The lush, tropical destinations in the Caribbean and Central America draw thousands of visitors each year. Some of those visitors fall in love with these picture postcard gorgeous countries and decide to live there full-time or at least part of the year when the weather in their home country becomes unbearable.
Most people believe that a Caribbean retirement is only for the very wealthy. That’s simply not true if you know where to look. The places you’ll read about here are beautiful locations, offering a high standard of living, and a cost of living that’s a fraction of what you would spend in a similar location in the States or Canada.
If your overseas living, retirement, or snowbird dream includes powdery white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, and watching the sunset over a turquoise sea, you have plenty of options to consider among the welcoming countries that make up the Caribbean and Central American nations.
Panama, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and even Mexico (which is technically located in North America) are some of our favorite countries in this part of the world that should be on your radar.
You can choose from:
culturally rich historic towns such as Cartagena, Colombia and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
bustling waterfront cities like Panama City, Panama
laid-back beach towns like San Pedro, Belize,
cute little Latin American or Spanish-influenced communities,
unspoiled beaches in the Azuero Peninsula, Panama or Las Terranes, Dominican Republic
and tourist towns like Cancun and Tulum, Mexico
Just picture yourself enjoying perfect weather every day, taking daily strolls along the beach, feasting on fresh seafood and tropical fruits, and whiling away the hours reading a great book in a hammock. No more shoveling snow, driving in bad conditions, waiting for a short growing season to plant a garden, or hibernating while you wait for the weather to change. In the Caribbean and Central America, you can have the perfect tropical dream life.
I’m delighted to be speaking to you today as the new editor of this Overseas Property Alert. Lynn Mulvihill is diversifying her role with Live And Invest Overseas… creating an opportunity for me to join the conversation.
I hope I can fill Lynn’s shoes adequately and that my insights and recommendations for global property markets based on decades of living and working in the real estate industry around the world will be enlightening and even entertaining for you.
And, of course, profitable.
Before we go further, maybe I should take a minute to give you some idea who’ll be behind these dispatches going forward…
I’m Irish. Studied business and law in University College Dublin before embarking on an eclectic career in real estate that has taken me from Ireland across Europe and then on to the Americas.
I’ve seen a lot, done a lot, and, boy, have I made a few mistakes along the way…
I’ve served as a director of real estate, oil and gas, and offshore corporate services companies… and I’ve built, scouted, bought, and sold all manner of properties…
And I’ve made and lost a few fortunes along the way…
The good news for you is that, after decades of property investing experience across the globe, I’ve learned from every misstep.
Now I want to share my hard-won wisdom.
I love the thrill of chasing a deal, I know the industry from both sides, and I’ve come to be able to spot the cowboy operators and grifters from across the street.
I’m back in my home county of Limerick, Ireland, these days… but my scouting boots are by the door.
I’ll be on the road more than not.
As we like to say here at Live And Invest Overseas, the world is alive with opportunity for fun… and, most important to our purposes here, profit.
Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be bringing you the choicest hand-picked deals from the best developers operating in the markets most poised for growth across the globe…
And important, I’ll be bringing you personally negotiated exclusive pricing, terms, and inventory.
We’re living through historic times.
A turning-point era.
Offering enormous potential for those of us paying attention.
Let’s begin our conversation in Panama… a market that we at Live And Invest Overseas have been heralding for more than two decades… that, in fact, we were the first to recommend…
And that offers more opportunity right now than ever.
Read on below…
Panama has long been recognized as one of the best—and easiest—options in the world for …
If you’ve been researching the topic of retiring or buying a property abroad, you’ve probably seen a lot about beaches, sun, sand, and warm-weather locations.
But I routinely hear from readers who don’t like hot weather or humidity and have no desire to live near the beach. Just this week, I heard from two people asking for more articles on destinations with cooler climates.
The term “eternal spring-like weather” is frequently abused by those who write about overseas living… and I have been among the offenders.
The problem is that “spring-like” is different for everyone. Springtime in Alabama is quite different from that of Ontario, for example. I’ve met lots of people who found Cuenca, Ecuador, too cold, while others were too hot in Medellín, Colombia, yet both places are said to have “spring-like” weather.
To me—and in today’s essay—“spring-like” weather is that which stays in the lower-to mid-70s℉ year-round. Here are three of my favorite locations that fit that definition.
El Retiro: Colonial Living In The Cool Colombian Mountains
When I first saw El Retiro, I fell in love immediately. The network of narrow streets, its wealth of colonial architecture, and the bustling and energetic town square make for an inviting setting. What’s more, the town is surrounded by mountains that provide a beautiful backdrop to its colonial ambiance.
El Retiro is a small colonial city in the Colombian highlands, a short commute southeast of Medellín. It’s also a pleasant, 30-minute drive southwest from the José María Córdova International Airport. Founded in 1790, the current population of El Retiro is around 21,000 people.
I first discovered El Retiro on a trip from the airport to my home in Medellín, when the driver suggested a short excursion. He knew El Retiro well because his family often leaves Medellín to visit on weekends and enjoy the small-town ambiance and cool weather.
The colonial center is anchored by a stately white church that overlooks the town plaza. Called Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Rosario, it was named after a painting of the same name. This plaza is the social hub of the town’s historic center… always bustling and full of life.
El Retiro is somewhat sleepy during the week, but its cafés and restaurants come to life on the weekends as people from Medellín—many of whom have second homes in the area—come to enjoy its charms. The constant flow of visitors and the number of new projects going up in the area bode well for anyone considering buying here.
Another good sign is that the government is investing in parks, recreation, and infrastructure, in response to the town’s popularity. Renovation of the riverside park with picnic tables, a new bus stop on the plaza, investment in street lighting, sidewalks, and a new entertainment plaza are all examples of projects completed in recent years.
El Retiro is perched at an altitude of around 2,175 meters. The average high temperature is 73°F with a seasonal variation of one or two degrees. Overnight lows average 55°F, easily qualifying as comfortable, “spring-like” weather.
Here are a couple of examples of the kind of properties you can find in El Retiro…
– In the center of El Retiro, you will find nicely finished apartments, less than two years old, with up to 100 square meters of living space, three bedrooms, and three bathrooms. These properties offer spacious living and are perfectly located for car-free living in the heart of town, with shops, cafés, and the central plaza all within a short walk. They would also work well as rentals, accommodating weekenders visiting the cool mountains from Medellín. You can pay as little as US$100,000 for these apartments.
For those who prefer country living outside of town…
– You will find numerous country homes in the tranquil hills outside of El Retiro with expansive views of the surrounding lush mountains. The main house usually comprises around 200 square meters of living space with up to three bedrooms, often each with its own bathroom. Sometimes a guest or caretaker’s house comes with the property, usually with around 80 square meters of living area, two to three bedrooms, and a single bathroom. These properties sometimes go for less than US$200,000.
Puebla: A Cool Highland City In Colonial Mexico
This is my favorite city in Mexico. It’s not well-known on the retire-overseas circuit… and that’s probably why it’s my favorite.
Puebla is one of the most impressive Spanish-colonial environments you’ll find in the Americas because it’s a real, living city… not one that caters primarily to tourism or expats. Its population is around 3.25 million, yet in many ways it manages to feel like a small community.
Among international travelers, Puebla is known for its famous Talavera pottery and its mole poblano… a rich, dark sauce made from toasted ground chili peppers, spices, chocolate, and up to 25 other ingredients.
Puebla’s zócalo (town square) is one of the best in Mexico, an entire city block lined with sidewalk cafés and shops hidden behind the classic portales (arches) common to the zócalos of many colonial cities.
