Where to Retire
Ecuador: The World's Top Retirement Haven
Looking for help finding your personal paradise? International Living has more than 30 years of on-the-ground experience in the countries that we think are the best spots under the sun for retiring, investing, and reinventing yourself right now. We've done the research...you've done the dreaming. With IL correspondents around the globe, we'll help you make those dreams a reality.
We have some especially bright lights on the International Living horizon to tell you about. Some of the places where the good life is calling at rock-bottom rates are Yucatan, Mexico; Panama; coastal Ecuador; Brazil's north coast; Uruguay; and southern Italy. Watch your daily IL Postcards and monthly IL magazine for more information on these, and other hotspots.
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Set in the mountains and valleys of the interior of the country, Costa Rica’s Central Valley region surrounds the capital, San Jose. And it’s one of the most popular areas for expats in Costa Rica for several reasons. Thanks to an elevation starting at 2,500 feet, the climate is mild year-round even though it’s in the tropics, with temperatures ranging from 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Valley and mountains views are another bonus, as are the charming villages and bustling towns full of friendly people. And, being so close to the capital means that Central Valley residents enjoy the best medical care in the country, as well as top shopping and proximity to the main international airport.
My wife, Cynthia, and I moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, almost five years ago with no plans other than to have fun and look for interesting opportunities. Retirement had kind of taken us by surprise. The “Economic Tsunami of 2008” slapped us pretty hard, so that retirement had arrived sooner than expected. Still, we had for years been envisioning what it would look like: a life where we were free to pursue the activities and interests we wanted to and not be held hostage by busy careers and hectic schedules.
People often ask about my transition from a hectic life in the U.S. to the laidback Caribbean island lifestyle of Ambergris Caye, Belize. Admittedly, it surprised even me how quickly I adapted, considering that I’d spent my entire life living in metropolitan areas. But since we moved to Belize from the San Francisco Bay area, our lives have been enriched beyond our wildest imagination, with adventures galore.
When my husband, Mike, and I celebrated New Year’s Day 2008 and our 7th wedding anniversary in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we were feeling good about where we were in our world. As with so many other people, that came to a crashing halt quickly—on February 1, 2008, we had to close our real estate business.
When I first came to Uruguay in 2006, I knew I’d found the place I wanted to live—just six months later, I’d changed my life around and moved to Uruguay. So what prompted such a big change? For starters, the culture of Uruguay is something special—the perfect blend of warmth and respect. Here, people are more important than schedules. Friends and coworkers greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. Neighbors take an interest in each other, and extended families get together on Sundays.
Our daughter in New Jersey hasn’t seen her yard for months because it’s covered with snow. Our son in North Carolina finished raking leaves a while back just in time to get out the overcoats in preparation for the frigid weather ahead. My wife Cynthia and I, we’re weather junkies, who like the climate to be perfect…not too hot and not too cold… The thermometer was already getting close to 100 degrees when we left Las Vegas for Cuenca, Ecuador almost five years ago. We’d had enough of that scorching heat—as well as the humidity and chilly winters in the southeast where we previously lived…
In Western Australia, April marks the return of the majestic whale sharks to Nimbaloo Marine Park. This is a perfect time of year to snorkel with these gentle giants— the largest fish in the ocean. If behemoths of the deep aren’t your thing, there’s plenty more for you to do at the Surfer’s Paradise Festival, on the country’s Gold Coast April 3–18. You’ll find a wide array of food, street performers, art, music, and other entertainment to cater to all tastes… and all of it free of charge. April also rings in the Buddhist New Year. In Malaysia this is marked by the Songkran Festival (April 12–14), which also serves to celebrate the country’s Siamese community. Rivers and beaches in the state of Kedah are ornamented with sand temples, called stupas, which are then washed away by the tide.
In this article, we outline the best five tropical island paradises for retirees. These places meet all the criteria needed to make them perfect retirement havens. As well as looking the part, all five of these islands—spread throughout the world—are becoming easier to get to as more and more flights open up to and from North America. Many tropical getaways have been consumed by commercialism, leaving them beyond every reasonable budget. But the islands on our list remain affordable, as attested by our expat experts on the ground. On some, it’s possible to live for as little as $1,500 a month including rent.
The low cost of living in Belize means a couple can live well on $2,000 to $3,000 or less a month. Established expat communities make for a ready supply of new friends, and it’s English-speaking, even if it’s the second or even third language for many locals. (I spoke only English during my time there and had no issues.) Plus, it’s easy to get to from North America, thanks to daily flights.
