Nancy A. Kiernan needed only 3 days to know she was in love.
She had spent 2 months travelling around Ecuador, down the Andes mountains, and along the beaches in Salinas, searching for that inescapable feeling in her heart that she had found “The One”.
She stepped off the plane in Medellín, Colombia, and in less than a week, knew she had found her perfect retirement destination.
“While each of those places [in Ecuador] I visited had something special to offer, none of them resonated with me nor felt like home,” says Kiernan. “Discovering Colombia was the happy accident that changed my life. I like to say that I didn't choose Colombia, Colombia chose me.”
With its year-round spring-like climate, world-class affordable healthcare and low-cost living, Colombia is seen as one of the most popular retirement havens in the world. It ranks 6 in International Living's Annual Global Retirement IndexOpens a new window in your browser.. Five other countries in Latin America make the top 10 in the Global Retirement Index: Panama, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador and Mexico.
While Kiernan's story is romantic, finding your perfect match in a retirement destination isn't always as serendipitous.
Consider everything, stay flexible
Latin America lures retirees from Canada and the U.S. who are looking to escape cold winters and make their retirement savings go further. However, a happy retirement is not only about finding 300 days of sunshine or even the perfect destination. It's about having a flexible and open attitude to a new way of life in a new culture.
For most, it requires testing out a location for a few months to see if it fits and carefully considering practicalities such as healthcare options, access to culture and community, and convenient ways to return north to loved ones.
“It's a different culture — adapt to it,” he says. “Do not expect Canadian standards, such as time and efficiency to be the same, and expect to have to be very patient. Everything is slower when dealing with private or government organizations.”
Already knowing Spanish and finding a trustworthy real estate agent eased a lot of headaches for Le Maire. “There is also a lot of paperwork to deal with, and one little error can send you back to starting all over again,” he says.
He points out that the requirements for someone to become a real estate agent in Colombia are less rigorous than in Canada and the U.S. Since there is no regulatory system for real estate agents, he advises looking for agents with good reviews and asking for recommendations within the expat community.
“The most important thing to know is that you are the key to your success, not the geographic location you select,” he says. “You must be prepared and even excited to learn a bunch of new things in all aspects of your life from social structure, language, food, currency and new laws and customs.”