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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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.
The Golden Age of Europe’s royal houses may be long over, but the Old world beach resorts where the continent’s aristocracy summered still cling to a fin de siècle grandeur… In these spots, you can enjoy urban luxuries as fine as the enticing, sandy beaches. Biarritz, on the southwest French coast, has attracted European royalty and jet-setters ever since Napoleon III and his Spanish-born empress, Eugénie, built a palace there in 1854.
One moment that has stuck with me over the years is a dinner I had with a friend in New York. It was around the time that I put my apartment up for sale and was getting ready to move my life to Mexico. We met in the Meatpacking District, at a small Italian restaurant. It was a warm, late-summer night, perfect for lingering over our wine in a corner of Manhattan that felt like Europe, where we both had lived in the past.
After living here in Cancún over a year, I’ve come to the conclusion that Cancún is not so much a traditional Mexican city as it is an international city with strong Mexican overtones. Though it retains its Mexican flavor, the influx of tourists and the city’s young age have seen it develop into a vibrant, modern, and sophisticated city with a lively nightlife.
The island destination in Panama I’m asked about the most is Bocas del Toro—and with good reason. A trickle of adventurous visitors and a tight-knit expat community have transformed insular Bocas del Toro from a sleepy archipelago to a bustling outpost. But if you’re considering island life, you’ll be interested to know that Bocas is not the only exciting option available.
Roatán offers an appealing expat lifestyle, diverse and healthy food, easy access to North America, and great infrastructure for such a small island (only about 50 square miles in size). You’ll find an international airport, two cruise line ports, paved main roads, two hospitals, a golf course, and several high-quality grocery stores that stock North American gourmet items. The lifestyle is also highly affordable for the Caribbean. I met one expat couple who own their own home and live comfortably on less than $1,200 a month.
Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, also known as the Gold Coast, is a tourist and expat favorite. It’s no wonder. It’s the sunniest region of the country. And visitors and residents alike have a variety of communities to choose from: busy resort towns, expat enclaves, deserted beaches, laid-back seaside villages, and more. Life is about surfing, fishing, shopping at charming farmers’ markets (and buying fresh off the boat seafood), and lazing away the day on the sand.
Since I moved to Panama 10 years ago, the islands of Bocas del Toro have become one of my favorite vacation spots of all time. It’s just an hour-long flight from Panama City…though I’ve also driven the scenic seven hours or so to the launch point of Almirante, where you can get a 30-minute water taxi to the main island. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean…St. Thomas, Grand Cayman, Martinique…you name it, I’ve probably been there. But for me, none of them can hold a candle to Bocas del Toro.
Roatán, the largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras, is surrounded by the beautiful Mesoamerican Barrier Reef and also boasts a lush, verdant landscape above water. As you fly toward the island on a direct flight from the U.S. or Canada, you’ll notice how much of this paradise remains undeveloped. Natural beauty abounds on Roatán. Homes built on the gorgeous jungle-covered hillsides overlook the turquoise Caribbean water and even beachfront homes enjoy privacy and tranquility.
When my husband Clyde was working as a firefighter and paramedic in Corpus Christi, Texas he had top-notch health insurance. While he was still working, the city paid a portion of our premium but after he decided to call it quits we’d be responsible for the full amount. With a monthly premium of over $1,200 how could we afford to retire, let alone retire early?
I was enjoying a stroll down the beach in Tamarindo the other day—it’s just a 10-minute walk from my house—when a couple, visitors from the Midwest, asked me to take their picture. We chatted, and I mentioned that I lived in town.
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.
“Where else could we find this life?” says expat Monica Sedgwick of the one she and her husband James have created in Nicaragua. “We’re living in paradise, paying $200 a month for a three-bedroom apartment with a super view of the bay.” And they’re not the only expats to have discovered the wonderfully affordable lifestyle this retirement haven has to offer.
Picture rolling, green foothills covered in forest, which frame mountains up to 2,300 feet high…the city itself, orange-tiled roofs over houses painted all colors of the rainbow, creeping up the mountainside. That’s Matagalpa.
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.
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.”
“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.
Brittney Borjeson first went to Sayulita on Mexico’s Pacific coast to learn how to surf. That was back in 2012, and as soon as the plane touched down, she felt like she had come home. “I was hooked from my first wave. I remember thinking, I could give everything up for this,” Brittney recalls. Coming from New York, with its hectic pace, Brittney found the slower pace of Sayulita to be a complete contrast.
“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.
A family reunion for a 100-year-old aunt took Bob Urzua to San Juan del Sur for the first time. He fell in love with the place. The peace and tranquility attracted him immediately—he felt so good and calm on his trip. Would he feel this way if he lived here all the time? He decided to find out.