Ecuador offers the world’s best climate choices in its four distinct regions, from Amazonian rainforests in the east (El Oriente) to warm coastal lowlands (La Costa) in the west and the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles offshore. The Andes Mountains cut right down the middle of the country from north to south, and in this La Sierra region you’ll find the temperate weather patterns that give Ecuador its status as the “Land of Eternal Spring.”
Costa Rica is a great place for retirees for many reasons. Think warm weather year-round, bargain real estate (foreigners have the same property rights as locals), friendly people, the Pura Vida (life is good) vibe, and low-cost but high-quality health care. Plus, it’s easy to qualify for residence as a retiree with the pensionado program. All you need is $1,000 per month per couple from Social Security, disability, or a pension.
Chiriquí is one of nine provinces in Panama and it borders Costa Rica to the west. Mostly rural, the landscape is among the most scenic in the country, with mountains defining the skyline. Acres of fruits and vegetables thrive in the rich volcanic soil, while cattle and horses laze in verdant pastures. The capital city of David is a bustling commercial hub undergoing a serious growth spurt. A tour of Chiriquí Province will take you from Panama’s highest point, 11,440 feet at the peak of Baru Volcano, to sea level and sandy beaches along the Gulf of Chiriquí.
Semi-retired and up for adventure, my wife Char and I have been traveling in South America for the last 11 months. We’ve rented a car for seven weeks to explore Chile; trekked in Patagonia; lived and cruised for one month in the Galápagos; ridden horses into a remote valley similar to Yosemite; hiked over a mountain pass to Machu Picchu; attended a gaucho festival (cowboys showing off their stuff); explored a remote Peruvian jungle; hung out in a grass shack on a beach; learned to cook Peruvian food; taken kitesurfing lessons; swam with baby sea lions; and cheered at soccer games.
“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself,” said the poet Maya Angelou. I suppose she’s right…we all aspire to a certain comfort in our own skin. I’ve always felt travel encouraged it, in fact.
Panama is the world’s top retirement haven and it’s Chiriquí province attracts more expats than anywhere else in the country. In the provincial capital, David, homes rent for as little as $220 a month.
In a place like Penang, food is everything. That’s why this little island off the coast of Malaysia is so often touted as a top foodie destination by big name publications and news outlets. But, unlike many top foodie spots, it’s not because of expensive Michelin-starred restaurants or celebrity chefs.
Certain images are fixed in my mind of the French town of Montpellier. When I think of it, I remember cobblestone streets filled with students and a cheerful energy. I remember riding a sleek tramway entirely painted with bright, intertwined flowers. And I remember eating one of the most extraordinary meals of my life there at the charming Lozèrois restaurant, Cellier & Morel.
Salud! Ching, Ching! These three words are so simple, yet they hold so much meaning. Friendship, happiness, and a lifetime of health—that’s what we toast to as we raise our sparkling Catalan cava to the blue sky. A refreshing glass of sparkling wine is just what the doctor ordered to celebrate this sunny day with friends in Sitges.
In 2005, I left my job in the cruise industry and decided to try my luck in Panama. I had a wonderful group of international friends—some from the Americas, and others from as far off as Australia. And I told them all to come visit me in Panama sometime. To my surprise, many of us actually did keep in touch and visit each other. I remember a girl from Venezuela asking me how come there were so many U.S. products on the shelves here.
“Cheap” alone is not a worthy objective. We don’t look for it here at International Living—and nor should you. Just because you can buy a coffee for a dime or stay in a hotel for $20 a night—that’s not reason enough to go. Plenty of “cheap” corners tenant this world—many, quite frankly, just plain undesirable. What we chase—and what you should be after, too—is good value.
Affectionately nicknamed the “Rose of the North,” Chiang Mai is Thailand’s charmer; a laidback, yet vibrant, university city famous for its many Buddhist temples, culture and good food. The warm climate, low costs and excellent, modern infrastructure have attracted expats in big numbers, and that includes thousands of retirees from all over the world.
Like so many from the U.S., when I daydream about traveling through Europe, I always imagine myself on a train: speeding quietly through the countryside, over the mountain passes, past charming, ancient towns, or along the shores of a massive glacial lake. Other forms of transportation—with their two-hour pre-flight check-ins, their bumpy, uncomfortable buses, and their too-close-for-comfort seating arrangements—always feel like a hassle.
For decades the Iron Curtain divided Europe in two. Folks in the U.S. and Western Europe were afforded only glimpses of life in the Eastern Bloc. The political situation severely restricted travel. And half of Europe became an uncharted and unknown land. Then the Berlin Wall fell and a dozen or so nations opened up, embracing new freedoms. Visitors were welcomed and discovered a history going back thousands of years, regions of untouched natural beauty, and a seriously low cost of living.
