Every once in a while here at BoomerCafé, we like to dream. Maybe you dream alongside us. That’s why we like this piece about dream places to retire that Suzan Haskins and Dan Prescher, editors for InternationalLiving.com, wrote; they call it “Seven Gorgeous and Incredibly Easy Places To Retire Overseas.” And since they themselves have lived in seven places in four countries (and now make their home in the Ecuadorean Andes), they would know!
We recently named our picks for the “easiest” overseas retirement destinations (The 7 Easiest Places to Retire Overseas on a Budget) … places where you can easily drop right into expat life, mostly because these spots (like Lake Chapala in Mexico and Boquete, Panama) already have sizeable expat populations.
In these places, you’ll have lots of English speakers to rely on for help and suggestions… Who are the best doctors, where’s the best place to buy kitchen appliances, get your computer repaired, and so on. They’ve been there, done that… they’ve blazed the trail so you don’t have to.
Those selections were also based on distance from home (no more than a three- or four-hour flight from the U.S.) and the availability of quality and affordable medical care.
But what if you want to go farther afield? You don’t care so much about swimming in a sea of fellow expats? Or you care more about swimming in soft Caribbean waters than you do about having a top-notch hospital on your doorstep?
Here then, are our choices for the “next easiest” overseas retirement destinations — places where you’ll still find considerable comforts and where it’s still fairly easy to transition to expat life. Conveniently enough, some are English-speaking countries and some are even very close to home:
Mexico’s Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya is the area of Mexico’s Caribbean Coast that stretches from Cancun to Tulum. It probably should have made our “Easiest Retirement Destinations” list because it has all the attributes we crave: it’s just a 95-minute flight from Miami to Cancun (just about every airline flies here and fares are very affordable). You’ll also find all the comforts of home, including excellent medical care and scads of English speakers.
But therein lies the problem: this is one of the top tourism destinations in the world and that gives this area a bit of a transient feel. And while it wouldn’t break the bank to live here, it’s also not the most affordable destination on the planet, although a budget of $3,000 a month, including rent, should serve you well if you forego the expensive restaurants and nightlife. You’ll definitely want to run your air conditioner, as it can be quite warm most of the year. And yes, there can be hurricanes. Still, this is one of our favorite spots on the planet … you’d be hard pressed to find more beautiful beaches or more outdoor activities to keep you entertained.
We won’t name just one spot in tiny Belize. It’s only about the size of Rhode Island, so should you decide to explore this Central American country (tucked beside the Caribbean Sea just south of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula), you can easily check out the entire country in just a few days. Our favorite retirement spots include the inland Cayo district, the Corozal district to the north at the border with Mexico; the island of Ambergris Caye; and Placencia town farther south along the coastal mainland.
Belize has much to offer: it’s just a two-hour flight from Miami and the official language is English. If you love water sports, this is your place. You can fish, dive, and snorkel to your heart’s content along its luscious barrier reef. You’ll enjoy a typical Caribbean lifestyle here … think swaying palms, white sands, and turquoise waters accompanied by a lilting reggae beat.
There are some downsides to living here. There can be hurricanes. Also, Belize isn’t known for its medical care. For anything serious you’ll need to head across the border to Chetumal, Mexico. And because Belize isn’t a manufacturing hub nor does it enjoy a lot of agricultural diversity, you’ll pay more for imported items (which is just about everything).
Still, a couple could retire comfortably in Belize on just $3,000 a month, including rent.
If you’re looking for the quintessential Caribbean lifestyle, look to the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. There are several international airports that can be reached in slightly more than two hours from Miami.
Beaches are extraordinarily beautiful, and you have your choice of Atlantic or Caribbean Coasts. In general, real estate prices are lower here than on other Caribbean islands. And this second-largest island in the Caribbean also has rolling hills where cattle graze and interior highlands where all sorts of produce can be grown, which will positively impact your food bill.
