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#8: Abruzzo, Italy

It's hard to think of a lovelier corner of Italy than the Abruzzo. The beaches are golden, and the sea rolls out like a giant bolt of turquoise silk. There are mountains, too, meaning that, living here, you'd have both skiing and beach-combing on your doorstep, depending on the season.

This region is one of Italy's secret treasures. No overcrowding, no heavy industry, only castles, vineyards, and villages made of stone. Life in the Abruzzo hasn't changed much over the years, and exploring here is like wandering into a gentler, kinder yesterday.

This region of Italy is also one of Europe's best bargains. A couple could retire here on as little as US$2,000 per month or less, including rent.

#7: Medellin, Colombia

Medellin is a city of parks and flowers, pretty, tidy, and, despite its checkered past, safe. It's also architecturally consistent and pleasing. Most every building is constructed of red brick and topped with red clay roof tiles. The overall effect is delightful.

Medellin is both an industrial, economic, and financial center for this country and a literary and artistic one. Newspapers, radio networks, publishing houses, an annual poetry festival, an international jazz festival, an international tango festival, an annual book fair, and, back in 1971, Colombia's answer to Woodstock, the Festival de Ancon, all have chosen Medellin as their base.

Thanks to its mountain setting, Medellin is another of a handful of cities around the world that bills themselves as lands of eternal springtime. The cost of living is affordable, though not super-cheap. The medical care is excellent, with 5 of the 35 best hospitals in Latin America located here.

The European undertones in Medellin are strong, from the way the women dress to the way people greet you in passing on the street. This is South America, not Central America, and the differences between the two regions can be striking.

Medellin was named 2013's World's Most Innovative City and is finally beginning to shed its bad-boy image from Pablo Escobar days and to become appreciated for the romantic city it is, with good wines, great coffee, outdoor cafes, and open-air music venues.

#6: Pau, France

The city of Pau, also known as the "Green City" and the "Garden City," has one of the highest ratios of greenery per square meter per person of any European city. Further, Pau's greenery is tremendously diverse and includes trees and plants from Japan, the Caribbean, Mexico, Lebanon, the Mediterranean, Chile, and California, this huge variety in part thanks to the English settlers who came here after the Napoleonic wars and brought with them their love of gardening and parks.

Pau's is a landscape of accessible woodlands, the steep slopes of Jurançon wine country, the history-packed Plaine de Nay and its main town of Nay, and the pretty rolling countryside and ancient towns of the Gaves de Béarn. Pau is a university town, with close to 12,000 university students living on and off campus, helping to keep it lively.

The retiree who has dreamt of France but who can't afford Paris should consider Pau. A couple could retire here on as little as US$2,000 per month.

#5: Dumaguete, Philippines

In addition to its welcoming, friendly, English-speaking people, Dumaguete boasts a warm, tropical climate and lots of opportunity for outdoor adventures, including world-class diving and snorkeling and whale and dolphin watching.

Dumaguete sits right along the ocean, with attractive beaches to the north and south of town. This is also a university city, meaning an abundance of inexpensive restaurants that cater to "starving" college students. Foreigners have the opportunity to make friends with educated professors and aspiring students, take classes, and enjoy cultural opportunities not typically found elsewhere in the Philippines, including theater, ballet, art shows, and libraries.

Medical and dental care are good, with a new hospital under construction and international-standard health care available in nearby Cebu.

More than 5,000 retirees, including many Americans, have decided to make Dumaguete their permanent home. The primary appeal for the would-be retiree is a super-low cost of living; a couple could retire here on as little as US$1,000 per month.

#4: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai has been luring expats from the West for many years with its low cost of living and great weather. The high-quality health care and health-related services are also big pluses for foreign retirees. Chiang Mai boasts modern infrastructure and an abundance of Western amenities. It's also a place where it can be possible for foreign retirees to find work if they're interested in supplementing their retirement nest eggs or simply looking to become involved in their new community; many Westerners are employed in Chiang Mai in language schools, universities, medical facilities, and tourist-related industries.

