Safety in Guatemala

Q&A with a Reader

Hi guys,

I really enjoy reading your newsletter and the information in it is very informative.

My husband and I have been traveling all over Mexico for the last 3 years and really love the country!! We feel much safer there than we do in the US!!  It’s funny because of all the bad press people hear about Mexico a lot of people won’t even consider going there for a vacation.

To us that’s really sad because as you know Mexico is a big country and one just needs to stay out of certain areas like you would stay out of certain cities in the US.

That being said we have never been to Guatemala and are interested in checking it out.  Of course as you know it seems to get worst reviews in the area of safety than Mexico.  I’ve heard that violence is increasing there… Do you know if that’s true or not?  What we are really doing in our travels is looking for a place to retire.  My question is would you guys live there?

Another country we interested in is Nicaragua.  Have you guys ever been there?

Thanks so much,

Debbie

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Hi Debbie,

Thanks for taking the time to write and to let us know that you have been enjoying our newsletters. We appreciate that!

We, too, feel that Mexico is a safe country over all, and that, yes, there are some locations one could avoid to stay out of trouble, which is similar to the States, of course.

Regarding safety in Guatemala — we have been living here off and on for about 5 years now. While we have seen lots of different locations in Guatemala, we generally stay either in Antigua or at Lake Atitlan. We think that Guatemala is one of the best kept secrets in terms of a place to retire. The weather is very good (rainy season and dry/windy season), people are friendly, the cost of living is affordable, and there is good medical care available in Antigua, Xela and Lake Atitlan, with some of the best being in Guatemala City.

lake_atitlan_travel_info1

Let me just say that Guatemala City is considered dangerous and we only go there for medical care if necessary and we utilize a personal driver to take us there and back. But Antigua and the Lake area is very calm. We had no problems at all in Xela, Tikal, Flores or traveling in between them.

Take a look at our Guatemala Travel and Information page and I would certainly recommend reading our Guatemala Guide before you come down here. There is a thriving expat community in the colonial city of Antigua and a funky and fun expat community here around the lake.

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We have not yet been to Nicaragua, although we tried making it there last year. Hopefully we will get there at some point.

Feel free to write any time with questions. We are happy to recommend things to you or to answer your questions.

Wishing you all the best,

Akaisha Kaderli

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Health Information for Independent Travelers

Guest post by Vivian Harvey. Vivian has lived in Mexico for 15 years and has traveled extensively through this country as well as Costa Rica, Belize and Guatemala. She now spends four months each winter in Panajachel, Guatemala and travels with her dog, Sadie. You can find out about her educational travel seminars by going to her website.

VivianHarvyPhotoI’ve been spending the winters in Guatemala, after living in Mexico for a number of years.  For the past 20 years or so, I’ve been leading travel programs through Mexico and Central America for groups, and for each of these group travelers I insist on the completion of a health/emergency form which I keep with me until I put them safely on the plane to fly home.

But I have never filled out a similar form for myself.

Why would I?

I’m never sick, and, completely discounting the fact that I’m now 75, it never occurred to me that I would need to have this information on hand.  But last winter a couple of things happened that forced reality on me; two friends suffered what appeared to be strokes and were taken to hospital in Guatemala City (they turned out to be OK, but it was worrisome) and just before I was to fly home to Ohio, I tripped over my dog’s steps in the middle of the night, crashed to the tile floor giving myself a nasty gash on my leg and head (very bloody!), as well a concussion.

All of our books lead to adventure. Don’t miss out on yours

I realized that if I’d really hurt myself, no one in Panajachel (the town where I stay in Guatemala) would have the slightest idea about my overall health status, or how to get in touch with my sons or my doctor. They would have no knowledge of allergies I have, or what medicine I might be taking.  So I have developed what I hope is a comprehensive one-page form, with one copy in my passport holder and one to give to the hotel where I’ve stayed for years.

VivianHarvy2

Preventative action

Many friends are coming to visit me in Panajachel this winter, and I’m suggesting that they do the same. Even with friends whom I’ve known for a long time, if they become seriously ill, I don’t know the names of their doctors or how to contact their family members.  I’m sending the same information to my sons and also keeping a copy in my car with my Ohio registration.  (For the form to keep in Ohio I’m including information that my dog may be home alone; this idea comes from a friend who is equally devoted to her dog.)

