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.
Beautiful, friendly, perfect climate, inexpensive. There...I've just told you why I think Ecuador is the best place on earth to retire. The mountains and Pacific coast are remarkably gorgeous. The people are about as easygoing as people get. Being on the equator, the weather changes with the altitude, so you can pick any climate you like. And the cost of living can be astoundingly low, especially when you take high utility bills and property taxes out of the budget equation.
I've mentioned before how Ecuador made me a huge fan of mountain living. But it's more than just the mountains that did it for me. After all, there are mountains running the entire length of the Americas, from the far north of Alaska and Canada to the very tip of South America. Almost any mountain range you choose in North, Central, or South America is in some way majestic and breathtakingly beautiful. But—and this is the crucial thing that makes Ecuador's mountains different for me—none of these mountains are directly on the equator. In nearly every other mountain location in the Americas, seasonal changes make living up at a high altitude a part-time thing, at least for a guy who dislikes snow and cold as much as I do.
Like many other folks thinking about moving abroad, my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I thought we knew what we wanted. A tropical beach, of course. During our lives we'd spent incredible days of vacation swinging in hammocks on palm-studded beaches, basking in the sun, and listening to the waves breaking out on some reef.
One of the things my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I have come to value over the years that we’ve lived abroad are well-organized expat communities. We do know some expats who were determined to be pioneers and boldly go where no North Americans had gone before. But for us…and most other expats we know…there are undeniable advantages to having people around you in your chosen expat destination who have already blazed a trail, made the most common mistakes, and learned the ropes.
The big city versus the little village. It's an age-old question, and it's one that potential expats and retirees deal with all the time. Do I want to spend my time enjoying the slower pace and more neighborly atmosphere of a small town somewhere...or do I want to take advantage of all the shopping, entertainment, and modern amenities provided by a big city?
Ever since my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I wrote our book, we've been getting the same question from book reviewers and interviewers. The name of the book is The International Living Guide to Retiring Overseas on a Budget: How to Live Well on $25,000 a Year. And the question is: "What do you mean by 'well'? What kind of lifestyle could you possibly have on just $25,000 a year?"
"You can learn to scuba dive," my friend said. "You can learn to repair diesel engines. You can learn to do your own taxes. People will teach you how to do just about anything... but nobody teaches you how to retire." My friend was an attendee at our last Fast Track Your Retirement Overseas Conference in Las Vegas.