June 12, 2014
"Kathleen, I'm 56 years old and one of your new '52 Days' students and a very tired vet. "That is, I'm a retired disabled veteran, and I am longing to move to Belize. I've bothered family and friends with this notion for a couple of years now. They mostly approve. Mostly they love me to pieces and want me to be happy and safe. I so want to prove to them and myself that this can be done. "Therefore I am taking my 52 steps quite seriously. Because I'm a disabled veteran, I am assigned a Social Security Finance-Payee person. She's fantastic and is 100% encouraging me to do this. "It seems this may be really possible? Could this be really possible?" --Anita K., United States Yes, it's really possible. Follow along with the 52 Days program and let us know if we can do anything more to help.
June 9, 2014
"Ms. Peddicord, I would first like to thank you for all of the information regarding overseas retirement options. You have opened my mind to the possibilities outside of the USA. I am a 63-year-old single woman and only have a retirement income of US$1,500/month. I would like to find a place where I could exist comfortably on that. I have a very adventurous spirit but also wish to be cautious as I would be venturing out alone. "Are there any places that stand out as best options for someone such as me? Any advice would be truly appreciated." --Debbie B., United States Indeed. On that monthly income you have several good choices, depending what kind of lifestyle you're in the market for, including:
This is the kind of thinking we'll do during this year's Retire Overseas Conference taking place in Nashville, Tennessee, August 29–31. Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, Thailand, Vietnam, and Philippines are all on the featured haven list for this special event...along with 15 other countries. Details are here.
The first opportunity that jumped out at me was in real estate. I spent several days looking at properties available for sale in the city, reading newspaper ads, photographing signs in windows, and combing the streets. Never did I find a single English-speaking real estate agent in downtown Loja. And the Spanish-speaking agents I worked with were nothing to write home about. They couldn't keep appointments. In one case, I persisted for three days but ended up seeing only one house...despite having made my initial appointment more than a month in advance. Another real estate agent had more than 20 listings...but only 3 homes that had not already been sold. The first North American who opens a real estate business here will have a wide-open market. Team up with an energetic and well-connected local entrepreneur, and you could grab a good share of the local market just by running a tight ship and providing good service. Granted, there are not a lot of North American clients in Loja right now. But remember Cuenca. The first professional English-speaking real estate agency in this city pre-dated its discovery as a top expat retiree destination. In fact, to some extent, CuencaRealEstate.com helped to enable the expat migration that followed. The second opportunity I noticed was for a good Spanish-language school. Loja is known throughout the country for its Spanish. The version spoken in Loja is crisp, clear, well-enunciated, and true to form. Lojanos take pride in the quality of their Spanish. I've seen bumper stickers calling out their linguistic purity. Yet I couldn't find a Spanish-language school. I went to the department of tourism to ask about this, and the best their agent could come up with was a tutor I could hire privately. (She was the young lady's mother.) I asked at a couple of English schools (there are plenty of these in Loja). They all said they could fix me up with private lessons with a freelance tutor, but none offered actual Spanish courses. So, again, the first person to open a quality Spanish school in this city will have the market to himself. As with the real estate idea, there is not a huge pent-up demand for language study in Loja right now, but one big reason is that there's nowhere to study. With a good quality school in place, I think Loja's linguistic reputation (and maybe some smart international exchange student agreements) would bring plenty of students. My final observation was in the area of short-term rentals. On my most recent visit, I looked at a good bit of real estate, again, both for sale and for rent. But I found only one quality furnished rental. It wasn't bad, but it wouldn't be among the finalists for a Good Housekeeping Award either. I'd say there is a market for a handful of modern, short-term, furnished apartment rentals, built and equipped to higher-end U.S. standards, apartments of the type that are so popular in nearby Cuenca. A skeptic might say that, if there were a good market for these kinds of units, there would already be a supply of them. In a more developed market, that would be the case, but, in Loja, we're at a pre-market stage. The demand for these kinds of short-term rentals is coming. As Loja becomes more popular as an expat destination, this demand will grow. At the same time, the existence of these kinds of rentals will create their own demand. I'll use Medellin, Colombia, as an example. In Medellin, the existence of these high-quality units has actually changed people's habits and enticed many travelers away from hotels. In my case, I'd never used short-term rentals for business travel. But when I found out that I could get a luxury apartment, all to myself, for less than the price of a hotel, I switched to short-term rentals right away. And I'm not alone. Lots of expats like Loja. I hear from more and more people each year who find Loja's cultured, low-key lifestyle to be just what they're looking for. But, in the end, almost no one actually moves to Loja. And I think I know some of the reasons why. I'll use Cuenca's success as an expat destination as a benchmark. Of course Cuenca is a great city to start with. But when a potential expat comes to check it out, they can stay at their leisure in a quality, furnished, short-term rental, equipped with cable TV and high-speed internet. They can shop for real estate on an English-language site with a good inventory, and they can view properties with an English-speaking agent. Meantime, then they can master Spanish at one of Cuenca's excellent language schools. In other words, they can pretty much just show up and rely on this infrastructure to get them going. In Loja, none of these things exist yet. But once they are available, the scene will change. And it will be a handful of expat entrepreneurs who are paying attention right now who will help to make that happen. Lee Harrison Editor's Note: We'll explore business and entrepreneurial opportunities available in Loja and elsewhere in Ecuador at our Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference in Quito Sept. 17–19.
