Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Where to Retire at 35

This has absolutely nothing to do with moving . . but what the heck . . .

If you could live anywhere, where would you live?

It's a question worth considering seriously, because the truth is, you could.

No matter your current circumstances--be you 30 or 70...single or married 40 years...with children or not, young or business interests or passive investments to manage...a million dollars worth of assets or nothing like it--I promise you: I know others with similar life stories who have taken the leap and who are, as you and I consider the possibilities right now, already living their dreams in their chosen Shangri-las.

To get from where you sit now to where you'd like to be, you've got to do two things.

First, get up.

Second, figure out where you'd like to be.

This is where the trouble starts. The more you open your mind to the possibilities, the more confused you're likely to become. How did Alex and Judith choose Panama over the dozens of other countries they considered carefully? Why did Jay Snyder and his wife decide to spend their time and their money in Granada? What's Paul Keppler doing in Istria?

I'll let each of them tell you their stories themselves, over time, in these dispatches. In each case, the reasons have something to do with business and investment...and something, as well, to do with fun and adventure. But, without exception, the common denominator is that they all wanted a change...a chance to start over, to try something else, to be someone enjoy a richer, fuller quality of life.

It's cliché, on the one hand, but, on the other, it's the only point worth making...the only agenda worth remembering: You've got one shot. Make the most of it.

I'm preaching to the choir, of course, and you know as well as I do the fundamentals of this conversation. You've got to consider cost of living (and of real estate), health care, telecommunications and other infrastructure, ease of coming and going and of getting around once you're in the country, taxes, the local language, the safety of the cities, the stability of the government, and the weather...these are the boxes to check...or not.

And that's one approach to take when trying to answer the question I posed earlier. Assuming you could live anywhere, one way to find out where you should go would be to create a spreadsheet. Into the rows and columns, you could place checkmarks. No, Nicaragua does not have reliable infrastructure...yes, Mexico is easily accessible from the States.

Or you could create a ranking system. Panama is accessible (give it an 8 out of 10) but not as accessible as Mexico (10), while New Zealand is on the other side of the planet (2).

Then, when you've finished the exercise, toss your spreadsheet aside. You've got to allow for the things that can't be plugged into it. Unless you lack any adventuresome spirit or romantic soul whatsoever, this isn't a question that number-crunching can answer for you. At least not completely.

Take Waterford, Ireland, for example. It spreadsheeted much better a decade ago.

Back then, before "Rip-off Ireland," it was still affordable. Real estate values had been climbing for a decade already at that point, but they were still reasonable on a world scale. Foreign residency was possible in several straightforward ways, and it could lead to citizenship. And as foreign residents, we paid tax in Ireland only on the money we remitted to Ireland. Americans abroad, we mitigated our U.S. tax bill with the help of the foreign earned-income exclusion, then we brought into Ireland (and therefore paid Irish taxes on) only the money we needed to live on each year. Talk about tax-efficient.

Today, the cost of living on the Emerald Isle is absurdly high (even Waterford can be more expensive than Paris), and the country's real estate bubble is the stuff of urban legend. They've made it tougher for foreigners to take up residency (in an effort to curb the migration from Africa and Eastern Europe). And they've changed their tax laws so that foreign residents are today taxed on worldwide income. Yikes.

Ten years ago, Ireland would have come out tops in most anyone's rankings. Today its score would be less impressive. Especially when you remember the bad weather and the broken-down infrastructure.

Yet, my position on Ireland hasn't changed. I enjoyed our life in the country when we began it more than 10 years ago...and I'd consider returning today.

Lief wouldn't--the new tax laws are too much for him to take--but I maintain that one can't organize his entire life according to tax code.

For me, Ireland's appeal, 10 years ago and still today, has to do with its history, its pastoral landscapes, and its country charms...the castles, the gardens, the Georgian style...
Things that are hard to rate and rank.

Paris boasts the world's best health care (according to the World Health Organization), world-class infrastructure, four seasons, and more entertaining and pleasing ways to spend your time than any other place on earth. I appreciate those things, of course, but my reasons for considering Paris one of the best places in the world to call home are less quantifiable. I like being in Paris because it's beautiful and ever-changing in ways you've got to pay close attention to recognize. Paris is a city you can know well and still delight in discovering anew every morning.

On paper, Panama City is hard to beat. Affordable cost of living; good medical facilities (I can vouch for these from personal experience); good infrastructure, especially for the region; a tolerable tax system for foreign residents and reasonable options for becoming one in the first place.

Yet, Panama City isn't for everyone. It's hot, humid, and dirty. Its expanding population struggles morning, noon, and night to travel back and forth on the city's one main thoroughfare. Don't try to drive in this town if you can't control your temper. Remember, this is a developing nation...not a developed one. And, again, maybe that doesn't work for you.

I'm aware of all these things, and still I'm looking forward to our move to Panama City this summer, in part because the cost of living will allow me to have help around the house and a driver (almost a necessity) part because our tax life will become again very efficient...
Mostly, though, I'm as excited about this move as I have been about the others over the past decade because I appreciate the energy in Panama right now. This country is at a turning point in its history, pushing full steam ahead toward developed world status. Hard to be at rest and rotting in a place working this hard and moving this fast to make something of itself. I feel fortunate that I'll be able to be a part of it for a while.

Kathleen Peddicord

After more than 22 years as Editor and Publisher of International Living, Kathleen Peddicord is now Publisher of and Editor of the group's FREE weekly e-letter, the Overseas Opportunity Letter, detailing the best opportunities worldwide right now for living, retiring, investing, owning real estate, and doing business. Nobody covers this beat better.