Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Retire Overseas Bootcamp in Las Vegas

November 10th 2016

We left home around 4:30 am after coping with the blocked drains and dishwasher again it was good to get going.  First flight was SAT to LAX and then on to Las Vegas.  We arrived in Vegas about 45 minutes before the shuttle left for the hotel - all the airport staff were very helpful as we struggled to navigate our way through the crowded airport in a hurry and didn't know where to find the shuttle.  We picked up a sandwich in the airport and and managed to gulp some of it down before we boarded the shuttle but were able to finish it on the bus.

Conference day 1:  

Everywhere looks great and the enthusiasm of the correspondents is catching.  This was a kind of country speed-dating session and the overall theme that came across was that of a healthy lifestyle, low cost of living and great, very affordable health care.

Mexico Infrastructure is good and high speed fiber internet and a phone plan (that includes free calls to USA) is less than $20 a month and rental accommodation can be easily found for around $500 and up.  A permanent resident visa can be obtain just by proving assets of $75,000 with no need to prove income.

Costa Rica In the Central Valley the temperature never gets above about 80 and gets down to about 60 at night.  Living in the central valley is cheaper than living at the coast and rentals can be found for about $500 and up. A Pensioner Visa can be obtained with proof of income of $1,000/month and entitles you to government health care. The north coast is a dry area and has many sunny days.In general, a good living can be had here for about $2,000 a month.

Malaysia  This is an exotic island but humidity may be a problem.  The cost of living here is about one quarter of what it is in USA.

Belize  This used to be # 1 on my list, this is where I started this research adventure but with annual rainfall of between 53-77" and mean humidity of 83%, it is off the list for a possible permanent living/retirement.  However we still need to spend some time here visiting and exploring, especially the Mundo Maya ruins and villages as well as doing some snorkeling down at the beaches.  The mix of heat, humidity and mosquitoes would not be a happy life for us.

Nicaragua This appears to be the cheapest country with a great outdoor lifestyle - It has been likened to living in the 50s in USA.  Nicaragua has manged to retain its culture but city living can be noisy - think about all the festivals (we could get used to this and definitely enjoy the festivals?).  Here life seems to be all about nature.  There is a choice of temperatures according to location and generally humidity would be about 57% - not all days are rainy in the rainy season and there are still a lot of sunny days.

Colombia  Not a country that had been on the list until now.  All climate options are available, just choose the place with the climate that suits you.  Life is family focused and the cost of living is low with many different lifestyle options - can you believe that the WHO lists it as # 22 on the world's best health care list with USA being # 37?  Up in the Andes, temperatures vary between 55 and 80 and Medellin has been shown to be safer than Las Vegas and there is a healthy outdoor lifestyle

Thailand  HOT all year round with temperatures in the 80s in winder and high 90s in the summer.  Health insurance sots do not seem to be very reasonable compared to the other countries we are investigating.  Although there are some interesting points, it is more on the expensive side and the requirement for a visa is $1,842 a month.

The general feeling after day 1 is that we are looking at a healthy outdoor lifestyle, cheap cost of living, affordable health care and a good family focused  culture.

That evening we walked around the casino and found lots of options for supper, ranging from expensive fine dining down to very affordable fast food type places.  We settled on supper in 8 Noodle Bar which had a very nice atmosphere and really inexpensive food.  I had Bimibap which was on my 'want to try it' list ever since I saw it on Master Chef once (it was healthy and really enjoyable, all that I thought it would be) and Gerald had BBQ short rib steamed buns, very nice.
Hotel Corridor


Entrance to Hotel Room

Day 2

Ecuador has warm, kin, gentle people with affordable rents and a temperate climate.  It has a constant 12 hours of daylight every day, is on EST and has no daylight savings time change ! (bonus # 1).  There are many lifestyle options to choose from so we need to research the different climates and lifestyles in more depth.  Guayaquil is hot and humid so not the location for us.  In Cotacachi an example water bill is $3.47 and electricity is less than $20 because air conditioning and heating are not needed - love that!  For over 65's there are lots of discounts.  Although imported goods are more expensive, they do now have local peanut butter (so many expats hated not having their peanut butter) which is actually better (read natural, healthy), now we are REALLY happy about Ecuador.  Ecuador has a sense of freedom, with old fashioned values and a slow pace.  I is a place where you take care of yourself and your own possessions - you don't sue just because you trip over an uneven sidewalk (woohoo!), however it is a loud (and vibrant) society.

