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Retiring To A Tropical Paradise On $1,200 US Per Month?

By ohomen171 follow ohomen171   2012 May 20, 9:34pm 15,623 views   26 comments   watch   nsfw   quote   share    


Retiring To A Tropical Paradise On $1,200 US Per Month?

My dear readers I opened up Yahoo early Friday morning and read a banner headline saying that one could still retire to a paradise for around $1,200 US per month. I read the article in detail. It extolled the virtues of Panama and the small seaside village of Las Tablas. It all sounded so wonderful and tempting.

This came one day after another shocking headline stating that the average person retiring in the US and covered by the financially-strapped medicare program would face $240,000 US in "out of pocket " medical costs before the end of life.

If my wife were not still employed as a medical doctor I would be facing retirement on a monthly Social Security salary of $1,254.00 US. Here is the San Francisco Bay area, I could rent a room for $500 US to $600 US per month. I could pay for food, a couple of tanks of gas in my 6 year-old Saturn, auto insurance, and a cheap cellular phone. I could not afford private medical insurance. Since I am a military veteran I would qualify for medical care with the Veteran's Administration. Basic care would be covered but I certainly could not get a heart transplant at the VA Hospital, for example.

On the other hand I could go to Bariloche, Argentina, and rent a furnished apartment for about $550.00 US per month. I could use the excellent public transit system. Food would cost a couple of hundred per month. Medical care would range from full-coverage medical insurance with Swiss Re for $392 US or just a pay as you go system that would be cheap. If I wanted to go to where my son lives in Goiania, Brasil my costs would be about the same. In both places I would have a better social and family life than here in the San Francisco area.

Many of you will seriously consider retiring to another country. Thirty or forty years ago there were tropical paradises where one could retire cheaply. Sadly the rest of the world has become more prosperous and the dollar has declined against major currencies. All of a sudden these paradises have become expensive.

You also have the challenge of meeting immigration requirements of the country where you want to settle. Let me give you a couple of examples as follows:

-My dear wife Elena arrived in February, 2001 in San Jose, California as a tourist. In June of 2004 she proudly became U.S. citizen. The total bill for this transformation including lawyrs, fees, etc. was $30,000 US.

-In 2007 I started the process to become a permanent resident in Argentina. In January of 2009 I got my DNI book and was officially declared a permanent resident of Argentina. The total cost of this legal process including trips to and from Argentina was over $13,000 US.

In both of these cases a foreigner was married to a local citizen. If you are not married to a local citizen the process becomes far more expensive and challenging.

I have lived on six of the seven continents. At various times in my life I have been a permanent resident of Brasil, South Africa, and now Argentina. In most countries I have been to, you can live just as well as you would live in the USA but it will cost about the same with the exception of cheaper medical care. Yoiu can live like a lower-class local person for a low wage but it would not be a pleasant life. You certainly would not want to depend on the public medical system in most countries.

Let us go back to the example of Panama. This country is booming and becoming a major banking center for all of Latin America. Life in Panama City would be just as expensive as life in a major American city. Life out in the seaside town might be cheap but you would live like alower-class Panamanian. If you depended on the local public health carre system you would get slow care and questionable quality.

Let us now look at retiring to Argentina. If you are not married to a local citizen you will face minimum legal fees of $4,400 US+ You will have to produce a lot of documents. You will have to prove that you have the resources to support yourself in Argentina. It will be a tough year to work your way through the bureaucracy and you will have to learn to speak Spanish.

Once you're accepted and ready to move, your US appliances will not go with you as they are all 110 volts. All Argentine appliances run on 220 volts. You might be able to take your computer. The cars there do not run on lead-free gas. Your car is gone. Cars are more expensvie in Argentina than the USA. A decent car will cost you between $12,000 US and $25,000 US. It will be cheap to move your furniture in a cargo container on a ship. You will need a skilled customs broker to get you through the corrupt and arbitrary customs service.

