Retire Abroad: June 2016 ($1,100)

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The Retire Abroad series inspired me to build a special tool for the FIRE community: The Earth Awaits. It’s a tool made to build you budgets for hundreds of cities worldwide, taking your family size, budget, housing needs, and a bunch of other things into account. I think it’s the best way to explore the places in the world you can retire– right now.

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After writing the last post in the Retire Abroad series, I never imagined I would be back at it only a month later! What’s more, I definitely didn’t think we’d be jumping up by $474 all at once thanks to the new rental property coming completely online this month!

The thing is, it seemed like such a shame to jump from around $1,000 in income per month to around $1,500 per month and only cover five places that fit into that income range. No, like slow travel, it would be much more fun to take our time! So, starting today, and over the next couple months, I’ll be publishing five articles covering twenty-five amazing retirement and slow travel destinations around the world. Today’s article covers locations where a monthly budget of under $1,100 is sufficient to live a comfortable life. Subsequent articles will each add $100 per month to the budget until the series catches up to our safe withdrawal rate.

The last few months have gotten me thinking about the future of this series.  Sure, I could write an article every few months, substituting increasingly-expensive cities in the same five or ten “popular” countries (or just inflating lifestyle in the same cities), and this would still be a fascinating set of posts. In truth, those countries will continue to occupy spots in this series. They’re popular for a reason! They’re pretty awesome! Still, I have a particular affection for some of the off-the-beaten-path places in the world, and I’d like to start incorporating more of them into this series.  What’s more, places that are comfortable and safe but haven’t quite yet become “popular” in expat or retiree circles present an amazing value proposition for the frugal retiree.

Let’s get to it!

The Budgeting Methodology

 

The basic elements of a comfortable retirement abroad boil down to four categories: Shelter, Food, Health, and Entertainment.

 

Shelter means a comfortable one-bedroom apartment for one or two people in a safe area, utility services, and an internet connection.

 

Food costs are estimated by taking a representative cross section of basic grocery goods and multiplying the cost of those goods by 3 to allow for varying tastes and dietary needs, as well as to allow for the purchase of basic household goods.

 

Health is more than just the treatment of illnesses– it’s also prevention. The methodology builds in a fitness club membership for two, as well as insurance premiums for two where applicable. Where no insurance or equivalent is available, a modest self-insurance budget is included.

 

Entertainment is highly individual. To allow for some basic entertainment, four cinema tickets, twice-monthly dinner for two, and two public transport passes are included in the default budget.

 

The preceding methodology produces budgets for most locations that cross-reference closely with other sources for cost of living data such as expat blogs, articles, and forum postings. The budgets provided here aren’t bare-bones, but they are not luxurious either. Most readers would probably prefer to build more breathing room into a long-term budget to allow for travel home, emergencies, and other unforeseen occurrences.

Goa, India (25.65)

Goa, a state in the southwest of India, has a history stretching back 30,000 years. It was a part of various sultanates and empires in the region before falling under the influence of the Portuguese around the year 1500. The Portuguese government, which considered Goa a province of Portugal, remained in control of the region until 1961, when it was seized by the Indian military in a brief and one-sided invasion.

Goa is one of India’s richest states, and tourism is by far the primary industry. Comparatively speaking, Goa is well developed and affluent by Indian standards. Goa’s primary touristic draw is its excellent beaches, though the verdant jungle and Portuguese colonial architecture are also popular.

Goa has one of the oldest continuously-operational medical schools in Asia, and local health care is generally regarded as quite good. There is even a fledgling medical tourism industry. Doctors in the area should be competent and affordable, with Apollo Victor and Manipal hospitals frequently mentioned by expats. For ultra-modern treatment, Bumrungrad and other hospitals in Bangkok are only a short flight away, and some expats prefer to travel there instead.

The baseline budget of $961.46 leaves a fair amount left over for food, entertainment, or my personal favorite, a moped rental to get around. Goa is substantially more laid-back than the big cities of India, so it’s an ideal destination for those seeking an opportunity to absorb Indian culture without the mass of humanity found in more populated areas.

