"Wow...wow, wow, wow!” I said, as I walked into Popayán’s main square, Parque Caldas, for the first time. Glistening white colonial buildings surrounded me on three sides and a majestic cathedral stood in front of me. “Okay,” I thought, “now I see why Popayán is known as the ‘White City.’” Though beautifully preserved, this city is not just another pretty face. Popayán exudes a sophisticated, intellectual atmosphere, kept lively by the nearly 13,000 university students among its 300,000 inhabitants. And did I mention the climate? Mild, with highs around 75 F and lows in the mid-50s F, thanks to the city’s altitude (nearly 6,000 feet).
I’ve never seen such blue water as the Caribbean in Belize. I couldn’t keep my eyes off it, whether I was cruising around by boat, watching tiny islets fade into the distance… swinging in a hammock strung between two palms on the beach…or beating that tropical heat with a cold Belikin beer in the shade of a palm frond-roofed beach bar. Belize has a lot to offer those seeking a new life abroad. The low cost of living means a couple can live well on $2,000 to $3,000 or less a month.
We typically see Path of Progress opportunities in places that are on the up…we usually discover distressed opportunities by finding high-quality inventory somewhere that’s broadly in crisis. It’s rare that we see the convergence of both these trends—but today that’s the opportunity we have along a stretch of Spain’s Costa del Sol. San Pedro is a pleasant sleepy Spanish town of leafy squares and pedestrian streets. Marbella is 12 minutes away (by car…25 minutes by public bus).
Unless the European crisis is news to you, you probably know that Greece just suffered through its own Great Depression. Its economy shrank for six years in a row. Economic output fell by a quarter. The unemployment rate is 27%. And asset prices collapsed. No wonder, then, that some of the most successful investors are in Greece picking up bargains—including Dan Loeb’s Third Point, Prem Watsa’s Fairfax Financial, Seth Klarman’s Baupost, and John Paulson’s Paulson & Co.
As an antiques enthusiast, I like to ask dealers with different areas of expertise what’s hot and what’s not. A Spanish buff told me recently that Spanish Civil War memorabilia, once considered inappropriate and politically embarrassing, has now become collectible. Spain doesn’t have a great tradition of preserving reminders from its recent past. The Civil War was a complex and tragic period in the country’s history that divided families and set brother against brother.
When you imagine how a retiree might spend her time in the highlands of Panama, you probably don’t imagine her opening a gym and fitness center. But at age 64, that’s exactly what Bonnie Jach did when she moved to Boquete in Chiriquí Province. Bonnie’s love of travel and adventure began at a young age. “I’m originally from Wisconsin,” she says. “When I was 20, I joined the Peace Corps. I’ve always loved new and exciting places. Even though I like the States very much, I knew I wanted to live overseas.”
One of the things that Richard Meyer enjoys most about his bakery in Boquete, Panama, is that he gets to be his own boss. “I grew up in Denver and I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 12,” says Richard, now age 47. “As a chef, baker, and pastry chef, I create both sweet and savory dishes, and now I get to decide what’s on the menu.” Richard and his Panamanian wife, Yarina, found their premises for rent on Craigslist.
I wasn’t asking for much when I went in search of the perfect place to live. All I wanted was white-sand beaches giving way to crystal-clear tropical seas. For variety, I wanted a choice between a beachfront café, with mellow music playing in the background, and an empty beach where the only sounds are birds chirping and waves lapping against the shore. Oh, and the beaches had to be within easy reach of each other, and I needed to be able to live well on a small budget.
Ecuador offers sophisticated historical cities…miles of unspoiled, sun-kissed beaches…fertile farmland…and temperate mountain hideaways…and all of it for pennies on the dollar. You can live well for a fraction of the cost of living back in the U.S. And with Ecuador’s official currency the U.S. dollar, you needn’t worry about currency calculations or exchange risks. And real estate costs? They’re among the lowest we’ve found anywhere in the world.
A view, good-value real estate, low cost of living, friendly locals…they’re all important as you search for a new community to settle in abroad. But if you have a green thumb, you may have some special requirements for your dream home. You’ll need good soil and the right light. Maybe you want multiple growing seasons, which is possible in some tropical areas.