Good luck finding this level of sophistication and infrastructure anywhere else in Ecuador outside Quito (which we also would not recommend as a place to live). Why Not Boquete? Boquete has long been heralded by many (starting, in fact, with us, more than 15 years ago) as one of the world's top retirement havens. However, we decided not to include this Panamanian mountain town in our 2014 Index for two reasons. First, the cost of living in Boquete continues to rise. Second, you have other better choices elsewhere now, which we wanted to feature instead. We limit our Index to 21 destinations. This is an arbitrary restriction that forces some hard choices. The truth is, as more places worldwide become more appealing for the would-be retiree, other places, including some well-known, like Boquete, become less so. Boquete is still a great turn-key choice for overseas retirement, but we'd say it no longer belongs on a short list of the world's top 21 choices. One big draw of Boquete is its large and growing expat community. If the idea of retiring to a place where many others like you have already paved the way and stand ready to welcome you to their ranks, you have other more affordable choices, including Cuenca and Chiang Mai, for example, both of which offer super-cheap, high-quality lifestyles (and both of which are included in our Index this year). Puerto Vallarta and Barcelona are two other expat-friendly options featured in our 2014 survey. The cost of living is higher in Puerto Vallarta and Barcelona than in Cuenca and Chiang Mai...and higher than in Boquete. However, the cost of living isn't unreasonable for the quality of life available for purchase. The quaint mountain town of Boquete just can't compete for lifestyle with chic, cosmopolitan Barcelona or Pacific oceanside Vallarta. Why Not Uruguay? Uruguay has gotten expensive, too expensive for the lifestyle on offer, and it's likely to become more expensive still. Uruguayans are used to the devaluation of their peso. They refer to appreciation as atraso cambiario, "the exchange rate is running late." Because of this phenomenon, prices for many big-ticket items in Uruguay (including real estate, cars, and even high local salaries) are quoted in U.S. dollars. Why Not Brazil? High crime rates keep much of Brazil off our radar and out of our survey. That said, south from Ceara to Natal, you can enjoy super-cheap coastal buys in safety. Further, the bureaucracy, red tape, and corruption at all levels involved with getting anything done in this country are significant downsides to life here. The country doesn't make establishing residency easy and offers no retiree benefits program. Also, Brazilians speak Portuguese, which, for most of us, is not as easy to muddle through as Spanish, French, or Italian. Why Not Ajijic, Chapala, San Miguel de Allende, Or Merida? Mexico offers many well-publicized options for the foreign retiree. Why did we choose Puerto Vallarta over the rest of the choices for our 2014 Retire Overseas Index? Because if offers the best option anywhere for the retiree looking for developed Pacific coastal living on a budget. Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, and Ecuador all also offer Pacific coast options, but none is anywhere near as fully appointed as Puerto Vallarta, which offers marinas, country clubs, golf courses, shopping, and fine dining. Yet, you could retire here on a budget of as little as US$1,910 per month, which is more than an average budget for other countries with Pacific coastlines in our Index but a very reasonable amount given the lifestyle on offer. Why Not New Zealand? We like New Zealand as a part-time retirement spot, but we didn't include it in our survey this year because it's just not a realistic full-time option for the typical retiree. The truth is, New Zealand (like Australia) isn't overly keen on the idea of foreign retirees and doesn't make it easy for the retiree to establish residency. In fact, in most cases, it's not possible. Why Not Costa Rica? About three decades ago, Costa Rica decided to make a business of the foreign retiree. The Costa Ricans invested in a formal and successful advertising campaign, targeting Americans primarily. Tens of thousands of would-be retirees from the States took up the invitation and relocated to this beautiful land of hills and rainforests. The benefits Costa Rica offered retirees who became resident were terrific, including the original pensionado program against which others were measured for decades. In addition, way back when Costa Rica made a name for itself as a top retirement choice, the cost of everything from groceries and eating out to prime coastal property was super cheap. Fast forward a couple of decades, and, thanks to investors and speculators, Costa Rica wasn't so cheap anymore, neither its cost of living nor its beachfront real estate. And, while prices had risen dramatically, the infrastructure hadn't kept pace. Retirees were happy to overlook falling bridges and unpaved roads when prices were low. Harder to rationalize putting up with failing infrastructure in the face of appreciating costs. Worse, after working so hard to woo American and European retirees, Costa Rica seemed to change its mind. The Costa Ricans didn't eliminate their famous pensionado program; they simply eliminated most of the tax breaks it had promised, as part of a deficit-reduction austerity package. And they didn't grandfather in existing pensionados. So those who'd chosen Costa Rica for the retiree benefits it offered were surprised and disappointed to find that those benefits existed no more. Now the Costa Rican government is considering a further pensionado program adjustment. They're talking about increasing, maybe substantially, the minimum monthly income requirement to qualify. And, again, if the change is made, existing pensioandos won't be grandfathered in. To renew your status, you'd have to qualify under the new requirements. Kathleen Peddicord P.S. Our 2014 Retire Overseas Index is featured, in full, in this month's issue of our Overseas Retirement Letter. If you're not yet an ORL subscriber, become one now to receive this bumper special annual edition, hot-off-the-virtual-presses. Or you can purchase a copy of the Index on its own here.
The utilities figure for each of our 21 budgets is straightforward; groceries and entertainment, much less so. If you shop at local markets and stick to a basic, local diet, your monthly groceries bill could be US$150. If you shop at U.S.-like grocery stores (which exist in every place on my list below) and want to eat like you ate back home (prime rib, Entenmann's, and French wine), your monthly food bill could be two, three, or four times US$150. Likewise, entertainment. Our Index budgets include amounts for eating out once a week and going to the movies a couple of times a month, say, or perhaps taking one in-country trip per month to explore your new home. You could, if you wanted and your budget allowed, eat out four nights a week and take international vacations twice a year. On top of the overall cost of living wherever you decide to retire you'll have the cost of housing. I recommend renting first, to give yourself a chance to get to know your new home and determine if it is, in fact, the right place for you. For each of the 21 top retirement havens on our Index list, therefore, we indicate an average cost for renting a one-bedroom, one-bath residence in a neighborhood that would be appealing and appropriate for a retiree. After you've been in residence for a while, you may decide you like the place well enough to commit long term with an investment in a home of your own. Buying a piece of real estate in another country can also offer the potential for return, from capital appreciation over time and from cash flow if you decide to rent the place out when you're not using it yourself. Therefore, for each of the 21 destinations on our Retire Overseas Index list, we also figured an average cost per square meter for the purchase of property. This is the best way to consider this. In fact, breaking down a location's property market to an average cost per square meter for a particular kind of property is the only reliable way to compare that location's property market with the property market anywhere else, the only apples-to-apples strategy. In Nashville this week for our annual Retire Overseas Conference, we'll be sharing the results of this year's Retire Overseas Index, including the monthly budgets, the rental costs, and the average per-square-meter cost to purchase real estate for all 21 destinations featured...and a few others, to boot. Here's a sneak preview for some of the destinations being featured... In the Americas: Ambergris Caye, Belize Monthly budget: US$2,055 Rent per month: US$1,000 Purchase per square meter to purchase: US$2,000 City Beaches, Panama Monthly budget: US$2,440 Rent per month: US$1,200 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,900 Cuenca, Ecuador Monthly budget: US$1,010 Rent per month: US$300 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,100 Granada, Nicaragua Monthly budget: US$1,040 Rent per month: US$500 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,500 Medellin, Colombia Monthly budget: US$1,530 Rent per month: US$650 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,050 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico Monthly budget: US$1,910 Rent per month: US$850 Price per square meter to purchase: US$2,490 In Europe: Algarve, Portugal Monthly budget: US$1,500 Rent per month: US$615 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,960 Barcelona, Spain Monthly budget: US$1,725 Rent per month: US$1,085 Price per square meter to purchase: US$5,500 Pau, France Monthly budget: US$1,930 Rent per month: US$1,285 Price per square meter to purchase: US$2,300 In Asia: Chiang Mai, Thailand Monthly budget: US$920 Rent per month: US$400 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,100 (note that foreign ownership of real estate is restricted in Thailand) Dumaguete, Philippines Monthly budget: US$910 Rent per month: US$350 Price per square meter to purchase: US$1,200 Nha Trang, Vietnam Monthly budget: US$660 Rent per month: US$300 Price per square meter to purchase: Foreigners can't own property Kathleen Peddicord P.S. What brings us to Nashville this week? Our annual Retire Overseas Conference! For years, friends have encouraged me to visit Music City. Finally, I was able to engineer a good reason. We arrived yesterday, and I can tell you that my friends' reports did not embellish or overstate. This is a fun town. Live music everywhere. It's not too late to make plans to join us here for what is going to be the biggest retire-overseas event of the year, this Friday through Sunday at the Lowes Vanderbilt Hotel. In addition to