May 28, 2014
"Kathleen, really enjoyed Lee Harrison's comparison article Cuenca versus Medellin. We are currently making our second trip to Cuenca (for two months). Our next trip will be to Medellin in 2015. Lee's insights were very helpful in making our decision to visit Medellin as soon as possible. Is it possible for you to provide some rental information in the district mentioned in Lee's article? I believe it was called Poblado." --Chief P., United States The Apartment Medellin should be able to help you find a rental apartment for your visit. And, yes, El Poblado would be a good place to base yourself.
"Kathleen, I am a happy 81-year-young single man now living in San Carlos, Mexico. I am here with my 36-foot sailboat that I have owned and sailed for the past 27 years. My little Dachshund dog and I still sail nearly every week on the Sea of Cortez. We enjoy the fellowship of many other sailors and our Mexican friends. "I have now lived here full-time nearly three years, and I have stopped looking for a different local. This is home now. I believe that your publications are a real contribution to retirees looking to make a substantial change in their lives like I did. "Congratulations on your successes and continue your good works." --Malcolm J., Mexico
Rainfall is great in Medellin (66 inches versus 35 inches in Cuenca), but the average sunny day is just a bit higher in Medellin. The city with the "perfect weather" for you will be a matter of your own taste.Establishing residency is fairly easy in both Colombia and Ecuador, with low thresholds for visa qualification in both countries. In Colombia, the pensioner's visa requires an income of a little less than US$1,000 per month, while in Ecuador the level is even lower, at US$800 monthly. For an investor-type visa, Colombia's options start at around US$34,000 for a one-year temporary visa, while Ecuador requires US$25,000 for full, permanent residency.So Ecuador has lower thresholds for permanent residency, both for the investor and the retiree.Colombia's visa, however, is quicker and easier to obtain, with fewer required documents. Also, Ecuador imposes restrictions on being out of the country during your first two years of residency, while Colombia has no such restrictions. The cultural scene in Medellin is remarkably similar to that in Cuenca. This is surprising because Cuenca has around 600,000 people in its metro area, while Medellin has about 4 million. In both cities, you can enjoy orchestra, theater, art openings, museums, and a generally sophisticated cultural scene. You'll pay a fee for most of these in Medellin, while in Cuenca they're usually free. The infrastructure is good in both cities. You'll enjoy drinkable water, reliable broadband Internet, and dependable electricity, water, and phone service. Also, both cities are very walkable, and both have excellent and cheap public transit systems. If you decide to drive, you'll find traffic jams equally maddening in both cities. Real estate costs are cheap in both cities by Latin American standards. I prepared a survey recently that compared costs in Medellin, Montevideo (Uruguay), Fortaleza (Brazil), and Panama City. For comparable properties and areas, prices in Medellin's El Poblado are the lowest on a per-square-meter basis.But Cuenca's prices are lower. A nice, two-bedroom apartment in Cuenca might cost around US$80,000...while that same apartment in a comparable neighborhood of Medellin would cost more than US$120,000. You can find Cuenca-style pricing in Medellin but not in the best neighborhoods. For the lifestyle you'll enjoy in Medellin, the real estate is a tremendous bargain. And the same is true in Cuenca; for the lifestyle it offers, it, too, is a tremendous bargain.But the lifestyle in one is nothing like the lifestyle in the other, which brings us to the ways these cities differ. (As Medellin is such a large and diverse city, I'll focus on its El Poblado neighborhood for my comparisons.)Medellin's El Poblado offers a modern, upscale ambiance. It has elegant shopping, spotless infrastructure, glistening new buildings, and more fine-dining that you can imagine. New luxury brick high-rises look down from lush, wooded hillsides. Tall trees line the well-maintained streets. And El Poblado is only one of many desirable areas in this city.On the other hand, Cuenca is one of the