Retirement destinations: Endless summer - MoneySense

Retirement destinations: Endless summer

Forget Florida. Smart snowbirds can now take their pick from among a whole new world of retirement destinations.


Ever dreamed of whiling away your golden years in your own little piece of tropical paradise? It’s easier than you think. Here are five locales where your loonies go further than here—and where you never, never have to shiver your way through winter.

Asian spice

Looking for an exotic locale? The ocean-lapped country of Malaysia in Southeast Asia might fit the bill. It offers everything from urban metropolises and sunny beaches to mountain peaks and jungle retreats. Although Malay is the official language, English is compulsory in schools in this former British colony, so you can usually get around without being a native speaker. “The language issue is probably easier than in France,” jokes Samuel Teo, a representative of Alter Domus, a relocation consultant in Vancouver. On top of that, the country boasts excellent health care—so good in fact that many Canadians and Americans are flocking here as medical tourists for cosmetic surgery and other operations.

To attract affluent retirees, the Malay government operates the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) Programme to allow foreigners to stay in Malaysia for extended periods. Participants over 50 must deposit a minimum of RM150,000 (or about $43,000) in a Malay bank account (yes, you get interest and you can withdraw part of it after a year) or have access to a monthly pension of at least RM10,000 ($2,900), as well as having at least RM350,000 ($102,000) in liquid assets back home. In return, you get a 10-year pass that allows you to come and go. The pass is renewable and you pay no tax on income derived outside of Malaysia. Property prices in Malaysia are reasonable: you could buy a three-bedroom, 100-sq-m condominium in Penang for RM300,000 to 330,000 ($86,000 to $94,000) or pay about RM1,000 to 2,000 ($285 to $570) per month to rent the same space.

Where the expats are: Kuala Lumpur (although most are working there) and Penang (mostly retirees)
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Living la Vida

Mexico nabbed first place in a list of desirable retirement locations by International Living, a travel publication based out of Waterford, Ireland. That’s a fact that hasn’t escaped the 900,000 Canadian and American retirees who now call Mexico home. They love the country’s culture and history, as well as its reasonable cost of living.

Exactly how much it will cost you to live depends on where you choose to locate and whether you decide to buy or rent. In general, a couple of thousand dollars a month will support a retired couple in a comfortable lifestyle. In Morelia, a beautiful city about three hours northwest of Mexico City, homes start around $100,000, according to Cynthia Katz, owner and editor of Adventures in Mexico newsletter, which is based in the city. Living expenses are minimal. Electricity runs about $8 (U.S.) a month, drinking water $6 and telephone service $14. Most services are ultra-cheap by Canadian standards: a dentist’s visit will cost you $15 to $20, a maid for the day $5. As for the health-care system, which features many internationally trained doctors and English-speaking staff, “the consensus is that it’s pretty good,” says Katz.

You can easily get a basic tourist visa to stay in Mexico for six months, she says. And if you’re 51 or older and you have a steady income of about $2,000 a month or more, you can apply for a Rentista, a non-working visa that entitles you to stay longer than six months. After fi ve years, you’re eligible for permanent residency, acquiring most of the rights and obligations of a Mexican national, including access to the state medical system, providing you have no pre-existing condition. Spanish lessons advised, but not crucial.

Where the expats are: Lake Chapala, Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende and Mazatlan
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Europe on a retiree’s budget

For the past six years, while winter winds buffeted Canada, Jeanne Zapior played bridge, painted and relaxed in the Algarve—Portugal’s much cheaper alternative to the French Riviera. “I love watching the surf come in on the lovely sandy beaches,” says Zapior, a senior from Toronto. “Sometimes I just take my chair down there and read.” For a change of pace, she hops in her car to explore quaint villages and ancient Roman and Moorish ruins, returning at night to a 600 euro-a-month $825) fully equipped one-bedroom apartment.

