Save, save, save, they say. And so I am.
Like a squirrel storing up nuts for an endless winter, every spare dime beyond my basic living expenses and occasional indulgences gets ferried into the hidey-hole that is my FNBO Direct account. Granted, there’s not a lot left over, since I’m only barely living below my means at present, but no matter – regardless of its size, I guard my hoard fiercely, watch over it daily, and, occasionally, like today, wonder what it’s all truly for.
Saving patterns are fabulous things to train oneself into, but what is this elusive retirement for which I’m saving? What does it really mean?
The very phrase “retirement” brings to mind a time-worn face looking over a horizon colored by a splendid sunset, over either waving fields of grain or hordes of beaming grandchildren. I’ve seen too many commercials, perhaps, and I like sunsets and all, but I have to tell you, none of it excites me. The very thing I’m working for seems like something I wouldn’t really want at all.
Now, don’t get me wrong – the whole not-working thing seems quite appealing. I’ve got plenty of “take this job and shove it” fantasies to go around, especially on Monday mornings.
I’d love to not have to work, but I don’t really see myself retiring at 40, trading in all my suits for Hawaiian shirts and yachting around the Florida Keys. Though I try, I don’t see myself accumulating a great deal of wealth, especially considering inflation. I believe I will find a way to save enough to sustain myself reasonably well, but not to live some fabulous fantasy life, not here on the East Coast, anyway.
So in reality, I can imagine having a very nice, peaceful week or two off before I become bored and irritable, and I’d probably either be back at work or starting my own venture within a month’s time.
Even after I’m old enough to qualify for the senior citizen rate at the movies, I can still imagine myself craving excitement and wanting to fill my days with new wonders, rather than reliving old memories from my rocking chair. It’s just who I am.
Knowing this, I start to realize that I need a different kind of retirement to save for, a goal that reflects what I’m about versus some one-size-fits-all fantasy. It’s more geared towards gaining new experiences than reflecting upon the past, and that means that, given the very expensive area in which I live, maybe it’s not in the United States at all.
As you know from past entries, I love to travel and feel that I’ve not seen nearly enough of what the world has to offer. When I came across International Living’s article, 10 Exotic, Affordable Retiree Havens, I was intrigued. What if my dream vacation was also my retirement destination? And if the cost of living was cheaper, all the better!
While some spots sound better than others to me, there’s lots to learn about these exotic retirement meccas. The article lists out comparative prices for everything from a bottle of wine to a doctor’s visit, utilities, and rent in all ten locales, but I’ll summarize some of the things I found interesting:
A man, a plan, a canal…a high standard of healthcare. This plus access to both raw, compelling nature and more refined musical and theatrical events makes Panama a standout. The travel column the article links to outlines an alluring range of options from city-slicking to jungle exploration:
Panama is full of possibilities. Panama is really three countries: glitzy, supermodern Panama City; the cool, inscrutable, slow-moving interior (including jungle and cloud forest); and the varied, surfable, fishable coasts–backpacker-land. Like so many places that are at the center of their geographical area, Panama is a dream factory.
There’s another great article I stumbled across from International Living as well: Panama is a Paradise for Retirees. It mentions a 50% discount program off of just about every cost I can fathom, plus extra perks like a 20-year exemption from property taxes and no taxes whatsoever on foreign earned income. There’s a wealth of information on cost of living as well:
Panama has one of the lowest costs of living in all Central and South America: A U.S.-style home can be built for about $40 per square foot; unskilled labor costs $6.40 per day; a full-time live-in maid costs $120 to $160 a month; a beer at a bar costs 35 cents; a cup of coffee, 30 cents; a haircut and shave can cost as little as $2; an afternoon at a beauty salon is $8; electricity is about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour; water bills are $18 per year; telephone service costs roughly $30 a month; Internet access is $14 a month; wireless is available for a bit more; cellular-telephone service costs about $30 a month plus a per-minute charge of around 22 cents; and cable TV will cost you about $30 a month.
I’ve always dreamt of going to visit jungles, but not necessarily residing there permanently. (You know, hungry jaguars and all.) But it sounds like there’s so much variation between regions that one could live comfortably while still enjoying the occasional expedition. That sounds like a downright thrilling retirement, not passive at all. And with monthly rent around $600 for Panama City, it sounds reasonable as well.
