Money & Policy

Want to Retire Abroad? How to Test It Out for Free

International Living is offering an all-expense paid month in Latin America, including a side trip to a chi-chi resort

Articles about retiring abroad (including one I’ve written for Next Avenue) often recommend you spend a little time living in a foreign country to see what you’d think about becoming a resident there. So how’d you like to take a free, monthlong test drive in Latin America?

International Living, a magazine and website specializing in retirement abroad, has just launched its latest annual “Win Your Dream Retirement Overseas” competition.

Grand Prize: Free Housing, Airfare and More

The winner will get an all-expenses-paid month for two in a furnished home in Granada, Nicaragua, one of International Living’s “favorite retirement havens.” The grand prize also includes free airfare, $1,500 in spending money and a weekend for two at Rancho Santana, an upscale resort on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast.

“There’s a real buzz about Nicaragua right now,” says Dan Prescher, International Living’s special projects editor, who lives in Ecuador with his wife, Suzan Haskins. “It’s on the rise and a real value destination.”

(MORE: Where in the World Should You Retire?)

Prescher adds that he and Suzan just came back from a visit to Nicaragua and “the improvements there are startling” compared to when they lived there in 2008. “The roads are better, the Internet is much better, medical care has improved by leaps and bounds and restaurants are opening up,” he says.

Nicaragua and Granada for the Uninitiated

In case you’re geographically challenged, Nicaragua (which ranked No. 12 in International Living’s latest list of the best countries in which to retire) sits just north of Panama and Costa Rica and south of Honduras.

About 1,000 U.S. expats live in Granada, a small Spanish colonial city (population: 89,400, about the same as Santa Monica, Calif.) on Lake Nicaragua, a two-hour drive from the country’s Pacific Coast. International Living says a couple can live nicely on $1,200 a month there, housing costs included.

If the words “Sandinista rebels” and “war-torn” come to mind when you think of Nicaragua, relax. “That war has been over for 30 years,” Prescher says.

What the 2012 Winners Thought

Last year’s competition champs, Barry and Denise Luckenbach, beat out 585 entrants to win a month in Cuenca, Ecuador. Currently living in Hawaii, where Barry’s a teacher and Denise works for Merrill Lynch, the Luckenbachs say their test drive put Ecuador on their “short list” of possible retirement locales.

“Although we’ve traveled extensively around the world, we tend to cover a lot of ground in a given country, most times staying just a few days at any given location,” Barry says. “Staying put for a whole month in an apartment is definitely the way to go for anyone who wants to really get a feel for what it might be like to actually live somewhere.”

Denise came away impressed with Cuenca’s shopping bargains and the 25-cent bus ride to nearby spas featuring hot springs and mineral mud bath treatments.

The Luckenbachs put their reflections and photos of Ecuador on a Facebook page they created.

How to ‘Win Your Dream Retirement’

To enter this year’s contest, post a video of three minutes or less to YouTube, explaining why you’d like to retire overseas and try a one-month test drive in Granada. Then, use the form on International Living’s site to submit the video link. The deadline is midnight Eastern Standard Time on April 2. If you’re applying as a couple, both of you should be in the video.

(MORE: Ideal Places to Grow Older in Retirement)

International Living will announce the winner on May 30; the trip must be completed in 2013.

I asked Prescher what would make a winning entry. “We’re looking for people at or near retirement age who want to try out a new lifestyle and have a sense of adventure,” he says. “If you have skills as a blogger or a journalist that could help, because we’ll ask the winner to document the experience through writing and video.”

Buena suerte! (Good luck!)

RIchard Eisenberg, editor at Next Avenue wearing a suit jacket in front of a teal background.
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Follow him on Twitter.

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