The World's Top Retirement Haven For 2011 |
Jan. 19, 2009
Panama City, Panama
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Dear Overseas Opportunity Letter Reader,
"We don't have a single bridge to compare with this one in all Costa Rica,"
remarked our friend David, traveling with us this weekend in Panama's
Veraguas province, as we crossed another river.
Even here, in Panama's interior, in what qualifies, no question, as the
middle of nowhere, the infrastructure is better than the best you'll find in
far more developed parts of neighboring nations. Nowhere in Nicaragua, for
example, or Guatemala or Honduras or Belize or, as David, longtime resident
of the country pointed out, Costa Rica do the highways, roads, or bridges
Saturday, our little weekend-getaway entourage toured the western coast of
the Azuero Peninsula. Sunday morning, we headed north, into the hinterlands,
from Santiago through San Francisco and on to the town nobody's heard of and
nobody's yet paying any attention to.
The town I believe is going to begin making a name for itself over the
coming couple of years.
The village that I predict will be heralded as one of the world's top
retirement escapes starting, say, in the year 2011.
This is Santa Fe.
"The first time Lief and I visited the town," David reminisced as we
approached the village, "about two years ago, we were told there were four
expats in residence. We met three of them: a Dutch couple running the hostel
and an American lady who begged us not to tell anyone about the place.
"She practically swore us to secrecy," David chuckled. "'Please, don't let
word get out about what we've found here,' she urged us."
On the face of it, there's very little here here. You could easily dismiss
Santa Fe as another sleepy mountain village. But take a closer look.
There's no denying the place is beautiful. We oohed and ahhed our way around
the twists and turns of the mountains that surround the town. Lush, green
hills and valleys, completely untouched. Not a thing to interfere with your
view in any direction.
"You could be in Switzerland...or Austria," remarked one of our party.
"It reminds me of the mountains of Ecuador," said another.
Beautiful...and boasting a near-perfect climate. Santa Fe sits at about
1,000 meters, meaning its temperatures are far cooler than those back in
Panama City...but not as chilly as those in, say, Boquete, Panama's
best-known retirement town.
Santa Fe also sees less rain than Boquete each year...and not as much wind.
Right now, maybe the biggest advantage this place has over places like
Boquete is that almost nobody, outside the 2,800 Panamanians and the handful
of gringos who call it home, knows it exists.
It's a nature-lover's paradise and an eco-traveler's dream.
It's also a quaint little town with a church and a square and a market.
Everything you'd need to get by...but not much more.
It's a tight-knit community and a safe place to live.
"Last time we were here," David continued his reminiscences, "we were told
that, the day before, a small boy had been run over by a car and killed.
'Drive slowly and carefully,' everyone we met counseled us. The entire town
was in mourning."
Santa Fe is a place where everyone knows everyone else...but where the
newcomer is not left out.
I don't know this from personal experience, of course. I've visited the town
but a few times and never for more than a day in passing. But the handful of
gringos who do live in Santa Fe aren't outsiders. They're part of the
general Santa Fe population.
And even passers-by like me are greeted warmly and welcomed. These people
have no experience of tourism yet. They don't know the hassles tourists can
bring. And they're happy still to make anyone's acquaintance.
Beautiful, safe, friendly, welcoming...and really cheap. This is the kind of
place where, if you were ready to go local, you could enjoy what Santa Fe
has to offer for something well less than US$1,000 a month.
Again, right now, you'd be living a middle-of-nowhere mountain town life,
enjoying beautiful views everywhere you looked, great weather, and friendly
neighbors. There's a lot to be said for that life, but it's not for
I'd agree that it's probably too soon to think about retiring to Santa Fe.
But give this little town with a big heart a little more time. Take another
look in a year or two. I predict Santa Fe will have a lot more to offer
Meantime, you'd do well today to invest in a small piece of this mountain
paradise. Prices are excitingly cheap. You can buy primo mountainside
parcels, crossed by rivers and blessed with an abundance of beautiful
growing things (including, everywhere you look, great varieties of orchids),
for as little as US$1 a square meter.
To put this into perspective, some with land to sell in Boquete today are
asking as much as US$100 a meter.
The trouble investing in Santa Fe today is finding something to buy. Locals
may welcome visitors and even new residents, but they aren't as forthcoming
with would-be real estate investors. There's no formal real estate market,
of course, so, as the locals are tight-lipped on the subject, it's hard to
know who owns what or what might be for sale at what price. This is still
very much a word-of-mouth market.
Which is the time you want to buy. But you've got to be willing to make the
investment of time and energy to get your head around the situation.
"We worked with a scout," David explained. "He was good, but, through him,
we discovered that there are distinct camps in this region when it comes to
property ownership. And each camp must be approached and negotiated with
"Loyalties and histories come into play. Our scout, for example, was in good
with one camp...but not so good with any other. So all the properties he
found for us were available for sale from this one extended family group."
As the afternoon wore on, we continued farther and farther off the paved
path, four-wheeling it into the hills and over the rivers.
Then we noticed a few clouds gathering.
"You know, if it starts to rain, I wouldn't want to take bets on our chances
of getting back to the highway today," said David.
"We'll find someplace to stay the night then," Lief offered.
I began to hope for a downpour.
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"Just want to comment on Correspondent Vivian Lewis' note the other day on
the benefits of Russia's tumbling ruble ("
30% Off")," writes our Web Marketing Manager Irina from her
native Moscow, where she's visiting family.
"Thirty-percent off a lot is still a lot! Moscow is one of the most
expensive cities in the world. If some of our readers have been thinking of
visiting this part of the world, Vivian is right to point out that right
now, when the dollar and the euro are rising in value against the ruble, is
the best time in a long time to plan the trip. It'll cost you far less to
travel in this country than it would have last summer, for example. Still,
readers shouldn't expect a bargain excursion.
"Here is a useful site for researching events, restaurants,
etc.: www.expat.ru. Readers looking for
hotel alternatives might find good deals on apartments and rooms
for rent through moscow.craigslist.org or
"I've been getting your newsletter for about six months, and it always
piques my interest. I'm 24 years old, which may make me one of your youngest
"Unfortunately, my father passed away last year. The inheritance isn't very
large, but it's enough that I can start thinking about investing and buying
property. I speak Spanish and plan to move to South America in a year or
two. I've lived in Japan and China and am living in Hong Kong right now. I'm
an English teacher who loves travel and adventure.
"I'd like to know what advice you would give me and also what advice fellow
readers might have to offer. Should I buy a retirement property in someplace
like Uruguay, rent it out, and move there when I'm ready to retire? I'd be
treating my retirement property as an investment."
-- Stuart W., Hong Kong
Depending how much money you have to invest, dear reader, it could, in fact,
as you suggest, make sense to buy to let in a place where you'd like to
spend time. If Uruguay fits that bill, you're in luck, because there are
good rental markets in both Montevideo and Punta del Este.
However, as you point out, you're among the youngest people I know thinking
along these lines. Your ideas and preferences likely will change by the time
you're ready to take up retirement living. And the world will be a different
place by then...even if then is only 10 or 15 years from now.
So I'd recommend you buy today either for pure investment or in a place
where you want to hang out today. Best case always is when you can marry
those two agendas.
In other words, invest in a rental, for example, in a destination where you
want to spend time over the next five or six years. Don't try to choose your
eventual retirement haven from among current options...as the best options
could be different places entirely by the time you're ready to retire.
That's my advice. I open the floor now to your fellow readers...
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