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…
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.
Turquoise blue water, white sand, palms swaying in the breeze, and a cold drink in hand…it’s the setting for a new life on one of Central America’s picture perfect Caribbean islands. In a place like this, the cares of the world melt away and you are very much on island time.
I love living in Nicaragua. You might think it’s because I was able to buy a wonderful ocean-view home that I could never afford in the States. My house, on nearly an acre of land, would cost 10 times more in my home town of San Diego than the $132,000 I paid for it here. Or, you might assume that I love it so much because I was able to retire 11 years early…or because the sunny warm weather puts a smile on my face every morning. You could point to the more fulfilling life I have now, complete with fabulous friendships I’ve made with local people and other expats, and ask if that’s the reason.
For more than 11 years I’ve traveled all over Latin America. From the U.S.-Mexican border all the way to Argentina, I see firsthand the opportunities this vast land has to offer. I’ve never seen a better time to invest in development land in Latin America than right now. The biggest returns in development come to the earliest speculators who take positions. You don’t need deep pockets to invest in development land—if you know how to do it. Nicaragua, for example, is a country of stunning natural beauty and abundant resources. It has a young population and its economy is catching up from a very low base. It has great potential as a retirement and vacation locale for North Americans. In the early 2000s, money and people raced in. Many didn’t have the skills or the experience to develop real estate.
People from all around the world come to my adopted home town, San Juan del Sur. It’s Nicaragua’s most popular beach town and home to a cheerful mix of folks. Let me give you an example. I once found myself in a bar where visitors and locals often meet up. With a rockin’ band that invites anyone with an instrument to sit in and play, a true mix of Nicaraguans and foreigners, and fabulous local fare, it was so crowded that I found myself sharing a table with strangers. I was the lone U.S. citizen among 12 people from 12 different countries.
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. Here are just some of the once-in-a-lifetime activities Nicaragua has to offer, whether you’re stopping over for vacation or staying full-time.
I’m a beach girl—I love the sun, sand and surf. A few years ago I had a choice: to never be able to retire in the U.S. because it was too expensive, or retire 11 years earlier than planned and live in a tropical paradise, free of stress and close to the ocean, my favorite place to be. Nicaragua called me and the coastal town of San Juan del Sur captured me. In San Diego there was no possibility of ever living near a beach. I’d never have the millions necessary. But here in San Juan del Sur, I was able to buy a small, two-bedroom/two-bathroom house for $132,000…with an ocean view. My friends can’t understand how I keep so busy in a beach town the size of a stamp (the main part of town covers three square blocks), but I’m doing things that I’d never have done back in California.
With Nicaragua just arriving on the scene as a top tourist destination, many people don’t know what this little country has to offer. Like Costa Rica about 30 years ago, Nicaragua gives you the same untamed beauty, exotic living locale, great business opportunities and the lowest prices around. Here are just a few attractions that you should not miss when you. Float on your back or swim lengths in this crystal clear turquoise natural pool in the middle of the forest. Ometepe Island itself should not be missed. A one-of-a-kind destination, you can hike up an active volcano, go kayaking in the 19th largest lake in the world, or relax in this stunning pool of water for the entire day. Cost of the day (approx.): Round-trip ferry ride—$6; hotel—$45 to $75 a night; scooter rental—$15 a day; food: breakfast, lunch and dinner—$50 for two.
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.
First, there’s the food… The supermarket produce sections in the U.S. are picture perfect: intensely orange oranges; big, shiny red apples; greens without a bit of brown. But, Nicaragua doesn’t paint, wax, and shine its produce, so I eat wonderfully sweet oranges with no beautifying chemicals added (for a fraction of what they cost in the U.S). I also eat fresh-caught (not frozen or farm-raised) fish twice or three times a week and real free-range chicken (that has been allowed to run free and is not injected with growth hormones.) The rest of my diet includes tropical fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm.
Ecuador offers sophisticated historical cities…miles of unspoiled, sun-kissed beaches…fertile farmland…and temperate mountain hideaways…and all of it for pennies on the dollar. You can live well for a fraction of the cost of living back in the U.S. And with Ecuador’s official currency the U.S. dollar, you needn’t worry about currency calculations or exchange risks. And real estate costs? They’re among the lowest we’ve found anywhere in the world.
