This year, as always, lists of the best places in the United States where you can enjoy a comfortable and active retirement have been doing the rounds.
But here’s what I haven’t seen on any round-up yet: the cost of property… right down to the square meter.
How much does it cost to own a two-bed condo on the shores of Florida? And how much would you have left in your day-to-day budget?
As an Overseas Property Alert reader, you know that if you really want to stretch your dollars, then you owe it to yourself to check out overseas markets. That’s where, as a dollar-holder today, you can find incredible bargains. Swapping the beaches of Florida for the golden sand in Brazil—a country that boasts world-class beaches—could save you as much as 70% on a two-bed beachfront condo.
Today, we’re going to take a look at a handful of traditional U.S. retirement choices and, for each place, find an alternative option in a top overseas haven.
Of course, no two cities in the world can offer exactly the same set of attractions. But I’ve matched each pair carefully so that they offer a similar experience. In comparing Texas with Colombia, you may not find as many live music venues in Medellín as you would in Austin. Maybe, though, you’ll find Medellin’s “eternal spring” weather and outdoor amenities appeal more to you.
To make this data meaningful, we’re comparing apples to apples. Or in this case, beachfront to beachfront… historic quarter to historic quarter… 100-square-meter two-bed unit to 100-square-meter two-bed unit.
Finally, each of these overseas retirement alternatives has a thriving expat community in place. Expats we know living in these areas often tell us that they have full social calendars—with more engagements than they ever had back home. The biggest complaint we hear is that they didn’t move sooner.
Texas vs. Colombia
For three years running, U.S. News and World Report ranked Austin, Texas, the top city to live in the United States.
Austin is famous for its live music scene—and, in recent years, is emerging as a smart, innovative city. Other attractions for retirees include its wide outdoor spaces and arts scene.
If this is the kind of lifestyle you’re after, then take a look at Medellín, Colombia—a city that’s transformed itself over the past two decades and continues to push forward. In 2013, Medellín was named “Most Innovative City” in the world. Popular among expats for its spring-like weather year round, it offers a healthy lifestyle with plenty of green space and the opportunity to spend more time outdoors. With dozens of museums and art galleries, botanical gardens, and a literary scene, Medellín is one of the most culturally-appealing cities you’ll find south of the border.
Cost to own in Austin, Texas: Average square-meter price in Downtown Austin is US$8,025. A luxury two-bed, two-bath condo of 117 square meters in a nice location, close to bars, restaurants, shopping, and parks is on the market for US$599,000.
Cost to own in Medellín, Colombia: The most attractive area for U.S. buyers is the upscale neighborhood of El Poblado. Here, prices are an average US$1,450 on existing property; US$2,000+ for new builds. On the market in El Poblado is a two-bed, two-bath apartment that’s close to the city’s Golden Mile. With restaurants, parks, and movie theaters all within walking distance, it’s asking 560 million COP (US$135,215).
Florida vs. Brazil
Not surprisingly, Florida dominates Conde Nast’s “10 Best Places to Retire in the U.S.” Its beach towns take four spots—including the top two. Top of the list is Fort Myers, offering the best of Florida’s beachside lifestyle without the crowds. Sarasota takes second place—its strength being a top beach lifestyle with lower property prices than Tampa or Naples.
If you’re a beach lover, there’s little compromise in swapping Florida’s sunny coast for the world-class sands of northeastern Brazil.
The standout city along this northeast coast is Fortaleza. Along with its surrounding beach destinations, Fortaleza is a major draw for foreign real estate investors. And it’s also a hub for Brazilians, Europeans, and North Americans seeking a second home, drawn by the area’s fine sandy beaches, great weather, and rich lifestyle.
For better value—and the opportunity for uncrowded beaches with little to no high-rises—look to the stretch of coast 90 minutes south of Fortaleza, around the popular resort of Canoa Quebrada. That’s where prices get exciting.
Cost to own in Sarasota, Florida: The average property cost in the Sarasota area is US$2,138 a square meter. But to get near the sand, prices start from US$3,000 on a basic, no-frills unit. In a small development, a 100-square-meter villa, two blocks back from the beach, is on the market for US$374,900.
Cost to own in Northeast Brazil: Near the resort of Canoa Quebrada, and 90 minutes outside Fortaleza, I know of one development offering two-bed villas just steps from the beach (each with its own private pool and yard) from US$97,000.
Hawaii vs. Belize
If you’re drawn to island living, Hawaii is a natural starting point. In Bankrate’s recent ranking of the 50 states (based on factors important to retirees like affordability and weather), Hawaii came in tenth.
Maui is a top choice with retirees for its beaches and opportunity for diving, snorkelling, and surfing.
Looking south, you’ll find all of the above on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize. The largest and most developed of Belize’s islands, Ambergris boasts long beaches of soft, white Caribbean sand and an established and growing community of expats and foreign retirees.
Cost to own in Maui, Hawaii: Average square-meter price in Maui is over US$7,000. Right now on Kahana Bay, you can buy a two-bed condo with ocean and mountain views for US$599,000.
