In the end, I was shocked at how financially easy it was. For most of my adult life, I thought that retiring overseas was for the very wealthy, not for an average person like me. I first got the idea to retire abroad when I was browsing in a bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. I found a book written by a guy who had retired early and was living comfortably abroad for about US$650 per month. He was an honest writer... and a regular guy like me.His book changed my thinking entirely.
Instead of working until I'd earned a pension large enough to live well in the United States, I realized that I could retire years earlier... and still have plenty of money to live well abroad.
Instead of working until 62 as planned, I found I'd have enough to live overseas comfortably prior to age 50.
Instead of hoping for good health in my old age, I could retire when I was relatively young, fit, and able to enjoy the good life.
But it was critical that I choose the right country.
Very few countries offered a cost of living low enough to meet my needs. And of those that did, most were places I didn't want to live... places that were cheap enough, but didn't offer the comfortable, convenient, and exciting lifestyle that I was hoping for.
But one country fit the bill... with room to spare:
In fact, it exceeded my expectations in every way.
I had hoped to find a decent house at a reasonable price. But instead, the proceeds from my small A-frame in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, bought me a beautiful home of over 5,100 square feet... in the best neighborhood of Ecuador's most beautiful city.
I expected low property taxes on that home... but was amazed to find that they were less than US$200 per year.
I wanted to save on utilities... but was taken aback by the huge savings that come with a climate that doesn't require heat or air conditioning.
I had hoped for a country with abundant natural beauty and diversity. And again, Ecuador exceeded my expectations, with staggering Andean peaks... magnificent colonial cities... hundreds of miles of Pacific coastline... the Amazon rainforest... the Galapagos Islands.
And most critically of all, I needed a low cost of living. I had a small nest egg and a small pension that needed to stretch more than 30 years.
Here, again, Ecuador exceeded my expectations. I had allowed for what seemed like a small budget... but ended up spending even less. In fact, I even managed to add to my savings, which was the biggest surprise of all.
In Ecuador, I found that there's a rich lifestyle available for every income level. A couple settling in a small town in this country can live on around US$700 per month. In a rural setting, two of my close friends are living on less than US$600 per month.
If you'd be happier in Ecuador's most beautiful colonial city--with its theater, orchestra, art shows, restaurants, and cafes--you can do that starting at US$1,100 per month.
To put this in perspective, over 36 million retired Americans over 65 are receiving Social Security. Their average payment is US$1,233 per month.So who can live in Ecuador on a Social Security check? Almost everyone.
And what's amazing is that you'll do more than just live. You'll live well... a wealthy and enriching lifestyle that just wouldn't be possible back home.
But best of all, you'll have the experience and adventure of a lifetime.
When I retired to Ecuador, things were different. It was a lot of work back then. I covered the country from top to bottom in a rental car--with very limited Spanish--exploring unknown regions via poorly marked roads.
Working with the Ecuadorian officials, I had to figure out how to get a residency visa from scratch.
I wanted to learn Spanish but had no idea which language schools were any good, among hundreds that were marketing their programs.
After picking my city, I had to find an honest real estate agent, and navigate a disorganized market with no Multiple Listing Service. It was every agent for himself, with me at their mercy.
After selecting a home, I didn't know an English-speaking attorney. I had to go to the U.S. embassy to try to find one.
And hardest of all, I didn't know anyone who lived in Ecuador... no one who had already done this, who I could ask for help.
In other words, I didn't just drop into a paradise, like Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz."
But you can.
You can land in Ecuador and hit the ground running with your new life in front of you.
That's the clear-cut objective of the new Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference program that I've worked to put together. Over three days in Ecuador this October, I'm going to condense and share all my months of effort and years of experience in this country... along with that of dozens of our top local contacts, resources, experts, and expats.
You'll come away knowing everything and everyone you need to know to realize your own adventure in Ecuador.
Here's my personal promise: Whatever you decide to do in Ecuador, it will be the adventure of your lifetime. And I am not exaggerating when I tell you that you can seize this adventure even if your retirement budget is very small. Even if it's no more than a monthly Social Security check.
Complete details of the Live and Invest in Ecuador program will be released very soon. I very much hope to meet you there.
Editor's Note: Lee Harrison will be one of the key Ecuador experts participating in our Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference in October.
We're finalizing details and the dates this week and hope to be able to begin taking registrations for this, our final Ecuador event of 2013, soon.
Meantime, you can get your name on the Hot List for special discounts and VIP attendee perks here now.
