Hi IL Experts,
We are looking for a country/town that we can live well in and we would also like to meet fellow expats that we feel would help us settle in better to our new location.
My question is…which country or area would allow a couple in their 60’s to live well on $1900 a month which also has an expat social scene?
Wendy Dechambeau – Ecuador Correspondent
Most of Ecuador would fit your needs as to cost of living as it can be a very affordable place to live. We typically recommend $2200 in income per couple, but many expats are living well on much less. You should count on paying between $400 to $600 for a two-bedroom apartment (more if you’re in a upscale city neighborhood) and around $30 for basic utilities. Grocery bills will vary depending upon your eating style, but produce is very inexpensive here as are restaurants serving local Ecuadorian fare ($3 for a lunch that includes soup, meat, rice, salad, and a juice).
There are a lot of vibrant expat communities as well. Some of the largest or most tight-knit communities are in Cuenca, Vilcabamba, Cotacachi, and Salinas. But there are expats scattered throughout the entire country so you’re likely to find expats no matter where you choose.
Best of luck in your search!
Ecuador Highlands Correspondent
Suzan Haskins – Ecuador Correspondent
You’ll find thriving expat communities in all the countries International Living writes about….and the good news is that you can live “well”—depending on your individual definition of that word—in most every country International Living writes about as well.
To suggest just a few communities with welcoming expat communities where you can live comfortably for less than $2,000 a month (rent included): Chapala, Mexico; Grecia, Costa Rica; Boquete, Panama; San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua; Cotacachi and Cuenca, Ecuador.
Here’s the thing I’ve noticed: on a first visit, you’ll find yourself frequenting the touristy/more upscale places for dining, groceries, entertainment, etc., and you may feel that the place is expensive. But once you settle in and you cook for yourself, eat at the local spots, find the low-cost places to shop, and spend time socializing with friends, you’ll find your costs will settle down as well and you can live nicely on a small amount of money.
Bonnie Hayman – Nicaragua Correspondent
Nicaragua is a great place to live in expat communties and you don’t have to spend $1900 a month. But if you do, you’ll live like a king and be able to eat out, travel and have fun. In Granada and San Juan del Sur in particular, where most of the expats settle, both communities offer tons of things to do. Water aerobics, book clubs, music and regular trivia games, open mike night, karaoke, shopping trips, men’s and women’s luncheons, wine tasting activities, painting, dancing and jewelry-making classes, cooking classes and more will keep you busy every day.
In addition, as expats get to know one another, you’ll be invited to barbeques, cocktail parties and get togethers. If you have an idea of your own for a group activity, you can always start it and get your favorite hobby going for everyone. Expats in Nicaragua often say that they are busier here than they ever were when they were retired back home.
Don Murray – Mexico Correspondent
Hi Alex! I’m Don Murray, one of IL’s correspondents in Mexico. I’m really glad you asked that question because I think I know just the place for you. The Lake Chapala region in Mexico’s central highlands, consists primarily of the two small towns of Ajijic (Ah-eee-eek) and Chapala. Combined, these two communities have the largest concentration of expats in all of Mexico and some think, the world. With perfect weather always in the mid 70s, little rainfall, (falling mostly at night) a beautiful lake and gorgeous mountains along with plenty of expats, this area’s population swells to some 20,000 during winter months.
A short drive to Guadalajara means that a large International Airport is close by, as well as world-class shopping. Medical care is excellent and there is good local shopping and wonderful restaurants. There are good reasons why so many expats have chosen the Lake Chapala area. Check it out!
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Ann Kuffner – Belize Correspondent
There are several areas in Belize that fit your criteria. The best would be Corozal, which is on the northern border of Belize, across from Mexico. You can live comfortably on $1900/month there and there is a large expat community that is very welcoming and helpful.The town itself is quiet, but expats belong to many social and volunteer organizations. So they keep pretty busy. Also, English is the primary language in Belize, which makes it easy to transition.
Many of the expats who live in the Corozal district are over 60. And Corozal is on the expansive Bay of Corozal, which connects to the Caribbean Sea, so the view is nice and there are plenty of water sports.
Another affordable, friendly area where expats settle in Belize is the Cayo District, in the Maya foothills. This area is inland, so not on the water. But it’s also quite affordable, with many expat groups. If you prefer a lush river, farmland and jungle environment to being on the sea, the Cayo could work for you.
Edd Staton – Ecuador Correspondent
I don’t think you can find a more social place than Cuenca, Ecuador. Our 5000 expats are involved in almost any activity you can think of–hiking, fishing, golf, tennis, knitting, bird watching, volunteering, playing bridge and canasta, to name just the first things that come to mind. Three online community publications and a monthly magazine make it easy to meet people and stay abreast of what’s going on in our wonderful city. And with your budget of $1900 per month you’ll be able to enjoy it all.
