Why Americans Retire Outside the USA?

As the title states, this article is about why Americans retire outside the USA.  In January 2016, Paulette and I sold or gave away almost everything we owned, said “hasta lluego” to all our family and friends and boarded a plane to our new life chapter.  We joined the huge number of Americans who retire outside the USA.  We had to go “overseas” because our first destination was a Caribbean island!  But we have never left the “Americas”.  Colombia, where we currently live is in the Eastern Standard Time Zone.  But we live so near to the Equator, they don’t use daylight savings time.  So part of the year we are on Central Daylight Time.

There are many articles about where to retire.  What makes mine different is that it is based on our actual experiences, and we have no agenda.  I believe there are three primary reasons why Americans retire outside the USA.  I’ll discuss each one and give you my observations based on real experiences.  We aren’t real estate companies, travel companies or freight companies.  This is just me sharing my thoughts about why you should seriously consider retiring outside the USA.

Why Americans retire outside the USA-Average Monthly Income by Country
Comparison of Monthly income for North America and Latin America.

Reason #1 Cost of Living

Whether you are retired or thinking about it, I’m sure you have already looked at your retirement income.  Except for a very few, your retirement income will be significantly lower than it was when you were working. You are going to have to make serious changes in how you spend money.  There is almost no way you can live comfortably on your Social Security or Pension.  At least not in the USA or Canada.

For example, even if your home is paid off, you still have taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, repairs (weekly trips to Home Depot or Lowes), gardening and lawn care, security, etc.  It costs a lot of money to “own a home”. If you still have a mortgage, then your housing costs could easily take half your income.

Retire outside the USA to save on Housing

We currently rent a nice 3 bedroom apartment in Poblado, the best neighborhood in Medellin, Colombia.  We also have 24-hour security guards controlling entry.  Our apartment is on the 20th floor with a sensational view of half the city. Rent is about $650 per month, utilities are about $115, and high-speed internet is about $50.  Most apartments in the city are built without air conditioning or heat because we don’t need either.  And with no insect problems, we leave our windows and balcony door open 24 hours a day.

For a detailed list of costs in Colombia, please click here.  This is just an example.  You can use that site to check prices anywhere in the world.

Transportation Costs outside the USA are Cheap

Except in very rare circumstances, if you live in North America, you have to have at least one car.  When we considered moving back to the US last year, that car was going to cost us about $850 per month including payment, insurance, fuel, and maintenance.  With all our other living expenses, the car was going to make it impossible to live on our Social Security.  But not having a car is not an option.

However, in many places outside North America, a car is optional or unnecessary.  Public transportation is safe, dependable, and cheap.  Lots of places are within walking distance.  Here in Medellin, our 24-hour grocery store is a block away, two large modern malls are 2 blocks away, and there are at least 200 places to eat within walking distance. The bus and metro train cost about 75 cents. We don’t need or want a car.

Health Insurance and Healthcare Cost Much Less

Being retired in the United States, you must have Medicare Parts B and D.  You also need a Supplement to cover out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles.  Total cost for a couple is probably around $500/month.  But you also have copays and other costs such as dental not covered by Medicare.  And there are many limitations associated with Medicare.

On the other hand, if you retire outside the USA, many countries around the world have subsidized healthcare and health insurance.  And the doctors are highly trained, many in the US.  Here in Medellin, our health insurance costs about $30/month in total for both of us.  Many of our doctor visits cost us $1.  So far both of my prescriptions cost nothing. Since we can’t get Medicare benefits outside the US, we opt out of Medicare Parts B & D and we canceled our supplements.  So we get to keep that $500 per month.

Other Costs

Many other things cost less than in the US, especially any services you need.  We just hired a maid.  She comes every other week, works hard from 8 am to 3 pm and we pay $20.  A few months ago I drilled a hole in my bathroom wall and accidentally hit a pipe.  Water came shooting out of the wall.  Our walls are concrete, so the plumber first had to chisel out the wall to find the pipe.  He then fixed the pipe, repaired the wall, and painted the new part to match the rest of the room.  The cost was $25.  A taxi or Uber ride generally costs no more than $2-3.

