The beginning is Waterford, Ireland, where Lief and I, newlyweds, launched our joint adventures overseas 15 years ago. We didn't choose Ireland ourselves. It was chosen for us by my employer at the time. However, after seven years as full-time residents, raising a family (my 8-year-old daughter Kaitlin moved to Ireland with us, and our son Jackson was born in Waterford), building a business, renovating an old Irish country house, and making friends we treasure still today, Ireland grew on us. I'd include it on any list of the best places to retire abroad--and, indeed, we intend to spend time in Ireland again, starting this summer. Real estate values in this country are at a low that's too low to ignore. We're planning an extended family stay in the country this July, during which we hope to find a little Irish cottage that will allow us to take another personal position in a place we want to include as part of our long-term plan (a place where Lief and I can spend time in retirement and that we can leave behind for the kids and grandkids to enjoy when we're no longer around).
Why Ireland? It's legitimately one of the most beautiful corners of this planet, a spit of land where Mother Nature outdid herself. It's also quiet, peaceful, traditional, safe, and a world apart. The older and more sentimental I grow, the more I appreciate what this country of castles, gardens, and centuries of colorful history has to offer.
After seven years in Ireland, we moved the family to Paris, France. Why Paris? The honest answer is because it's Paris. The rationale at the time was a request from Kaitlin, who asked if she could spend a year "studying abroad" in the city. Why send Kaitlin to Paris on her own, I asked Lief. Why not go with her...all of us? We were in the fortunate position to be able to engineer this. My business partner at the time was flexible, and a new office in Paris could make sense for the business anyway (I argued).
Kaitlin's year abroad in the City of Light stretched into three. She graduated from high school then returned to the States for college. The rest of us stayed on in Paris for another year before making the decision to relocate back across the Pond to Panama.
It's not that we wanted to leave Paris; it's that we wanted to start a new business. While I'd say that Paris is the best place in the world to live, I'd also suggest that France is one of the most maddening places in the world to run a business. Our experience doing business there and in a dozen other places around the globe by this time had taught us that. It had also shown us that, on the other hand, Panama was tops in this regard, a tax haven where it's possible to live and run a business tax-free (even if you're an American). That's a big deal. A big enough deal to get us on a plane.
We bid au revoir to Paris but not farewell. We decided to hold on to the apartment we'd purchased to be our home while living in the city with our kids. Our time here convinced us, if ever there'd been any doubt, that Paris is a place we would like to be able to return to always, the spot, in fact, where, when we're too old to continue moving around the way we have been, we hope to settle in for the ultimate long haul. We've rented out our apartment on the rue du Verneuil these past four-and-a-half years we've been in Panama City, happy to know that it's still there, waiting for us, whenever we're ready to return to it.
Now, here's a secret that you may have guessed already: Panama City is not part of our long-term plan. As I said, Panama City is the best place in the world to do what we're doing right now--building a business. In this city, we have been able to piece together an eclectic and effective team unlike any I've worked with anywhere else. We've got German marketers, Irish editors, American writers, Panamanian designers and programmers...
"Where are these people coming from?" I asked Lief as we were dressing for the office this morning. "I'm more amazed each day. Whoever would have believed we'd be able to find so many smart, hard-working, well-educated, open-minded, English-speaking kids...here in Panama City? Not me. What are they all doing here?"
Neither Lief nor I has an answer to that question (though we suspect it has something to do with the state of job markets for recent college grads in the United States, Ireland, and beyond), but we do count our blessings, every day. What we're managing to create here in Panama City is proving remarkable.
That is not to say that the experience of living in Panama City is one I would describe as pleasant. Panama City is an assault on the senses--busy, crowded, dirty, noisy, congested, hot, humid--and life here can be a challenge.
But, as I try to point out often, Panama City isn't Panama, and, while Panama City is not a place where we aspire to hang our hats long term, the Pacific coast of this country is. That's why, about six years ago, we purchased a piece of oceanfront land, on the west coast of this country's Azuero Peninsula. In the community we're building at Los Islotes, we intend also to build a home that, again, will feature as part of our eventual retirement plan and, also, our legacy for our kids.
