Ready to travel the World? Is it time to find that new, exotic place to live and settle down for a while? Or maybe it is time to do a first trip to test out the waters of a possible location for short or long term living or retirement?
The very first thing we must do is narrow down the near infinite destinations that we could travel to as somewhere we might live (if even for a short period of time). Even before that, you have to have taken the steps to have the available money and/or income to do so, the beginning steps are discussed here and here. Of course, you could just stay at home and watch episodes of House Hunters International (which my wife and I watch religiously), and choose whatever looks good. Mind you, the information presented in that show is definitely biased (why does everyone always want an American style mega-mansion?), often over-priced, and sometimes straight out fictional. Although it is a fun show to watch, with some completely ridiculous expectations and inevitable relationship breakdowns, it is not the best source of solid information for living overseas.
So where can we start?
Luckily, we have International Living, a website and magazine that has put together a top ten list of retirement destinations to help us out. They update this list every year, and it is a very good place to start to get ideas for possible locations for overseas living.
International Living was one of the websites that started my research into early retirement and living overseas in general. Their focus is definitely on retirees on the older end of the spectrum, and people who are generally in the mid-range of income overall ($30-$50K per year). They have a magazine that is published several times a year (bi-monthly I think), and has a lot of information that covers quite a few destinations that we will consider as well. Finally, they have a book that was published a few years back that I still refer to: The International Living Guide to Retiring Overseas on a Budget: How to Live Well on $25,000 a Year .
Here is the list of the top ten:
4. Costa Rica
In today’s post we will look at rankings 10-6 in the above list. The top five will be covered in a future post.
Malta was not exactly a country that was on my radar until this year’s list came out. I have to say it looks utterly stunning. It has the old world European style – the stone buildings and the charming harbor with the turquoise ocean that just pops out at you. Add to that the fabulous 300 days of sun per year, and it sounds almost too good to be true.
But where on earth is this island paradise of Malta?
From the map above, you can see it is pretty much right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea to the south of Sicily and Italy. As a result, the locals speak Maltese (98%), English (88%), Italian (66%), and French (17%), which would make the language issue not an issue at all .
The isolation of island life looks like it could be a bit of an issue, but mainland Europe is only a puddle-jumper flight away (RyanAir return flight to Rome $58 Can at time of writing – carry-on luggage only), or a 90 minute ferry ride to Sicily. Island life always comes with a bit of a financial cost as well, and it is among the more expensive countries on the list coming in at $2700 US per month for living expenses ($3425 CAN as of time of writing). In addition to that, with all European countries there comes the frustration of the retirement Visa and having the guaranteed income to demonstrate to the government involved (which is different for every country) as well as having health insurance set up before you even apply (a requirement of the visa), rather than getting it locally.
Still, all things considered, Malta is a country that I look forward to researching more in the future.
The Lonely Planet travel guides may not be as cool as they once were, but I find they are up to date and at the very least a good starting point for any country. The Lonely Plant guide for Malta is as good as any : Lonely Planet Malta & Gozo 6th Ed.: 6th Edition .
Located on the west coast of continental Europe (to the west of Spain), Portugal has long been high on my list of possible countries for living overseas. Lisbon the capitol, is very much a “San Francisco of Europe”, it has rolling hills that end at a gorgeous seafront that boasts promenades with restaurants and beaches as well. The second largest city, Porto, is found further north, and has a climate that is much milder with weather more similar to Vancouver, minus the winter. Get away from the city and up in the mountains to Braga, and you can experience small town Portuguese living that transports you back in time, with the slower pace (and lower price) that accompanies it.
And if you are not sure where Portugal is exactly, here is a map:
Portugal’s prices are much more reasonable as well, depending on what you want. The further out from the capitol that you go, the cheaper things get. Living on $2000 US a month (approximately $2500 CAN) in Lisbon gives a good standard of living, and if you live outside the city centre, living on less than that is certainly possible.