#3: George Town, Malaysia

George Town is a busy, thriving city with a large expat community that has managed to retain its colonial charm (it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The city is affordable, with a tropical climate, an intriguing culture, and gorgeous white-sand beaches.

George Town's total population is about 740,000, small enough that it's easy to make friends and meet people, yet big enough to mean health care that meets international standards and easy availability to goods and services most retirees are looking for. Year-round sunshine, First World infrastructure, turn-key permanent residency, and English-speaking locals make the living here easy. This is a paradise for food lovers and, all things considered, one of the most livable cities in Southeast Asia.

#2: Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca is a charming, walkable colonial city in the highlands of Ecuador, meaning the climate year-round is spring-like. The cost of living is low (though rising) and the cost of real estate is near rock bottom for Latin America. The health care is high quality, honest, and inexpensive. Cuenca's large and growing expat community is one of Latin America's most established and well integrated with the local community. Ecuador offers user-friendly retiree residency options, and the country uses the U.S. dollar, meaning no exchange-rate risk for American retirees.

Thanks to the big and growing expat community based here, downtown Cuenca boasts cafes, restaurants, bars, and bookshops alongside the traditional butchers, tailors, repair shops, and bakeries. Cuenca is also the country's center of art and literature; you can attend the orchestra or a play, enjoy a tango show or an art opening, all often free.

#1: Algarve, Portugal

Portugal's Algarve is the best place in the world to retire in 2014. This Atlantic coastal region is already home to more than 100,000 resident expat retirees and offers the best of the Old World, from medieval towns and fishing villages to open-air markets and local wine, plus some of Europe's best beaches.

The Algarve also boasts great weather, enjoying 3,300 hours of sunshine per year, more than most anywhere else in Europe.

Portugal ranks as the 17th safest country in the world. The infrastructure is good and improving, and the health care is international-standard. Medical tourism is a growing industry.

The cost of living in Portugal is among the lowest in Western Europe. A retired couple could live here comfortably on a budget of as little as US$1,500 per month. And the country's new Non-Habitual Resident and Golden Visa programs mean it is easier than it's ever been for a foreign retiree to arrange legal residency.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. Our 2014 Retire Overseas Index, which rates and ranks the world's top 21 retirement havens, is featured in full in this month's issue of our Overseas Retirement Letter. If you're not yet an ORL subscriber, become one now to receive this bumper special annual edition, hot-off-the-virtual-presses.

Or you can purchase a copy of the Index on its own here.

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Aug. 26, 2

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An added bonus of the Languedoc region is that it's just three hours' drive to my joint-favorite European city, Barcelona!

Lief Simon: Medellin and Buenos Aires

I prefer cities over more rural areas. Two of the best cities in Latin America to spend time in, whether it's full- or part-time living, are Medellin, Colombia, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

In Medellin, the weather is pleasant year-round—though some would argue that it isn't "spring-like" weather as it's generally referenced to be. Temperatures regularly break 80 degrees. Having grown up in Arizona, that's like winter weather for me. In other words, it's all relative.

It's pleasant enough to walk around Medellin, which is important to me, though I wouldn't call this a walking city.

Medellin has First World infrastructure and amenities (also important to me), and museums, festivals, gardens, and parks all add to the variety of activities available in this city of about 3.5 million people. And, to make the point, despite its history, Medellin is fairly calm these days unless you wander into the gang neighborhoods.

Bigger and livelier is Buenos Aires, which also has four seasons. I like change and contrast, so I like this part of the world a lot. Argentina rides an economic roller coaster that cycles harder and faster than economic cycles in any other country I could name, thanks to general and gross mismanagement by the government.

Argentina is right now close to another breaking point. I'm watching for the coming next crisis, which will be another good time to be considering an investment here.

From a lifestyle point of view, Buenos Aries offers all the activities that Medellin does and more. It's a city of about 15 million people (around one-third of the total population of the country). It has a tremendous variety and diversity of restaurants, shopping, museums, and parks and does qualify as a walking city—though it's too big to walk across in one go. For me, Buenos Aries' core neighborhoods of Recoleta and Retiro offer an ideal way of life.

