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International Living
December 31, 2019

By Tricia Pimental

#1 for Housing

Accommodation—the single largest item on any expat's budget—is reasonable in Portugal, whether you rent or buy.

Monthly rents in small Portuguese cities, and in the interior, start as low as $375 for one- to two-bedroom apartments. In the capital, Lisbon, monthly rents start at about $650 in neighborhoods an easy half-hour walk from the central tourist areas. Rents in the Alfama neighborhood, Lisbon's oldest, can run somewhat lower. But its hills and cobbled streets won't suit everyone.

If you're looking to buy, you can find comfortable apartments for sale in the interior for well under $100,000. Even in Lisbon you can find small properties around the $150,000 price point in outlying neighborhoods. Closing costs on property sales in Portugal tend to run around 10% of the purchase price.

It's worth noting that the average size of apartments in Portugal, as in the rest of Europe, is considerably smaller than you may be used to. A 550-square-foot apartment is considered perfectly adequate for a single person or a couple. A 1,000-square-foot apartment may have three or even four bedrooms and be considered suitable for a small family.

Fortunately, Portugal's generally mild climate means you are likely to spend lots of leisure time outside, on the beach, at outdoor cafés, or strolling Portugal's beautiful towns and villages…

#1 for Climate

Portugal enjoys a warm temperate climate with wet winters, dry summers, and the highest temperatures averaging above 71 F.

Sultry summer days are for sunning at a praia fluvial (river beach) or maybe lounging lakeside under the shade of cork oak trees. Autumn's crisp days herald the coming of a rainy—even snowy, in the northern mountains—winter. Come springtime, days are brightened by the blossoming of calla lilies, sweet-smelling roses, blue and pink hydrangea bushes, and lush fields of vibrant wildflowers.

#1 for Healthcare

The Portugal National Health Service, Serviço Nacional de Saúde, is available toall full-time residents who have registeredwith the Segurança Social. This can be doneas soon as you receive your D-7 visa anddemonstrate that you are either retired orpaying into the tax system here.

In the first year of your residence in the country, you will have to have private insurance—not just traveler's insurance—which is available from many international providers as well as Portuguese health insurance companies. Each has its own particular requirements, so it's a good idea to shop around. A word of warning: the options for those over 65 narrow considerably.

My husband Keith and I have both had routine and emergency care in personal and private clinics and hospitals here in Portugal. We've paid as little as $9 for a consultation, $27 for X-rays and $270 for a combination of EKG and MRI. When I needed a tetanus shot, it was free at the local public clinic. In short, healthcare is accessible, professional and economical.

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International Living
December 29, 2019

By Wendy Justice

"My little retirement package just wasn't enough to live on back home," says Gwyn Hill, 65. "So I packed up and set off overseas. I tried out a few spots overseas before arriving here last year. I soon found myself settling down. I really feel comfortable here. Now, my life is quite relaxing. I go to the beach every day or two. I've got a nice pool, so I'll go swimming, and there's always someone here to talk to."

Gwyn's island home is the country's largest; at 222 square miles, it's about the same size as Chicago. The permanent population is just over 100,000, though during high season—which lasts from November through March—thousands of tourists come to relax on the white- and golden-sand beaches and play in the warm, emerald-green sea. The island's largest town and main commercial center is home to around 20,000 residents.

Year-round temperatures are consistently between 77 F and 90 F, with frequent ocean breezes taking the edge off the warmest, most humid days.

"I love the weather here," says Gwyn. "It's perfect one day and great the next. Even the hottest days feel comfortable. During this November to March dry season, there have been about three decent rains, though that will change around April, when rain becomes more frequent. That's when the off-season begins and things will get even cheaper."

The low cost of living has enabled Gwyn to set aside most of his retirement pension. "Once a week, I might buy a pizza or rent a motorbike and explore," he says. "I walk to the beach several times a week. I'm not living frugally; I'm living comfortably. I can still put at least $500 in the bank every month. My budget here is no more than $300 per month and that's really having a good time. You can't beat that."

When he first arrived, Gwyn booked a room at a resort. "The room initially cost about $14 per night, but once I decided to live here long-term, the price dropped considerably," he says.

Gwyn's rent comes out to about $145 per month and includes use of the pool and a pleasant garden, all his utilities, and daily breakfast. Best of all, he can walk to the beach in less than 10 minutes. "I could get a nice house for $200 per month, but there's really no need. The resort staff take good care of me."