the three-day Retire Overseas Conference Aug. 29–31, we're also hosting a first-ever Retire Overseas Expo the day before (Thursday, Aug. 28), from noon until 7 p.m. This half-day special event is open to the public, an ideal way to dip a toe in the retire-overseas waters, and, best of all, absolutely free for Live and Invest Overseas readers. Regular admission is US$25. However, simply confirm at the door on the day that you're a Live and Invest Overseas reader, and you'll be granted full access at no cost. One way or another, therefore, I say: Get thee to Nashville. Dozens of correspondents and expats from around the world will be convening here today through Thursday so they can be on stage with us throughout the weekend to help showcase the world's top retirement havens for the nearly 300 registered attendees. Come on down and join the fun. Details of the Retire Overseas Expo taking place Thursday, Aug. 28, are here. Details of the Retire Overseas Conference taking place Friday, Aug. 29, through Sunday, Aug. 31, are here. See you soon.
"As we made our plan for where to go," Lee remembers, "the reality of what we were doing began to settle in. I was only 49 years old, for crying out loud. What if we ran out of money? I began to worry about being back in the States at age 75 looking for work." Lee spent a lot of time running the numbers and, finally, he and Julie found the courage to make the leap. "We satisfied ourselves," Lee explains, "that, in Cuenca, Ecuador, the city we'd focused on, my pension would allow us to live very comfortably." Lee and Julie were pioneers. Two of the original Cuenca retirees, in 2001 they received Visa 1 and Visa 2 from the New York consulate when they applied for legal Ecuadorean residency. "We lived in Cuenca for nine months before meeting another English-speaking couple," Lee says. "We didn't mind. We were having so much fun taking advantage of all we discovered that Cuenca had to offer. This is a very cultural city, with free symphony events, museums, and annual art shows. "The best news, though, during those early months," Lee continues, "was the realization I had that the cost of living was even lower than I'd estimated. Cuenca enjoys great mountain weather year-round. This means no heat and no air conditioning. I had underestimated the effect of the climate on our overall budget." The cost of living in Cuenca has increased steadily in the dozen years since Lee and Julie first took up residence. Still, this remains one of the most affordable options in the Americas. You can rent an apartment for as little as US$300 per month. More typical is US$500 monthly. Figure a total budget of US$1,200. And you may, indeed, decide to invest in a place of your own. The cost of real estate in this city is one of the greatest bargains in all of Latin America, cheaper than in Montevideo, Uruguay; Medellin, Colombia; Fortaleza, Brazil; Panama City; or most any other Central or South American destination you might consider. You could buy a small city condo for less than US$50,000. Gas, too, is cheap, and Ecuador is a great place for exploring by car. Lee says that he invested in a car soon after making the move, because he and Julie so enjoyed motoring around the country. He advises figuring an additional US$150 per month if you own a car. One thing to remember about Ecuador is that this country uses the U.S. dollar. For an American retiree, this means it's easier to understand what things really cost; it's easier to keep track of what you're really spending, month to month; and, very important, you don't have any currency-exchange risk. You may still have local inflation to contend with, but you won't have to worry about that being compounded when the exchange rate goes against you. Given his extended personal experience living and investing in this country, we're delighted that Lee has agreed to act as host for our upcoming Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference taking place in Quito next month. The Early Bird Discount for this event remains in effect today and tomorrow only. You have until midnight Friday to save up to US$250 when you register. Details on the program we've put together with Lee's help are here. Kathleen Peddicord P.S. Cuenca, Ecuador, home to a big and fast-growing expat community, qualifies as one of the world's top retirement havens and perhaps the best place in the Americas to live well and comfortably on even a very small budget. In this colonial city recently, I filmed a brief video to give you an idea what Cuenca has to offer. Take a look.
