Chris Smith Interview
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
Chris purchased our book several years ago, and we finally met him in person in Chapala, Mexico last year. Creative, eccentric, generous and with a heart of gold, Chris allowed us to interview him and he shares his sense of humor and retirement approach below.
REL: Chris, could you tell us a little about yourself? What was your background before you retired?
Chris Smith: I am a retired Neonatal caregiver. I hold 3 Registry level credentials and a clinical certification in prenatal pediatrics. This involved strange machines, exotic gases, and I had a personal lab.
I´d been in the Marine Corps Reserves in my early 20´s for a few years after being involved with doing light shows for rock bands such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart and The Yardbirds.
My passions were always offbeat; rodeo arena sports like knife throwing, axe hurling and whip cracking. Breaking the sound barrier with an unpowered kinetic tool in your hand only feet or inches from yourself is plain exciting. I could take an apple off a tree or snuff candle flames.
Chris, Che and a cigar in Argentina
REL: How long have you been retired and what motivated you?
CS: I retired 4, going on 5 years ago. I divorced and tendered my resignation at the job. I was motivated by the sudden downgrade in finances, and at times there was an absence of funds immediately on retirement.
Hunger renders you a more creative person but is to be avoided.
REL: What has been your greatest challenge in pursuing Early Retirement? Your biggest lesson?
CS: Thinking you can´t retire.
If you work for an employer and are vested in a Pension plan or retirement package, whether or not if you are unionized - never mention to anyone you are seeking retirement.
In my case, my employer lied and flatly denied any possibility of my retirement and made a “Pension grab” attempt.
I checked directly with my retirement office and found out I was being bluffed. My office declared flatly that I could have retired 5 years earlier. A couple days later my scribbled resignation was left on the not-so Super’s desk and I was out the door.
Then I bought a ticket to Guatemala and I have lived in Latin America ever since – a lifestyle a hundred times richer, more fulfilled, and I'm totally engaged in my life after a calamitous exit from a long career and marriage.
The Universe conspires so keep the faith. Life gets much better.
REL: Do you have any advice for someone looking to do the same?
CS: I suggest paying all travel expenses a month before you travel - the 1st month is always painful if it includes BOTH the plane tickets and the extra cost of setting up a new domicile.
Spread the costs out between multiple periods of financial solvency, like after banking the majority of a couple checks. Then your moves will be smooth and you can pride yourself on your foresight allowing yourself some dignity. You show that you´re important to yourself.
Chris travels the world seeking the best hot springs
REL: What do you like most about being early retired? Least?
CS: It’s just so COOL!
I live abroad, on the Beaches, on the Amazon, in the Andes, a Caribbean island, the Pampas or inside or in between volcanoes. I guess for a few years longer I will reside in South America, though previously I have lived in Mexico and the Central American countries, especially Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama.
I don´t like visa runs all that much.
I confess I don´t consider myself a traveler so much as being an economic refugee. I would find it hard to live in my own country and certainly feel constrained and bored there. That’s no way to live. I just move as I wanted or needed pursuant to immigration controls on my Passport. I´d rather just unpack my bags and go local, especially when you see some of these places.
REL: What style of retirement are you creating? Do you have goals?
CS: Travel centered - new cultures, new friends, get a lot of massages… Life is never boring.
REL: We understand you are in the process of gaining a retirement visa for residency in Ecuador. Can you go through the process and expenses involved? Is it easy to obtain a residency visa in Ecuador?
CS: I procured a lawyer, a woman who had previously worked in Immigration. The legal cost is $1,000USD with $550USD in fees. I am paying in installments. This service basically walks you to the heads of lines in various government agencies and you get your visa “certified” resulting in your first impressive document. For my Pensionado Visa I need to have a letter certifying that I have an ongoing income of $800USD/month, either from Social Security or a pension plan office, a Government agency, annuity, etc.
You also need a Police Report from the last place you lived. Mine has an online form which I printed, filled out and authorized a $10 payment and then it’s either mailed or faxed back. The documents all need to be translated into Spanish -- the lawyer can handle this – and they need to be stamped by the Ecuadoran embassy in your home country. For me this was Washington, DC.
The documents get returned to you after processing. I´m in Ecuador, so they will go to Quito, which is the only place in Ecuador to file. However, you CAN apply in your Home country. You also need 2 photos. Then, there are more lines to be pushed through and I will receive a “Censo,” an ID card followed by my shiny new ”Cedula” card, my permanent visa.
New residency visa holders are required to remain in Ecuador for 9 months total
for the first two years. Thereafter to keep the visa active I need to return
every 18 months. Student visas (good for 6 months) and Investor visas (invest
$25,000USD) are also possible.
REL: Why did you choose Ecuador as compared to Mexico, Guatemala or another country?
CS: Ecuador defines diversity, it´s very affordable, beautiful, and generally awesome.
