Retire Overseas—On a Shoestring

Can't afford to stop working? If your nest egg deposits $1,500 a month into your bank account, you could live quite comfortably (even luxuriously) in these faraway places.

by Laurie Werner
retire overseas on a shoestring
Living in Granada, Nicaragua, is "like going back in time," says American expat Kathy Snyder. "And the people are so kind." A two-bedroom condo here goes for about $158,000.
Photograph: Brown Cameron III
She joined a local social club, the Anglo-American Group of Provence, and immediately plugged into a network of friendly people.
> Housing Prime real estate in Provence and the Côte d'Azur is expensive, but affordable cottages and one-bedroom apartments in the villages can be had for $100,000 to $200,000. Artigues rents a 344-square-foot studio in Aix for ∈576 (about $800). A 200-square-foot studio in the center of Aix sells for just over $100,000; a four-room, 980-square-foot apartment is $387,000.
> Logistics “The French love paperwork,” says Artigues. Before you leave the U.S., it's best to obtain a long-stay visa, valid for up to a year. To qualify, you need to produce documentation showing financial assets and income (there is no required dollar amount, and rules vary with each residency case), proof of medical insurance and notarized deeds or leases for property in France (see for details). During your first two months in France, register with the Office of Immigration and Integration, and within the year apply to the local authorities for a retirees' resident permit (carte de séjour “retraité”), valid for 10 years and renewable. You can enter the medical system almost immediately, simply by showing proof that you live there, such as a deed for a house. You then get the benefits of a superlative system at low cost—for example, $33 for a doctor visit, 70 percent of which is reimbursed.
/ Panama City, Panama /
Kathleen Peddicord, 48, author of the book How to Retire Overseas, left the U.S. in 1998 with her husband, Lief Simon, and child to explore other cultures, spending time in France and Ireland before settling in Panama City nearly four years ago. They were drawn by the favorable business environment (she runs her own publishing company,, up-to-the-minute infrastructure and well-educated, English-speaking workforce—as well as the beauty of the country and the cultural diversity. “We have many Panamanian friends,” she says, “and most speak English. In the countryside, you would need Spanish [her husband is fluent]. We see first-run films in English, except that a movie ticket costs only $4.” Panama offers a range of discounts to retirees, such as 25 percent off restaurant bills and airline tickets, both domestic and international.
> Housing The Peddicords, who now have two children, rent a five-bedroom house with a garden in the Marbella neighborhood for $3,000 a month, but you can find a one-bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood for $675 and a three-bedroom for $1,400. Two-bedroom apartments in the business district sell for $185,000. In the countryside, near the colonial town of Las Tablas, three-bedroom houses start at $125,000, and rents for a two-bedroom home start at about $500.
> Medical care Many doctors in Panama City were trained in the U.S., and facilities are on a par with those in U.S. cities. Panamanian insurance companies sell in-country policies for about $50 a month per person. Or you can purchase an international plan through Bupa.
> Logistics Panama has about 15 ways to establish residency (see Peddicord took a route open to those without pensions but with substantial funds: a reforestation visa. Under its terms, the family paid $80,000 and along with their visas received two-and-a-half acres of teak trees to harvest (they have not yet exercised this option). The most common path to residency, however, is the pensionado program, which requires proof that couples receive at least $1,125 a month in Social Security or other pension income.
/ Granada, Nicaragua /
Kathy Snyder, 66, didn't choose to settle in Nicaragua; her husband, Jay, fell in love with the country when he studied Spanish there six years ago. He came back with the deed to a property in this beautiful colonial city. They built nine condo units and kept one for themselves. “The people here are so nice, so kind, so gracious,” she says.

First Published December 7, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


Post new comment

Click to add a comment