How We Made Our Early Retirement Dream Happen

My wife Vivien and I were in our mid-fifties when we started throwing the idea of early retirement around. But the high cost of living in Australia, increasing healthcare costs and the ever-diminishing and far-off Age Pension meant we needed to keep working for many more years.

But then I read a story about Aussies who’d taken early retirement overseas. They were living exciting lives in exotic locations, free from work pressures and spiralling costs… Now there was a thought.

Although Vivien was a little sceptical, we agreed to check this living overseas idea out. We crunched the numbers, pored over magazines, searched the internet, communicated with expats living the dream and agreed that this was definitely a viable option.

Being empty nesters, initially, we were not too concerned about how close to Australia we would live.  We had subscribed to International Living and Panama and Ecuador stood out to us as potential retirement destinations. We decided to check them out.

We took a trip to Panama where we were mesmerised by the constant flow of ships through the locks on the famous Panama Canal. We wandered the historic Casco Viejo district, walked long, deserted beaches and relaxed in the beautiful mountain village of Boquete. We chatted with many expats living their dreams in cities, seaside and hilltop locations in this unique country.

Our Ecuador exploration started in the capital, Quito. Perched nearly 3,000 metres above sea level, we loved the blend of modern living and rich culture. We danced at a wedding to the beat of Cuban drums, stood in awe of farmers celebrating their “Sun Festival” in Cotacachi, meandered through beachside towns stopping in Manta and Salinas, spotted blue-footed boobies on rocky outcrops and watched humpback whales breaching in the Pacific. From there we headed to Cuenca, with its 16th and 17th century architecture, delicious Spanish cuisine and cooler climate.

Although we loved both countries we also knew that neither was the right fit for us. The location just didn’t sit well with us. It would be expensive for family and friends to visit and for us to fly back to Australia, plus around 25 to 30 hours travel time. We felt we would become isolated.

So it was back to the drawing board. We had travelled around Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore previously. For us, Thailand ticked the most boxes as a retirement destination. It offered a cost of living within our budget, high-quality healthcare, friendly and welcoming people, various expat communities, an accessible retirement visa and we could buy property there.

We found our dream spot in the beachside resort of Hua Hin.

Ironically, after all that scouting we did, we moved to Hua Hin sight unseen. I don’t recommend doing the sight unseen thing, but it worked out for us.

All told I reckon we spent in the region of $25,000 scouting retirement destinations. We had a great time and learned a lot. Plus, ultimately we found the place that was right for us. Hua Hin is a popular beachside spot with Thais, expats and those looking to escape cold winters. It still retains the laidback charm of the fishing village it once was yet it’s now home to some 100,000 souls. It’s also full of modern conveniences and boasts a flourishing expat scene.

Today, I feel like we’ve come full circle. In February, Vivien and I are heading home to Brisbane to speak at the first-ever International Living conference in Australia. I’m excited about meeting up with the IL team and my fellow correspondents but I’m most looking forward to sharing my experiences and helping like-minded adventurers on the path to their new life retired overseas…

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