International Living and Retirement

As nearly millions of baby boomers approach retirement age, many are finding traditional American retirement locations less appealing. A high cost of living, violent crime and deteriorating social values are driving an increasing number of retirees abroad.

“The hold Florida and Arizona have had on retirees is loosening, and the options are growing,” said Clare Hushbeck, an economist and senior legislative representative with AARP.

With a literally dozens of attractive locations to choose from, how does the savvy retiree choose their own perfect little slice of paradise?

While places like Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize have been popular retirement destinations with cheap living, warmer climates and close proximity to the US, prices in those countries have risen sharply over in recent years. As a result, a new breed of adventurous retirees is branching out to such countries as Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua. These countries, in turn, are rolling out the welcome wagon to try and snare Americans’ retirement dollars.

Panama, as well as having an attractive retiree incentive program, also has expatriate communities cropping up in various parts of the country. The capital Panama City and Boquete, a hilltop town are the most popular. The US dollar is legal tender in Panama and there are no taxes on foreign earned income. Although Spanish is the official language, English is widely spoken.

And while Nicaragua may conjure up images of civil war, real estate agents are offering entire islands off the Caribbean coast for less than the cost of a condo in Florida.

Other niche retirement spots include Honduras, particularly the islands of Roatan, which attracts beach lovers who retire there for the lifestyle and tax-free status, and former war-torn Nicaragua with its inexpensive real estate.

Belize, a scenic fisherman’s paradise on Central America’s Caribbean Coast, offers many advantages for American retirees, including tax and residency perks, and the fact that English is the official language.

With Central America becoming a little more expensive, little-known South American countries like Ecuador and Belize are gaining in popularity. Their rock-bottom prices mean you a spacious home on several acreage with live-in help can be had for less than the cost of a condo in Florida.

More adventurous and well-traveled retirees are looking beyond Latin America and are considering what Europe, Asia and other place have to offer.

While places like Spain, Portugal, France and Italy have long lured hoards of British retirees, the Mediterranean islands nations of Cyprus and English-speaking Malta are embracing retirees through tax incentives and some of the lowest real estate prices in Europe.

If you hadn’t yet placed Canada on your short list, you might want to. Nova Scotia is like New England, with property prices about a tenth of the cost in many cases, including oceanfront lots for as little as $10,000 and homes with acreage starting at $50,000.

Frequently overlooked and inexpensive places to retire are Eastern European nations such as Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. Real estate on Bulgaria’s sunny Black Sea Riviera is less than half the price of that found on the Spanish coast. Food, wine, concerts and the theater in Prague, the Czech Republic’s capital, is a quarter the cost of Paris. And you can own a medieval castle in Romania for the price of a typical farmhouse in Tuscanny.

If Asia is more appealing then check out Malaysia and Thailand, which both have very attractive foreign retiree programs, a much lower cost of living, inexpensive medical care, cheap domestic help, large expatriate communities, several beach resorts, plenty of golf courses and direct flights to the US.

Another place worth considering is English-speaking New Zealand, where you can buy a sprawling four-bedroom, two-bath home for about $75,000.

Prior to taking the plunge, there are myriad of things to consider, including the cost of living, proximity to family and friends, local leisure activities, healthcare facilities and tax implications. The most important consideration is taking the time to find the right property in the right location. All too often, foreign properties are bought on impulse as a result of a short vacation. Before making a large investment, you take a long-term trip and rent a place to get to know the area, people and real real estate market before buying.

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