The island offers international-standard healthcare at the new hospital. Gwyn hasn't had the occasion to go there, but he's been amazed at the quality and low cost of dental care. "I cracked a tooth and got a temporary plate for $74. It would have cost 10 times that amount back home. The clinic was absolutely spotless," he says.

Gwyn enjoys eating at new places. "There are so many restaurants here," he says. "I'll go to a sports bar for a good burger and fries for about $6. Otherwise, I can get chicken breast filets with mashed potatoes, and a salad for $2.50, and local food costs even less."

Editor's note: Discover the country Gwyn calls home when you get your hands on a copy of the 2020 Global Retirement Index report—you'll find it at number 11 overall and number two in its region. It also achieved impressive scores in the categories of governance, opportunity, and cost of living. Plus, you'll also get the lowdown on 23 more fabulous overseas spots for travel, living, and adventure.

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International Living
December 11, 2019


By Dan Prescher

Writing for International Living over the years has inspired me to take a pretty hefty interest in all things related to retirement. And, having just celebrated my 60th birthday, that interest has sharpened.

After all, moving abroad is one of the most intriguing ways to improve your retirement situation...or to lay the groundwork for an active, interesting, and affordable retirement if, like me, you find retirement rushing at you faster than ever.

So when I found an article on the Forbes website about planning for retirement in your 50s, 60s, and 70s, it caught my eye. Like many, I figured that if you hadn't started your retirement planning in your 20s or 30s, you'd missed the boat.

Turns out not to be the case, and I was so pleased to learn that there are ways to improve your retirement outlook, even late in the game, that I reposted the article on my Facebook page.

It also got me thinking about something I hadn't considered before. I know for a fact that you can live well in many beautiful places around the world on much less than you can in the States and Canada. Heck, my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I literally wrote the book on it.

But...and this is a big "but"...it still costs something to live abroad. It costs something to live anywhere, and you still need that something to make retirement work, even if the spot you choose is amazingly inexpensive as compared to back home.

There's one mistake I've seen people make time and time again. They read that it's possible to live in some exotic location for $1,500 or $2,000 per month...and then they quit reading. They buy a ticket and get off the plane in a foreign country with $2,000 in their pockets and a plan to start living the high life immediately.

If they had kept reading, they'd have known that, no matter where you choose to move or retire, there will be start-up costs: rent deposits, freight charges for moving personal goods if that's what you choose to do, fees for visa and other legal work, furniture and fixtures to buy, Internet and satellite TV hookups to pay for, and so on.

They'd also realize that, just like back home, they could encounter unforeseen expenses that seem to pop up out of nowhere—health issues they didn't realize they had, transportation costs for getting back home in case of family emergencies or special events, and on and on.

In the excitement of moving someplace prettier and more affordable, they forget that they still need to plan...to have a cushion...to make sure they have the resources to handle the extra start-up expenses that always accompany a move anywhere...across the street or across the planet. Fortunately, these are usually one-time expenses.

But that's why retirement planning and the need for that cushion...that something...doesn't end with retirement or with your move to Belize or Ecuador or Spain or Malaysia. There is, in fact, an entire industry devoted to helping people do that planning, just as there are dozens of ways to continue making money after official "retirement".

I meet with and talk to many expats, and I applaud those who can make the move and simply kick back and coast on what they've already managed to save and invest. But more often than not, as economies around the world change, as the boom and bust cycles come faster and faster, I find that even some of those farsighted folks are looking around for ways to get a little more "cushion" into their cushion.

The good news is, there are many way s to beef up your financial situation no matter where in the world you decide to live, even if you're in the later stages of the game. There are a lot of positive steps you can take to hedge your retirement bets even in your 50s, 60s, and 70s.

Every positive step makes your cushion a little bigger and a little softer. And that's the kind of cushion I'm looking forward to when I retire.

 

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International Living
December 10, 2019

By Michelle Stevenson

Having lived in the mountainous north of Thailand for most of last year, my husband Jason and I were keen to give life on a Thai island a go, so we headed for Koh Samui.

Home to some 63,000 souls, Koh Samui is Thailand's second-largest island after Phuket, spanning a shade over 88 square miles. This tropical idyll is renowned for its sandy beaches, coral reefs, and coconut trees.

 

 

Popular with honeymooners and holidaymakers, Koh Samui is also known to be one of the pricier spots in Thailand and while there's no shortage of luxury resorts, it's also easy to find cheap accommodation. This is particularly useful if, like us, you want to try out local life for a month or two…or three…

You've got lots of options here, from Airbnb to short-term rentals, but having worked out the numbers we were delighted to discover an extended stay in a cosy resort was within budget.

