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This is January in Panama.

We left the country mid-December for our holiday travels and couldn't wait to decamp. December is the end of the rainy season in this country. Don't believe anyone who tells you the rains end by Dec. 1. They don't. Through December, skies are cloudy and grey and rain can fall in deluges. December in Panama City is hot, humid, and wet.

But, then, ah...January. Thanks to all that rain, this country is bursting with color this month. This is the time to be in Panama, to appreciate all she has to offer. The rains are over, the humidity is down, and the great outdoors and beautiful beaches beckon.

We're glad to be back and ready to dig in. Alas, we won't have much time for fun at the beach. Too much work to be done.

Live and Invest Overseas enjoyed a year of tremendous growth in 2012, welcoming more than 100,000 new readers. We recognize that this is a function of the times we're living in. Options are more important right now than they have ever been, and, here at Live and Invest Overseas, we're all about options. In 2013, we intend to deliver both more options and opportunities, and, as important, the support you need to act on them.

Specifically, here's what's planned for this New Year:

January

Live and Invest in Belize Conference (Jan. 30-Feb. 1)--Not surprisingly, this event is sold out. Belize offers some of your best options for a new life and an investment in the Caribbean...plus our favorite place on earth to live the self-sustaining life (in the country's Cayo District). Belize is also one of the easiest places for an American to open a bank account right now.

February

Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference (Feb. 13-15)--This event is on its way to selling out. As of this writing a handful of places remain available in the room. Ecuador is our pick for the best place to live well even on a very modest retirement budget. Latin America Correspondent Lee Harrison, one-time resident of Ecuador himself, will be center-stage for this important conference to show attendees how to get the biggest return possible from whatever retirement budget they have to work with in this beautiful, welcoming country.

March

"How To Buy Real Estate Overseas--A Guide For Investors And Retirees" available in bookstores near you. Last year, I spent six months compiling and recording my experiences and recommendations, successes and, yes, failures, buying and selling real estate in more than 20 countries over the past 20 years. The resulting book is being produced by Wiley & Sons now and will be available in bookstores across the United States (and on Amazon, too) starting in March.

April

Retire Overseas Conference in San Antonio, Texas--This is the event you want to attend if you're considering the idea of living or retiring overseas but don't yet know where you want to go. Over the three days of this conference, the only U.S. event we'll hold this year, we'll showcase the world's top 20 retire overseas options, with the help of foreign retirees and expats with firsthand experience living in each one.

June

Live and Invest in Panama Conference--Panama remains the world's top retirement haven and the best place in the world today to start and run an Internet business. The entire Live and Invest Overseas team pitches in for our Panama events, to make sure you come away armed with everything you need to realize whatever dreams you have of a new life in this remarkable little country.

July

Live and Invest in Europe Conference in Dublin, Ireland--Depending how you look at things, Europe is a basket-case right now...or a land of opportunity. We prefer to focus on the latter and have planned our first Europe event in five years. We're basing this conference in Dublin, but we'll be showcasing opportunities not only in Ireland but also in France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, and beyond.

August

Asia tour--Lief and I will travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then from there to Singapore and Thailand, reporting from the road. Asia offers tremendous opportunity right now for the retiree on a budget. As Intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst, with decades of experience in this part of the world, puts it, "All of Asia is more affordable right now than the most affordable choices in Latin America."

In addition, as it becomes harder and harder for Americans to open a bank account overseas, Singapore banks continue to welcome foreign, including American clients. We think it's worth making the trip to speak with them in person.

September

Global Property Investing Summit in Panama City, Panama--An investment in foreign real estate is the smartest thing you could do with your money right now and an important part of any plan for taking control of your own life and your family's future. We've persuaded Lief Simon, therefore, to host a special event this year focused on where and how to buy property overseas. Details as soon as they're finalized.

In addition, this year we'll also host another conference in Medellin, Colombia, and, if we can pull the program together in time, an event on the Caribbean coast of Mexico.

Options and opportunity. We're all over it.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. One more very important thing on our calendar this year:

Construction of the first houses at Los Islotes.

Lief and I have been chomping at the bit for more than three years, putting all the pieces in place behind the scenes to begin the work toward realizing the vision we hold for the community we intend to create on the Pacific coast of Panama's Azuero Peninsula. Lief is at the property today inspecting the work of Project Manager Gary Moseley, who spent the month of December preparing the way (rains notwithstanding!) for the infrastructure required to begin construction of the first three houses, one for our own use and two for other lot owners.

