In January, I stepped out from the front doors of my colonial hotel into the already bright morning sunshine. Past perfectly preserved colonial buildings, I walked past a wide central park, lined with vendors selling cool drinks and snacks, and horse-drawn carriages offering rides to waiting tourists. It was just a few more steps—past a colorful Spanish colonial cathedral—to get a fresh-brewed coffee or a gelado. You can buy fresh-baked pastries or gourmet jellies or sauces in little street-side cafes.
With a general subtropical climate, Nicaragua is pretty hot everywhere and has a specific six-month dry season (December to May) and six-month wet season (June to November). However, Matagalpa is different. Here you wake up to sunshine most days with rain throughout the year.
The proverbial retirement…life in a beach home overlooking the ocean. Most of us experience this fleeting thought, but realize it’s never going to happen, so we settle on a more affordable, comfortable plan. And then a financial crisis hits, and it looks like we’ll just stay where we are and never move to that quaint town in the mountains that we had been dreaming about for the past 10 years. Unfortunately, retirement dreams just don’t look the same anymore.
When people tell you why they want to retire abroad, a few big reasons crop up again and again: the lower cost of living…escaping the worst of the North American winter…finding a more adventurous life…access to excellent, affordable healthcare. But there are other benefits to embracing a life abroad—benefits most people don’t even think of. Many expats are pleasantly surprised to discover that you can also find a healthier lifestyle overseas—without even trying.
It may well be the best little beach town in the world… With 22 beaches for you to enjoy and a surge in foreign residents and travelers, San Juan del Sur, on Nicaragua’s southern Pacific coast, is perfect for any lover of ocean views, warm waters, and fun in the sun. After eight years of living here full-time, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Even if I’m away for only a few days, I find myself missing it. Many people come here to visit and end up staying or going home to plan their permanent return.
For special occasions, especially the Christmas holidays, nacatamales are the go-to traditional meal in Nicaragua. Making this delicious dish is a bit labor intensive and a multi-step process—so the whole family gets involved. The basic ingredients are masa, chicken or pork seasoned with achiote, and vegetables and herbs like onions, potatoes, bell peppers, tomato, rice, and mint—everybody has their own version. It’s all wrapped together in a banana leaf and then steamed.
Time and again, we hear back from readers looking for a healthier lifestyle overseas. So in this year’s Annual Global Retirement Index, we’ve added a Healthy Lifestyle category. Finding a healthier retirement abroad is a key consideration for many expats. And while many countries on our beat scored strongly in this regard, Costa Rica earned top marks.
Set in the middle of Lake Nicaragua, the world’s 19th largest lake, Ometepe Island is an escape from the stress of the modern world. It’s most noticeable feature: the two volcanoes, one active and one extinct, that loom above all.
Island residents live a simple life of farming and fishing. There is no large-scale development and limited numbers of tourists make their way there for horseback riding, trekking in the jungle, eco-tours, and learning sustainable farming practices. You do find some expats on Ometepe, running restaurants or hostels…or farming. It’s still a relatively undiscovered destination.
By choosing to retire in one of the world’s best bang-for-your-buck destinations, Rob enjoys a lifestyle well beyond his reach if he had stayed in the U.S. Every day he can choose to relax on the beaches around his home in the town of Sihanoukville, on the Cambodian coast, dine on fresh French croissants…rent a sailboat or go fishing on an offshore charter…
Imagine a life where you get to travel, earn enough to live, and enjoy doing what you love. Samantha Wei and Yeison Kim are based in Costa Rica and earn a living from blogging about their adventures. Their blog now generates a healthy income averaging more than $5,000 each month in revenue.
Forget what the scientists tell us about the five happiness factors. I’ve lived in Nicaragua for eight years and I can easily explain why I am much happier here than I ever was in the U.S. Don’t get me wrong, my life was fine in San Diego, good even. But now that I see how life can really be for a retiree, there’s actually no comparison. Here’s why:
Don’t get me wrong, my life was fine in San Diego, good even. But now that I see how life can really be for a retiree, there’s actually no comparison. Here’s why:
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.
Cost of living can be a major concern for people on fixed pension, annuity, and other retirement income sources. In International Living’s 2016 Global Retirement Index, three countries stand out from the top 23 retirement locations in the world as having the best cost of living:
Whipping and flickering across the night sky, the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are on many travelers’ bucket lists. And northern Finland is one of the best places in the world to observe this stunning natural phenomenon.
“I really love my life in Guatemala. The low cost of living makes me feel that the opportunities here are endless, and I feel like I can really carve out my little spot here in paradise,” says expat Tara Tiedemann of her life in colonial Antigua, a gem at the heart of Guatemala. “It’s amazing how far your money goes in Guatemala. For $500 a month, I can rent a beautiful apartment in a colonial-style building right in Antigua. I’m within walking distance of the Central Park and my favorite bakery for fresh banana bread.
When you were younger, what did you envision your retirement would look like? Long, happy days where you wouldn’t have to work the 9-to-5 grind anymore. Playing golf or going to the beach on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. You probably saw yourself pursuing hobbies and taking classes that you never had time for before.
Leon is one of the oldest cities in Nicaragua and second-largest city in the country after the capital of Managua. It has a warm climate with average highs in the high 80s F and average lows in the 70s F and also has terrific colonial architecture to recommend it. Leon is great place to live if you want to be close to the beaches…you can enjoy all the conveniences of a big city, amid beautiful surroundings, and still be only 11 miles from Nicaragua’s stunning ocean beaches.
“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?
