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Good luck finding this level of sophistication and infrastructure anywhere else in Ecuador outside Quito (which we also would not recommend as a place to live).

Why Not Boquete?

Boquete has long been heralded by many (starting, in fact, with us, more than 15 years ago) as one of the world's top retirement havens. However, we decided not to include this Panamanian mountain town in our 2014 Index for two reasons.

First, the cost of living in Boquete continues to rise.

Second, you have other better choices elsewhere now, which we wanted to feature instead. We limit our Index to 21 destinations. This is an arbitrary restriction that forces some hard choices. The truth is, as more places worldwide become more appealing for the would-be retiree, other places, including some well-known, like Boquete, become less so. Boquete is still a great turn-key choice for overseas retirement, but we'd say it no longer belongs on a short list of the world's top 21 choices.

One big draw of Boquete is its large and growing expat community. If the idea of retiring to a place where many others like you have already paved the way and stand ready to welcome you to their ranks, you have other more affordable choices, including Cuenca and Chiang Mai, for example, both of which offer super-cheap, high-quality lifestyles (and both of which are included in our Index this year).

Puerto Vallarta and Barcelona are two other expat-friendly options featured in our 2014 survey. The cost of living is higher in Puerto Vallarta and Barcelona than in Cuenca and Chiang Mai...and higher than in Boquete. However, the cost of living isn't unreasonable for the quality of life available for purchase. The quaint mountain town of Boquete just can't compete for lifestyle with chic, cosmopolitan Barcelona or Pacific oceanside Vallarta.

Why Not Uruguay?

Uruguay has gotten expensive, too expensive for the lifestyle on offer, and it's likely to become more expensive still.

Uruguayans are used to the devaluation of their peso. They refer to appreciation as atraso cambiario, "the exchange rate is running late." Because of this phenomenon, prices for many big-ticket items in Uruguay (including real estate, cars, and even high local salaries) are quoted in U.S. dollars.

Why Not Brazil?

High crime rates keep much of Brazil off our radar and out of our survey. That said, south from Ceara to Natal, you can enjoy super-cheap coastal buys in safety.

Further, the bureaucracy, red tape, and corruption at all levels involved with getting anything done in this country are significant downsides to life here. The country doesn't make establishing residency easy and offers no retiree benefits program.

Also, Brazilians speak Portuguese, which, for most of us, is not as easy to muddle through as Spanish, French, or Italian.

Why Not Ajijic, Chapala, San Miguel de Allende, Or Merida?

Mexico offers many well-publicized options for the foreign retiree. Why did we choose Puerto Vallarta over the rest of the choices for our 2014 Retire Overseas Index? Because if offers the best option anywhere for the retiree looking for developed Pacific coastal living on a budget.

Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, and Ecuador all also offer Pacific coast options, but none is anywhere near as fully appointed as Puerto Vallarta, which offers marinas, country clubs, golf courses, shopping, and fine dining. Yet, you could retire here on a budget of as little as US$1,910 per month, which is more than an average budget for other countries with Pacific coastlines in our Index but a very reasonable amount given the lifestyle on offer.

Why Not New Zealand?

We like New Zealand as a part-time retirement spot, but we didn't include it in our survey this year because it's just not a realistic full-time option for the typical retiree. The truth is, New Zealand (like Australia) isn't overly keen on the idea of foreign retirees and doesn't make it easy for the retiree to establish residency. In fact, in most cases, it's not possible.

Why Not Costa Rica?

About three decades ago, Costa Rica decided to make a business of the foreign retiree. The Costa Ricans invested in a formal and successful advertising campaign, targeting Americans primarily. Tens of thousands of would-be retirees from the States took up the invitation and relocated to this beautiful land of hills and rainforests.

The benefits Costa Rica offered retirees who became resident were terrific, including the original pensionado program against which others were measured for decades. In addition, way back when Costa Rica made a name for itself as a top retirement choice, the cost of everything from groceries and eating out to prime coastal property was super cheap. Fast forward a couple of decades, and, thanks to investors and speculators, Costa Rica wasn't so cheap anymore, neither its cost of living nor its beachfront real estate. And, while prices had risen dramatically, the infrastructure hadn't kept pace. Retirees were happy to overlook falling bridges and unpaved roads when prices were low. Harder to rationalize putting up with failing infrastructure in the face of appreciating costs.

Worse, after working so hard to woo American and European retirees, Costa Rica seemed to change its mind. The Costa Ricans didn't eliminate their famous pensionado program; they simply eliminated most of the tax breaks it had promised, as part of a deficit-reduction austerity package. And they didn't grandfather in existing pensionados. So those who'd chosen Costa Rica for the retiree benefits it offered were surprised and disappointed to find that those benefits existed no more. Now the Costa Rican government is considering a further pensionado program adjustment. They're talking about increasing, maybe substantially, the minimum monthly income requirement to qualify. And, again, if the change is made, existing pensioandos won't be grandfathered in. To renew your status, you'd have to qualify under the new requirements.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. Our 2014 Retire Overseas Index 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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David Sexton is his American counterpart. David relocated, on our offer of employment, from the U.S. capital to the Panamanian one, about two months ago. David is a few years older than Denis but shares the same approach to life and work.