I'm meeting with project architect Ricardo Arosemena this week to review his plans for these first structures. After that meeting, I should be able to set a date for the groundbreaking.

To say that we're excited about all this is an understatement. As I said, we've been working quietly, patiently, with Panamanian review and planning boards, crossing every "t" and dotting every "i," for three years. At last, the fun is about to begin.

P.S. What else this week?

  • Fiscal cliffs and tax hikes...lost home equity and the rising cost of health care...in the face of it all, how are you ever going to be able to afford to retire?

You've got the answer to that question in front of you right now.

Economies collapse and then recover...values--of real estate, of stocks--fall and then rise again...financial meltdowns come and go...

When the living becomes intolerably difficult in one place...move to another! I'm not being flippant. I'm giving you the secret to realizing the retirement of your dreams.

The first move is the hardest, I understand. You need options, and you need help. We're here to deliver both. Let's start with this: The situation is far less desperate than you may fear. You do not have to resign yourself to reducing your standard of living during this important phase of your life. You do not have to plan for two or three decades of scraping by and making do.

But you've already figured this out, I think. By signing on as a reader of these dispatches you've opened your mind to the possibilities. You've allowed yourself to begin to think outside the box and beyond your own borders. As you read this, because you're reading this, you are launching a new phase of your life...maybe the best one yet.

Where will your explorations and considerations lead you? You'll have to figure that out for yourself, but, in these virtual dispatches each day, we'll introduce you to the top possibilities worldwide...and then we'll lead you, step by step, your hand in ours, from wherever you are now to where you'd like to be.

As we stand today on the eve of a new year, where should you be focusing your thinking and your search? I made recommendations yesterday for some of the world's top options for 2013, including Panama, France, Belize, Ecuador, and Thailand...and I'll share more top picks for this New Year later on this week.

I realize, though, and I want to make sure you realize, too, that you aren't going to retire to Panama or Belize, to France or Thailand...and not to any other country either. You're going to retire to a neighborhood or a community, a region or a seaside town in whichever country you identify as your personal Shangri-la. Once you get serious about re-launching your life overseas, you realize that you've got to thin slice your options. You can't think about retiring to "Ecuador" anymore than you could think about retiring to the "United States."

What would that mean, to retire to the United States? What would the weather, the cost of living, the cultural distractions, or the scene outside your bedroom window be in the US of A? No way to answer that question, right? You could determine what the weather would be like in Scottsdale, Arizona...the cost of groceries for a couple of retirees in San Diego, California...or the view from your poolside patio in Naples, Florida...but you couldn't possibly answer those questions for the United States as a whole. Anymore than you could determine those particulars for any other country as a whole.

That's why our editorial mandate for 2013 is all about thin-slicing. With this in mind, some introductions are in order.

I've been moving around the world with the focused agenda of identifying its best opportunities for living better and retiring well for coming up on three decades (yikes). I know a little not only about this beat, but also about this world of ours in this context. But I know some places better than others, and, I understand, I can't know everywhere well. That's where my far-flung, ever-on-the-move, and ever-expanding network of correspondents comes in. With the help of these savvy souls, this New Year, we're going to bring you more boots-on-the-ground, real-world, real-time, firsthand, and very thin-sliced glimpses of the world's top live, retire, and invest overseas havens.

If you've been reading for anytime, you probably know these folks already. Still, New Year's Eve is a time for reviewing and regrouping, so I'd like to take this chance to present...

  • Lief Simon writes:

The world didn't end last month despite all the End Of The World hullabaloo in the Yucatan and Belize. The Mayan calendar simply ended. They ran out of stone. The Gregorian calendar ended yesterday, and we had more parties, but the world didn't end overnight either, despite the Fiscal Cliff, FATCA, tax hikes, and autonomous vehicles being allowed on the roads in California (for testing purposes only so far).

January 2013 is here. Time to throw away the paper calendars for 2012 and put up new ones for the New Year.

What if you didn't get your offshore life organized before the end of 2012? It's not the end of the world for you either...

  • Paul Terhorst writes:

When is the right time for you to retire and move abroad?

Right now.

Okay, I don't know you personally, but I know some things about you.

You've likely traveled overseas, and you've got good reasons for thinking you'd like to relocate beyond your own borders. You've likely even already created a short list of places where you think you might want to spend time.

So what are you waiting for? I figure you should go for it, sooner rather than later. Why? Because odds are, your retirement will work out fine...