Ron and Debbie Goehring consider every single aspect of their lives better in Nicaragua than in their hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “We eat home-grown food, exercise, volunteer in our local community, and live a simple and fulfilling life immersed in the local culture. We have never regretted our decision to retire in Nicaragua.” Both teachers, they were travelers from the start. “Throughout our married life, we explored the U.S. and traveled abroad extensively. When it was time to retire, we wanted something quirky, inexpensive, and adventurous, with a simplified lifestyle—abroad. Nicaragua fit the bill.”
“The people in my new community are some of the best I have ever met in my entire life. They are like my family. I feel safe, protected, and loved,” says Dawn Noel, who made the move to Nicaragua in 2012. “And there is a rich flora and fauna here. I am enveloped in beauty!” After a busy career as a traveling nurse, Dawn was ready for a new adventure. She longed for a place where she could feel free, be herself, and “be able to live out my later years without working myself to death.”
No matter how affordable the destinations we talk about are, the simple fact is: You can’t live anywhere for free… But what if you had an income that went with you? An income that could give you the freedom you need to just pick up and go? You could spend half the year in your own cottage on the beach…work in the mornings and snorkel and relax in the afternoons.
The couple explored Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, and Nicaragua. As their trips were part of a search for a new home, it made sense to stay awhile and get beneath the surface of a place. Ellen explains, “Extended stays make sense financially, giving us time between trips to recoup the cost of moving about.” But after three years of having no permanent base, they realized that it was actually this roving retirement lifestyle that suited them.
Back home, you are energetic and enjoy a life full of activities, friends and diversity. You want it to stay that way and you have your priorities. Nature makes you happy. After a lifetime living in cold weather, you’d like to throw away your winter coats. Health care and safety are major concerns. Starting a business entices you, but isn’t it too late? You love your delicious coffee and going to great restaurants with your friends. You seek volunteer opportunities to help people and give your life more purpose.
Licensed attorney Ashley Blaylock thought she had her life all mapped out. She was planning a legal career, specializing in corporate and tax law. But prior to taking a summer program in international law and human rights in Costa Rica in 2003, she took a vacation to Nicaragua. And that changed everything for this Houston native. “As a kid you have a vision of paradise, and when I saw Nicaragua, it was exactly like the vision I had,” explains Ashley. “It’s a gorgeous country, with mountains, verdant green countryside, and miles and miles of unspoiled ocean.
I bought my house in Nicaragua in one day on a whim. While I wouldn’t recommend doing something so hasty, it worked out great. I went back to the U.S. and neatly closed up my life there. Arriving three months later in Nicaragua, I was ready to start my new life in my new house.
No matter how affordable the destinations we talk about are, the simple fact is: You can’t live anywhere for free… But what if you had an income that went with you? An income that could give you the freedom you need to just pick up and go? You could spend half the year in your own cottage on the beach…work in the mornings and snorkel and relax in the afternoons. Maybe spend the other half of the year up in the mountains where it’s cool…and get paid while you’re at it…
With a laid-back lifestyle and increasing access to modern amenities, it’s easy to see why a growing number of expats are calling Granada home. This colonial city in Nicaragua has year-round hot weather, brightly-painted buildings and colonial-era architecture in the historic center, and diverse natural surroundings. It’s not surprising that it is becoming Nicaragua’s tourism hub. What is interesting, though, is how it is growing as a wellness destination.
“My husband Fred and I haven’t felt as vital as this in years. It’s like we’re young again and just starting out. It’s a fabulous feeling. We wake up every morning to happy conversation and laughter, the guests in our Nicaraguan hostel all having breakfast together,” says Carla Batty. Back home in Queensland, Australia, Carla and Fred had a life of relaxed dinners with friends, easy jobs they enjoyed, and the odd night out.
With an investment of just under $50,000, Michelle and Austin Drill are now on their way to making a living…selling bagged dirt in Nicaragua. The former New Yorkers found a place where they could breathe, the easy-going beach town of San Juan del Sur on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, and a business opportunity whose time had come.
My last 10 years in the workforce involved working and living outside the U.S., and I wanted to continue that traveling into retirement. I’m a man with a permanent place to call home and a wanderlust attitude. How do I satisfy both? Researching the Internet, I discovered housesitting—which has allowed me to live rent free all around the world. It’s simple: In return for free board, I perform some simple tasks for homeowners, ranging from watering the plants to managing some properties…something I did 45 miles off the coast of Nicaragua for three months in 2013.
