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Americans who moved to Latin America for cheaper retirement, starting a new life, and better work options explain the pros and cons

Noah Sheidlower   

Americans who moved to Latin America for cheaper retirement, starting a new life, and better work options explain the pros and cons
  • 5 Americans told BI they moved to Latin America for a more peaceful — and cheaper — retirement.
  • Some said they were scared they wouldn't have enough for a comfortable retirement in the US.

Janet Sussman was struggling to see how she could remain in the US.

Sussman, who started a catering nonprofit in Florida, and her husband saved enough to build their dream home in the woods of upstate New York with their son. However, by the mid-2000s, her life was turned upside down.

In 2006, her son died in a construction accident. Her husband, who had a major stroke that same year, died in 2010. Her other two children married and moved away, and she was lost on what to do.

"I didn't know who I was in this new role," Sussman said. "I didn't know where to go from there."

Ultimately, she moved to Panama in 2012 to restart her life. She and a friend started a shuttle service to make money while she studied for her bachelor's degree. She then worked as a teacher at an international school for over four years before opening a language school, which she sold shortly after.

Now, Sussman travels full-time throughout Panama as a housesitter between stays at Airbnbs. She still returns to the US to see family, though most of her time is spent exploring and enjoying Panama's peace and relatively inexpensive prices.

"We all have tragedies in our lives, and we need those," Sussman said. "If not, you don't appreciate the good things, and that's why I think I have such a child-like awe of my travels."

Business Insider spoke to five Americans who moved to Latin America, many for their retirements. Some said they couldn't afford to retire in the US but could live much more comfortably south of the border, though not everything is cheaper. Others said Latin America offered more business and employment opportunities and a friendlier culture. All agreed that life is in many ways better in Latin America than in the US.

Moving for retirement

Cheryl Sands, 69, didn't think she'd ever comfortably retire in the US. She taught chemistry for over two decades in Illinois, then quit in 2007. She moved to a less expensive town by the Illinois-Kentucky border, where she bought a house in the woods on 10 acres.

Between her pension and Social Security, she brought in $30,000 a year, which wasn't enough to keep up with rising property taxes and daily expenses. She substitute-taught and took on a side gig installing fencing to supplement her pension.

Her two siblings, 78 and 82, still work to pay their bills, so she started looking for unconventional ways to avoid their situations. After visiting Costa Rica a few times, she packed her bags, sold most of her belongings, and moved with her dogs to experience "pura vida."

Despite some logistical challenges, she moved into her first condo and got a more spacious one a month later. She lives in a beach town called Junquillal in Guanacaste, which has some small stores and is about a 40-minute drive from the nearest major city. She said she feels more welcome in Costa Rica than in Illinois, even with a language barrier.

"What I love about Costa Rica is the freedom, work ethic, value of learning and education, taking responsibility for their and their children's actions and accepting the consequences of their actions, pride in what they have, even if it's not much, respect for others, positive attitudes, and valuing children and the elderly," Sands said.

Her home payment, with a large yard, lawn maintenance, and electricity, is about $1,100 monthly. While packaging for food is smaller than in the US, she said food is cheaper than in the US. She said prices are steadily rising, though she's not too worried.

Gary Keenan, 71, disagrees that Costa Rica is cheaper than the US, though he's fine paying the upcharge. He moved to Costa Rica from New Mexico nine years ago after working for 25 years running a claims business. He moved after retiring and finalizing his divorce, settling in a less touristy area and learning Spanish.

In his area of the Central Valley near San Jose, food is often double the cost of what he paid when he last visited the US, particularly for meats. With a worsening exchange rate, he said the cost of daily supplies and furniture is higher than in the US. He bought his car in early 2023 for $34,000, but he said comparable prices in the US were between $16,000 and $18,000.

Still, he said rent and home prices tend to be less than in many parts of the US. His three-bedroom apartment costs about $1,500 a month, though he said it would be pricier if he didn't know his landlord.

"Bottom line is any US resident coming here to retire should expect to pay a bit more for daily expenses," Keenan said.

Living and working in nature

Moving to Latin America has allowed some Americans to advance their careers and retirement goals while living a more serene life.

Jose Rodriguez, 65, who recently moved from Chicago to the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, said it's giving him more opportunities to open oncology centers and promote business partnerships.

He estimated his living costs are at least 30% cheaper than in the US, and he rents a large property for about $500 a month. He estimated that a modern home could cost below $200,000, compared to about $650,000 in the US. His utilities and internet are well under $100 each month.

He's also been impressed by the calmer, more consistent weather, as well as better and cheaper produce. He also lives in a more rural area with plenty of nature.

For Andy Wiesmann, 62, moving to Medellín, Colombia, was a lifesaving decision. He developed a rare autoimmune disorder that ate up most of his savings, and he could no longer afford an apartment in California's Inland Empire, where he spent most of his life. To protect his health while living more comfortably on his limited income, he turned to Mexico and then Colombia.

He bought a 900-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Medellín for $90,000, equipped with a balcony overlooking the mountains and a pool. All expenses, such as medical bills and food costs, total about $1,500 to $1,800 a month, he said, much less than what we would have paid in California for similar purchases.

The "city dropped into a jungle" feeling of Medellín allowed him to stay fit with his disability, and he's enjoyed how the temperature usually stays in the 70s and low 80s.

"I have not felt at all like I'm outside of the United States," Wiesmann said. "The malls are first-rate, the restaurants are first-rate usually, the tap water is drinkable, the internet is fast and reliable, and the energy is fast and cheap. Sometimes I have to stop and say, 'Oh my god,' I'm in South America."

Have you recently left the United States for a new country? Reach out to this reporter at nsheidlower@businessinsider.com.


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