Relocating overseas doesn’t have to mean living 10 time zones away. Instead, your new-home paradise could be in America’s backyard. These days, you can hop on a flight and be in paradise in no time. Ditto for visits home to see the grandkids or attend a friend’s wedding.
Of course, beginning the process may not be so easy. Visas, health insurance, housing and more will need to be looked after before retiring in your new destination location.
So how do you first choose that destination? Spending some time in a location for a test-run is important. The last thing you want is to move somewhere, life belongings in-tow and realize you chose a dud. Scouting trips can allow you to get a preliminary feel for what life in a place might be like.
And those scouting trips don’t have to break your budget.
But will they break your back? These days, low cost travel is sure to include the hassle of transfers and inconveniently timed layovers—not long enough to rent a hotel room but still long enough to turn a four-hours-in-the-air trip into 12 hours, nevermind the repeated runs through security if you happen to have a layover somewhere outside of the United States. The airport ordeal can be tough on the joints and a strain on the mind.
However, it need not be so difficult, nor expensive, to get to your retirement destination location in a jiffy.
The following are five of the top retirement destinations within a five-hour direct flight from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest according to Airports Council International.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
– Cost: from $409 one way, $623 roundtrip
– Flight length: 4 hours, 12 minutes
– Distance: 1,557 miles
– Carrier: Delta Air Lines
The city lies between the blue sea and velvet-green mountains that tumble down almost to the shore, and this setting is one of the first things you notice. As you walk along Vallarta’s seafront, look down the cobbled side streets that debouche into the malecón. You’ll see that these streets rise steeply to hills—sometimes within just a few blocks of the shore. These hills are dotted with homes and condominium buildings that offer sweeping views of the bay.
Romantic, Puerto Vallarta certainly is. It’s a favorite spot for weddings and honeymoons. But this city has more than romance going for it. As a retirement destination, Vallarta—or “PV,” as many expats call it—offers top-notch shopping, fine dining, a wealth of activities, convenient communications with the United States, plenty of English speakers for socializing and a beautiful location on the Pacific.
Until the 1950s, Puerto Vallarta was a small fishing village along a spectacular bay on the Pacific, modestly popular among Mexicans as a beach resort. Then, in 1963, John Huston filmed “The Night of the Iguana” in Mismaloya, a seaside village just south of Puerto Vallarta. The film’s star, Richard Burton, was involved with actress Elizabeth Taylor at the time. She followed him on location, and the paparazzi followed her. Suddenly Puerto Vallarta was all over the news—and on the map as far as Americans were concerned—and it’s remained there ever since.
Today Puerto Vallarta is one of the most sophisticated resorts —and the second-biggest tourist destination — in Mexico. It has more cachet than Mazatlán, for instance, it’s more chic than Cancún and it’s safer than Acapulco. Though it’s a major cruise ship destination, with ship arrivals almost daily, the massive influx of tourists (over two million each year) hasn’t lowered Vallarta’s appeal. Zip-lining, horseback-riding, hiking and many other outdoor activities are at hand inland. Cultural activities like plays, films, jazz and classical concerts, gourmet restaurant festivals, gallery openings and more fill the city’s calendar.
– Cost: from $480 one-way, $696 roundtrip
– Flight time: 3 hours, 31 minutes
– Distance: 1,204 miles
– Carrier: Delta Air Lines
In the 1960s, you may have drifted through the Bay Islands of Honduras on a quest for adventure through the Americas. You would have found an island with some of the most beautiful and prolific marine life in the world, an island where cows and pigs grazed the fertile land and bananas grew everywhere. You would also have met some of the most hospitable and friendly people and most likely have stayed in someone’s house.
Today, Roatan is still mostly undeveloped. From the air, you see an island that is about 40 miles long and 5 miles at its widest point. There are no high-rise hotels; building regulations don’t allow high buildings and there are density setbacks from the beach and strict controls on development, particularly close to the water. Cows and pigs still graze the lush grass and occasionally wander along the road. The lifestyle is still laid-back and the people are still hospitable and friendly. Bananas and coconuts still grow all over the island. The water is still warm, crystal clear and has abundant life.
English is the language of the Bay Islands, while Spanish is the official language of Honduras. But perhaps the most dramatic difference, for someone returning from a visit in the 1960s, is the infrastructure and amenities. There is still only one main road, which runs almost the length of the island, but now there are other loops that make access to much of the island a little easier and many of these roads are now hard-surfaced.
Can you live on US$1,000 a month on Roatan? Certainly, but be prepared to grow your own fruits and vegetables (fortunately, that’s easy to do in this fertile soil and warm climate) and maybe raise pigs and chickens.
Belize City, Belize
– Cost: from $555 one-way, $846 roundtrip
– Flight time: 3 hours, 9 minutes
– Distance: 1,138 miles
– Carrier: Delta Air Lines
While Belize City is a poor, dirty, underdeveloped and in some places, unsafe place, flying into Belize City gives you two exceptional (and safe) nearby choices for overseas living in Belize: Ambergris Caye and Cayo.
