Fed up with the harsh Midwest winters and tired of working too much to pay for a life we didn't have time to enjoy, my husband, Junior, and I decided we weren't willing to wait for retirement to see the world and enjoy life. Just before Christmas last year, we started researching our overseas options. We sold all of our belongings after New Year and at the start of April this year, we landed in Costa Rica...without ever having been here before.
After enduring too many cold winters I decided it was time to move overseas. Shoveling snow just to get to work and more shoveling to get back into the garage at night was exhausting. It was adding more time to my work day, meaning less time for relaxing at home. Plus I hated how the cold dictated how and when I did everything. It would take twice as long to get anywhere. And my cost of living was going up and up and my heat bills just kept rising. Then there was the worry about the wear and tear on the car due to the freezing temperatures, frozen pipes, downed power lines, and power outages.
In International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2015, we ranked and rated the 25 best retirement havens in the world. You can stretch your dollars in any of them and live better than you can back home—for less. But the ﬁve below offer the lowest cost of living and come out on top in the Cost of Living category in the Index.
My wife and I have lived in Cuenca, Ecuador for years and continue to be amazed at how far we can stretch our dollars while enjoying a high quality of life. Let’s break down some of those costs so you can compare your current budget with what you might expect to pay in Cuenca, beginning with activities that are free. How much does it cost to attend the symphony and museums where you live? Guess what—there is no charge for either in Cuenca. How about your gym membership? The city offers free Zumba classes in parks all over town several times each week.
Love Europe but think you can’t afford it? Think again. I recently spent some time in Portugal and was wowed by the low prices. In Portugal, you can enjoy a low cost of living similar to that in Latin America’s more developed countries…with all the benefits of European life thrown in. For instance, you can get a sit-down lunch for about $15. You can grab a sandwich for less than $5 that’s big enough for two…but why bother? As in many Latin countries, lunch is generally a proper meal in Portugal, and you can get two courses, sometimes with beverage, starting from about $10. Or have dinner in a family-style restaurant for just a little more. Like wine with that meal? No problem. You can get a glass of wine in many restaurants for $4 or so…or half a bottle for about $7. Portugal is a wine-producing country, after all, and the local product is good, plentiful, and inexpensive.
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. You’ll find 20,000-plus expats living throughout the province. Whether you prefer the beach or the mountains, living in town or out in the country, bright sunshine or cool cloud cover, Chiriquí offers you a choice… For instance,the near-perfect climate is one of the main reasons as many as 12,000 expats now call the town and district of Boquete home. Its elevation of 3,940 feet on the eastern slope of Baru Volcano means normally cool temperatures around 80 F in the daytime and 60 F at night, with frequent misty rain called bajareque.
Costa Rica has a lot going for it as a place to live and retire: Natural beauty, exotic wildlife, warm weather year-round, beautiful beaches, warm and welcoming people…the list goes on. But one of the most attractive features of life in this tropical Central American country is the lower cost of living. Retired couples average about $2,000 per month in expenses, including housing, transportation, food, and medical costs.
Just walking down Málaga's Calle Larios can lift the spirits. This pedestrian-only street at the heart of Málaga's historic center is lined with shops and cafés that draw the eye. Overhead, several stories up, canopies strung across the street shade you from the bright Mediterranean sun.
Head out of San Jose, crest the cloud forest-covered mountains to the west of Costa Rica's capital, and in about two hours you're on the Caribbean coast. Another two hours or so south and you're in the heart of the region. A pretty short ride...but it's like a different world.
It's largely thanks to these folks that Guatemala has such a rich and unique culture. And it's this culture that entices many of the expats who have made their homes here. "I love how different it is, and I want it to stay that way, too," says Jean Johnson who lives in the colonial city of Antigua. "It's like traveling into some epic or bygone landscape," says Portland-native John Kin, of traveling around the highlands.