The Spa Garden is just a 10-minute walk from the beach (a free shuttle service will also take you there), close to cafés and restaurants, convenience stores, and—possibly best of all—a series of French patisseries.

Our nightly rate of $32 works out at $992 per month. Back home, we used to pay $1,225 a month to rent a two-bedroom apartment...but it didn't have air conditioning, WiFi, or Cable TV (all included as part of our stay at The Spa Garden), a swimming pool, or a steam room.

The cost of our simple yet spacious room also includes a full breakfast every morning, plus a daily housekeeping service. And for just $1.30 per kilo, the hotel offers a laundry service including ironing.

With no chores to do (we don't even have to make the bed!), there's plenty of time to explore the island and enjoy an array of water-based activities, including snorkeling, kayaking, and jet skiing.

We've already taken a full-day boat tour to Ang Thong National Marine Park, a pristine archipelago of 42 islands, featuring towering limestone mountains, thick jungle, white-sand beaches, waterfalls, hidden coves, and lakes.

Will we settle in for a longer stay? Maybe… One thing's for sure, I can't wait to discover more of Koh Samui…

 

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Rad Power
December 6, 2019

For many people, it is now possible to use an eBike for nearby errands and ride sharing services for everything else.

This can be a real money saver.

 

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International Living
December 4, 2019


By Jane Dempster-Smith

A smooth crossing. Perfect weather. Glorious blue skies throughout the day, orange-red sunsets at night, and when we woke early, pink sunrises...we were crossing the Atlantic in style.

My husband Duncan and I are advocates of slow travel on land. Back home, the daily grind had us existing, not living.

So when our adult sons left the nest, we took off overseas and never looked back. That was 2013. We are still traveling and live by our daily mantra 'chase time not money'.

We are working through our bucket list and dedicate ourselves to finding the best possible value.

Hence we were, for the first time, experiencing slow travel on the open seas. With repositioning cruises we had discovered yet another cheap way to travel the world and we are hooked. For as little as $42 a day we can travel the world in style, with no jet lag, and we arrive at the other end relaxed and raring to go.

This is our new way of traveling—if there is a repositioning cruise when and where we want to go, we will be on it.

A repositioning cruise is when cruise companies need to reposition their ships and crew for the start of a new season, e.g. Europe to the Caribbean, the Middle East to Canada, and Australia to the U.S. or Asia, and vice versa. Any maintenance that needs to be done is carried out during this time.

We noticed that one bar would close for renovation or a new coat of paint, but others would stay open so there would be little disruption for passengers. It's often a way to change the crew contracts from one region to another.

For less than the cost of an airline ticket we sailed for 15 nights from Spain to Panama, had all meals and alcohol included, visited the gym daily, and enjoyed nightly entertainment.

We traveled with Pullmantur, a Spanish Cruise Company, sailing from Bilbao, Spain to Colon in Panama, stopping off in Lisbon, Portugal, and the Caribbean Islands of St Maarten and Aruba on the way. The ships return via a different route back to Europe.

There tend to be fewer passengers on a repositioning cruise. Our ship, the M.V. Monarch, could carry 2,800 and in total we had 1,800 passengers and crew.

On average, airfares between Spain and Panama or Central America range between $700 to $900, depending on the carrier and the season.

Our total cost (for 15 nights) per person was $623 inclusive of tax, tips, all food, and drinks. Where else could you have transport, meals, alcohol, and entertainment for $42 per night?

To be honest, before setting off, we had low expectations; little or no entertainment, limited meal options and service, and a stormy Atlantic crossing. How wrong we were. Around the main pool you could take part in salsa and Zumba dance classes, competitions, and fitness classes. At night you could enjoy live music in the bars, try your luck in the casino, watch the nightly gala show, or dance away in the disco till the last person is standing, usually around 6 a.m.

Breakfast and lunch were buffets, with so much variety to choose from, including very good vegetarian options. The dinner menu had just been created by a Michelin-starred chef from Spain.

Plus, Pullmantur don't charge a single supplement on repositioning cruises, which makes it an ideal way for solos to travel affordably. We even heard of a couple who booked two cabins, one for their luggage and one for themselves.

Here are our top tips to help you make the most of your repositioning cruise:

  • There's a good reason why the medical centre on ships is located lower down—less movement in bad weather. Our tip is to reserve a cabin on this level at the front of the ship, so you will not be disturbed by late-night revellers.
  • You need to be prepared for delays or missing scheduled ports due to weather. Leave enough of your WiFi package in case you have to change flights or hotels at the last moment.
  • Once you've departed the last port before the major ocean crossing, speak to reception and ask for an upgrade. We were upgraded to the outside cabin on the same level at no extra cost.