Say “near-perfect climate” in the heart of the Mediterranean and I’m there, but the 15% income-tax rate for foreign residents, lack of property taxes, low crime rate, excellent healthcare and prevalence of English seals the deal. $80 a month for a maid means I can spend my time out enjoying everything and come home to a spotless abode, too. $25 doctor visits sound pretty sweet as well, though I can hardly imagine getting sick somewhere so beautifully temperate.
HomesInMalta.com makes it all sound very simple and free of hassles, as I feel retired life should be, and the island is simple to travel to and from as well:
Travelling around Malta, whether to the beach, shopping in the city or a night at the theatre is simple. Wherever you are it shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes by car.
The Maltese Islands are easy to get to from most major European airports, with flight times of 3 hours from London or Amsterdam, and 2 Â½ hours from Paris, Frankfurt and Cairo. Flights are very regular and transport from the airport is easy and straightforward.
Imagine retiring in the land where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed! While it can be difficult to qualify for permanent residency, this English-speaking country boasts a low cost of living and tons of gorgeous countryside to explore. No capital gains tax and an average rent of $900 per month is a good incentive to keep my passport current.
I always dreamt of honeymooning there, but I could really see living in New Zealand, enjoying the sort of outdoorsy lifestyle I wish I had the time to live here in the U.S., but with less overhead costs to worry about. One could even follow the example of the Maori and build a mud hut to save even further. That’s not my plan, however.
EmigrateNZ.org has some interesting information too about superannuation after retirement, which sounds rather attractive:
By law, you can work to any age you want to in New Zealand.
If you live here continuously for at least ten years, five of them after the age of 50, you get state superannuation at the age of 65. This is currently worth $249 per week after tax if you’re single or $383 per week after tax for married couples.
It’s not a windfall, but depending on your circumstances, you might be able to receive these monies in addition to your pension from a former U.S. employer. It could be a nice bonus, enough to bring your standard of living in retirement up a level.
This isn’t a bad view either, at any price:
Uruguay “feels like Europe but with Third World prices,” according to the article. Potable water is a must, but the stunning beaches are a definite plus. $35 doctor visits make it livable, but $5 movie tickets make it enjoyable when you’re not out in the great outdoors.
UruguayDreaming.com has a nice piece on the pros and cons of retiring in Uruguay, and lists some of the following perks:
* Permanent residency is relatively easy to get, and new residents can import their household goods tax-free
* The cost of living is half what you’ll find in North America or Europe
* Healthcare is inexpensive and high-quality
All in all, there are some attractive elements to Uruguay as a retirement spot, however the cons mentioned in the article, including crime rates and lack of accessibility for the handicapped are definite concerns.
While I expected to see Mexico on the list, the $3.50 movie ticket price and $700 monthly rent average make me realize that this Spring Break hotspot can be the ideal place for a permanent vacation. Beaches, culture, and incredibly tasty and flavorful food will help keep life vibrant and colorful as time goes on. Plus, while my idea of retirement is rather active, an afternoon siesta provides a rather alluring pause.
An International Living article from September boats that beachfront property can be had in Mexico for under $100,000, and goes on to describe the excellent quality of life a Mexican retirement can afford:
Goods and services cost less, so you can afford the kinds of luxuries only the very wealthy enjoy up north: a maid, a cook, and a gardener for example. In your retirement here, you’ll have time to volunteer at the local school, time to golf in the mornings, time to relax on the beachâ€¦time to savor life.
Whether your vision of the ideal retirement involves shopping, fishing, sunbathing, diving, biking, mountain climbing, parasailing, collecting crafts, visiting archeological sites, partying, going to concerts, attending the theater, or fine dining, in Mexico you can engage in all of these activities, and many more.
The French countryside apparently provides a much cheaper cost of living than the $2,650 rent you’ll find in Paris, but I still worry that this may be too expensive an option for me. Still, as a gourmet, I am compelled by the food culture, and can imagine spending many happy hours in the kitchen attempting various culinary feats with high-quality, well-priced local ingredients. The countryside is indeed gorgeous, and the overall pace of life seems well-suited for relaxed enjoyment. I’m no French scholar, but the idea of learning a beautiful new language later in life is appealing, as is exploring France’s wealth of cultural wonders.