What to put on the form

The things I’m suggesting should be on the form are, in addition to my name, address, phone number, passport number and birth date, are:

— Names of family members and a couple of friends at home along with email address and phone numbers

— Name of primary physician and attorney, and their phone numbers

— Allergies to food/medicine and recent immunizations, like tetanus, hepatitis, rabies, etc.

— Medicines taken regularly, including a couple of OTC ones

— Information about travel insurance companies, including policy and telephone numbers (I never had travel insurance in the past, but now I have two insurance policies which say they will cover many of the primary big ticket items if I would need to be hospitalized or (worst case) airlifted to the United States.  As with all insurance, I hope I never need it.

If you plan to do any travel in the future, having this form placed in with your passport will prevent confusion to those who may need to provide assistance to you. It will also give you comfort to know that those who care about you will be notified.

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Active Adult Communities for Retirement

I have been enjoying your newsletter and book for many years. Could I get the name of the community, state and city where you have your USA residence? I plan on checking out several places soon. I just turned 70 and am very active.

You guys are the best!

Thanks,

Frank

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Hi Frank,

Thank you for taking the time to write, we appreciate it!

For privacy sake, we don’t like to give out our personal residence address, but I have some links here that you can research to get lots of information on active adult communities. There are lots of them around, especially in the sunbelt of the US.

If you Google Active Adult Communities you will get lots of listings. For narrowing down your results, just put in a state and many will show up for that location.

On our Housing Page there are several listings for active adult communities, including Top Retirements which offers a directory of active adult communities for the nation.

Finally, you can check out our Worry Free Housing piece which – at the bottom of the article – will give you some contacts that will prove useful to you.

We recommend that before you purchase a home in one of these locations, that you go to visit in person and stay a season or two. There is no rush. You need to know if you like your neighbors, the community itself, and if it is close by the things that are important to you such as grocery stores, movie houses, an airport or anything else that might be on your list. If you can, purchase from a previous owner and you will save some money. The best time to look for houses for sale is just before the annual lifestyle fees or rent is due. For many personal reasons (illness, a death in the family, becoming elderly, not being able to afford two homes anymore, etc.) people might choose to not renew their lease and their home goes up for sale.

Another important decision to make is whether or not you want to own the property on which the home sits or if you will be comfortable owning the home and leasing the property. The difference in these two options are thousands and thousands of dollars – not just at the time of purchase, but also in the cost of annual home insurance. Find out what your maintenance responsibilities are. If you own the land, chances are that the maintenance requirements are higher. If you lease the land, often the community has a budget which pays for tree trimming, watering and so on.

Take your time. It’s exciting to be looking for a community where you might fit in and have a good time for years to come.

Good luck. I hope you find this information to be useful to you.

All the best,

Akaisha

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Retirement; Like your parents, but way cooler!

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How to Retire/Live/Travel with Only Social Security

Hi,

Your story is very inspirational.

My husband and I have traveled to many parts of the world.  I am 62 and he just turned 65.  We are real estate brokers but lost all of our assets in the real estate crash.  From reading your stories it seems like you have always had some good assets to fall back on if necessary.  Have you addressed situations like ours in any of your books, i.e., how to retire/live/travel, etc. with only social security and say $50,000 in savings?

Thanks

N.

All of our books lead to adventure. Don’t miss out on yours!

Hi N.,

Thank you for taking the time to write, we appreciate it.

Sorry to learn of your misfortune, but don’t give up hope for a satisfying retirement. We know many people who live only on their Social Security. You could do well living in Mexico, Guatemala, Thailand, Ecuador, or the Dominican Republic, for starters.

It might require some mental or emotional flexibility on your part to adjust to cultural differences, but if you have already traveled to other countries, then you are probably familiar with what cultural challenges you might face.

I would recommend a couple of things from our website. Take a look at our video, Adventures in Financial Independence. We share some personal financial information and it might be useful to you in terms of modeling your retirement.

You might also be interested in our book, The Adventurer’s Guide to Destination Choices.  In this book we compare these destinations and it could give you some insight into these locations for retirement.

