Ever dreamed of owning a foreign vacation home, living or retiring in an exotic land? You’re not alone. An ever increasing number of Americans and Europeans are being lured abroad by a lower cost of living and higher quality of life. Some are returning to their ancestral countries or to places where they once vacationed, worked or studied. Others are being enticed by generous retiree perks and attractive tax incentives. Outside of reading about it, you probably have never given the notion any serious thought. These three beautiful and affordable slices of paradise could change your mind.
NOVA SCOTIA: THE HIDDEN GEM
Not all expatriate destinations are created equal. If you’re on a budget, tired of crowded beaches and packed supermarkets, love seafood, and have a 19th-century mindset, you may want to consider Nova Scotia, the Canadian province which is becoming one of the most sought after vacation home and retirement havens in North America.
Nova Scotia is beautiful. With some of the world’s most beautiful scenery, it boasts something for every taste: historic small towns, picture-perfect countryside, and a bustling capital with attractive suburbs, not to mention 3,600 miles of enchanting coastline dotted with charming fishing villages, inexpensive lots to build on, and opportunities for outdoor recreation of virtually every type. Deeply steeped in Scottish, Irish and Acadian (creole) heritage, the province feels like New England 100 years ago, and the entire province’s population is less than one million so the place is anything but crowded.
But that’s not all. With government-funded healthcare, comfortable spring and summer temperatures (with milder and less snowy winters than many northern U.S. states) and real estate prices considerably lower than anything on the coast in the United States, Nova Scotia is well worth considering. The growing American and European expat population obviously agrees.
For Sale: Your own slice of the breathtaking coastline and tens of thousands of acres of quaint countryside at unbelievably low prices. Live like a prince in a peaceful and private haven. Enjoy universal healthcare, friendly people and Cuban cigars (they’re legal here). All this in a pristine, under-developed storybook setting. But hurry…the word is out now (you’re not the only one reading this article).
PANAMA: THE NEW FLORIDA?
Inexpensive real estate, a low cost of living, breathtaking scenery and First-world perks should put Panama at the top of your list if you’re considering living or retiring abroad.
Home to Central America’s most vibrant and attractive capital (Panama City), Panama is slightly larger than the state of Florida. Bordered by the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, it is one of those places that can seduce you through its sheer natural beauty. The seemingly endless stretches of picturesque coastline, lush green valleys, near-perfect weather and friendly people make it one of the most livable places in the world. If you like Florida and the Caribbean, you’ll love Panama.
Outside of its scenic charms, Panama is one of the best places anywhere for expatriate and retirees today, offering one of the world’s best discount programs for retirees. AARP rated Panama “the fourth best retirement place in the world.” When stacked up against traditional Latin American retirement havens such as Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, Panama has more amenities, lower costs, and less crime, red tape and government interference.
In addition, Panama has put together an impressive list of incentives to attract newcomers, including:
Expatriates who buy or build a new home pay no property taxes for 20 years.
No taxes on foreign-earned income (Social Security, pensions or business profits).
Investments in the tourism industry are exempt from import duties, construction materials and equipment costs, and income, real estate and other taxes for a period of 20 years.
The pensionado (retiree) program
You don’t need to be retired to qualify for the program (anyone over 18 may apply for benefits). The only requirement is a guaranteed income of $500 per month ($600 for a couple). It must be a pension from a company or government agency (e.g. Social Security, disability, military pay, etc.). After becoming a Panamanian resident “pensioner,” you are immediately eligible for the most comprehensive program of expatriate benefits in the world, including discounts on everything from doctor’s visits and mortgage closing costs to restaurant meals and entertainment (movies, theaters, concerts, sporting events, etc.).
Other perks of life in Panama are its proximity to the US (only a 2½-hour flight from Miami), the US dollar is the de facto currency, and English is widely spoken and understood in major cities (Spanish is the official language).
Right now, the three best places to purchase real estate in Panama are Panama City, the capital which boasts First-world infrastructure and is home to virtually every large American brand-name chain; Boquete, a scenic and growing expatriate hideaway in Panama’s mountainous region; and the Pearl Islands, a chain of over 90 islands and 130 islets in the Caribbean.
DOMINICA: THE OLD CARIBBEAN
The Caribbean is synonymous with hedonism — from the popular tourist Mecca of the Bahamas to the off-the-beaten-path divers’ paradise of Bonaire. What you might not know about the Caribbean, however, is that it’s also home to one of the most appealing — and inexpensive destinations in this hemisphere. So if you’re searching for a tropial paradise as it should be, duck the crowds and head to Dominica.
With no direct flights from North America or Europe, Dominica is welcome retreat of peace and quiet in the Caribbean’s sea of mass tourism. Roughly halfway between Martinique and Guadeloupe, the island is splendidly underdeveloped. A land of waterfalls, rivers (365 of them), hot springs, and lush rain forests, Dominica is the Caribbean’s most rugged isle. Instead of luxury resorts and long stretches of crowded sand, you’ll find volcanic mountains, intimate beaches, little-explored reefs and charming small hotels.
And if you think that living in the Caribbean full- or part-time is a luxury only A-list celebrities can afford, think again. Dominica’s prices are refreshingly down-to-earth: A modest but comfortable home can be built for as little as 25K (naturally, you could pay much more, but why bother).