Just be prepared for big ups and downs and lots of drama. For me that's all a big part of the charm of this place.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. The countdown is on. You have three days remaining to register for this year's Retire Overseas Conference in Nashville next month taking advantage of the Early Bird Discount.

More details here.

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April 30, 2014

"Kathleen, I'm interested in any more information on costs of living in Ecuador (Cuenca).

"I just finished reading your excellent article and believe I have a handle on the food prices (astonishing!).

"I'm still interested in knowing more about costs of housing and transportation, fees, dining out, cultural opportunities, and the availability of skilled labor to assist my wife (a builder of long experience) in restoring Spanish colonial buildings.

"Any information you can provide will be much appreciated. Thanks in advance."

--Jeff P., United States

Take a look here.

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"And it does bother me!" Senior Editor David Sexton responded quickly. "Because I've just spent three months researching every detail of every residency option available in every country we focus on, and I can tell you: Panama is the winner in this category. No other country competes."

International Living

Friday afternoon, starting at 4 p.m. in our office in Panama City, we interrupted our regular work. We mixed pitchers of margaritas, uncorked a couple of bottles of wine, and ordered pizza. Then Lief and I called our in-house editorial and marketing staffs together around our conference room meeting table with a specific agenda: To identify and, further, to quantify and to rank the best places to retire overseas in the world today.

For the past few months, our editors have been collecting and organizing data for the destinations we've targeted for this project--everything from the number of available residency options and the respective costs for each to the number rainy days per year and the average high and low temperatures...from cell phone coverage areas to availability of reliable internet...from the number of hospitals to the cost of a visit to the doctor...from the number of theaters and museums to the range of options for more outdoorsy entertainment...

A mountain of data.

Now what? How, we asked ourselves, do we convert those charts, tables, and lists to a useful where-to-retire-in-the-world tool? We knew that, over the collected data, we needed to layer some judgment and boots-on-the-ground perspective. Statistics can be misleading. They're a place to start but certainly not the beginning and end of the work required to make the determination as to where you might best reinvent your life. That decision, as we point out regularly, must be made with both your head and your heart.

So, Friday afternoon, we started with the objective intelligence that our editorial team had collected...then we entertained lively, sometimes heated discussions about how, where, and why the intel was wrong, based on our collective personal experiences living and doing business in the places being considered.

"You've got to look beyond the number and type of residency options offered," Lief cautioned, "and think about which ones are useful. Belize may offer but two residency options, but they are two of the most relevant and useful available anywhere..."

Then, later, when we got around to discussing infrastructure, "Ireland gets a 2 in this category," Lief declared.

"A 2?!" exclaimed our Irish-born Editorial Assistant Denis Foynes. "What are you basing that on? Are you considering roads?"

"Yes," I laughed, "we're considering roads as part of our infrastructure score."

"Ah, well, then, ok, the roads in my country are an embarrassment," our young Irish friend admitted. "Remember, the Romans never made it to Ireland.

"Also," Denis added, "we have no train service. But we have buses...and we're a good base for very low-cost travel throughout Europe..."

Everyone laughed. After some more back and forth and consulting the data that had been collected on this point, we agreed to increase Ireland's infrastructure score to a 4 (out of 10).

Next category: Safety. "Here," I offered, "is where we have to give Ireland her due."

For each country in our international living index-in-the-making, we'd decided to focus on one or two particular spots. Nobody is going to retire to Panama or to Ireland, anymore than anyone is going to retire to the United States. You're going to retire to a particular city, town, village, or beach, so that's how we've conceived this new index--to focus on particular places that we think offer the greatest appeal and the best advantages for the would-be foreign retiree. In Ireland, we're targeting the region of the country known as the Copper Coast.

"The Copper Coast gets a 10 for safety," I said. "Nothing bad is going to happen to you in that beautiful, quiet part of the world."

"Thank you," Denis agreed.

In Belize, we targeted the Cayo District, which is one of the best places in the world today to retire and embrace a back-to-basics, self-resilient lifestyle.