Our book, Your Retirement Dream IS Possible gives an interactive spending spreadsheet which we utilize ourselves to track and monitor spending on a daily basis. If you are watching your money, this spreadsheet is invaluable.

Our Retirement Relocation Page might be useful to you also. You will find lots of links to Expat forums there along with cost of living sites.

Another page that might be helpful is our Retirement Jobs Page.

Take heart, and we wish you the best. Please feel free to write to us any time with your questions.

Sincerely,

Akaisha

 

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Digital Madness

Christopher Amoroso has been traveling and living abroad for fifteen years.  He has lived in El Salvador, South Korea, and Guatemala (where he currently resides), and has visited many other countries with countless adventures and experiences to write about.  His present hobbies include boxing, learning Korean, and finding the path to complete peace, joy and happiness, if it exists.

photo chrisI met Billy in Panajachel, Guatemala, sitting on the patio at the Kitsch Bakery wearing his trademark “RetireEarlyLifestyle.com” T-shirt.  Maybe not the prettiest item in his wardrobe, but it definitely caught my attention.  I asked him about it because, quite frankly, financially speaking, I’m screwed! (and I’m trying to get myself un-screwed!)

The situation?  I’ve got myself stuck in a third-world country with no money!

Billy’s site is all about preparing your finances AHEAD OF TIME so that early retirement and travel is PAINLESS.  Ignore his advice at your own peril!  Or, failing that, visit my future blog to figure out how to dig yourself out!

“So Billy,” I asked, “I’d like to ask you a few questions about that t-shirt of yours.”

“Of course,” he said.  He was very open to the idea.  Why else would he be wearing it?

The gist of the conversation that followed was that I, a very new digital nomad, was looking for a mentor to guide me in improving my financial situation.  More on that, later.

A digital nomad is, briefly, a person who makes his (or her) living online and uses that freedom to travel the world.  In my case, I’ll call it “Digital Madness.”

The Adventurer’s Guide to Guatemala

My current situation

I recently became a digital nomad, and having done so, refuse to look back.  I have freedom to move anywhere in Guatemala I choose, not being tied down to one location to earn money.  Only problem is, I’m not earning enough.  I need more – not as in “Keeping up with the Joneses,” but, “If I can’t pay my visa late fees, I’ll never be able to leave this country!”  Of course, I could always sneak across the border late at night, but the risk of ending up in a Mexican prison like Andrew Tahmooressi keeps me on the straight and narrow.

Here’s my story

I’ve been living in Guatemala for some time, but recently my cash started running out.  Bank accounts empty; credit cards full, and an enormous visa fee I must pay if I try to leave the country, I had to do something, and fast!  I don’t know about bar tending and wouldn’t make a good waiter, which left me with Teaching English.  With flyers in hand, I promoted my services and soon began earning some cash!

I also found a job working at a local English Academy.  I made enough to get by and even starting saving up a little for my Big Escape!  Things were looking up!

Several months later, however, it all came crashing down!

First I lost my rent-free room.  They needed it for storage.  Storage??!!  Of all the things!

Then, I lost my job at the Academy.  The Director’s new boyfriend needed work, so he got all my classes and I got the boot.

So the prospects of having to pay for rent and meals with no cash flow brought me near to panic.

My online work rescue

Fortunately, I had begun teaching a few English courses online, and there was my salvation.  Moving quickly, I contacted a friend in Korea who helped to promote my services, and soon I was teaching 16-20 hours a week to eager Korean kids who, in the words of one young student, “Didn’t want to be poor” for lack of English skills.  Soon I was earning more than enough for my basic needs, and the crisis was averted!

So I’m getting ready for my 6:00 am class, bleary-eyed and in need of some strong coffee in a town that I had grown bored of, and it occurs to me that, now that I’m working completely online, I could be doing this from anywhere!

And that’s how I became a digital nomad!

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Branching out

My first stop as a digital nomad was the famous black-sand beaches of Monterrico.  Three weeks of sun, sand and surf was a nice treat after a brush with poverty and homelessness.  A 30 minute walk separated my beach bungalow from the nearest wi-fi zone, and that early-morning walk on the breezy, ocean-sprayed beach refreshed my soul each day.

But three weeks in that hot, humid Guatemalan paradise was enough for me, so I decided to relocate to Lake Atitlan, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Learning about financial independence

That’s where I met Billy.