While prices have risen in Portugal since it joined the European Union 20 years ago, it still represents excellent value. A dinner of flopping-on-the-plate-fresh fish, with all the fixings and wine to boot might set you back 35 euros ($50) for two people, and a four-week-long stay during the winter (including airfare, apartment and car rental) starts at about $1,700. Most retirees don’t actually move to Portugal for good—even a two-bedroom apartment costs upwards of 200,000 euros ($275,000), and getting year-round health care is problematic. But if you’re looking for a winter’s getaway in a spot with spring-like temperatures (usually between 14° and 23° C) and a little European culture, this might be the place for you.

Where the expats are: The Algarve, Lisbon for the big-city life
For more information:
Eurosun Holidays Inc., 1-800-387-9927 or
416-249-2011 (
Signature Vacations (
Ecuadorian dreams

John van Rooyen, 55, picks oranges for his breakfast and grows herbs for his dinner on his acreage in the Andes. When the former Haligonian isn’t in his garden, he enjoys whiling away the time with his Ecuadorian wife, Flor, and their 3-year-old son. In another life, van Rooyen worked his way across Canada, building houses, then traveled extensively. But, seven years ago, with no pension and some investment income to live on, he found his “piece of paradise” in Vilcabamba, a picturesque town high in the mountains. “It’s warm, beautiful and affordable,” he says. “I’ve visited or lived in 50 different countries and I don’t know why the whole world isn’t here.”

Van Rooyen says he paid a mere $25,000 (U.S) for a sprawling ranch-style home and several acres of land, but prices have gone up since. Still, Ecuador is one of the world’s better-value locales with two-bedroom apartments on offer for $60,000 and a three-bedroom villa on one of the country’s pristine and undeveloped beaches for $75,000. “A single person can live very comfortably here for about $1,000 a month,” says David Morrill, the Ecuador correspondent for International Living, which ranked the country No. 2 on its list of desirable retirement locales.

Direct flights from Canada are rare, but retirees over 65 get half-price fares on several airlines as well as discounts on in-country transportation, not to mention deals on taxes, utilities and entertainment. Petty crime is common and you have to take steps to protect your property, but you’re more likely to be the victim of a more serious crime in major American cities like Miami or Los Angeles. Spanish lessons advised.

Where the expats are: Quito and the Andean Highlands, or beach communities like Manta and Crucita. There are few strictly expat communities.
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Peaceful in Panama

Panama topped International Living’s list of best places to retire for six years, but it fell to fourth place in the most recent listings. On the plus side, says Yuri Sapozhnikov, a transplanted Canadian and international real estate broker with CPanama in Panama City, “the only place you’re going to feel cold in Panama is in the refrigerator section of the supermarket.” Average daily temperatures range from 17° to 32° C year round. As an additional enticement, Panama offers discounts to expats on everything from transportation to closing costs for home loans. The government wants to attract “pensionados,” with an income of at least $500 a month and it goes out of its way to make the deal as sweet as possible for expats who meet its requirements. “Basically there are no property taxes for foreigners for up to 20 years,” says Sapozhnikov. As well, you pay no tax on foreign-earned income such as pensions, investment earnings or business proceeds.

A two-bedroom villa on the beach sells for as low as $140,000 (U.S.) while an older, two-bedroom apartment in Quito fetches about $80,000. The country boasts excellent health-care facilities, with many English-speaking doctors. “It’s much better service here than in Canada,” claims Sapozhnikov. On the downside, though, the country recently put a 30-day limit on its tourist visa (a change that led to its drop in International Living’s ranking). And, “unless you have a verifiable pension or pockets deep enough to afford a $40,000 investment in a forestry project or $200,000 in real estate or a government bank CD, it can be difficult to get a resident visa,” notes International Living. Spanish lessons advised.

Where the expats are: Panama City, as well as the Pacific beaches between Punta Chame and Farallon, while Pedasi and Canbutal are popular with upscale buyers.
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