Retire to Guatemala?
The majority of people, at least from my experience, are not fully prepared for the eventual decisions that must be made when the realization of retirement is just around the corner.Your retirement lifestyle is based on your pre-retirement financial planning, and we all know how things have changed over the last few years.What is now, is not necessarily what it is at the moment.Property values have eroded, home equity has been depleted, interest rates are at an all-time low on savings, property taxes are increasing, and personal income tax has nowhere to go but up.The general cost of living for basic necessities such as food, gasoline, electricity and other utilities are continually increasing, and the deficit is slowing economic growth to a near standstill. More and more retirees are considering relocation to other places around the globe that can offer better retirement conditions than the US at the moment, and for the foreseeable future.
If all this makes sense to you, then let’s explore the options.
As you read on, you may think that what I am going to say is a bit biased and self-serving, but the facts come from over 23 years of experience in living abroad, and prior to my choice of the final decision of where to spend my retirement, I had several countries to consider.My choice, plain and simple, was Guatemala, and more specifically, Antigua.Here are the main reasons in the order that appealed to me.I will add some additional reasons that I personally don’t take much advantage of, but nevertheless, they are valid.
My first reason was the climate.The weather in Guatemala is without exception, perfect all year round.Here are the on line facts available for anyone to confirm.Temperature varies with altitude. The average annual temperature on the coast ranges from 25° to 30° C (77° to 86° F ); in the central highlands the average is 20° C (68° F ), and in the higher mountains 15° C (59° F ). In Guatemala City, the average January minimum is 11° C (52° F ) and the maximum 23° C (73° F ); the average minimum and maximum temperatures in July are, respectively, 16° C (61° F ) and 26° C (79° F ). The rainy season extends from May to October inland and to December along the coast, and the dry season from November (or January) to April. Because of its consistently temperate climate, Guatemala has been called the "Land of Eternal Spring."
The second reason is the cost of living.
It may be hard to imagine that you can buy locally grown fruits and vegetables all year round at prices that would amaze you in comparison to other countries. The reasons are simple. Most countries have a short growing period, so fresh produce is available only on a seasonal basis.Non seasonable produce must be imported, and generally it will come from Mexico, or Central America. There is a cost attached to this, and the consumer ultimately pays.
Produce in Guatemala is normally purchased in local markets, and sold by indigenous farmers, who bring their fresh goods to market at least twice a week. The overhead costs are next to nothing compared to other countries that sell everything in a large commercial shopping centers with up to 50 or 60 employees, most earning union wages, and benefits, and paying an enormous amount of rent for their space.Conservatively, the cost in Guatemala for produce, no more than 2 days out of the field is approx.65% less.
The attached chart is Oct. 2012 for comparison based on the US.
Other items such as eggs, based on the average US cost is 34% less, and meat and poultry is 25% to 30% less that the US average.
Reason number three is cost of housing and rental accommodation.
Certainly, Antigua is not the most economical place to rent or purchase a home, as it is a unique Colonial city dating back to the early 1500’s, and a favorite place for X pats and tourists to live and visit. There is always a strong demand for reasonably priced property.
If renting suits you better that purchasing a home, please use this link to see an example of what $800.00 a month will give you.
Purchasing a home in Guatemala is no problem for a foreigner. The law states that anyone can purchase property in Guatemala, and they have all the legal rights of a Guatemalan.Homes vary in price depending on location. The closer you are the main Central Park area, the more expensive the property. Obviously, the size of the home and the lot will dictate the price, as well as the historic value of the home.
Moving a bit out of the central area, but within walking distance, newer style homes with all the conveniences are available in the mid $200,000.00 range.
Here is a link to an example.
The further away for the central area, the lower the price. Further out can mean an 8 minute drive to downtown. In Los Angeles at rush hour, that is about the time it takes to move half a mile.Here is an example of a property 8 minutes from central Antigua that just sold for $235,000.00
Foreigners should be aware that mortgage loans are basically none existent. If you’re a foreigner, cash is generally required to purchase. In some cases, a seller may consider private financing, but they are few and far between, and a buyer would require at least 40% to 50% down payment, and generally for a short term of around 3 to 5 years. Interest rates at the banks are now around 6.75 to 7.5 percent, and private financing rates are about the same.
The fourth reason is really to answer a question that everyone asks.
