How about three months in Chiang Mai, where your retirement budget would stretch far indeed, followed by a few months in the south of France, say, or Tuscany? Which brings us to Europe. Most would-be retirees abroad dismiss Europe as too expensive, but this isn't necessarily the case. Sure, a retiree on a modest budget probably can't afford Paris or Florence, but have you considered southwestern France, where life is quintessentially French but, as well, surprisingly affordable, or Pisa, about an hour from Michelangelo's hometown but dramatically less costly? One of the big advantages of Europe, compared with other regional retire-overseas options, is the opportunity it affords for what a friend last week referred to as "high culture." Every country in the world has local culture, but not everywhere has world-class museums, opera, and live theater, for example. If you're interested in a life that includes what are conventionally recognized as cultural offerings of the high-brow variety, you should be looking to the Continent. Which is not to say it's impossible to enjoy an Old World Continental lifestyle anywhere else. Some cities in South America offer a fair imitation—Buenos Aires, for example, and Medellin, Colombia, to name two. Both are cities of open-air cafes, classic-style museums and theaters, art galleries and antique shops. And both, you'll note, are in South America, not Central America. The differences between these two regions, even between Panama and Colombia, next-door neighbors, can be striking. I'm speaking generally and could name exceptions to every point, but, again, generally speaking, South America offers what I'd call more polished options, a good place to look if what you want is culture on the cheap. Central America, by contrast, is, everywhere, rough around the edges. These are small, developing countries with nonexistent budgets for things like art museums. Making for a way of life that is, for some, charming. Romantics (like me) in Central America focus on the potential for what could be rather than the reality of what sometimes is. Others find Central America frustrating, disappointing, even appalling. On the other hand, this sun-blessed region can be but a quick plane hop away and a user-friendly place to establish foreign residency... Pluses and minuses...give and take. Kathleen Peddicord P.S. We'll be doing a lot of this kind of comparative analysis, region by region and country by country, during our Retire Overseas Conference in Nashville next month (Aug. 29–31). This one-of-a-kind program, the biggest retire-overseas event of the year, will focus on the top 21 retirement havens right now, the whole world considered. You have one week remaining to register taking advantage of the Early Bird Discount. More here.
The couple faces a second major expense, too—health insurance back in the United States. Many expats keep their U.S. insurance just in case, especially if they plan to visit the United States from time to time. Let's say U.S. health insurance for a couple in their 50s comes to US$500 each per month, or US$1,000 monthly for the two of them. In addition, they'll have to come up with co-pays, deductibles, and other health-related out-of-pocket costs. Again, we're making assumptions, but it's easy to imagine this couple's medical costs associated with their time in the United States exceeding US$15,000 a year. Those medical costs will likely go up under Obamacare. Insurance companies already predict big increases, especially for individuals (as opposed to groups). And Obamacare requires minimum standards of coverage, co-pays, deductibles, and so on, depending on the plan you choose. The low-cost, high-deductible plan that costs only US$500 a month might disappear. Note that we're assuming this couple of retirees is younger than 65. After age 65, most Americans would be covered by Medicare during trips back to the United States. (Medicare doesn't cover medical costs overseas, but I recommend keeping it even if you do retire overseas as a back-up.) What's the bottom line of all this? Every year our Seattle couple might spend US$15,000 or more on travel to the United States, plus US$15,000 or more on U.S. health insurance (at least until they reach Medicare age). They could easily find that these costs, US$30,000 in total, exceed the cost savings of moving to Ecuador in the first place. So what to do? Expats and retirees overseas can easily get around these two big costs by skipping those trips back home and by opting for medical care abroad, which can be significantly, dramatically less expensive than coverage in the States. We know retired expats on strict budgets who do exactly that. Many of us, though, want the freedom to travel back to the United States to see the grandkids, attend a wedding or two, visit the old neighborhood and friends, whatever. In that case we should be realistic about what we'll spend on travel and, if we're under age 65, on health insurance. Otherwise, travel to the States and health insurance while in the United States could easily be the two biggest costs in an overseas retirement. This isn't a reason not to retire overseas, of course. It's a reality check to help with your retire overseas budget planning. Kathleen Peddicord P.S. We'll discuss more on how you can best prepare yourself for your new life overseas—and introduce you to our top retirement havens (all 21 of them), along with the people on the ground who can help make your dream a reality—at our Retire Overseas Conference, coming up Aug. 29–31 in Nashville, Tennessee. This is the only time this year we'll run this event. Grab your seat here.