A few possible things to consider as negatives: 1) the economic downturn has hit Portugal pretty hard, and a lot of people are struggling to get by, 2) Portugal is one of the few countries in the world with all drugs being decriminalized, 3) Portuguese is one of the harder European languages to learn. Some people may have less issues than others with these points, and we will discuss them in a future post focusing on Portugal.
However, don’t let the above points discourage you from exploring Portugal. In addition to the awesome beaches, beautiful citiscapes, add to all this fantastic wine, delicious seafood (though the salted cod doesn’t appeal to me), and a vibrant arts scene (which is important to me), and Portugal is definitely a place to check out.
Nicaragua has been on my list for a while as well. It is a developing country that has come a long way in the last ten years – the infrastructure has gone from third world to on its way to being a developed country (but it is still developing). Many people look at Nicaragua as a Costa Rica from 20 years ago, and minus most of the commercialization that has hit Costa Rica these days. Nicaragua still has the beaches, the yoga, the surfing (arguably better), and, did I mention it has the most gorgeous beaches!
The southern part of the country has the surfing and beach mecca of San Juan Del Sur, which draws its fair share of expats for that laid back beach life. There is also the quaint colonial city of Granada, that sits on the coast of Lake Nicaragua. Many people are attracted to the standard of living that Granada allows, as well as the soaking up of history and enjoyment of the fabulous restaurants that can be found in Granada.
Where is Nicaragua exactly? Sandwiched between Honduras and Costa Rica, it is pretty much right smack dab in the middle of Central America:
Now you may be thinking, wasn’t there something that happened there with that Reagan guy and the Contras and some guy named Ortega? Yes, the Contra Scandal was quite the thing in the eighties. And funny enough, Ortega has become much more moderate in his politics (now often referred to as a Democratic Socialist), and guess what, this new and improved Ortega is president of Nicaragua again! It seems like he is doing a pretty good job now – Nicaragua is developing at an even rate and is well on its way into the twenty-first century. Nicaragua is likely nothing like your vision of it, and is a place to be seriously considered for early retirement.
The low cost of living is likely the greatest attraction for most people considering Nicaragua. Rents are really cheap for what you get: anywhere from as low as $300/ month for a 2 bedroom apartment in Granada or some of the smaller places. If you can spend anything around $1000/month on a rental, you will be living very well and likely could find a nice 2 bedroom, modern condo on/ or at very least, very close to the beach.
Nicaragua does have some issues that should be considered however. Although Nicaragua is working hard at developing infrastructure and modernizing, it is not a modern country. If you need 24/7 reliable high speed internet (though this is improving) and expect modern conveniences at your fingertips, Nicaragua is not for you. Add to that some rather visible poverty in some areas of Nicaragua that will be at direct odds with how you, as an expat, are living (likely in relative luxury), and Nicaragua can be a difficult pill to swallow for some people. Everyone is different with how these sort of things affect them, and in no way should Nicaragua be ruled out as a possible location for living overseas due to these issues, so go there and find out!
When we started out in our search for possible places for early retirement, Spain was one of the first countries we looked at. The south of Spain, “Costa del Sol” (Coast of the Sun), was and is very attractive to us. The almost constant sun, moderate temperatures (well the summer is damn hot, but the rest of the year is very nice), great wine and food, what is not to like?
For the geographically impaired, find below a map to help find Spain (with the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa included as well):
Spain is a large country that has a lot to offer for pretty much every taste. The northern coast is more temperate, the southern coast sunny and warm almost all year, and the capitol of Madrid and the metropolis of Barcelona both have all the big city offerings at a fraction of the prices that would be paid in North America.
Price largely depends on how close you are to (or in) a large city. Spain has been quicker to recover from the economic downturn than Portugal, and the rents aren’t as cheap as they were a few years ago. Up in the hills you can likely get by on $2000 US per month, but in the bigger cities (Madrid/Barcelona) it is likely closer to $3000/month, if not higher.
