Mild Climates and Low Living Costs
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If the recent surge in searches for terms like “move overseas” and “expats overseas” is any indication, Americans are looking in ever-greater numbers for other, better-living options beyond the U.S. borders with lower costs and warmer weather.
Already the Social Security Administration sends 660,528 payments overseas; anecdotally, according to the editors of International Living, the number of U.S. retirees receiving Social Security benefits abroad is likely higher than that, as many simply continue to bank in the States while living outside the country.
While Canada seems to top the list of target destinations for many, the editors at International Living recommend three other popular overseas retirement haven picks, plus two more still flying below the radar screen:
Mexico is one of the world’s top destinations for those dreaming of a relaxed and romantic new life abroad. America’s closest southern neighbor consistently makes International Living’s list of the best countries to live in.
Many expats choose to live in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands. Three popular towns in the region are San Miguel de Allende, Querétaro, and Guanajuato. Each has a colonial centro histórico — all UNESCO World Heritage sites — where grand colonial homes have been converted to hip restaurants, chic boutiques, hotels…or sometimes just tiny mom-and-pop corner stores or simple eateries where you can get a meal for a couple of dollars. And, of course, many of the colonials have also been renovated to become homes.
Moneywise, it’s a great time to be anywhere in Mexico — the exchange rate today is 20.07 pesos to $1. Combine that with already low costs for real estate, food, restaurants, entertainment, and transportation, and you have the spending power to live very well on around $1,800 a month for a retired couple.
“In Austin, we were paying $700 a month for heat and air conditioning. We were paying property taxes of $12,000 a year and now live comfortably with taxes of $200 a year,” says Chris McCaskill. “Here in San Miguel, economics and lifestyle go hand in hand. We spend money on quality of life things, not air conditioning or taxes. We can take our money from Social Security and our quality of life is pretty darn good.”
2. Costa Rica
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Expats are attracted to Costa Rica for numerous reasons, which include the low cost of living, excellent healthcare, modern telecommunications structure, beautiful beaches, rainforests, lush valleys, and cool mountains…not to mention the theaters, art galleries, and fine dining.
There are more than 50,000 expats already living in Costa Rica in many well-established expat communities.
“The living is very easy here,” says 68-year-old Lynda Henry. “It’s a much different pace. More like the 1940s or 1950s. You can be as social or as alone as you want.”
She and her husband Tim, 67, live on a hill above the shores of Lake Arenal in northern Costa Rica. Their porch, full of hummingbirds, offers a 180-degree view of the lake. A huge picture window in their bedroom (they put the bed facing it) and another by the bathtub means they can see the lake from almost everywhere in the house.
“We wake up every morning grateful to be in this country and happy to be here,” says Henry. “You have to get used to waking up and not having an agenda. Having breakfast at six…or 10, or maybe start reading first. After a busy life with work and kids, that really does take some getting used to.”
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Panama offers a very comfortable live overseas solution, in part because the nation is much more developed than most visitors expect. Many are shocked by the modernity of Panama and the clusters of skyscrapers that define Panama City’s skyline. All of the amenities of a world-class city are readily available.
That being said, expats can still take a taxi across town for a buck or two, get a haircut for a couple of dollars, or enjoy dinner for two with a bottle of wine at one of the finest restaurants in Panama City for $40.
Many expats live outside the city in what they feel is the true Panama. There are beautiful beaches everywhere, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Pacific on the other, along with rolling green tropical mountains, fertile farmlands, lush rainforests, and small towns where foreign visitors are made to feel welcome.
“The future of the U.S. was looking bad,” says Nancy Young of the decisions that led her and her family to find a new life in Boquete. “My husband was going to retire on beans, with no benefits…not enough for us to live on. Our lives are so much better here. We are healthier, we are happy, we have a social life, and we have lots of activities to enjoy. Life is richer and filled with great experiences. I love the Panamanians and their culture.”
And now for the two countries that offer the same benefits as the three just noted, but are still largely below the expat radar:
As a Caribbean destination, Belize is quite affordable and the country offers some big advantages — economic stability, a strong retiree program, and a wonderful climate, if you like the tropics. This Central American country has a beautiful coastline, where the sunbathing, swimming, snorkeling and diving, fishing, and sailing are among the best in the world.
Moreover, Belize is an English-speaking country. For expats who are ready to move abroad but don’t want the hassle of having to learn a new language, Belize could be the ideal place.
Ambergris Caye is a popular offshore caye that’s located 35 to 40 miles southeast of Corozal. In 2013 and 2014 it was voted the world’s best island by Trip Advisor members. The nearby World Heritage Mesoamerican barrier reef and stunning azure Caribbean waters enchant visitors and expats alike.
“Belize first attracted me because of the spectacular Caribbean seascapes and the vibrant offshore barrier reef teaming with colorful, diverse sea life…the laidback lifestyle…affordable cost of living…and the friendly Belizeans,” says Ann Kuffner. “But after moving here another advantage became apparent. Maintaining a healthy, happy lifestyle in Belize is easy. As a matter of fact, many expats who move to Belize remark that they have lost weight, are in better shape, and feel better than they have in years. Most expats here have embraced this healthy, active lifestyle that Belize offers. Of course, the added bonus is that they have little stress in their lives here compared to living back in the States.”
Mention Peru and most people think of the wonder of the world, Machu Picchu, and…llamas. But during a recent visit, traveling the country, experiencing life there, and speaking with expats who call it home, InternationalLiving.com editor Jason Holland said they may have discovered one of the world’s best kept secrets.
“Food is cheap — and very tasty. Rents are affordable even for those on super-low budgets — $200 to $400 gets you a nice place in a great neighborhood. The climate is comfortable…the people friendly…there are modern services…and the vibrant mix of music, festivals, indigenous culture, and colonial history is evident everywhere you turn. It should be an option for anyone considering a retirement in Latin America.”
Arequipa and Cusco are two of the most popular towns for expats to live.
“I fall in love with the city every time I walk through it,” says ex-Californian Bill Connors, who now lives in Arequipa. “It is a very romantic city. At predawn and at night the sillar shines — it’s very beautiful. Outside of the tourist area, you have very cheap restaurants. I spend about $30 a week on food, mostly going to the market,” says Connors.
The latest International Living report on five top expat havens to move overseas contains more financial and logistical information on countries most popular with U.S. expats, as well as more interviews with expats already living abroad. You can find it at: Five Top Expat Havens to Move to Overseas.