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The two countries share many similarities, and Nicaragua has the specter of the Sandinistas hanging over it. Still, it was Nicaragua, not Costa Rica that captured my heart. I was completely infatuated by this little country with such a troubled past, and I remain so. Every visit, I'm won over again. Everywhere I travel in Nicaragua, I find something that pleases me—the red-tile roofs and blue and white church steeples of colonial Granada...the glass-still surface of crater lake Apoyo as it appears from the deck of my little house on the mountainside...the barefoot children playing and laughing in Granada's central plaza...the sounds of the horses' hoofs as they pull their carriages along Granada's cobblestoned streets...

These things can't be quantified. You can't plug "classic colonial architecture" into a formula in a spreadsheet. But these can be the things that matter most. How will you know where in the world you should think about spending your time and your money? You'll just know.

The French speak of the coup de coeur, the blow to your heart you feel at certain times in your life—when, say, shopping for a new house. It's the sudden certainty that this place is it, this place is right. I'm a big believer in the importance of the coup de coeur when shopping for a new country, as well.

So, while, every day, we approach this how to retire overseas question scientifically, making lists and drawing comparisons, in the end, the decision as to where to launch your new life overseas is at least as emotional as it is intellectual or financial, for a place can make perfect sense on paper but appeal not at all in person.

That's why, at some point in your research process, you've got to get on a plane. Do the soul-searching to understand what you're looking for in your new life in retirement overseas. Identify the pluses and the minuses of the world's most appealing overseas retirement havens, as we detail them for you day-by-day in these dispatches. Identify the two or three or four countries that could be the overseas Shangri-la you seek. Then plan an extended visit in each country you think might work for you, staying on, if possible, through the least-agreeable time of year—the hurricane season, the rainy season, the peak tourist season, or the off-season, after all the tourists have gone home and nearly every shop, cafe, and restaurant in town has shut its doors until they return.

No amount of Internet research, reading, or planning can substitute for traveling around a place yourself. You've got to walk the streets, to watch the sunsets, and to meet the people. And, when you do, listen to your gut. Sometimes you'll know within 24 hours of arriving in a country. If you walk out on the street in a new place and feel safe, welcome, and comfortable, then that place could be for you.

We didn't choose Waterford, Ireland, for our first international move. It was chosen for us by my employers at the time. And we didn't visit for an extended time before we made the leap, because we didn't have time to. My husband, my daughter, and I visited for two two-week planning trips, once in July and again in September, then we arrived as full-time residents in Waterford in November.

The first couple of months living overseas is the honeymoon period. The people, the landscape, the view from your bedroom window are all new, exotic, and interesting. Nothing is cliché. You're fully occupied and engaged learning your way around and establishing yourself. After two or three months, though, your surroundings are more familiar. You've developed habits of day-to-day living, and you're able to relax a little. Suddenly, your new life isn't so much exotic and interesting as it is foreign and frustrating. You begin to miss the folks back home. By now you've made new friends in your new home, but your points of common interest are perhaps limited. They don't think like you. They don't talk like you. They don't do things the way you do them.

So it was for us when we moved to Waterford. By February, I was sad. Indescribably sad for no reason I could identify. We were comfortable in our rental cottage on the river. Kaitlin was doing well in school. Our office was established, and our daily commute was a pleasant 15-minute walk into town. All was well, but I was, frankly, miserable.

Then we took a trip to Nicaragua. After a few days on that country's sunny south Pacific coast, my sadness disappeared. What was going on?

The Irish winter. Though I'd traveled in Ireland for years, I'd never lived through an Irish winter. Some days, wintertime in Ireland, the sun rises after 9 a.m. and sets before 4 in the afternoon. In between the hours of 9 and 4, it's typically gray, drizzly, overcast, and damp.