The country shares the island with Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. There is vast disparity between rich and poor and you’ll need to take some security precautions in some areas. Medical care is generally good, although you’ll find the best hospitals and care in the capital city of Santo Domingo. And yes, being the Caribbean, hurricanes are possible.
Our favorite destinations in the Dominican Republic include Las Terrenas, La Romana, and Punta Cana. A comfortable monthly budget: $3,000, which would include your rent.
To many Ecuadorians and expats alike, Cuenca–at an elevation of about 8,300 feet, but practically on the equator–represents the best in city life in Spanish-speaking Ecuador.
It’s smaller than the capital city of Quito, with fewer of the typical big-city problems, but is still big enough (with a metropolitan population of more than 500,000), to offer urban cultural activities and infrastructure conveniences, including very good medical services.
Founded in 1557, Cuenca was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. It’s chock-full of stunning colonial architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Rental prices average $300 to $800 for a two- or three-bedroom furnished apartment close to the central historic district.
It’s said that as many as 4,000 foreigners (mostly retirees) now live in Cuenca, and the typical expat couple reports they’re living comfortably on a budget of $1,800 a month, which includes rent.
For now, the cost of gasoline in Ecuador is less than $1.50 a gallon, and therefore both public and private transportations costs are low, and most expats choose not to own a car.
One drawback to living here is that Ecuador’s two international airports are located in Quito and in the country’s second-largest city of Guayaquil. Getting to Cuenca requires an additional domestic flight or a several-hour drive.
At a slightly lower elevation than Cuenca, this tiny Andean village offers (arguably) better weather than Cuenca with more sunny days and less rain. Still, it’s green year round and just about anything grows here, from tomatoes to avocados to limes and strawberries.
To get to Cotacachi you’ll fly to Quito (four hours and 20 minutes from Miami) and then travel two hours by car. There is a good-sized expat community (perhaps 500) in an overall population of about 8,500. It is a small town, however, so be prepared for the challenges that come with that.
Adequate medical care can be found 40 minutes away in the city of Ibarra, but for anything serious you’ll need to travel two hours to Quito.
Because there are few big city temptations, a couple can live comfortably in Cotacachi on about $1,600 a month, including rent.
If you crave adventure and the opportunity to see the world from a new perspective, and live extremely affordably, you’ll be elated in Southeast Asia. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a comfortable and easy alternative to your North American lifestyle, this may not be the place for you.
Asian languages are difficult to learn. That’s not the case in Malaysia, where English is the unofficial first language. Many foreign retirees are more tempted to live on Penang Island, which can be accessed via its own international airport or from a 50-minute flight from the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
In Penang, you can rent a stylish three-bedroom, three-bathroom sea-view apartment for $950 a month and eat out five nights a week, on a total budget of less than $1,800 a month. Health care is world-class (it’s a top medical-tourism destination) and extremely affordable. The only drawback is the distance from the States–generally plan on 24 hours or more of travel time.
Spain was hard hit by the global economic crisis of recent years, largely thanks to its oversupply of housing, especially in resort destinations. You may find distress-sale bargains, but be sure to do considerable due diligence.
Málaga, on Spain’s southern Mediterranean coast, is the gateway to the Costa del Sol, long one of Spain’s biggest beach-tourism regions.
A city of more than a million people, Málaga is lovely and lively, with plenty of shops and museums, and food to die for. It’s also a major business and financial center.
While Spanish is still spoken everywhere, you’ll get by in English perfectly well. Apartments or condos in the city center tend to be small by U.S. standards — a two-bedroom apartment is about 969 square feet, and long-term leases in the city center start at about $975 a month for an unfurnished two-bedroom apartment.
A couple should be able to live comfortably here on $3,000 a month all in, although you’ll find lower rents and reduce your overall costs by looking farther from the center and away from the water.
You may also choose to look in the seaside villages farther along the coast where bus and suburban train services to Málaga are convenient and frequent. For affordable fares from New York to Málaga, you’re transit will be through Madrid. Plan on 12 hours of travel time from the U.S.