Wanting to help a poor fellow out, Billy suggested I start a blog – people would want to read about my experiences, he said.  Then, eventually I could turn my writing into a money-maker and that I should check out how on his website (See Retirement Jobs ).

I just might start that blog.  I’ve already written my first posting.  You’re reading it right now!  And there’s plenty more adventures to share!

So stay tuned to see how I get myself out of this jam that I’ve created for myself.  I’ve got some ideas cooking, and it shouldn’t be long before I have some results that will give me the true financial freedom that I desire to continue my life as a digital nomad.

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When All Feels Helpless, There is Something You CAN Do

Ann Hoffman-Ruffner founded Wayfinding Women, LLC after a 30 year career as a therapist and administrator for inpatient psychiatry. A lifelong advocate for women & girls, Ann is a certified Martha Beck coach and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator-Candidate. 

Ann Hoffman photoI don’t’ know about you, but lately I find myself peacefully browsing through Facebook, replaying those videos of precious puppies falling over themselves in a plump pile of puppy exhaustion.  They are so darn cute.

Then, with no warning, the next post bolts me out of my happy place like lightning through my core with some traumatic picture or tragic news.  You know the kind.  Today it was a picture from China’s Yulin dog meat festival where 10,000 dogs are being slaughtered marking the summer solstice.  The picture of a man holding a puppy by the neck breaks my heart and makes me sick inside. I know it’s a different culture but that doesn’t ease my anguish. I look at my loving and sweet Marvin Hamlisch (my fur-child, the basset hound…not the Broadway composer) sleeping next to me and tears well in my eyes.

image1I feel real pain.  I feel really helpless.

And it’s not just Facebook…you know, you get that call about a friend who has just learned they have Stage 4 Cancer.  Or you get an email that your friend’s spouse died suddenly. Oftentimes it’s the evening news where we learn about a group of people on the other side of the world that are hurting, scared and in need.

Today I learned of the death of a friend in Pakistan due to power cuts and extreme heat.  More than 700 have died from the heat so far.  If I could, I’d bring every one into my house that has air conditioning; I’d take them fans, I’d bring them ice water. But I can’t.  I feel helpless.

These are times when we need to have a way to not feel helpless.  We need a way of DOING, of making it better, even when we can’t change the outcome.

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When we feel helpless, we are not without power. We have incredible power…energy within each of us, toward love and compassion. We see it when we are with someone we care for and our loving energy provides calm and comfort.  What’s best is that we don’t have to be in the same location for the other being to feel this.  You KNOW what I’m talking about.  That’s why there are prayer chains and peace vigils.  Our energy makes a difference.  We may not be able to stop bad things from happening, but we can change the energy for those involved.

The practice is called LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION. There are many excellent articles describing the practice and the science behind it, but this is the meditation that I used today for those animals in China and all people who are suffering in this world right now.

While you may not be able to stop what is happening, you can change the experience for those involved and yourself, allowing yourself to be freed from helplessness in order to use your energy for the higher good.

Ready? Let’s do it….

Find a moment of quiet in yourself and be still. Focus first on the loving kindness for yourself (remember, airplane oxygen masks-put it on yourself first) And quietly and slowly say:

May I be happy.

May I be well.

May I be safe.

May I be peaceful and at ease.

While you say these phrases, allow yourself to sink into the intentions they express. If feelings of warmth, or love arise in your body or mind, connect to them, allowing them to grow as you repeat the phrases. To aid the meditation, you might hold an image of yourself in your mind’s eye. This helps reinforce the intentions expressed in the phrases.

Then when you are ready, connect to the visual of those in need of peace and freedom from suffering. Focusing on the peace instead of the pain, say the following-

I care about this pain;

I care about the pain in the world.

May all beings be free of suffering and all the causes of suffering.

May all beings feel comforted, supported, and cared for,

May all beings be surrounded with peace,

May all feel only peace.

May we all feel only peace.

 

Other articles by this author:

Retirement for Women: A Perfect Recipe for a Midlife Meltdown

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More Conversation on Getting Out of the Rat Race

Maree’s specific advice to Peter about Getting Out of the Rat Race really hit me.