The sheer size of Puebla’s historic center—and its pristine state of preservation—make it a rarity in Spanish America and led to Puebla’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. There are over 1,000 colonial buildings downtown, the cathedral is magnificent, and you’ll find 70-plus beautiful churches in the historic center alone.
There are few American retirees in Puebla. In fact, if it weren’t for family connections, I may not have made it here myself. This lack of a large North American or Canadian expat community will be a positive for some and a negative for others… but it does create the feeling that you’re in traditional, old Mexico.
As for the climate, Puebla sits at an altitude of about 2,135 meters and enjoys a subtropical highland climate. The average high temperature is 77°F, with a seasonal variation of about ±5°F. Overnight lows average 49°, passing as optimum temperatures for most of us.
The property prices here are surprisingly low, even near the zócalo and cathedral. This is partly because homes are priced in pesos—unlike the better-known tourist and expat haunts—giving dollar holders a tremendous advantage at today’s exchange rates.
– Interesting property purchases in Puebla can be found in genuine 16th-century casas antiguas, certified historic monuments located in Puebla’s Historic Center. Some of these have been completely restored and divided into condos. These condos have about 200 square meters of living space on two levels, including three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, and covered parking for one vehicle. The asking price hovers around US$150,000.
– Pay a little extra and enjoy the perks of having a balcony, laundry area, and parking for two cars. These slightly more expensive properties often have common areas, including elevators, roof gardens with views of the surrounding mountains and historic center, multiple-use salons, storage spaces, and even hot tubs.
Arequipa: A Sparkling Colonial City In The Peruvian Highlands
Arequipa is Peru’s second-largest city and one of its biggest tourist destinations. Due to its beautifully restored historic center, Arequipa was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
Known as the Ciudad Blanca, or “white city,” many of Arequipa’s buildings are constructed using sillar, a white stone made from volcanic rock found in the area. The effect of all of this white architecture is a sense of brilliance in the strong Andean sun.
Arequipa has a strong Moorish influence, resulting in a fascinating blend of architectural styles throughout the city. Construction quality is good here compared to what I’ve seen in other colonial cities due to the use of sillar for older buildings, which better withstands earthquakes.
Arequipa has its own airport but it’s pretty small, so for most trips you’ll need to connect through Lima to get here.
As for the spring-like rating, Arequipa sits at an altitude of around 2,300 meters. This gives the city a gorgeous climate, with an average daily high temperature of 75°F. The average low is around 50°F, with almost no seasonal variation.
For a real estate buy, I like most areas in the historic center… although I’d avoid the blocks immediately around the main square due to the heavy tourist traffic. There are also several pleasant residential areas outside of the historic center, such as the Cayma district.
– Apartments with three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, maybe a study, a family room, a spacious kitchen, and a single garage space are available in the historic center. These buildings are conveniently located close to colleges, universities, and commercial centers. The asking price for one of these city center apartments is around US$150,000.
– You will also find modern houses built in the old Peruvian style, with charming stone arches and counters with tropical-hardwood finishing. A two-level home with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and an area of around 220 square meters… plus a little bit if there is a carport and maybe even an interior courtyard would have an asking price of less than US$200,000.
A second home by the beach is enticing to many people… but certainly not to everyone. If you’d rather have cool weather—without the need for heating or air conditioning—then these three options are worth your attention.
Latin America Correspondent
Letters To The Editor
For countries with an investment-for-residency visa, is it a one-time investment?
If a periodic re-investment is required, will a home purchase satisfy the requirements? If you leave after, say, five years, is the investment returned?
Good questions. Investor visas take numerous different forms, depending on the country.
Generally speaking, you do have to maintain a qualifying investment to keep the investor’s visa. In the case of homeownership, this means that you still own the property or own another one of sufficient value to qualify. If you’re holding a certificate of deposit, you’ll need to show that you still have one of the proper value.
That said, in some countries, after holding the visa for a specified period, you may be eligible for some form of permanent residency, which does not require periodic re-qualification.
