11/27/2013 05:12 am ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

Retirement In This Caribbean Paradise Is Easy, Well-Appointed, And Supremely Affordable

The Dominican Republic is an internationally popular all-inclusive resort destination that sees big volumes of tourists every year, thanks to its miles of sandy beaches and balmy temperatures. It's also, though, a top Caribbean choice for the would-be foreign retiree and holiday home-buyer. All that tourist infrastructure amounts to an extensive network of businesses and services that the expat can easily plug into. As a retiree on this island, you have many more choices for the kinds of services and amenities you might be looking for than you'll typically find elsewhere in this part of the world.

Expats have been coming to the Dominican Republic, starting businesses and launching services geared toward their fellow foreign residents, for three decades. In the Samana peninsula, for example, on the Dominican Republic's northeast coast, French and Italian food brands line the shelves of the expat-run specialty grocery stores, and signs for businesses are in English, French, Italian, and Spanish. Foreigners do not get curious looks, because there are so many of them. The locals have enjoyed friendly relations with these settlers for a long time.

The town of Las Terenas boasts the country's first drive-through bar and restaurant, owned and operated by a U.S. expat. Yes, drive-through bar. You pull up and order a cheeseburger and a beer to go. Your lunch is delivered to you in your car, and you continue on your way. When a need or market niche appears, an expat steps up to open a business to fill it. U.S., Canadian, French, and Italian expats run hotels, restaurants, cafes, and real estate offices throughout the country. A French doctor opened a medical practice to treat the thousands of French-speaking expats on the island. This is an entrepreneur's playground and a tax haven. As a foreign resident in the Dominican Republic, you pay no tax on money earned outside the country, not even on money remitted to the country for your living expenses.

Not every retiree would be happy in this tourism-based culture, but life in the Dominican Republic has a great deal to recommend it, including its low cost. This is one of the most affordable lifestyle choices in the Caribbean, and the cost of real estate can be a tremendous bargain, as this country was hit hard by the downturn of 2008/2009. Property values are way, way down, construction companies have laid off workers, and real estate agencies have closed their doors. If you are a buyer with cash, you can almost name your price.

What could you buy? How about a brand-new, one-bedroom apartment about a five-minute walk from a Caribbean beach for $100,000 or less. You can also find multi-million-dollar properties, and, again, these can be a bargain compared with the cost of similar properties in other Caribbean markets. In general, a couple could probably live comfortably in the Dominican Republic on $1,500 a month.

Punta Cana is the Dominican Republic's most developed resort area. Puerto Plata, on the north coast, is probably the most developed area for both tourists and retirees. Most appealing, though, I'd say, is the Samana Peninsula. Here you have thousands of expats onshore and, in the water off the coast here, thousands of breeding humpback whales. It's a unique spot. It's also a little off the beaten path. You have to fly from the capital of Santo Domingo or drive the toll road, which is beautiful but takes about two hours.

The Dominican Republic is easily accessible, especially from the East Coast of the United States. Gaining full-time legal foreign residency is a straightforward proposition. You simply apply for provisional residency and then deposit the equivalent of $15,000 in a Dominican bank. After one year, you are granted full residency.

Downsides to retirement on this unsung Caribbean island? Despite the established expat communities and the products and services they provide, this is a Third World country with Third World problems. It's also a Caribbean island in the hurricane zone.

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