When my wife, Suzan, and I moved abroad in 2001, we were sure we knew where we wanted to spend the rest of our lives—on the beach. So, we tried out beaches all over the Western Hemisphere. And where do we live today? In the mountains. Here’s why.
“Are you nuts?” This might be the first thing you hear when you tell friends and relatives that you’re thinking of retiring abroad. It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to, now that Forbes and FOX News and The New York Times and just about every other major media outlet are featuring stories about people retiring overseas and where they’re going. Some are even putting out their own lists of the best overseas retirement destinations, a-la International Living. (I guess if you do something for 35 years, sooner or later somebody else will catch on.)
Island time. It’s different from time in most of North America. In North America, time is kept with a smart phone, phablet, PDA, or—for the very hip—a trendy and retro watch…albeit one that also tracks how many steps you’ve taken so far in your day and annoys you into taking more if it senses you’ve been sitting longer than it thinks you should. On the island, time is kept by the sun, the moon, and the tides.
The other day my wife and I went out for lunch. We live in a small craft village in the northern Andes of Ecuador, and one of our options is a place called El Convento. It's in the tidy little tiled and terraced courtyard of a former convent in back of the large church at the center of town. The menu is fixed and changes daily. When we stopped in, our menu started with locro de haba, a lightly creamed soup of fava beans, potatoes, cabbage, and chicken stock with a short pork rib thrown in for good measure. Like most locros served in Ecuador, it came with a side of popcorn and aji, the local hot sauce. Popcorn is a snack and also a garnish here, and the hot sauces are homemade…
I've worked with International Living for 14 years, and I've seen a lot of lists of the best places on earth to retire. I don't remember a single one that didn't have Panama either at the top or in the top five. Of course, for my wife, Suzan, and me, Panama has some special appeal. We lived in Panama City for a while and toured most of the country. Also, our granddaughter's mother is Panamanian, so an entire side of our family is there.
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.
As a time to reflect on the past and envision the future, New Year is unrivaled among holidays. Especially in the northern climes, where the holiday coincides roughly with the Winter Solstice and the shortest day of the year, New Year is an important spot on the seasonal cycle. The nights are as long and the days are as short as they're going to get... It's all uphill, sunlight-wise, from there on. So it's a time of hope, of renewal, of looking forward.
My wife, Suzan, and I rarely know too far in advance where we’ll be for the holidays. We haven’t lived in the U.S. for a dozen years now, but around about September or October we start making the decisions about what to do for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year…whose family back in the States we’ll spend which holidays with…and which holidays, if any, we’ll spend by ourselves at home, wherever home happens to be at the time.
I was asked again the other day what I love most about Ecuador, and as I answered it occurred to me how retired I sounded. I'm not retired, of course, but as I was going over my three big pluses for this country...the weather, the cost of living, and the variety...I realized that all three of these qualities appealed directly to my Inner Retiree.
Ecuador has been at the top of so many international retirement indexes and lists in the past few years that folks are beginning to wonder if there isn’t some kind of conspiracy at work. After all, how can a single country meet every one of the requirements that retirees are looking for overseas? Simple answer—it can’t. No place can.