Once you arrive you will need a good real estate agent to find you an apartment or a home. In Buenos Aires, there are several real estate agents who speak good English. The same cannot be said out in the provinces. You will find rents cheap by US standards. Housing in Buenos Aires will cost about the same as housing in Miami. In Bariloche housing costs will be the same as San Francisco. You will also need a good lawyer to guide you through all of the bureaucratic hurdles. The US Embassy will be able to assist you here.

You will then have to make decisions on medical care. Argentina has doctors of varying quality. My wife graduated fromn the University of Buenos Aires Medical School with an honors diploma. When she got to the USA, she scored in the top 5% of medical school graduates taking the test for a medical license. She was up there with graduates of Harvard and Stanford Medical Schools. If you Google "U of Buenos Aires Med School graduates in the USA" you will get a big list of Argentine doctors who have come to the USA and had great careers. Other doctors do not have this high quality.

Argentina has an extensive public mediucal system. Report sof its quality range from abysmal to good, in spots. It is best to go with an insurance company called Swiss Re. Their doctors are high quality and many speak English. At 63 years of age with slight overweight and cholesterol issues my monthly fee would be $392.00 US.

As you can see from all of this retiring to a foreign country is neither cheap or easy.
Topics: retiring to a tropical paradise

#housing

1   Jemaho   ignore (0)   2012 May 21, 12:41am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Thanks for inserting a little reality to the day dreaming. Living abroad may sometimes be worth the effort, but it is rarely easy or cheap.

2   Quigley   ignore (2)   2012 May 21, 2:17am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Eh, I'm planning to retire to Thailand when it's time. The people are friendly, the weather is warm, the sand is white, and the drinks are cold. Oh and it's cheap. Rent should be around $350/month, food bout half that, and I won't need a car. However last time I was there, a guy offered me an elephant for two grand. That should take care of transportation, and they work for peanuts! :)

3   Danaseb   ignore (0)   2012 May 21, 5:20am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Argentina is not tropical unless you count half the year or want to live up in Misiones, nor is Chile, well anywhere; which would be my first choice for South America. Argentina is certainly a more exciting place, but Chile is safer and I would trust the healthcare more. As you would say, not necessarily as good as Argentina's best, but far more consistent.

I have found that Chile has many striking places to live in the country not too terribly far from Santiago and very close to the local cities by SA standards.

4   Dan8267   ignore (3)   2012 May 21, 6:28am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

On the bright side, you could retire in Detroit on $1200/month. Rent is free there. Just pick a house, any house.

5   bob2356   ignore (4)   2012 May 21, 12:43pm     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

ohomen171 says

As you can see from all of this retiring to a foreign country is neither cheap or easy.

No, but it can be done much cheaper and easier than you describe.There are many countries that desire retirees and make the process reasonably streamlined.

How did your wife spending 30k getting a us citizenship? Your story doesn't seem add up. If she arrived in 2001 as a tourist she would have had to have been married to you within 90 days or her tourist visa would have run out. Once she has her green card from marriage then after 3 years being married and living with you in the states she fills out n-400, pays $675 and takes the citizenship test. What pray tell cost 29,325 in legal fees unless she had a criminal record that needed to be expunged or something?

I also don't understand the still practicing as a doctor thing. No one walks into the US and "takes a test for the medical license". If she were a foreign medical grad who arrived in 2001 on a tourist visa she would have had to get a H1/J1 to be eligible to work in a medical residency program, then sit the USMLE step 1, 2ck, 2cs and get the results back as well as getting the Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates certificate. This would have taken over a year, assuming that all the USMLE tests were passed first shot. Then she would have applied to medical residency programs and went through the match process. At least another year. Then another 3-7 years as a medical resident before you can apply for a medical license. Yet in 2007 you applied for your residency to live in Argentina just as she would have been finishing medical residency. Since Argentina does not recognize US medical residencies then if she plans to practice in Argentina she will have to do an Argentinian medical residency. Am I missing something here???