Panama The Chiriqui highlands (Boquete) is more remote and is in the dry arc.  Healthcare: doctors spend time and have time to really care about their patients - the local clinics are good for everyday ailments.  The Balboa is equal to the USD (Bonus!) and the Pensionado program offers a lot of benefits (another Bonus).  For a resident visa we need to show an income of $1,000 a month and it is easy to obtain.  The downside though is the weather, it is HOT (88/68) and HUMID!  Coronade is in the dry arc with temperature 80/68 and Boquete is in the highlands with temperatures about 10 degrees cooler.  I think that noise and trash may be a problem - would we relax into this type of slower lifestyle and accept the downside issues?  Again, we need to experience life there for ourselves, in different areas.  

Healthcare:  

Must pay in full at time of service and small local clinics may only take cash - however, the costs are 25-50% of what they are in the USA.  Health insurance rates rise with age and O65 may not be accepted.  Private insurance is usually only available with a resident visa.  In Belize, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico we can get a local public insurance but would have to have a resident visa.  Full time expats are exempt from the Affordable Care Act so I need to calculate whether it would be cheaper for me to pay for Medicare part B and part D or pay the fine - paying the fine for Gerald for that first year appeared to be the cheapest option but buy into the plan with our reduced income (1/4 annual salary as we will only be working for 3 months of the year) could end up costing us only 50% of the fines. Looking at the affordable care act and trying to figure this out is a nightmare, it is very confusing especially putting my Medicare eligibility and the fact that will be working for 3 months of the year. This is going to take a lot of research and we need to start working on this.

Ecuador IESS (national health care) has no age limit and pre-existing condition restrictions - can apply online but must be a resident.  The cost of the plan is $65 for the primary member and $12 for a dependent.  It is necessary to pay for 3 months before being eligible to receive benefits and you cannot chose your doctor.  It is necessary to realize that since you cannot chose your own doctor, you may be assigned a doctor that does not speak English; appointments may take a long time to get and hospital rooms are shared.  However, the government is committed to providing top quality care for all citizens and you can chose to buy your own private catastrophic coverage.

Panama insurance companies do not accept patients over 65 - We need to look into BUPA and WWM International insurance, alternatively local hospitals have membership programs which give discounts etc.  You are never more than about an hour from a good hospital, also dental costs are usually out of pocket and a very high level of care is provided.

Columbia has very high quality, low cost health care that is easily obtainable.  EPS (about $75 a couple) is a public health plan; anyone with a cedula (resident visa) can apply BUT maximum 1st enrollment age is 60!  Private plans often require having EPS and they are not required to accept you. In Columbia, there is not so much need for prescriptions or referrals.

Costa Rica is the center of medical tourism.  There are good clinics and hospitals throughout the country.  CAJA (CCSS) is Costa Rica's national health insurance system and is available to legal residents only but tourists can use the CAJA in emergency situations - refer to www.ccss.sa.cr.  There are no pre-existing condition or age limit restrictions.  The best care is in San Jose.  CAJA care usually means wait times, private facilities are quicker and still affordable with international departments, pay cash.

Malaysia is VERY affordable so paying out of pocket is possible.  A regular doctor costs $16 and a dental checkup is $12.  Example, a knee replacement all in cost the speaker $1,600 cash.  It would be very feasible no matter where we are, to take a vacation to Malaysia if surgery is needed.

