Being American Overseas

Do I Feel More Or Less American Living Overseas?

Sept. 14, 2014, Panama City, Panama: How does living overseas affect one’s “American-ness”

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

At our Retire Overseas Conference in Nashville last month, an attendee asked:

"Do you feel more or less American as an American overseas?"

I've been living outside the States for 17 years, and, to answer the question of the gentleman in the audience in Nashville a few weeks ago, I've never felt more like an American than I do today.

Living in the States (I lived in Baltimore, Maryland, for my first 35 years), we Americans take being American for granted. Every year since I left Baltimore, I've been more aware of my American-ness.

Thinking superficially, this is easy to understand. We lived in Ireland for seven years, long enough to acquire Irish passports even. But we're not Irish...not really.

We were in Paris for four years, and both our children think of that city as home. It's where our blended family bonded, where Jackson started school, and from where Kaitlin left our nest to start college. We still have the apartment where we four lived together. In storage there are plastic tubs containing old school report cards and gifts the kids made for me for Mother's Days. We love Paris and look forward to returning, but we're surely not French.

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Lief Simon Details The Most And Least Successful Property...

Lief Simon's True Confessions—"My Biggest Losers"

Sept. 12, 2014, Panama City, Panama: Lief Simon has invested in real estate in more than 20 countries over more than 20 years, making nearly three-dozen purchases in total. Here are his biggest winners and losers.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

A reader wrote in last week to tell me she was done with international real estate investing. She's invested in four opportunities I've written about over the last 10 years, and none of them has played out as expected. She wasn't upset, just matter of fact, writing to let me know that she's going to stick with U.S. real estate going forward, as that's something she feels she understands better.

Can't argue with that logic.

This very reasonable lady lost everything on one direct-developer investment she made. I invested in that deal, as well, so we were able to commiserate. The developer, as it turns out in hindsight, was in over his head. He didn't have enough experience or local knowledge to understand the complications he would encounter, and so these complications weren't factored into his business plan or projections. Bottom line, he wasn't properly capitalized and went belly up.

I've lost money on a few direct-developer investments. Others have played out well. I consider an investment of the kind I'm talking about, one where you're getting in on the ground floor right there with the developer, comparable to investing in a start-up company pre-IPO. You have the potential for big reward, but the risks are great, as well. (My pre-IPO investments have a higher loss rate than my direct-developer real estate investments, for whatever that's worth.)

You can minimize your risk with a direct-developer investment by asking for land as collateral—though that's not always what it's cracked up to be. Right now I'm invested in three direct-developer deals where the development isn't moving forward but I have property as collateral. The truth is, though, should the developments be forever (as opposed to temporarily) stalled, the land I hold as collateral in each case isn't worth much. What would I do with these little islands of property unless or until the planned developments they were meant to be part of play out?

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Where To Retire Overseas

How To Find The Right Place For
You To Retire Overseas

Sept. 11, 2014, Panama City, Panama: When deciding where to retire overseas, pay as much attention to your heart as to more quantifiable or scientific considerations.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

One thing I've learned in my 17 years as an American abroad is that you can't spreadsheet a new life in paradise.

As you consider your options for where to reinvent your life overseas, you want to review detailed budgets for the countries that interest you, as we try to help you do regularly. You want to understand the local tax rates as they'd apply to you and the average temperatures by season. You want to research the local standards for medical care and the cost of health insurance. You want to look into air access to and from the places you intend to travel regularly...options for establishing legal residency...

Etc.

This research is important. But, once you've carried it out, set all the data aside and let your heart take over.

A friend, Jeff, a Brit who has been spending much of his time in Nicaragua for years, passed through Panama City this week.

"People ask me all the time why I chose Nicaragua over Costa Rica," he said.

"There are quantifiable explanations," Jeff continued. "The cost of living in Nicaragua is lower than that in Costa Rica, for example. And Nicaragua has a program of special benefits, tax breaks, etc., for foreign retirees that's very competitive.

"But those aren't the reasons I recommend Nicaragua over its neighbor to the south to anyone who asks or why I chose to focus my time and attention in Nicaragua years ago, when I could as easily have based myself in Costa Rica. Nicaragua simply appealed to me more," Jeff explained, "for reasons that I have trouble explaining."

