Asia Correspondents Wendy and David Justice: Hanoi, Vietnam Of all the places we could pick from in our travels, Hanoi, Vietnam, is the city we have chosen to call home. The city is an energetic and chaotic jumble of ancient neighborhoods, tranquil parks and lakes, modern high-rises, and centuries-old pagodas. It is also home to one of the most healthy and varied cuisines in the world. In more than two years of living in Hanoi, we are still discovering delicious and exotic new foods. Even more important to us are the people. They are curious, polite, friendly, and generous to a fault. They really want to get to know you and to make friends. Friendships we've formed here have lasted many years. There are always other foreigners to socialize with if we want, and there is always something to do. And the cost of living is so affordable. Here in Hanoi—anywhere in Vietnam, for that matter—we don't have to worry about money. We know that Hanoi isn't the right place for everyone, but we can easily imagine living here for many more years. If we ever had to leave Vietnam, we would probably head over to Pai, Thailand. Its funky, mountain-town ambiance reminds us of the small towns we knew in the Colorado Rockies. If we developed ongoing health problems or became too elderly and frail to tolerate the stimulation of Hanoi, we would strongly consider moving to Hua Hin, Thailand. Asia Correspondents Vicki and Paul Terhorst: Lviv, Ukraine Vicki and I are perpetual travelers, which means we wander around the world without a fixed home base. By default, therefore, wherever we are at the moment becomes our favorite place. Otherwise, why would we be here? I'm writing this in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which makes Chiang Mai a favorite place. Recently, we chose to spend time in Lviv, Ukraine, because of its combination of European culture (historic buildings and churches, art museums, opera and ballet, convenient public transportation, cafe society, hearty food, robust wine) and low prices. Lviv also makes a useful base for exploration to the rest of Eastern Europe, with six international borders within 200 kilometers or so. Just jump on a train or bus and you can get to Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, or Belarus. The rest of Europe lies just a bit farther along. Ukraine's pro-Russia rebel insurgency remains far to the east of Lviv, more than 800 miles away. Your biggest day-to-day problem in Lviv will be the language. Ukraine uses a different alphabet, making it hard even to guess at street names or menu offerings. Along with Lviv and Chiang Mai, I'd choose Paris as our third favorite place. Having three favorite places makes it easy to avoid running into trouble with 90-day visa rules in any one of them. Asia Correspondent Robert Carry: Cambodia Cambodia might seem an unusual number-one pick, but it has some serious strikes in its favor. First up is cost of living. Put simply, this is the cheapest place I've ever been to. You can get a great apartment in a city center location for less than US$400 a month. A Cambodian-style meal in a local eatery will run you less than a dollar and some of my favorite watering holes charge 75 cents a beer (and as little as 25 cents during happy hour). Everything here is just unfathomably inexpensive. Then there's convenience. You can turn up at the airport unannounced and get a one-year visa, renewable at the end of the 12 months, on arrival. It's almost too easy. Plus, the U.S. dollar is the main currency here, English is widely spoken, and there's a sizable expat community in place. However, Cambodia's real draw is its people. After decades of war and continuing poverty, the Khmers have somehow managed to keep their smiles. They're warm, welcoming, and infectiously optimistic. Cambodia's enchanting culture and Buddhist ethos underpins its peoples' relaxed, live-and-let-live way of life. When I retire, Cambodia is where you'll find me. Tomorrow, top picks from key correspondents in Europe and the Americas... Kathleen Peddicord Editor's Note: Want to learn more about what Live and Invest Overseas correspondents really think about living and retiring overseas? Join us for three days of live discussions next month when we'll be convening with dozens of our normally far-flung experts and expat friends for this year's Retire Overseas Conference taking place in Nashville Aug. 29–31. You have four days remaining to register for what will be the biggest retire-overseas event of the year taking advantage of the Early Bird Discount. This discount, which can save you up to US$300 off the cost of registration, expires this Thursday, July 31, at midnight. Complete details of the event are here, and you can register online here.
#3: The climate will be different (maybe), and nowhere on earth is the weather ideal or even comfortable 365 days every year. In the tropics, the climate is tropical. Days can be sunny, sticky, sweaty. In the Caribbean, there are hurricanes. In much of the world, there's a rainy season...when rivers overflow their banks, roads wash out, and things get really muddy...
#4: You'll encounter bugs. Especially at the beach, but few places in the world are completely bug-free. There are snakes in the jungle…
#5: You'll find that people take things that don't belong to them and sometimes do worse things to each other, sometimes much worse. Nowhere on earth is 100% crime-free...
#6: You'll have to work at building your new life. I have spent time in more than 50 countries in regions across the globe, from China to Colombia, from Morocco to Mexico, from Egypt to Ecuador, and I've yet to encounter a group of people I wouldn't describe as welcoming, friendly, hospitable, helpful, and curious. I've also met, all over the world, people who were disinterested, disrespectful, rude, and close-minded. No matter where you decide to launch your retire-overseas adventure, you'll have to make an effort to seek out people of the first sort, to make like-minded friends, and to become part of your new community. To be really successful at this, you're going to learn at least a little of the local language (if it isn't English)...
#7: You'll need to check your expectations at the border and keep your sense of humor.
Panama, for example, is a Spanish-speaking country in the tropics. Don't expect the people to speak anything other than Spanish (though many do)...and don't expect the weather to be anything but tropical (though, in some parts of the country, it is).
Nicaragua is a Third World country. Sometimes the electricity goes out.
The French invented the word for "bureaucracy." You're going to have to wade through a lot of it whenever you try to address any administrative task in this country.
Some parts of the world don't have to-your-door mail delivery service. Some don't have street signs or, even, street addresses. In some countries, banks and other businesses close for lunch. Almost all non-tourist Paris shuts down for the entire month of August. During those four weeks, good luck finding a notaire to close on your property purchase or a plumber to fix your leaky kitchen faucet.
Most of the world takes its holidays very seriously. During Carnival, for example, many Latin American countries close for business altogether. As in Paris in August, you aren't going to be able to get much done. I've found that the wisest strategy is to give up trying. Join the rest of the country out in the streets for the fiesta.
If any (or, indeed, all!) of these things bother you, you should think about staying home, wherever that happens to be.
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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.
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