This morning, when I checked my e-mails, I found one from David that read:

"Kathie, attached is something I've just written. Maybe you could work with it...find some use for it..."

Reading on, I was delighted with what David had to say. I thought you might appreciate it, too.

Here you go--David's open letter to retirees back in the States:

"My grandma--Nanaw, as I call her--retired recently for the second time. The first time was from the federal government nearly 15 years ago. More recently, she retired from a voter registrar's office in small-town Virginia.

"Nanaw 'gets' this whole retire overseas beat I'm covering now, but she's got a few years on the average retiree. Plus, she's too drained from the latest election cycle to earnestly consider relocating her life to a new country right now.

"This doesn't stop me from daydreaming about where I'd want her to move--that is, where I'd be most excited about visiting her if she were ever to retire overseas.

"I am 26, which makes me part of the Millennial generation. Sadly, we Millennials struggle to find time to visit dear old grandma and grandpa. I don't make excuses for our behavior, but it occurs to me that I would probably be more likely to visit Nanaw more often if she were enjoying her retirement overseas. What follows, therefore, are five excellent international retirement options, and why, if you move to one of these, you may see much more of your Millennial-generation grandkids.

Italy or France

"Why you'll see more of us: Millennials enjoy food, wine, and high culture.

We're fairly sophisticated, if we do say so ourselves. We're well-educated, and, when given the opportunity, we like to enjoy the finer things in life. So consider a country known for its world-class food, wine, and culture. Italy and France top my list in this regard. Be advised, though: The debt from that art history degree we wound up with is killing us, so you may need to pick up the tab at all café outings we enjoy together. (Side note: our impractical, liberal education is one of the chief reasons we'll appreciate your new home in either Italy or France and look for any chance to visit.)

Belize

"Why you'll see more of us: Millennials need a break.

"Millennials do a pretty good job of managing the vast interconnectedness and dizzying speed of modern life, but it does overwhelm us at times. And I can think of no better place in the world than Belize to get away from it all. How sweet it would be to have an off-the-grid retreat or a Caribbean island hide-a-way in the family to run to whenever the need to unplug the iPad and recharge the soul overtakes us.

Buenos Aires

"Why you'll see more of us: Millennials love cities.

"Millennials are attracted to things they didn't have growing up. As we enter adulthood, we're choosing adventure over safety, connectedness over isolation, convenience over inconvenience, car-independence over car-dependence.

"Put another way: We despise the suburbs from whence we came. Downtown, with its excitement, intimacy, and ease of living, is our preferred habitat. I put Buenos Aires on this list simply because I like it, but you can replace it with any of the world's brand-name cities, and, I promise, the grandkids will show up.

New Zealand

"Why you'll see more of us: Millennials love natural beauty (and hobbits).

"That Millennials are city-dwellers does not preclude an appreciation for natural beauty, particularly the unspoiled variety. Even the least outdoorsy of us loves snapping Facebook-profile-worthy photos in front of striking, natural landscapes. And, thanks to 'The Lord of the Rings' movies, when Millennials think 'striking, natural landscapes," we think New Zealand, and we really want to go.

Thailand

Why you'll see more of us: it's Thailand.

Thailand seems to be either the Millennial's favorite country or at the top of their travel bucket list, so it's a great way to lure the grandkids to you. Bonus: It would be fun for us to say, 'Phuket, I need a vacation; I'm going to visit my grandparents in Thailand!'"

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. What else this week?

"Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
And to anchor at the island when you are old,
Rich with all you have gained on the way,
Not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would never have set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you..."

-- Constantine Cavafy, 1863-1933

 

  • "What are we doing?" Lief asked me yesterday morning as we were dressing for work, rushed, hurried, pulling ourselves together, while, meantime, making breakfast for Jackson, pushing him out the door in time for his school bus, collecting papers we might need in the office, grabbing laptops and cell phones, feeling already that the day was getting away from us, as, frankly, we feel most mornings...

"What?" I asked, barely registering his question, trying to tidy up the bathroom before we headed downstairs and out the door.

"What are we doing, here in Panama?" he asked...

 

  • We write regularly about how much it costs to live overseas, providing detailed budgets for expenses in different locations we recommend around the world.

But...what does it cost to get there in the first place?...

  • In these dispatches, I give a lot of virtual ink to Latin America. That's because it's nearby to North America (where most of our readers currently reside) and because it can be cheap and sunny (two things most would-be expats and retirees abroad actively seek).

But there's a world beyond these Americas that can also offer good weather and a low cost of living...plus, in some cases, some things you won't find here...

  • Latin America Correspondent Lee Harrison writes:

Having lived in both Montevideo, Uruguay, and Medellin, Colombia, I think I can help compare the two...

