Retirement In Mexico Vs Panama

“Kathleen, great advice in your article of Puerto Vallarta. I have a couple of friends who purchased in Nuevo Vallarta and live there part-time. Your points on the cost versus the lifestyle are perfect. Yes, it is today living at better value than anything comparable in the States.

“My wife and I have lost our chance since the abrupt crash of our real estate holdings. Still, our goal is to make it to southwest Mexico or Panama. We do prefer the Pacific Ocean. I am told that Huatulco, Mexico, is a small version of Puerto Vallarta. We may consider there, too.

“I am familiar with the future of Panama’s western Pacific, but I think that is more in the future, as you suggest. At our age (in our mid-70s), my wife and I are looking for more amenities.

“Keep up the great work.”

–John M., United States


“Low cost of living in Uruguay? Are you kidding? Have you actually visited lately?

“I have been living here for the past three years. Properties are unaffordable, food prices are sky-high, gas is US$7 a gallon, and you cannot buy a used car for less than US$5,000.

“The food is tasteless, and, to eat at a restaurant, you better like meat…and have at least US$50 in your pocket. (Credit cards are rarely accepted and if so only Visa.)

“Punta del Este is only for the very rich and famous. If you don’t own your own private jet, forget about staying overnight or even for a bite to eat!

“Yes, the beaches are beautiful and go on and on, but the mail service all depends on if the guy delivering it, whether his moto is working …and if the ladies in the office are working that day, too!

“Do not even try have something shipped Fed Ex, DHL, or UPS, as customs will put you through the gauntlet of greasing one palm after another to get your package.

“There are far better places to visit, especially if you like to eat. Uruguay is far from being an exciting culinary country to visit.”

–Linda C., Uruguay

Latin America Correspondent and part-time Uruguay resident Lee Harrison replies:

You raise a couple of good points, starting with the cost of living.

When I came to Uruguay in 2004, the country genuinely qualified as a budget destination, thanks to the super exchange rate between the Uruguay peso and the U.S. dollar. But, as I mentioned in my recent update, this is no longer the case. Prices today are on par with prices many places in the United States. But as I also mentioned in my recent report, that’s not why most expats are coming to Uruguay. This country is more popular than ever among expats (we had more than 100 at the Punta del Este meeting last Monday), but cost of living is no longer the primary motivator.

That said, I think the cost of living is reasonable for the quality of life we Uruguay expats enjoy.

Property prices aren’t too bad, either. My neighbor just sold his house (two bedrooms, two baths), just three blocks from the beach, for US$140k. Houses aren’t a bad deal…condos are about twice the price per square meter.

As to the food, I’ll disagree. I’ve found dozens of fantastic restaurants hidden among the neighborhoods of Punta Carretas and Pocitos (in Montevideo), as well as dozens more in Punta del Este. A few of them qualify as world-class. The meats, seafood, and shellfish–even sushi–are great…but, as you say, veggies are scarce. I think the last string bean I saw was in New York, circa 2001.

I can’t comment on the mail delivery outside Punta del Este. During six years in Ecuador, I never missed a piece of mail, that I know of. In Punta, I’m happy with 75% deliverability. People are moving to Uruguay in record numbers…but they’re not coming for the mail delivery. If the day’s carrier is not sure where my house is (the houses have no numbers), he seems to choose someone else in the neighborhood with blue eyes or a fair complexion and give my mail to him.

But you can’t compare the Uruguayan mail system with DHL or FedEx; those guys are worse. For a recent delivery via DHL (third-day delivery that cost the sender US$85), I called repeatedly to follow up. After two weeks, I finally drove to the country’s capital to pick up the package myself. First-class mail gets here quicker (when it gets here). So, yes, don’t come to Punta for the express mail delivery either.

But you’re a little off-base with your perception of the rich and famous in Punta del Este. We’ve got Shakira and Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man…they qualify. But most of us are average retirees or middle-class Uruguayans. In fact, there’s one poor family at the end of my block that doesn’t even own a private jet…I’m almost sure they’re leasing theirs.

Seriously, aside from the mail and the lack of string beans, I find life in Uruguay hard to beat. I went to an Armenian restaurant last night, and came away with a half-dozen new friends…including the head of the consulate. The singing, music, and dancing went on well after closing and into the wee hours.

I like walking my Golden Retriever on the beach at sunrise… I like the banking system and the fact that I don’t pay income tax in Uruguay…I like being under the world’s radar and out of the world’s conflicts…and I like the abundant water and no natural disasters. It’s great that the restaurants are all open after midnight if I impulsively decide to go out. I love the fact that water and wine are the same price at lunch. And there’s no snow…

These days, such a package is hard to find.

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