I am currently single and would like to live on the coast somewhere in Mexico. I would prefer to buy a beachfront condo rather than rent. I hear from Mexican friends that if the seller knows you are an American, the price will go up.
Should I try to buy through a Mexican friend and then somehow transfer the title?
I appreciate your advice,
It’s true that you may be a victim of “gringo pricing” as an American or Canadian buyer. But the truth is that it’s actually rich-people pricing… that is, a wealthy Mexican would most likely get the same price as you would.
You definitely do not want to have a friend buy the property and then transfer it to you. There would be a significant transaction cost in doing this—including the setup of a trust—it would probably cost you more than it would save… plus, it’s risky.
One trick that I’ve used is to have a friend (or a native speaker) establish the price for you, after which you’d take over and sign the actual documents. That may get you a better price, and there’s no risk or extra cost.
In Brazil I once gave a hotel receptionist the equivalent of US$20 to respond to about a dozen real estate ads in the paper. I figured that when they heard my accent, the price might go up. I don’t know if I got the best prices… but at least I know it wasn’t my accent that did me in.
This one was directed to contributor John Clites.
Your article on Domingos Martins mentioned its German roots and heritage but did not mention if German is still spoken there.
Can one get by there speaking German, or is Portuguese an absolute necessity?
You would really need basic Portuguese to manage in Domingos Martins. Although there are efforts to expand the number of speakers, only a minority of residents speak German… which in Domingos Martins is an old Pomeranian dialect, not modern German.
After living for six years in Punta del Este, Uruguay, I swore to myself that I’d never, ever live in a tourist area again.
And that includes places with large numbers of expats, which can have the same impact as large numbers of tourists on an area.
However, after making that declaration, I have since bought two more properties in high-tourism areas…
That’s because there are really two sides to that coin. Living in a popular tourist destination can be annoying… but it also has its advantages.
Things That Really Annoyed Me About Living In A High-Tourism Area
1. Lack Of Community:
Touristic areas just don’t have the same community feel as a normal residential setting. Since many of us stand out as foreigners when living abroad—and tourist destinations have high numbers of foreigners—you often feel like you’re being treated as a tourist rather than a local resident who is part of the community.
2. It’s Hard To Integrate:
In touristic areas it can be hard to integrate with the local culture and people because the local residents often place you in the “tourist” camp (or expat camp) rather than the local camp.
3. Higher Costs And Gringo Pricing:
As an expat living in a tourist area, it’s hard to exempt yourself from the pricing practices that tourists usually fall victim to.
4. The Disneyland Effect:
Popular touristic areas anywhere in the world often don’t reflect the country or region’s genuine character. Instead you get a caricature of the country, one designed to attract visitors.
5. Tourist Annoyances:
High-tourism areas often come with annoyances, such as a constant stream of vendors, tour guides, scammers, and even beggars. When I lived in Montevideo’s Centro neighborhood, I watched from my balcony as the town’s pickpockets, thieves, and beggars passed uneventfully through Centro on their way to Ciudad Vieja to prey on its wealth of tourists and cruise-ship passengers.
There may also be issues with crowds themselves, bringing noise and traffic, or taking up valuable space in your favorite parking lot or restaurant.
There’s no doubt that these things can be bothersome. But high-tourism areas also have benefits… benefits that you’ll appreciate.
These Advantages Of Touristic Areas May Outweigh The Annoyances
1. The Community Amenities:
Touristic areas usually have more than their fair share of nice restaurants, cafés, and entertainment. When I first moved to Vilcabamba, Ecuador, we had 16 restaurants listed in the guidebook, in a village of about 500 people. This is far more than you’d see in a normal Ecuadorian mountain village.
2. Care Of Infrastructure:
Tourist destinations usually have excellently maintained roads, sidewalks, trails, and beaches. In Mazatlán, Mexico, there are crews who clean the boardwalk streets and beaches every morning. In Punta del Este, Uruguay, platoons of young people rake the beach each day while looking for stray items of litter.