And oh– oh! The food. If you’re like me and adore Indian food, you’ll need that fitness club membership to work off the thousands of calories you’re likely to be stuffing into yourself daily. Goan food is actually an interesting mixture of traditional Indian Cuisine and Goan Catholic Cuisine.  Goan Catholic Cuisine is strongly Portuguese-influenced with plenty of pork and fish dishes.

India is a dynamic, exciting, rapidly-changing country, and for those with the guts to leap in, I believe it has a lot to offer the frugal adventurer.

ExpenseApproximate Cost
Total$961.46
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre$453.81
Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage) $26.61
Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)$18.70
Meal for Two, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)$21.48
Public Transport Pass for Two$14.82
Gym Membership for Two$61.12
Movie for 2 (twice a month)$12.16
Monthly Grocery Cost$152.76
Monthly Insurance Premiums for Two (Private Insurance)$200.00
Belgrade, Serbia (37.12)

To some, Belgrade is just another one of the cities off to the lower right of Europe. The ones that all fought each other back in the 90s. The Yugoslavia ones. In reality, it’s so, so much more. Yes, Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia fought a series of wars and insurgencies in the 1990s, but now the entire Balkans are abuzz with new investment, activity, and cosmopolitan lifestyle. One can live a comfortable– even lavish– life in Belgrade at a fraction of the cost of the same lifestyle in Western Europe.

Belgrade is the capital of Serbia, so whether it’s theatre, music, dance, architecture, or sports, you can find it here. Belgrade’s imposing fortress looks out across the city, an enduring monument that outlasted the Celts, Romans, Goths, Huns, and Ottomans that occupied it over fifteen centuries. Today, it’s a pleasant park, but it’s also a reminder of the fact the Serbia is and always has been an important crossroads between west and east.

For those inclined to travel around Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport provides uncommon accessibility to all three.  It’s easy and cheap to fly from Belgrade to most European capitals, New York, Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Istanbul, Doha, Moscow, and many others.  From any of those cities, it’s possible to connect onward to pretty much anywhere in the world.

Belgrade is one of the few European capitals with no metro system, though one has been planned for decades. It has become something of a joke that the project is always two years away from breaking ground. At this time, there is still no firm plan to begin construction. As a result, the city suffers from more traffic jams than other cities of its size in the region.  That said, the city has an effective network of buses, trams, and trolleys, as well as a commuter rail network that reaches many of the surrounding suburbs. Public transport is a viable option… it’s just slower than it would be elsewhere on the continent.

Belgrade’s experiences cold winters and hot summers, so it’s ideally suited for those who enjoy the entire range of seasons. It’s also, generally speaking, a very safe city, and the people are very welcoming to outsiders. If you’re curious about the experience of one American family in Belgrade, the 18 month adventure the Richardson family had in 2009-2010 makes a wonderful read.

A baseline budget of right around $1,000 will provide a decent quality of life in a safe apartment in the city center. In Serbia, public health care is free to all citizens and long-term residents, so your basic needs are covered if you plan to apply for a permanent resident visa. As with most destinations abroad, it pays to maintain a reserve to seek treatment for major health issues in one of the many excellent private health clinics.  If you are planning a short stay, you may wish to purchase travel or international health insurance which covers treatment in Serbia.

ExpenseApproximate Cost
Total$1,000.47
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre$299.87
Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage) $139.66
Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)$14.46
Meal for Two, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)$48.42
Public Transport Pass for Two$59.38
Gym Membership for Two$51.06
Movie for 2 (twice a month)$16.44
Monthly Grocery Cost$171.18
Monthly Insurance Premiums for Two (Private Insurance)$200.00
Hanoi, Vietnam (40.95)

Hanoi, in the north of Vietnam, is the country’s capital and second largest city. At over 5,000 years old, it has served as a Chinese outpost, Imperial Vietnamese capital, capital of French Indochina, and most recently, the capital of communist Vietnam.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that if you’re reading this article, you’re not immediately dismissive of the idea of visiting– or living in– a communist country. For almost 70 years, Hanoi was the resplendent capital of French Indochina, and modern Vietnam is heavily inspired by the capitalist success of China. Democracy movements are the targets of crackdowns and all political parties must be approved. Pro-democracy activists are routinely surveilled, detained, and imprisoned. At the same time, 95% of all Vietnamese strongly support a capitalist economic system. Vietnam is changing fast, and signs strongly indicate a move towards a form of government that, if not exactly the same, is at least compatible with western ideals.

