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Build For US$10 A Square Foot

Build For US$10 A Square Foot

“A typical meal in a local restaurant here is rice with a half-dozen little dishes of beans, sauce, veggies, and so on, some fiery and others cool,” writes far-roving Correspondent Paul Terhorst this morning, still hot on the trail of exotic and extraordinarily affordable retirement opportunities in India (yes, India).

“The waiter comes around every now and again with more of everything; eat all you want. Cost comes to about 50 U.S. cents for this, the vegetarian version. Meat is served as a side dish, chicken, fish, or mutton (goat meat), in most cases fried or stewed in a sauce. You can tell the waiter which you want, or, more likely, he’ll tell you what’s available.

“In fact, that’s how you order. You walk in to what looks like it might be a restaurant and say ‘chicken.’ The locals find someone who speaks a little English. The guy shows up and says ‘Okay,’ for example, or ‘No, no chicken. Fish.’ That’s it, you’ve just ordered lunch.

“Additional cost for the chicken, fish, or mutton: another 50 U.S. cents. My favorite has been the fish. Keralans cook it in coconut milk, often with red paprika-like local spices. They fry it, put it on a barbecue, or roast it in a clay oven. Whatever, it comes out light, flakey, and tender. The buttery fish flavor comes through, never overwhelmed by the spices. Delicious. They do it right a hundred times out of a hundred. I think every seafood house in the world should hire a Keralan chef.

“This lndian food has little in common with what you’re used to as ‘Indian food’ in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. In those countries, you’ll likely get food from north India…those strong curries that I happen to dislike…along with mutton vindaloo and that chicken in red stuff.

“Here in Kerala, the locals cook lighter and fresher, with so much wonderful seafood, sometimes spicy but most often not.

“On to some nitty-gritty. I’ve spoken with three people here about construction costs. One recently built her house, one is adding a second floor right now, and the third plans to start building soon. Each told me that land is cheap. Lots cost only a couple thousand U.S. dollars. We’re talking sleepy villages here, often near beaches, rather than high-cost Mumbai or Delhi.

“Construction costs range from US$100 to US$300 a square meter. Handmade Indian bricks and basic construction come cheap. Costs increase when you use larger, industrial bricks, the kind with holes in them that provide better insulation.

“In their interiors, Indians use lots of tiles, which stay clean and cool. They tend to build without expensive, imported bathroom and kitchen fixtures, designer lighting, or comprehensive, hidden wiring.

“I mentioned before that, even though Indian law permits foreign ownership of real property, in practice, the infamous Indian bureaucracy can keep it from happening. Communist governments come and go here; they’ve confiscated foreign owned property in the past and might do it again.

“Perhaps you can form a corporation to hold title. The corporation must have at least one Indian director, or a majority of Indian directors, depending on who you talk to. I figure that, if you go this route, your title is probably only as good as your lawyer, a thought that frightens me. You could also put the property in the name of an Indian friend, spouse, or partner, recognizing the separation risks.

“But with these kinds of costs–100 square meters for only US$30,000–you limit your downside. The bottom line: If you’re feeling determined and persistent, you might be able to build or buy your dream house here, and hold reasonably good title, for next to nothing.

“I asked about health care and was told that standard health care and prescription drugs cost between 1% and 10% of what you’d pay in the United States, in the best hospitals in the big cities. For example, a coronary bypass might cost US$1,000. A friend reports that his monthly prescription drugs that cost US$300 in the States cost US$20 here. I checked the price of common statin (anti-cholesterol) drugs that might cost US$50 to US$100 a month in the U.S.; here they’re US$6. At these low prices, health insurance makes little sense for expats, and, anyway, I’m told the Indian insurance schemes cover locals only.”

Kathleen Peddicord

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