In 2006, even though the U.S. economy was still going strong, I looked around at my life and said, “It’s time to go.” So I quit my job, sold my apartment in New York, and moved abroad. It sounds abrupt, but it actually wasn’t. I’d been thinking about it for years. I’m no financial genius, but I can add as well as anyone, and I can certainly read writing on the wall. And, having hit a milestone birthday, calculated my net assets, and estimated remaining work years, they didn’t add up to a retirement I’d enjoy. I saw absolutely no way to save as much money as financial wonks said I’d need to retire comfortably in the U.S.
I get a couple of emails a month like this from International Living readers: “I’ve been doing my research as you suggest. I know I want to make my move abroad, but no matter how many likely destinations I cross off my list, I still have too many to choose from. Where should I go?”
Just north of Tulum on Mexico’s Riviera Maya is the small beach community of Akumal. The beach curves gently around a small cove, which is home to endangered sea turtles who munch on the abundant sea grass.
Just south of Cancún, on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, sits the small fishing village of Puerto Morelos. While still a working-class traditional Mexican town, Puerto Morelos has also drawn retirees in increasing numbers who come to live full-time or part-time as “snowbirds” escaping the cold North American winters.
Playa del Carmen lies about midway between the all-inclusive resort hub of Cancún and the up-and-coming, low-key and still somewhat bohemian destination of Tulúm. It’s a happy medium between those two extremes and a favorite for those seeking to live an active retirement in an atmosphere that is sophisticated, yet laidback at the same time. Casual dress and relaxed attitudes are the keys to living in Playa del Carmen. The region is the Riviera Maya, a focal point for tourist activity and site of investment by the Mexican government, which started with Cancún in the 1970s and spread down the coast. The feel is First World, with services, infrastructure, and amenities to match.
Gene and Patricia have been escaping harsh Canadian winters in Cancún for about 15 years now. They are among a large number of couples who have chosen the life of a “half-pat,” preferring to spend four to six months a year in their second, much warmer, home here on the Caribbean, without committing entirely to the life of full-time expats. The Rousseaus usually leave their Canadian home in early January, enjoying about five months in Cancún before returning in late April or May, depending on the Canadian weather.
Right now, in a quiet, laidback beach town steps from the blue Pacific, you’ll find a welcoming international community, cute restaurants and stores, and a remarkably low cost of living. On a budget of just $1,600 a month, a couple could live comfortably here, right near the ocean where you can fish, swim, kayak, sail, or just read a book on the sand… In an historic city we recommend, you could enjoy the cosmopolitan culture—live music and choral concerts, art galleries, independent restaurants, chic boutiques—and live comfortably for as little as $1,300 a month (less if you own your home outright).
Imagine a place of rich, earthy smells, dappled light, soaring tropical hardwoods, and thick underbrush…the dawn calls of birds and the nighttime chirps and whistles of insects. From your terrace it’s as though you have Eden on the doorstep—a thousand shades of green and nature’s bounty. These days, living in a jungle home, you can have the best of both worlds: the feeling of being set apart, while enjoying conveniences like high-speed internet and air conditioning in your own paradise.
Guanajuato, Mexico, loves its food. And as Mexico considers its homegrown cuisine part of its cultural heritage, what better way to celebrate it than a public feast? The three-day Enchilada Festival culminated this year in an enchilada cookout that filled three long tables—over 900 feet—with enchiladas. It’s thought to be the longest enchilada in the world!
Financial struggles weren’t the only thing motivating our retirement abroad, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that’s what got us looking for an out-of-the-box solution to begin with. Like a lot of people during the financial crisis, my husband, Donald, and I took a big hit. Here we were nearing the end of our working years, and our financial security had evaporated in a seeming instant. My husband had his second heart attack in three years, and then lost his job—along with his medical insurance. We were tired, vulnerable, and drowning in stress. I remember my husband declaring that he felt as if he’d, “been running a marathon for 60 years.” We both worked regular jobs, and even started a couple of small businesses on the side to claw our way back. But it would be years before we could hope to retire, and we were spending all our time and energy just to hold on.
One of my absolute favorite destinations in the world is Guanajuato, a city in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands. It’s a place where every interest is catered for: Every time I return I throw myself into the wealth of cultural activities it offers: concerts, exhibitions, theater, food festivals, book fairs… Even Guanajuato’s street scene is lively. Walk down to the Jardin (Garden) area any given night, and you’ll see strolling locals and expats, bustling outdoor cafes, student troubadours, and mariachi groups making music, and more.