  • Lee Harrison writes:

There's almost never any debate, when the subject comes up, over which is the finest colonial city in Colombia. Nine out of ten people will tell you it's Cartagena...and with good reason. But in my travels around the country, I've come across some small but quite-vocal pockets of disagreement on this point. And the dissenters make a good case...

PLUS--From resident global real estate investing expert Lief Simon:

I write today from Chicago, Illinois, the U.S. city where I got my start as a global property investor about 20 years ago. I took my family on a little tour yesterday to show them the first real estate investment I ever made, a three-flat building I bought (with only US$5,000 cash) in an up-and-coming neighborhood just a couple of miles from Navy Pier. I lived in the ground-level apartment and rented out the other two for two years, then flipped the building. It was a crazy successful first-ever investment. I was able to sell the building for 80% more than I'd paid for it!

The U.S. real estate market is at a dramatically different point today, however, than it was two decades ago. Pundits say that property markets across this country are at the bottoms of their falls. They've been paying closer attention than I have, but I'd agree. Right now seems like the time for an investor to be scouting in this part of the world.

I'll follow that recommendation with another: If you're not a seasoned real estate investor with experience across a number of different markets, don't jump in just because everyone else is. Take time to get your bearings.

Don't think you need to move quick to get in at the absolute bottom. The chances of that are small no matter how fast you move, because an absolute bottom doesn't stick around very long. When a real estate market starts to turn, it generally turns quickly. Within a few months you can begin to see an increase in prices, but that doesn't mean that you've missed the boat.

When I bought in Argentina after their financial crisis of 2001, I missed the absolute bottom of the market (which was around July 2002). In fact, I didn't make my first research trip until October 2002. I bought my first apartment in Buenos Aires in February 2003. It was a new market for me at the time, and I wanted to move carefully.

Prices fell rapidly in B.A. from January 2002 to July 2002, but the upswing was a gentler slope. I probably paid 10% to 15% more in February 2003 than I would have in July 2002, but I was still able to buy at a huge discount to December 2001 prices. Over the next five years, the values of all three apartments I bought shortly after the bottom doubled.

In the United States, you have many different localized markets affected by different aspects of the economy. Miami, Phoenix (where I grew up), and Las Vegas were terribly overbuilt, and I'd say prices in these cities will fall further. Areas affected by high foreclosure rates still have inventory to unload, which will slow any price rises. Mid-sized cities that didn't see such run-ups in values, though, have already leveled out, and I'd say this is where we're going to begin to see some appreciation.

And, if you're an investor with cash or great credit, this is where I'd recommend you shop for investment property assuming (and this would be my overall caveat) you want to hold U.S. assets long-term. As in most all markets right now, I'd focus on rentals with the potential to generate a decent yield.

People have to live somewhere. An investor-friend told me recently about a U.S. foreclosure he'd bought from the bank, a house still occupied by the seller...who is now a tenant paying the new investor-owner a rent high enough to generate an acceptable yield. Plus the seller-tenant has an option to buy the house back in two years.

This isn't uncommon. Many properties are available with renters in place. This would be an obvious choice for an investment purchase. Short of this, you want to shop for a rental with strong fundamentals--near to schools, shopping, and where people work. This is how I shopped in Chicago 20 years ago when my eventual purchase was a three-flat building. I lived in one of the three apartments and rented out the other two for enough to enjoy a strong yield during the two-and-a-half years I owned the building before reselling it for 85% more than I'd paid. (Those days are over, but it's a nice memory.)

Before you head out to your local real estate agent to look for an investment property, do your own due diligence on the areas where you are considering investing. And, again, unless you've got experience across a number of markets, I strongly recommend you start out close to home. Don't let a tip from an agent or a friend send you off too far afield. If you live in Chicago, shop in Chicago...not Phoenix over the Internet. When starting out, buy what you know.

My biggest investment mistake was made on the recommendation of someone I was working with at the time who convinced me to buy in a market I didn't know before I'd taken time to get to know it. Had I done even a little independent due diligence, I never would have bought what I bought...and it wasn't long before the mistake was evident. This buy became the biggest loss of my property investing career...and one of the most important lessons learned.

No matter where you're considering investing, in the United States or abroad, I recommend that you visit the location yourself if you don't know it well already, walk around, ask around, talk to agents and attorneys, waiters and taxi drivers. It can be a big mistake, as my experience shows, just to show up and buy whatever someone shows you...or, worse, to buy from a distance over the Internet.

Get your real estate investing legs under you in your home town if you can (as I did in Chicago years ago). Then making the step to investing in real estate overseas should be much smoother.

 


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Then we'll move on to Europe.

