Where in the world can you live on $1,500 a month? Quite a few places, it turns out, and if you habla español or parlez français and can demonstrate good financials by buying a home outright in your chosen land, all the better. We ruled out areas that seemed too risky (political instability, high crime) or had challenging residency requirements. Our criteria: affordability, relative safety, interesting culture, good weather and a decent medical system. Here, some glimpses into the lives of Americans who've made the move.
/ Cuenca, Ecuador /
Christine Zimmerman, 51, and her husband, Kent, discovered this lively university city while traveling around the country—and moved in. “There's ballet, theater, concerts, live-music clubs. We have a lot of local friends—I can get by in Spanish, and most Ecuadoreans learn English in school,” she says. “We see movies the same day they open in the U.S., in English with Spanish subtitles. So we have all the comforts of home at a lower price—$3 or $5 for a movie ticket. Last night dinner for two at a tapas restaurant was $17.50, including wine.”
> Housing The Zimmermans rent a two-bedroom apartment for $490 a month; their rooftop patio is just across the street from the Catedral Nuevo and 97 steps from the bustling central square where Christine's favorite ice cream shop, Tutto Freddo, is located. A one-bedroom apartment in the same area sells for $35,000 to $60,000, and higher-end condos go for about $95,000.
> Medical care The Zimmermans use local dentists and doctors for routine care (fillings are $13 each, a dental X-ray is $14, a half-hour doctor visit $20). “The clinics have the latest equipment, and there's a medical school here, so the standard is high,” says Christine. They also carry a high-deductible U.S. medical-insurance policy ($300 a month per person) that covers serious care in the States. International insurance policies that cover medical treatment outside the U.S. (Bupa, for example; go to bupa-intl.com) start at about $1,000 a year per person.
> Logistics Expats with a fixed monthly income (such as Social Security) may qualify for residency through a Pensioner 10-I Visa. Go to ecuador.org/visas.htm for details. The rules are subject to change, but you may be able to obtain residency with as little as $800 a month in outside income.
/ Uruguay /
Julie Lowrey and Lee Harrison, both fluent in Spanish, moved to Uruguay in 2006, drawn by its European sophistication, modern infrastructure, developing-world prices and temperate climate. The couple settled near Punta del Este, an upscale resort 10 miles from an airport, and have made friends from around the world. “The food is great, although a lot of it is grilled beef,” says Lowrey, 60. “Because Italian culture is such a big influence, their pasta is way above anything you can get in the U.S.” Her one caveat: “I don't buy clothes here,” she says. “If you want good quality, it's too expensive. I shop sales when I go back to the U.S. on visits.” The resort empties out from April to November, leaving mostly expats and retirees. “We're part of a group of English speakers who get together when we can,” she says.
> Housing “I like the countryside,” Lowrey says, “and he likes the city, so we got something in between: a three-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot house a mile northeast of Punta del Este.” The price they paid in 2006, $160,000, would be closer to $330,000 today. But Punta del Este is more expensive than most places in Uruguay. In the capital, Montevideo, prices for two- and three-bedroom apartments range from $130,000 to $250,000, and two-bedroom apartments rent for $1,000 and up.
> Medical care
The couple get their medical checkups in the States, but there are excellent private clinics and hospitals in Uruguay that accept their U.S.-based Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan.