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When Nathan Lake, a registered nurse and medical website creator from the Seattle area, decided to retire, he began looking for a less expensive country where he could still have a good quality of life.
At first, he considered Thailand and Portugal, two popular destinations for U.S. retirees. Then he found a place that checked all the boxes: Cuenca, a city of 436,000 perched high in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador.
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Lake, who turns 65 in January, loves the temperate climate — “You have a low of 50 degrees at night and a high of 70 to 75 in the daytime” — and the abundance of mom-and-pop restaurants where he can get a great meal for $3. And while the nearly 500-year-old city is famed for its Spanish colonial architecture, there’s also a neighborhood filled with American-style apartments where it’s easy for an expat retiree like Lake to become acclimated while learning Spanish.
Lake is one of the many U.S. retirees who’ve relocated to Latin America, where they can stretch their dollars and find a range of climates and living situations to suit almost any taste. Some countries, such as Panama and Colombia, have sophisticated modern cities with consumer conveniences akin to those in the U.S. and Europe. Others, like Ecuador and Belize, offer a more relaxed lifestyle amid natural wonders.
“Just saying ‘Latin America’ is easy, but each region and each country is going to be very different,” says Lief Simon, international real estate expert at Live and Invest Overseas, a company that publishes books and online guides on moving and doing business abroad.
With the rise of remote work, Michael Cobb, chief executive officer of Belize-based real estate firm ECI Development, envisions Latin America becoming an attractive spot for Americans in their 50s who want to get an early start on a retirement lifestyle. “They don’t have to wait until they’re 65,” he says. “They can move to Belize and keep doing their jobs, and they can go diving on the weekends.”
For Denise Dumont, 68, and her husband Lee Dumont, 70, Boquete, Panama, turned out to be the right destination — a place where a nice home costs $1,500 or $1,600 a month to rent and a whole fresh pineapple can be had for $1. And then there’s the comfortable climate.
“Even the Panamanians like to go to Boquete to escape the heat,” Denise Dumont says.
Margo Murdock, 76, relocated from Macon, Georgia, to San Pedro de Vilcabamba, a small town in the Ecuadoran Andes, when she retired eight years ago. She pays just $200 a month in rent for her home, and “my view is divine,” she says. With weather that’s “perfect all year round,” she grows coffee, mangoes, lemons, limes, grapefruit and lemongrass for tea.
“Life is good,” she says. “Wouldn’t change a thing!”
Here are some of the practical details you need to know about retiring to eight popular destinations in Latin America.
Wedged between Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean coast, Belize is known for its beaches and the natural beauty of its forests, and is the only nation in Central America where English is the official language.
Residency: The Qualified Retirement Program (QRP) allows expats 45 or older with at least $2,000 a month in income from Social Security, a pension or an annuity to become permanent residents. Applicants must have no criminal history, pass a government background check and stay in Belize for at least 30 consecutive days each year to maintain that status.
Buying property: Foreigners can buy real estate without restrictions, though they have to register the land transfer with the Central Bank of Belize.
Health care: American retirees in Belize can receive free care at any of the nation’s public health clinics, according to Claudette Dakers-Norales, information officer for Belize’s Ministry of Health & Wellness. There are also private hospitals in Belize, and it’s relatively easy to travel into neighboring Mexico, which has bigger medical facilities, says Mark Leonard, a former Californian who now lives in Belize.
Popular retirement destinations: Ambergris Caye, Cayo, Corozal, Placencia