"In Ireland, there's little useful infrastructure," Denis observed, "and what there is is in a poor state of repair. But in the Cayo? There's no infrastructure there at all..."

"Yes, but that's the appeal," Lief replied. "That's the point. Once you're there, you don't care that there's no infrastructure."

"Well," I offered, "there are rivers. You could always take a kayak wherever you wanted to go."

"What taxes do we care about?" asked Special Projects Editor Brenna Labine.

"We should look at property taxes, sales tax, capital gains tax, and income tax," Lief offered.

"In my research," Brenna continued, "I've found that Chile is the only country on our list that does not have a double-taxation agreement with the United States."

"Good point," Lief said. "That's a big negative, of course..."

And on and on, for each of the dozens of destinations being featured in our new index, until we ran out of limes for the margaritas and the wine bottles had been drained.

"That's enough for tonight," I suggested when the hour grew late. "Let's regroup on all this Monday morning and make sure our determinations stand up to sober scrutiny...

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. The results of these months of research and evaluation, our First Annual Retire Overseas Index, will be featured in the special expanded March issue of our Overseas Retirement Letter, due in subscribers' e-mailboxes later this month. If you're not yet an Overseas Retirement Letter subscriber, you can become one here now in time to receive your copy of this important and one-of-a-kind resource, our First Annual Retire Overseas Index.

P.S. What else this week?

  • The best way to approach the challenge of identifying where in the world might be the best place for you to live or retire overseas is comparatively. Nowhere is perfect, and nothing is absolutely true. Everything is relative.

Take Medellin, Colombia, and Panama City, Panama, for example, two of the best places on earth to think about spending your time or your money right now. While each is a top live-, retire-, invest-overseas choice, these two cities couldn't be more unalike. In many ways, you could say that these two choices are the retirement haven yin and yang of each other...

  • Lee Harrison writes:

I was obviously there for the sex, at least according to the taxi driver who showed me around Medellín the first day of my first visit to this city back in early 2010.

That wasn't the reality, but I understood the confusion. Medellín has a reputation as a sex destination. Prostitution is legal here, and Colombian women are beautiful. It's these stereotypes that were, at the time, attracting a lot of guys my age to this city--the promise of a beautiful Colombian wife...or, well, sometimes, a shorter-term relationship with one of the city's beautiful women.

"If you were younger, it would be drugs," the taxisa went on to explain that first day I toured around. "The young ones want drugs...the older ones want women..."

  • Lee Harrison writes:

Mid-Sunday afternoon, and the three of us were settled at our open-air table, enjoying Medellín's perfect weather, a good glass of cabernet, and softly playing tango music. Our waiter brought my juicy steak, perfectly done and still sizzling from the wood grill.

Turned out to be the best steak I've had in Medellin...which is saying a lot in a city with dozens of good restaurants.

Perhaps more interesting is that I was not dining in Medellín's famous Parque Lleras or Zona Rosa district. I was in Astorga, a much less-known part of this city that's beginning to draw international attention.

This is the fourth time in the past two weeks that I've walked over to explore Astorga. Each time here, I discover another hidden gem in this up-and-coming neighborhood...

  • Lee Harrison writes:

A pleasant surprise was waiting for me early this morning. The sun was shining down through the trees, and two huge parrots were chattering among the broad leaves outside my window...but that's really no surprise in this area.

What was more unexpected was the pair of bank statements awaiting me when I logged online. One account showed an annual interest rate of 6.08%; the other showed a rate of 5.01%.

Now most of us remember when a passbook savings account earned these rates, or more...but we haven't seen those days for a while. And, given the Fed's current policy, we won't be seeing them anytime soon either.

For me, this is just one more benefit to living in Colombia--a fair rate of return on a secure deposit. And it can be available to you, too, even if you don't live here.

Most everyone knows that U.S. economic growth not only slowed but reversed in the final quarter of 2012. However, the most alarming news for me was why the economy shrunk--reduced government spending. Have a look at a recent article from the New York Times.

