"For years, my husband and I talked about the idea of doing something new and different in retirement," explains Nancy Kiernan, "of moving to a new country where we could create a whole new life. Each year, as we struggled through another Maine winter, we'd daydream about starting over someplace where we'd never had to deal with snow and ice again."
But their discussions, Nancy remembered, always contained a number of telling phrases:
"Wouldn't it be nice..."
"Maybe after... after we've saved more money... after we're able to sell the house..."
Their daughter spotted the problem. "You guys are never going to do it," she told them, "not really."
"Our daughter was so confident in her position," Nancy says, "that it stopped us. What did she know that we didn't, we wondered. So we asked her.
"You're never going to do this," she told us, "because you haven't decided you're going to do it. You're talking about how maybe someday you'll make a move, if, if, if... but you haven't decided that you're going to do this no matter what. I know you guys. That means you're not really going to do it."
Nancy and Mike realized that their daughter's insight was the most critical one of all, and, finally, they made their decision. They weren't going to think about retiring overseas anymore. They were going to retire overseas.
"I see that now as the first step in this process," Nancy says. "Now that we've made the move, I see five steps in total, as follows:
Step #1: Decide
Step #2: Research
Step #3: Plan (with contingencies, because nothing is going to go as you plan)
Step #4: Test (put your boots on the ground)
Step #5: Plunge
"Steps 2 and 3 depend on understanding what you want. You have to make a list. What do you want your new life to look like? What's important to you?
"We made our list, and it led us to think that four countries in particular might be what we were looking for -- Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Uruguay.
"We proceeded to Step #4 by planning an extended trip that would allow us to spend time in each of those four countries. We started in Ecuador, where we realized something pretty quick. That country wasn't for us. It was more Third World than we wanted. However, on that trip to Ecuador, we met another American who'd retired to Latin America years earlier. We told him our plan, explained what we were looking for, and he made a recommendation. Go look at Colombia, he told us, specifically Medellin.
"So we adjusted our plan and, rather than moving on to Panama, Costa Rica, or Uruguay, we hopped a plane to Medellin. We intended to stay two weeks but ended up staying for two months. In those two months, we fell in love. This city was everything we were looking for. We rented an apartment for a year and started shopping for a place of our own. Now here we are, about a year-and-a-half later, in a place of our own in a city we love more every day."
Today, Nancy and Mike are well installed in their completely remodeled home, which features a large terrace perfectly positioned for watching the sunset each evening.
"Vine...vi...y me quedé," proclaims Nancy today, proudly. "I came...I saw...and I stayed."
Of course, the move wasn't quite as easy as that simple declaration might suggest. Nancy and Mike had to disregard and overcome a number of outdated stereotypes and resistance from their family and friends in the States. They were warned about drug lords, kidnappings, and the dangers for women overseas, especially in a city like Medellin, Colombia!
There were legitimate obstacles, too. Neither Nancy nor Mike spoke Spanish when they made their decision to relocate to Medellin. But the couple ignored the stereotypes and tackled the practical hurdles with determination.
Today, Nancy and Mike are officially residents of Medellin, installed in their completely remodeled home, which features a large terrace perfectly positioned for watching the sunset each evening. They've embraced their new lives completely. Nancy's Spanish is quite good. Mike's had less time to study, but that doesn't stop him from engaging most anyone in conversation. The couple has an active social life.
The big hurdles are behind them. Now their biggest decision each day is determining which wine to enjoy while watching the sunset.
Tennessee's cost of living is the second lowest in the country, just behind Oklahoma, according to data collected from the Council for Community and Economic Research. And the Tax Foundation puts Tennessee's state and local tax burden as the third lowest in the nation. Tennessee also ranked among the best in the country for access to medical care, and its weather is warmer than average.