Ambergris Caye is an island with an intriguing past and a promising future. From Mayan trade post to pirate hideout, Mestizo fishing village to “Temptation Island,” this once-sleepy tropical paradise is coming of age.
While this island is the most popular tourist retreat in Belize, people also come searching for the perfect place to retire or escape to for part-time living. Attracted by the island’s natural beauty, easy residency and lively community, they have noted the advantages of the outstanding offshore banking, international corporation business structures and trusts offered in Belize.
From almost any point on the easterly beach you can watch the waves break on the stunning barrier reef, less than a mile from shore. Ambergris Caye is the only populated island in Belize where the reef is so close it feels like you can reach out and touch it.
Belize is like an entire country that feels like a small town. Pretty soon your neighbors will go from being acquaintances to friends and before you know it, they’ll be like family. With less than 20,000 residents, it’s easy to get to know your neighbors. The people here are friendly and helpful. They look out for one another. This ingrained sense of community rubs off on the expats who move here. A major benefit for North Americans is that English is the official language in Belize.
The Cayo District, is drawing the notice of retirees interested in a lifestyle that values self-sufficiency and independence more than Caribbean sand and seashores. Living in Cayo, you’d find plenty of things to do at little or no cost. You could enjoy a simple but fulfilling life for $1,000 per month, if you buy locally and use the local resources.
At home in Cayo, the view outside your bedroom window and from your front porch would be of fields and pastures, trees and jungle, rivers and livestock.
Panama City, Panama
– Cost: from $476 one-way, $662 roundtrip
– Flight time: 4 hours, 3 minutes
– Distance: 1,727 miles
– Carrier: Delta Air Lines
While we recommend the beach communities outside of the city, some areas of the city are great locations too. One such area is El Cangrejo. The neighborhood boasts a nice mix of single-family homes and apartment buildings. A long-time favorite of the elite, El Cangrejo is home to many of Panama’s most influential residents. Though it may be home to many of Panama’s elite, expats don’t perceive it a posh address. It’s a hip, trendy and lively middle-class neighborhood, but it’s not fancy, certainly not luxurious.
Panama’s beaches might make enormous sense if you’re interested in a beach lifestyle, because they offers every level and standard of beach living you could be looking for, an established and growing expat community and the most convenient, appointed, comfortable, accessible situation you’ll find anywhere in Panama.
Outside of the big city, the closest swimmable beaches to Panama City are about an hour to the west, on the Pacific coast and an hour to the north to the Caribbean beaches.
Coronado is the most developed, most turn-key, most expat-ready beach town in Panama. It’s a well-established retirement community where foreign retirees can connect immediately with all the services and support they need. The retirees who call this area home have created one of the most active and organized (and fun) expat retirement communities on the planet; cultural activities and clubs are a major social influence here. You can find groups that you’d likely find back home, but people tend to be even more engaged and outgoing.
– Cost: from $490 one-way, $693 roundtrip
– Flight time: 3 hours, 52 minutes
– Distance: 1,489 miles
– Carrier: Delta Air Lines
Fly into Managua and you’ll be just a short drive away from either Leon or Granada, Nicaragua’s colonial city packed full of charm. Nicaragua appeals to the romantic. It is a land of pirates and martyrs, heroes, warriors and poets, fighting each in his way for what he believes.
But, after all the decades of war, devastation and internecine political fighting, the people of this country are tired. After watching their neighboring countries grow, progress and finally obtain a measure of peace and stability, the Nicaraguans are more than ready for their share of the good life.
Nicaragua is a beautiful, historic land, with Caribbean villages named after their pirate founders and footprints of a family who stepped in volcanic mud some 6,000 years ago. There are cloud forests, coffee farms and miles of unnamed beaches. There’s art, culture and theater. The Nicaraguans also stage some of the world’s best fiestas, fueled by one of the world’s best rum.
For more than 200 years, Granada, on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, was repeatedly burned and robbed by the worst of the pirate hordes. Granada has suffered a long cycle of destruction at the mercy of buccaneers and earthquakes. Yet this old girl continues to dust herself off and re-right her crown. The Sandinista revolution largely spared her further indignities, and today she shines. Her once cobbled streets have been largely paved over, but her colonial splendors remain and sparkle. The “Jewel of the Americas” shines once more.
Leon is one of those rare Central American cities that hasn’t felt the wave of “progress” typified by the onslaught of McDonald’s and its ilk. This city prides itself on its history, universities and architecture. The largest cathedral in Central America is here, with at least 30 other ecclesiastical monuments waiting to be discovered.
The museums are the best in the country, some of them time capsules of the long and bitter struggle against the Somoza regimes, showcasing this country’s history from the 1930s to the eventual signing of the peace accords in 1993. One in particular is a recycled jail and torture chamber used by Somoza’s National Guard, with graphic sketches on the walls of what went on inside.