They obviously haven’t been to any of these places recently. After extensive travel over the past two years, much of which to these locations to check out the affordability, I am finding that my home in Florida is cheaper and better. I guess this depends on the quality of life and lifestyle you can afford. For me, a young retiree on a fixed income trying to make it stretch, I can not see the value in many of the places on the list. The target budget in these articles always seems to be about $1000 per month or just about the average Social Security retirement amount. I make a little more than that but still do not see how these places could work.
Fist, and most important, let me address safety. Over the past few years Central and South America have become increasingly more dangerous. I’m not sure if it is because the drug trade or poverty but violent crimes have been on the rise. I just returned from a month long trip to Roatan Honduras and many places in Ecuador on 1/24/2014 so this info is pretty recent. In Roatan I considered taking a ferry to the mainland and bussing to the capital city of Tegucigalpa. While researching the route, I was advised by all of the many people not to attempt this. They explained that the route was not safe. This was an eye-opener to me since I have driven and taken buses throughout many countries in Central America. I took their advice and flew to Miami to catch a flight to Quito Ecuador. After later research, I found that San Pedro Sula Honduras is THE #1 most dangerous city in the world! Ecuador was not safe either. On my first day in the country, my tablet was pick pocketed getting off the train at rush hour.
Noticing signs like these in the historic district in Quito were not comforting either. I understand that Quito is a big city and with any big city there is crime but it seems to be everywhere. Visits to Guayaquil and Esmeralda were cut from the itinerary due to advice and safety concerns. Every Western person I talked to had negative personal experiences to share. I met another retiree who, like me was exploring the list. He had been to many of the places too and shared his knowledge of the theft, robberies, rapes and murders he was informed about by other ex-pats in all of the Latin American countries. Even the luxury retirement areas are not sheltered from the problems. I visited the island of Boca De Briceno just south of Canoa Ecuador. This place is connected to the mainland by a long bridge and has many high-rise condos for the affluent. While there, I noticed a local restaurant with many Western patrons. I talked to the 8 people at one table and found it astonishing that each had been robbed. One man had his Harley stolen from underneath him while he was at a light. Another, was duct taped to his bed while he was sleeping and robbed at knifepoint. He was not an easy target either. His house was a compound with 10 foot walls, dogs and security cameras. The robbers poisoned the dogs, cut the power and scaled the walls to rob him. Another lady had lived in Ecuador her whole life and shared a story where her family were victims of an armed invasion on a rural farm North of Quito. The police seem to be either part of the problem or not willing to be part of the solution. No one dares file a report for fear of future retaliation. These problems are not isolated to Ecuador. The entire Latin American region is experiencing the same.
Next, I will share my experience on prices. I live in Central Florida so I often compare goods and services to what I would expect to pay there. I am not affluent nor do I travel that way so all of my examples are on the low-budget side. Meals seem to cost about the same in many of these countries. Grocery stores may have better prices on fruit but meat costs more and rice and beans are cheap everywhere. Lodging can be found for as low as $200 per month in many Latin countries but a room rental with all utilities included in Florida can be found for $400 per month. There is no comparison to the quality of US homes vs. the rest of the world when it comes to building standards and utility service so I think the numbers are a bit misleading. To find anything close to what most people are accustomed to I think the budget would have to be much more than $200. Building costs are not cheaper either. I met a person who was building a new home in Ecuador and he had spent $75k already and was only about 1/2 finished with construction. The same or better home could be bought or built in Florida with $150k budget. I do not have personal experience with utility costs around the world but understand that electric is very expensive. Many of these countries do not have air conditioning for this reason. If you do find a place with ac, I understand that running it will cost you quite a bit.
Last, these are third-world countries. They do not have the infrastructure of the first-world but are all trying to keep up with prices. I think the Internet is mostly to blame. Everyone can see what a burger costs anywhere around the world and no one wants to sell it for less. For the moment, Asia seems to provide the best deal. I visited Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia for 7 weeks from August – September of 2013 and enjoyed the trip. The prices and people seemed good then but a reporter was just shot in Thailand the other day during their protests. During that trip, there were border conflicts between Cambodia and Vietnam too. Third-world countries will always have volatility. Their government corruption and wage inequality will always create friction between locals and ex-pats. I was told once by a couple who owned property in Costa Rica that the best way to become a millionaire there was to bring two million. They had experienced the government laws that were created to tax them and erode their home value. Even the best countries today might be the hot-spots and war-zones of tomorrow.
In summary, I would advise anyone looking at this list to visit but never buy in these countries. I too was looking for a cheaper alternative for retirement and have been chasing this list. The more I see and experience third-world countries around the world, the more I appreciate the value of the US. I will still travel the world in search of these bargain countries and keep you posted. However, I have no plans to sell my home in Florida.