These days, Michael Hayden is often found strolling the colorful, cobbled streets of his adopted home, Granada, one of the oldest Spanish colonial towns in the Americas. “There’s no other place like Granada. It has a solid center…you can walk in any direction and see beautiful homes. You have impressive Mombacho Volcano in view over the streets and a steady flow of breezes from Lake Nicaragua,” says Michael.
If you enjoy fabulous sunsets, the sound of the surf lulling you to sleep, a great choice of international restaurants, a laidback lifestyle and no stress, put San Juan del Sur on your list of places for retirement. Few beach locations are as charming, quirky or as fun as this town on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast.
When I made the decision I was going to retire in Latin America, I decided to learn the language. A brief stint living in Mexico in my early 30s with zero Spanish skills made me realize I was missing out on the full experience…and I didn’t want a repeat. After three years and four scouting trips to Latin American, I am thankful I took the time to learn.
When Warren Ogden started planning his life overseas, there was never any question that he would call Nicaragua home. He felt a connection with the land and its people. “I grew up among Nicaraguan immigrants in the U.S.,” explains the Seattle native. “I came to live with their extended family in 1999, to work for an NGO, and study Spanish. During that four-month visit, I fell in love with the place.”
Have you ever thought about visiting or even living in a place that could be described as “rustic”? Where there are no traffic lights, and where you can buy fresh lobster at less than $7 per pound?It’s a place where horses roam the streets and kids walk home from school using the airport runway as their sidewalk. A tranquil piece of terra firma where you watch the sun rise out of and set into the Caribbean Sea…
Warm and sunny days…beautiful people lounging on the sand as surfers vie for choice waves… palm tree-lined boardwalks in picturesque beachside towns, dramatic craggy cliffs…the California coast has certainly captured the popular imagination. No wonder; it’s one of the most pleasant places in the world to live. But on the flip side, it also has some of the most expensive real estate in the world and a high cost of living.
Nicaragua is a very cool country…and it’s not the temperature I’m talking about. With its smoking volcanoes, clear blue crater lakes, fantastic surfing beaches, and a turquoise swimming hole in the middle of the forest on a mysterious island, it’s a magical place to be.
If you like easy-going people…a chilled environment…a warm climate…and an income of up to $5,000 a month, then owning a beach bar might be just the lifestyle career for you. After all, if your customers are predominantly tourists, they are at their most relaxed and happy when they come into your place. And the profits from serving them can be considerable.
Life in Nicaragua is wonderful, costs are low, the people are friendly, and more and more expats are calling it home. I’m one of them: I moved here from California almost seven years ago.
Not long after arriving, I’d bought a big lug of a car, a Toyota Forerunner Turbo that I called “Bruiser.” It clinked, razzed, burped, and generally sounded like a mobile hardware store in a blender. The CD player didn’t work, the four-wheel drive was broken, the radiator overheated after 15 minutes, and the security alarm went off indiscriminately. But it was my car, and it took me where I needed to go.
Like many expat business people, Eric and Stephanie Slater spotted an opening in the market and came up with a business idea to fill it. In their case, it was a need for good bread. It’s an issue across Central America but particularly in San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua where the couple decided they wanted to settle down. San Juan is a beach town with a ready market of hungry surfers, backpackers, and other travelers.
I’m just a middle-class gal. There you can pay $1.5 million for something like that. Yet in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua I own a small two-bedroom/two-bathroom house, on an acre with an ocean view, which cost just $132,000. I pay real estate taxes of just $151 a year. And in my backyard, in addition to what I mentioned before, I also grow mangos, papayas, citrus trees, a cinnamon tree, and even moringa, the tree of life.
Not long after arriving in Nicaragua, I’d bought a big lug of a car, a Toyota Forerunner Turbo. It cost $11,000 and I called it “Bruiser.” It clinked, razzed, burped, and generally sounded like a mobile hardware store in a blender. The CD player didn’t work, the four-wheel drive was broken, the radiator overheated after 15 minutes, and the security alarm went off indiscriminately. But it was my car, and it took me where I needed to go.
How can you make moving overseas easy? You really want to go. Everyone keeps talking about the lower cost of living…the warm, tropical climates…the lovely people…cocktails on the balcony overlooking the ocean.
I’m a writer. And in the age of the Internet, that’s a great thing to be. I didn’t plan it that way, of course. In my case it was just dumb luck. After a dozen years as an undergrad searching for something to hold my interest long enough to actually get a degree, I stumbled on journalism.