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

Agricultural land has taken a priority position among real estate investors over the last few years. Yield-generating investments are a critical part of any portfolio right now, and agricultural land not only throws off a yield, but it also can be expected to appreciate in value as arable land around the world becomes scarcer and demand for food increases.

When one mentions growing things in Colombia, the first thing that comes to mind is coca leaves...the raw product for cocaine. While the end product might make some people big bucks, the crop itself doesn't make the farmers much money.

However, Colombia has another major commodity crop: coffee, which offers big potential both short- and long-term.

This country is known for producing some of the best coffee in the world. Surprisingly, though, the industry is not nearly as efficient or as developed as you might expect. There are two major problems. First, the high-quality "specialty" beans are combined with lesser quality ones, at both the picking and the packing stages, meaning the end result is far inferior to what it could be.

In addition, farmers aren't incentivized to care about growing better coffee. They have been trained that they get paid the same going rate for their beans, regardless of the quality, good, bad, or somewhere in between. The local co-ops come around and tell the farmers that they are paying X per pound today...take it or leave it. So the farmers take it and carry on with their farming as best they can. They've got families to feed, after all.

Colleagues who have been researching the coffee business in Colombia have identified some interesting statistics. Colombia has more than a half-million coffee farms. The average size is a bit more than 1.5 hectares (that is, less than 4 acres...or very small). Within those half-million farms are what are referred to as "lots," or areas, of different types and qualities of coffee beans. In total, there are more than 9 million "lots" in Latin America, only 10% of which qualify as specialty lots (that is, high quality). The specialty lots are the good stuff, but, again, most are blended in with everything else, thanks to how the industry works.

Between underutilized land, thanks, in many cases, to farmers not having the money to invest in modern farming methods, and a lack of pricing incentive, a big potential exists to improve both the quantity and the quality of coffee farm production across Colombia. That's the opportunity that the guys behind Coffee Latin America (CLA) have conceived a strategy to take advantage of, a strategy that translates to a chance for you to own your own coffee farm in Colombia, professionally managed by the Coffee Latin America team. It's an opportunity of great interest, I believe, to the individual investor right now, as well as of great benefit to coffee farmers and the entire coffee-growing industry in Colombia.

Here's how this works:

Coffee Latin America identifies farms they believe they can help, by increasing both the yield of the land and the quality of the beans being grown. Investors purchase those farms (or parts of them), and CLA sends in its management team to get to work.

Implementing modern farming techniques--including using fertilizers, organic pesticides, and better planting techniques--CLA expects to be able to increase the average yield of farms from the current less than 50% of maximum potential to a more optimum level over the course of 10 years. Meantime, they will get better quality coffee from the current trees...and new plantings will be of higher-value plants, such as the geisha that Starbucks recently announced being available in some of its high-end stores.

The critical variables in CLA's plan are increasing total farm yield and raising the per-pound price for better-quality beans. Harvesting more coffee is relatively easy--you simply plant more trees. Right now, many farmers don't farm all the land they have available because they just can't afford to. Plants, pesticides, fertilizer...it all costs money.

Raising the coffee price is a less straightforward objective. CLA expects to accomplish this by taking better care of the trees, planting better coffee varietals, and using the direct marketing channels that CLA has created online to support its investment efforts.

The bottom line of all this is a turn-key opportunity for the investor. An investor buys a piece of property that CLA identifies, and CLA's coffee farm management company, Tiera Cafetera (TC), takes over from there. The selling farmer is given the option to continue to work the farm at a decent salary if he likes. TC provides the materials and tools required to improve yields immediately and puts a plan in place to increase the quality of the coffee beans being grown.

The coffee is harvested and packaged for sale through the CLA product chain, which targets both professional and home roaster markets directly, online, providing for an immediate increase in price.

As Colombia places no restrictions on foreign property ownership, you can buy as little or as much land as you like. The minimum investment is currently US$10,000, which buys a half-acre of an active coffee farm. That minimum will go up as CLA finds more farms and will vary depending on the size of farms available.

As the farms being purchased are already producing coffee, cash flow is generated from day one. However, it will take up to a year to make the necessary investments and see the accompanying improvements in yields and quality.

Projections show that investors should begin to receive small cash returns after the first year. As both yields and quality are improved, cash flow should increase, eventually resulting in an annualized return on investment of 19% per year.

Note that, while coffee plants live for up to 40 years, they produce effectively for but up to 12. A regular replanting schedule is required to keep a farm at optimum productivity. The cost of this is factored into the projected returns.

Remember, further, that this is an investment in the land itself. You own the farmland, meaning you could sell it at any time. TC asks a right of first refusal to be able to buy back your coffee farm should you decide to sell, so they can keep the high quality trees they are planting in their retail coffee system. While they can't guarantee they will buy back your farm when you want to sell, you can be sure they will be motivated to try to accommodate.

That said, you should plan to hold your investment for at least five years to allow the cash flow to increase enough to support a sales price that translates to a nice capital gain.

For more details on what I see as a very appealing productive land investment opportunity in a growth market, inquire here.

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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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