A poll conducted by Ecuador's expat link GringoTree asked foreign residents who moved to the country before Correa took office in 2007 if they supported the amendment that would allow him to run again. Of the 19 long-time expats who responded, 14 said yes, although many of those had reservations. When asked if Correa has improved their lives as expats, 18 of 19 said yes. One respondent who described himself as a libertarian said that things were "definitely" better because of Correa. "Ten years ago, the highways were full of potholes, you had to keep a generator for when the electric service went down, the campesinos were blocking the highways with protests, hospitals were in bad repair, and sometimes you had to bribe government employees to do any official business—basically, it was typical banana republic business as usual. That's mostly all changed. Today, the main highways are good and there are no protests blocking them, hospitals are a lot better, you can get things done with the government without paying off somebody. Public services in general are better too." The respondent, a Cuenca expat, added: "Even though I worry that Correa is making Ecuador a 'nanny state,' I understand there are lots of poor, uneducated people who may need a nanny. They've been screwed over for years and now things are better and I've come to understand that it's in my best interest if the poor folks are happy." One expat from Quito admitted that she has serious reservations about "life-time presidents, a la Venezuela and Nicaragua. On the other hand, I worry about someone from the 'old guard' being elected again and the country going back to the way it was before. There have been so many improvements and I would hate to see those stop." Others reported that they benefit directly from new programs introduced during the Correa administration. "My husband and I joined the new social security health plan and pay about $80 a month," said one respondent. "We had to use the services of our local clinic two times and the services were very good. Before Correa, we always worried about what we'd do if one of us had a serious health problem. Now we don't." The main complaint about Correa from several of those answering the survey was the rapid growth of government and what they considered "overreach" in some cases. "I don't like all the government authority going to Quito and I don't like all the socialist jargon," said an expat from Loja who has lived in the country for 22 years. "But I also know that I need to focus on the things that are important to me personally, like property rights, taxes, personal liberties, and infrastructure. Those things are all good in Ecuador." He added: "I have to ask myself the question you hear in the U.S. elections, 'Are you better off today than you were four years ago?' Or, in the case of Ecuador, seven years ago. My answer is yes, absolutely." David Morrill Editor's Note: Ecuador is the top place in the world right now to retire well on a very limited budget...even to live the adventure of your lifetime on a Social Security check alone. If you're serious about this part of the world, don't miss our upcoming Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference. Registration is now open (with an easy payment plan)…
Medical care is practiced almost entirely in public, government-run hospitals. As a foreigner, there are two choices: you can pay a steep price to go to one of the few private, English- or French-speaking hospitals or, if you have a Vietnamese interpreter, you can go with them to a government hospital and receive ridiculously inexpensive tests and treatments. The doctors, at least in Hanoi, are skilled regardless of the hospital you attend—and the government hospitals have modern equipment and competent technicians. Whether you're Vietnamese or a foreigner, medical care in government hospitals is inexpensive but not free. An X-ray costs about US$1.50, an ultrasound is less than US$5, and a consultation with a physician costs about US$4. The staff are all government employees—even the physicians earn meager government wages. The care at the public hospitals in Hanoi has improved to the point where most illnesses and injuries can be treated in the city. We're often asked what it's like living in a police state. It's a common misperception that a communist country is the same as a police state. Vietnam doesn't have a totalitarian dictatorship, nor does it have a military government. It has a president and a cabinet with powers and problems that are similar to those of so-called democratic governments. There aren't federal elections—the president is chosen by the Communist Party—but there are local elections. What you don't see in Vietnam are CCTV and red light cameras, signs everywhere announcing prohibitions and fines, or any overt police presence. You'll see traffic police but rarely, if ever, see police on the beat or patrolling neighborhoods. They don't even carry guns. The police presence isn't just subdued. In many places, it's practically nonexistent. People will ask us if we feel as though we're being watched by the government. The answer to that is a resounding "no." We are monitored much less closely than we were in the United States. Here, if anything, we're watched less than the locals... Take driving a motorbike for instance. International drivers' licenses are not recognized here. Few foreigners (or Vietnamese, for that matter) go to the trouble of trying to navigate the bureaucracy to get a Vietnamese license, and the police are well aware of it. But this rarely creates any problem, because the police don't stop foreigners unless they can explain to them—in their language—why they're being cited. Since few police speak English—and even fewer speak other languages—they simply turn the other way when they see a foreigner driving. In all fairness, the Vietnamese police will stop Vietnamese. And Vietnamese citizens must adhere to certain laws and regulations that do not affect foreigners. If they want to move from their town or city to another part of the country, it involves a lot of red tape. And, of course, they can't have more than two children. But as foreigners, these restrictions don't affect us. Vietnam falls short on political rights and civil liberties, but this doesn't affect expats who wisely stay away from the local political scene. As foreigners living here, we have no problem accessing any news or social network website—though if this ever became an issue, we could always use a VPN. Censorship is minimal. There are churches and temples throughout the country and we are free to practice any religion we choose. Yes, there is corruption, but this isn't something that's exclusive to communism. And again, as foreigners, it doesn't affect us. We don't have to budget for bribes. The Vietnam that existed in the 1960s and early 1970s only exists in memories. The country has moved on toward a much brighter future. According to the Global Peace Index, Vietnam is the 45th most peaceful country in the world (as a point of reference, the United States ranks in the 101st position). According to HSBC Holdings, Vietnam is among the most optimistic countries in the world in terms of business expectations. What's it like to live here as a foreigner? It feels extraordinarily free. The government sincerely wants Vietnam to attract more tourists, and it has taken measures to see that foreigners who come here want to return again and again. From our perspective, it's an extremely foreigner-friendly country. It's exciting to be here as we watch the country emerging from the grips of war and economic depression to join the global community. As foreigners living in Vietnam, we can say, in all honesty, that its "communist" status is a nonissue. Wendy Justice
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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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