We all dream of one day retiring to a tropical paradise, buying a second home in a quaint beach town where it's summer all year round, or relocating our lives to an island in the sun. But it can be more than just a dream…your tropical island or beach life can be a reality.
If you like the idea of getting away from it all on an island surrounded by crystal-clear waters, where the pace of life is slow and the lifestyle affordable…or would like to be near a beach that has all the amenities you could wish for…or perhaps you’d like a tropical climate where you can throw away your winter clothes and live year-round in a sunny paradise. Whatever your dream looks like, there are plenty of destinations that can match it.
In countries like Belize, Uruguay, Panama and the Dominican Republic you can live an affordable lifestyle. In these tropical paradises, your dollar will go further and you can live a better life for a lot less that you might imagine.
Find out more about tropical destinations around the world—where you can be by the beach, enjoy perfect weather, sip cocktails while swinging in your hammock, and generally lead a laid-back and stress-free lifestyle. Sign up for IL’s free daily postcards in the box below and we’ll also send you a FREE REPORT: The World’s Best Island, Beach and Tropical Retirement Destinations. (We value your privacy. You can unsubscribe at any time.)
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While sitting on a shaded terrace in Santa Catalina, you may hear a voice calling out over a loudspeaker. It’s a vendor selling fresh, organic produce—watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, onions, tomatoes—from the back of his truck. Nearby, young surfers carry their boards to the beach for a day on the waves. Fiberglass boats bob in the water, waiting to carry passengers to the nearby islands to snorkel, scuba dive among colorful corals and exotic fish, whale-watch…or catch the marlin and tuna this region is famous for. This little beach town knows how to chill.
The small island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand is one of those places that people never want to leave. With azure bays, secluded coves, great restaurants, and a friendly community vibe, it’s no surprise that Australian Tim Severino stayed and made it home.
Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country and prime territory for expats as well. It has some of the most frequented resort towns.
Before moving to Tamarindo, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, my husband and I lived in Chicago. We were accustomed to brunch as the key to socializing with friends. If you set a weekly date with someone or made plans to catch up with an old friend, oftentimes you would do it over a weekend brunch. We had to re-learn some of the “rules” to socializing when we moved to our little beach town. When we began to meet people, it struck us as odd that the common invite for social gatherings was to go and watch the sunset together…but we quickly learned why.
In this seaside city, you can stroll the beach in short sleeves as early as March and as late as October. In winter you need only a jacket. And the sun shines most days. Just steps from its long, urban sandy beach is a historic center of flag-stoned pedestrian streets and cream-colored buildings housing cafes, restaurants, and small hotels.
In 1999, the 50-year-old Valorie Gallagher fell in love while vacationing along Mexico’s Riviera Maya. She’d been looking for her perfect match for years, and once they met, she instantly knew that her life would never be the same. This wasn’t the typical affair of the heart, however. Valorie had fallen head-over-heels in love with one of the lesser-known jewels of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, the fishing village of Puerto Morelos. And 17 years later, she’s still in love with it.
“What would we do in Wisconsin in retirement?” says Lance Koehler, reflecting on his new life in beachside Tulúm. “Go to the mall, shovel snow. Here I love the warm weather, the sun, and going to the beach.” Lance and his wife Jeanette have found more than their place in the sun. They’ve also found their place in the local expat community.
Picture yourself in a town where it’s pleasantly warm year round. Winter snows and relentless summer heat seem a distant memory. You can have your pick from the vast array of farm-fresh fruit and vegetables grown in rich volcanic soils. Impromptu parades awash with color and Andean music are par for the course, and in the evenings you can relax with a beer in hand with both local and expat buddies. Or retreat to that farm you’ve always dreamt of, just outside of town, where you can grow your own food amid serene solitude.
As an airline employee, Brian Yates traveled to many places during his career. It wasn’t until he hit retirement age, however, that he considered living abroad. After visiting South America three years ago, he realized Ecuador had everything he was looking for—low cost of living, amazing coastal lifestyle, affordable healthcare, political stability, and an amazing sense of community. Brian chose to live in the small city of Manta, on the Ecuadorian coast, which has hot weather all year round (averaging 85 F during the warm season and 80 F during the cold season), and offers an amazing coastal lifestyle at a low cost.