Americas' premier Spanish-colonial cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old cathedral was built in 1557, the historic architecture is well preserved, and the streets are cobblestoned. You'll even see evidence of the Inca occupation from the early 1500s. Yet just outside the historic center, Cuenca also offers new, modern high-rises. So you could live in a modern home, yet have the historic center within walking distance. El Poblado is a First World environment; you'll be hard-pressed to find a U.S. city that can beat it. Cuenca is part of a developing country with some Third World characteristics like poor sidewalk and building maintenance. Access to the States is easier from Medellin than from Cuenca. Medellin has daily nonstops to Miami, while you'll need to connect (and possibly spend the night) in Guayaquil or Quito when traveling to and from Cuenca. This adds a day to the trip, as well as the cost of lodging and taxis. The expat community is far smaller in Medellin than in Cuenca. I can find expats in Medellin—at a local coffee shop or the Irish pub—if I look for them, and a couple of Americans are signed up at my gym. Otherwise, I don't see them around.In Cuenca, the expat community is big, estimated between 4,000 and 5,000 people. These folks are making a cultural imprint on the city. I'd say that impact is positive. Since the infusion of North Americans to this city, there's been an explosion in the number of nice cafes, restaurants, and book shops, as well as other expat-owned services and businesses. Today in Cuenca, you can find most anything you might be looking for and, normally, an English-speaker to deal with in the process.But whether an expat community of that size is a positive or a negative for you is a matter of choice. The cost of living is higher in El Poblado than in Cuenca, due in part to the exchange rates. Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar, so dollar-holders don't feel the pinch of a weakening currency. Colombia has a strengthening Colombian peso. The basics in Medellin (food, entertainment, utilities, public transit, taxes, and HOA fees) cost me about US$1,850 per month. I believe in Cuenca the total cost would be about US$1,250 for the same lifestyle. Many people live for less than that in Cuenca, but I'm using an apples-to-apples comparison from my own experience.Bottom line, neither city is expensive, but Cuenca is definitely less expensive than Medellin. Which is the better retire-overseas choice?Impossible to say. Manhattan is not inherently better or worse than New Orleans, after all...but it's a lot different. And the same goes for Medellin and Cuenca.I see Ecuador as a cultural adventure where life is as different as you can get from the United States or Canada, short of moving to Asia. When I retired to Cuenca at age 49, I shunned places like Medellin, Chile, and Uruguay, because they were too much like the States. I wanted something as different, enriching, and exciting as I could get, and Cuenca fit the bill. Today, I think of Medellin as a way to reward myself. It's a treat to be here. Medellin is a way to enjoy perfect weather and an elegant lifestyle that I couldn't afford in the United States. When I bought my place in Medellin 10 years after I'd left the States, at the age of 59, it was exactly what I was looking for at that stage. I wanted an elegant, luxury lifestyle at an affordable price, and Medellin fit the bill. And that's the real reason that Medellin is now my "ideal retirement spot"...when it used to be Cuenca. You've heard a dozen times that the "perfect retirement location" is different for everyone. But there's more to it than that. Your "perfect spot" can also change with your taste, your age, and your experience living abroad. And that's really part of the fun.This living overseas thing is an adventure and a journey of discovery that need never stop.Lee HarrisonP.S. Could Cuenca, Ecuador, be your dream retirement destination? The only way to find out is to come see for yourself. We're preparing for the launch of our September Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference. Put your name on the list for VIP attendee perks and discounts here.
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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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