Since I have been involved in Latin America for almost 50 years I consider myself more than qualified to correct the country ratings recently released by International Living. I am a Costa Rican citizen and have lived in Mexico and visited every country in Latin America at one time or another. Furthermore, I have graduate degrees in Spanish and Latin American studies.
I have taken the liberty of adding a comment to each of the countries International Living has ranked to put things in the proper perspective for those thinking of relocating.
Ranking fourth overall on International Living’s index is exciting, diverse Costa Rica. It scores 97 in healthy lifestyle, 80 in cost of living, and 89 in housing, and also achieved high scores in entertainment, health care, and fitting in, earning 87.9 overall. Slightly smaller than West Virginia, this tiny nation boasts Pacific and Caribbean beaches, lush rainforests, mountains, and valleys, each with individualized climates — something for everyone, and plenty of opportunity to explore. The climate and environmental conditions prompt many residents to grow their own vegetables and fruits, or buy them cheaply from local farmers.
Comment: Costa Rica was the first retirement haven for Americans almost 40 years ago. The country isn’t as affordable as some of the places listed below but offers a better quality of life and healthcare. You basically get what you pay for. Costa Rica has a stellar international reputation and image. When was the last time you heard anything negative on the world news? The country is the longest enduring democracy in Latin America, has had NO army for over 60 years, has NO enemies or terrorism and is a user friendly place for Americans where they fit right in. It is a virtual nature lovers Disneyland because of its unparalleled natural beauty. Costa Rica has more options for living whether it be the beaches, mountains or Central Valley. The latter offers one of the best climates in the world. The country has more U.S. Expats proportionately than any other country in world, They can’t be wrong!
Colombia is a modern country that’s becoming increasingly popular as a prime retiree destination, according to International Living. An inviting cultural scene, warm weather (not much seasonal change), and a diverse natural landscape with more than 50 national parks, along with beaches, jungles, and deserts, make for an ideal retirement venue. With inexpensive properties and a low cost of living, many Americans can live an upscale lifestyle without being “USA-rich.” Colombia scores high 80s and 90s in almost every category, achieving a total score of 87.7 — good enough for fifth place. ¡Vaya a Colombia!
Comment: The country is affordable and is now a much safer place to live than in yesteryear. Medellín is similar to Costa Rica’s Central Valley with lower prices. Heath care is excellent and residency requirements are easy. Nice beaches on the Caribbean coast. Colombia is a sleeping giant and my second choice. Many expats say it is like Costa Rica was in the 1980s and 1990s which is why I will be offering relocation tours to Medellín in the not to distant future. For information please see: www.liveincolombia.com
For many retiring Americans, heading to Mexico makes a lot of financial sense. It’s International Living’s overall winner, with a score of 90.9 and similarly high scores for housing (94) and cost of living (89). Retiring in Mexico is convenient, with flights back to the United States both affordable and quick. Expats love the beaches as well as the cheap, delicious cuisine, shopping, and historical attractions. International Living cites Lake Chapala and the Riviera Maya as retirement meccas and says Americans can live well for about $1,200 a month.
Comment: Wonder people, close to the U.S., great food and very affordable. Many different areas from which to choose. The downside is the violent drug trafficking. I lived and studied in Mexico before coming to Costa Rica, but the times have changed. The country is culturally rich and offers a lot for expats. It is my third choice.
Panama presents another excellent choice for budget-friendly retirement. Health care, perfectly mild weather, and affordable lifestyle — all are noteworthy, but according to International Living, it’s the ease of living in Panama that makes it so appealing. The site’s Panama editor cites reliable cellphone and internet connections as part of the draw. The Global Retirement Index ranks Panama second overall, with a final score of 90.8. Cost of living is ranked 82, while buying and renting rates 87. Panama also earns 100 in benefits and discounts and 96 in visas and residence.
Comment: Panama City is cosmopolitan but very hot and humid, so air conditioning bills are high. Boquete, located in the northwest mountains, is an expat haven but isolated, small and boring. The climate can be cold, windy and misty.
With an International Living rating of 97 out of 100 in both cost of living and renting and buying (housing), Nicaragua emerges as a top cheap retirement destination. The magazine suggests San Juan del Sur, a surf town with ocean beaches, as well as up-and-coming Matagalpa. Swimming and boating are big local activities on Lake Nicaragua. The nearby airport in Managua can get American retirees back to U.S. soil in two hours. The country earns a final score of 83.6 in International Living’s Global Retirement Index, placing it No. 8 overall.
Comment: The best fit for expats on who have to live off a small pension. The country is the second poorest in the western hemisphere after Haiti. The government is a virtually dictatorship, and aligned politically with Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador, all of which have anti- U.S. S ntiments.
Ecuador is another popular spot for retirement. Live and Invest Overseas perennially sings the praises of the city of Cuenca, citing the low cost of real estate, walkability, burgeoning expat community, and cheap but reliable health care. International Living adds Quito, Cotacachi, and Salinas to the list of expat havens. Ecuador scores 97 in buying and renting, 99 in benefits and discounts, 100 in climate (no surprise there), and 92 in healthy lifestyle, among other stellar scores, making it No. 3 overall with an average of 90.7.
Comment: Trying like hell to be the next Costa Rica but has a long way to go. Cuenca is the expat hotspot but is a few flights away and hard to get to from the U.S. Cost of living is rising because of the influx of foreigners. Lots of corruption at all levels. IL has vested interested there so they push it like most places they extoll.
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