Living Abroad: Who Else Wants to Live in Paradise?

by Miss Footloose
Costa Rica

Expat paradiseAre you like me and want to live in paradise? How greedy we are. Not to speak of unrealistic. There is no paradise. I know this, but when my man and I started looking for where to live abroad after retirement, I started searching for it anyway.

I wanted to live in a place where I never had to shovel snow again, a place where the food and wine are yummy, the natives are friendly, and the sun shines a lot. This was a partial wish list. As the saying goes in my native Dutch tongue: Ik heb heel wat noten op mijn zang. Which translates into: My song has quite a lot of notes. If you catch my drift.

My American prince and I were (are) serial expats, with no real home base in either the US or my native Holland, so we wanted to find a place abroad to plant ourselves once we retired. We might not be able to grow roots, but we could try.

I hope you know that no matter what you see on TV the world is a fabulous place, stunning, miraculous, fascinating. So where to go? So many places to choose from.

How to find paradise?

We spent some time in Costa Rica. Unless you’ve lived in a cave, you must have heard how beautiful and bio-diverse this country is. I was gobsmacked by the scenic splendor. I saw my first bubbling volcano there. I know it’s just a picture to you, but you shoulda been there!

Costa Rica paradise

You shoulda seen this: Poas Volcano in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is also a country now overrun with American and Canadian retirees ensconced in gated communities, and not all are blessed with cultural sensitivity, or have any desire to learn about and engage in the local life. So I’ve heard. So I’ve read. Is it true? I don’t know. You tell me. However, clearly many retirees find that living abroad in Costa Rica is to live in Paradise. Yet, for various reasons we decided to look elsewhere.

We were in Italy half a dozen times, mostly in the south of the country and loved it there. The food and wine? Well I don’t need to tell you. We met some lovely people who invited us in their home, fed us, lent us their car, and took us shopping. I mean, when does that ever happen when you’re a stranger some place?  “Take the car,” she said. “Be back by one for lunch.” We’d only met her a few days earlier. Next thing we knew we’re at her dining room table with the extended family celebrating a birthday.

But somehow it didn’t all add up for root-growing.

Venturing forth, we vacationed a bit in Portugal, on two occasions. Portugal has its charms, but it did not seduce us. I know, we should be ashamed of ourselves. How picky can you be? What does it take to satisfy us?

Peace and serenity

How about the Indonesian island of Bali? We were there years ago, and were enthralled. Island of peace and harmony, of temples and festivals, of smiling people and taste-titillating food. Such seduction of the senses!

Bali paradise

Bali, island of peace and serenity

I could learn to meditate, finally, and do yoga and get in touch with my Higher Self. Yes, I could live there, in the mountains, not near the tourist beaches. I’d go in a red hot second, if only . . .  Well, you knew that was coming, didn’t you?  If only Bali wasn’t so far away from family and friends, most of whom hang out in Europe and the US. I’m afraid I’d never see them again. So it was a no for Bali, with an ache in my spoiled little expat heart.

Almost paradise!

We scouted out Ecuador, much advertised as a cheap expat heaven, but also rather out of the way for our purposes. The country is gorgeous. Lots of culture, great bio-diversity. The many different climates — from tropical to cool and rainy — make it possible to grow fruits from strawberries to coconuts, all fresh in stunning markets overflowing with the bounties of nature. They grow fruit there I never knew existed, and I’ve been around.

Ecuador paradise

Market in Cuenca, Ecuador

And of course there’s fresh seafood, since the country is located right on the Pacific Ocean. And the wine? Sadly, only imported. Local cheese? Not so exciting.  The coastal areas are tropical and I am so done with the steamy tropics, having spent years inelegantly sweating in Africa and Indonesia. BUT: The mountainous areas of Ecuador are fabulous! Great climate! Except that by sundown at around 6 pm it’s too cool to sit outside and there’s no outdoor life on terraces and cafés. You can read about our experience right here:

Ecuador: Almost Paradise

Back to my expat paradise wish list

Somewhere there’s a place for us.

So what did I really want? I wanted a slower pace of life. Slower than what, you ask? Slower than in the US. It doesn’t matter if you say you’ll slow down and take it easy, savor the small joys of life; somehow the rat race culture sucks you in. It’s in the air, on TV, in the shops, in the lifestyle of the people you meet. You can’t escape it.