 

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International Living
November 12, 2019

By Zelie Pollon


Paris is the city of romance and art, of the Eiffel Tower and the Musée du Louvre. Paris can also be an amazing place of fun and adventure, especially in the summertime. And activities in this great city don't have to break your pocketbook.

I am certainly a fan of exposing yourself to art, and there are few better sites than the Louvre, but if you have limited time and resources—or if you chafe at the thought of waiting for hours in line with a thousand other people under the hot sun—then there are some other options for you this summer in Paris.

There is one Paris summer phenomenon that I love most: Paris Plage. I was told it was a strategy by the French government to keep Parisians from fleeing the city on their long summer breaks and to provide summer activities for the thousands of visitors who descend on the city of lights. They haul in thousands of pounds of sand and transform the banks of the Seine into a beachside, boardwalk fantasy land, complete with plastic buckets and shovels for little kids (free!), misting stations, food stands, beach chairs, and beachside music and activities. It's an amazing feat, and runs roughly mid-July to mid-August.

If you want to treat yourselves to some fabulous art but don't want to face the crowds of the Louvre, consider my absolute favorite museum: The Musee D'Orsay. Built in an old Beaux Arts train station, it has the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world: Monet and Manet, Mary Cassat, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh… Find it along the Left Bank of the Seine in the 7th arrondissment on Légion d'Honneur.

The Pablo Picasso Museum is also very manageable, with a walkway that takes you through the Spanish artist's different periods. Located in the Marais (3rd arrondissment) the area is always full of color and fun. Bordering the city's LGBT quarter, there are trendy shops and fun people. For food, be sure to go by Chez Marianne for one of the best falafels I've ever tasted.

For more adventurous types, a visit into the depths of the Parisian underground—the Catacombs—is certain to thrill. Holding the bones of nearly six million people, it was built as part of an effort to deal with Paris' overflowing cemeteries. Enter just near the Denfert-Rochereau metro stop.

A trip to the Sacré Coeur Basilica is a must. Overlooking all of Paris, this might be one of the most beautiful structures in the city. The walk up is as wonderful as the view at the top.

Some of my favorite Parisian activities for those budding Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers among us, are the nightly dancing events at the Jardin Tino Rossi on the banks of Port Saint-Bernard in front of the Institut du Monde Arabe. Far from the smoky rooms of Paris nightclubs, these open-air (and free) sessions draw dancers from many genres: tango, salsa, rock…even country and western on the nights I visited. Every night from June through August, dancers gather in the small, semicircular seating areas (designed like amphitheatres) each offering a differently-themed dance style and music. Be forewarned that those who attend are serious dancers, and some knowledge of the art form is expected. No pressure.

Finally, I always tell people that Paris doesn't have to be a place of expensive activities. This city is one of the few where simply walking through the city streets is one of the most enjoyable activities of all. Each arrondisment is slightly different and all provide a feast for the eyes and senses. Whether during the day or at night, the streets of Paris are always lively. A few of my favorite areas include the Carrefour de Buci (carrefour means intersection) in the 6th arrondisment where the streets are filled with outdoor cafés and the nights are always hopping; the plaza in front of Notre Dame Cathedral which fills each evening with daring street performers on roller skates, with juggling balls or fistfuls of fire; and the Centre Pompidou in the Beaubourg area (4th arrondisment) which is similarly entertaining, day or night.

I've noted some of my favorite free activities, but for those who might want to hit every possible museum and monument Paris offers both a museum pass which costs $56 for an adult for two days, $72 for four days. The Paris Pass includes admission to all museums and unlimited travel on public transport. That ranges from $130 for two days and up to $280 for six days.

Editor's note: Zelie knows the tricks and shortcuts to experience romantic Paris without the price tag you might imagine. All sorts of amazing shortcuts exist that can allow you to travel better than you do now but spend way, way less than you assume you have to. And we've gathered them all in our special report How to Retire on Permanent Vacation: Shortcuts for a Jet-Set Retirement on a Modest Budget. This is high-end travel without the high-end price tag. You don't have to be wealthy and well-connected to enjoy life as if you were. You don't need to have a massive nest egg saved up to live a fun, adventure-filled, international retirement. You simply need to know the shortcuts contained in this special report…which you can get your hands on for free. Claim your free copy here and prepare for the retirement of your dreams.

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International Living
November 11, 2019

Enjoying a European Lifestyle in Beautiful Barcelona

By Eric Sweigert

"There's not enough time in the world to tell you all the stories of this city," I told my former pupil as we sipped at café con leche in one of the many hip coffee shops of the Gracia neighborhood in Barcelona.