Jason Holland – Roving Latin America Correspondent
Arequipa, in the southern part of Peru, is a bit of an under-the-radar choice. But one an increasing number of expats, including retirees, are making. It’s true you don’t have large numbers of expats. But those that are there, from many different nationalities, have formed a close-knit community that networks and assists each other. And there are many benefits. The cost of living in Arequipa is very low and you can live well on under $2,000 a month. Nice dinners out can be had for $10 per person, including drinks. Rents for three-bedroom apartments in the best part of town are $400 a month. And the climate is just about perfect – with 300 days of sunshine a year and temperatures in the mid 70s during the day. The center is colonial – a UNESCO World Heritage site full of restored colonial homes and other buildings. Yet, there are plenty of modern conveniences.
Jackie Minchillo – Costa Rica Correspondent
It is definitely possible to live in Costa Rica on a budget of $1,900 per month; there are a few areas in particular where this will be more achievable and also offer the vibrant expat community you’re seeking. I would suggest further looking into Costa Rica’s Central Valley or the Arenal region.
Both areas offer affordable housing, and in the Central Valley for example, most expats report not even needing to use their air conditioning – which is probably the biggest factor in utility costs here in Costa Rica. Expats flock to these areas for their favorable climate, sweeping landscapes and affordable living. The Arenal area is very well-known for a close-knit expat community, and the Central Valley inherently offers that community simply because so many North American expats flock there.
While Arenal will offer more in the way of outdoor activity and a taste of serene, rural living; the Central Valley offers beauty in nature couple with the conveniences of being close to the city, including easy and convenient access to healthcare facilities.
Glynna Prentice – Mexico Correspondent
Mexico has several destinations with extremely large expat populations. With your income level, you can probably live comfortably in Lake Chapala or in Merida, both of which are attractive colonial expat havens. The peso is at a historical low against the US dollar, making Mexico particularly inexpensive for dollar-holders right now.
However, qualifying for residence is another matter. Based solely on your income, you only qualify for a temporary residence visa, which is valid for a maximum of 4 years, after which you must leave the country or qualify for a permanent visa, which requires a higher income. You can always try living on a tourist visa; it is valid for 180 days and can be renewed by leaving the country and returning. Or if you have savings or investments of at least $84,000 or so, you can show that you have these assets and thereby qualify for a permanent visa, which is valid indefinitely.
Jim Santos – Ecuador Correspondent
You could live just about anywhere in Ecuador within the budget you suggest. Unfortunately, you did not give enough information to help you choose a particular region. Many areas in Ecuador have expat communinites. Some of the things to consider to help nail down a region:
• Are you a beach person, or a mountain person?
• What do you consider the ideal climate?
• Do you need quick access to advanced medical care?
• Do you have any current medical conditions?
• Do you plan to have a car?
• Do you want to rent or buy?
• Do you speak Spanish now, or plan to learn?
• What exactly do you mean by “live well”?
To give you and example, my wife and I live what we consider “very well” in an oceanfront condo in Salinas on the southern coast. Our monthly expenses are about $1500. However, we purchased our condo, so we do not have monthly rent. I love to cook, so we eat most of our meals at home. We also chose to get property insurance, which not everyone adds to their budget. That includes things like day trips up the coast, or into Guayaquil from time to time. However, although things like maid service, in-home massages, and more are available, we don’t choose to use them.
Think about your needs and make your own personal checklist, and International Living or one of our Experts can help you choose what part of Ecuador to visit to see what suits you – and your budget – best.
Kirsten Raccuia – Malaysia Correspondent
You are so right to assume that making expats friends early on will help you settle. They are such a major part of your life overseas and they will become your family when you aren’t visiting your home town. They also have been through the move already and know where to find your favorite brand of cookies or how to pay your water bill.
Your budget is very doable in Penang, Malaysia, as well as a few places in Thailand like Krabi or Hua Hin. Rents can be found for as little as $500 but it really depends on your needs and priorities. The closer you are to the center of town or the beaches, the more your rent will be, and since that is your biggest expense you need to keep that low. If you are willing to live a few miles outside of town, the rents will be even more affordable.
All three of these places have great expat social scenes. My advice would be to start researching forums, blogs or town Facebook pages to get an idea of what and who is there. These pages can be invaluable when moving to a new place. Also https://www.internations.org/ is a great worldwide site that you can get involved with and “meet” people who live in your new city before you even get there.
Good luck finding your new home overseas!
Steve LePoidevin – Thailand Correspondent
This is Steve LePoidevin, IL’s Thailand correspondent.
Certainly, Chiang Mai would fit your criteria. You could live on $1900 per month but that would realistically be a minimum budget to “live well”. If you add private medical insurance and recreational travel costs, your monthly expenses can increase quickly. However, many expats “pay as they go” for healthcare and rely on savings for emergencies.
The basic cost of living is quite low. You can find nice furnished condos for less than $500 per month and other monthly expenses are comparatively inexpensive. Even with dining out a few times a week, you would be able to manage on that budget.
As far as the expat social scene, Chiang Mai is hard to beat! There is an active expats club that meets regularly for general meetings as well as for social events. Under its umbrella are a host of clubs that meet weekly and cover a wide variety of interests. If you have a hobby, there is probably a club that covers it!
With over 30,000 expats in the city, you won’t have any difficulty finding and/or meeting like-minded people.
Good luck in your search for that dream location that fits your needs!
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