We Spent a Year Exploring Latin America to Find Our Ideal Retirement Haven

It seems everyone has a woe story about the 2008 crash and my husband Mike and I are no exception. We had a successful real estate business in a small rural town in northeast Washington…but when two of our agents decided to jump ship and go with the new guy on the block, we decided the time was best for closing up shop.

I stayed in real estate and did well under the circumstances. Mike became a catastrophe insurance adjuster. However, no matter how hard we worked, we could never seem to get ahead of the debt left over from the business.

When we saw the writing on the wall in December 2011, we decided to protect what savings we had left rather than see it slip away any further. So we made the only decision that made sense to us. In April 2012 we sold our home (in only three weeks) and by July 2012 had sold or given away everything including 37 years’ worth of tools and machinery. That was definitely the hardest part of this decision because Mike had homesteaded our property and built everything on it with his own hands.

During our months of preparation, we set about determining the criteria we needed to choose a location. The criteria we chose for ourselves initially were: a good health care system at a much lower cost; a stable government; not wanting a car, a walkable location with a good transportation system; good infrastructure; a Spanish-speaking country because Mike already spoke some but wanted to become proficient; a warm climate year round; and, of course, a lower cost of living.

After hours and hours of research, reading everything I could find that initially started with several years of IL’s Annual Global Retirement Index, we set a goal budget of $1,800 a month, including rent, for living expenses as that was our income until I could begin drawing Social Security. We put aside some of our savings to cover flights to travel between the countries we chose to explore, because we knew we had to have boots on the ground in order to make the right decision, as always recommended by IL. We considered that exploration to be an investment, not a luxury.

We narrowed our first choices down to Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uruguay and, possibly, Spain, and decided to spend three months in each country so as to keep within a tourist visa, spending a month renting an apartment in three different towns/cities within each country.

Panama was the first country we traveled to and we chose Boquete, Pedasi, and the Gorgona/Coronado area. After our first month in Boquete, which has a temperate not tropical climate, we took Uruguay off the list because we knew it was too far and got too cold for us.

After Panama, we moved on to Costa Rica, staying near Tronadora on the west side of Lake Arenal, Grecia, and Tamarindo. While in Costa Rica, we visited Nicaragua, so decided to add that to our list of potential retirement destinations.

From Costa Rica, we continued to Ecuador visiting Salinas, Bahia de Caraquez, and traveling for a month in the highland cities, then back to Granada and San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

Everything we learned on our travels helped us to find the retirement destination that was right for us—especially our trip to Costa Rica. Because of our time in Tamarindo, which is on the Pacific Coast, we knew without a doubt that we needed a beach and sunsets.

There was one location that we hadn’t considered but that began to make more and more sense when we looked at it: the popular resort town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We had vacationed there for years but, because of the negative media hype surrounding Mexico, had not put it on our list. Thankfully, when we reviewed the actual statistics, they showed us how misinformed we were.

So on December 15 2013, we landed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to see if it was as great a location as we remembered. It was…and just one month later, we declared ourselves “home.”

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