Billy and Akaisha, I’ve written you before about my retirement thoughts being similar to yours (although my “early” retirement was at 55). But Maree’s comments were spot on — if you can retire, just do it.

Ten years after I retired, the unexpected hit — the heart attack. But first I had ten great years of retirement (low budget, tracking expenses, and so on…) The amazing thing is that I lived — triple bypass. The widow-maker artery and another major artery were totally (100%) blocked. There was also more blockage.

Do not let Fear make your decisions for you. Risk has a price and so does security.

Two years later, I’ve recovered, I’m fine. I have more years and will continue to enjoy my retirement. As my cardiologist recently told me, “just keep doing whatever you’re doing”.

If I had not retired, I fully expect the attack would have been much earlier and that I would probably not have lived. But I got out of the Rat Race.

If you can retire but just can’t make the decision, you might want to consider my story.

Rich

Hi Rich,

Thanks for sharing your story with us. Congratulations on your good health and for enjoying your retirement!

Stay well,

Akaisha

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Retired But Got the Blues? How Can that Be?!

Steve and Lynn Miller built a software company and retired 10 years later at 50 years old. They travel extensively and chronicle those travels on their blog. Steve also develops mobile apps in his spare time.

Photo 1aTime flies.

It’s been 3 years since I said goodbye to the corporate life and a twice monthly paycheck. My wife and I had a dream. We wanted to retire by the time our kids went off to college so that we could travel and enjoy life while we were still young and energized.

So how did we do it?

We built a software business with personal savings of $10,000 and sold it 10 years later. It wasn’t easy. It had its ups and downs. Months when we didn’t know how we would make payroll and flying high after landing a large account that could sustain us for months in the future.

In the end, we exceeded our own expectations. 3 years prior to our kids graduating high school, we got the call from a larger company that saw value in acquiring our product line. Shortly after, I said sayonara to the daily grind.

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After 3 years of retirement, it’s time to reflect and share with you lessons I’ve learned.

  1. Early Retirement Conjures Up Unexpected Emotions

Literally the month after we retired, we saw our boys off to college and began traveling. Starting in Canada, we visited the maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edwards Island.

Photo 1

We then made our way to the Galapagos Islands, Machu Picchu and the Bahamas. We saw extraordinary things. We watched a tortoise painstakingly dig a hole for her eggs.

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We saw the handiwork of the Incas, appreciating the architecture and incredible surroundings of a civilization that’s now long gone.

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And we watched professional divers ascend into Dean’s Blue Hole not to come up again for 5 minutes.

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After returning from this incredible 3 month trip, something weird happened. We started settling into our retired life and I began to feel sad. Before I retired, my employees and peers needed me. They were constantly asking for advice, calling and texting for help and now the phone was silent.

I began to mope around and waste my days fretting about what was next in life. Had I made a huge mistake by retiring early?

Not sure you can retire? Get answers here

  1. Boredom is Self-Inflicted

After a few weeks of licking my wounds, I read about this phenomenon known as “retirement depression”. It is common for new retirees to go through this because they are left with lots of time to reminisce about the days when their schedules were full and others depended on them.

After a bit of self-reflection, I came to realize that these feelings were driven by boredom. After working really hard all those years to retire early, I needed to get out and enjoy hobbies that I never had time for before.

I found all kinds of new hobbies. I began golfing, working on photography, cycling, hiking, boating, fishing, and blogging. A few weeks later, I couldn’t figure out how I ever worked because my days were so full with things I enjoyed. Depression was fleeting, I was now enjoying life more than ever.

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  1. Traveling provides a World of Amazement

Since retiring, we’ve enjoyed some incredible travels. After our first 3 month trip, we spent an entire summer traveling the western United States. We started in the Grand Tetons and went on to visit California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. We capped that summer trip off with an Alaskan cruise.

Photo 6Photo 7Photo 8Photo 9Photo 10Last summer, we took our youngest (college aged) son to Europe. We built our itinerary around the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain and capped off the trip in the Italian Riviera. We also visited Paris and Portugal.

Photo 11Photo 12As much as we’ve traveled, you would think we had seen it all. Not true, every new place we visit amazes us with something we’ve never encountered before.