“I love that our life is so different than I ever thought it would be,” says Pokey Sherman, 65. “I grew up in Pittsburgh. And my parents retired to Florida. I thought, ‘Is that all there is?’ I think the idea of retirement should be to change your lifestyle.”
“It’s a real joy to wake up and come out here and realize what we’ve done,” she adds, referring to their fifth-floor balcony. Their condo is set on a hill overlooking a low-key beach town, verdant forest, the glittering Pacific, surfer-filled waves, and river to the north.
It has been almost three years since my wife Rita and I first purchased our oceanfront condo in the popular beach town of Salinas, Ecuador, and just over two years since we moved here to live. Sometimes it’s a bit mind-boggling when we stop and think about how different our lives are now. If I had to pick one of the biggest changes we’ve made that has had the biggest impact on our lives, I would have to say it’s living without a car. Let’s put aside the obvious effect on our pocketbook—to be free of the expenses of car payments, car repairs, maintenance, insurance, and gas—and look at the change it makes in our lifestyle.
Cosmopolitan cities, glorious sunshine, delicious cuisine, and low costs—as a retirement or second-home destination, Spain is hard to beat. The southern province of Andalucia, particularly the area around the Costa del Sol, is the epitome of good-value, romantic Spanish living. It has everything: long sandy beaches perfect for strolling on…romantic, white-washed hill towns cling to the Andalusian hillsides…
Cozumel is a perfect blend of laidback island life with tons of activities to enjoy. Here you can have as relaxed or active a retirement as you want. You can park yourself on a perfect stretch of white-sand beach for the day, listening to the waves as you read the latest best-seller, or don a snorkel to explore the world’s second-largest reef system, just offshore. Clear waters make it easy to see (and photograph) sea turtles, rays, and colorful clown fish. You can even make arrangements to swim with giant whale sharks.
On the western end of the pristine, laidback Caribbean island of Roatán, there’s a growing community of contented, beach-loving expats. The beach here is perfectly protected from the island’s prevailing southeastern breezes. This leaves the turquoise waters calm and still, perfect for a refreshing swim or snorkel. For many residents, a people-watching stroll on the white sands with a cold beer in hand is a daily routine.
The beach here is often voted one of the best beaches in the Caribbean. Snorkeling from shore is easy, and the coral reef around this island is among the most beautiful in the world. The reef’s proximity to shore, the amazing visibility in the crystal-clear waters, and the versatility of healthy coral reef and vibrantly colored fish make for the easiest and most awe-inspiring diving. There are many dive shops on the beach here, all offering affordable dive packages for lessons or fun diving—at dive sites all within a few minutes from shore.
Santa Catalina is not one of those cute little towns you’re likely to stumble across as you explore Panama. That’s because it’s literally at the end of the road where the pavement meets the sand of the Pacific shoreline. From Santiago, the capital of Veraguas Province, it’s about a two-hour drive to get to the town of Santa Catalina. But why would you want to go? I visited there myself recently to answer that question.
Just a few months after getting settled into life in Guayaquil, Ecuador, back in 2013, I discovered one of my new favorite pastimes—going on viaje (a short vacation). Guayaquil is a fantastic city to live in if you’re looking for a base for weekend excursions. In the last three years, I’ve never had trouble finding the perfect spot for a trip.
Since Ecuador is known for its rich biodiversity, finding an interesting destination is as easy as throwing a dart at a map. But from Guayaquil, the beaches are definitely the most convenient and relaxing destination.
Just three years ago, I would not have believed it possible. In spite of a family income of six figures, we were still not able to put much toward retirement. We were living in a great waterfront condo in Maryland, but at a cost. Our monthly expenses were over $6,000. Our HOA fees alone were almost $900. On top of that, property taxes were about $5,000 a year. We were happy living there, but I was resigned to working until I was 65, at least.
Mexico’s Caribbean coast ticks all the boxes when it comes to real estate opportunity. It’s on an upward trajectory. Prices have risen strongly in recent years. But for now, there’s still opportunity to buy well and watch the value of your real estate rise.
