Retiring abroad is not a new phenomenon. In fact, increasing numbers of retirees are choosing offshore locations for retirement. This article explores the reasons why people retire in Spanish America.
For our purposes, Spanish America represents 16 countries as it excludes the three island nations. This discussion also excludes strife-torn locations such as Venezuela, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Unsurprising, many countries actively promote themselves as attractive retirement destinations and support the relocation process with fit-for-purpose retirement visas. It is a mutually beneficial relationship: retirees benefit from lower budgets and the host countries gain from the retirees’ spending.
Cost of living
The single biggest reason for considering Spanish America as a retirement destination is the cost of living. As with so many other things, we often use the US as a benchmark when it comes to a monthly budget.
The majority of countries in Spanish America have a cost of living that is lower than that of the US. For some countries, this lower cost would be inclusive of all budget items, including living expenses, healthcare and accommodation.
For a select few, this would be true in both urban and rural areas.
For many countries, however, a lower cost of living is only possible in smaller cities or towns. Tourist hot spots also tend to be more expensive.
For any country, the aspect that will have the biggest influence on a retiree’s budget is consumer behaviour. If you are financially disciplined, able to adapt to local consumer brands and generally choose to buy local, then you can achieve significant savings.
The Cost of Living Index by Country on the Numbeo website is user-friendly and a pleasure to explore. Another source of information is the no-frills website Expatistan, where you will find its Cost of Living Ranking by Country.
If your favourite outdoor activity is going back inside, then you are probably one of the many who wants to escape a colder climate.
For some, the word climate means tropical beaches, endless summers and a year-round tan. For others, it means cool mountain breezes and no air conditioning. Whichever your preference, Spanish America has a solution.
The immense geographic area has five main features that determine its climate:
- The vast Pampas grasslands;
- The Andes mountain range (the world’s longest);
- The Amazon rainforest (the world’s largest);
- Forests and volcanoes;
- Two oceans (Atlantic and Pacific).
It is no surprise that climate plays such a crucial role in deciding on a retirement destination. Retirement means spending less (or no) time at work and more time at home. More time to explore and to enjoy the outdoors.
When it comes to healthcare, people are concerned about three issues, namely:
- The availability of healthcare;
- The quality of care; and
- The affordability thereof.
Over the last three decades, the region has improved tremendously in its ability to deliver healthcare to its citizens. Progress was however not even, with significant differences within and amongst countries. On the whole, the region surprises on the upside.
Availability of healthcare follows the same pattern as in most countries across the globe, where the best facilities and practitioners are located in the largest cities or regional hubs. Retirees and expats tend to settle in or near areas where good healthcare services are available. Interestingly, Spanish America is an urbanised society, with close on 80% of the population living in cities, which also explain the concentration of facilities.
The quality of healthcare available should not be of great concern, especially for people who intend to settle within reach of the larger and more modern medical facilities. I would almost say that the language barrier, the inability to communicate with medical personnel, could pose a bigger problem than the actual quality of the care available.
The real surprise in Spanish America is the affordability of healthcare. I am not referring to insurance premiums or deductibles; I am referring to the direct out-of-pocket costs when visiting a practitioner. Many routine type visits to general practitioners or dentists are downright cheap.
Those countries that are on retirees’ radar have both local and international health care insurance available. Each of these have their own pros and cons, and each country in turn will have its own unique set of rules and regulations. Suffice to say that insurance is readily available, and it is just a matter of research to find a suitable solution.
I don’t think it is possible to define Spanish American culture, because the 16 countries spread across two continents are diverse in so many ways. Nevertheless, if pressed to, I would consider the two things they all have in common – the Spanish language and their passion.
Talking to retirees and expats on job-related stints, a few favourite aspects of the culture are frequently mentioned. These include the food, history, music and festivals.
This is my take on the culture, in a big nutshell: The part I enjoy most is the history, and we visit historic places of interest whenever we can. The indigenous communities offer so much in terms of expanding our understanding of local custom and local knowledge. The cuisine is a never-ending process of discovery, especially the tropical fruits. Some festivals are truly awesome to experience and we now have a few favourites in our diary. The music is very diverse but we have taken quite a liking to modern Spanish pop music.
To enjoy the regional culture fully, I would strongly advise retirees to learn Spanish. Even a basic command of the language will make your stay much more pleasant.
To some extent, it is far easier to live a relaxed lifestyle in Spanish America, than in many developed countries. There are fewer rules and less social pressure to conform.
Many people equate this ability to create a unique lifestyle with personal freedom. From the freedom to dress as preferred through to the freedom to enjoy an alcoholic drink on the beach.
Very often, retirees use the relocation to the region as a kick-start to a healthy lifestyle. More exercise, more outdoor activities and a healthier diet.
Retirement is a time to slow down and scale down. Many people choose to live a simpler life, with trouble-free housing and modest means of transport. Such a lifestyle can have quite a positive impact on the cost of living.
Living a simpler life does not mean denying yourself anything that is dear to you. Minimalism, for example, is an uncluttered lifestyle with the very purpose of helping us to focus on what we value most.
One of the attractive features of the northern parts of the region is its proximity to the United States. There are numerous flights to and from the US offered by several carriers.
Then there are the travel opportunities within Spanish America.
Let us consider the two extremes, north and south. Using Colombia as a base for this example, the flight time to Mexico City in the north is about four and a half hours. And to Buenos Aires in the south, the flight time is about six hours. Very doable, even for these outlying destinations.
A much smaller area, with corresponding shorter flight times, is the area immediately north and south of Panama. The flight time from Panama City to Quito in Ecuador, for example, is only two hours.
Personal challenge, as a reason to retire in Spanish America, is not one of the main reasons. It is, however, one of the more interesting on offer.
I came across a number of people who retired from very successful careers. From corporate to privately owned businesses, from the arts to the sciences. They craved something fresh, a new challenge that would require more than simply a physical relocation.
Some consider settling successfully in a new country, together with its history, culture and language, as a personal challenge. We have certainly experienced our move to Spanish America as a personal growth opportunity.
“In Spanish America, women are supposed to be voluptuous. They don’t believe that you have to be skinny to be attractive” – Sofia Vergara
I would love to have your thoughts about retirement in Spanish America.
PS: Please don’t forget to share this with a friend.