By Deb Zulawski
Blogger, artist, photographer, global traveler, soon to be expat currently living in the Pacific Northwest
Searching for a retirement haven has been something I have been doing for almost 10 years. Time is drawing near for me to actually retire, so I was getting bit anxious about deciding where I would move when I finally got my ‘freedom’.
I have traveled through much of Central and South America, as that culture seems to speak to me more than some other areas of the world. I think part of my connection to that culture is that I am able to stumble through speaking Spanish and it gives me a step in up from a country where I would be unable to communicate comfortably with the locals in their tongue. I want to be able to communicate with locals where I live and a Spanish speaking country seems like an easier transition in that regard.
There are many places in the Latin countries that I have really loved during my travels, from Santiago, Chile to Cuenca, Ecuador, Antigua, Guatemala to Casco Viejo in Panama City. They each offered something different.
Santiago was a large metropolis with lots of restaurants, museums and cultural opportunities. Cuenca, a charming colonial city high in the Andes of Ecuador, was a very comfortable and safe city, with an active expat community and lots of organized events. Antigua, Guatemala is a smaller town outside of Guatemala City with lots of restaurants, and friendly, welcoming locals. Casco Viejo is the second location of Panama City before its present day location. It is filled with history, a variety of architectural influences and a vibrant nightlife scene. Each had their own positives. Each called to me in its own way.
Wonderful sidewalk cafes in Santiago, Chile
It makes me wonder why it is called retirement. Maybe it should just be called freedom.
Looking at the Pros and Cons
Pros and cons were listed for each of those cities, and a number of others, in order to narrow down the options. Santiago was wonderful, but a long way from family and friends, and it would be very costly to fly back to visit and certainly would lessen the likelihood of many coming down to visit me. I was convinced that Cuenca was the place to be, but then I considered the altitude and didn't know how well I would adapt. When visiting I was fine, but well, it was just another consideration and I had heard that some are affected by the altitude many years after moving there. Antigua, as charming as it was, didn't offer enough cultural activities for my liking and Casco Viejo in Panama was a bit outside of budget to still allow me to travel.
Comparing Visa Options
Even though I had begun to narrow the field a bit, I continued by looking at and comparing visa options and requirements in those countries and others. It seemed that Mexico had the easiest process for residency with the fewest restrictions...at least upon my last check. Ecuador seemed to have a more complex application process and I read that there were limitations on how long you could be out of the country each year. Being limited in how often and how long I could travel each year was not something that I could live with.
A typical sight on the streets of Cuenca, Educador
Closing In On A Decision
One of the areas I considered in Mexico was Lake Chapala in the state of Jalisco. Ajijic, a small village on the lake has a considerable expat community, so it would be very easy to land there and start a new life with a sense of familiarity and lots of 'expats' to connect with. On the other hand, a traditional Mexican village on the west end of the lake called Jocotepec has an incredible park on the lake for walking and enjoying nature. That village is not overun with expats providing a more authentic feel.
After reviewing all the pros and cons, I decided that the Lake Chapala area was the best option for me. Now I just need to decide if I want the easier transition of Ajijic or the more authentic Mexican experience of Jocotepec or Chapala. I still have some time to decide.
I think the other thing I realized, as I searched for the location where I would live during retirement, was that nothing has to be forever. If, in the future, I find my first choice doesn't meet my needs or I just want to experience another city or country, I can. As they say, the world is my oyster.
As I searched for a country, I reflected on the sense of freedom that retirement provides. We are suddenly free from the daily 9-5 routine of our everyday life. We are free to sleep late or get up early. We can move from country to country or hang our hat in one location.
Retirement is what we work towards and it provides freedom to do whatever we please, in whatever location we choose, in whatever way we want. It makes me wonder why it is called retirement. Maybe it should just be called freedom.
Are you looking for a country where you will retire or have you already decided where you will call home? How did you make your decision?
Please comment below.
Read more about some of the places I considered moving to for my retirement:
Casco Veijo, Panama
Ajijic, Jalisco Mexico
Lake Chapala, Mexico
Jocotepec, Jalisco, Mexico
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