Imagine sitting on your patio with a glass of wine in hand and fresh mahi mahi waiting for you, prepared by your private cook, who you pay $48 a week to make all your meals (add to that cleaning costs at $20 a week for two days’ work).
You gaze at the endless sea and talk about the snow you used to shovel and the months you had to wait for the crocuses and daffodils to appear, the days you spent inside because it was too cold to go out. Now brilliant, colorful flowers adorn your home all year. The crash of the waves lull you to sleep at night.
With 912 miles of coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica has plenty of beaches. And you get a wide variety of looks, too. Some of these beaches are all natural, Robison Crusoe-style tropical escapes that you’ll have all to yourself. You can sit in the shade as you watch clear water lap against the shore on a lazy afternoon. Others are places to enjoy a cold drink in hand, toes in the sand, listening to music and people-watching. There are even large resorts and bustling beach towns with plenty of nightlife.
I’m looking out over the deep blue Pacific. Fisherman with nets wade out into the shallows, flinging them periodically to catch bait fish. There’s not a cloud in the sky, and the water, with the high midday sun, glitters with light.
After nearly 10 years of marriage, my husband and I decided it was time for a change. We’d lived in a Minneapolis high-rise apartment with spectacular views of the Mississippi River and downtown for seven years, and while we loved our apartment, we didn’t love the weather (for six months of the year anyway). And I didn’t love my high-stress job or the fact that our cost of living seemed to be getting higher.
Many people say that you cannot possibly come to Belize and not have some kind of a big adventure. I have to agree.
My first visit to Belize was in 1995. I vacationed for a week of scuba diving off Glover’s Reef. I met my Belizean husband, Marcos, during that trip, and he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico with me in 1996. I was a practicing psychotherapist and my husband launched a small business. We enjoyed living in Santa Fe, but were intensely busy virtually all of the time.
It’s difficult to beat the beauty of Thailand’s white-sand beaches, often with a backdrop of jungle-topped mountains in the distance. Living on, or near, the expansive coast of this tropical paradise could be your dream retirement. Although more expensive than living in less well-traveled areas, the cost of living can still be surprisingly inexpensive for a life of year-round warm weather and spectacular scenery.
Now that January is bringing lots of cold, snowy weather, some friends in the U.S. are saying that one of their goals for 2016 is to get away to someplace warm…soon. My suggestion: Head to southern Spain, to sunny Jerez de la Frontera. It’s warm, colorful, exciting, and—thanks to the current low euro—very affordable.
A surf trip…that’s what brought me and my husband, Chuck, to Costa Rica. After landing in the capital of San Jose with my sister and her husband, we drove first to the beach town of Tamarindo, and then a couple of hours farther south to Nosara. There we found surf, beautiful beaches, and great restaurants…and the place that would become our retirement home.
Away from the beach, Tamarindo has great food and a fantastic social scene. We gather at sunset every evening. Because we’re near the equator, it’s always between 5:15 and 6:15 p.m. Groups of friends chat and watch their kids play. Dog walkers nod as they walk past. Surfers pop into the water for one last wave. Bottles are raised as the sun disappears over the horizon.
Although Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast is popular with tourists, there are plenty of small and low-key beach towns where expats live. They enjoy a close-knit circle of friends, boating and beach-combing, great restaurants and beach bars, and quiet, mostly residential, communities. In this video, International Living Costa Rica Editor Jason Holland explores Playa Flamingo…
“Where else could we find this life?” says expat Monica Sedgwick of the one she and her husband James have created in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. “We’re living in paradise, paying $200 a month for a three-bedroom apartment with a super view of the bay.” Stroll through San Juan del Sur and you’ll see colorful buildings of all different sizes flanking the ocean. They house surf shops, bakeries, beach clothing stores, hotels, and hostels, from basic to top-dollar. Buy hand-made jewelry from artists from every continent.
Justin and Sarah Fahey did everything the way you are “supposed to” in the U.S. They focused on their educations, both finally getting Master’s degrees at Boston universities. They got married. Justin landed a sales job for a large research company and Sarah worked as a counselor in a private Massachusetts school. The road to the American Dream stretched out before them. Everything was perfect. Or was it?