Hanoi is a thrumming city full of motorbikes, noise, smells, and above all, people. Hanoi is not the right place to come to get away from it all. Rather, come to Hanoi if you want to immerse yourself in a nation in the midst of reinventing itself. Come for the food, the cost of living, and the distinct culture. Come to get a front-row seat as the new version of an ancient country is born.

In Hanoi, the free market rules (for better or worse), and development is explosive. Many digital nomads call Hanoi home because of the rock-bottom cost of living and easy access to a skilled workforce. Finding software developers for the internet business you’ve been wanting to start would be a snap in Hanoi. The flip side of this is that corruption is a serious problem in Vietnam. Some estimates suggest that between 50-70% of every dollar spent by the government ends up misappropriated.

Despite decades of communist leadership, Vietnam has never completely shaken the influence of the French, so cafe (and bakery) culture is an important part of life in Hanoi, and in the country as a whole. In Hanoi, you are never more than a few steps away from an excellent cup of coffee and a baguette, and all of it is cheap as can be. French-influenced Vietnamese food is fresh and delicious, though it is possible to find some sources of protein that would turn western stomachs. Dog meat is popular in Vietnam, particularly in the north. Thankfully (well, thankfully for us dog-lovers, anyway), dog meat consumption is in decline as the middle class swells and more and more young urban Vietnamese begin to keep dogs as pets.

Unsurprisingly, Hanoi is hot, humid, and during the rainy season, well… rainy. This isn’t much different than any of the other countries in the region, but if you can’t tolerate 90-degree (F) temperatures with matching humidity– or at least escape to an air-conditioned apartment– then Hanoi might not agree with you.

In Southeast Asia, healthcare advice generally goes like this: you can either carry international health insurance with evacuation coverage, or you can self insure, paying for basic needs up front, since the cost of medical care is so low relative to most of the west. For serious (but non-emergency) conditions, you may wish to take an inexpensive flight to Bangkok or Singapore, where excellent and affordable clinics and hospitals abound. The advice is no different in Hanoi. For most issues, you’ll get good care by visiting a local hospital such as the Hanoi French Hospital, where doctors speak English and see hundreds of expats every day. Conveniently, a lot of the prices for basic medical procedures are posted on the web site, so you’ll know what you’re getting into in advance.

As it stands, the default monthly budget in Hanoi is around $1,033 per month, which builds in a pretty substantial margin for food and health care. If you can afford 50-100% more than this budget, you will live very well in Hanoi. At the same time, it in not unheard of for a frugal single to spend 30% less than this budget and still live comfortably.

ExpenseApproximate Cost
Total$1,033.10
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre$360.78
Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage) $65.82
Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)$11.51
Meal for Two, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)$31.36
Public Transport Pass for Two$13.44
Gym Membership for Two$95.06
Movie for 2 (twice a month)$17.92
Monthly Grocery Cost$237.21
Monthly Insurance Premiums for Two (Private Insurance)$200.00
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (34.42)

Mexico is home to over one million US Expats. It’s easy to see why: it’s close, it’s cheap, and it’s beautiful. Each year, tens of thousands of US citizens cross the border to seek comfortable retirement, and Puerto Vallarta, one of the country’s biggest resort cities, is high on the list of destinations. Puerto Vallarta is home to dozens of clean white-sand beaches, great food at every price point, friendly people, and a vibrant expat population to help you feel right at home. Direct flights to most of the US (particularly the west coast) are extremely cheap, so getting home for a visit won’t break the bank.