With 763 miles of coastline on the Pacific and Caribbean, Costa Rica is blessed with its share of beautiful beaches…not to mention pristine waters. And inland lakes and rivers provide more outstanding scenery. But these waterways are more than just pretty to look at. They’re the playgrounds of watersports enthusiasts of many different disciplines. Below […]
We live in the wild west of County Cork. It offers the natural beauty and the rugged remoteness we desired. Because I am a professional artist, I wanted to be in an area rich in painting sites. The laid back lifestyle is a pleasant change from the hurriedness we felt at home.
You’ve just weighed anchor on another night of bliss, lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of your sailboat in the calm sea. Before you is a small cove lined by craggy cliffs. Clear blue waters end at a white-sand beach. You’ve had it all to yourself for the last week. It was supposed to be just an overnight stop. But it was so beautiful, you decided to stick around. After a quick dip, you’re enjoying a cup of coffee and a light breakfast on deck as you contemplate which island paradise you’ll go to next.
During our months of preparation, we set about determining the criteria we needed to choose a location. The criteria we chose for ourselves initially were: a good health care system at a much lower cost; a stable government; not wanting a car, a walkable location with a good transportation system; good infrastructure; a Spanish-speaking country because Mike already spoke some but wanted to become proficient; a warm climate year round; and, of course, a lower cost of living.
International Living has been encouraging its readers to choose Costa Rica as an overseas destination since the 1980s. Some things have changed since then, but Costa Rica still remains a beautiful, great-value retirement destination. Long stretches of deserted and undeveloped beaches, on the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts…dense jungles teeming with exotic wildlife…towering volcanoes, lush green valleys, and hundreds of crystal-clear lakes, rivers, streams, and waterfalls…mesmerizing sunrises, sunsets, and star-filled evening skies…all these things…
Sitting alongside the banks of the River Garonne in southwest France, the red-tile-roofed city of Toulouse hosts its annual Flamenco Festival from April 1 to 15, with local venues filled with music and dance throughout. Another marathon-length event to consider begins its 18-day run in Jaipur, India, on April 2.
What are your reasons for visiting Panama? Ask any tourist that question and you’ll get a different answer. Some come for the beaches and the sun, others to explore the jungles or cloudforests. There’s a lot to see, and if you’ve read anything about Panama, it’s likely you’ve felt tempted to hop on a plane. To help tantalize you just a bit more, here are my top four reasons to visit Panama.
I can’t give you one good reason why Americans and Canadians are coming in droves to Ecuador…because there are dozens of very good reasons. There are so many that I can’t list them all here…but based on a recent trip there, I can tell you what some of the best reasons to live in Ecuador are.
It’s great to have step-by-step guides, especially for big and potentially complicated tasks. Moving yourself out of your home country to a completely new and different culture…and language…certainly qualifies as a big and complicated task. It involves many more steps than just five, but considering only the preparatory phase—the phase before the actual move—here are five essential steps to take before you move to Ecuador.
Figuring out how to make some extra money doing something you love is a wonderful thing. And many of my fellow expats are doing exactly that. If you’re looking for inspiration, I’d like to share some of those stories with you. In fact, we know of so many such stories that my husband Dan and I devoted an entire chapter of a new book we’ve written to this exact topic. (More about that in a moment.)
Its parks are filled with roses, myrtle and the sound of nightingales. Water still splashes and trickles over marble fountains in the courtyards of its kings… “A pearl among emeralds” was how Moorish poets once described the royal palace of the Alhambra. It was from here that Spain’s last Muslim kingdom, Granada, was ruled and it’s just one of the gems you’ll find in Andalusia, Spain’s huge southern province.
When Melissa Adams stepped out of the airport and into Amsterdam for the first time, it felt like coming home. “The minute my feet hit Damrak—the street leading from Central Station to Dam Square—I said ‘I’m moving here.’ Everything—from the city’s physical beauty to its tolerant vibe and rich history— entranced me.” But while Melissa’s experience of Amsterdam was love at first sight, she also wanted to be practical and make sure her passion had some staying power.
Tucked into the western slopes of the Andes, 40 miles north of the capital Quito, the Intag Valley possesses that rare kind of climate in which nearly any plant will thrive. Farmers haul in harvests of everything from papayas and passion fruit to carrots and corn. Surrounding their scattered tracts of farmland is a dense jungle of towering palms, broad-leafed ferns and twisting vines. You’ll find more species of orchids than you can count, and a huge variety of bromeliads.
Panama’s a place of sunshine, 365 days a year. You have hundreds of miles of beach…highland retreats with green valleys where the weather is spring-like, even in January and August…and a genuinely cosmopolitan capital city, too, with one of the world’s largest financial districts. And Panama offers the world’s most generous retiree benefits.