I knew what he meant. I visited Costa Rica for the first time coming up on 30 years ago. I've returned probably 25 times since. Its Pacific coast is beautiful, as is its mountainous interior. Great surfing, great bird-watching, great boating, great fishing...Costa Rica has all these things. When I first traveled to this country, it was also very affordable and boasted the world's premier foreign retiree program. Still, I didn't get it. I could list out the advantages and benefits of living in Costa Rica, but I couldn't make myself want to live there.

Then, a few years later, I traveled to Nicaragua. I knew within a few hours of wandering around colonial Granada that this was a place I wanted to return to. This was a place I could call home, for visiting it for the first time felt like coming home.

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Own A Spanish-Colonial Home In Granada, Nicaragua

A Lot Of Charm For Just US$37,000

Sept. 10, 2014, Granada, Nicaragua: Granada, Nicaragua, is the premier Spanish-colonial city and perhaps the best place in the world to shop right now for a Spanish-colonial home of your own

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

A Spanish-colonial city can be a great choice for retirement, and Granada, Nicaragua, is perhaps the queen among all Spanish-colonial city options. At the heart of this city, radiating from the central square, is a great variety of classic and charming Spanish-colonial homes with high ceilings, painted tiles, and private center courtyards.

And the best part is that you can own one for as little as US$37,000.

Founded in 1524, Granada claims to be the first European city founded in mainland America, so it's a truly old colonial city rather than a semi-modern lookalike. It's named after the ancient city of Granada, Spain, and shares some of that city's Moorish architectural influence.

Granada sits at the north end of Lake Nicaragua, with beaches near town and a group of small private islands just offshore, and just south of Lake Apoyo, Nicaragua's largest volcanic crater lake.

The international airport at Managua is a little less than an hour to the north, and the Pacific Ocean lies a little more than an hour to the west. The weather is warm to hot all year, with average high temperatures running seasonally between 86°F and 93°F (30°C to 34°C). Rainfall is moderate at 47 inches, and most of it comes between May and October in the form of afternoon showers.

It's obvious as soon as you arrive: Granada is one of most finely restored and preserved colonial cities in the Americas. It sees a good number of international travelers and has a sizeable expat community. These two things combine to account for the city's wealth of upscale hotels, fine restaurants, and well-kept buildings.

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Now Is The Time To Be Considering Nicaragua For Retirement And...

Why We Think It's Time To Take A Fresh Look At This Longstanding Favorite

Sept. 9, 2014, Managua, Nicaragua: Nicaragua is at the bottom of its post-2008 crisis cycle, meaning this is the time to be paying attention to this beautiful country.

Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

"Forget about the Sandinistas. They're obsolete."

That was Violeta Chamorro's advice in September 1989 when asked about her chances for defeating the Sandinistas in Nicaragua's first presidential election after the Contra War. To the surprise of sitting El Presidente Daniel Ortega and all Nicaragua, Mrs. Chamorro won that election in February 1990. The Sandinista Ortega stepped down graciously, and Doña Violeta began the work of rebuilding her country.

I visited Nicaragua for the first time three years later. Managua, thanks to the earthquake of 1972, the revolution, and the civil war, was a near disaster zone. No reason at the time to stick around Nicaragua's capital city back then. Gringos like me migrated instead either slightly south or west, to the Pacific coast, where, by the early 1990s, speculators had already begun snatching up stretches of this country's primo beachfront, or inland, to the colonial city of Granada.

Visiting Granada for the first time during that initial scouting trip in 1993, I found a single hotel, the Alhambra, recognizable (still today) by its long, breezy porch overlooking the central square. A rocking chair out front of the Alhambra remains the best perch in this city.

While Granada and Nicaragua both historically have been and can still be short on amenities, they have always been long on heart. This country when I discovered it was pulling itself up by the bootstraps. In the towns and traveling along the dirt roads back then, you saw men and boys in olive green military garb, sometimes carrying weapons. They seemed intimidating, until you stopped to speak with them. They talked openly of their desire for peace. These Nicaraguans were tired of fighting, worn out by decades of watching their once-prosperous little country dissolve into chaos.

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

Read more here.

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