ShelterOffshore has a great article full of reasons to retire in France, including climate, culture, cuisine, ease of relocation, and more.
The article’s description of Romania makes it sound like a fantasy come to life, a low-cost fantasy to boot:
Along with its diverse and interesting landscape of medieval towns, fairy-tale castles, natural spas, magnificent architecture, majestic mountains and unspoiled beaches, Romania’s big appeal is its low cost of living.
With $600 rent and $10 doctor visits, this fairy tale sounds like a financially sustainable way to live. While the infrastructure is somewhat overwrought at present, healthcare is free and supported by the government, and substantial investments are anticipated for the future. The tourist dollars of those still working for a living just might pave a very nice road for those who have left work behind.
Live for $800 a month surrounded by the art and culture of Buenos Aires, with “over 300 theaters, 100-plus art galleries, at least 70 museums, and hundreds of all-night bookstores“, or live for even less out in the countryside. Either way, you stand to benefit from Argentina’s recovery from recession. There are lots of investment opportunities to be had as well, helping you to continue to earn income even with the workforce well behind you.
There’s a nice article here with more information, including notes on the varied and fascinating neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.
I’m not as certain about Malaysia as a retirement destination, but with a 5-year unlimited-entry-and-exit visa, I am certain it’s at least worth checking out further. I would want better assurance of the standard of living and healthcare, however, since I personally know several doctors who volunteered time there to help bring up their quality of medical care. Active city life and lots of water recreation like snorkeling and scuba diving are tempting, as is the average $850 rent found in Kuala Lumpur.
In his article Malaysia: An Asian Retirement Paradise, Shannon Roxborough calls Malaysia “Asia’s best-kept secret for expatriates,” explaining:
Compared with other major Asian cities (Tokyo, Singapore, and Hong Kong, for example), Kuala Lumpur is downright cheap. Even in the over-priced tourist spots you can get a good meal for two for around $20. Outside of these places, a 3-course meal for two with all the trimmings, including drinks, will set you back no more than $10, doctor’s visit $8 to $15 and live-in domestic help $200 a month.
Rental properties are readily available and not overly expensive by American or European standards. The cost of 2-bedroom rental apartments begins at around $225 per month, with 3-bedroom houses starting at $35,000.
$600 average rent, rustic charm and rich agriculture greet the retiree in Ecuador. Again, there are jungles to explore, a fascinating culture and wonderful language to become familiar with. Gocurrency.com provides a tempting overview:
With attractions ranging from the famous Galapagos Islands to the sunny Pacific beaches and from the snow capped volcanoes to the exotic Amazon jungle, Ecuador offers something for everyone at prices unheard of in North America and Europe.
Ecuador enjoys beautiful weather year round. With average temperatures ranging from lows of 60ÂºF to highs of 75ÂºF, one never finds himself particularly uncomfortable due to the weather. This ultimately eliminates the need for heating systems and air conditioning, significantly reducing expenses.
It is a good point – why pay to heat or cool a place which would otherwise be uninhabitable? Again, perfect weather is an attractive feature, as it the amazing biodiversity of the country.
Another International Living article devoted to Ecuador as retirement destination claims that “it’s not difficult to live on less than $17,000 per year here; you don’t have to live a restrictive lifestyle to do it.”
For me, it’s important to know that even if I’m not quite so adept at squirrelling away my savings, there are still places I can go where I can live a fulfilling life in stunning environs, and Ecuador is definitely a candidate. A gourmet meal for two, including wine and dessert, averages a very-affordable $25. I can have my retirement and eat well, too!
While some options are more attractive to me than others, I am thrilled to see the range of exotic locales available to me, some affordable enough that I can let go my fear of being flattened by inflation.
I’m not saving up so I can retire from my life. I’m saving for a fabulous, exciting permanent vacation.
10 Exotic, Affordable Retiree Havens [International Living via MSN Money]
Updated December 20, 2011 and originally published October 30, 2007. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @flexo on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.