Perpetual Retirement? Now You’re Talking!

“Does it really make sense for somebody to buy a lot, build a house, and retire to the beach in the middle of nowhere Panama? I mean, after a couple of months, what would you do with yourself?”

My husband Lief was having a conversation with a reader thinking about investing in some beachfront property in…of all places…the middle of nowhere Panama.

“A lot of people do it,” Lief responded. “But I have to agree with you. It wouldn’t be for me. And, in truth, in the long run, it’s probably not for many people.

“But that’s never been our idea…to retire full-time to any one place,” Lief continued. “Our idea for ‘retirement’ is to spend three months of the year on the coast of Panama, three months of the year in Buenos Aires, three months of the year in Paris, and three months a year in Istria, Croatia.”

“Ah, now you’re talking! That sounds like a dream life.”

We think so. Lief and I have been working toward this plan for about 10 years…and we’re probably a good 10 years away from realizing it in full.

Maybe you’re enamored with the idea of spending your retirement years on the water…swimming, surfing, sailing, fishing, lazing in a hammock…and maybe that lifestyle will suit you right down to your snorkel fins.

But maybe, like the reader Lief spoke with last week, you enjoy the beach…but not so much that you’d look forward to full-time sand and sea for the rest of your life.

Lief and I fall into that category. We’ve found what, for us, constitutes the most beautiful stretch of surf we’ve seen in all these years of shopping. Lief was so wowed by what he discovered on the western coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula two years ago that he bought big. He’s busy now developing his Los Islotes investment.

Meantime, my related ambitions are more modest. I’m making plans to build a house on a small bit of the land Lief and friends have purchased at Los Islotes. This house will be our home base in Panama, a place where we’ll hope to persuade the kids, their friends, and, eventually, their significant others to join us for holidays and vacations.

But live out at Los Islotes full-time? Lucky for me, that was never Lief’s idea either. That’s why we’ve kept our little apartment in Paris…and purchased a tumble-down stone farmhouse on the side of a mountain in Istria…and invested in an apartment down in Buenos Aires.

While we’re here in Panama focused on the Los Islotes piece of our plan, the apartments in Paris and in Buenos Aires are accommodating long-term renters, and the farmhouse in Istria continues to hang on to the mountainside it’s clung to for 150 years…awaiting our eventual renovation.

Lief and I aren’t jet-setters. We’re average people, very much like you, I’d bet. We’re just a little further along in our retire overseas process than you may be right now.

Having a lot of money isn’t the secret to living the perpetual retiree life we’re imagining. Sure, being rich would make it easier…but you don’t have to be to follow in our footsteps.

To realize this kind of part-time here, part-time there retirement, more than money, you need imagination and a sense of wanderlust. High energy levels and a good sense of humor, because the path will not always be smooth. Good local connections and expert-level information and input.

And you need a plan. As I said, Lief and I hatched ours about a decade ago. We’d both seen a lot of the world by that time, and we had a good idea where we wanted to be long-term. Part-time in the Americas…and part-time in the Old World. Sometimes on the beach and sometimes in the big city…

We wanted to follow the seasons, and we wanted to be able to embrace very contrasting lifestyles on a regular basis.

That thinking led us to the four locales we ultimately settled on.

Then we began shopping, thinking about when to time an eventual buy in each of the four places where we wanted to establish a base.

We knew we wanted to own. Fundamentally, we’re not renters. We like to make a place our own. I like real estate and architecture the way some women like big hats and designer shoes. For me, part of the fun of this plan is that I get to build, renovate, furnish, and decorate four homesteads.

That’s not to say this is the only way to do it. Or the best.

In other words, you don’t have to buy to retire overseas, and, if you decide you like the idea of more than one overseas retirement home…you certainly don’t have to buy in series, the way we have.

There are pluses and minuses to each approach.

We own real estate in more than a dozen markets right now. Most of it is for investment. The four places I’m talking about here are for residing. Each is meant to be a home for us and our family, at least part of the time.

Which means we’ve committed to carrying costs (taxes, building fees, maintenance, care-taking, utilities, etc.) on places where we won’t always be seeing a return.

On the other hand, we’ve bought with the idea of hedging these costs as much as possible. In Paris and Buenos Aires, for example, we bought apartments that would work both for us and for rental. Even in Istria, our house has some rental potential in season, for the nearby town is home to an annual international film festival that causes a brief surge in the local population.

Correspondents Paul and Vicki Terhorst have been living a perpetual retiree life for more than two decades. A few years ago, they invested in land in Argentina and built a home base for themselves outside Buenos Aires. Until then, though, they were perpetual renters, arranging short-term stays from Paris to Bangkok, as their wanderlust moved them.

In other words, at first, Paul and Vicki weren’t concerned about a place to call “home.” No doubt, they recognized the liabilities involved. Eventually, though, I guess, they felt a desire for something a little more permanent…

Here’s my point: This retire overseas thing can take many forms. You could retire full-time to one overseas haven. You could retire to another country part-time, then spend the rest of the year “back home,” with family and longtime friends. You could invest in homes in two or three or four locales and divide your year among them. You could move around as your wanderlust dictates, renting and therefore avoiding the burden of the expenses and the hassles that come with owning real estate in another country.

Whatever you ultimately decide to do, you don’t have to do it all right away. Your plan will evolve as your experience expands.

All you have to do right away is something.

Take the first step.

Remember, you’re not alone.

In fact, we’ve even put together the bones of a plan for you. Here’s your 2009 Retire Overseas Checklist Part I…and Part II.

Kathleen Peddicord



“Will you be writing any articles about Scotland? We will be visiting this year and might look at buying a small apartment for investment.”

— Terry T., United States

I don’t have any recent experience with Scotland specifically; however, the UK market is suffering right now perhaps more even than the one in the U.S., and Scotland is probably struggling along with the rest of the country. In other words, I’d say the property market is down and dropping further month by month.

Given the fall of the pound and the dramatic drop in prices, it could make sense to think now about buying an apartment in Scotland for personal use. Recognize, though, that net yields in the U.K. are historically abysmal and probably aren’t going to improve anytime soon. So buying for investment would only make sense as a currency play or if you believed prices were near the bottom and could rise dramatically in the next three to five years. I wouldn’t take either of those bets right now.