"As we made our plan for where to go," Lee remembers, "the reality of what we were doing began to settle in. I was only 49 years old, for crying out loud. What if we ran out of money? I began to worry about being back in the States at age 75 looking for work." Lee spent a lot of time running the numbers and, finally, he and Julie found the courage to make the leap. "We satisfied ourselves," Lee explains, "that, in Cuenca, Ecuador, the city we'd focused on, my pension would allow us to live very comfortably." Lee and Julie were pioneers. Two of the original Cuenca retirees, in 2001 they received Visa 1 and Visa 2 from the New York consulate when they applied for legal Ecuadorean residency. "We lived in Cuenca for nine months before meeting another English-speaking couple," Lee says. "We didn't mind. We were having so much fun taking advantage of all we discovered that Cuenca had to offer. This is a very cultural city, with free symphony events, museums, and annual art shows. "The best news, though, during those early months," Lee continues, "was the realization I had that the cost of living was even lower than I'd estimated. Cuenca enjoys great mountain weather year-round. This means no heat and no air conditioning. I had underestimated the effect of the climate on our overall budget." The cost of living in Cuenca has increased steadily in the dozen years since Lee and Julie first took up residence. Still, this remains one of the most affordable options in the Americas. You can rent an apartment for as little as US$300 per month. More typical is US$500 monthly. Figure a total budget of US$1,200. And you may, indeed, decide to invest in a place of your own. The cost of real estate in this city is one of the greatest bargains in all of Latin America, cheaper than in Montevideo, Uruguay; Medellin, Colombia; Fortaleza, Brazil; Panama City; or most any other Central or South American destination you might consider. You could buy a small city condo for less than US$50,000. Gas, too, is cheap, and Ecuador is a great place for exploring by car. Lee says that he invested in a car soon after making the move, because he and Julie so enjoyed motoring around the country. He advises figuring an additional US$150 per month if you own a car. One thing to remember about Ecuador is that this country uses the U.S. dollar. For an American retiree, this means it's easier to understand what things really cost; it's easier to keep track of what you're really spending, month to month; and, very important, you don't have any currency-exchange risk. You may still have local inflation to contend with, but you won't have to worry about that being compounded when the exchange rate goes against you. Given his extended personal experience living and investing in this country, we're delighted that Lee has agreed to act as host for our upcoming Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference taking place in Quito next month. The Early Bird Discount for this event remains in effect today and tomorrow only. You have until midnight Friday to save up to US$250 when you register. Details on the program we've put together with Lee's help are here. Kathleen Peddicord P.S. Cuenca, Ecuador, home to a big and fast-growing expat community, qualifies as one of the world's top retirement havens and perhaps the best place in the Americas to live well and comfortably on even a very small budget. In this colonial city recently, I filmed a brief video to give you an idea what Cuenca has to offer. Take a look.
Since moving to Cuenca in 2011, Daniel and Sally Ellis have worked part-time, via the Internet, for their old law firm back in New Jersey, advising their former partners in product liability cases. In addition, Sally has continued her sideline art career and has had several exhibitions of her work in local galleries. Daniel says he finally has time to catch up on his reading. Jan and Tom Jeffers divide their time between Cuenca and Fort Lauderdale. Jan says it's important to spend time with the grandchildren, but she also enjoys the expat lifestyle. "It's great that Florida is only four hours away," Jan says, "but we also enjoy our friends in Cuenca and all the cultural activities here." Ralph Winston, who provides computer and Internet services to Cuenca expats, says he is finally able to pursue a lifelong interest in creative writing. Ralph has joined an expat writing group and says he's halfway through his first book. "Who would have thought that, at 60, I would be writing my first novel?" David Morrill Editor's Note: Meet David Morrill and many other of our Ecuador expat friends at this year's Live and Invest in Ecuador Conference taking place in Quito Sept. 17–19. The Early Bird Discount for this event expires this Friday at midnight. That is, you have two more days to save up to US$250 when you register. Do that here now. Or reach our conference team with your questions, toll-free from the United States, at 1-888-627-8834...or, internationally, at +1-443-599-1221.
I've been on the receiving end of the rumor mill in this part of this country. Someone, for example (I can't remember who...doesn't matter), started telling people that Los Islotes doesn't have any roads and never would have any roads. Those statements are out there in the universe now, being repeated and retold, exaggerated and enhanced. They come back to me regularly. What can I do? Nothing. Except point out that, in fact, Los Islotes is crisscrossed by roads that our Project Manager Gary Mosely has spent the past 18 months cutting, covering, and providing drainage for. I suggest to every naysayer that he come down to have a look for himself. Usually, when I do, I don't hear anymore from said naysayer. Because most people spreading rumors aren't interested in knowing the truth. It's more fun to continue the gossip. I spent the past two weeks in Cayo, Belize. Talk about a Coconut Telegraph. This region suffers more than most. The level of gossip at work here is a marvel. And frightening. In fact, San Ignacio and environs suffer from two levels of rumor-mongering...local and expat. The two cross over from time to time. Belize's infrastructure is Third World. Still, somehow, everybody knows everything about everybody else all the time. The less true or more exaggerated the thing, the quicker everyone knows it. Today's Coconut Telegraphs are powered by social media. While I was in Belize last week, someone forwarded me a Facebook posting by a lady who made a specific and hard-to-believe accusation about something someone said. I know the someone being quoted, so I called him. Nope, he had not made the statement being attributed to him, nor had the event during which the statement was supposed to have been said ever taken place. Why did the lady make the post? Who knows. As they say, it's only fun until someone gets hurt. Rumors are no different. For some, gossip is entertainment. For others, the agenda is more malicious. In my experience, in the developing world, rumor and deception are the friend of the con man (or woman). Bring down your legitimate competition, and you can more easily fleece your mark. What's the point for you, as a would-be expat, investor, or businessman overseas? I'd say it's this: While you want feedback from expats already in residence on what it's like living in a place or what you should know before investing there, you must realize that, by tapping into the local expat community for information, you're going to have to wade through all the gossip. Until you know who's who, who you can trust, and who is operating with an agenda, take everything you hear with a grain of salt. You don't want to end up labeled as part of one clique or another until you know who the cool kids are. Lief Simon Editor's Note: Lief Simon writes a twice-weekly dispatch on living, investing, and doing business overseas called Offshore Living Letter. If you're not on the list yet to receive it, get on board here now.