Ireland can be a great place to call home, but before you commit to retirement in the Auld Sod, experience it in winter. Spend time in the country in January and February. Or don't. Ireland is one place that can make good sense as a part-time retirement haven. You could retire to Ireland each summer then spend your winters someplace bright and sunny. That was our strategy. After our first long winter in Waterford, we escaped to the tropics every December and returned to the Emerald Isle early March, just in time to appreciate Irish spring and summer.

Kathleen Peddicord

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I have no idea. Only you can make these determinations. It's a matter of knowing yourself. Relocating overseas can reduce your cost of living (maybe dramatically). It can mean better weather, a healthier lifestyle, a reduced tax burden, more interesting neighbors, little luxuries you can't afford back home (a full-time housekeeper, a gardener, even a driver, for example), and a generally enriched quality of life.

But none of that may compensate for an unreliable Internet connection if you like to day-trade your portfolio. For you, cheap organic produce at the local market may not make up for other realities of life in the world's developing regions--slow service, for example, or repairmen who promise to return mañana to finish the fix to your broken toilet or your leaking roof, only never to be seen nor heard from again.

For the past quarter-century, I've spent much of my time in the developing world. At this point, it takes an extraordinary frustration or disappointment to get a rise out of me. Ordinary frustrations and disappointments, of which there are many, every day, pass unnoticed.

That said, I have limits, and I'm sure you do, too. What would you find intolerable? What challenges would make you crazy? Approach it this way: Make a list of everything that's important to you. Big things, little things, silly things...

After all this time tromping around emerging markets, I have a list. I'm a little embarrassed to speak publicly of some of the things on it, but, in the spirit of helping you identify your own breaking points, I share it here, in full:

  • I must have a dishwasher in the kitchen. You can't take these for granted in much of Latin America...nor, in fact, could you in Ireland when we first moved there 15 years ago. Here in Panama, for example, not every plumber will know how to install one. It was a two-week ordeal to have one specially installed in our home in Marbella...
  • When it comes to doing laundry, I'm Maytag's biggest fan. That is to say, Americans make the best washing machines and dryers in the world. Having experimented with many other approaches to washing and drying clothes, I've decided it's worth the investment to buy U.S. when it comes to doing-laundry appliances...
  • I like to eat out regularly, and I appreciate good food and good service...
  • I enjoy good wine...
  • I like museums and live theater...
  • I'm infatuated by old buildings, renovation challenges, and historic cities, no matter how down-at-the-heels, the way some women are attracted to shoe stores...
  • I like to walk and am happiest living in a place where the easiest way to get around is using my own two feet...
  • I enjoy picnics in the park on the weekend...
  • I like flea markets and antique furniture...
  • I want to live within an hour's drive of the international airport...
  • I need regular sunshine, and I don't like cold weather...

You get the idea.

Now, here's another list...of things I don't mind but that you might. These are the kinds of challenges, nuisances, and frustrations you could reasonably expect to encounter once you leave developed-world living behind. These are the kinds of things I've come to take in stride:

  • Car horns, fireworks, barking dogs, blaring boom boxes, and other affronts to public quiet...
  • Taxis with broken door handles and no taillights...
  • Bugs at the beach and snakes in the jungle...
  • Broken sidewalks and pot-holed highways...
  • Dirt roads that become impassable and rivers that flood their banks in the rainy season...
  • Paying more for imported comfort foods (including French cheeses and Spanish hams, for example...which, yes, are available here in Panama's capital city)...
  • Communicating in a language that I don't really speak...
  • Drivers who've never been introduced to the rules of the road and pedestrians, sometimes on horseback, who think they rule the road...
  • Plus servicemen who show up late or not at all...tradesmen who miss appointments...waiters who forget the starter course...cooks who don't know the difference between a 2-minute egg and a 14-minute egg...people who give directions with confidence when, in fact, they have no idea how to get where you're trying to go...

Etc.

It's all part of the day-to-day here in paradise.

