4. Ecuador—Diverse, Unhurried, and Metropolitan
By Wendy DeChambeau, IL Ecuador Highlands Correspondent
History-filled colonial cities…peaceful mountain villages…lazy coastal towns…cloud forest, nature-filled hot spots… For those looking for a sense of variety in their ultimate destination, Ecuador has it all.
Choose a metropolitan lifestyle of luxury, the carefree existence of a sun-worshipping beach dweller, or just about anything in between. And because the country is small (about the area of Nevada), it’s easy to explore all that Ecuador offers.
Thanks to its many lifestyle options, Ecuador has become a retirement hot spot among North Americans. Most of us live along the Andean corridor or in a few beautiful locales along the Pacific coast.
With impressive mountain peaks, welcoming locals, and spectacular weather, Cotacachi, in the Andes, is where I chose to make my home six years ago. High altitude keeps temperatures nice and moderate, ranging between the low 50s F and high 70s F all year round. My days of shoveling snow are long gone.
While I appreciate the natural beauty and the mix of indigenous, Inca, and Spanish culture, one of my favorite benefits is the affordable lifestyle. My family of four lives on approximately $1,200 a month (without rent, as we own our home outright). At Cotacachi’s local produce market, I can load a canvas grocery bag full of fresh fruit and vegetables for $5 to $10.
The mild climate means I don’t need to pay for heating or cooling, so my electric bill stays under $18 a month. And there’s no need for me to own a vehicle, since public transportation is everywhere and cheap. A one-hour bus ride costs just $1.50.
Doug Klaver and his wife Melody came to Ecuador from British Columbia. He says, “Living here allowed us to retire early, with a lifestyle we couldn’t have afforded in Canada. We now have 25 acres of land, chickens, six dogs, a couple of horses, and we’re growing cacao. What’s not to love?”
Many expats choose to start their Ecuadorian experience in Cuenca. This colonial city of 580,000 is easy to navigate, offers plenty of amenities and entertainment options, and is already home to several thousand North Americans. You’ll find the best of both Latin culture and back-home comforts here. Rentals are plentiful and affordable. Sara Coppler, from Kentucky, is renting a one-bedroom apartment right in the city center. “It’s by the Rotary Market, costs $200 a month, and is semi-furnished.
The owner bought new appliances for me, and it has beautiful hardwood floors,” she says.
Ecuador has changed many lives for the better. Georgia natives Julian and Cassandra McClellan say, “We love Ecuador because we feel truly at peace. We’ve been given the gift of time and an unhurried pace where we can turn to our passions. That’s the most priceless gift ever.”
5. Malaysia—Easy, English-Speaking, and First World
By Keith Hockton, IL Malaysia Correspondent
Cities with a buzz, idyllic beaches, islands that seduce the senses and some of the most pristine ancient rainforests in South East Asia – this is Malaysia. And these are just some reasons why I call it home.
As an ex-colony of Britain, English is widely spoken. Expat clubs have existed since the 1700s, yet still welcome new members. Bang-for-buck Malaysia is hard to beat, for instance it’s joint second in the “Renting” category for a reason. In Kuala Lumpur, a couple can live comfortably on $1,500 a month, or extravagantly on $2,500 a month, including rent. For $700 a month you can rent a 2,195 square-foot, four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Penang on a natural harbor overlooking the Straits of Malacca “Between the lower rental costs, lower utilities, and eating out a few days a week, we are looking at a 50% lower cost of living than our home in Canada,” says expat Ellen Ma of the life she and her husband Jim enjoy in Malaysia. Hobbies and pastimes won’t break the bank either: “A round of golf back home was $72, whereas here it’s $30. A tennis pro could cost up to $100 an hour [back home], whereas here it’s $15,” she adds.
This year, Malaysia topped the “Entertainment and Amenities” category of the Retirement Index, and it’s easy to see why. For starters it’s a gastronomic delight, and the street food here is hands down the best in Asia.
In Penang, there are street stalls selling Chinese, Malay and Indian fare that have my mouth watering just thinking about them.
My favorite stall specializes in Nasi Lamak.
Considered the national dish of Malaysia, the recipe combines dried anchovies, roasted peanuts and chicken that has been cooked in sambal (a sauce made from chili peppers, shrimp paste, fish sauce, ginger, garlic and lime juice). This is then added to fragrant rice that has been cooked in coconut milk.
Heavenly. A serving rarely costs more than $1.50.
If white sand beaches are your dream, you have here more than 878 islands to choose from. I’ve been to scores of them and my favorite two are Layang-Layang and Langkawi Island. Layang-Layang because of pristine waters and deep drop-offs (great for scuba divers), and Lankawi for its natural beauty and luxury. Located on the border with Thailand, there are a few established resorts to choose from, not to mention the countless deserted white-sand beaches where you will never see another soul. (Datai Bay is my favorite.)
Canadians Jacques and Sharon Giraud moved to Penang, sight unseen, just 13 months ago. “Although we hadn’t been to Malaysia, everything that we read made sense,” says Sharon. Jacques continued, “We didn’t consider anywhere else because Malaysia ticked all of our boxes. Why continue searching when the place that we wanted was staring us in the face?”
As for healthcare, when you compare surgery prices between the U.S. and Malaysia, the benefits are obvious. A knee replacement in Malaysia costs just $4,000 compared to $45,000 or more in the States, while a hip replacement can cost as little as $5,200, versus $39,000 in the U.S. When I tore my anterior cruciate ligament recently, the cost of my excellent care, including consultation with a top surgeon, MRI, surgery, and a private room, came to $2,000.