Cuenca beats out its competitors for a few reasons, including great weather (no need for heat or air conditioning); a very low cost of real estate; one of the continent's lowest costs of living; inexpensive, world-class healthcare; and one of the most fascinating and well-preserved Spanish-colonial settings you'll find anywhere.
And, while, living here, you may feel like you've traveled back in time 200 years, you'll also be enjoying all the comforts of the 21st century, including drinkable water, reliable electric and phone service, and modern, high-speed internet.
Returning to the city recently, I was struck by the fact that, as good a retirement choice as Cuenca is, it just keeps getting better. With each return visit, I continue to be amazed by the new upgrades and innovations.
These days, scores of inviting restaurants, many owned by expats, serve food from around the world. You can enjoy casual or fine dining or spend the afternoon at a pleasant sidewalk cafe.
Cuenca's downtown airport has again been improved and is now one of the most modern and convenient airports in the region. It's only a few minutes from the center of town, and flights around the country are cheap and efficient on new, modern aircraft.
Cuenca's colonial historic district is clean, well-preserved, and well-maintained. On my most recent visit, I noticed that, even since my last visit last year, many of the sidewalks have been widened and resurfaced, making the downtown even more walkable.
I also noted that most of the downtown crosswalks now have pedestrian Walk/Don't Walk signals, making things just a bit safer. Don't get me wrong; it's still fairly easy to get hit by a car in this city, but I'm sure the survival rate for pedestrians is higher than it was a few years ago.
Meantime, while there are always new and interesting additions to Cuenca, it's good to see that the best of the town's old mainstays continue to thrive. For example, the Villa Rosa restaurant, an elegant venue of Cuenca's elite before all the newcomers came along, is still serving its delicious cuisine. It's hard to spend more than US$8 on an entrÃ©e, and they're still charging only US$18 for a bottle of Chilean Chardonnay. Likewise, the Eucalyptus CafÃ©, Cuenca's first expat-owned restaurant, is still alive and well, serving great dishes from around the world.
While almost all of downtown Cuenca's indigenous markets have been overhauled and modernized, you can still find one old-fashioned, run-down market where you can experience the feeling of years gone by.
The real estate market in Cuenca continues strong. Values have appreciated about 10% per year on average over the past eight years or so, and the furnished rentals market is active.
Progress and prosperity have their downsides, and one in Cuenca right now is the traffic. A pedestrian navigating the historic center will make better time than a car much of the day, which makes a good case for walking, rather than driving, in this very walkable city.
Another consequence of the tremendously expanded popularity of Cuenca is the presence here today of thousands of North American expats and retirees, most of whom have arrived on the scene in the past few years. This is, in itself, neither a good nor a bad thing. It depends on your perspective and the kind of retirement lifestyle you're looking for.
If you want to feel like a pioneer, out on your own, in a place where you're one of just a few foreigners on the scene, then Cuenca is not going to be what you're looking for. On the other hand, if you're interested in a thriving, active expat community, and the support and comradeship that it brings, then Cuenca will be a good choice for you, one of the best.
Something else struck me on my most recent visit to Cuenca. It's not just this city that's improving; it's the entire country. As I traveled around Ecuador, I noticed great improvements to the infrastructure. Whether you're on the coast or driving at 13,000 feet along the continental divide, you'll now enjoy new bridges and solid, well-marked roadsâ€¦roads that were pot-holed nightmares just a few years ago.
Markedly reduced corruption means that Ecuador's wealth is coming back to her, being invested in infrastructure, rather than going into someone's pocket.
If you thought Ecuador was a good choice for retirement before, you'll find it's an even better choice now. And if you thought it was too rough around the edges a few years ago, it's time for another look.
P.S. I think I've found the most overlooked hotel deal in Cuenca, a city where hotel prices have jumped markedly over the past few years. The hotel is the CofradÃa del Monje, located at the San Francisco market about a block from the cathedral and town square. Situated in a restored colonial house, the hotel has wide plank floors and floor-to-ceiling windows opening out to the market. The private rooms are built around a courtyard cafe. It's not what you'd call luxurious, but the rooms are spacious and comfortable and will make you feel like you're back in the 1800s. Rates are just US$29 per night for one person, US$48 for two, including breakfast.
Editor's Note: Lee Harrison will join us live on stage for our Retire Overseas Conference taking place in San Antonio, Texas, Sept. 4-6, to introduce attendees to Cuenca, Ecuador as well as other top retirement options across Latin America.
This event is filling remarkably quickly. It likely will sell out. You can reserve your place in the room here now.
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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.
Read more here.
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