6   ohomen171   ignore (0)   2012 May 21, 2:30pm     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Wow you are really an intelligent man and full of good observations!!!!When Elena landed in San Jose in 2001 Argentines did not even need a visa to get into the US due to the friendship between Bush 1 and former Argentine President Menim. Elena and I got married a month later. First came the Green Card with massive documentation, legal fees and a rough interview. Once we passed all of that, Elena had to go down several times to correct errors in the paperwork and even technicalities like some bureaucrat did not like a photo. The citizenship application was a nightmare with 6,000 to 8,000 pages of documents required. It almost killed us to get it together and get it through the system. It cost a lot in legal fees also.

Now let us turn to the medical license here in the USA. Only 20% of the foreign medical graduates pass through all of the filters to become licensed US doctors. You have the tests that you referred to USMLE 1, 2 and 3. (By the way US medical school graduates take the same test. THen you have the California Medical Board that is damned tough. Elena had to make several trips back to Argentina to get documents from the University of Buenos Aires Medical School including a letter of recommendation from the dean of the medical school. After that mountain of paper work was complete next comes the FBI background check. It is not just a matter of running one's fingerprints through the FBI and Argentine Federal Police to make sure that the applicant does not have a criminal record, etc. It is a also a background check like one would get when applying to be a cabinet officer or for a super high level security clearance. Once that bureaucratic hurdle is complete you have to pass a physical examination similar to the one an astronaut has to pass. Then comes the hell of the scramble to get into a residency program. Elena and I spent months traveling all over the US to interview for various medical residency programs. On the day of the match we were so relieved to get accepted right here in San Francisco. What happened next was three years of hell beyond imagination including weeks of 36 hour work days in the ICU, etc. After going through that hell Elena graduated and became one of the top 10% of doctors hired by Kaiser Permanente. Our total actual expenditures and "sweat equity" truly came up to about $30,000.

You made a fascinating comment about US medical credentials not being honored in Argentina. What I have learned from doctors all of the world is that a California medical license is honored all over the world. I have an ex-girl friend who is a doctor in Spain. She told me that if Elena showed up in Barcelona with her California medical license, she would be required to pass one test before getting a medical license valid throughout the European Union. If Elena showed up in Argentina with her medical license from California she would have to take one test to get her medical license for Argentina. The same would happen in Chile. Only Brasil would give her a hard time about getting a medical license.

I applied for residency in Argentina because I felt that if Elena was a citizen of my country I wanted to be a citizen of her country also. The first step was to become a permanent resident. Argentina has a tough immigration department and that was a big surprise. For example on the police record check they wanted a letter from the chief of police of Pacifica. It had to state that I had no arrests or convictions for the last five years. It further had to attest that I am a man of good moral character. Every document in English had to be translated by a certified Spanish translator and authenticated by the California Secretary of State. We also wanted flexibility so that we can retire either here or in Argentina.

7   ohomen171   ignore (0)   2012 May 21, 2:55pm     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

My dear readers I first started living in foreign countries in 1973. I have lived on six of the seven continents in every thing from almost wealthy neighborhoods to poor slums. I spent 8 months living in an African village as the only European there.

I often hear the Philippines and Thailand mentioned as paradises where you can live cheap.

I worked at a telecom comp[any for 8 years. I had a great engineer named Bill who was always saving my neck. When I was about to make a big mistake, he would smile at me like a nice older brother and ask the following question: "What's wrong with this picture?"

First is that Thailand and the Philippines both have problems with militant Muslims affiliated with Al Quaeda. The Philippines have 7000 islands. In theory you know where the militants are and avoid them. Likewise militant Muslims tend to stay in one area in the far South of Thailand. That all sounds good until some of the militants decide to leave their sanctuary and touch off some bombs or do some kidnappings in areas where Americans live.

Realistically you still have a low probability of being bombed or kidnapped. Your biggest danger is one day the US dollars crashes 50% against the Thailand Bat or the Philippine peso and you find yourself trapped in a place where you do not have the money to pay rent.

I also see many people praising low-cost medical care elsewhere. The US has the most expensive medical charges on the planet and that is a disgrace. Every other country in the world is cheaper. In these paradises that people often dream of you have two standards of medical care-a public system that is often abysmal and a private system that can be almost as good as here but you will pay for it.

One can find places like Canada, Britain, France,, etc with decent socialized medicine. If millions of Americans moved to these places these wonderful medical systems would collapse under the weight of all of the people. Michael Moore showed an example of Americans who sneak across the border to get free Canadian medical care. If they are caught doing this, they are arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and sent back to the US after paying a big fine.

I like Argentina because its crazy currency never appreciates too much against the dollar. Argentina has major street crime in the city of Buenos Aires and in the province of Buenos Aires. It is easy to get robbed, car jacked, kidnapped, etc. But in the smaller towns in the outlying provinces you have very little problem with crime. You also have nothing to fear from terrorists.

In Argentina you can enjoy a material standard of living every bit as good as the USA and a social and family life that is far superior to the USA.

And yes a lot of countries are looking for retirees but not the kind living on a $1,200 per month Social Security check. They want people with substantial assets and income.

I urge many of you to leave this place with over-priced medical care, education, housing,and a disappearing middle class. Please do your home work and prepare carefully before you make your move!

8   ohomen171   ignore (0)   2012 May 21, 2:59pm     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Many European investors bought those cheap Detroit houses and went on to "lost their shirts." There was a big article in the FT of London about that.

9   ohomen171   ignore (0)   2012 May 21, 2:59pm     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Thanks for the kind words.

10   ohomen171   ignore (0)   2012 May 21, 3:01pm     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

There is time on your side to wait for higher and higher medical costs and more deathly poor people as the middle class disappears.

11   Danaseb   ignore (0)   2012 May 21, 3:19pm     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

If I lived in the Midwest or other parts of the country where the only relentless financial predators were the medical I would most certainly not look outward as much. But as a fellow Bay Arean I have to concur, how can one not?

South America is no paradise, but for someone raised in America wishing to live an honest life without jackpots, the usual cheats or working oneself to death by the mid 50s there is some security to appreciate.

Even certain areas of Mexico enjoy a lower crime rate and higher standard of living than the USA in general, Read about Baja California Sur and its Capital of La Paz, as opposed to Bolivia's. Will blow your mind if all you imagine when you think of Mexico is decapitated bodies on the roadside, like many in this country now do.

12   tdeloco   ignore (1)   2012 May 21, 3:55pm     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

ohomen171 says

Sadly the rest of the world has become more prosperous and the dollar has declined against major currencies.

Did you ever occur to you that this trend might continue? If it does, do you think you'll be able to continue your retirement abroad with only your Social Security Income? You should consider starting your own small business abroad while the dollar is still strong.

Related thread: http://patrick.net/?p=1210929

13   lostand confused   ignore (0)   2012 May 21, 10:54pm     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

In a lot of developing nations-especially Asia- real estate has shot up and you can get a nice house in CA for the equivalent there. Rents there are still cheap and so one does not know if it is a massive bubble there too. At least ours is popped.

Thailand of course has the problem of older expats mysteriously falling out of their high rise apartments and their beautiful young widows inheriting everything from them. Apart from that, I think it is a nice place.

14   CornPoptheOriginalGangster   ignore (5)   2012 May 22, 1:23am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Most Thai women take everything the guy has for the same reason other women do it.

In Thailand, Farangs are beset constantly by pretty young women looking to snatch a rich husband. Many fail to keep the rocket in the pocket and obtain a mistress.

Chances are, if a Farang gets divorced, he's been dipping into other honeypots and his woman found out. Not hard for them to figure out for Thai women since they clean all their clothes, warm their towels, sometimes put paste on the toothbrush. They will smell strange perfume or see the lipstick.

