkok, Koh Samui offers something for everyone, whether you dream of a tranquil seaside retreat or prefer frequent nights out on the town.
“The developer here is in jail…” is something I heard a lot. It was alarming…but in a way, it was reassuring, too. Puerto Vallarta—one of Mexico’s most popular expat destinations— is home to an estimated 10,000 North Americans living here full-time. They chose Puerto Vallarta for good reasons. Puerto Vallarta sits at the foot of the grand Sierra Madre mountains that sweep down to the Bay of Banderas. It’s a warm and sunny spot with tropical beaches, fresh ocean breezes, and temperatures that average 73° F to 83° F all year.
Imagine sleeping to the gentle bob of the tide or of a river current, then waking up to cast off the moor lines and set out for adventure. Or, more often, to stay at anchor, enjoying the lull of the water while having a fixed address and access to onshore services. That’s the life that houseboat living offers.
A relatively small town (about 10,000 people) set on a grid, Corozal is mostly a collection of small shops, restaurants, and simple homes. But this is a bustling burg, with walkways and parks lining the vast, turquoise Corozal Bay. The bay gives it that Caribbean feel. Locals lounge in the shade of the town square, and in the small farmers’ market you’ll find oranges, potatoes, carrots, and succulent mangoes. You can walk away with a week’s worth of fruit and vegetables, plus dry goods and any imported must-haves available at local grocery stores, for under $50.
Back home, you are energetic and enjoy a life full of activities, friends and diversity. You want it to stay that way and you have your priorities. Nature makes you happy. After a lifetime living in cold weather, you’d like to throw away your winter coats. Health care and safety are major concerns. Starting a business entices you, but isn’t it too late? You love your delicious coffee and going to great restaurants with your friends. You seek volunteer opportunities to help people and give your life more purpose.
Check any list of the world’s best retirement destinations, including International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index, and you’ll find Costa Rica near the top. And it’s not a new trend; this little Central American country sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama has attracted North American expats for more than 30 years due to many diverse factors. Here are four reasons why many retirees think it’s a great place to live. One of the biggest attractions of Costa Rica is the weather. For those seeking relief from frigid winters, the warm temperatures year-round are quite welcome.
Owning a French vineyard is the ultimate dream for many expats—and it’s easy to see why. From Burgundy to Bordeaux, France’s vineyards lie in some of the most beautiful areas of the country and have produced extraordinary wines coveted throughout the world. To live in such an idyllic setting, drinking wine from your own grapes and playing some small role in wine’s ancient story, is a concept that’s both thrilling and gratifying.
To live the big city life for less and enjoy a world-class retirement look no farther than the San Francisco neighborhood of Panama City. I chose to live in San Francisco because of its walkability, its amenities, and just how close it is to the kind of action that makes for a great city life…and from gourmet delis to evenings at the opera, I enjoyed every minute.
I’m a daydreamer and a traveler at heart. One of my favorite ways to pass time is to imagine where else I might want to live one day. A recurring dream involves a cabin in the jungle where I would wake to the songs of carefree birds, the chatter of mischievous monkeys, and the rustle of a light breeze playing through overhead palm fronds.
I bought my house in Nicaragua in one day on a whim. While I wouldn’t recommend doing something so hasty, it worked out great. I went back to the U.S. and neatly closed up my life there. Arriving three months later in Nicaragua, I was ready to start my new life in my new house.
The first time I saw Chiriquí Province I was enchanted. It felt familiar and was just so green! Although I was born and raised in New Jersey, I’m a country girl at heart and Chiriquí felt like home. My husband Al and I had rented a car to tour Panama in our quest for a new place to live. Having traveled throughout Central America, Panama was our pick due to its warm climate, low cost of living, developed infrastructure and economic and political stability. We came back to stay in 2009, made our home in Chiriquí and I’m still awed by the stunning scenery.
If you have preconceptions about the Dominican Republic, put them aside. Most North American tourists head to the beautiful beaches and all-inclusive resorts of Punta Cana. But the opportunity for profitable real estate investing is elsewhere— somewhere a beach-town pad could be a great earner when you’re not using it.
The spread of the British Empire through trade, colonization, and conquest brought the English language to far-flung corners of the globe. But even as that empire declined and shrank, the language was left behind. And with English becoming the language of business and diplomacy, that influence is in no danger of going away.
Uruguay is the most economically, politically, and socially stable country in the region. The property registration system is among the best in Latin America. And you don’t need to become a resident or get a local tax ID number to buy, own, or sell real estate in Uruguay. Even though real estate values have climbed in recent years, with a little research it’s still possible to buy property in the most popular areas of the country for a very reasonable price.
I go to Spain whenever I get the opportunity; this is my third vacation there in the past five years. This time I’ll head to the North of Spain…to the little-known but very affordable region of Galicia. Previously, I’ve visited artistic Barcelona, historic Seville, and sun-soaked Malaga…three cities with their own distinctive characteristics, appeals, and benefits—and I’m anxious to follow up this vacation with another soon, to picture-perfect Valencia, the bull-running city of Pamplona, and the traditionally preserved hillside towns of Cuenca and Ronda.
Sarah Booth was only 23 when she bought her first vacation rental. It was a tiny studio in a ski resort village in Canada, but it was the beginning of a portfolio that now includes properties in Panama, Colombia, and Mexico…and an income that allows Sarah to enjoy a wonderful lifestyle from her home in Coronado, Panama. “Ultimately, my rentals have funded my lifestyle and my travels,” says Sarah. “I live for free and enjoy awesome rental yields.”
Cosmopolitan, indeed—as well as comfortable and convenient. In Santiago you’ll find modern skyscrapers, including the tallest building in Latin America. There’s a sleek and efficient subway system. Popular cuisine from around the world is paired with fine Chilean wines in the city’s many upscale restaurants. And opera, ballet, Broadway hits, great museums, and dozens of galleries abound.
Slow-to-recover real estate markets across Europe are producing pockets of great value, report the editors at InternationalLiving.com, whose new report highlights an array of attractive properties on offer for less than $150,000 in France, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Greece.
It’s a quiet day in late June on the beach in Deauville. As I walk along the water’s edge, golden sand crunching beneath my toes, it almost feels as if the mile-long beach is all mine. Tranquility reigns right now, but a change is coming. Near the boardwalk, row after row of multi-colored beach parasols, elegant as Ralph Lauren models, are standing as ready as soldiers.
Rounding a bend in the road, you catch your first glimpse of the bay of Honduras. The stunning silhouette of Guatemala’s mountains to the south provides the perfect backdrop as the light scatters off the sparkling Caribbean water. The skies are a cloudless blue and a series of houses painted different colors, here white, there yellow, another green—and all with neatly-groomed yards—greets you along the coast road into the town of Punta Gorda.
Now this is why I live in Colombia: sunrise over the mountains and a view of puffy white clouds hovering over the valley. To get from my home in Líbano to Manizales— located in the Central Andes region—I can take the easy route, which passes through the Magdalena Valley, or go over the mountain and around a few volcanos… For my latest trip, I choose the mountain passage and a 5-a.m. departure. The road twists and turns through isolated farmlands, until it enters the Los Nevados National Natural Park, well worth dawdling through.
“Life here is easy, convenient, and what’s more I can afford to really enjoy it,” says Pennsylvania-native, Paul Matlin. “You meet so many interesting people from all over the world. The health care is great, the food is superb, and the weather is warm.” Founded over 700 years ago, Chiang Mai nestles in the mountains of Northern Thailand, on the banks of the Ping River and the good climate has acted as a major draw for thousands of expats who call the city home.
Natchi and her husband own the biggest guesthouse in town and business is booming. Wind energy is a big deal in this part of Brazil. When I stayed in their place—midweek during off-season—the place was packed to the rafters with 45 wind-energy workers. This is Icaraí (pronounced ick-areye), the closest town to the nearby wind farms. But sheltered in lush vegetation and right on the empty beach…this certainly doesn’t feel like a frontier energy town. It’s a tropical paradise.
For decades the Iron Curtain divided Europe in two. Folks in the U.S. and Western Europe were afforded only glimpses of life in the Eastern Bloc. The political situation severely restricted travel. And half of Europe became an uncharted and unknown land. Then the Berlin Wall fell and a dozen or so nations opened up, embracing new freedoms. Visitors were welcomed and discovered a history going back thousands of years, regions of untouched natural beauty, and a seriously low cost of living.
The aroma of freshly-brewed cappuccino is an essential ingredient of the Italian morning. While this morning delicacy can be enjoyed anywhere in Italy, a quiet café in a small Umbrian town provides an opportunity to truly savor la dolce vita—the sweet life. Tucked away in the southwest corner of Umbria and exuding the same Italian charm of nearby Tuscan towns, Orvieto is a wonderful alternative to its more famous and sometimes overly pretentious neighbors.