Another thing we have learned is that down here, most of the Expats don’t care about “keeping up with the Jones'”. Everyone is on some level of “fixed income”.  You rarely see cars such as Lexus, BMW, or Mercedes. Kia, Renault, Chevy, and other similar cars are far more prevalent.  And most are not purchased new. So you can see that these savings make it much easier to live on our Social Security.

Oviedo Mall and the neighborhood of Poblado in Medellin, Colombia.
This is the view from my balcony of Oviedo Mall and the neighborhood known as El Poblado. The weather is just like this year-round.

Reason #2 Weather & Nature

No matter where you live in North America, there are times when it is either very hot or very cold.  Most of America has distinct seasons.  At some point, it will get very uncomfortable.  And many of the trees lose their leaves and everything is some shade of gray.  Often, you must have the equipment to remove snow, add salt, scrape ice, etc.

The last 3 places we have lived in are in the mountains.  Boquete Panama is around 4,000 feet, Cuenca Ecuador is about 8,500 feet, and our apartment in Medellin is about 5,000 feet elevation.  Being higher up this far south makes the climate much more comfortable year-round.  Even though Cuenca is very close to the Equator, the elevation made it just a little cold for us.  But it was fairly constant all year.

Medellin, Colombia is Perfect for us

We have now chosen to retire outside the USA to Medellin, Colombia, which is known as “The City of Eternal Spring”. We have only one season, the best one.  Daily temperatures range from 60-80 Fahrenheit and never vary by more than a couple of degrees throughout the year.  As a result, it is green, there are flowers all the time, and fruit and vegetables are always plentiful.  The picture to the right is the view from our 20th-floor balcony.  The tall gray building with a smiley face is an automatic parking garage.  It is very cool.  As you can see, Medellin is a modern city, and we love it here.

Boquete, Panama was Pretty Great, Also

In Boquete, we could see the 11,000 foot Volcan Baru from my home office window.  And there was no need for a fence in our back yard.  Our yard backed up to a mountain that climbed almost straight up for about 1,000 feet.

We have all the tropical birds we read about all our lives.  Macaws, all sorts of Parrots, Flamingos, many colors of Tanager, Toucans, Bananaquits, and our favorite – the gorgeous blue-green Mot Mot that waited on Paulette’s chair every morning for his piece of banana.  All of the pictures above were taken by me in Boquete, Panama.

Reason #3 – Adventure and Making Friends

Retire Outside the USA - Expats in Roatan Listening to the Band
There are lots of Expats enjoying a beautiful day listening to the band pictured above. That is Paulette in the bottom left.

The photo at the top of this article was a very fun day for us and everyone around.  We took a trip to the East End of Roatan Island and came upon this dockside cafe.  The guys playing are all retirees living on Roatan, and they are doing it for fun.  Any money given was donated to a local charity.  So we are all out in the middle of the day with gorgeous blue water and blue sky in the background and a lot of new friends to meet.  This is how retirement should be.

We never planned to find the perfect place and settle down for the rest of our lives.  We were looking forward to going to a place for a while, learning, enjoying, making new friends, and then moving and doing it again.  All our working lives, our vacation trips could only last a week or two.  You just can’t get to know a place in a week.

Our Goal – Retirement Adventures

We wanted the freedom to stay as long as we were enjoying it and then see what else was out there.  So in the past 3 years, we lived in 4 different countries (Honduras, Panama, Ecuador, and Colombia).  We also visited Peru and Costa Rica for about a month each.  We have had many awesome adventures.

Everywhere we go, we always invite our granddaughter to come for a visit.  She is about to turn 21 and she has been to a lot of places with us.  Last month, she came to Medellin for 2 weeks.  The highlight of that trip was going Paragliding twice!  We have awesome videos, but I think they are all too big to show here.  Never fear, my friends at Wealthy Affiliate will tell me how to do it.  In the meantime, here are a few photos of that experience.  And yes, Grandpa also flew!

