How To Choose Where To Go
Dec. 4, 2012, Panama City, Panama: Europe, Asia, Central America, and South American all offer very different retirement options and opportunities, each with pluses and minuses.
Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,
In these dispatches, I give a lot of virtual ink to Latin America. That's because it's nearby to North America (where most of our readers currently reside) and because it can be cheap and sunny (two things most would-be expats and retirees abroad actively seek).
But there's a world beyond these Americas that can also offer good weather and a low cost of living...plus, in some cases, some things you won't find here.
Asia boasts a number of the most cost-friendly places anywhere to call home right now. Pockets of Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, and India, for example, can be absurdly cheap. Living on this side of the planet, you'd also have access to some of the world's most beautiful beaches.
Your life would be full of the exotic, the unexpected, and the adventuresome. That is to say, the culture shock would be significant. For some, this reality is thrilling and invigorating...for others, intimidating, even terrifying.
In Asia, as well, you have an added challenge related to residency. Typically (an exception is Malaysia), you aren't going to be able to arrange to stay on indefinitely (legally) as a foreigner. You'll have to make regular border runs, which can grow tiresome and expensive.
The easier alternative is not to approach Asia as a full-time choice but, instead, to create a retire-overseas plan for yourself that allows you to enjoy the benefits of Asia (super cheap and super exotic) part-time. Don't worry about trying to organize permanent residency. Stay as long as you can as a tourist and then move on. How about three months in Chiang Mai, where your retirement budget would stretch far indeed, followed by a few months in the south of France, say, or Tuscany?
Which brings us to Europe. Most would-be retirees abroad dismiss Europe as too expensive, but this isn't necessarily the case. Sure, a retiree on a modest budget probably can't afford Paris or Florence, but have you considered southwestern France, where life is quintessentially French but, as well, surprisingly affordable, or Pisa, about an hour from Michelangelo's hometown but dramatically less costly?
One of the big advantages of Europe, compared with other regional retire-overseas options, is the opportunity it affords for what a friend last week referred to as "high culture." Every country in the world has local culture, but not everywhere has world-class museums, opera, and live theater, for example. If you're interested in a life that includes what are conventionally recognized as cultural offerings of the high-brow variety, you should be looking to the Continent.
Which is not to say it's impossible to enjoy an Old World Continental lifestyle anywhere else. Some cities in South America offer a fair imitation--Buenos Aires, for example, and Medellin, Colombia, to name two. Both are cities of open-air cafes, classic-style museums and theaters, art galleries and antique shops.
And both, you'll note, are in South America, not Central America. The differences between these two regions, even between Panama and Colombia, next-door neighbors, can be striking. I'm speaking generally and could name exceptions to every point, but, again, generally speaking, South America offers what I'd call more polished options, a good place to look if what you want is culture on the cheap.
Central America, by contrast, is, everywhere, rough around the edges. These are small, developing countries with non-existent budgets for things like art museums.
Making for a way of life that is, for some, charming. Romantics (like me) in Central America focus on the potential for what could be rather than the reality of what sometimes is. Others find Central America frustrating, disappointing, even appalling.
On the other hand, this sun-blessed region can be but a quick plane hop away and a user-friendly place to establish foreign residency...
Pluses and minuses...give and take.
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