This is a big problem. One of the biggest concerns in the United States these days is the ballooning government deficit and mounting debt. The real spending cuts required to correct the situation haven't even begun.

Yet the economy has already shrunk in reaction to what little has been cut so far. This tells me that we're way too dependent on government spending...and that when the real cuts come, the economy will be in real trouble.

In contrast, present-day Colombia is a solid, stable, economic success story. Colombia enjoys a solid industrial base, abundant energy, and strong economic growth. According to The Economist, Colombia's 2012 GDP growth rate is coming in at a respectable 4.4%. That compares with 1.0% in Brazil, -0.1% in Britain, and -0.4% in the Eurozone.

As you're still earning healthy interest rates in Colombia, your money can work for you in ways that are no longer possible in the traditional powerhouse economies.
The accounts I mentioned above are offered by a Colombian financial institution known as a "fiduciary," where I have an account. These types of institutions serve as foreign exchange intermediaries, processing funds into and out of Colombia, and also as a broker on the stock exchange, much like a U.S. brokerage house. In addition, like many U.S. brokerages, they offer a number of their own financial products.

I recently opened two new accounts with the fiduciary agency I've worked with now for more than two years. One account is totally liquid. You can withdraw money from it at any time, on a few hours' notice. The current interest rate is just under 5%. This is actually not a bank account, but rather a portfolio of AAA or Sovereign investments, mostly notes to other banks. The portfolio too, has a Fitch rating of AAA. Minimum deposit is less than 500,000 Colombian pesos (that's about US$300 at current exchange rates).

The second account is a 90-day instrument, with a minimum opening deposit (and minimum balance) of just under 3 million Colombian pesos (or US$1,700). This too is a portfolio of investments, mostly fixed-income. They're all investment-grade but can be less than AAA. The portfolio's own Fitch rating is AA.

In my case, I use these accounts to generate a good rate of return for cash I have in Colombia. I also have an account for cash that was earning almost nothing in my self-directed 401k.

Also, as these accounts are in Colombian pesos, these accounts provide another benefit that is very important to me. They help to diversify me outside the U.S. dollar.

These days in the United States, there's generally no one at the bank (any bank) who really tries to earn your business. And, once you're a client, there's no one who actively works to keep your business, especially if you're a small investor.

But that's not the case here. I have a dedicated, English-speaking contact to answer questions and to move money to and from my accounts for me in response to my e-mail requests.

Lately, I seem to spend a lot of time looking for ways to make my cash work harder. So it feels good to get my daily e-mail update of what these cash accounts are earning.

Editor's Note: Lee details these high-interest-earning account opportunities and options in greater detail in the current issue of the Simon Letter, in subscribers' e-mailboxes this week. If you're not yet a Simon Letter subscriber, you can become one here now.

Also, both Lee and representatives from the fiduciary agency where he holds his interest-earning accounts will be speaking about these accounts and other investment opportunities in Colombia at our upcoming Live and Invest in Colombia Conference, taking place in Medellin in May. Registration for this event has opened this week, meaning you have a chance to claim a VIP spot at the Early Bird Discount price...if you act right now. Details on our our upcoming Live and Invest in Colombia Conference are here.

  • James Horn writes:

I knew I would one day live in Cuernavaca the first time I brought a group of students from freezing western New York for a study-abroad program and found I could dine outdoors in January. After many winters directing college programs here, it was a no-brainer where I would retire.

Often overlooked and underappreciated, Cuernavaca has more to offer tourists and retirees at lower cost than most anywhere else in Mexico. The resort city lies just 90 minutes south of the capital, and, thanks to its near-perfect climate, this "city of eternal spring" has attracted vacationers since the days of the Aztec emperors and the captains of Cortés.

***

Kathleen Peddicord's New Book "How To Buy Real Estate Overseas" Available Now Pre-Release!

Kathleen Peddicord's latest book, published by Wiley & Sons, hits bookstores April 8. Starting now, though, you can buy a copy pre-release and save 36% off the release price!

Go here now to place your order for "How To Buy Real Estate Overseas"!

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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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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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