What Costs Less Overseas When You Retire?

When you move overseas, most things cost less. Health care is cheaper, beachfront property is cheaper and flights are cheaper when you qualify for a retiree program. You can even enjoy a symphony performance for far less than in the U.S., and have a better quality of life for less.

Here is a list of five items that are cheaper overseas.

1. Quality Health Care for Less

In many of the countries International Living covers, quality health care is often half the price or less than you would pay in the U.S. For example, in Costa Rica a doctor’s visit costs $40 to $60–a third of what you’d pay in the U.S.

Doctors are well-trained: Many have studied in the U.S., Canada or Europe and you’ll find hospitals with modern equipment and with standards similar to what you’d find at home.

In some Central and South American countries, fees for belonging to the public healthcare system range from about $25 to $75 per month per person. Most expats pay for private health care and also use the affordable public health care as a safety net.

In a few countries, notably Uruguay, Costa Rica and Panama some hospitals and hospital chains offer insurance plans or private membership plans. The monthly charge for joining these plans tends to be low–often $90 or less—and the quality of care is high. Your premium entitles you to the use of the network’s facilities, ambulance service, pharmacy, and specialists. In Uruguay the private membership plan is called a mutualista—there is no deductible, no lifetime cap and only a small co-payment for medical tests and doctor visits.

IL’s Uruguay correspondent David Hammond is a member of the British Hospital Scheme. The British Hospital has been providing a high standard of medical care for over 150 years. It’s not a true mutualista but has a similar hospital plan, the membership fee is higher and the waiting times are usually less. David has a deluxe hospital plan and pays $200 a month. “When I lived in the U.S. the cost was about triple and it was not near as comprehensive as what I have now. It also had a high deductible, a lifetime cap, and a long list of things that were not covered.”

Laurel Carpenter and her husband Charles moved to Costa Rica’s Central Valley in 2009. Their first visit here was to try some stem cell research for Charles’ multiple sclerosis. “We were impressed by the modernity of the facilities and the professionalism of the doctors,” says Laurel.

Back in the U.S. the couple were faced with a $1,200-a-month insurance bill, plus a $5,000 deductible and co-pays for every doctors’ visit. In Costa Rica, they pay $88 a month for their government-run universal health care, which includes doctor visits, treatments and home visits from a physical therapist.

With the $1,200-a-month they would have spent on insurance back home, they can afford to hire a private live-in nurse. “That would be $9,000 to $12,000 a month in the United States,” says Laurel.

2. Beachfront Property at Affordable Prices

On the coast in California you would pay $1 million-plus for a property on the beach, but on the same stretch of coast in Nicaragua you can buy a home for $277,000.

There are many places in the world where you can get the best value for your dollar. For example, a two-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage just 100 feet from the Caribbean in Caye Caulker, Belize costs $82,000.

If you like sport fishing, boating, surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, sun bathing or the easy-going lifestyle that comes with living on the beach, then buying a beachfront property overseas might appeal to you.

Marika Ripke loved the easy-going lifestyle in her native Hawaii, but she hated the cost of living. She has discovered that Costa Rica is as easy-going as Hawaii, if not more so.

She says: “When I lived in Hawaii, I was always near the ocean…but could never afford a ‘stone’s throw’ away. Then I moved to Costa Rica—where I can live close enough to the beach that I could walk out my door and be in the ocean in under three minutes.”

And she still gets to enjoy all the things she loved about Hawaii—surfing on clear, warm waters…being surrounded by wildlife and stunning scenery…and watching gorgeous sunsets—whenever she wants in Costa Rica.

3. Property: City Escapes and Highland Retreats

Not everyone likes living on the beach. If the bustling city or the tranquil mountains are more your thing, then you can find your dream home for less overseas. Plus, property taxes are low overseas. On a small residence in Costa Rica, for example, they will cost $100 a year.

Panama City is a growing, vibrant place known as the “Hub of the Americas.” It is one of the most exciting, international cities in Latin America. Make a list of the city’s many attractions–and the benefits of living here–and it’s likely to read like a book.

Al Fine owns a three-bedroom condo in the ritzy Punta Pacifica area of Panama City, right on the Panama Bay. He calls it the “Beverly Hills of Panama,” and he pays a maintenance fee of $165 a month including gas for his stove and water heaters.

He has been living in Panama for nearly eight years and due to his low maintenance fees, he can afford to hire a maid  to come while he is out. “I leave $10 for the domestic. I would love to see you do that anywhere in the United States.”