Guatemala and Mexico are too, but sometimes I feel at home or at least find myself returning often to a place, and Ecuador is that place for me. Mexico is more expensive and Guatemala is about on par with Ecuador price wise. So is Thailand, relatively speaking. Guatemala and Mexico have more violence, it seems to me. I´d live in these places sometimes, but I´m picking Ecuador. I have noticed an amazing number of synchronicities for me here.
I’m thanking my lucky stars.
REL: How about the cost of living there? Can you give us some examples of costs?
CS: Low-cost living (not caveman rock-bottom but a quality lifestyle), and wanting for nothing all the while watching an improving bank balance has driven me to Ecuador. To me, it’s a “greener Guatemala” but with better infrastructure and the same economic price range.
In either Ecuador or Guatemala I pay a $150USD/month rent and find food to be low priced in the restaurants and mercados where I shop. I don´t pay extra for Cable TV or WiFi - which I have in my hotel/studio apartment.
I can live for $500USD/month, though I like to splurge sometimes so this number is higher, depending on my spending discipline (or lack of it.) Breakfast, when not in my room (I used an immersion heater today in a water pitcher to boil 2 eggs and hot water for coffee and my oatmeal) costs $1.50-$3, lunch $2.50 and dinner $5-$8. Trout, the most plentiful wild animal, costs $4-$7, and Guinea Pig or “Cuy” is $1.80. These are the specialties in my Andean community.
I dine on Vegan food regularly for $4-$5. Occasionally I get roast pig with red peppers in its ears, chorizo hotdogs sticking out his snout and an apple or tomato in his mouth for $1.50-$2.50. This price is for a big plate with salad, rice and potato or yucca root, sliced avocado, the pork and a piece of crackling atop and a drink. Chicken soup (with a big piece of Chicken) is $1.50, a meal in itself and with a blackberry smoothie it’s $1 more.
There are tailors to fix or alter your clothes for 50 cents or a dollar. Laundry washed, dried and folded is $1/Kg. Taxi´s are cheap (I usually walk anyway) and have cost me 75 cents to $1.25. City buses cost a quarter and inter-city buses cost $2-$4. From Baños - my hot spring and waterfall town - to Quito, the Capital, costs $3.50.
I yam who I yam and that's who I yam
Adventure travel operators basically rule my town - an aluminum mountain bike (which you can ride 6-7 hrs down off the Andes into the upper Amazon basin costs $5 (both you and the bike can both go back up the mountains on a bus for $2). Bungee jumping costs about $20 off the bridge behind the bus station or down the gorge farther at another set of bridges. You can go trekking, trout fishing or rent a go-cart vehicle with a roll bar and tool around all the local streets and even the highway without restriction, seeing a long succession of waterfalls, go zip-lining across a river canyon, take a gondola over a gigantic double falls ($1.50) go rock climbing, paragliding or to any of the 5 or so hot and warm springs ($2-$3.50) after river rafting ($20). It´s a carnival ride.
REL: Where have you traveled?
CS: I have traveled to Canada, The States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and a small taste of Brazil. Mostly I have done Western Hemisphere living and right now I reside in Latin America. I have no more passport pages left and I either need to apply for more pages or get a new passport, and that leads to my needing a permanent residence.
Legal status is important and I´m not going anywhere without more passport pages.
REL: Do you get lonely traveling solo?
CS: I don’t get lonely when I’m traveling, it’s just when I get off the road someplace for awhile and find myself alone. Then I go out and make friends.
REL: Do you have a home base that you return to?
CS: These are my favorite places and the ones which I use as home bases:
Baja California both north and south, and Guanajuato in Mexico
Boquete and Bocas, Panama
Medellin and Cali, Colombia
Iquitos and Huaraz, Peru
In Argentina I stay in various places in the petit Sierra´s de Cordoba (such as Capilla del Monte and La Falda), El Bolson and Bariloche in Patagonia, Salta and Jujuy in the north and Buenos Aires (San Telmo and Palermo Soho).
World travelers Chris and Akaisha in Chapala, Mexico
REL: What do you do about transportation? Do you own a car?
CS: I have not owned a car for 5 years. I occasional buy a bicycle and gift it out when I change countries. I might buy a motorcycle, who knows?
REL: What do you do about healthcare?
CS: I pay out of pocket. It´s cheap and - like anywhere - you look and see who your health providers will be. Overall, I’m as happy with the care I have received as I am in my original country. Sometimes I’m in awe. The facilities are excellent and better run than in my home country. I worked in Healthcare for 35 years and I know what I am looking at.
Prescription glasses are less than I paid in the States, even with my optical insurance. Finding an ophthalmologist for a proper eye test can be a chore - most glasses are fitted with very simple testing by Opticians and optical quality and improper prescriptions can yield varying results. Cheap reading magnifier glasses may be better in quality at times and worth investigating for their greatly lower price, lenses and frames. For that matter finding socks in my size may have been a bigger problem for me in the last couple of years.