Imagine if you could snap your fingers and instantly cut your monthly expenses in half. You’d effectively double the value of the money you budget for monthly expenses. It would mean the cash you once used for monthly bills would be available for other uses. There are hundreds of beautiful retirement locations around the world where this is possible. For the past 15 years, my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I have lived in many of them.
On December 8, 1852, the people of the French city of Lyon lit candles in their windows to celebrate the raising of a statue of the Virgin Mary on the city’s Fourvière Hill. Now, more than 160 years later, this tradition has grown into the annual Festival of Lights, which sees the streets of Lyon lit up by more than 70 artistic light displays from December 5 to December 8. Millions of visitors arrive during the festival to take in these ornate, creative works, as the windows, fountains, and trees of Lyon light up with every color imaginable.
Life here is just easy,” says 66-year-old Ira Stephenson of his new life in the mountain town of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. “I lived in many other places around the world before I came here, and Matagalpa felt like home from the very beginning.” Back in Sacramento, California, Ira worked in drywall construction. But after a severe work injury, several unsuccessful surgeries, and plain bad luck, Ira found himself unemployed, disabled, and with very little money.
When I chose to drop out of school at 14, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life other than to fulfill my lifelong dream to travel the world. Back then, I didn’t know how I would do so, I just knew I would make it happen. I grew up next door to an Italian family, the Picos, who had migrated to Australia with their sons, Giovanni and Pietro.
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?
“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.
Adrienne made the move to Nicaragua with Pax, her one-year-old son. As a 41-year-old woman, she still had to create an income. Back in Whistler, Canada, she had a successful nail salon business that she sold in 2012. When she arrived in Nicaragua, she had just under $10,000 to invest.
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.
Before the automobile came along, people lived life on a more intimate scale. You shopped at the local butcher, baker, and grocer (whom you knew by name). The café downstairs, or down the street, was your second home, and its patrons your second family. You scheduled your day by how long it took to walk from place to place…and nobody was in a rush, anyway.
We began International Living as a dream. Now it is a reality, not just for us but for thousands of people. I’ve met hundreds of them myself. And never have I met one who regretted it. But let’s back up. When I launched International Living in 1980, I really didn’t know much about living overseas…and barely anything about living at all. I was only 32 years old. What I thought I knew back then came mostly from reading…and from my junior year abroad, which was spent in Paris in 1969.
On my first trip to Granada, Nicaragua several years ago, I stopped in a small bookshop in the historic colonial quarter, just a few blocks from the main square. It was evident the owner—an expat from California—was a lover of literature. Classics…science fiction…travelogues…histories…and more lined the shelves. As I chatted to him, it emerged that he got started when he was just passing through Granada and, looking to make a bit of extra travel money…he laid books out on a blanket on the street to sell.
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.
I’ve lived in Nicaragua for seven years, and I can tell you that this is one of the most beautiful, affordable, and exciting countries in Central America. You can leave your stressful life behind and relax in the tranquility of a liquid gold touched sunset, listen to a gentle forest rain, or watch from your patio as thousands of fireflies make it look as though the stars have descended from the sky. And if you like excitement and adventure, Nicaragua will not disappoint.
Jacques Cousteau once declared the Blue Hole in Belize to be one of the best diving spots in the world—and few would disagree. The Blue Hole, part of the Lighthouse Reef system, is an almost-perfect circular limestone sinkhole that is nearly 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep. This striking ocean feature sits like a giant blue pupil in a sea of turquoise.
“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.
The global rise in demand for craft beer from microbreweries has given birth to thousands of small businesses—brewing, serving, and distributing. In a backlash against mass production, the world wants its beer made in small quantities with great care. It has become a business where manufacturer and consumer are chasing discerning production…and the small operator has a great chance of succeeding.
I got to retire 11 years early by moving to Nicaragua. I can live on about $1,000 (or less) a month…and I’m not scrimping. In fact, I can enjoy more here than I could in the U.S. when I had a great salary. I eat out when I want…travel around the country…visit the U.S. once a year…and generally have a better quality of life. In 2007 I was a technical writer in San Diego, with Fortune 500 companies as clients and a nice home in a great neighborhood. But when I went on a vacation to Nicaragua, I didn’t want to leave. I immediately fell in love with the country and daydreamed about living my life there.
Wandering is our specialty. Since my husband, Chris, and I left the States at the start of 2013 with not much of a plan and a whole load of ambition, we have resided in seven homes and explored countless destinations in the two countries—Costa Rica and Nicaragua. During our travels we have rescued hatchling sea turtles from hungry birds…observed the most achingly beautiful sunset from a Pacific beach…and encouraged a sloth as he crept between trees…
Adrienne Greenwood had a choice. Stay in wet and rainy Whistler, Canada, close to the poverty line or go elsewhere. That’s when she discovered the tropical beach town of San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. “Nicaragua has everything I need: warm, friendly, family-oriented people and a good yoga-and-wellness community, full of colorful and quirky individuals who have also chosen an off-the-beaten-path existence, and a sunny tropical climate all year round. I love that,” says Adrienne.
When you are considering where to retire, Nicaragua should be on your list. It has everything the other Latin American countries have…and then it has its own surprises that set it apart from the pack. For example, Nicaragua’s physical beauty is second to none. If you’re a nature lover, crystal blue lakes, turquoise rivers and pools, miles of surf-worthy ocean and sandy beaches, majestic volcanoes, cascading waterfalls, sun-flecked canyons, islands that look like pearls in the sea, and sunny blue skies will call you to this beautiful place.