Skip to comments.Inexpensive living draws American retirees to Central America
Posted on 09/02/2006 12:29:23 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
High in a downtown hotel, Nicaraguan folk dancers twirl in lacy white dresses, their bare feet tapping intricate rhythms on the wooden stage, giving their buttoned-down audience a bit of tropical warmth on a foggy afternoon.
Their flounce and easy smiles before this roomful of travel experts are part of an effort to promote Nicaragua to Americans who might choose to retire there, attracted by its pristine beaches and colorful culture.
And then there are the tax breaks and other incentives that baby boomers are likely to find even sweeter than the tropical fruits the dancers carefully balance in baskets on their heads.
"They're a growing market with disposable income looking for a place to live, and Nicaragua has that," says the country's young minister of tourism, Maria Rivas. She's putting her Harvard-honed business skills to work highlighting the country's safety, its modernizing infrastructure, and the laws enacted to attract foreign investment and retirees.
Rivas takes the crowd on a PowerPoint tour of Nicaragua: the perfect waves that attract surfers to the Pacific coast, the isolated beaches where sea turtles lay eggs by moonlight, and the bird and orchid species that thrive in its dense forests.
In spite of the country's gorgeous coastline and undisturbed forests, Rivas' job has its challenges.
Mention of Nicaragua and other Central American countries is still more likely to conjure images of dictators and guerrilla warfare than of cozy retirement homes. And glitches remain, such as uncertainty over upcoming elections and occasional power outages.
Rivas says this negative image is part of the past, and tremendous growth has taken place in recent years under the democratic government.
Local residents seem to welcome Americans, who create jobs and invest in infrastructure. The U.S. State Department's says that the judicial system may suffer from corruption, but violent crime is minimal.
"It's an adventure, not just the United States transferred," said Lynn Mangum, a retired executive. He and his wife split their time between homes in New York, New Jersey and Nicaragua.
Seeking a warm and inexpensive place to retire is nothing new to Americans. Costa Rica and Mexico have long laid out a welcome mat to retirees.
But as tens of thousands of American expats settled there, home prices began to rival those of stateside retirement magnets like Florida and Arizona. Still-affordable Central American countries like Nicaragua, Panama and Honduras are now jostling to become the new hot spot for retirement abroad.
Several have sought to increase their appeal by passing laws meant to attract retirees, investors, and others who can pump cash into the economy.
In Nicaragua, anyone over 45 who earns at least $400 a month can import their out-of-coutry earnings and household goods tax-free. A car can be brought in every five years, then resold, without a sales tax deduction.
It's even easier to invest. Those willing to put money into the country's tourism industry, such as setting up a beach-side cafe or resort, qualify for tax breaks of up to 100 percent on everything from construction materials to furniture for up to 10 years.
Honduras and Belize have passed similar measures. Panama sweetens the deal by throwing in discounts of up to 50 percent on all the comforts an American abroad could desire: movies, restaurants, airline tickets, even prescription medication, doctor's visits and hospital stays.
"What these countries are realizing is the tremendous value in this baby boomer market," said Jeff Hornberger, international development manager for the National Association of Realtors.
The influx of cash benefits the country, which gets jobs and investment. And the retirees can buy a lifestyle that would be beyond their means in the United States.
"You can have a gardener, a cook, a maid you can live like a millionaire without a millionaire budget," Hornberger said.
There are still some inherent risks with life in some of the poorest nations in the hemisphere, some retirees said.
"Things can change fairly quickly: the law, how it's interpreted. Nothing's set in stone," said John Edwards, a Canadian who recently finished building a house overlooking the Pacific in Rancho Santana, one of the biggest planned communities in Nicaragua.
Within the gated community, roads, services and the infrastructure are up to American standards, but the gravel road to the closest town, Rivas, is a bumpy 14-mile ride.
Also, buying property in foreign countries can be intimidating and tricky, and those who are not familiar with local practices can fall prey to swindlers or demands for graft. Many countries don't regulate real estate agents, and the buying process can involve translators, lawyers, and unfamiliar negotiating tactics.
"Investing in real estate abroad is not for the faint of heart," Hornberger said.
Still, the numbers show Americans are increasingly willing to take their chances.
The number of Social Security checks drawn abroad has risen steadily, from 188,000 in 1992 to 255,000 in 2004.
And a growing number of retirees have been seeking out Central America and the Caribbean. More than 15,000 Americans drew their Social Security checks there in 2004. And the number of people who spend part of the year in the region is probably much greater, experts said.
"We have seen an enormous amount of interest more growth in the last two years than in the last 10," said Gail Geerling, a real estate agent in Nicaragua who has lived in Central America for 10 years.
And as more baby boomers approach retirement age, chances are Central America's appeal will only grow.
"I'm working full time, and I'm not sure I can buy a house here," said Lynn Rothman-Venus, who works for a community college in Florida, long considered a prime retirement spot.
She's 54 and hoping that by the time she's ready to retire six years from now, she'll be able to trade her rented condo in the Tampa Bay suburbs for oceanfront property somewhere like Panama.
"Unless you're pretty affluent, you're going to struggle here as a retiree," she said of life in the U.S. "You might as well go somewhere else and live better. The world is out there."