Kathleen PeddicordContinue Reading:

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"But those aren't the reasons I recommend Nicaragua over its neighbor to the south to anyone who asks or why I chose to focus my time and attention in Nicaragua years ago, when I could as easily have based myself in Costa Rica. Nicaragua simply appealed to me more," Jeff explains, "for reasons that I have trouble explaining."

I knew what he meant. I visited Costa Rica for the first time more than 25 years ago. I've returned probably 25 times since. Its Pacific coast is beautiful, as is its mountainous interior. Great surfing, great bird-watching, great boating, great fishing...Costa Rica has all these things. When I first traveled to this country, it was also very affordable and boasted the world's premier foreign retiree program. Still, I didn't get it. I could list out the advantages and benefits of living in Costa Rica, but I couldn't make myself want to live there.

Then, a few years later, I traveled to Nicaragua. I knew within a few hours of wandering around colonial Granada that this was a place I wanted to return to. This was a place I could call home, for visiting it for the first time felt like coming home.

The two countries share many similarities, and Nicaragua has the specter of the Sandinistas hanging over it. Still, it was Nicaragua, not Costa Rica that captured my heart. I was completely infatuated by this little country with such a troubled past, and I remain so. Every visit, I'm won over again. Everywhere I travel in Nicaragua, I find something that pleases me--the red tile roofs and blue and white church steeples of colonial Granada...the glass-still surface of crater lake Apoyo as it appears from the deck of my little house on the mountainside...the barefoot children playing and laughing in Granada's central plaza...the sounds of the horses' hoofs as they pull their carriages along Granada's cobblestoned streets...

These things can't be quantified. You can't plug "classic colonial architecture" into a formula in a spreadsheet. But these can be the things that matter most. How will you know where in the world you should think about spending your time and your money? You'll just know. The French speak of the coup de coeur, the blow to your heart you feel at certain times in your life--when, say, shopping for a new house. It's the sudden certainty that this place is it, this place is right. I'm a big believer in the importance of the coup de coeur when shopping for a new country, as well.

So, while, every day, we approach this how to retire overseas question scientifically, making lists and drawing comparisons, in the end, the decision as to where to launch your new life overseas is at least as emotional as it is intellectual or financial, for a place can make perfect sense on paper but appeal not at all in person.

That's why, at some point in your research process, you've got to get on a plane. Do the soul-searching to understand what you're looking for in your new life in retirement overseas. Identify the pluses and the minuses of the world's most appealing overseas retirement havens, as we detail them for you day-by-day in these dispatches. Identify the two or three or four countries that could be the overseas Shangri-la you seek. Then plan an extended visit in each country you think might work for you, staying on, if possible, through the least-agreeable time of year--the hurricane season, the rainy season, the peak tourist season, or the off-season, after all the tourists have gone home and nearly every shop, café, and restaurant in town has shut its doors until they return.

No amount of Internet research, reading, or planning can substitute for traveling around a place yourself. You've got to walk the streets, to watch the sunsets, and to meet the people. And, when you do, listen to your gut. Sometimes you'll know within 24 hours of arriving in a country. If you walk out on the street in a new place and feel safe, welcome, and comfortable, then that place could be for you.

We didn't choose Waterford, Ireland, for our first international move. It was chosen for us by my employers at the time. And we didn't visit for an extended time before we made the leap, because we didn't have time to. My husband, my daughter, and I visited for two two-week planning trips, once in July and again in September, then we arrived as full-time residents in Waterford in November.

The first couple of months living overseas is the honeymoon period. The people, the landscape, the view from your bedroom window are all new, exotic, and interesting. Nothing is cliché. You're fully occupied and engaged learning your way around and establishing yourself. After two or three months, though, your surroundings are more familiar. You've developed habits of day-to-day living, and you're able to relax a little. Suddenly, your new life isn't so much exotic and interesting as it is foreign and frustrating. You begin to miss the folks back home. By now you've made new friends in your new home, but your points of common interest are perhaps limited. They don't think like you. They don't talk like you. They don't do things the way you do them.