In the U.S., the same would have set me back at least $18,000.
6. Colombia—Sophisticated and Affordable
By Nancy Kiernan, IL Colombia Correspondent
Perfect spring-like weather all year was the first thing that drew me to retire to Medellín, Colombia. I had lived my whole life in the northeast U.S. and, I never wanted to see or shovel snow again. While not exactly pioneers, my husband and I are two of the growing number of expats who have discovered that they can live a First-World quality of life in a country that’s only now showing up on fellow retirees’ radar.
Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, so you can easily find a climate and environment that suits your taste. If you want hot and tropical, consider retiring to the lovely Caribbean coastal cities of Santa Marta or Cartagena, where crystal-clear water laps against warm, sandy beaches.
For those who prefer more temperate climates, then I suggest my adopted mountain city of Medellín, or anywhere in the “coffee triangle” of Pereira, Armenia, and Manizales, where you are surrounded by lush, green mountain scenery.
Colombia ranks high as a place for healthy living. The great weather allows retirees to enjoy an active, outdoor lifestyle every day of the year. Walking, hiking, horseback riding, swimming, tennis, and even golf will keep your body strong and your spirit young. Pat Turney, a retired nurse from Idaho, refers to Medellín as “a city with a built-in weight management program,” thanks to all the walking she does.
And then, of course, there are the fresh fruits and vegetables that are locally grown and available year round. I’ve lived in Colombia for over five years, and I still haven’t sampled all the exotic varieties of fruit. Diego, a semi-retired and self-confessed foodie from the U.S. Midwest, is also impressed with the fresh and healthy food. “I love having fresh tomatoes all year round,” he says. In the U.S., he was used to waiting until late summer for the bounty, and then eating what he could and canning the rest. “Now I can get fresh vegetables any time of year.”
As we all reach retirement age, access to high quality but affordable healthcare becomes a front-and-center issue. I was a hospital executive in the U.S., so I know healthcare and understand why Colombia ranks so highly in that category. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Colombia #22 out of the 191 countries it reviews for quality of care. That surpasses Canada (#30) and the U.S. (#37). Colombia is home to 22 of the top 43 Latin American hospitals.
Retirees are discovering they can stretch their retirement dollars, thanks to the low cost of living and the great exchange rate.
The Colombian peso has been hovering around 3,000 to the U.S. dollar since late 2015. Monthly rental costs range from about $300 in small towns to $1,500 and more for a penthouse or a sprawling country home. But in many areas of Colombia, a couple’s total cost of living can be $2,000 a month or less. I live in Medellín’s upscale neighborhood of El Poblado for 60% less than it cost me back in Maine. My combined utilities (water, waste, gas, electric, trash removal, cable, internet, home phone) average $94 a month.
Some of the best things about retiring in Colombia don’t show up on a survey, though. For example, the warm, welcoming Colombian people. As the expression goes, “You don’t meet a Colombian…you meet the entire family!” Here you’ll always feel part of the community.
Don’t let a lack of Spanish keep you from trying out Colombia. I saw it as an opportunity to learn something new. As word spreads about all that Colombia has to offer, expats are drawn to the metropolitan city of Medellín, especially the neighborhoods of El Poblado, Laureles, and Envigado, as well as to the coastal communities of Santa Marta and Cartagena.
A cute two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in the Castrapol section of El Poblado currently rents for $750 a month, furnished. If you want to put your toes in the sand, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, only two blocks back from the beach in the Rodedero section of Santa Marta, goes for $500 a month.
7. Portugal—Europe’s Best Retirement Haven
By Tricia Pimental, IL Portugal Correspondent
On a tree-lined square in the beach town of Ericeira, I sit at an outdoor café and inhale the aroma wafting from my hot coffee. On the table, butter melts on a torrada, a short stack of toast, fresh from the bakery’s oven. A cool autumn breeze hints of winter, yet the Iberian sun is warm enough for me to shed my sweater. This is the life for me.
I’ve lived in Portugal for five years, and as IL Portugal correspondent, I have shared a lot about what makes this country great.
Others agree. “It’s the people,” says expat Molly Ashby, who bought an apartment in Lisbon five years ago. “They’re mellow, and very receptive to foreigners.”
Another reason is the affordable lifestyle.
My husband Keith and I find we spend about a third of what we did to live in the States.
For example, a simple lunch of soup, main course, beverage, dessert, and coffee runs about $10. A taxi start is about $4. Monthly utilities for a two- or three-bedroom apartment average $100 a month. We pay just $1,000 a month for a four-bedroom, four-bath home half an hour from Lisbon.
Rated the third-safest country in the world in the 2017 Global Peace Index, Portugal is not only secure, but beautiful. “The blue-green water is absolutely fantastic with the sun shining on the sea; it’s as if diamonds are dancing on it,” says Annette Ford Rio, who lives in Cascais, near Lisbon.
“The sunrise and sunsets are fabulous.”
I’ve had personal experiences with the healthcare system, both private as well as public, which offers professional treatment at little or no cost. Does that mean you won’t occasionally encounter some bureaucratic red tape? Of course not. But I certainly did in the States, too.
If Portugal’s attributes have convinced you to give it a try, here’s a tip: Begin your test drive in the capital. Lisbon is easy to reach, with direct flights from major cities around the world. English is widely spoken, and comprehensive train, bus, tram, and taxi offerings make it unnecessary to own a vehicle. The city is a cultural cornucopia, with museums and historical sites like St.
George Castle and the nearby Palace of Queluz. Expat organizations like Americans Living in Portugal, International Women in Portugal, and the Royal British Club are ready to help you find your way.