Cost to own in Ambergris Caye, Belize: Average square-meter price on Ambergris is around US$1,500; and upward of US$3,000 for beachfront. Getting in pre-construction in this market is key. In a new development here, you can buy a two-bed beach condo at the off-plan price of US$269,000.
Arizona vs. Panama
For retirees looking for an active outdoor lifestyle, it’s hard to beat the cities of Scottsdale and Prescott, Arizona. Those seeking better affordability tend to settle in Prescott. Unlike other parts of Arizona, Prescott offers mild weather and the opportunity to be outdoors all year.
The combination of its stunning natural setting, perfect temperate climate, and large expat contingent makes the mountain town of Boquete a natural choice for those contemplating an outdoor lifestyle. Here you can engage in a range of activities from zip-lining to white-water rafting to golf to hiking up Volcan Barú.
The town is not short on culture either. Each February, local and international artists come to Boquete for its annual jazz and blues festival.
Many folks choosing to move to Boquete are looking for a tranquil lifestyle. So, for this comparison, we’ll stray away from the two-bed condo model and focus on detached homes a little out of town. Once you travel five to 10 minutes out from the center, average prices are US$500 to US$1,000 a square meter.
Cost to own in Prescott, Arizona: Average price in Prescott is US$2,050 per square meter. Close to downtown, a three-bed luxury home is on the market for US$520,000.
Cost to own in Boquete, Panama: In El Salto (just 10 kilometers from town), a luxury three-bed home surrounded by an acre of land is asking US$265,000.
South Carolina vs. Portugal
South Carolina is a popular choice for U.S. retirees—not only for its beaches but also for its historic charm. The port city of Charleston oozes elegance with its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and sophisticated French quarter.
Across the pond, the city of Porto (Portugal’s second city) is the perfect rival. Globally known for its exquisite port wine, the city is surrounded by the enchanting Douro Valley. The Douro Valley itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the world’s first demarcated wine-producing region. In Porto’s older neighborhoods, you’ll find rows of colourful houses, crisscrossed by tiny cobblestone alleyways that are home to cozy cafés, restaurants, and bars.
One of the best lifestyle neighborhoods to consider—that still offers affordability—is Cedofeita… a quiet area that’s close to amenities and has strong public transport connections.
Cost to own in Charleston, South Carolina: Average price per square meter in Downtown Charleston is US$4,903. A renovated two-bed condo in a historic location of the city, close to shopping and restaurants, is on the market for US$720,000.
Cost to own in Porto, Portugal: Due for completion in late 2020, a two-bed renovated duplex is on the market right now. In a pedestrian zone, with dining and shopping options on your doorstep, it’s asking 280,000 euros/US$315,630.
California vs. Mexico
For ocean lovers, it’s hard to beat the crash of the Pacific. Fortunately, those same great wide beaches and surf that California is famous for don’t stop at the U.S. border. For years, expats have been finding great values farther south… on the Pacific shores of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Mexico.
Among the choices, Mexico comes out tops. In fact, among all the countries of the world, Mexico is home to the largest number of U.S. expats. If you’re not planning on retiring just yet, you have the option to rent out your property to other expats (long-term) or go after short-term vacation rentals. One city that offers the option to do both is Mazatlán… the beaches here are reminiscent of Venice Beach in L.A. And, beyond the sand, you have a colonial city that attracts visitors apart from the usual beach-goers.
Cost to own in Venice Beach, California: Average price in Venice is in excess of US$12,300 a square meter. Just off the beach, there’s a two-bed luxury condo for sale at US$949,000.
Cost to own in Mazatlán, Mexico: Mazatlán is one of today’s best buys for beachfront property with averages at less than half the price of better-known Puerto Vallarta. Average square-meter price in town is around US$1,800; beachfront is upward of US$2,000. In a luxury building—with the Mazatlán boardwalk to the front and the city’s Central Park to the rear—a two-bed condo with views over the bay is listed at 4.26 million Mexican pesos/US$190,215.
U.S. Vs. Overseas—How Much Can You Save?
|U.S. Destination||Av. price per sqm||Overseas
|Av. price per sqm||Discount|
|Austin, TX||US$8,025||Medellín, Colombia||US$2,000||75%
(2-bed luxury condo in upscale neighborhood)
|Sarasota, FL||US$3,000||Canoa Quebrada, Brazil||US$970||68% (beachfront 2-bed villa)|
|Maui, HI||US$7,000||Ambergris Caye, Belize||US$3,000||58% (beachfront 2-bed condo)|
|Prescott, AZ||US$2,050||Boquete, Panama||US$1,000||51%
(luxury 3-bed home outside center)
|Charleston, SC||US$4,900||Porto, Portugal||US$3,200||35%* (renovated 2-bed condo in historic area)|
|Los Angeles (Venice), CA||US$12,300||Mazatlán, Mexico||US$2,235||88% (luxury 2-bed condo on beach)|
*This Charleston vs. Porto comparison represents the lowest of the discounts. But remember, here you’re buying into a stunning part of the Old World and are well connected to the cities of mainland Europe.