Renting 

is obviously the first step to ensuring that the right place is chosen before buying but it also gives the freedom to move around as well as to check out the real estate market "boots on the ground".  Rentals are often furnished but check what you will be getting, sometimes furnishing is very sparse and you cannot assume that you know what you will be getting in the way of furnishing and utilities etc.  Feel free to negotiate - you may also get utilities included but rarely electricity because it can be expensive if air-conditioning is needed/used.  Airbnb; VRBO.com and even Facebook are useful resources - try listing a wanted post on FB saying what you want and what you are willing to pay, then stand by for offers.  When buying property, in most countries you have the same rights as local property owners.  Remember that property taxes are usually only a couple of hundred dollars A YEAR !

Property buying do's and don'ts:

Always buy in an area of future progress and get in early.
Don't assume that it's the wild west - there are still permit needs etc.
Do buy from the right developer, check that they are established in the local market, does he own the land or what are the plan for paying off the loan and are there sales already.
Don't pay any money or sign a contract without an attorney.  The attorney should be trusted, knowledgeable and bi-lingual with no connection to the seller.
Always buy title property (freehold or fee simple) and check that you can legally own it.
Don't take things for granted especially water and never pay in full up front.
www.pathfinderinternational.net/DD.pdf

Ecuador Visa:

Need passport; state and Federal background checks; letter verifying income; a trusted lawyer (I have the card of a lawyer) who will be able to apostille and translate documents when in Ecuador.  Do NOT need birth certificate.  Background checks are valid for 180 days; car insurance is not necessary but they will start asking questions if still driving on USA plates after 90 (or is it 180) days.

Nicaragua:

Hey, geothermal electric power, now that is a plus for us ;) Nicaragua has a low population density.  The number of women in Parliament is 40%; the retirement income requirement if only $600 a month (now that is a GOOD indicator of the low cost of living here).  The weather in Managua (capital of Nicaragua) is like the weather in San Diego; it has big city life and the best health care but is noisy and has a lot of traffic.  Leon is a colonial, university city and is 25 minutes from the beach (does that mean it is humid?), housing is cheaper here than in Managua.  Granada is also a colonial city but not yet refurbished like Leon, it has good clinics and hospitals.  San Juan del Sur is a beach town - it has a local clinic only but a hospital is coming.  Matagalpa is a cool mountain town with waterfalls and lots of good hiking.
Nicaragua does not have a regular medical insurance plan but vivian pellas hospital plan costs about $25 - $6- a month, giving 40% discounts.  Really though insurance is not needed because it is so cheap.
Rentals of a 2 bed condo range from about $400, furnished with wi-fi, to as high as you want to go - you need to be feet on the ground to get the best rental opportunities.
Tourist visas are valid for 3 months and can be extended for 3 months but border runs are OK here.
Requirements for the Pensionado visa program are proof of income of $600 a month, a health certificate (including mental condition and attesting to no communicable diseases), police record, birth certificate and passport photos.  ALL DOCUMENTS NEED TO BE APOSTILLED.

Day 3

Check that the credit cards that are going to be used don't have foreign transaction fees.  It is not looking good for our existing credit cards so we need to do some more detailed research in this area.
We need to consider keeping Gerald's Credit Union account as a reference for if we want to get a foreign bank account.  Can we xoom money to an Ecuadorian bank? Yes with fees ranging from $18.99 for $1,000 to $39 for $2999.

Taxes and Financial Stuff

We would need to file FBAR if having more the $10,000 in any/all foreign bank accounts.  FATCA must also be filed at the same time.
How do we show expat status when travelling - research item.
$101,300 of foreign income is exempt from tax if we are out of the USA for 330 days of the year and the same applies to not being liable for Obamacare.

Research Item: Check to see how H&R Block software handles foreign income.

There are currently only 2 bank\s in Ecuador that accept Social Security deposits.  We may need to use a foreign exchange broker if we want to transfer money into an Ecuadorian bank (think  about those great CD rates).