The old town of Puerto Vallarta is charming and rustic, filled with great restaurants and other tourist-oriented attractions. With so much of the local economy being hospitality-based, it can be somewhat more difficult to integrate with the community if you’re perceived as “just another gringo.”  That said, tourism peaks from approximately November to June, so merely being present outside of those periods should make connecting with the locals on an authentic level a lot easier. Puerto Vallarta is notably LGBT friendly, and is widely considered to be the most welcoming destination for LGBT people in Mexico (and, indeed, in Latin America).

You might reasonably expect that a resort town would be more expensive than the rest of Mexico, and you’d be right. PV ranges in price from moderately to absurdly higher than the rest of Mexico. Obviously, on our limited budget, living in Puerto Vallarta is going to require some fancy frugal footwork.

As always in Mexico, it pays to speak the language. If you speak enough Spanish to understand local rental listings, it’s very likely that you can find a furnished studio or unfurnished one-bedroom in a decent area of Puerto Vallarta for around the price listed on the budget here.  If you allow slightly more for housing, you can have a very nice apartment indeed within sight of the beach (though much of Puerto Vallarta is within sight of the beach). One method of upgrading your lifestyle or decreasing your budget is to not live in Puerto Vallarta itself at all, but in one of the surrounding small towns where rents drop precipitously. Depending on how well developed the town is, you may or may not find yourself wanting a vehicle to get around.

Since the city is coastal, the temperature is moderated by ocean breezes, and air conditioning is not the necessity it is in more arid parts of Mexico. Heating is almost never needed. These environmental factors should help reduce utility costs.  Rather than eating out constantly, shopping for groceries and cooking at home will be another big opportunity to save money.

A budget of $1,037 should allow for a small but comfortable apartment in an outlying area (or nearby town), healthy food, and some modest entertainment. In the end, much of what is appealing about Puerto Vallarta is free: great climate, beautiful beaches, friendly people, and a relaxed pace of life.

ExpenseApproximate Cost
Total$1,037.18
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre$400.00
Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage) $47.57
Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)$28.31
Meal for Two, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)$38.06
Public Transport Pass for Two$40.00
Gym Membership for Two$73.64
Movie for 2 (twice a month)$9.08
Monthly Grocery Cost$200.52
Monthly Insurance Premiums for Two (Private Insurance)$200.00
Tbilisi, Georgia (34.87)

A former colleague of mine, who came from Georgia, wandered in to work one day nursing a terrible headache. I asked him what had happened and he said, in obvious pain, “well, you see, Georgian people love wine.” I remember getting a great laugh out of that, but in retrospect, I realize it was a bit of true cultural insight, too. Georgians are warm, traditional, and occasionally hard-drinking people from far Southeastern Europe. Unlike its neighbors in the Caucasus, Georgia was named the world’s number one economic reformer, and has the only truly free press in the region.

Georgia is also strongly– even legendarily– welcoming to visitors. It’s a point of great pride amongst Georgians that they are known for their hospitality. As mentioned above, a significant portion of that welcome may involve numerous tall glasses of wine or “chacha” (moonshine). Georgian cuisine is delicious and tends towards the hearty side. Meat, bread and cheese dishes are overwhelmingly represented. Georgia is not the most welcoming place for vegans.

Tbilisi (and Georgia as a whole) is fairly socially conservative.  Living with a significant other to whom you are not married or publicly identifying as gay are likely to elicit negative reactions, particularly in the countryside. That said, the law prohibits discrimination against LGBT individuals. Attitudes in Georgia towards marginalized groups are changing… but everyday Georgians are not yet as accepting as most of the US or Western Europe.

Tbilisi’s public transportation is cheap, reliable and effective. It’s very possible to go without a car and use the metro or buses entirely. The metro was built during the Soviet era, so it may seem a bit imposing, but it’s safe and coverage of the city, particularly the center, is very good.

Georgia is strongly pro-western despite its history as a Russian satellite. Starting with the administration of Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia warmed to western overtures, and considered joining NATO.  Previously Russian-Georgian signage in the capital was replaced with English-Georgian signage. Perhaps the strongest factor in Georgia’s pro-Western and pro-American stance was the Russo-Georgian war of 2008, during which Russian invaded, occupied, and appropriated the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. US President George W. Bush flew humanitarian aid into the country on military transports, and Georgian citizens remember this show of support.