Besides jazz and beignets, Louisiana offers retirees an excellent combination of low taxes (the Tax Foundation ranks it as the fourth lowest in the nation) and balmy weather. Louisiana has a 30-year average temperature -- that includes both winter lows and summer highs -- of 66.7 degrees. That's higher than every other state except Hawaii and Florida. It also has better-than-average access to medical care and a relatively low cost of living. One major knock on Louisiana, however, is a crime rate that's among the highest in the nation. The FBI says there are 4,244 property and violent crimes per 100,000 people in Louisiana.
The Mount Rushmore State may not be on many retirement wish lists, but it should be. What it lacks in warmth, it makes up for in a variety of ways. South Dakota has the lowest crime rate in the nation. The Tax Foundation also says South Dakota residents have an estimated state and local tax burden of 7.6 percent, which is lower than every other state except Alaska. Its temperatures are on the chilly side, with a 30-year average of 46 degrees -- about the same as New York and Colorado.
One of the strongest benefits that Kentucky offers retirees is an extremely low cost of living. The Council for Community and Economic Research, or CCER, which collects data on the relative costs of groceries, housing, utilities, transportation and health care in communities across the U.S., found that retirees in Kentucky are paying less than many of their counterparts across the country. Bankrate, which analyzed CCER's data, found that Kentucky boasts the fifth-lowest cost of living in the nation. The Bluegrass State also has warmer-than-average temperatures and a crime rate that's slightly lower than average.
The Magnolia State is not just one of the warmest in the U.S., it also has relatively low state and local taxes and a lower-than-average cost of living. Those factors make Mississippi an accommodating place for retirees, even though its crime rate is a little higher than average. It also has only 178 doctors per 100,000 people -- one of the lowest physician-to-resident ratios in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Virginia isn't just for lovers. It's for seniors looking for an all-around good place to settle down. The Old Dominion is better than average in most categories that Bankrate considered, including cost of living, warmer temperatures and access to physicians. With only 2,446 property and violent crimes per 100,000 people, Virginia has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. Throw all of that in with Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, Colonial Williamsburg, the Blue Ridge Parkway and other gems, and you have one of the best states in the U.S. for retirees.
Retire in the heart of Appalachian coal country? Absolutely. West Virginia ranks No. 7 on Bankrate's list of great retirement states for three main reasons: It has a lower-than-average cost of living, boasts a lower-than-average crime rate, and residents also have better access to hospital beds than the national average. And then there are the intangibles: The mountain ridges that ripple across the state are home to countless trout streams and hiking trails; its vistas look like something sketched by Thomas Kinkade; and temperatures are right in the middle range for U.S. states. Last year, temperatures in Charleston, West Virginia, ranged between a low of 12 and a high of 103 degrees Fahrenheit, and the 30-year state average is about 52 degrees.
Home of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Alabama boasts a trio of benefits that retirees may find alluring. It has some of the lowest local and state taxes in the nation. Its cost of living also is relatively low, especially for a Gulf Coast state. And its temperatures are among the warmest in the U.S.: Its average annual temperature of 63 degrees compares favorably to the national average, which is more than 10 degrees lower. However, Alabama has relatively high crime rates, with 4,026 property and violent crimes per 100,000 people (compared to the national average of 3,253). And access to medical care isn't as good as the national average.
The Cornhusker State ranks at No. 9 on Bankrate's best list for several reasons. Nebraska residents have excellent access to hospital beds, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and FBI statistics show that its crime rate is slightly lower than average. Its cost of living also is one of the lowest in the country, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research, which tracks the cost of groceries, housing, utilities, transportation and health care in most major U.S. cities. The state and local tax burden is near the national average at 9.7 percent, according to the Tax Foundation. And its 30-year average temperature is about 49.2 degrees, which is colder than the national average.
Yes, it's frigid there. The 30-year average annual temperature in North Dakota is around 41 degrees, making it the coldest state in the continental U.S. If you can handle the cold, North Dakota could be an excellent place to settle down. Consider its access to hospital care. There are five beds available for every 1,000 people in the state, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That's tied for second-best in the country. North Dakota also has the second-lowest crime rate in the nation, and the state and local tax burden, which takes into account income, sales, property and other taxes, is at a relatively mild 8.9 percent of income.