Expat Advice

We’ve Got Mail! (Oh, Boy, Do We Got Mail)

This week, as part of our e-letter facelift, we’ve begun including, in each day’s issue, a new link that allows you to e-mail questions and comments to me directly.

We’ve always gotten a lot of reader mail. Since the introduction of this new direct link? We’re drowning in reader mail!

We’re delighted with the feedback and encourage your continued questions, comments, inquiries, complaints, compliments, criticisms, and personal stories. It’s all welcome. We must ask now, though, that you understand if we’re not able to respond as quickly as we have in the past. Our customer service team is working overtime to try to keep up but is crying “Uncle!” We all thank you in advance for your patience as we work through the growing backlog.

Meantime, here’s a sampling of reader feedback that landed in my in-box overnight…

From Dennys F. in the United States:

“Kathleen, I am a passionate reader of your columns. I just want to tell you that thanks to you, and HGTV’s House Hunting International, I got bitten by the bug, sold my Brooklyn, New York, apartment and my house in Niagara Falls and went to Calabria, where I bought an apartment across from the sea for 72K euro. Then I went to the Limousin region in France and, after meeting so many Americans, Brits, Welsh, Scots, and Irish expats who live there because of the affordable real estate and living, I bought a house in Bellac for 37K euro. It has a business space on the ground floor where I will be opening my music school as soon as I finish the remodeling job. Finally, I went to Alicante, Spain, and bought an apartment in a little town called Callosa de Segura, which cost me 23K euro. For 1 euro I can take the bus and go to the great beaches of Costa Blanca.

“All the expenses for these three properties, including utilities and taxes, do not amount to even 3K euro a year (compared with US$14K/year in New York). With my pension, as a retired Florida teacher, I’ll be able to live very comfortably.

“Also, those three beautiful properties have train stations and bus services, so I do not need a car.

“I have really followed your advice and have been able to materialize my dream. I am planning on making the final move in two years, when I turn 60 and sell (or rent) my oceanfront condo here in Florida.

“Thanks, Kathleen. If it weren’t because of you and your books, I’d not be writing this letter. God bless ya!”


From William S. in the United States:

“Kathleen, do you have a monthly budget for Paris, France?”

Answer: Take a look here. And we have published an essay comparing the costs of living in Paris with those in Panama City, based on Lief and my experience. You’ll find that here.


From Nan C. in the United States:

“Kathleen, you and Lief are adamant about diversifying into different currencies with banks not in the United States. I have found out that Caye Bank in Belize only does GBP, CAD, EUR, and CHF currencies. Could you give us a preferred list of your recommended banks and what countries they are in?”

Answer: The four currencies you reference–British pound, Canadian dollar, euro, and Swiss franc–cover the mainstream hard currencies. The Japanese yen would be the only one not on the list.

To be able to hold other currencies, you’ll have to look at more localized banks. Some banks in Uruguay allow you to hold Brazilian reais, for example. For other European currencies, look to local European banks.

We wrote about organizing a Chinese yuan account in the Simon Letter recently.

If you’re interested in playing the currency market (as opposed to holding particular currencies long term), look into the currency CDs offered by Everbank. The only drawback is that you can’t take physical possession of the currencies; you either have to continue to roll over the CDs or cash them in, at which time you get dollars based on the then current exchange rates.


From Michelle U. in the United States:

“Kathleen, my partner and I are very interested in moving to another country. Ecuador is on the top of our list due to affordability. We are business owners, and we usually travel to our customers. We believe that the added expense of flying internationally will be compensated for in our overall lower cost of living. We are very interested in beach living.

“Unfortunately, our company was negatively affected by the economy, so we’ve had a tough couple of years. We are recovering now, but we wiped our savings and our credit took a hit. Realistically, do you think we will be able to rent, then purchase on the beach with no savings, or will we need to save in advance? We currently pay US$2,000/month for rent in Las Vegas. We appreciate your honest feedback so that we can put a timeline on our new adventure!”

Answer: You may be able to find a seller willing to negotiate a mortgage or a lease-to-buy agreement with you. However, it’s typically gringo owners/sellers willing to consider personal financing, meaning you’d likely be talking about gringo pricing.

That said, for US$2,000 a month, you could buy or rent a very nice place in Ecuador. In fact, your current rent money could translate to your overall budget in Ecuador and could buy you an increased standard of living, to boot.

Note that, living at the beach in Ecuador, travel to visit clients won’t be easily or efficiently managed. Internal country flights in Ecuador are affordable, but the time to fly from the coast to Quito or Guayaquil to catch an international flight to wherever you’re going to see your customers could be more than you’re bargaining for, both in terms of cost and hassle factor.


From Shirley A. in Canada:

“Kathleen, I’ve always had the dream of living in France and have visited France quite often. I am a single mature woman retired from arts administration. I would like to explore areas like Paris, Brittany, and Normandy, to see what is most suitable for me as a place to live out my retirement. Would also like studio space, maybe eventually to purchase a small stone house or apartment. I speak French and am still active in painting, photography, and tapestry. What is the best way to find inexpensive but nice rentals in these areas I’m interested in, so that I can try them out for a while?”

Answer: As you speak French, www.pap.fr would be a good place to start. It’s the online presence for the most popular French print real estate magazine (Particulier a Particulier). You’ll fine properties for sale and for rent across the country.


From Jeannette S. in the United States:

“Kathleen, I am interested in purchasing a computer for travel. What is popular and will travel well?”

Answer: Unless you’re looking to have a workout while traveling, weight is the main consideration. The new “mini” computers are generally low on functionality and speed compared with their big brothers, but if all you need while traveling is e-mail and Internet support, then this is probably the place to start. In fact, you might be able to get away with an iPad if all you need is e-mail and Internet.

If you have bigger computing needs, then you’ll want to balance size and weight with functionality. Screen size may be another consideration depending on your eyesight (read: age).


From Dana K. in Canada:

“Kathleen, I’m considering Panama on the reforestation visa option. A question I’ve never been able to find the answer to (with this visa option or others) is, must one stay in Panama a certain minimum number of days if one is aiming for citizenship and/or a Panamanian passport eventually? Maybe it differs per visa option?”

Answer: You have to be in the country at least once every two years for most residency permits in Panama. And you’ll have to be in the country to process renewals. Other than that, no real restrictions.

Keep in mind that you have to have five years of permanent residency in Panama before you are eligible for citizenship. With the reforestation visa, it likely will take four years or so before you’ll obtain permanent residency. In other words, you’re looking at nine years before being eligible for citizenship and then at least another year, probably two, before being naturalized.

Also note that Panama requires you to give up all previous citizenships upon being naturalized as a Panamanian citizen. They don’t enforce this rule (as Singapore does by walking you down to your current country’s embassy and waiting for you to come out with a renouncement certificate), but it is the law.

Kathleen Peddicord

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