By contrast, I once lived on a “local” beach in Brazil where the plastic bottles and trash stayed put until the homeowners got out there to clean them up.
3. Lack Of Obvious Poverty:
Obvious poverty can be a downside in poor countries, but in tourist areas you’ll often see far less of it. One reason is that these areas bring local jobs… the other is that local officials often make efforts to keep panhandlers and homeless people away from the high-tourist sectors.
4. Better Flight Connections:
Areas with high tourist traffic usually have convenient ways to get there, such as international airports with frequent flights or good public transportation.
5. Rental Income And Resale:
Many tourist areas offer the opportunity for good rental returns due to the high demands for short-term stays. They can also provide you with more liquidity at resale time.
6. More English Spoken:
English is the primary international language and is almost always used in tourist destinations. So if it’s the only language you speak, you’ll generally be better off in an area with lots of tourists or expats.
7. More Conveniences:
I’m talking about things like ATMs and bank branches as well as North American franchise stores and North American products. In areas with lots of tourists passing through, these conveniences are plentiful, making life abroad much easier.
8. Better Construction Options:
High-tourism or expat areas often bring better options for housing than the local market would otherwise demand. You’ll find more high-end condos, for example, built to first-world standards in areas with high levels of tourism.
This can cut both ways. Sometimes high-tourist areas bring mass-market, low-end, bargain construction that results in poor quality housing.
9. Finally, Great Local Intrinsic Attributes:
Tourists usually don’t come just to hang out with other tourists… they come because the area has something good to offer. This can include beautiful beaches, sublime weather, scenic mountains, or quaint old cities.
Whatever brought the tourists in the first place is something that you probably will enjoy, too.
A High Concentration Of Expats May Produce The Same Effect As Tourists
When I first moved to Cuenca, Ecuador, in 2001, there was maybe one restaurant in town that qualified as fine dining. Litter was a problem in the historic center and many of the streets and sidewalks were in poor repair. Locals didn’t speak English, Spanish was mandatory… it was six months before I met my first English-speaker in Cuenca.
Today, Cuenca has between 8,000 to 10,000 North-American retirees.
This influx has brought some disadvantages: a lack of integration with the local community and higher prices all-round. The local culture is changed, likely forever.
But it’s also brought positives: dozens of creative and elegant dining options, cafés, ethnic food, a more diverse supermarket stock, and a cleaner, better maintained downtown.
You will also find far more English spoken, plenty of modern condos on the edge of town, and even a local immigration office.
Ultimately, a large expat community affects the local environment in many of the same ways that tourism does, bringing both the bad and the good.
Consider The Tourism Angle Carefully When Buying Abroad
Be honest with yourself about whether you’ll be using your overseas home full-time, for part of the year, or as a vacation getaway. In my experience, the more you’re in residence, the less you’ll like the tourist environment.
If you’re spending one month at a time abroad, you’ll enjoy the tourist areas’ amenities, and the annoyances won’t have time to wear on you. Long-term residents, however, will appreciate the community feel and local culture of non-touristic areas, long after the novelty of the tourist amenities have worn off.
Medellín, Colombia, is a rare find where I enjoy all the amenities of a tourist destination without the tourists or annoyances that come with a busy tourist trail. I can go weeks without seeing another American while still enjoying a convenient, upscale lifestyle at a low cost.
But aside from isolated examples like Medellín, you should give this issue careful thought when buying a second home abroad. Buying in a popular tourist destination will bring you some much appreciated amenities, but they do come with a price.
Latin America Correspondent
Letters To The Editor
Thanks for your information about Colombia. I used to live in Cali and I’m interested in returning now that things are politically calm.
I would like to know if it’s worth the time and money to ship my things, like my bed and a small amount of furniture. I don’t even know where to start in that regard.