American men are #1 husband targets. Unlike most men in the world, American men do not emerge from a culture that winks at having mistresses. They have money. They tend to be dedicated to their children and more involved with their families than men from most other cultures. They are trained to put women on a pedestal, even today.

However, some guys are complete anti-social morons, and that's the reason they get mail order brides or only can build relationships with women from a different culture. We all know the ugly fat guy in the AP department with a bad attitude, bad hygiene, and a woe is me complex. Think what's his name from Office Space with the stapler.

Even foreign women eventually figure out such a man has bad character, on top of being ugly and a sad sack, and give up trying to make it work.

15   mdovell   ignore (2)   2012 May 22, 1:38am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

ohomen171 says

If I wanted to go to where my son lives in Goiania, Brasil my costs would be about the same.

Um...I hope you are aware of that radiation accident that happened there back in '87 right?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goi%C3%A2nia_accident

Now it wasn't Chernobyl but their government really did screw up. I hope the standards of education and literacy have been raised.

16   bob2356   ignore (4)   2012 May 22, 12:45pm     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

ohomen171 says

The citizenship application was a nightmare with 6,000 to 8,000 pages of documents required. It almost killed us to get it together and get it through the system. It cost a lot in legal fees also.

You must have had some interesting application. I've walked a couple people through this application without anything like this and no lawyers. At best a 100 pages of documentation.

ohomen171 says

You made a fascinating comment about US medical credentials not being honored in Argentina. What I have learned from doctors all of the world is that a California medical license is honored all over the world. I have an ex-girl friend who is a doctor in Spain. She told me that if Elena showed up in Barcelona with her California medical license, she would be required to pass one test before getting a medical license valid throughout the European Union. If Elena showed up in Argentina with her medical license from California she would have to take one test to get her medical license for Argentina. The same would happen in Chile. Only Brasil would give her a hard time about getting a medical license.

My wife is a doctor who works overseas and also does some international medical recruiting A US license is NOT recognized all over the world or even close. Argentina and Chile will credential a US doctor with a test and lots of hoop jumping, maybe maybe not. Depends on the day and who's in a good mood. But the EU, no way unless there has been some dramatic changes in the last 12 months..

17   ohomen171   ignore (0)   2012 May 23, 11:07pm     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Bob you are a very austute man. My wife's ancestors come from Northern Italy. One of her retirement options is to go to Tuscany to live. My ex-girl friend is a doctor in Barcelona. We are still on very good terms and she gets along with Elena. Marivi suggested that the first step for Elena was to get her medical license in Spain. This would be easy for Elena as she speaks Spanish and was born and raised in Argentina and has an Argentine medical license. With the California license Elena would be able to take one test and have her Spanish medical license in about 90 days. With that in hand, her credentials would be recognized throughout the European Union. With her Italian language skills improved, she could go to Italy and practice. I am sure that countries like Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, etc are very picky about who is admitted to practice.

With respect to all of the paper work required for the citizenship application, we erred on the side of caution and gave them everything that they wanted and then some. The big issue was proving that we actually lived together and were a bonafide couple. We had to produce copies of all bank statements, tax returns, utility bills, property titles, mortgage data, credit cards, etc to prove that we were a couple. This whole exercise had me up 24 hours without sleep several times. It almost killed me.

18   bob2356   ignore (4)   2012 May 24, 10:08am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

ohomen171 says

With the California license Elena would be able to take one test and have her Spanish medical license in about 90 days. With that in hand, her credentials would be recognized throughout the European Union. With her Italian language skills improved, she could go to Italy and practice.

By total random coincidence I lunched with a Spanish doc yesterday while waiting for my wife. I was personally interested because we are seriously considering living in Europe for the kids going to high school so they have language fluency and also since a lot of Spanish docs come to Oz and NZ. He had some interesting insights and a lot of information I didn't know about.