I craved a leisurely sidewalk café culture. I love eating outside, or lingering over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine while watching the people go by. They’re good at that in Southern Europe. People in my native Holland love it too. They’ll sit outside with their coats on if that’s what it takes. In February. Did I want to settle in Holland? Forget it. The climate is lousy and the rat race culture is fully established, even with sidewalk cafés everywhere.

So where did we finally end up?

The South of France, in a small village near a lovely town full of terraces and cafés and restaurants. Cultural activities and interesting social events aplenty. It ticks off a lot of things on my list including the sidewalk café culture. Do I have to mention food and wine? I think not. The countryside is fabulous, vineyards everywhere, and great walking routes for our morning hikes. The people, you ask? I don’t know what you’ve heard about French people, but we’ve found them friendly and helpful, if not as outgoing and cheery as their Latin neighbors.

So is this Paradise?

No. The weather is good if not perfect – there’s still a winter requiring warms coats, and the winds can be fierce at times. Yes, I know, your heart bleeds for me. The language? Oh, my, I had not expected it to be so difficult, me being a Dutchie and all, having studied French in school, and already being fluent in another foreign language (that being English in case that escaped you).

But we like it here and we’ve made new friends, expats as well as French ones, so we’ll stay here and give our globetrotting spirits a bit of a rest. Old friends and family are not impossibly far away and all of Europe’s splendor is at our door step.

Where is paradise? What is paradise? It’s not just a particular place full of goodies, is it? Really, how shallow do you think I am? Okay, pretty shallow, but I do know that what matters most is not the location but the people you surround yourself with, the ones you live with, the friends you laugh with. The ones who help you in case of crisis.

Living abroad in paradise

Dancing in paradise?

And the ones you dance with.

That, and a glass of wine on a terrace in the sun.

* * *

Have you found your paradise yet? Where will you live in your dotage?

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What a lovely post
I’ve been casting around myself on the same question. Hoping to live off the land in lush UK, but France is very tempting for the food and weather aspect.
How lucky we are that our planet holds so many kind options.
The point is to step out of the consumerism rat race and find a space to nourish and make flourish

Love your post! I measure a place by how comfortable i feel there. I’ve been to Bali too – loved it but like you, not so much to live there. Have a wonderful time (life!) in France 🙂

This resonates with me in every possible way. I feel so spoiled as I try to choose where we will spend the rest of our days. North Cyprus (not a country, technically, but still) has a lot of what you are looking for–it has a good sidewalk culture, and is largely unspoiled–but it’s filled with expatriates who are there for the cheap digs, not always keen to learn Turkish or sample the local delights (and the selection of cheese is fairly limited); Japan is a lovely country and full of delights, but I completely agree with Grace about the work… Read more »

Bob Evans

Karen, Hi. Just saw your post about where to live, where to find Paradise. Not too far from you now there is the town of Paradise, PA. The old joke was that lots of folks get to it through Intercourse (also in PA, only a few miles away). But seriously, you might give a thought to Brazil. For a slightly slower pace of live, avoid Rio de Janeiro, but think about Salvador de Bahia in the Northeast or Florianopolis in the South. Right now I am on a trip to your old stomping grounds – Chisinau. I will be here… Read more »

Friendly, kind people matter a great deal to me, and good health care, electricity and clean water. When it comes down to the basics, that’s the most important to me.

Karen – there’s so much to choose from, isn’t there? If we ever do move from our present tropical island – home for the past 35 years – we would NEVER buy in a new place. Rather, we would rent, so that we could move on again if we wanted, without too much effort. We’re both over 70 now, so we can’t have all that many moves ahead of us, but still: we would always keep our options open. I wrote two posts for my blog last September, called “Looking for bolt-holes”, which mentioned places we might live, in the… Read more »

Hi Miss Footloose —

By some people’s standards, I’m a rolling stone — seeing as I’ve lived in Malaysia, England, the US, Tanzania and now Hong Kong. Have to say that Hong Kong doesn’t sound like it’d be your idea of Paradise as the pace of life can be on the fast and bustling side. But I’ve been here more than 6 years now and I still really love it. Maybe I’ve finally found a place I want to settle down in! ;b

My family and I are rootless nomads too right now. We’ve lived in Dubai for seven years now and though we don’t have any intention to leave (yet), we are constantly thinking where to settle. Japan, my husband’s home country and my second home, is not an option. We don’t like the work culture (work till you die, literally, is more like it) and would prefer our children to be educated outside rather than there. Philippines (my birth country) is not an option as well. Like you, I want a slower pace of life, preferably greener where my children can… Read more »

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