REL: How do you manage your finances on the road?
CS: The Zen Master Suzuki Roshi once told me to “Live on a third of your income. Save a third and just blow the rest." This is the best system!
REL: Can you share with us anything about your portfolio? Did the market declines affect your retirement nest egg?
CS: I have a hospital pension and have taken my Social Security early at age 62. It´s a fixed income and hasn´t varied. I use a couple of ATM debit cards on my Credit Union in the States where my checks are direct deposited. I use one debit card and store away the other to use in case my first one becomes inactivated or lost. Both cards draw on the same checking account but have different numbers for secure access. I maintain a personal relationship with a person in my Bank “back home” where I never set foot.
REL: What do you budget annually for your retirement?
My accounts go up and down depending on the country where I am living and my spending varies if I am dating at the time.
Being happy and comfortable is my whole game plan. My Personal Energy budget is the most important to me. Taking care of my health is cheap. The gym here is $1/day and sit ups, stretches and pushups at home are free. Walking, hiking and carrying a backpack around are not to be underestimated as a longevity secret.
REL: Share with us your best money-saving secret
CS: Travel slowly, even imperceptibly at times. Traveling rapidly is expensive and you seldom see things in depth. Rent month-to-month at a low relative cost to your income (ask what other “lifer's” rent for and pay that). For an honest, solid deal, avoid contracts and security deposits and the like. Always get a receipt at the time you pay. Without a receipt you have no recourse if the Landlord just ups your rent for some nebulous charge or if he just stops water, power, TV/Internet services or the like. You can take the receipt to the Municipal authority and they will back you and your problem will be solved.
Don’t acquire consumer debt – in fact have no debts at all - or at least work them down to eliminate them. It is always cheaper to become a Vegetarian when money is short.
Eliminate work because this is the root of all evil.
REL: What is a typical day for you?
CS: I roll out of bed, do my sit ups and pushups along with yoga stretches, and occasionally transcendental meditation. Then I cook breakfast or visit a restaurant. I have my favorite restaurants for each meal or I can make a good basic breakfast. I often eat lunch at the mercado, which is a giant food court. I’ll take a coffee at a lady friend´s espresso bar and then maybe do an adventure, like a trip to the hot spring.
I’m home for a siesta, maybe I’ll read a book, watch television or a movie on my laptop. I’m out again for dinner and then a stop at the microbrewery. Home to bed - usually around 9 pm, though I could go clubbing and it gets pretty good around here.
REL: Tell us about your greatest personal success, not necessarily finance related.
CS: I once told a dirty joke to Groucho Marx (that´s #1), I did CPR in Carole King´s cabin in Idaho (amusing story), I talked to Janis Joplin once and met her band, rubbed elbows with Frank Zappa frequently. Found a crashed airplane full of Weed. Saw Dylan when he had just gone Electric but was still playing Folk. I had a couple dates with one of Jim Morrison´s girlfriends and had a fling with a sister of a Grateful Dead band member. David Caradine once stared me down. I am gaining a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit. I am helping to build a home for another. I love it that I have touched people’s lives, and I think about those whose lives I´ve saved. Being in the medical field is like that. I enjoy having friendly relations with other species. Having a son is very meaningful. I am grateful for never drowning, falling off a cliff, being struck by lightning or mugged.
Chris hangs loose in a tropical paradise
REL: What are your greatest passions in life?
CS: Hotsprings, mountains, pretty women, entheogens. Being in the Game. Hey!
REL: Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now? Still in Banos?
CS: I don’t have a clue other than returning to Ecuador every 18 months to keep my resident pensionado visa current. I have a big map in my head and feel an imperative to cover the destinations on it. Ecuador itself is serious work with a topography so varied, Alpine to Amazon, islands and beaches and most of the earth´s species, animal and plant. Of birds alone, there are over 500 species here. This is true exotic adventure travel - so very scenic and so cheap.
REL: Where are you going next?
CS: I want to look up a nearby crater lake with some hot springs adjacent to it. The lake is inside a volcano in a very alpine environment. The local volcano is erupting periodically here and you can watch the lava melt glacier after dark, if the cloud cover and volcanic ash permit viewing.
I want to be in Iquitos, Peru, in July this year for the 8th annual Amazon Shamanic Conference, then to Guatemala for the “End of the World” in December.
I want to get to Cali and Medellin, Colombia to learn to dance Salsa and maybe go to Panama because it´s there. I have always wanted to live in Katmandu, Bali, Thailand, Vietnam, The Philippines and in mountainous Southern China. Then there´s New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii. That would take a good year or 3.
I just have a big map in my head and I take side trips and go to unexpected places. Go there, move in.
We'd like to thank Chris for his time and generosity in answering all our questions.
About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.
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