Retirees eye lower cost of living in Latin America

Nanci Hellmich

Tarin Cardamone, 67, and her husband, James, 71, retired to Sierra Vista, Ariz., seven years ago, but now they want to move to a country in Central or South America for "a different lifestyle — something that's more exciting and adventurous than going to the local grocery store or taking a trip to Tucson," Tarin says.

They went on a retirement tour of Nicaragua last year, and they plan to take a tour of Ecuador in 2015, with the goal of moving by 2016.

Joseph Riden, 69, of Seattle, decided to spend his golden years in a "paradise" where he could have a good quality of life on his income from Social Security. Two years ago, he took a tour of Costa Rica designed for people who wanted to move there. "By the end of the trip, I had a clear idea of my choices," Riden says. "Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places on Earth."

Emmanuel Faure | Photodisc | Getty Images

The number of people who are considering Latin America is growing as more Baby Boomers begin retiring, says Suzan Haskins, co-author of a new book, The International Living Guide to Retiring Overseas on a Budget: How to Live Well on $25,000 a Year, written with her husband, Dan Prescher. They live in Ecuador and are senior editors at, which offers 2½- to-3½-day informational conferences ($600 to $1,000) in countries that are popular retirement locations.

Retirees are attracted to Latin America because "they are looking for places where their money will go further and where there's better weather," Prescher says. Plus, these countries are close to the USA, so it's relatively easy to get back.

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It's difficult to say exactly how many Americans are retiring to Latin America, but Mexico is the most popular retirement destination, Haskins says. Some people take specially designed retirement tours to explore living in these countries.

In Costa Rica, most people are attracted to the Central Valley for the great weather (an average temperature of 72 degrees), proximity to private hospitals, entertainment and better shopping, says Christopher Howard, owner of Live in Costa Rica Tours (, which offers a 10-day group tour for $2,100 a person and $2,900 for a couple, which includes hotels, most meals and transportation around the country, but not airfare.

Both medical care and domestic help are much less expensive in Costa Rica, he says. About 20% of the people on his tours decide to move there, says Howard, author of The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica. "It's not for everybody. It's a big change."

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Howard, who has written guidebooks about several other Latin American countries including Nicaragua and Panama, says, "The bottom line is if you have $1,000 to $1,500 a month to live on, then you need to go to a place like Nicaragua and Panama to save money."

Tanya Hartill, owner of NicaTour Group (, estimates that retirees can live well in Nicaragua for about $900 a month. Many people on her tours have visited other countries and are being very deliberate in their decision-making, says Hartill, who offers an eight-day tour for about $1,375 a person, excluding airfare.

People can retire in Ecuador "very comfortably for about $25,000 a year," Haskins says. Cities always cost more than small villages," she says. "Your experience will be so much richer if you can speak the language."

The medical care in major cities in many Latin American countries "is excellent, top quality," and it's very affordable as compared with the U.S., she says.

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Medicare does not work outside the United States, and that is one thing to consider, Prescher says.

You can become a resident of another country and not lose your U.S. citizenship, he says. You still file taxes in the U.S., can vote and collect Social Security, he says. "You can have your Social Security check deposited in many qualifying banks around the world."

Prescher suggests living in a new country for six months before committing to moving there or buying property. "Until you put your boots on the ground, there's no way to know how you personally feel about living there."

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Tarin says she and her husband plan to rent a place for six months and keep their home in Arizona, in case things don't work out. And if the first country they try doesn't suit, they might move to another, such as Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina or Colombia, and try living there for six months, she says.

Riden says the tour of Costa Rica gave him the confidence to take the plunge and move there. He now rents an 800-square-foot stucco house in Grecia, a medium-size town in the Central Valley, for $525 a month.

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He loves living there, but there are a few downsides, including a "tremendous bureaucracy. I've spent three days trying to open a checking account." Plus, he says the public medical services have been a disappointment to him, so he often pays a private doctor out of pocket, which is about $40 for a visit.

He spends half the year living near Seattle and the other half in Costa Rica. Moving to this Central American country was the right decision for him, Riden says. "When you come here, everything slows down, and you begin to appreciate the simple things in life. All day long, you get to hear constant bird song."

—By Nanci Hellmich, USA Today