After enjoying a Belize sunrise from my bird-song serenaded porch with a cup of locally grown coffee, a trip to the gym or walk on the beach is a great start to my day. Then I may catch up with friends on the internet, read international news, or spend time tending to plants on the veranda. The decision to move to Belize was not taken lightly by my husband Anthony and I, yet was achieved with a light heart.
Belize first attracted me because of the spectacular Caribbean seascapes and the vibrant offshore barrier reef teaming with colorful, diverse sea life…the laidback lifestyle…affordable cost of living…and the friendly Belizeans. But after moving here another advantage became apparent. Maintaining a healthy, happy lifestyle in Belize is easy. As a matter of fact, many expats who move to Belize remark that they have lost weight, are in better shape, and feel better than they have in years…
The sun glistens down the six-mile stretch of white-sand beach. This is the heart of my hometown of La Misión, on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.Sitting just 90 minutes south of San Diego, La Misión is a beautiful and quaint village (it has a population of just under 1,000) that has yet to be discovered by the masses of tourists who visit the better-known destinations of Rosarito and Ensenada.
The famous white powdery sands that stretch around the islands of Phuket and Kho Phi Phi in southern Thailand have attracted international tourists for decades. But on the Gulf coast, just four hours from Bangkok is where you’ll find my favorite Thai beach town…Hua Hin.
I’m up a bit after sunrise for my daily ritual. It starts with a long leisurely walk on the beach. Something about the sound of crashing waves, watching anchored boats bob on the horizon, and the cool weather before the heat of the day hits…it just puts me in the right mood. I live in Tamarindo, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast. It’s a small town, popular with tourists, where life revolves around the beach. Surfing, which put Tamarindo on the map in the 1990s, is still huge here.
For many North Americans, winter is the time to batten down the hatches and brace for an onslaught of wind, snow, and rain. But not so for Bob and Lonni Skrentner. On the Belizean island of Ambergris Caye, this couple has found the perfect winter retreat. Here they can spend their days scuba diving in the Caribbean Sea, socializing, and relaxing by the beach, while friends back home are confined indoors by the cold.
For almost two years now, I’ve been living with my wife in a beautiful beachfront condo on the Pacific Ocean. That sentence alone might lead you to believe we live an expensive lifestyle. But not so. Thanks to the savings we made in moving our lives to Salinas, I have been able to retire this year at the ripe old age of 57. Here, I am happier, healthier, wealthier, and enjoying life to the fullest.
You awake to the distant cries of seabirds and the rhythmic lap of the waves against sand. Wearing ﬂip-ﬂops, a shirt, and shorts, you head out for breakfast, before taking the short stroll from the town’s main drag to the beach. Here you can take a relaxing walk by the shore, enjoy a book, or take to the ocean for some surﬁng, swimming, or scuba diving on a coral reef. As the day fades and the setting sun lights the sky a vivid orange, you retreat to your favorite beach bar to catch up with friends and enjoy a local cocktail or shot of rum beneath the palm fronds. Here, freezing winter mornings and the stress of working life seem a world away…and a lifetime ago. For many folks who call a colder climate home, retreating to a warm beach town is the dream.
Often voted one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, West Bay Beach, on the western end of the island of Roatán, Honduras, boasts a growing community of contented, beach-loving expats—part- and full-time. West Bay rests along Roatán’s northwestern shore, which is perfectly protected from the island’s prevailing southeastern breezes. This leaves the turquoise waters calm and still, perfect for a refreshing swim or snorkel. For many residents, a people-watching stroll on the white sands with a cold beer in hand is a daily routine.
With its light-brown beaches, prominent white lighthouse, and whitewashed seaside homes, it could be a U.S. Atlantic-coast beach town 60 years ago. If it weren’t for the Spanish-speaking locals, modern cars, and surfers paddling out on modern boards, you might be convinced you’ve been transported back in time. But this place exists today—just in a different country in a different hemisphere. You’re in La Paloma, Uruguay’s up-and-coming beach resort, home to ﬁne food, good ﬁshing, great waves, and vast tracts of pristine sand for you to enjoy.