Retiring Early on Social Security — Part I

Retiring Early on Social Security — Part I

We’ve decided to explore the idea of finding good, inexpensive health care outside the United States in the first blog here. That could provide us with one way to retire early on Social Security, but that immediately raises several questions .

What’s Our Perfect Retirement Place?

With over 30 trips to Mexican beaches, one of them would seem to be the expected answer. But there’s a big world out there: are there other, more perfect retirement locales for us? What has made those beaches so perfect?

Well, naturally, there’s the beach. There are many varieties of beaches, though — what qualities do we like.

Of course, it has to be someplace tropical. We love the consistent warm temperatures all year long

It needs to have some variety: mostly local economy, but with enough expats to support many cuisines from around the world.

The government has to be stable, along with the economy — having a banking crisis or a revolution break out does not sound like the kind of retirement we’re after.

It has to be affordable for a retired couple on a fixed income, The point to moving abroad is to live on much less than we can here in Arizona.

Finally, the health care has to be well above average. After all, the US health care system is not ranked all that highly. The World Health Organization has us 37th, while another research organization bumps us up only to 30th place.

Tropical Beaches

Based on our experience, there are many aspects to a good retirement beach. Many ratings are based on the type of sand: color, grain size, presence of coral. Another criterion rates them from totally deserted to tourist-packed. Then there’s the availability of amenities: are there restaurants and other business right on the beach, or are they kept far from the high-tide line? Finally, there are the physical characteristics: wide vs. narrow, steep vs. gently sloping

After much experimentation and discussion, we’ve come up with the ideal components of our perfect beach: we have loved some of the “sugar sand” beaches we’ve experienced (Aruba, Kona) but neither color nor grain size matters a lot to us. We prefer beaches where there are no coral rocks until beyond the wave breaks, but we’re not too picky here, either.

As to popularity, deserted beaches, while nice sometimes, ultimately are pretty boring. We seem to prefer it when there are other people around, but not too jam-packed packed. If you need to carefully pick your way over and around sun bathers and family picnics just to find a towel space for yourself, that’s not a beach for us! Going along with that, the presence of some strolling vendors, especially with foodstuffs, is a plus for us. Along with local business located conveniently, we prefer the ease of periodically finding refreshments that such a setting provides.

What we discovered was that our primary consideration was the purely physical! Perfect beaches for surfing, it turns out, are not suitable for us: they are usually very steep, with a drop-off not too far from the shoreline. Width is not as important as slope, as long as there is enough beach, even at high tide, to provide umbrellas or palapas or some other means for relaxing out of the water and in some shade. When the slope is too steep, we’ve found, it usually means that entering and leaving the water becomes a trial for our old legs and sometimes weary sense of balance.

What Countries Qualify?

I’ve already said that we want to live in the tropics, so that rules out some very interesting options in Europe. Spain and Portugal, for example, have some of the world’s most popular beaches. France’s Mediterranean coast is also justly famous, as is Italy. The Aegean of Greece and Turkey should also be considered. But we’ve settled on going tropical. At least for now
We’ve also determined that several Asian destinations will not be initially considered. There are several that are routinely touted as retirement havens: the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore. For the strictest of budgets, they say, you can live most comfortably in Cambodia! But for us, specifically for my wife, that just seems like “a bridge too far”, at least initially. We’ll be spending 11 days in Vietnam next month, however, so that perception may be short-lived! You never know…..

The Caribbean? Well….. Our experience says that most places are either too expensive, or too crowded to meet our criteria. Most of the islands are extremely well-known as tourist destinations, which makes it difficult to find an interesting mix of traditional and worldly. While the Aruban beaches are among the loveliest we’ve ever visited, there seemed very little besides sand, surf and sun. We loved Barbados (fish balls & Bajan hot sauce — yum!) but it was very touristy; two or three cruise ships docking every day produces a lot of visitors! And our experience goes on….

What’s left? Mexico, Central and South America! Some of our favorite resort visits of the past 38 years! So let’s start to narrow the list.

South America


We have had amazing, heartwarming experiences visiting our exchange student ‘kids’ in South America. We’ve been to Buenos Aires and then the interior of BA state, in the heart of beef & gaucho country. We also spent a day at one of the country’s beaches, very far from typical tourist venues, truly an Argentine experience. Wonderful people, world-class dining, vibrant seashore options. But it is a temperate zone country, with cool winters, hot humid summers. That’s what we have now. Not close enough to our goal.

Similarly, we visited our Brazilian daughter, living in the geographic center of the continent, which was similar to our cultural experience of Argentina. Wonderful family time, very traditional Brazil, food, culture, language! Of course the beaches are famous: just say the words ‘Copacabana’ or ‘Ipanema’ and your mind is immediately full of the most famous beach images in the world! Yes, we were fortunate to spend 3 days there, and they are, indeed, everything you ever heard or thought about them! There are probably other Brazilian beaches that would fit our criteria, but not in Rio! Brazil still has potential for us, but probably not in our top 10….
We only had one day, a cruise stop, in Cartagena, Columbia, but it was magical! One of the hemisphere’s richest colonial heritage — all Inca gold shipped to Spain came through this port — we wanted to spend a week or more just exploring the walled city. Just a few miles west, we were told, is the beach city where locals go to spend a day with family. Despite all the remaining skepticism about narco trafficking and cartel government, the country is now stable and growing! Retirees are arriving from all over the world; Columbia has to stay on our list!

What’s Left?


That leaves four countries that we’ve visited that DO check off all the boxes: Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Belize. We have spent significant time in each, and in the next post I’ll recount our exploratory tours, the ones that led to our preliminary choice for First Destination!

After all, if we’re planning to be Roving Retirees, the first place we retire can’t be our only retirement venue! But we do have to start somewhere….



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *