Your Best Choices This New Year
Now that we’re into the New Year, let’s regroup. Where should you focus your live and retire overseas search in 2010?
Here’s where you want to be looking. Yes, if a country is not included on this list, there’s a reason. If it’s not here, it’s not one of your Top 10 choices…
World’s Top Haven #1: Panama
Long-suffering readers aren’t surprised to hear this, but what surprises even me is how this country manages to become more appealing all the time. This land of potential is realizing more of it every day thanks to new President Ricardo Martinelli. After only four months in office, Martinelli has engineered more change than most leaders manage to accomplish over their entire terms. Martinelli’s approval rating is better than 90% as he pushes ahead with his flat tax proposal, his labor reforms, his zero-tolerance anti-corruption-in-politics campaign, his Panama City metro system, his new international airports, and on and on.
The Panamanian government recently issued US$1 billion in 10-year notes yielding 5.224%. The issuance coincided with S&P’s upgrade of Panama’s credit rating, which is now one level below investment grade. US$1 billion is a lot of money for a country this size, and Martinelli is keen to make sure it is well-spent.
For the foreign expat, retiree, investor, and businessperson, all this translates to a great big Welcome! sign. Panama City is no longer super-cheap, but the rest of the country sure can be. If you haven’t looked closely yet at what Panama has to offer, I ask you now, what in the world could you be waiting for?
World’s Top Haven #2: France
World’s best quality of life, world’s best health care, world’s best infrastructure, world’s most romantic city…France is a country that begs superlatives. Downsides are a draconian approach to taxation (so don’t become a legal resident); a cultural distaste for entrepreneurial activity (so don’t consider any business in this country that’d require local hires or a local shop front); and, as we move toward 2010, a super-strong euro (maybe a concern if your nest egg is denominated in U.S. dollars).
On the other hand, retirement in France can be more affordable than you might imagine, certainly when you consider the country beyond Paris. As Intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst wrote from Buenos Aires recently, “Argentina has gotten expensive again. The South of France would be more affordable right now…”
World’s Top Haven #3: Uruguay
The banking, residency, and tax advantages of Panama without the chaos or the construction dust. While Panama is running on over-drive right now, making sure the world realizes she’s open for business, Uruguay is, as always, content to sip her maté from the sidelines. Uruguay is an ideal choice if you’re considering a move with children. On the other hand, retired way down south to not-so-accessible Uruguay, you might not get back home to North America to visit your grandchildren as often as you’d like. And, frankly, you might get bored.
World’s Top Haven #4: Dominican Republic
Easy foreign residency, favorable approach to foreign taxation, and, right now, a down real estate market that has created great crisis buy opps. For this reason primarily, the DR is my top 2010 pick in the Caribbean. Also, there’s an interesting and welcoming expat community on this island, including an established French population.
World’s Top Haven #5: Argentina
Buenos Aires is the most cosmopolitan city in Latin America and the only city in Central or South America where you could enjoy a lifestyle that could be described as “luxury” according to a real-world definition of that word. With few exceptions, anything available in Paris (the world’s number-one luxe destination) is available as well in Buenos Aires, at lesser cost and with a Latin edge, including five-star restaurants, nightclubs, comedy clubs, open-air cafes, world-class live theater and ballet, art galleries, museums, indoor shopping malls and outdoor antiques markets, European-style parks, plazas, and gardens, plus classic architecture of the kind found in but a handful of cities around the world. If you want to live a life filled with art and history, culture and interesting company, but you can’t afford Paris and its euro, look to Buenos Aires.
A basic budget for retirement in one of this eclectic city’s best neighborhoods could be as little as US$3,000 a month, with about half that given over to rent (and not including a maid). You could build out your luxury lifestyle budget from there.
Argentina also boasts Mendoza, one of the world’s top wine regions. Argentines enjoy great food, good vino, and interesting conversation, and, here, in the interior of this country, these things are the priorities of life.
World’s Top Haven #6: Malaysia
Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur is my top pick in Asia for living the very good life on a budget. K.L. is an affordable choice, but Malaysia outside its capital city is one of the cheapest retirement havens on earth right now.
