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.
As our safe monthly retirement income creeps towards the $1,500/month mark, the number of places in the world where we could live a happy life expands dramatically. This edition of the “Retire Abroad” series focuses on cities where $1,200 per month provides a safe, comfortable, fulfilling life for two.
In global terms, $1,200 per month is a fortune. It’s more than the average monthly salary in Argentina, Chile, and Romania. It’s twice the average monthly salary in Mexico and four times times that of Serbia (which made an appearance in the last article). In fact, $1,200 per month would put you in the top 8.83% of earners in the world and makes you richer than approximately 6.5 billion people.
I’d also note that as the monthly budgets in these articles increase, it’s possible to increase the standard of living in one of the previously-discussed cities. Sure, you could spend as little as $664 per month in Penang, Malaysia, but on a $1,200 per month budget your life would be far more decadent. This series will always focus on relatively lean budgets, but ultimately, you are the best judge of minimum acceptable lifestyle, and reading earlier articles in this series with a larger budget in mind may help you find the right fit.
With that in mind, bring on this month’s adventures!
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.
Antalya, Turkey (44.12)
Antalya, in southern Turkey, is a gorgeous resort city with beaches, mountains, and legendarily friendly people. Antalya’s primary source of income is tourism, so there’s a pretty well established ecosystem of businesses catering to foreigners. Antalya has been an important trading city for the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires, and is full of historic and archaeological sites.
Antalya is the heart of the “Turkish Riviera,” so compared to the rest of the country the quality of life and number of available services tends to be higher. Finding an apartment meeting western standards is easy, and there is a sizable community of expats. Like Greece, Southern France, and Southern Spain, Antalya has a hot Mediterranean climate for much of the year, and the surrounding mountains shelter the entire area from the wind.
At present, like the rest of Europe, Turkey is struggling with an influx of refugees, predominantly from Syria, but also from Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Initial response by the Turkish government was disorganized and not particularly compassionate. More recently, however, the EU has realized that addressing the refugee crisis in Turkey is far preferable to waiting for people to arrive in their own countries, and the two have started collaborating. The EU has offered a $1.1 Billion USD aid package to help improve the lives of refugees in Turkish camps. Time will tell whether and when the refugees will be integrated into Turkish society.
As a country aggressively pursuing EU membership, Turkey is modernizing rapidly, and compliance with EU regulations has made life for expats more simple and safe in a number of ways. These modernization efforts have led to Turkey being of the top ten medical tourism destinations in the world, and the quality of private medical care being on par with much of Europe. Turkish doctors commonly hold advanced certificates from institutions in Europe or the USA. As with most other developing countries, there is a gulf of quality between public and private hospitals, and westerners tend to opt for treatment at private clinics. Antalya has a few JCI-accredited hospitals such as Memorial Antalya Hospital.
I have slightly tweaked the apartment budget upwards based on my own research into local apartments that would meet western standards– just know that you could spend far less if you were willing to live more like a local, or commit to a yearlong lease.
If taking a run or walk on the beach in the morning, exploring ancient ruins in the afternoon, escaping the heat in the shade of over a million olive trees, and noshing on a pide stuffed full of spiced meats and vegetables sounds good to you, Antalya might be right up your alley.
|Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre||$450.00|
|Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage)||$79.63|
|Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)||$18.34|
|Meal for Two, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)||$39.26|
|Public Transport Pass for Two||$81.94|
|Gym Membership for Two||$57.34|
|Movie for 2 (twice a month)||$20.28|
|Monthly Grocery Cost||$213.78|
|Monthly Insurance Premiums for Two (Self-Insured)||$200.00|
Brno, Czech Republic (41.46)
Brno, the Czech Republic’s second-largest city, has many of the same appealing characteristics of the capital, Prague, at a fraction of the price. The Czech Republic is made up of the regions of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. Brno was the capital of Moravia for hundreds of years when these regions existed as semi-autonomous states. As a result, the city is the product of almost a thousand years of trade, investment, and intellectualism. Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, developed his theories in Brno’s St. Thomas Abbey.
Brno is located in the southeast of the Czech Republic, at the convergence of the Svitava and Svratka rivers. It is a short drive from both the Slovakian and Austrian borders, and Vienna is a brief and inexpensive train trip away. Brno’s climate is similar to much of non-coastal Europe, with warm summers and cold winters. During the winter, there is frequently some snowfall, though it is seldom heavy.
The city of Brno has made an effort to appeal to expats online with its Brno Expat Center, a web site devoted to easing the transition of foreigners into life in Brno. This cooperative effort between the City of Brno and a non-profit can help you with visa questions, finding a place to live, finding an English-speaking accountant for your taxes, and many other services. Though many cities pay lip service to attracting expats, few produce this kind of resource.
Czech cuisine is hearty and filling. Centuries at the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire made sausages, strong cheeses, and goulash staples of the local diet. Of course, beer is a national passion, and while it is not actually cheaper than water, it’s pretty close. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some afternoons in Czech beer gardens with local friends. It is incredibly easy to lose track of just how many beers you’ve had when refills seem to appear magically at your table, and your jovial friends talk you into ordering a pork knuckle the size of your head. For what it’s worth, the future Mrs. Vagabond is ready to head back to the Czech Republic for more delicious Pilsner Urquell ASAP! Most Americans know the Budweiser brand, which appropriated their name from an identically-named Czech beer. Don’t be deceived, though– the Czech brand is a completely different beer, and actually drinkable!