Beverly Nelson has a passion for holistic health…and for Mexico. That’s why she opened a retreat center in San Miguel de Allende, in the country’s Colonial Highlands. Today, she enjoys a life that is fulfilling both personally and professionally. She welcomes clients from around the world who come for workshops and lectures, individual and group retreats, and healing modalities like acupuncture and various types of massage, including Ayurvedic. During her free time, she and friends enjoy San Miguel, going to concerts, films, gallery openings, the theater, or dinner at someone’s home or in a local restaurant. “There is so much to do here in San Miguel, there is never a lack of choice,” she says.
Bella Sirena is a secluded oasis on a strip of land that joins the peninsula of Baja California with the rest of Mexico. It’s right where the sand meets crystal blue waters and the beach goes on for miles. The 20-foot tidal changes uncover delicate creatures like starfish, tiny crabs, and other sea urchins that hide in all the nooks and crannies. Beyond the gates of this upscale resort, lush tropical foliage surrounds the infinity pools and you step into Old-World architecture inspired by Mexican and Tuscan villas.
In 2008, when my husband Paul and I first started talking about the possibility of retiring overseas, we really only considered two countries: Mexico and Costa Rica. I often wonder why we didn’t consider more countries at the time; there are so many great options. At the time, though, we only thought of countries where we’d had some personal experience. First up was Mexico. Paul lived and went to college there in the ’70s and has always had a love for both the country and its culture, so it was natural that Mexico was on our short list. I had visited Costa Rica on a business trip in the ’90s and remembered it as a beautiful country that I always wanted to visit again.
When Bob and Irma Caragol started looking for their new retirement home, they knew what they wanted. “We were looking for a warm climate at a high elevation, enough land for a garden with a good water source, a safe way to diversify our assets, and an affordable cost of living,” recalls Bob. They found all this and more in Santa Fe, Panama. “We are so impressed by the people of Santa Fe,” Bob says. “They are so friendly and helpful and we feel welcome here. There’s no sense of class distinction as in other places, and almost no crime. The environment is unspoiled, with clean rivers and no pollution.”
Mexico’s chic beach resort of Puerto Vallarta has been attracting expats for decades, thanks to its warm climate and sophisticated but affordable First-World living. But while many come to lounge by the sea or stroll the cobblestone streets of the city’s Romantic Zone, Canadian Pat Light has found in Puerto Vallarta a moneymaking opportunity. The former hospital administrator has turned her love for exotic handmade soaps into a thriving business. In addition to colorful soaps, Pat also sells shampoos and body creams scented with the coconut, lime, and mango of her new home. Like many businesses, hers grew out of a hobby. A longtime admirer of handmade soap, Pat ran out of supplies after moving to Mexico in 2007. This led her to try to create her own.
Every year, more and more North Americans are waking up to the immense opportunities that an overseas retirement presents. Some move abroad to embrace new experiences, a different lifestyle—even an exciting new career—unavailable to them at home. Others—worried that a depleted nest egg and spiraling healthcare costs may leave them too little to retire on in North America—discover that many lower-cost countries let them stretch their savings and enjoy a comfortable, even luxurious, retirement.
Recently I spent a month in the U.S. visiting family and friends. It was my longest continuous stint “back home” since I moved to Mexico eight years ago. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and enjoy the U.S., and I did. There’s a lot that I love about my home country, including its beauty, the sheer convenience of life there, and, of course, its familiarity. I don’t include the high—indeed, exorbitant—cost of U.S. healthcare on that list of things I love. Those who live in the U.S. don’t have any choice—that expensive healthcare is all they have. But in moving abroad I gained a choice in the matter, and it’s been one of the best things about my move.
We came to Cancun after beginning our expat retirement adventures in Ecuador. Our retirement plans were in serious trouble in the U.S. I had suffered my second heart attack in 2009…and soon after I lost a good job and the health insurance that came with it. I was unemployed, uninsured, and the medical expenses were stacking up. So, we decided to take a chance and live overseas, a decision that first brought us to the small fishing and farming community of San Vicente on Ecuador’s coast, just a short distance from the equator. We spent two great years there, but with my heart issues, we decided it would be wise to live closer to top-notch emergency medical care.
White-sand beaches…ancient wonderlands…and cities full of flamenco music and orange trees. Thanks to my ability to teach English, I have seen them all. And it doesn’t matter what age you are when you start. I’ve had colleagues in their 70s. My path as an English teacher has taken me across four continents over the past 15 years. It has allowed me the opportunity to travel extensively—never being tied to one place for longer than the term of a teaching contract—unless I wanted to extend.