Security: Guatemala is known, thanks to the exaggerations in the press, as a dangerous place to live. People getting shot, kidnapped, drug dealers running rampant, street robberies, extortion, and everything else you can imagine. By the news reports origination from the US, it seems to say that there is crime everywhere but in their own back yard?Now, here are the real facts.
Yes, people do get shot, but the ones that do get shot are normally living in slum areas and dealing drugs in their neighborhoods. The same applies to kidnapping, and other rivals are trying to drive out the independent dealers by fear. Street robberies can happen, but if your wandering in the wrong part of town (this applies to Guatemala City primarily) at the wee hours of the morning, with a little too much alcohol in your system, there is a reasonable chance you may get robbed of your cell phone and wallet.Bus drivers are always getting extorted by small gangs, and I doubt that will ever stop.
You will never encounter those types by simply staying off busses.The drug gangs who move the drugs north to Mexico and the US that make the news are nowhere close to the populated areas of Guatemala. The movement of drugs take place in remote areas that are hard to police, and are so large it is almost impossible to encounter them.In 23 years, the worst thing I have had is my car radio being stolen in a parking lot.As a point of further interest is the US Embassy in Guatemala. They are the ones who put conditions as green, yellow or red as to security. If the rating is red, they collect extra pay for the “risk” and it’s to their advantage financially to keep it in the red as much as possible.
The last reason is really a few reasons combined, but they should cover most things.
Medical: Medicare and Medicaid don’t exist in Guatemala, but there is a National Health Care system, and they will treat a foreigner free of charge. This is really a choice of last resort, as they don’t treat simple ailments.
There are several major hospitals in Guatemala, with US trained doctors, and all specialties are covered. As an example, I needed to visit an internist, who was trained in the US for a minor intestinal problem. He did a full work up, including X-ray’s, blood tests and so on, which took one and a half hours. My final bill….$52.00.
Communications: Guatemala is totally up to date with state of the art communication systems, including cellular, fixed land lines, cable TV with HD and ample English channels.
Telephone, cable and internet packages for $35.00 a month and Iphone 5 with unlimited local country calling and internet, texting etc, for $70.00 an month with the Iphone included.
Long distance calls to the US is .07 to .10 cents per minute, or Skype, Magic Jack, and Vonage work perfectly here. (Magic Jack is by far the best system)
Transportation: Although not recommended, busses in Guatemala range from first class to
“I wouldn’t get on that thing if you paid me”. If you need simple local Antigua bus transportation, you can catch a bus almost anywhere, and locally, the cost is .13 cents.
We recommend that if you live here, and not just passing through for a few months, that a car is essential. We recommend that bringing a car into the country would only be a choice if it’s something that you couldn’t live without. Import taxes for vehicles are expensive, and at the moment (Jan. 1st, 2013), no vehicles are allowed under the model year 2000.
Vehicles are not expensive to buy in Guatemala, and all the normal brands are available.
It just takes a good eye and a good negotiator to find exactly what you’re looking for.
Air Lines connections: Guatemala is serviced by most international airlines. American, Delta, Continental, Taca, Copa, Spirit and others.
As Guatemala is not an airline hub, the prices are a little higher than I think they should be, but a lot of that is the local Government airport taxes. There are the occasional deals available, but not as many as there should be, as we are a captive market.
Residency: It may seem strange, but you don’t need to apply for residency if you don’t want to.
The only condition is you must leave the country every 90 days. As Mexico is only a 4 hour drive, most people make a quick shopping trip and spend a day in Tapachula enjoying the great Mexican food and local entertainment.
If leaving every 90 days is not appealing, you can apply for residency, and you will need a confirmed and certified income statement of $1200.00 a month for a single person and $1500.00 a month for a couple. A police report from your last country of residence is required, and a local attorney can do the rest for about $600.00 and a few months waiting time.
Insurance: All forms of insurance are available. International Health Insurance, Life Insurance, car insurance, home insurance etc. Insurance is very inexpensive compared to most countries, and all conceivable risks are covered.
Here is an interesting link just published (Dec.9 2012) in the Huffington Post.
Guatemala is in the top ten best places to retire abroad.
I have tried to cover the most FAQ’s, but if there is anything specific that needs clarification, or amplification, just drop me a note at
I am always happy to help and welcome new faces to our beautiful country.