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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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.
“At the end of a long day, Daisy and I love to visit one of our favorite restaurants,” says Jim Silver of his new life on the Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres, just eight miles offshore from Cancún. “Obviously, living on an island means great seafood, but that’s not all you’ll find.”
For Kim Nowak, having two homes on opposite ends of North America is completely normal. “I’m a snowbird and it’s the perfect lifestyle for me,” she says. “I’ve been doing it so long that I can’t imagine my life in any other way.”
It’s another tough winter day in paradise for Bill and Ann Addison. Bill just finished a round of golf on a course that overlooks the turquoise Caribbean Sea, while Ann spent the day at a picturesque, secluded beach, snorkeling with her friends. Retirement is filled with fun for these snowbirds.
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.
There is no better way to celebrate island life than to step aboard a boat and cruise away from shore for stunning views and extraordinary experiences. Whether it’s in a luxury yacht, a spacious catamaran, a quaint sailboat, or a personal kayak… The Caribbean island of Roatán, off the northern coast of Honduras, is surrounded by clear turquoise water.
Lorelei Kusin lives on an island in Panama’s Bocas del Toro province, and in this part of the Caribbean, time seems to stand still. “Our small house is situated on a bay facing the ocean,” she says. After waking to the sound of chattering birds, Lorelei and her husband James enjoy a cup of freshly ground Panamanian coffee, followed by a smoothie using local fresh produce such as fresh coconut water, mango, pineapple, guanabana, and bananas. “Then I often swim or paddleboard before we head to town in our 22-foot boat.”
Monica Sedgwick and her husband, James, wandered into the laidback Nicaraguan beach town of San Juan del Sur about seven years ago. The pair were immediately hooked on its gorgeous beaches…quieter lifestyle…fun people…and the fact that it was cheap to live there.
Every hillside, every valley, was brushed with the vivid, appealing colors of nature…crimson and orange flamed hues of flamboyant trees in full bloom contrasted with the soft blue and mauve blossoms of what appeared to be jacaranda trees… The entire countryside of Belize’s Cayo District was bursting with color. A recent trip to this area reminded me how much it has to offer. I relish living on the country’s Caribbean coast but every now and then I love to escape and indulge in the Cayo’s raw, bold beauty.
When I think about my old life in Branson, Missouri, so many things go through my mind… but mostly, I don’t miss it at all. Life in the U.S. is so fast paced…no one has time for one another anymore, most people don’t even know their neighbors. Now that my wife Laurie and I live in Ecuador, everything in our lives is much slower…and a lot less stressful. Our typical day starts with coffee in the backyard by the pool, followed by pottering about in the garden and then an hour or so of relaxing. Later in the day, we may take a stroll along the nearby crescent-shaped beach that never gets overcrowded, or we’ll make time to visit the local mercado and stock up on fruit and veggies. Several times a month, we’ll get together with other expats for dinner and to catch up.
Costa Rica’s Caribbean is a wild coastline…the least developed region of the country. Small towns and villages line the coast. Jungle surrounds you. The beaches range from dark volcanic sand to golden-hued grains to the powdery white variety. The water is a clear turquoise. And the living is very easy. Take a look at this selection of the best beaches on the Caribbean: the best places for watersports, sunbathing, and enjoying a good book in the shade of a palm tree.
Roatán is a gorgeous island located off the northern shore of Honduras, and surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. It’s known for its exquisite, crystal-clear turquoise water…beautiful golden sand beaches…diverse water sports…abundant marine life…and the World Heritage barrier reef that runs along its shores. Life is easy on Roatán, a laidback island with a Caribbean vibe. English is the primary language and a couple can still live on a budget of $2000/month here.
I could never have afforded my tropical-island property if I didn’t use it to earn. And earn it does…I bring in between $50,000 and $60,000 a year. If you rent your second home part of the year, it can pay for itself. In fact, it may even make you a healthy profit. But you need to know how to successfully market your overseas dream pad to vacationers.
The dazzling Caribbean island of Roatán offers much more than spectacular sugarsand beaches and cozy, inviting bays. You’ll also find mountainous terrain lush with vibrant tropical flowers. Head up any of the many hills that form the interior to be awestruck by the surrounding Caribbean Sea, its surface sparkling in the sun, its depths tinged with aquamarine, topaz, and soft green hues.
It’s the simple things I love most about life in Bali, one of more than 17,000 islands making up the country of Indonesia. For instance, taking my dogs Abby and Yuki for a walk along the beach at sunset, and dropping in to my favorite beach bar, Warung Rasta, for a cold beer or two. The rickety wooden tables sit right on the black, volcanic sand, and it is the perfect place to watch the sun go down, as Java’s volcanoes loom to the west. As dogs, chickens, and pigs run around the beach, I give the staff a quick wave and they bring me a beer.
You gaze out from your veranda each morning onto a sea often as smooth as glass, shimmering as sunrays dance upon its surface. As far as the eye can see, north and south, are miles of gorgeous beaches, peppered with inviting, thatched-roof palapas at the end of docks. Red, yellow, and other brightly colored kayaks sit above the surf line, ready for the next joy ride.
One afternoon, as I awoke from a short nap and looked upon the brilliant, blue-green waters of the Caribbean Sea only steps away from my front door, I had a powerful thought. Nothing of what is now my amazing, wonderful life would be possible if I had surrendered to the fears I had only a few years ago. When my wife Diane and I ﬁrst embarked on our expat adventure, we had second thoughts, unanswered questions, and even an appropriate amount of fear.
“I go into my kitchen and look out over my pool to the ocean. I can see all the way to the mountains in neighboring Costa Rica. On my terrace are beautiful potted plants including orchids hanging from coconut trees. I feel blessed,” says Lawrence. Lawrence and Jeanne were living a high-powered life in the Big Apple, working and raising three children.
Much of Panama’s pacific coast consists of unspoiled beaches and little communities where you’ll find friendly people and small towns offering a taste of the past. Here authentic Panamanian culture still exists and people treat visitors like welcome guests. One such community is the surf town of Santa Catalina. It’s located in the province of Veraguas, about two-and-a-half hours southwest of the city of Santiago.
We Have the Best of Both Worlds in Costa Rica. From our small house up in the cool, quiet hills about 15 minutes from the beach town of Nosara, we’re close enough to head to our second house, a condo on the beach. We like having both, and Costa Rica is a place you can have the best of both worlds. We’d always harbored a hope that we might spend some part of our lives outside the United States and on our first trip to Costa Rica, we loved it at once. The beach community of Nosara, on the Pacific Coast, really peaked our interest so this is where we decided to retire to.
After working as an electrician for over 27 years, Jeff Brewer was ready for something new that didn’t involve another snowy winter in New York. In March 2014, as the piles of dirty snow still filled parking lots and street corners, Jeff decided he’d had enough.
The picturesque seaside town of Hua Hin, Thailand is known for its stunning beaches, burgeoning restaurant scene, and small-town feel. It’s famous as a royal resort, yet the sea breeze and stunning views come cheap in Hua Hin. You’ll find a low cost of living and good-value real estate.