March sees the Irish across the world assemble to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and there are few better places to take part in this grand revelry of all things Irish than the capital city, Dublin. But it won’t be just Irish culture on display this March 17; the parade in Dublin (Ireland’s largest) will feature floats and performers from around the world, not to mention copious amounts of beer. Not to be missed. Neighboring Scotland will have a more literary focus in March as StAnza, one of the UK’s premier poetry festivals, comes to the historic town of St. Andrew’s. From March 4 to March 8 a wide variety of poets will descend upon the town for readings, workshops, discussions and, of course, live performances, bringing with them a terrific atmosphere to the area. This is also a great time of year to explore St. Andrew’s. It’s one of Scotland’s most beautiful towns and is famed for its prestigious university, coastal resort, and some of the best golfing to be found anywhere in the world.
Over the last two years, the gold price has dropped 30%, while the silver price has been cut in half. Well, let me tell you, I think both metals are set up to surprise to the upside in 2015, especially silver. Industrial demand for silver keeps ramping up. The Silver Institute, which represents the global silver industry, expects silver demand to grow about 5% per year over the next few years. The biggest growth opportunities are in photovoltaics (solar), automotive and ethylene oxide (EO, an essential ingredient in plastics). Longer term, just in photovoltaic solar panels, demand is expected to rise to 109 million ounces by 2018 from 88 million ounces consumed in 2013.
A populace that appreciates art, a local government that supports artistic endeavors, and a network of galleries to show your work…these are key ingredients for artists choosing a place to live. Surroundings that inspire creativity, whether through architecture, natural beauty, or indigenous influences, are also important. Finally, affordable accommodation and studio space are vital as well. A place where you can live well on a little income and concentrate on your work. Fortunately, even as artists get priced out of metropolises like New York City and Paris, other cities have stepped in. These havens can be found around the world. And even if you’re not a painter or sculptor, these cities are great for those who love and appreciate art…not to mention perfect places to sample new styles and snap up unusual pieces at bargain prices.
For their 2015 Annual Global Retirement Index, InternationalLiving.com’s editors and correspondents spent months researching, surveying, and collating the data on the best places to live in the world…a task that included identifying the best climates worldwide. The Climate category in the Index assessed the hard data of temperatures, rainfall and humidity, and also the comfort level of each destination’s climate. “It’s difficult to quantify and qualify a ‘perfect’ climate,” says Suzan Haskins, senior editor at InternationalLiving.com.
Gray skies…dark mornings and evenings…and inches of snow covering your driveway… Those don’t need to be a fact of life. For the 2015 Annual Global Retirement Index, our editors and correspondents spent months researching, surveying, and collating the data on the best places to live in the world…a task that included identifying where you can find the best climate in the world. The “Climate” category assesses the hard data of temperatures, rainfall and humidity, and also the comfort level of each destination’s climate.
February sees Saint Agatha’s Feast Day take place in the city of Catania, on the Italian island of Sicily. The patron saint of the area, St. Agatha died at age 15 in the 3rd century, and every February 4 commences with a mass held at dawn in her name. Her statue is then given pride of place atop a massive silver carriage and carried to the top of Mount Sangiuliano by over 5,000 men. The ensuing days offer the chance to enjoy Sicilian food and wine, and the ceremony closes with a massive fireworks display. From February 11 to 17, you can experience the magic of Carnaval without having to take a flight to Rio. Just hop across the border to Mexico. It too is noted for its carnival celebrations, which take place in cities across the country. The most notable Carnavales take place in Veracruz, Mazatlán, and Mérida. You’ll have an exciting selection of parades, displays, live music, and cuisine to choose from, as the party atmosphere sweeps the nation.
Looking to move to Mexico? If so, here’s some good news: Mexico has recently reduced the amount of income and assets you need to qualify for a residence visa. Combined with the already-streamlined visa application process, it means that getting legal residence in Mexico is cheaper and easier than it’s been in years. For temporary residence visas you now must show monthly income of only about $1,553 for the last six months or average financial assets of about $25,880 for the last year. For a permanent residence visa you must show monthly income of about $2,588 or average assets of about $103,523. Expats have a choice of two main categories of visa: a temporary residence visa or a permanent residence visa. Within these categories there are several ways to qualify. For instance, you can qualify if you’ve been hired by a Mexican company.