National Association of Realtors: http://www.realtor.org/
Nicaraguan Institute of Tourism: http://www.visit-nicaragua.com
Many progressive democrat homosexual couples moved to Costa Rica right after the last election - it's like they have advanced knowledge of something being planned by their side soon?
One was a highly ranked democrat pundit for clinton in Arkansas.
There are still Nicaraguans in Nicaragua? I thought they were all in the US.
When the first government upheaval takes place, she'll probably expect our government/troops to bail her out . . .
Levante la mano si usted es un haz de leña demócrata!
Nicaraguan cigars are excellent. That's a good reason right there to at least have a second home there!
North Korea's even cheaper.
Until the next dictator comes along and confiscates it all.
There are plenty of places to retire cheaply in the United States. Just don't expect waterfront property or warm winters.
It is my beliefe that people coming to the US should learn to speak English. I also believe that if I moved to nicaragua it would be my duty to learn their language.
I am too old a dog to learn a new language at this stage and I dont ant to be 2,000 miles away from my grandkids in some central American shithole.
""I'm working full time, and I'm not sure I can buy a house here,""
Then you're a damned idiot. I bought a two-bedroom, all appliances, Florida porch on one side, weather porch porch on the other side, home in a gated community with on the ground security in Ocala Florida for forty thousand dollars just three years ago.
Also, when she is kidnapped, guess whose husband will be pounding on the U.S. Embassy's door?
As long as I live, I will live in the U.S.A. The greatest country the world has ever seen!
The retirees that have made it head south of the border and those south of the border trying to make it head north of the border..... sounds kinda mixed up.
You got that right pal. God Bless America.
I would move to another Country in a heartbeat. I think it would be exciting, but I like to move. My husband think I'm nuts. After living 65 years in San Diego, I made him move to Arizona. (I'm 20 years younger than him). He loves it here, now I'm getting antsy. Anyone here live on a lake somewhere that would be a good retirement home? Someone here the other day was talking about Lake Ozark...any suggetions?
Was your daughter's medical cost in Bolivia expensive? And what was the quality of care like?
I'm glad you agree. I love my country, America, and would not live anywhere else.
By the time I'm retirement age, all the Central Americans will have moved near me anyway.
You might want to read up on CA, specifically Panama and Honduras. Panama is becoming more and more cosmopolitan every year and their northern coast both on the Atlantic and Pacific sides is wide open for purchasing property and very, very American and European friendly!
My cousin just bought 50 acres on an island in the archipelagos on the Eastern side of northern Panama and I am looking at property in Honduras. While there is problems in Honduras, it is mainly internal but nothing in the realm of political uprisings. At least in Honduras you can get a permit to carry a firearm and if you are a foreigner, its unlikely it will be held against you if you dont have the permit. Washington DC on the other hand is more dangerous than Honduras......
Don't believe everything you read in the U.S. papers..........
Really, it's pretty logical.
They want to move here because they are poor over there, and there are jobs here.
Retirees want to move there because they want a low cost of living, which they can get because most people are poor there.
It can work out well for everyone because more desperately needed jobs wind up down there, and so fewer people will want to come up here, which is what many of you seem to want.
I plan to move to the Philippines for exactly the reasons cited above. I have a community web site that I'd like to make my primary source of income. I can't stand to live in Pittsburgh, where I am. If I can earn $2k a month I can live like a king in the Philippines, instead of just getting by (and suffering through frigid winters) here.
It's the same logic: If your income doesn't depend on geography, and you can tough out cultural adjustments like unique food and different cultures, then you're probably better off in the third world than in the US, because life is so expensive here.
Leveraging a first world income with a third-world lifestyle gives me a live-in maid ($30-40 a month) who will do my laundry, take out my trash and generally do everything domestic that I hate to do in the US. I could also afford a waterfront house in a tropical climate, which would cost over half a million in the cheapest warm-water parts of the US, and $3,500,000 plus in the nice parts.
As a special bonus, the supply and demand equation between single men and women is, well, different. There is a major shortage of responsible, affluent men over there. You are talking about a ratio of around 100 women seeking an affluent man for every affluent man seeking a woman. So someone like me, who is basically thrown out with the trash in the romantic stakes here, is suddenly solid gold.
My saying is simple: Go where you're wanted. I'd say I'm more wanted and likely to have a far better life in the third than the first.
Sure, the United States is a great country and it does many great things. But that doesn't mean that it's in everyone's interest to stay, when it has a high cost of living, and comfortable climates like Florida or California are outrageously expensive.
I visited Nicaragua in May of this year. Drop dead gorgeous country.
I believe I was the first Freeper to make a post from there. It won't be my last.
You can live like a king in Central America off of Social Security alone.
I'm not sure I'd retire in Nicaragua. The infrastructure still needs some improvement in order to compare to the US. But Costa Rica is close. It's much more like America than, say, Laredo.
Thanks for your reply. I won't even travel outside of our Blessed U.S.A. any more. I really love America!
Why would anyone need to travel outside the US. We have mountains, oceans, parks. Some of the most beautiful scenery in the world . I havent seen all I want of America yet. I certainly have no desire to go somewhere they dont want me and spend my money with people who dont appreciate my coming .