Czech people are more reserved on average than many Americans. Of course, people vary wildly, but don’t be discouraged if it takes time to get to know locals on a personal level. The very best thing you could do to improve your chances of fitting in, of course, is to learn to speak Czech. Despite some cultural barriers, and at risk of making this article too personal, I adore my Czech friends and find myself missing them, and the country, even now.
For me, the biggest danger of living in the Czech Republic would be overdosing on Trdelník.
|Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre||$423.88|
|Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage)||$162.13|
|Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)||$14.85|
|Meal for Two, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)||$40.94|
|Public Transport Pass for Two||$45.04|
|Gym Membership for Two||$62.22|
|Movie for 2 (twice a month)||$26.20|
|Monthly Grocery Cost||$193.35|
|Monthly Insurance Premiums for Two (Self-Insured)||$200.00|
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (42.49)
At the far, far southern end of Baja California lies Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Together with the nearby town of San Jose del Cabo, the area is known as “Los Cabos,” Spanish for “the Capes.” Where the Gulf of California meets the Pacific Ocean, and home to thousands of expats enjoying sun, sand, and surf, Cabo San Lucas is just a few days drive from the US border.
There’s a lot to like about expat life in Mexico. You can live in the same timezone as the west coast of the US. Big box stores like Costco and Walmart offer shopping options on-par with home, particularly in the cities frequented by US retirees. Amenities like internet, air conditioning, and most of the other comforts of home are affordable and easy to find. Cabo San Lucas has daily, direct flights to the US, year-round. For these reasons and more, Mexico may be a good option for those who aren’t quite ready to make drastic cultural or lifestyle change in retirement.
Cabo San Lucas itself has been a major tourist destination since the 1970s, when the Mexican government began to invest in infrastructure projects with an aim to develop the area’s tourism. They were successful, and Cabo (like Puerto Vallarta, discussed last month) is a renowned destination for lovers of fishing, diving, beaches, and all things beach-related.
Property is still fairly affordable in Cabo San Lucas (under $100,000 for a modest condo), but San Jose del Cabo is even more affordable. In general, Cabo San Lucas is the hub of tourism, and San Jose del Cabo is more often the home of native Mexicans who own local businesses. If you are looking for all the advantages of the area, but also a more authentic Mexican vibe, San Jose del Cabo may be more up your alley.
Mexico’s visa rules are extremely amenable to retirees (traditional and early). A regular tourist visa allows one to stay in the country for up to 180 days, and a temporary resident visa is easily obtainable for between one and four years. By and large, it is possible to rent medium- and long-term accommodation with only a tourist visa. This is a huge boon to slow travelers and retirees who may split their time with another destination.
Mexico’s private dental and medical clinics range from decent to excellent, and many retirees choose to self-insure. In Cabo, the AmeriMed hospital and Blue Net Medical are staffed with English-speaking doctors and are well-regarded.
|Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre||$416.46|
|Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage)||$27.22|
|Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)||$21.15|
|Meal for Two, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)||$68.72|
|Public Transport Pass for Two||$39.64|
|Gym Membership for Two||$151.54|
|Movie for 2 (twice a month)||$13.20|
|Monthly Grocery Cost||$260.37|
|Monthly Insurance Premiums for Two (Self-Insured)||$200.00|
Cape Town, South Africa (35.97)
South Africa’s second most populous city, Cape Town, is also the continent’s largest tourist destination, and the home of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The name South Africa conjures strong reactions from many people: apartheid, Mandela, rich vegetation and wildlife, crime, and music all figure strongly into preconceived notions about the country.
Addressing the giraffe in the room, it’s true that Cape Town, like the rest of South Africa, is struggling with a violent crime problem. The intentional murder rate in Cape Town itself is somewhere around sixty per 100,000 people, which is far higher than the US as a whole. To keep things in the proper context, however, note that Cape Town’s murder rate is currently roughly on par with that of New Orleans, a city that is visited by millions of tourists per year. If you fear violence in South Africa, apply the same logic you would apply to New Orleans: become aware of the areas which are objectively safe, avoid areas which are known to be unsafe, and exercise good situational awareness.
The vast majority of Cape Town tourists return home without ever becoming victims of crime. Even in the midst of its worst-ever murder rate, Cape Town pales in comparison to Richmond, Virginia and Washington D.C. during the 1990s, when the intentional murder rates were between 70 and 80 per 100,000 people. Just as in those cities, the majority of violent crime occurs in the poorest neighborhoods, and the victims are almost always the poorest citizens themselves. Johnny Africa wrote a post recently that addresses concerns about crime in SA– and he should know, he lived there!
Owing to the crime problem, home security is a huge focus in South Africa. Most middle class residents live in walled enclaves which are often patrolled by private security. It is a matter of some debate as to whether these precautions actually help to reduce crime, but it is likely that any apartment which would meet with western standards will be secured in this manner to some extent.
