The final landing place in the New World for Christopher Columbus and his crew in 1493, today the Dominican Republic is a white-sand haven that is surrounded by warm turquoise waters and enjoys year-round sunshine. This affordable island paradise boasts not just beaches—both remote and resort—but also virgin jungle and mountain hideaways (often with ocean views).
The Dominican Republic is the Caribbean but more, a melting pot with an eclectic population and a diverse history informed by Afro-Antillean, European, North American, and Latin cultures. This not-so-little island is one of the most affordable spots in the whole of the Caribbean, a place where you could embrace a white-sand retirement even if your retirement nest egg is nothing more than a monthly Social Security check. If you can swing a travel budget, island-hopping around the Caribbean could be your new retirement hobby from this convenient base.
Prices across the board in the Dominican Republic are more Latin American than they are Caribbean. You could live comfortably in the DR on a budget of $1,200. With a budget of $2,000, you could afford more entertainment and extra household help, for example, and really enjoy the good life. Invest in a place of your own, and your monthly living costs would be much, much less. This is a realistic and appealing option, as property prices in this country are a bargain, certainly relative to elsewhere in the Caribbean. You could buy an apartment for as little as $100,000 or less.
The Dominican Republic makes establishing residency easy, and the country embraces—even rewards through incentives—foreign investors. Residents are eligible for local home financing, can import household goods and a car tax-free, and can qualify for citizenship (and thus a second passport). As a fun bonus, residents pay for higher education in pesos, while nonresidents pay in dollars. If you’re looking to take a class or two in retirement, the cost would be trifling.
In addition, residents can and do work here. Some expats own and operate gyms, hotels, boating and surfing schools, restaurants, boutiques. Others capitalize on skills from previous lives and careers, skills that are often much needed and valued locally (pool building, architecture, mechanics, etc.). Others offer consulting services for overseas clients or run websites with overseas client-bases. These enterprises often fully fund the expat’s local lifestyle.
Where to Live in the Dominican Republic
Samana and Las Terrenas
The Samana Peninsula on the Dominican Republic’s northeast tip managed to stay undiscovered throughout the boom years of the resort towns until 2006. Finally, cruise ships found the small harbor town of Samana on the tip of the peninsula. The development that inevitably followed this huge influx of tourism spread inward from the coast.
Las Terrenas, on the other hand, is still ahead of the development curve, managing to take advantage of the benefits of development without succumbing to short-cuts like Samana town did. The once-village Las Terrenas has just this year really come into its own, now boasting a trifecta of recent improvements that make it the best choice for retirement in the region.
Once a hamlet and still unknown to North Americans, Las Terrenas, Samana, was founded by Europeans looking for a Caribbean getaway in the 1970s. It’s now a vibrant international community with residents hailing from all over the globe, including French, German, Polish, Swiss, Italian, Dutch, and British expats.
The eclectic population means you can find exotic imports from Europe in the supermarkets, freshly made Swiss cheese and German sausage at the local shops, excellent international restaurants, and an active and mixed group of folks to welcome you to their well-established community.
One of the most appealing things about Las Terrenas is the cost of buying beachfront digs of your own. Not only would your Caribbean retirement pad be affordable (you could buy an apartment for less than $100,000), but it would also be rentable, making this an ideal part-time retirement choice. You could rent out your seaside apartment half the year to earn income to supplement your retirement nest egg. Rental yields can average 12 percent per year net.
Another nice thing about Las Terrenas’ long stretches of sandy coastline is that they’re not lined with hotels or massive condo developments. Height restrictions keep buildings at the beach to three and four stories, no higher.
Santiago de los Caballeros, or simply Santiago, is the second-largest city on the island and is a growing urban metropolis with just over 600,000 inhabitants. This is city living, with both the good and the bad that implies. Services (cable TV, wifi, electricity) and amenities are better than in other places, but it can be crowded and noisy. It lacks the beaches preferred by some, but they are only about an hour away by car. The best neighborhoods — those preferred by upper-class Dominicans and foreigners — are those on the northeast side of town.
The North Coast of the Dominican Republic west of Samana is littered with beachfront towns and villages, many of which have developed small pockets of foreign residents. The largest of these towns is Puerto Plata, with dozens of resorts, a small international airport and the only aerial tram in the Caribbean. The nearby town of Sosua is another tourist hotspot that has attracted a fair number of adventurous foreign settlers. Initially settled by German Jews in the early 1940s, it became known as a center of sex tourism in the 1990s and early 2000s before the government went to great lengths to clean things up. It remains fairly risque, however, and some people may be turned off by the seedier side of Sosua — especially after dark. Many of the people who might have settled in Sosua at one point are now in the nearby village of Cabarete, which has become home to a significant number of — primarily European — expatriates. The smallish town fronted by a very long and wide beach is justifiably famous around the world for its kite-surfing conditions. On the west side of Puerto Plata is the small harbor and village of Luperon, which has attracted a number of foreign sailors but still retains much of its Dominican character.
On the Dominican Republic’s southern coast is its capital, Santo Domingo, the largest city in the Caribbean with 1 million residents in the city proper and 3 million if you include the surrounding suburbs. Almost half of the country’s population calls Santo Domingo home. It has a small, well-preserved colonial center, but the rest of the city is decidedly urban. Services and amenities (malls, restaurants, cultural venues, hospitals, schools, etc.) are best here, but the noise and traffic and grime can be overwhelming to some.
Like any major metropolitan city, Santo Domingo is constantly changing. Areas that used to be residential have recently become commercial districts and older areas such as Gazcue and the colonial center are coming back in vogue among foreign investors and buyers. For the past 15 years, however, some of the best residential areas have been Naco, Piantini, Julieta, Bella Vista, Mirador del Sur, Anacaona, Arroyo Hondo, Cuesta Hermosa, Cacicazgos, Gazcue, Paraiso, Castellana, El Millón, Los Pinos and La Julia.
La Romana and Casa de Campo
East of the capital are La Romana and the exclusive, planned community of Casa del Campo — a high-end retirement and expatriate community. The 7,000-acre resort living development, developed in 1975 by the Gulf + Western company, has 1,700 private villas, cabanas, world-class golf courses, and private beaches. With the amenities, however, come much higher prices than just about anywhere else in the Dominican Republic — homes for sale start at about $500,000 and reach as high as $30 million. Outside of Casa de Campo is very Dominican town of La Romana, where prices are much more reasonable. The city has long been a favorite of weekenders from the capital and is quickly coming into its own with a $300-million dollar seaside development is underway.
Jarabacoa has long been known to locals as a favorite vacation spot — mainly because it’s much cooler at higher altitudes in the central mountain range than anywhere else in the country. Mean temperatures here tend to be in the upper 60s F (20° C) during the winter months and the mid-70s F (24° C) during the summer months. Jarabacoa is perfect for those who are looking for a simple life away from the city and for those who love the outdoors as the region is teeming with hiking trails, river treks, and breathtaking waterfalls.