An argument with a girlfriend was how I ended up in Spain. Having set sail on a cruise ship from Genoa, Italy, and following a tour of the Canary Islands, we were on our way home, and docked in Spain's southern port city of Malaga. In a moment of stubbornness, and after being told there was no other berth for me to move in to, I packed up all my worldly belongings and walked off the boat. My Spanish life had begun...and it was probably the best decision of my life.
I’m a Canadian. I’m used to long, cold winters. But a few years back, my husband Gary and I had had enough. I refuse to spend my precious retirement years shoveling snow and huddled in front of my fireplace…not to mention donning layers of clothing from top to toe just to venture outside. And so each and every fall, we say goodbye to block heaters…snow shovels…hats, scarves, and outrageous heating bills…and head to Panama’s warmer climes.
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.
My husband Will and I have traveled to a number of countries over the years searching for the perfect place to retire—including Mexico, Venezuela, and Costa Rica. Finally one of our trips brought us to the country of Panama...Call it instinct, call it intuition...whatever it was, from the moment we stepped off the plane, we knew it felt right. We toured several parts of the country in the years that followed as we tried to pin down our retirement plan. The highland town of Boquete was always on the list to visit. There was something about the mountains and the lush vegetation that reminded us of British Columbia and called to us.
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How can you make moving overseas easy? You really want to go. Everyone keeps talking about the lower cost of living...the warm, tropical climates...the lovely people...cocktails on the balcony overlooking the ocean.
Canadian Andrea Pellegrino, 38, came home from work one winter night to find her partner Julio Carta, 35, bursting with excitement over an ad on Craigslist. "You have to check this out," he said. "We can run a brick oven bakery in Nicaragua."
The attributes of a life of ease in Belize have been well documented: beautiful warm weather, friendly people who speak English, and lovely sand beaches with the Caribbean Sea lapping at the shoreline. Those are just some of the reasons my wife Char and I are considering Belize as our retirement destination.
Nadege Thomas lived in Toronto, Canada for 22 years where she was a successful financial planner. But as the pressures on her sector mounted and the cold weather wore her down, she began to yearn for an easy life in a balmy, tropical environment. "After 22 Canadian winters, I had had enough of the cold and was looking for a warm place," she says.
As a busy carpenter and contractor in his native Canada, Steve Quinn relished his regular trips to Costa Rica to relax and unwind on the beach. After six years of short visits, he decided to make this beach lifestyle permanent. He took over a beach bar and restaurant in Tamarindo, a funky surf town on the country's northern Pacific coast. He's leasing the property for three years, with an option to buy, which is a great way to test the waters without committing to purchasing property right off the bat.