  1. You can still Fuel your Entrepreneurial Spirit after Retirement

Even though I retired early, I truly loved building my last company. It never really felt like work — it was fun, intellectually stimulating and invigorating. You don’t have to give up that feeling when you retire. You can choose to challenge yourself by starting a new business, a blog or working on pet projects.

I’ve recently done just that. I wanted to learn more about mobile app development so I started a project to develop an iPhone app. Since I love to travel, I built an app to provide peace of mind when traveling. It tracks things that are easy to forget (passwords, passport numbers, banking information, software licenses, etc.). I called the app aMemoryJog because it does just that – it securely tracks things that are easy to forget.

Developing this app was not about making money. It was about doing something that stimulates me intellectually and provides an outlet for my entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve enjoyed it so much, I’m working on my next app. It will be called Count Us Down and will allow you to count down the days to your next big event (like a vacation or even retirement).

Photo 13

  1. Volunteering yields a Great Sense of Satisfaction

My wife motivated me to begin volunteering. She has volunteered for many years and genuinely enjoys helping others. Based on her example, I started volunteering last year with Habitat for Humanity (HFH). HFH builds homes for low income families and each family must contribute a significant number of hours helping to build their home or help build one for another family.

I belong to the Walton County Florida chapter and last year we renovated 1 home for a family and built 2 homes from scratch. Not only is volunteering incredibly satisfying, you get to know the family you are building for and you understand the how important it is for them.

Photo 14Conclusion

Retirement is just another phase of life. Don’t over analyze it. Embrace new hobbies, travel to new places, experience other cultures, stimulate your intellect and enjoy life — you’ve earned it!

For information on Volunteering Opportunities around the world, click here

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U.S. Expats – College Planning

Guest post by John Ohe, IRS Enrolled Agent and chartered Financial Analyst.

John Ohe 1You got kids. They may be small now, but before you know it, they’re off to college. Unfortunately, the cost of a university degree in the United States has become incredibly daunting. Therefore, planning for college expenses is imperative, and getting an early start provides an absolute advantage.

According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for a private university in the United States is slightly over $30,000 per year (excluding room and board). Public schools are more affordable, but still clock in at over $22,000 per year (out-of-state tuition). Furthermore, every year the cost of tuition increases at a rate much higher than inflation.

In this article, we discuss 529 plans for U.S. expats. A 529 plan is basically a savings account established for the purpose of funding a college education. There are two types of 529 plans; however, the main ones are sponsored by individual States.

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Why are 529 plans great? From a tax advantage, there are clear advantages. Account balances grow tax deferred. And when the proceeds are used to pay for qualified college expenses, there are no tax consequences. So if you can afford to save for college, a 529 plan is a fantastic vehicle for doing so.

529 Plan – Basics You Should Know

Purpose
• To fund a child’s college education
• If the child beneficiary does not attend college, then the funds can be used to pay for another family member’s college expenses (e.g., a sibling)

Maximum Contribution
• Up to $14K per child (without triggering gift tax)

Tax Benefits
• No tax deductions on federal return; however, possible on State return
• Earnings grow tax deferred
• No tax on distribution (for qualified college expenses)

For U.S. citizens living abroad, setting up a 529 plan can be slightly tricky. That is because many expats do not have residency in a particular state. In these cases, we recommend establishing a 529 plan with Vanguard (one of the largest mutual fund companies in the world). Vanguard 529 College Savings Plans are sponsored by the State of Nevada, but is open to any investor. Vanguard is renowned for its low fee structure, so more of your money goes toward covering college expenses. For more information, go to: https://investor.vanguard.com/what-we-offer/college/overview .

Other articles by this Author

FATCA – Practical Guide

Free Money From the IRS – Child Tax Credit

U.S. Expat Taxes – An Introduction

Buying and Selling Real Estate (Foreign or Domestic) from a Tax Perspective

This article was written by John Ohe (IRS Enrolled Agent and Chartered Financial Analyst). John is a partner at Hola Expat, which specializes in preparing tax returns for U.S. expats. If you would like to submit a tax-related question, email: info@holaexpat.com.

Disclaimer: The answers provided in this article are for general information, and should not be construed as personal tax advice. Tax laws and regulations change frequently, and their application can vary widely based on the specific facts and circumstances involved.

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