The Visa issue is similar to Malta. Spain is part of the European Union, and the requirements for income are quite high for a retirement visa, and health insurance is required before apply for your visa, which is a royal pain. There is a lot of preparation to make Spain work, and a fair bit of money is required as well. Not that any of these things remove Spain as a serious consideration for early retirement, but it definitely requires some thought, planning, and money.
If I was to make my own version of the top ten list above, Malaysia would likely be in the #1 spot. I have my reasons of course, most of which is that I have been there several times, and both my wife and I loved it there.
Malaysia is a true ethnic melting pot. Although the country is Muslim, and predominantly Malay, there are a vast number of Chinese, Hindu, and to a lesser extent, Western, as well as even Middle Eastern people who call Malaysia home. The resulting blend results in an absolutely dazzling array of culture, food, arts, etc. that is uniquely Malaysian. Due to this mix of cultures, as well as a British colonial heritage, English is the common language of many of Malaysia’s people – so language should not be an issue to consider with Malaysia.
Where is this land of plenty? To the south of Thailand, east of India, and west of China/Japan. If that is about as clear as mud, here is a map that might help:
Now you may have noticed that there is an western (peninsular) and eastern (Borneo) part of Malaysia. Both are very different, and getting a retirement visa for the eastern part of Malaysia can be difficult. Eastern Malaysia is beautiful, with the World famous dive resort of Sabah/Sipadan (which also has an Orangutan sanctuary nearby), fantastic white sand beaches near Kota Kinabalu, and the laid back Chinese colonial city of Kuching, with its phenomenal food.
The visa for retirement in Malaysia is one of the best set up programs for retirees (aside from Panama and a few others). It is called the MM2H or the Malaysia My Second Home Program. At first glance it has rather strict income guidelines, with required liquid assets of $105,000 – $151,000 CAN. However, once you find out that you can apply while you are still working, and then activate the visa at a later date (though not too much later), this is not too hard to set up for application (if you do not have this kind of money available somewhere, retirement is going to be a problem).
The different places to consider are only limited by your imagination. The modern megatropolis of Kuala Lumpur with the Petronas Towers, and its dizzying array of everything imaginable, the Unesco Heritage sight of Penang, with its world famous culinary delights, and the numerous other smaller cities that can be tailored to almost any budget.
As for budget, Malaysia is cheap (or as I call it, Frugal Heaven) ! Kuala Lumpur is definitely one of the more expensive places in Malaysia, with 2-3 bedroom apartments that average for around $1000 CAN (though more can be spent easily). However, food is still cheap, and for a couple it would be easy to stay under $2000 per month. Penang, is similar, but what is $1000 in Kulala Lumpur, is likely around $700 in Penang. Choose some of the less popular locations, and you can easily find a place for under $500, and live under $1000 per month total. Most of these locations are very, very modern, even more-so than in North America, so no need to worry about internet or any of the modern conveniences you are used to. The value for what you spend in Malaysia is awesome – it truly has great bang for your buck.
As for negatives ….. for me they are few. Some might be turned off by the Muslim nature of the country, maybe. Malaysia is more moderate as the Muslim countries go, that is for sure, and it is still rather democratic. The air has some issues with pollution, especially in the summer. This is the fault of neighbouring Indonesia ignoring slash and burn farming restrictions, but hopefully this will improve in the near future. As well, if you do not like hot and humid weather, Malaysia is not for you. The temperature does not vary much, and hovers between 26-30C for the most part, sometimes going even hotter. Mind you, almost everywhere has air-conditioning, so I do not see how that is an issue.
After looking at the different aspects of Malaysia, I hope that it encourages you to visit, and check out for yourself if it is suitable for you. Everyone is different, and the only way to find out if it suits you is to go there!
For the next Travel Overseas post, the top five on the International Living List.
Marco Polo Money – Be safe and travel far!