Since moving to Cuenca in 2011, Daniel and Sally Ellis have worked part-time, via the Internet, for their old law firm back in New Jersey, advising their former partners in product liability cases. In addition, Sally has continued her sideline art career and has had several exhibitions of her work in local galleries. Daniel says he finally has time to catch up on his reading. Jan and Tom Jeffers divide their time between Cuenca and Fort Lauderdale. Jan says it's important to spend time with the grandchildren, but she also enjoys the expat lifestyle. "It's great that Florida is only four hours away," Jan says, "but we also enjoy our friends in Cuenca and all the cultural activities here." Ralph Winston, who provides computer and Internet services to Cuenca expats, says he is finally able to pursue a lifelong interest in creative writing. Ralph has joined an expat writing group and says he's halfway through his first book. "Who would have thought that, at 60, I would be writing my first novel?" David Morrill Editor's Note: Meet David Morrill and many other of our Ecuador expat friends at this year's Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference taking place in Quito Sept. 17–19. The Early Bird Discount for this event expires this Friday at midnight. That is, you have two more days to save up to US$250 when you register. Do that here now. Or reach our conference team with your questions, toll-free from the United States, at 1-888-627-8834...or, internationally, at +1-443-599-1221.
A poll conducted by Ecuador's expat link GringoTree asked foreign residents who moved to the country before Correa took office in 2007 if they supported the amendment that would allow him to run again. Of the 19 long-time expats who responded, 14 said yes, although many of those had reservations. When asked if Correa has improved their lives as expats, 18 of 19 said yes. One respondent who described himself as a libertarian said that things were "definitely" better because of Correa. "Ten years ago, the highways were full of potholes, you had to keep a generator for when the electric service went down, the campesinos were blocking the highways with protests, hospitals were in bad repair, and sometimes you had to bribe government employees to do any official business—basically, it was typical banana republic business as usual. That's mostly all changed. Today, the main highways are good and there are no protests blocking them, hospitals are a lot better, you can get things done with the government without paying off somebody. Public services in general are better too." The respondent, a Cuenca expat, added: "Even though I worry that Correa is making Ecuador a 'nanny state,' I understand there are lots of poor, uneducated people who may need a nanny. They've been screwed over for years and now things are better and I've come to understand that it's in my best interest if the poor folks are happy." One expat from Quito admitted that she has serious reservations about "life-time presidents, a la Venezuela and Nicaragua. On the other hand, I worry about someone from the 'old guard' being elected again and the country going back to the way it was before. There have been so many improvements and I would hate to see those stop." Others reported that they benefit directly from new programs introduced during the Correa administration. "My husband and I joined the new social security health plan and pay about $80 a month," said one respondent. "We had to use the services of our local clinic two times and the services were very good. Before Correa, we always worried about what we'd do if one of us had a serious health problem. Now we don't." The main complaint about Correa from several of those answering the survey was the rapid growth of government and what they considered "overreach" in some cases. "I don't like all the government authority going to Quito and I don't like all the socialist jargon," said an expat from Loja who has lived in the country for 22 years. "But I also know that I need to focus on the things that are important to me personally, like property rights, taxes, personal liberties, and infrastructure. Those things are all good in Ecuador." He added: "I have to ask myself the question you hear in the U.S. elections, 'Are you better off today than you were four years ago?' Or, in the case of Ecuador, seven years ago. My answer is yes, absolutely." David Morrill Editor's Note: Ecuador is the top place in the world right now to retire well on a very limited budget...even to live the adventure of your lifetime on a Social Security check alone. If you're serious about this part of the world, don't miss our upcoming Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference. Registration is now open (with an easy payment plan)…
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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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