Everbank are a direct (online) bank with yield pledge accounts meaning accounts will stay in top 5% - diversify 10% of assets outside of USD.  They have standing wire instructions, will trade @ <1%, you have the foreign currency in your account and then they will wire it to offshore account when instructed.

Medicare: if living overseas you can drop coverage of Part B Medicare but would need to pay a penalty of 10% when/if you return.

Most financial transactions such as opening a bank account, are on a personal basis in Latin America and a reference (though not necessarily an intimate one) is often needed, even if it only says that you are known, are a real person and seem to be nice.  Signatures and name spelling are important - they need to always be the same (preferably the same as appears on your passport).  There is more formality than we are used to regarding signatures.

Bits and Bobs of Information:
It is important to have a good legal resource on the ground to help with transactions and visas etc. Visas and driver's licenses can usually be obtained within 60 to 180 days.

Take a look at hcch.net for the convention regarding apostilled documents.  Latin America loves paperwork so the more documents that we take with us the better, even if we never need some of them.

For virtual mail and even street addresses, theupsstore.com; myus.com and earthclassmail.com look to be good resources.

Skype looks like the best option for us for phone/communications.
Netflix, USTVNow.com; UFreeTV.com and also Roku are worth investigating for TV.

Brush up on the metric system and conversions.

We can drive up to 4 years in Mexico on our home plates but will need to come back to Texas each year to get the car inspection and plate renewals.

Duolingo.com is another good resource for language but right now we are loving memrise.com (free).

It would be a good idea to have a full health checkup before leaving USA and renew vaccinations, particularly Tetanus, Diptheria, HEPA and Typhoid.  Some countries are considered a Yellow Fever risk so need to be sure that we understand which those countries are before entering Costa Rica.

Yes quite a lot of information and we had so much fun - here are some of the photos that I took from and in the beautiful Red Rocks Resort where we were staying.  Mostly sunrise over the strip as seen from our hotel room :)

The start of another beautiful day


Overlooking the strip at night




ECUADOR:  Is about the same size as CO and most expats are in:

Cuenca (8,000’) – a city of about a million people with malls and supermarkets and cultural activities, just outside of Cuenca is Yuencalla valley.  Cuenca has stunning architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site with a very European feel.

I took the opportunity of chatting to a Cuenca local and she told me about the beautiful weather with lovely spring like days (never over 80) with cool fresh mornings and evenings.  She said that they do not use hear or air conditioning and that there are 4 rivers running through town which is why people say that the town is so energizing.

Quito (9,350’) is a vibrant big city but can be congested with traffic – however, taxis are cheap.  Just outside of the city are valleys with a lower elevation and very upscale homes.
Cotacoch (8,000’) is near the Colombian border with a small town feel, very safe with a close knit community.

Vilcabamba (4,500’) is more difficult to get to and has a lower elevation – it is very small and very beautiful and is known as the valley of longevity.
Salinas is a coastal city, the westernmost city on mainland Ecuador.  It has high rise condos all along the beach but behind that are the usual low rise buildings.

Olon is a small beach town with a good expat community in an up and coming area close to the hippie surfing town of Montanita.

It is a good idea to take prescription medications on your travels and to ask a pharmacist what they can get for you.  It is no longer necessary to return to USA for all your favorite products either.

Don’t plan on getting mail in Ecuador – it is a good job that I have been working on getting mail stopped or sent online only and I am research for the right virtual mailbox.

Residency is easy and no special visa is needed in order to rent or buy property.  A Tourist visa (free) is valid for 90 days and is only given once a year. A Pensioner visa is based on pension/social security income with a requirement of $800 for the primary and $100 for each dependent or a CD purchased in an Ecuadorian bank to the value of $25,000 for 3 years – but the interest rate is high (7 to 10%).  Also needed are a criminal background check (FBI and state police), Marriage certificate.  These must be sent to an attorney and be apostilled.   Senior benefits are 50% reduction in domestic airfares, discounts on public transport, entertainment, taxes and utilities.  An attorney (to be provided with Power of Attorney) can open a bank account on your behalf in order to buy a CD if needed while not yet in Ecuador – since the currency in Ecuador is the US Dollar, there is no concern about any devaluation (BONUS!).