Because not everyone is cut out for life in the tropics or the developing world. I appreciate the many delights, benefits, and opportunities associated with living and doing business in Latin America, but, for my money, the best quality of life in the world is to be found on the other side of the Pond.

For me, life in France, specifically in Paris, where we lived for four years before moving to Panama City, is as good as it gets. But that's me.

If you, too, are tempted by the idea of launching a new life in the Old World, this part of the program we're planning for Scottsdale will be of great interest...

#1 Haven On The Continent: France

France is a land of superlatives...from its capital, the most beautiful, most romantic, and most touristed city on earth, to its wines, cheeses, restaurants, shopping, castles, gardens, parks, beaches, museums, cafes, galleries, vineyards, country villages, medieval towns, art, and architecture, all among the best that this world has to offer. The typical concern for anyone who has ever dreamed of a new life in France is that it's too expensive for the average guy (or gal) to consider seriously.

Not so. Paris isn't cheap (though, speaking as one who lived in the city with two small children, I can tell you that it can be much more affordable than you might imagine, depending how and where you choose to live), but elsewhere in France you can find realistic options even if your retirement budget is modest.

Euro-Correspondent Lucy Culpepper has researched France end to end and coast to coast. She can direct you to its more and most affordable corners. After scouting options in the Americas (from Mexico to Costa Rica to Panama) for a year, Lucy and her family decided that life in the New World was not for them. They sought out instead the traditions and the charms of life back on the Continent. When they decided to focus on Europe, they could have settled anywhere. They chose France, specially a region of France that Lucy and her husband found to offer all the best of French country living at a very reasonable cost, even for their family of four. Lucy will be in Scottsdale with us to tell you all about it.

#2 Haven On The Continent: Italy

Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany...what more can I say?

Except that, right, the cost of living in those places might be beyond the limits of your retirement budget. That doesn't mean you should take Italy off your list entirely if this is the country that stirs your imagination and speaks to your soul. Our Italy Correspondent Nikki De Girolamo, a British expat who has been living in Italy full-time for the past 14 years, will join us in Scottsdale to show you affordable Italy. Specifically, Nikki will introduce you to her chosen corner of this country, a place where a retiree can live an enormously full and rich life even on a modest budget. From this beautiful Old World base, within a half-day's drive of both the coast and the mountains, you could plan excursions to Italy's better-known and more expensive outposts as often as you liked.

#3 Haven On The Continent: Ireland

At last year's Retire Overseas Conference in Orlando, when the time came for Lief and me to take the stage to present Ireland, we were near the end of Day 2 of the event, and, I have to admit it, I was feeling a bit tired. So I asked Lief to kick off our discussion of expat life and retirement in this country, based on our experiences living there for seven years, raising our children (in fact, Jackson was born in Waterford and is a dual citizen by birth), running our business, making a home and a life, as expats, parents, and entrepreneurs...

Lots to discuss, that Lief could cover as well as I. So I stood off to the side and listened as Lief opened...

"Ireland is the Latin America of Europe," he explained. "The Irish don't have a word for manana, but they sure do embrace the concept."

Everyone laughed.

Behind Lief, on the screen, showed photos of rolling green hills and old stone houses...St. Stephen's Green, Dublin Castle, central Dublin townhouses with their colorful Georgian front doors...the Cliffs of Moher, the Ring of Kerry, the Bay of Bantry...Galway, Clifden, Wexford...forts, gardens, beaches...

But what was that Lief was saying?

"The infrastructure will make you think you're in Latin America, too. Despite all the money that flowed through this country during its Celtic Tiger days, they never managed to build a real highway system or bring their railroads into the 21st century. The health care system is in near-chaos..."

More laughter...more uncertain this time.

"And, while we were living there, the cost of living increased exponentially. We moved to Ireland because it was an affordable place to run a business. But prices rose so high so fast that Ireland priced itself out of the world market, and many businesses that had moved to Ireland to open call centers, for example, moved on to Eastern Europe. They just couldn't afford the Irish labor force anymore.

"Real estate in Dublin became more expensive than real estate in Paris. How does that make sense?" Lief asked his audience.

Which responded with a few confused chuckles.

What was going on here?

"Maybe you're not the best one to be giving this talk," I said, taking center stage from Lief, as the room erupted in laughter.

"We promise warts and all," I said, "but not warts...and more warts.

"There are reasons Ireland is on our list of Top Havens in Europe," I explained to the crowd in Orlando last year, "but I fear that, if I allow Lief to continue on as he has been, we'll never get to them..."