You Can Make Friends Easily

It is so easy to make friends with fellow Americans in new places.  We have a lot in common because we all went through a similar decision process to retire outside the USA.  We have good friends from all the places we have lived.  Social Media, WhatsApp, and our blogs allow us to communicate regularly with them.

And we all have so many stories, it is easy to just walk up to someone and ask where they are from.  An hour or two later we know each other’s life story.  A month later we are friends for life.  Many of the communities have scheduled activities designed to help Expats meet Expats.  In Boquete, they had a Tuesday morning market.  Several hundred people showed up each week.


I hope you have enjoyed this story.  And I also hope you learned some good information.  My wife and I will be adding quality articles as we write them.  But remember, we are retired, so it might take us some time!  Check back often.  Please comment and let us know if you have questions or want an article on a particular topic.


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8 thoughts on “Why Americans Retire Outside the USA?”

  1. We have many annual festivals here, including the flower festival. And the Christmas lights are some of the best in all of South America. Thanks for the comment. I will write a blog about festivals and parades soon. ?
    I have to admit, I’m more of an adventurer than Paulette, but I love her for saying yes and making this adventure possible.

  2. Hey Steve
    Really nice informative article, the three reasons you mentioned are very valid, also considering age factor. Though I must admit both of you must be very adventure loving people.
    You mentioned Medellin, I heard about its flower festival, it must be worth watching. Is it held annually?

  3. Thank you Katheryn. I have been seeing your name but couldn’t remember where we met. Just this past week, our friend Debbie who we met originally on Facebook and then on Roatan was here for 6 days. And I don’t know if you read my article about Roatan, but in the end we had to admit it was a great place to visit but a very difficult place to live.
    Our favorite two places have been Boquete, Panama and Medellin, Colombia. They are vastly different. I am going to very soon write an article on both Boquete and Medellin, so I don’t want to give too much away. But Boquete is an easy place to live. It is small with a significant Expat population, a decent number of restaurants and groceries. Healthcare is basic. We lived there for 1 1/2 years and left before the rains returned in October and November. They can be fierce!
    Medellin is our current home and we really love this place. Cost of living is very inexpensive, healthcare is awesome, the weather is amazing, there are no bugs, we can walk or ride the bus almost everywhere so we don’t need a car, and it is a beautiful city. But the best way to learn is come here and spend several months. Let me know how I can help.

  4. Hi Steve. We met in the investors tour through remax in Roatan. Wondering what your favorite place is so far, as we’ve decided Roatan is not for us and want to explore other options.

  5. Teri, there are many older Americans living all over Central and South America with good, inexpensive healthcare. I have heard many stories about them paying cash for operations that were much less than their copay/deductible would have been in the U.S. But our situation in Colombia is so far the best we have seen.

  6. What a wonderful post. I have thought a lot about living in another country, but due to my age, the availability of medical care was the thing that has stopped me. I see from your post that it need not have been.

  7. I read your article with interest as I have been an expat since I retired from the military over 20 years ago. This was a decision I thought long and hard about, but once I had decided, the rest was somewhat easy. I am married to a German wonderful woman now for 40 years…

    We have spent most of our time together overseas, as have the kids and grandkids. It was a fairly simple decision on one side since we all speak German and have been there for so long. I built a new house outside of Frankfurt Am Main and we moved in about a year before retiring.

    I must say that many of the things you mention apply to our situation. Our housing costs are not much different than they would be in the USA, the health care is excellent (my wife works, the kids have coverage from their jobs, and I have military coverage for almost nothing), and the lifestyle is brilliant!

    You cover many of the considerations that someone retiring overseas must think about, a good thing.  I would say that each person or couple must run through the positives and the negatives and decide what is best based on their particular situation.

    At this point in our lives, we are even thinking about retiring again to another area from our expat retirement location. Why not? See the world while you can how you can, and as you can is our thinking…We have enjoyed living overseas (home for the wife) and I am sure many would love it too, as it sounds like you are…

    Great post and I have bookmarked the website, as I am interested in reading about your adventures and experiences. Perhaps I can add to them via the comment section…Living overseas is a viable option with many benefits!

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