World’s Top Haven #7: Chile
Beachfront, wine country, and First World services. Chile also boasts the lowest violent crime rate and the highest GDP per capita in Latin America. Such a high standard of living usually comes at a high cost, but not so in most of Chile. This country has not gotten the attention it deserves. We intend to right that in 2010.
World’s Top Haven #8: Belize
Safe, stable, and English-speaking. Caribbean Belize isn’t as affordable as the Dominican Republic, but, inland, the Cayo (my favorite part of this country) can still be described as cheap. Belize in general is my top get-away-from-it-all, back-to-nature, retire-off-the-grid pick.
World’s Top Haven #9: Croatia
The cobalt blue of the Adriatic Sea off Istria’s coast is almost other-worldly. Onshore, the Istrian peninsula is a fairy-tale land of fortresses and bell towers that so attracted and impressed the Romans they invested in some of their best building here, including, for example, a large and largely intact coliseum at Pula where lions and Christians once entertained. Later, this region was ruled by the Venetians, who also left an architectural legacy. In Istria, both Nature and man have worked together over many centuries to create something very special, almost magical. In fact, the ancient Romans named it “Terra Magica.”
I defy you not to fall in love with this region, whose landscapes and way of life rival the best of Tuscany or the French and Italian rivieras, but this place is still undiscovered and therefore affordable. Renovation projects (centuries-old stone farmhouses on hillsides overlooking valleys of olive groves and vineyards) start at US$50,000.
World’s Top Haven #10: Vietnam
As Asia Correspondent Wendy Justice, explains, “Vietnam is an emerging market that has only recently moved beyond the dark transition following the war. Now this country is changing almost daily. The population is youthful, and an energy permeates everything. This is a land of beautiful beaches, cool mountain retreats, and cities seething with vitality. Many Westerners head to Vietnam and love it. Others complain about the hustle, the noise, and the lack of Western influence, particularly in the northern part of the country (Hanoi). On the other hand, the cost of living is temptingly low.”
These countries, for all these reasons, will drive our editorial agenda for New Year 2010, including the editorial calendar for my Overseas Retirement Letter, in the virtual pages of which we will publish complete Country Retirement Reports on each of these top havens over the coming 12 months. Scouts have been dispatched.
“Kathleen, why isn’t Honduras on your list of top 20 places to live overseas?”
— Fred F., United States
I’ve never been a fan of mainland Honduras. It’s seriously under-developed and quintessentially Third World. Driving in to La Ceiba, for example, the most noticeable thing about the landscape is that it’s criss-crossed by exposed and sagging electrical cables. Mainland towns are typically depressed, poor, and littered. You can live here cheaply, sure, but your quality of life would be limited, too. Plus, I’ve never been convinced that safety isn’t a concern on mainland Honduras.
More interesting and appealing in some ways are the Bay Islands off this country’s mainland coast, especially Roatan, certainly if the Caribbean is your thing. Roatan built a reputation as a budget alternative for the avid diver and sea-lover. Then it became less budget-friendly. Prices for real estate have fallen considerably over the past 18 months, and it’s more possible today than it has been in many years to find a good buy on a Roatan beach home. Further, there’s an established expat community on the island…and everyone, expat and local alike, speaks English, which makes assimilating easier.
Remember, though, that Roatan is a small island, and small islands can offer only so much in the way of amenities, services, and distractions. Small island living might be precisely the stuff of which your new life overseas dreams are made. Or not.
“What are the requirements to live and work in Uruguay?”
— Marcos S., United States
Uruguay Correspondent Juan Fischer replies:
I have prepared a PowerPoint presentation that details the process of:
- Filing for and obtaining legal resident status in Uruguay (and, eventually, if you desire, citizenship and a second passport)…
- Opening a bank account in this country…
- Addressing your tax obligations as a foreign resident in Uruguay…
- Purchasing real estate in this country…
- Establishing a business in Uruguay…
I’m happy to make this presentation available to anyone interested in learning more about the opportunities for living and investing in this country. If you’d like to receive a copy, please get in touch here.
Note that Uruguay is one of the few countries that allows foreign residents to obtain employment in the country without restriction.