With the stereotypes and safety concerns dispensed with– what about the good? First off, South Africa is one of the economic success stories of the continent, and thus has far better infrastructure than many other places in Africa. South Africa is one of the few places one can see lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, zebras, and meerkats, all in their natural habitat. South Africa is filled with raw, unvarnished natural beauty. Cape Town’s immediate surroundings are full of world-class vineyards. Basically, Cape Town is a jumping-off point to explore a place full of sights and experiences that most people only read or dream about. Moreover, it’s an easy point of access for the entire continent of Africa, as inexpensive flights leave from Cape Town to most surrounding nations daily.
South African cuisine is unique throughout the world, influenced by Dutch, British, Malay, Indian, and indigenous traditions. Curries and chutneys exist alongside sausages and smoked meats. Bunny chow is one uniquely South African food- a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with meaty curry.
Private health care in South Africa is of high quality, and private health insurance schemes are available to residents. Public health care access is improving, but that is at the cost of quality of care. Health care is one area strongly affected by SA’s apartheid past. Hospitals were racially segregated and mostly built within white communities, and a huge gulf in health care access by black South Africans persists today.
It is reasonable to feel some trepidation about visiting or living in Cape Town. The country is facing real problems, and the future is uncertain. Someone who has never visited should plan on spending a reasonable period visiting to test the waters first. With that said, the thoughtful retiree looking for both value and adventure can surely find it in Cape Town.
|Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre||$543.46|
|Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage)||$67.65|
|Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)||$56.15|
|Meal for Two, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)||$59.66|
|Public Transport Pass for Two||$45.08|
|Gym Membership for Two||$62.86|
|Movie for 2 (twice a month)||$17.24|
|Monthly Grocery Cost||$171.21|
|Monthly Insurance Premiums for Two (Private Insurance)||$172.00|
Casablanca, Morocco (37.94)
Casablanca’s climate, nearly identical to Los Angeles, isn’t the only thing it’s got going for it. There’s the European architecture, a massive modern mosque, bargain cost of living, friendly people, and a beautiful coast, too!
Casablanca was a small port town until around 1907, when the French used a local rebellion against them as a pretext to colonize the country. This lead to the death of thousands in subsequent bombarding of the city, and French architects used the “clean slate” as a surface on which to build a Europe-inspired colonial outpost. Though this led to a stunning “new city,” it’s important to bear in mind that this colonization was barely a hundred years ago, and many people still living in the city lost relatives just a few generations ago.
Today’s Casablanca is a major port and financial center with a rising middle class. It’s also a major migration point for the rest of the continent. Citizens of every country in the region find themselves in Casablanca, either permanently or on a stopover as they hope to find some way into Europe.
Compared to much of the Islamic world, Morocco is fairly progressive. Westerners routinely drink alcohol, which is sold openly. In Casablanca at least, western women can confidently display their hair and not worry overly much about dressing extremely modestly– but doing so will minimize catcalling and harassment. When visiting mosques, however, men and women alike should have their arms and legs covered.
Moroccan food is renowned all over the world. It is inspired by native Berber cuisine, Mediterranean food, and Arab food. Since Morocco was traditionally a major center of the spice trade, most food is heavily spiced (though only sometimes is it spicy). Moroccan meals are sometimes a bit of a marathon, with many dishes served one after another. Lamb is a staple meat, as is chicken. It’s common to eat with the fingers or with bead from a communal dish. Many dishes are served on a bed of couscous. And of course, no Moroccan meal would be complete without a heavily-sugared mint tea.
Healthcare in Morocco is wildly divergent. Public health care is quite poor, but private care is passable and affordable. For emergency situations, one should absolutely go to a private clinic. For serious, long-term illness, it may be best to return to your country of origin, or to fly across to Europe to seek treatment (personally, I would go to France and avail myself of their best-in-the-world care).
Morocco stands alone in this list as a place where all of the creature comforts of home may not be available. For a retiree seeking a complete change of pace, however, it presents an awesome opportunity to really dive into a rich and ancient culture.
|Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre||$483.56|
|Basic Utilities (Electricity, Heating, Water, Garbage)||$43.36|
|Internet (10 Mbps, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL)||$23.79|
|Meal for Two, Mid-range Restaurant, Three-course (twice a month)||$30.78|
|Public Transport Pass for Two||$41.02|
|Gym Membership for Two||$63.14|
|Movie for 2 (twice a month)||$24.60|
|Monthly Grocery Cost||$207.96|
|Monthly Insurance Premiums for Two (Self-Insured)||$200.00|
Doors Opening Ahead
We’re nearing a dramatic cutover point in our monthly retirement budgets. Over just the past few articles (and thus, the past few hundred dollars in monthly retirement income) the standard of living and diversity of retirement locations has broadened substantially. I suspect that between $1,500 and $2,000 per month in income, much of the world suddenly becomes viable as a destination for a family of two. It’ll be an exciting journey of discovery over the next year or so as we explore the frontier of our safe withdrawal rate!
What do you think about this edition’s destinations? Anywhere you could see yourself settling? Let me know in the comments!