So it was for us when we moved to Waterford. By February, I was sad. Indescribably sad for no reason I could identify. We were comfortable in our rental cottage on the river. Kaitlin was doing well in school. Our office was established, and our daily commute was a pleasant 15-minute walk into town. All was well, but I was, frankly, miserable.

Then we took a trip to Nicaragua. After a few days on that country's sunny south Pacific coast, my sadness disappeared. What was going on?

The Irish winter. Though I'd traveled in Ireland for years, I'd never lived through an Irish winter. Some days, wintertime in Ireland, the sun rises after 9 a.m. and sets before 4 in the afternoon. In between the hours of 9 and 4, it's typically gray, drizzly, overcast, and damp.

Ireland can be a great place to call home, but before you commit to retirement in the Auld Sod, experience it in winter. Spend time in the country in January and February. Or don't. Ireland is one place that makes good sense as a part-time retirement haven. You could retire to Ireland each summer then spend your winters someplace bright and sunny. That was our strategy. After our first long winter in Waterford, we escaped to the tropics every December and returned to the Emerald Isle early March, just in time to appreciate Irish spring and summer.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. I promised two important things I've learned in almost 15 years as an American abroad. Part 2 coming soon.Continue Reading:

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I held out my packages for his inspection, but he seemed reluctant to take them from me.

"Lo siento, pero..."

"He's asking what's in the bags," came a woman's voice from behind me. "He wants to know what you bought."

"Oh. Serving bowls and platters."

The woman spoke in Spanish to the young man. They jabbered back and forth a few times. Then the young man smiled and waved me on.

"Muchas gracias, señora," I smiled to the woman.

"You're very welcome," she smiled back.

I've maintained for years that it's possible to get along in Panama City without speaking Spanish. I know it's possible, because I'm doing it.

Sometimes readers and friends who come to visit chastise me: "You said that people in Panama City speak English. That's not true!"

Well, I didn't say that every single inhabitant of Panama City speaks English...but, again, in my more than 12 years of experience spending time and now living here full-time, enough of them speak enough English that those of us who don't manage to master their language can get by.

Years ago, when we shared the news with friends and family that we were planning a move from Waterford, Ireland, to Paris, France, some replied to say:

"Paris! Why would you want to live in Paris? The French are so rude, and they don't like Americans."

We ignored those claims...and so should you. Sure, some French are rude...just as some people everywhere are rude. In fact, though, as a group, the French are probably more polite than most.

Do they really dislike Americans? Not in my experience. In the four years we spent in Paris, I had not a single encounter to support that claim. I made French friends who were interested in my point of view...just as I was keen to know what they thought about things and how they viewed the world.

Much of your experience of a place develops from what you bring to the place.

And, bottom line, it's only your own experience that matters.

If you move to Panama City, say, or to Paris, don't expect everyone you meet to speak English. Many do, but you can't count on it. If you're not up for the challenge (and the frustrations) of living in a place where the people speak a different language than you do...don't move to a non-English-speaking country.

"How can you stand Panama City?" some people ask us now. "It's so hot."

"How can you stand living in Ireland?" people asked us regularly throughout the seven years we lived full-time on the Emerald Isle. "It's so gray and damp. And isn't Waterford boring?"

If you don't like hot, don't move to the tropics. If you don't like gray, drizzly, and chilly, don't move to the UK or Ireland. If you want the diversions of a big city, don't move to...

You get the idea.

As a theoretical matter, I don't like gray, drizzly, and chilly, at least not all the time. But I remember fondly our years enjoying quiet Irish country life.

And, sure, it'd be nice if Panama City were a bit cooler and a little less humid...

No place is perfect. It's all about what you're not willing to put up with.

I'd say that unsafe is unacceptable. Beyond that, you have to make your own choices.

Boquete, Panama, has for years been touted as one of the best places in the world for retirement living, with near perfect weather. A friend in the country last week visited...and decided to change her plans after two hours in the place.