An excellent question—and one that comes up frequently. I’ll start by saying that I’ve moved a household internationally three times and had a good experience each time. Each year the process for booking an international move gets easier. A number of sites will even put your move out for bids, after which you’ll get competing prices via email. Take a look here for two that I’ve used in the past month:
However, I would not consider moving furniture to Colombia. At today’s exchange rates, high-quality, Colombian-made furniture is a real bargain, and there’s no way you’ll save money by moving a few items. You can buy brand-new furniture in Cali for thousands less.
Many people dream of owning a home on a tropical island. Others fantasize about finding an overseas property to build upon. A few truly adventurous folks accept the dual challenge of building an island home as their ultimate retirement experience.
Deb and Ben Unger took on this challenge when they chose the southern coast of Grenada as the perfect place to build their modular home in the southeastern Caribbean Sea. They graciously share their story, including some valuable lessons they learned along the way.
Deb relates, “I feel safe here. We wanted a mountainous island, a bit less developed, with …
Back in the year 2000, on one of my final retire-overseas exploratory trips, I looked at a small, rustic home beside a rushing river in Mexico. Giant trees grew along the riverside, shading both the house and most of the large property.
Among the trees, I found a plant that I didn’t recognize… it turned out to be a coffee plant, lush with ripe berries. I plucked a few berries from the tree and thought about how great it would be to grow my own coffee right on my property. I still have the berries today as a souvenir.
We didn’t buy that house just south of Xalapa, but I never lost sight of the dream of …
If you want to find the best beaches in Central America, follow the surfers.
You don’t need to be a surfer… or care about ever stepping foot on a board.
But, if you’re a lover of sand, sea, and spectacular sunsets, you may just find yourself on some of the best-kept-secret beaches of the world.
This works for investment, too…
All those surfers need somewhere to stay. And many of the top resorts we know along the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica and Nicaragua were born from this need. It’s beginning to happen in Panama, too, where small lodges, hotels, and gated communities are …
If you’re an ocean lover, it’s hard to beat a home on the Pacific. Imagine waking each day to a view of dramatic coastline and the crash of surf… and, later, winding down, cocktail in hand, with a front-row seat for one of the world’s most spectacular sunsets.
Remember that the same great wide beaches and surf that …
One place that we expect to bounce back strongly is Panama.
This resilient nation pulled through the 2008 crisis more or less unscathed. And, with both the canal and the copper mine to add to its coffers in the coming years, we expect the country to continue her upward climb…
To boost foreign investment further, the government recently …
On Aug. 7, 1974, Frenchman Philippe Petit made headlines when, in the space of 45 minutes, he crossed four times between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
And, he didn’t just walk—the 24-year-old high-wire artist danced and lay down on the wire, too, balance pole in hand.
Whether you look on it as art or pure lunacy, the story, as it unfolds in the 2008 documentary Man on Wire, is an intriguing one that leaves us with more questions than answers.
Breaking and entering the World Trade Center—as Petit and his team had to do at night to set up for the early-morning stunt—was, of course, a criminal act.
Petit’s life-long friend Jean-Louis Blondeau—who had mastered the crossbow in order to shoot the performance wire from the north to the south Tower under cover of darkness—was treated like a common criminal and given his marching orders back to France.
But not so for the tightrope pro…
Following a brief visit to the NYPD, a psychiatric test to prove his sanity, and his commitment to a free performance for children in Central Park, Petit walked out of the cop shop a hero… and has lived in the United States ever since. (The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey even awarded him a lifetime pass to the Observation Deck of the Twin Towers.)
Can you imagine how a stunt like this would be handled by the authorities today? In fact, I can’t imagine any jurisdiction in the world that would dish you out a visa as a reward for some death-defying performance.
But I share this crazy story today to make an important point…
Having at least one backup residency and/or citizenship is something we at LIOS strongly recommend—something that may work to protect you in the future… or, at least, give you options.