He says the licensing for foreign medical grads is pretty much by department and it really depends on where and who you deal with, but it's very doable. That's pretty unusual for the EU.

I don't want to seem down but he also said to look very carefully because there is a real glut of docs in Spain. Getting set up and going is hard and almost impossible for some specalties.. He also said it's much worse in Italy, it's not unusual for young docs to live at home because they can't afford to have an apartment. Anyway his advice was to go over, really spend time, and check it out.

Any I thought I would pass that on. You should check out Abruzzo, it's as nice as Tuscany at half the price.

19   jaz5   ignore (0)   2012 May 24, 10:14am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

You don't need to retire to a foreign country - there are plenty of places in the US that are super cheap, Florida and the Gulf Coast (Mobile, AL etc.) or even the Georgia and North Carolina coastline.

Yes, some cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco have become insanely expensive for housing but I feel that is just a bubble that is still in the process of popping.

20   Dan8267   ignore (3)   2012 May 24, 10:38am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

jaz5 says

there are plenty of places in the US that are super cheap, Florida

Florida ain't cheap. Not anymore. Not by a long shot. Trust me.

For the past few years, Floridians have been moving up to Georgia and the Carolinas to find cheaper digs. They've been called "relocated Floridiots" by the locals.

21   Dan8267   ignore (3)   2012 May 24, 10:39am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

It's terrible that Florida isn't cheap because wages are so low here. You can easily earn 2x or 3x Florida wages in NYC, and NYC isn't twice as expensive, maybe 1.3x as expensive.

22   MoneySheep   ignore (0)   2012 May 25, 11:34am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Above someone mentioned about Farang in Thailand, the stories had truth in them. But at the end, when the Farang gets to old age, because of the "free" medical care, many came back to America, unless they are rich.

23   ohomen171   ignore (0)   2012 May 26, 12:21am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

Thanks for sharing those excellent comments Money SHeep. Retiring to a foreign country is not a poor person's game!

24   clambo   ignore (5)   2012 May 26, 3:11am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

There is a tropical third world country right here, it's called Mississippi.
I have only lived in 3 countries, with a couple months in Japan so sort of "living" there in addition.
The "poor" country among them was not exactly cheap. What was cheap there was housing, but it wasn't that awesome for the money either, and lots of things were actually more expensive.
By all means one must avoid getting married if relocating to a foreign locale unless it's 1. Switzerland 2. Norway.
I would marry there in a heartbeat, she's gonna get me some financial security ;)

25   bob2356   ignore (4)   2012 May 26, 4:51am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

clambo says

There is a tropical third world country right here, it's called Mississippi.

If you really want to live cheap in the states you can't beat the Rio Grande valley. Housing is cheap, food is cheap, labor is cheap, and you can pop over to Mexico to get really cheap goods. Plus there's South Padre beaches and the laguana madre. Palm trees, cotton, sugar cane, no one speaks english. It's a Caribbean island where you can drive to Houston for the weekend. I really liked living there.

Labor is so cheap that contractors will hire people to dig footings by hand rather than rent a backhoe. Bonus points compared to old miss: very few rednecks (other than Mexicans hating black people) or deep south Miss/Alabama attitudes. The first and foremost priority to Texans is having fun. Double bonus points: world class margarita's and bbq (the largest department in sporting goods stores in the RGV is BBQ, true story). triple bonus points: huge stacks of $1 big greasy heat lamp breakfast burritos at any gas station. Heartburn plus double the rda of cholesterol for a buck, how can you beat that?

Downsides? Heat/humidity, (people think of Houston as up north where it's cooler), isolation.

26   clambo   ignore (5)   2012 May 26, 5:02am     ↓ dislike (0)   quote   flag        

I have been around the Gulf in Texas, it's kinda warm and a bit slow. I was around Port Aransas, Port Lavaca, Palacios, etc.
I liked Texas however. I have been down there 5 times.
It's like a whole other country like the ad says.


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