Longtime editor and friend Lee Harrison and his wife Julie divide their time between California and Mazatlán, Mexico.
However, Mazatlán was not the first stop on Lee and Julie’s overseas-retirement trail.
Lee And Julie’s Retirement Journey
In 2001, in their late 40s, Lee and Julie took early retirement from their successful engineering careers.
“We didn’t have enough of a pension or enough retirement savings to live on for the rest of our lives in the States, certainly not living the level of lifestyle we had been enjoying in New York up until that point,” Lee explains, “so we started looking around.
“My eyes were opened to the ‘retire overseas’ idea by a book on retiring to Costa Rica that I happened upon in a bookstore one day. At that point in our lives, Julie and I wanted a big change, an adventure. We craved culture shock, the bigger the better.”
Lee and Julie were both immediately sold on the notion of retirement to another country and began adjusting their view of the “correct” retirement age. Instead of asking themselves how much money they could accumulate for retirement by age 62, they began asking themselves how soon they could retire with some degree of financial security.
The answer was 12 years earlier than they’d been planning.
“By moving to a low-cost destination abroad,” Lee explains, “we cut at least a dozen years off of our work life and added 12 years to our retirement. For us this has effectively been a strategy for extending our lives.”
First Stop: Ecuador
“We sold everything that wouldn’t fit into a 20-foot container and moved to Cuenca,” Lee remembers.
At that time, there were virtually no American retirees in Cuenca. It was six months before Lee and Julie met another English-speaking couple. Their Spanish skills improved quickly, out of necessity.
Julie began volunteering at the music academy and performing piano with the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra, and Lee started writing about living abroad. Both continue to earn supplemental income from these activities today.
Lee and Julie were happy living in Ecuador and had no plans to move.
Escapade To Uruguay And Colombia
However, about five years after making the move to Cuenca, they took a vacation to Uruguay. In this country they fell in love with the European ambiance, the predominantly Italian culture, and the seaside life. In 2006, the couple purchased a home in Punta del Este, Uruguay’s premier beach resort town, where they lived for six years.
Then, in 2010, I sent Lee on a writing assignment to Medellín, Colombia. He was so struck by the beauty and sophistication of the city that he called Julie and persuaded her to come join him to see for herself.
Life in Punta del Este was great, but, when the couple saw what Medellín had to offer, they were inspired to launch the next stage of their adventures overseas. They bought an apartment in leafy El Poblado, Medellín’s prime address.
Again, Lee and Julie were content and had no thoughts of moving on, but, in 2015, on a whim, they decided on a monthlong stay in Álamos, Mexico. During that trip, they took a one-week side trip to Mazatlán.
Being in Mexico, after all their years abroad, was a revelation for Lee and Julie.
“We had ignored Mexico for years, passing it by on our way to South America,” Lee says. “I think we thought of it as too familiar, with too many amenities to be sufficiently exciting or challenging. But during that visit we experienced and appreciated the cultural familiarity and convenience of life in this country.
“Mazatlán is only 720 miles from the U.S. border, a straight shot down a single freeway,” Lee continues. “This makes it easy and inexpensive for children and grandchildren to visit. They can also fly here, as we’re only an hour-and-a-half flight from Phoenix.”
Mexico is a big country, offering lots of living options. Why did Lee and Julie focus on Mazatlán?
“We’ve always enjoyed Spanish-colonial historic centers,” Lee explains, “and Mazatlán’s is being beautifully restored. We love having the city’s best restaurants, cafés, shops, and theaters all within easy walking distance. Plus, English is widely spoken here in Mazatlán, which is a nice convenience when we have visitors who don’t speak Spanish.
“The ocean and beach are just off our front balcony. For us, that’s the best feature of all. Then there’s the convenience.
“I’ve been doing home projects in Latin American countries for nearly 20 years. Having a Home Depot nearby feels like a real luxury. We feel the same about having Walmart, Sam’s Club, OfficeMax, and the other American stores here. We never thought we’d miss those kinds of places as it turns out we have.”
Lee and Julie applied for their residency visas at the Mexican consulate in Phoenix, Arizona. They both obtained their visas in less than one hour.
“We’ve now obtained residency in four countries,” Lee says, “and Mexico was the fastest and easiest experience of all.
“This is just the lifestyle we were looking for at this stage of life, available right now at an irresistible price. I have to say that it’s good to be back in what feels like familiar territory.”
Founding Publisher, Overseas Opportunity Letter