In 2006, my financial advisor told me I could never retire in the U.S. I had worked since I was 16, paid into Social Security all my life…yet I would have to work forever. What had happened to the American Dream? Just passed me by I guess.
One vacation later and I made up my mind. I was going to leave the U.S. and retire in Nicaragua. What was there to stay for? Working forever? So, about 11 years shy of retirement, I moved to San Juan del Sur, all by myself, without knowing a soul there. Sounds scary, but it was the best decision I ever made.
I parlayed a second mortgage on my home in San Diego into an adorable two-bedroom, two-bathroom home on at least a half-acre. I paid only $132,000 for a cottage in the jungle with an ocean view, something that would never happen in the States.
There’s room for another house and a pool on the property. My fenced-in yard is filled with banana, moringa, cinnamon, lime, lemon, avocado, papaya, mango, almond, and cashew trees. Not to mention all the gorgeous flowers decorating my patio and my view.
Sitting with a cold beer on the San Juan beach with a friend, watching the most colorful and amazing sunset of my life, I told her I was moving to this funky little beach town. She asked me, “When? In 11 years when you retire?” Nope…I’m coming back in 90 days, I told her! And I did.
I bought my house just outside of town the next day, closed my technical writing business in San Diego, wrapped up my life in California, and was back sipping terrific Nicaraguan coffee and gazing at the ocean on my new patio in 90 days, and kicking myself that I hadn’t done it sooner. I was a middle-class person in California with a modest townhouse. In Nicaragua, I was living like a queen with an ocean view. Even though I was impulsive and lucky for this dream to come true so easily, I recommend renting a place in your city of choice to get to know it so you can make the right decision.
I had to furnish my place, too. It only had a bed, a dining room table, and two rocking chairs on the outdoor patio. Luckily in Nicaragua, furnishing is a pretty easy (and cheap too) thing to do. Just drive to the three “pueblos blancos” (white towns). Each of these towns specializes in something that will help you decorate your house. The families of San Juan del Oriente make ceramics. Vases, bowls, dishes, wall hangings, lamps, decorative items, and more. Catarina specializes in plants.
For 50 cents a pop for most plants and a couple of dollars for fruit trees, you can have your whole yard landscaped with exotic flowers, twisted tree trunks, caracol palms, and all the colorful flowers you want. In Masatepe, they make furniture by hand using the beautiful hardwoods of Nicaragua. Nine years ago, I bought a couch, two chairs (all with cushions), and a coffee table for $200. A bamboo TV table for $15. A huge armoire with mirrors, drawers, and two spaces to hang clothes for $250. When you go to these three towns, you can literally finish all your decorating and landscaping for around $1,000.
Many people feel they have to sell everything before they make a move like this. That’s only because we think that you haven’t succeeded unless you’ve paid off your house mortgage. I think the opposite. Sure, I have my mortgage debt, but I rent that home in San Diego at about $1,100 over the mortgage and that pretty much pays my expenses in San Juan del Sur, not to mention that someone else is paying the mortgage. I don’t even get my Social Security yet. When I’m gone, if the mortgage is still there, my kids can sell the house and still make a profit or keep renting it. No one loses.
There are several ways to find the house of your dreams in Nicaragua. You can go online and search the various real estate websites. Or, you can join Facebook pages about the city where you want to live and ask the people there if they know of a place for sale or rent. The best idea is to go to that city and live there for a while. Get the lay of the land, meet the other expats, and learn about the different neighborhoods. Then walk around yourself and look for the signs that say Se Renta (for rent) or Se Vende (for sale). A lot Nicaraguans who are renting or selling property do not advertise on the Internet and they are some of the best deals around.
If I can do it, so can you. If you are looking at a dreary retirement or none at all, still have snow to shovel, and can no longer see yourself spending your golden years the way you imagined 20 years ago, then it’s time to get out.
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