Last year we shared a classroom together, he as a hardworking upperclassman, and I his dedicated American History teacher. We were now swapping our favorite travel stories in this exhilarating city in the northeast corner of Spain. Drawn toward the heady call of adventure, I left my job teaching history in Napa to continue my studies in Europe, and enjoy life outside the frenzied pace of California.


Spain occupied a place in my mind based more on myth than fact. It was the land of dodging bulls in Pamplona, reclining in the shadows of 2,000-year-old Roman ruins, and enjoying the smooth rhythms of a flamenco master. Barcelona hugs the Mediterranean coast and is the capital of the region of Catalonia.

The city center is clustered around the old quarter, where remnants of the original Roman town still peek through the cozy apartment buildings and around narrow alley corners. My apartment lies about two miles outside the city center in the hilly district of El Carmel. From my balcony I am able to observe the colorful parrots that compete with the pigeons' air control.


With the exception of a few key expenses, Barcelona prices are comparable to those of many American cities. A nice dinner can be had for between $12 and $38 per person depending on where you are in the city, and a cup of coffee or espresso should run under $1.20. However, Starbucks aficionados beware, you will find that a grande carmel cocoa cluster Frappuccino is about as easy to spot as Bigfoot, with locals opting instead for the modestly sized café con leche or café cortado.

Compared to the housing insanity of California, I was pleasantly surprised by costs of between $630 and $1,250 per month to rent a one-bedroom apartment. The major factor being distance to the city center, with closer properties being more expensive.
There are nuanced differences in Barcelona that I never encountered during domestic travel within the U.S. In Barcelona, a premium is placed on showing respect, and it took me a few times to understand the public-transit expectation that you invite the ire of onlookers if you forget to offer your seat to the grandmother standing. Barcelona also has an astonishing number of city-parks. You only need to walk a few blocks before encountering a space devoted to elderly men enjoying cigars while children chase around them, shouting jubilantly in Catalan.

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International Living
November 9, 2019

By Sean Keenan

Clean, friendly cities where gentlemen still tip their hats and service comes with an emphatic, genuine smile. You'll find an Old World charm to life in the country that topped the climate category of International Living's 2019 Annual Global Retirement Index that expats from North America invariably comment on. It is, they often say, a little like the best parts of the 1950s.

That's not to suggest that the country is backward or undeveloped. The cities display a rich cultural heritage alongside efficient, modern infrastructure that would shame many locations elsewhere in the so-called "developed" world. The information age hasn't passed this country by, but nevertheless, there is something attractively old-fashioned about it that we've lost, for the worse, farther north.

Then, of course, there's the excellent climate. It's blessed with hot sun and cloudless skies year-round. But the true beauty of this country's climate is how varied it is.

From snow-capped volcanoes to dense Amazon jungle…sun-drenched Pacific beaches to remote islands, you'll be able to find an environment that suits you. With altitude, the temperature drops and, thanks to the varied topography, finding the right climate for you is as simple as choosing how high to go.

For example, the capital city sits in the mountains at an altitude of 9,250 feet and boasts a spring-like climate year-round: 50 F at night and 69 F during the day. The sun makes the difference. You can comfortably stroll out on a glorious afternoon in shorts and a t-shirt, but you'll need to take along your wool sweater in case the clouds roll in. The sun is intense, but when it's obscured by clouds you realize how high in the mountains you really are. In fact, cold-weather gear is needed for high-altitude hiking and mountain climbing.

The beaches and rainforests, on the other hand, enjoy the tropical temperatures that you would expect from this part of the world, with highs ranging between 80 F and 90 F. Among the high mountains, coastal plains, and the jungle, you can find just about any type of weather.

What's more, this perfect-weather paradise treats its seniors well. You'll get discounts on public transport, pay half-price on cultural and sporting events (including movies), and get a massive 50% discount on international round-trip airfares with select carriers. That's a huge advantage to any expat visiting family in North America.

Healthcare, whether you choose to use the low-cost national system or pay for private care, is affordable: "My husband got his hand sewn up by a surgeon for only $60," says one of our in-country correspondents.

Emergencies aside, you may end up needing the doctor less often anyway. Most find that, without making any conscious changes, they lose 20 pounds over the first few months, solely from the healthier lifestyle and more natural foods.

Lakes, mountains, beaches, cities, affordable healthcare, small-town charm, and vibrant expat communities. That's just scratching the surface of what our top climate pick for 2019 has got to offer.

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