Paris in springtime...Ireland come summer...and the coast of Panama when it's winter elsewhere--that's the core of our retirement plan.
In addition, we intend to spend a month or two a year in Medellin, Colombia, a city we discovered about three years ago and that has, since, became one of our favorite places to be, thanks to its climate but, more so, for us, thanks to its pretty architecture, parks, and gardens, its walkability, its genteel population, its café culture, its general European undertones, and its affordable cost of enjoying it all.
Istria, too, is on our list of what we'd consider the best place to retire abroad. It's the best of Old World country living, like Tuscany without the crowds. As is Belize, where we've invested in land we intend to farm, in the Cayo. We intend this year to buy more farmland, likely in Uruguay, to round out our long-term property holdings...and the list of places where we really enjoy what the local living has to offer.
P.S. I share these stories and these suggestions in more detail in the book I've just written for Wiley & Sons, called "How To Buy Real Estate Overseas."
One thing I realized, writing that book, is that buying real estate overseas is not so much an investment strategy as it is a lifestyle. The places where you invest in property should be the places where you also want to invest your time and your family's future. When you're able to marry these three agendas, the payoff can be enormous.
"How To Buy Real Estate Overseas" will be in bookstores starting mid-April. However, it's available now on Amazon. You can buy your copy now, of "How to Buy Real Estate Overseas," pre-publication, for US$14.55.Continue Reading:
We didn't buy the property with the intention of turning it into a self-sufficient farmstead, and, in truth, if we'd had to survive off our 6 acres, we would have starved to death. Mostly because we were busy working. We didn't have the time to keep up with the gardens or the chickens, and we never figured out the cows, as the government, we discovered, regulated livestock to the point that we would have needed a permit to raise even a couple of cows if our intent was to sell them to a butcher.
Today I own various bits of land in different countries, but most of it either isn't suitable for farming or is owned with partners. I'm getting serious now about changing this, about expanding my flag planting efforts to include a farm somewhere, something bigger than 6 acres.
At the tail end of the last time it made real sense to buy a farm in Argentina (about 2006), I found a 1,000-acre property in Tucuman province. The property was fertile and lush and, with a price tag of US$600,000, a bargain for productive land in that country at that time. You could still buy ranch land in Argentina back then for as little as US$50 an acre, but productive land was going for US$1,000 an acre or more. Alas, the timing wasn't right for me, and I had to pass on the purchase.
Today, with Argentine politics more complicated even than is typical for this country, I'm looking instead at farmland in Uruguay, Chile, and Belize. Remembering the difficulties we faced in Ireland trying to cultivate a half-acre garden and a bunch of chickens, I'm assessing options from a house in a "resilient" community like the one friend Phil Hahn is developing on the banks of the Belize River to the purchase of a few hundred acres in Uruguay that could be leased to a real farmer to generate cash flow and maybe part of the crop as annual payment.
Another friend is at the beginning stages of a self-sufficient community in Chile. He's identified the land, about 125 acres with 500 feet of riverfront, and is working up the numbers. I'll have more details on how to get in on this opportunity at the investment level for my Marketwatch members as soon as the plan is finalized. Right now, my friend is looking to develop a community of large lots (about 1 acre), each with enough room for a house and a private garden. About half of the total property will be kept as fields that could either be leased out to a farmer or worked by the residents in the community or both.
The idea of becoming a part of a community like this, of like-minded individuals, takes some of the work out of being self-sufficient. As Phil likes to say about his Carmelita community in Belize, he's creating a place where people can be "independent together." I think that the answer for me might be an independent farm in Uruguay, but I see the appeal of what Phil and my friend in Chile are creating.
Whether you see farmland as a straight investment opportunity or a backup plan in case of global crisis, I see having a piece of land, whether it's within a communal setting or 1,000 acres all your own, as an important flag to plant right now.
Editor's Note: Today's essay from Lief Simon is reprinted from his "Offshore Living Letter," Lief's twice-weekly dispatch on all aspects of diversifying your assets and your life offshore. If you're not yet receiving the "Offshore Living Letter," you can sign yourself up here now. It's free.Continue Reading:
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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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