"About a year," she replied with a big smile. "I have to ask," I continued, not wanting to insult but trying to understand, "are you busy? I mean, this isn't a typical Cayo restaurant... and you're not charging typical Cayo prices." The US$2 happy-hour mojito special aside, prices at Fuego are real-world. Main courses are US$8 to US$16, which isn't super expensive but, again, not what you might expect to pay in a restaurant in this part of the world. "I don't mean to imply your prices are expensive," I added quickly, seeing the manager's face fall in response to my question. "I want you to stay open, that's all. I'm wondering if you're finding steady clientele." "Yes, yes," the nice young lady replied, her big smile returning. "We're doing very well. Tourists are finding us, but the locals, too, are eating here. We're the most popular date-night restaurant in all Cayo." San Ignacio also now boasts a pedestrianized thoroughfare lined with boutiques, souvenir shops, tour companies, and real estate agencies. I observe the advent of prominent town-center real estate agencies here with ambivalence. Nice, of course, for would-be buyers to have ready support. On the other hand, the arrival on the scene of foreigner-focused agents indicates the market has moved beyond the nobody's-paying-any-attention point. Still, prices can be absolute bargains, as little as US$1,000 per acre. Young Jackson saw a listing for 16.5 acres on the Belize River for US$22,000 that got his attention. "Do you think Dad would lend me the money to buy that?" he asked. "That's the kind of place I'd like to live..." In other news from Belize, Skype is no longer outlawed. The local phone monopoly, BTL, used to interfere with Skype access. No more. Last year, the Belize government lifted all restrictions on all VOIP services, including Skype. And Internet and cellphone access throughout the Cayo continues to improve. At the jungle resort where we're staying, we are enjoying reliable wireless in the restaurant and bar areas (that supported video chatting with my mom on her birthday) but, alas, no access in the guest cabanas. "We're working on it," the property manager told us when he checked us in. Kathleen Peddicord Editor's Note: Belize is one of the top places in the world right now for an affordable retirement at the center of adventure. But, with the market moving, you need to check it out sooner rather than later. We're opening registration for the Live and Invest in Belize Conference in a few weeks. But today you can get your name on the event's Hot List for special discounts and VIP perks. Do that here now.
And that's what we did. We could have run into trouble, I suppose. We're rarely sure about where danger might lurk. Then again, we had done our pre-prep. We found ourselves in Lviv without plane tickets back to Bangkok, where we wanted to go next. We waited until the last minute before buying. We figured that, with so much average advice on Thailand out there—avoid Bangkok because of the coup, because of lack of civil rights, rains and floods, and so on—ticket prices would come down. When we finally decided to book our flight to Bangkok, flying out of Kiev and over the eastern-Ukraine war zone looked pretty attractive, with reasonable fares and easy access from Lviv. Remember, the Malaysia Air tragedy hadn't happened yet. But Vicki insisted on sticking with first principles. For safety's sake, we avoided Kiev, the pro-Russia areas, and Ukrainian Airlines. In retrospect, the Malaysia Air incident makes us look prescient. But we simply stuck to our game plan. So why were we intent on making our way to Lviv? Lviv offers terrific opportunities as a travel base. We wanted to think about living there part of the year. From Lviv, we can get to six international borders within 200 kilometers: Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. Only Belarus requires visas of Americans. Just a bit farther on and we're in Russia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, even Istanbul. Vicki and I are perpetual travelers. A base for us simply means a place we know well, as opposed to a year-round dwelling. A base offers a retreat from too much new-and-different. Returning to the same place again and again means we can quickly settle into a comfortable daily rhythm. We know where to find the best deals. We return to the same favorite hotel, restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. We usually end up making local friends. Most Westerners can stay in Ukraine for three out of every six months. Then we can travel into the EU for three out of every six months. Or into Romania or Moldova for three out of every six months. Enjoy and repeat. We could make it last forever, the perfect base. We see one major drawback to Lviv: The language uses a different alphabet. We can't even read, much less pronounce, what we see on a menu or map. But we learned to get around the language problem. In my next report, I'll tell you how...and also about Lviv's surprisingly low cost of living. Paul Terhorst Editor's Note: Every month, Paul shares his non-average advice with Overseas Retirement Letter readers in his retirement planning column. Right now, for a very limited time, you can check out our Overseas Retirement Letter for 30 full days, for just 99 cents.
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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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