If you're looking for a laid-back destination—but don't want to be far from First World sophistication—few places fit the bill better than coastal Spain.
Imagine living in a sophisticated, seaside resort city with First-World amenities all right at hand. Your condo is comfortable and airy,
Sherry production, horse-breeding, and flamenco…those are the three things Jerez de la Frontera does best. But after recently spending a month in this authentically Andalusian city, I think it should also be known for its low cost of living. Just a 10-minute drive inland from Spain’s southern Atlantic coast, Jerez has plenty of authentic Spanish charm combined with a comfortable, First World lifestyle. The historic center, with its cobbled streets, medieval monuments, and 18th-century buildings is compact and packed with plenty of cafes, bars, and stores. This was where I rented an apartment, so almost everyplace I wanted to visit—monuments, museums, and sherry bodegas—was within a 10- to 15-minute walk of my building. And that building was an 18th-century palace, with marble floors and a peaceful central courtyard. I paid just $800 a month for my furnished, one-bedroom apartment.
In 2006, even though the U.S. economy was still going strong, I looked around at my life and said, “It’s time to go.” So I quit my job, sold my apartment in New York, and moved abroad. It sounds abrupt, but it actually wasn’t. I’d been thinking about it for years. I’m no financial genius, but I can add as well as anyone, and I can certainly read writing on the wall. And, having hit a milestone birthday, calculated my net assets, and estimated remaining work years, they didn’t add up to a retirement I’d enjoy. I saw absolutely no way to save as much money as financial wonks said I’d need to retire comfortably in the U.S.
For low-cost living with First-World amenities, few countries in Europe can match Portugal. A couple can live comfortably there for as little as $2,200 a month. Throw in a generally mild climate, rich history, and friendly locals, and you have a country that offers a lot. There are plenty of great places to live in Portugal. Here are three I particularly like in and around Lisbon, Portugal’s lovely, historic capital. Just visiting? These are all great day trips from Lisbon, too.
Portugal's capital—home to half a million people—is a gracious city, yet also one with an odd, pensive gravity: a world-weariness born perhaps of great age and of empires gained and lost. It's also an amazingly inexpensive place: arguably the most affordable capital in Western Europe. A couple could live comfortably here for as little as $2,100 a month. If you're budget-conscious, take heart. Lisbon is a place where you can enjoy a European lifestyle at Latin American prices, with history, romance, astonishing hospitality, and a seaside location to boot.
One of my absolute favorite destinations in the world is Guanajuato, a city in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands. It’s a place where every interest is catered for: Every time I return I throw myself into the wealth of cultural activities it offers: concerts, exhibitions, theater, food festivals, book fairs… Even Guanajuato’s street scene is lively. Walk down to the Jardin (Garden) area any given night, and you’ll see strolling locals and expats, bustling outdoor cafes, student troubadours, and mariachi groups making music, and more.
I love Valencia, Spain's third-largest city. Many folks overlook its charms in favor of Madrid, Barcelona, and the Moorish cities of the south. But if I were to choose one location for full- or part-time living in Spain, I think my heart would be set on Valencia. For around $2,000 a month, including rent of a chic, centrally located apartment, I could embrace the arts, stroll the beaches, eat out often (and well), and I would be perfectly placed to explore the rest of Europe, too. Let me explain...
Happily, the best of the “old” Málaga remains, as well. The sun still shines, there are miles of seaside, winter temperatures are balmy (days average 63 F in January), and sea breezes still blow off the Mediterranean, cooling the hot summer days. And Málaga is still cheerful and vibrant, oozing its trademark Andalusian charm. Best of all, it remains a very Spanish city, even in the prime tourist areas. So if you enjoy big-city life with laidback charm and a side of seashore, give Málaga a whirl. You can even get by in English.
When you’re moving to Mexico, it helps to get the scoop on your new home city from expats who live there. They’ve already figured out which plumber is most reliable, which carpenter does the best work, and which market has the best produce and prices. They may also become your first friends in your new home. But where do you find the expats? There are lots of ways to seek them out. For instance, a useful first step is to search online before you ever leave for Mexico.