These days I’m pain free. I have all my flexibility back, I can enjoy the things I love doing, and it’s all thanks to a trip to Mexico. I’m one of many people who have traveled to Mexico for medical care. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my hips four years ago, and it came upon me quickly. I was at the height of my career but was forced to stop working due to pain and difficulty walking. I had been an athletic person all my life and an enthusiastic golfer…no more.
Encompassing Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras, La Ruta Maya (the “Maya Route”) covers the territory of the Maya civilization, which reached its height from 250 to 900 A.D. One of the New World’s most advanced cultures, the Maya had written language, mathematics, a sophisticated calendar, and architectural skills that saw them construct massive temples and spectacular cities, many of which still stand. However, the Maya were never a single empire; rather, kings ruled over small territories surrounding a city.
My wife, Suzan, and I have lived abroad for almost 14 years, and we’ve had several foreign bank accounts. I wasn’t allowed to write checks on any of them. Not that foreign banks don’t allow check writing—they have all the same services U.S. banks do. But the banks we dealt with in Latin America all seem to be much more serious about signatures than our banks in the U.S.
Gary lost his job as a producer selling commercial printing after 30 years with the same company. Louise says, “It was terrifying; we went from a very livable income to nothing in a matter of minutes.” Fortunately, as a stay-at-home mom, Louise had set up a lighting business several years before Gary’s job loss. “Gary joined me and we expanded my little business into a very lucrative lighting business. We designed and manufactured the most wonderful, whimsical lighting.”
From the quaint town of Cotacachi to the vibrant capital, Quito, from Salinas by the sea to the peaks of the Andes, Ecuador’s diversity is a key part of the massive appeal that sees it regain the coveted top spot on this year’s retirement index. Although prices have risen slightly in recent years, Ecuador’s real estate is still the best value you’ll find anywhere. This is bolstered by the generous array of benefits the government has afforded to retirees. Over-65s get discounts on flights originating in Ecuador, as well as up to 50% off entry to movies and sporting events. Discounts are also available on public transport (50%) and utilities, with the option of a free landline if you purchase a property.
With spiraling costs compelling more and more North Americans to retire overseas, retiring abroad has never been more attractive. But finding the right location among the myriad options available can be daunting. That’s what our Annual Global Retirement Index does. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. Keep in mind that, even though only 25 countries feature on our list, all of them are worth your attention. We selected them from among all the countries in the world for their qualities as retirement hot-spots, so even the lowest-ranked nation on our index is still very much an option worth considering.
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.
Our tumble from a very nice, safe, and secure middle-class life began when my second heart attack struck in 2009—right in the middle of a global financial crisis. I lost my upper-level management position and the health insurance that came with it. Try as I might, I was unable to find a good job for the first time in my life. I was unemployed, uninsured, and recovering from a serious heart attack with ongoing medical expenses every week. I did what work I could find, but my earnings combined with those from my wife Diane’s job barely managed to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.
After living in fast-paced, high-pressure California and working in the aerospace industry, moving to Ajijic was exactly what the couple needed. “Life here is like it was in the U.S. in the 1950s—simple and laidback. The significantly slower pace of life is probably the biggest benefit of daily life here,” says Walter. “We eat better, we get more exercise, and our health has improved. “Most people can live here on their Social Security alone. We only dip into our savings to travel to see our family. Our home cost us less than 25% of the cost of a similar home in the Bay Area of California. Our property taxes are about $150 per year.
The enticing smell of bratwurst and gingerbread wafts through the city. Everywhere you’ll see stalls adorned with medieval regalia and in the old quarter you’ll find an old-fashioned carousel. Welcome to Nuremburg, home to Germany’s most famous Christmas market. It lasts until December 24. While northern Europe might be caked in snow throughout much of December, in the southern hemisphere summer is in full swing. Head Down Under to soak up some rays at Australia’s National Cherry Festival, which takes place from December 5 to 7 in the town of Young in New South Wales.
Oil prices have fallen hard this year. The same thing happened in the first half of last year due to soaring production. The reasons for the decline in price are fourfold. Last year, U.S. production rose to its highest levels since the 1990s. Furthermore, OPEC saw its production leap to a nearly two-year high in September, averaging 30.96 million bpd (barrels per day). Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has cut its global oil growth forecasts for 2015 as a result of second quarter consumption sliding to a 2.5-year low.
When you’re moving to Mexico, it helps to get the scoop on your new home city from expats who live there. They’ve already figured out which plumber is most reliable, which carpenter does the best work, and which market has the best produce and prices. They may also become your first friends in your new home. But where do you find the expats? There are lots of ways to seek them out. For instance, a useful first step is to search online before you ever leave for Mexico.