"It was windy and chilly," she reported. "I couldn't wait to get out. I'd intended to stay a night or two, but, after walking around the town for a couple of hours, I just didn't get it. So I got back in my car and drove on."

Does that mean you should take Boquete off your list?

Does it mean that the weather in Boquete is always windy and cold?

No...and no.

It means, again, you have to make your own judgments.

You've got to find a way to filter and process all the conflicting information you're going to hear and read about any place you might be considering.

Ireland is cold and damp. France is a maddening place to try to do business. Panama City is hot and dirty.

On the other hand, it's hard to beat green and rolling Irish hills as a first view of the day outside your bedroom window.

Paris is the most beautiful, romantic city on this earth.

Panama City is a frontier of opportunity as we move through 2012.

But here's the real point: Don't take my word (or anyone else's) for any of it.

Get up and get moving. Go see for yourself. Then make up your own mind.

Kathleen PeddicordContinuing Reading:

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If you're moving with children, international-standard schooling options are the make-or-break issue (Panama and Colombia offer great choices in the Americas).

But what if you're not limited in any of these ways? What if you're not restricted by cost of living or health issues or school-aged children or the need (or desire) to start a business and earn a living?

Well, then, you could go anywhere.

And that's the trouble.

What do I suggest?

"Your Latin America Correspondent Lee Harrison has almost convinced me to choose Uruguay, at least as a first move," wrote a friend earlier this week.

"My father has some relatives in Montevideo, and I've made a couple of Internet friends there, so I know a few people already..."

That's what I suggest.

Open your mind and cast your net. Read these dispatches (every day!). Join country-specific yahoo groups. Read books by those who've done what you're thinking about doing. (Of course I'd recommend mine, "How To Retire Overseas," published by Penguin and available on Amazon.)

Explore the possibilities until you find a place that catches your fancy.

Friend and part-time Nicaragua expat Jay Snyder explains that he was inexplicably drawn to Central America. The places he read about in that part of the world captured his imagination, and he wanted to know them firsthand.

Friend and full-time Colombia expat Rich Holman says that, after decades of hard work building a career in the United States...then a difficult divorce...Medellin offered him a chance to start over in a place that is friendly, welcoming, lively, interesting, and, important for Rich, bursting with opportunity for the would-be entrepreneur.

Expat friends in Paris moved from the States to Paris years ago (and stayed), because, well, it's Paris.

Another friend has settled on the west coast of the Azuero peninsula because he likes to fish (and the fishing in that part of Panama is among the best in the world).

When she and her husband launched new lives on Ambergris Caye, Belize, Correspondent Ann Kuffner fulfilled a lifelong dream to live someplace where she could scuba dive every day.

I've known artists who were drawn to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico...enthusiasts of the Great Outdoors who chose New Zealand...wine-lovers who settled in Mendoza, Argentina (and love it)...

Intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst thrives on exploration and discovery. So he hasn't settled anywhere. He and his wife Vicki have been perpetual retirees for more than two-and-a-half decades, moving from country to country and from continent to continent as their wanderlust inspires them.

Likewise, Lief and I don't think we'd be happy living in any one place for the duration. Our ultimate retirement plan is to follow the seasons each year, moving among the places where we most enjoy spending time (springtime in Paris...summer in Istria, Croatia...September to November in Medellin, Colombia...and on Panama's Azuero Peninsula during the U.S. winter).

What's your passion?

If you could fill your days any way you wanted...what would you do? If you could have any view you imagined outside your bedroom window...what would it look like?

Start there.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. If you could use a little help kick-starting your imagination, meet me and more than four-dozen of my closest friends and most valued correspondents and advisors in Scottsdale, Arizona, later this month for our three-day Retire Overseas Conference, during which we'll walk attendees through the thinking involved with identifying where best in the world you should think about launching your new life overseas.

Full details are here.Continuing Reading:

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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.

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