Everything Lief had been reporting about Ireland was true, but it was only one side of the story. Only one face of this beautiful country.

Americans have long dreamed of retirement on the Emerald Isle and with good reason. What Mother Nature has accomplished on this little island competes with her finest work anywhere. Even Lief and I, as frustrated as we were trying to run a business in this country, recognized and appreciated how extraordinarily and diversely beautiful it is.

It's also safe, peaceful, relaxed, welcoming, friendly, hospitable, and English-speaking. Making it an ideal retirement choice for many.

That, then, is the distinction we went on to make for those in the room with us in Orlando last year...and that we'll draw out again for everyone who joins us in Scottsdale next month. Ireland has long been and remains today one of the world's top retirement havens. It is also, I'm happy to be able to report, more affordable today than it was when Lief and I were living there. And its property market has fallen off a cliff. Real estate prices are down 50% and more...and still falling by all accounts.

Meaning that, if you, like so many others, have dreamed of wiling away your retirement years on your own little piece of the Auld Sod, this could be the best time in your lifetime to think about making that purchase.

Again, more on the charms, appeals, and current property market of Ireland when we meet in Scottsdale in April. (Yes, Lief will be on stage to help present this country, but I don't think I'll let him lead off again...)

#4 Haven On The Continent: Spain

Spain is known among expats for its coastlines, Atlantic and Mediterranean, especially its infamous (and wholly unappealing in our view) Costa del Sol. But there's more to this country than its costas. Barcelona, for example, is a world-class city on the ocean, perfect if you're looking for a cosmopolitan life near the water.

Great beaches, great cities, great people...but why Spain right now? Because real estate prices in this country have fallen tremendously since the highs of four or five years ago, meaning that, if retirement to Spain appeals, this could be the time to go in search of a great deal on Spanish retirement digs.

Euro-Correspondent Lucy Culpepper and her family, recently resident in France, also called Spain home. She'll share the delights and the attractions when we all assemble in Scottsdale next month.

#5 Haven On The Continent: Croatia

Seven years ago, Lief, the children, and I spent a week touring around Istria, Croatia, with a focused agenda. We were in the market for one of the old white stone houses you find across this peninsula. We wanted to stake our small claim to this beautiful and historic region that, during previous visits, had so captured our hearts and our imaginations.

On that trip seven years ago, Kaitlin, 15, Jackson, 5, Lief, and I followed our property agent from one stone farmhouse to another, up and down the narrow winding roads of these mountainsides, through the medieval villages, and past the expansive fields of olive trees, grape vines, and sunflowers, more infatuated with the region with each passing day.

We had recently made our move, at the time, from Ireland to France, and, one rainy morning of that Istrian family adventure, standing in one muddy Istrian farmyard, Kaitlin observed, "But haven't we done this already? Haven't we already bought an old stone house surrounded by mud? Isn't that what we just did in Ireland? Why do you guys want to do this again?"

Probably Kaitlin wasn't the only one to wonder why we'd decided to make this investment. But we believed in the future of Croatia, a country with an extraordinarily complicated history and an extremely open-minded, forward-looking population. We recognized that Croatia was at another turning point in its long history, and we wanted to be part of it.

Plus, the Istrian Peninsula serves up some of the most delightful scenery on this planet. The land seems to rise up to embrace you. Everywhere you look, something nice is growing--olives, grapes, figs, tomatoes, pumpkins, blackberries, wildflowers... Even the buildings seem to be of the earth, built of its white stone and red clay.

In some parts of the world, Nature outdoes herself. In others, that which man has built is impressive. In Istria, Nature and mankind have worked together over centuries, starting with the Romans, to create a land of delights you have to see to appreciate.

One rainy morning on that trip seven years ago, we found one 200-year-old white stone house that we particularly liked, perched as it was on a mountainside above a long valley of olive trees and grape vines, made an offer to the Istrian owner, and agreed the terms with a handshake. The seller sealed the deal by making a gift to us of lavender oil his wife had bottled.

We returned to visit this part of the world and the little stone house we bought here last summer, to see how things have changed in the intervening years.

I'm happy to be able to report that we were as taken with this sun-soaked region as ever. Croatia, specifically its Istrian peninsula, offers one of the most appealing lifestyle options in Europe today. We'll tell you all about it in Scottsdale next month...

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. Tomorrow: The best of Asia on the program for this one-of-a-kind Retire Overseas Conference taking place in Scottsdale, Arizona, April 30-May 2.Continuing Reading:

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Kathleen Peddicord

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.

Read more here.

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