The Government fee for a visa if $500 but $50 - you must stay in the country for 9 months of each year for the first 2 years.  After that you would only face losing residency if you were not in the country at all during a 2 year period.  Any money leaving the country is taxed @ 5% so be careful about the seemingly great interest rate if you are no planning on staying and spending both the capital and interest inside the country.

MEXICO:  English is spoken in the areas of San Miguel, Lake Chapala, Puerto Vallarta; Guadalajara and along the Riviera Maya.

Lake Chapala is about 52 miles wide but it is shall and is muddy up close.  It does give nice lake views though.  Chapala is spring like year round with only a little humidity – I have been waiting to hear those words but (and there often is a but) it may be a bit too American compared to what we are looking for.  Rents run from about $500 but more commonly $700-$900.  There are a lot of expats in this area and this makes it very easy to assimilate.  It is about an hour to Guadalajara which is the medical hot spot.

San Miguel de Allende also has a very large expat community and is one of the most beautiful towns – there is a wide variety of dining options at a wide range of prices.  High temperatures range from the 70s to the 90s and it can get down to freezing – rentals look more expensive than in Chapala ($1,000 is common).

Puerto Vallarta (where we have a one week vacation booked) has been an expat destination for more than 60 years so it is not so ‘local’ anymore.  A furnished rental near the beach could be found for about $900 but again, $1,000 is more common.  It doesn’t sound like the best place for us.

Riviera Maya has the most beautiful beaches but I think that it will be too touristy and miss some of the Mexican culture that we are looking. 

Guanajuato in the colonial highlands is a university town with about 10,000 students and has a much smaller expat community.  You would need to speak some Spanish to get along here.  Rentals here are from about $450 but being a university town, there is a shortage.  This place is quite unique in that it is very walkable because traffic is routed through underground tunnels instead of through the city.  It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site with charming colonial era architecture and is in a very picturesque valley with mountains all around.

Visas can be valid for 180 days and you can drive a foreign plated car here.  A temporary resident visa can be obtained for up to four years with proof of earnings of $1,100 (+ $365 for dependent) or with just proof of $18,260 in the bank (does not need to be in a Mexican bank).  Public health insurance premiums increase with age.  For those over 80 the cost would be $325 a year but pre-existing conditions are not covered.

Don’t forget to let the banks know that you are travelling – we have already using online bill pay which will help.  What about foreign exchange fees on credit cards – probably better to use our “no foreign exchange fees” debit card to draw cash rather than use credit cards that will attract foreign transaction fees.  We know of people that successfully use only cash in some Central American countries and do not have a local bank account.  We do need to spend about 4 to 6 months in each destination in order to get to know it well enough to make a decision about whether or not it is for us – this will be interesting because we will also need to come back ‘home’ in order to get our car inspected and the plates renewed.

One of our contacts (Jason Holland) talked about how he drove throughout Mexico with no issues, using the toll roads and not driving at night (you never know what is going to be on the road or if you are going to hit a pothole at night).  Car insurance seems to run at about $500 for 6 months and we can buy a permit (TIPS – Temporary Import Permit) for the care at the border for about $400.  We need to keep our driver’s license and plates valid so we need to keep on top of those renewal dates so that we don’t forget.  This also means that we need to do even more research about getting an address or how we are going to renew our USA Plates.

Costa Rica only accepts a Visa type credit card and this seems to be the most commonly accepted type of credit card.

Another tip for a good travel in Mexico resource is MexicoMike which has driving maps and road logs.  We need to keep our driver’s license and plates valid so we need to keep on top of those renewal dates so that we don’t forget.


We also need lots and lots of copies (50 were suggested?) of car Title, Registration, Driver’s License, Passport and some copies of a healthy bank statement in case there are questions about whether or not we can support ourselves while staying in any of the countries that we will be exploring.



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