The colonial highlands of Mexico are colorful and magical places. Straight from a film set, the fabled silver cities of Mexico’s heartland still carry the Spanish grace notes of colonial times–elegant haciendas with blossom-filled courtyards, soaring cathedrals, shady plazas with terraced cafés, and pattering fountains.

San Miguel is located in the colonial highlands of Mexico, about a 10-hour drive from the U.S. border. It is a favorite with U.S. expats and has a rich culture, friendly population and a high-desert climate, with cool evenings and warm days. Winters are mild, with temperatures rarely below freezing. A gem of colonial architecture, San Miguel is one of Mexico’s national historic landmarks.

In Centro, San Miguel, a 1,025-square-foot-house with two bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, and a rooftop mirador with panoramic views was recently selling for $148,000. The house, completely remodeled in 2009, has a dining room, living room, a working fireplace, and comes furnished.

4. International Flights

Moving overseas can bring with it unexpected costs, such as regular flights back to the U.S. to see friends and family. You may be worried you won’t see your kids or grandkids if you move overseas, or that you won’t be able to travel around the region you now call home.

In Ecuador and Panama, once you are part of the retiree programs, you’ll get substantial discounts on flights, making it cheaper to fly home whenever you want and also giving you the benefit of exploring other countries in the region.

In Ecuador, all citizens and residents over the age of 65 can get a 50% airfare reduction for international travel offered by airlines such as Taca, Copa Airlines, and Ecuador’s AeroGal. All three airlines offer some discounts on round-trip tickets purchased in Ecuador for flights originating within the country. For those regularly visiting the U.S, U.K. or Canada, savings can amount to thousands of dollars a year.

The Pensionado Program in Panama  entitles qualified retirees to a 25%-discount on airline tickets. They must be domestically sourced and have a domestic point of origin.

Paul Kimmel lives in Panama with his wife Ramona and the Pensionado program was a big draw for them. “We use the discounts for entertainment, eating out and medical care. We have had no trouble using them to book flights. We go to the Lake Tahoe area, where we have a timeshare, regularly.”

5. Cultural Activities: Symphonies, Theaters and Galleries

From museums to the symphony, satisfy your cultural taste buds for less overseas. If you like to immerse yourself in art, music or museums, then you can enjoy them more often due to their low cost overseas. For example, some concerts and film festivals in Ecuador are free…and museums and theaters are free in Uruguay during some festivals.

Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city and is known for its rich intellectual, artistic and philosophical tradition that matches its colonial architecture. The city has produced many of Ecuador’s major writers, artists, and musicians, and offers a rich program of festivals, concerts, parades, and art openings.

IL’s Cuenca Editor, Edd Staton, loves attending the symphony. When living in the U.S., going to the symphony was an extravagance for him and his wife due to the cost. But now that he lives in Cuenca, it is much more accessible. “Decent seats back home ran at least $50 a piece and that was mid-range. Here in Cuenca, performances are free, as are many museums and film festivals.”

Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay, and it has something to offer most anyone. The Teatro Solis hosts a variety of plays, musicals and operas, and half a block down the street you can join the locals at a tango club.

David Hammond, IL’s Uruguay Correspondent believes that the best things in life are free, a saying that rings true in Uruguay. During a whole weekend in spring all public buildings, museums, theaters and galleries are free to the public to celebrate Heritage Day.

“During the most recent Dia de Patrimonio in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, I climbed to the top of a lighthouse, explored the Parliament, attended a play, and rode a train along the port’s waterfront–all for free.”

During the spring and summer months there are free outdoor concerts…and from spring to fall there are lots of celebrations with free firework displays, parades and street performances.

Luxuries for Less

Many of those things that you look upon as extravagant when you live in the U.S. are also cheaper overseas, allowing you to live the life you want.

LuxuryCountryPrice per Month
MaidMexico (three times a week)$180
Nicaragua (three times a week)$60
GardenerCosta Rica (per hour)$2-$4
Mexico (once a week)$120
Nicaragua (three times a week)$100
MassageMexico (per hour)$25
Nicaragua (per hour)$20-$30
Costa Rica (per hour)$40-$50
ConcertsMexico (all genres)$8
Costa Rica (Classical)$4-$10
Fine Dining for Two Panama (Panama City, for two at a gourmet restaurant with drinks) $80
Ecuador (Cuenca, fine dining for two including drinks)$50


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