I started working at the age of 14, and I did not retire until my full Social Security age, which, for me, was 66. I wanted to draw every penny of income that I could. I paid into the program during all of my working life and wanted to collect my retirement income. This was not a government benefit; this was a return of my own savings.
On a Sunday night in June 1993, my husband and I went to bed. On Monday morning, I woke to find my husband dead. He was 48; I was 46. I have been on my own ever since.
I decided to remain in the home in Cleveland, Ohio, that I’d shared with my husband for 20 years. After all, both my husband and I had been born in Cleveland, Ohio. Both my parents had been born in Cleveland, Ohio. It was my home. All I knew.
However, on my own after my husband was gone, I came to a realization. When the time came to retire, I was leaving Cleveland, Ohio. It may have been all I’d known, but I sure wasn’t going to spend the remainder of my life there.
Retiring beyond Cleveland was one thing. Retiring overseas was something else entirely, an idea that, when I began planning for retirement, didn’t even occur to me.
I bought a series of books on retiring in different regions of the United States—”Retire in the Northwest”… “Retire in the Southeast”… etc. Everything I read seemed to offer an exciting alternative that sounded like the ideal choice. After two years of this, I was really confused.
Realizing I’d never be able to make a decision this way, I set out to experience different options firsthand. I bought a fifth-wheel trailer and spent five years traveling around the United States.
Creating My Own Checklist Before Moving Abroad
Climate was very important to me. I’d grown to dislike Cleveland summers immensely—way too hot and humid. I was tired of spending all of my time indoors in air conditioning. Winters were almost as bad—too much snow and howling winds. I was tired of having to pay for snow removal, and, again, I was tired of being captive indoors.
Another priority as I considered my options for retirement was healthy living.
In Ohio, I was a member of a herd-share program, entitled to my share of the production from the herd on an Amish farm. I made my own yogurt and ice cream from the raw milk. I bought their raw butter and their grass-fed, free-range, hormone-free meats. Wherever I eventually settled for retirement, I wanted to continue this lifestyle.
Something else was important, too. As retirement grew closer, I knew that I did not want to have to lower my standard of living. I had worked all of my life to enjoy certain luxuries and was unwilling to give them up. I like my manicures and my visits to the hair salon, and I’d always enjoyed being a member of the Cleveland Orchestra Society, the Botanical Gardens, the Zoological Society, Playhouse Square, the Cleveland Playhouse, the Light Opera Company, Cleveland Metroparks, etc. I’m a joiner. I like community.
Then, via an ad in an alternative health newsletter that I subscribed to, a big new idea suggested itself. “How To Retire Overseas,” the ad read.
I followed the link, and it led to the Live and Invest Overseas website. I wasn’t suddenly sold on the idea of leaving the United States, but I was looking for a Plan B, and I was definitely intrigued by what I found on the Live and Invest Overseas site. It seemed to offer a very interesting Plan B.
I made a list of all the things that were important to me in retirement, and then I began researching everything I could on the idea of retiring to a new country where I might find those things. Eventually, my research led to two options: Medellín, Colombia, and Cuenca, Ecuador. Just as when I’d been considering options within the United States, I knew that the only way to determine whether either of these two cities might work for me would be to visit them. I traveled first to Medellín.
After a few days in Medellín, I determined that, for me, it was too hot, too humid, too crowded, too big… just too much. Then I got worried. What if I travel to Cuenca and that isn’t for me either? I will have to start all over again.
But that was not the case. Within a few days in Cuenca, I knew that I had found my next home. What I discovered in this mountain city were friendly people who were not only willing to help but who greeted me warmly and went out of their way to help. I liked the weather, the scenery, the culture, the food, the prices, the available health care, the architecture, the amenities, the size, the walkability, the transportation system—just about everything. I returned to Cleveland confident of my plan. I would retire to Cuenca.
Starting My Retirement In Cuenca, Ecuador
I started my retirement on Aug. 31, 2012, at the age of 66. One week later, on Sept. 7, I was in Cuenca.
I’m living in a three-story, single-family home in an Ecuadorian neighborhood. The home is not only beautiful but has exactly what I was hoping for in outdoor space. I rented the place unfurnished, which meant I needed to find furniture. Neighbors I met took me shopping all around town. Everything in my home is to my taste, and many items were custom-made just for me. In the States, I never would have been able to afford to furnish a home like this.
I’ve made so many new friends. One invited me to her home for Christmas Eve dinner. There I met her parents, brothers, sisters, and children. In my neighborhood, I am surrounded by Ecuadorians. They do not speak English, but they look out for me. I feel perfectly safe in this community.
I am as happy with my choice of Cuenca now as the day I made it. I have access to all the things that matter to me—grass-fed, free-range meats… homemade artisan breads, butter, cheeses… fresh produce…
I’m also delighted because the cost of living here is as low as I’d been led to believe it would be. I pay US$350 a month in rent. My internet (the fastest speed available) is US$80 a month. Cable (I selected the most deluxe package) is US$85 monthly. Water, gas, and electricity total US$32 a month. I spend US$8 a month for my cell phone service.
Because my necessity costs are so low, I’m able to afford all the little luxuries that I enjoy. I go for a manicure weekly for US$8. I have a facial monthly for US$25 and my hair colored, cut, and styled each month for US$45. You can spend as much or as little as you want for grocery shopping and dining out. I haven’t really kept track but guess that I spend about US$50 per week on groceries and US$50 per week on dining out.
Most of my friends and family think that I am very brave, leaving the United States and moving to a new continent all alone. I don’t think of it that way. I use magicJack and Skype to keep in touch with all of my friends back home. They cannot believe how full and rich my life has become. Some are envious.
Most important for me, though, is that, while I made the move here alone, I am not alone. My days and nights are filled with activity and company. Sometimes I have a hard time deciding what to do next, and I cannot walk through town without seeing someone I know. At this point, I cannot imagine moving back to the United States again. I love being retired in Cuenca.