At just $1,005 per month, Tbilisi is very affordable, but it pays to find a local to help you scour the apartment listings. English-language listings see a markup of 3-5 times local price. Spend a few days in an AirBnB or hotel while you arrange for affordable local housing, then set to enjoying some Georgian hospitality!

ExpenseApproximate Cost
Total$1,005.42
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre$371.07
Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage) $55.83
Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)$12.41
Meal for Two, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)$41.90
Public Transport Pass for Two$27.94
Gym Membership for Two$90.22
Movie for 2 (twice a month)$21.40
Monthly Grocery Cost$184.65
Monthly Insurance Premiums for Two (Private Insurance)$200.00
Until Next Time!

I’m delighted to be bringing you four more articles in this series in quick succession over the next couple months.  I’ve already done the budget research, so I can tell you to expect to see some surprises as Africa, Europe, and Eurasia appear in the next installment!

As always, I’m thrilled to hear your impressions of these retirement (or slow travel) destinations. Which is your favorite? Let me know in the comments!

10 thoughts on “Retire Abroad: June 2016 ($1,100)

  1. Semira

    Thank you so much for sharing! I love these posts so much and am excited that they will be coming more frequently!

    My favorite of the above was Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for the proximity to the US. In the coming years we’ll want to stay near the US to see our aging parents fairly often.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thanks, Semira! PV sounds pretty good to me, too. I tend to enjoy the “chill and read a good book” lifestyle more than my future Mrs., so I think we’ll probably end up alternating between cities and places like this. 🙂

  2. ZJ Thorne

    I love this series. But I worry about long-term plans in countries before I fully understand them. The Arab Spring surprised many people.

    A little time in each of these places (except for the ones where it is not safe for LGBT people – thank you for including this info) would be a nice long sabbatical, or mini retirement.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      I completely agree that nobody should commit to a long stay anywhere without enough time there to really know whether the culture, food, amenities, and future are compatible. I think to a certain extent the unpredictable can strike anywhere, though obviously it’s far more likely in the developing world. I definitely advocate building significant margin into a “real world” retirement in any of these places so that you have options if things change quickly!

  3. Rockstache

    I just love this series. I am very interested in visiting Georgia someday. I will hold off on my desire to move there until I have visited at least once, but the drinking culture could be a deal breaker if it is really as prevalent as I have read.

  4. Brandon @ Nurse on Fire

    Another excellent post in this series! I really enjoy your articles on real estate investing but, without question, these posts are my favorite. They are so inspiring to think about the possibilities of slow travel or retirement destinations. Keep ’em comin’ man!

  5. Yetisaurus

    What a fun series of posts! I can’t believe I’m just now discovering them.

    One thing I will say, though, is that as pretty as Vietnam is, and as amazingly delicious as their food is, there’s no way I would live there. Our firm represented a guy in a lawsuit involving property development there, and the things that went down even in just the last five years were jaw-dropping. Greased palms and bribes are the norm, of course. But the police seizing someone at the airport as they’re about to fly home, and detaining them for questioning for multiple days in a row and confining them to their hotel room and seizing several hundred thousand dollars of someone’s bank account without any legal justification is a completely different thing. It mostly seems to happen to the locals, not the tourists, but with a government system as corrupt and dysfunctional as that, I wouldn’t count on the authorities having your back if anything horrible happened.

    Looking forward to reading more of these!

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Hey Yetisaurus, thanks! Yeah, not every destination will be for everyone. In recent years Vietnam has gotten huge with digital nomads and other mobile entrepreneurs– but as you say, I’d definitely want to keep the particulars of my finances to myself. It always pays to be discreet! I think that as we slow travel, it’s likely we’ll just pass ourselves off as “tourists taking a year off” or something like that.

  6. Pingback: Retire Abroad: July 2016 ($1,200) - The Frugal Vagabond

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