Like anyone else who has moved from their home country and lived abroad for any length of time, we are often asked by family and friends back on the block:
"Is it safe?"
Perhaps it's a logical question from those who haven't lived outside the familiar surroundings of their home country. But we sometimes have to bite our tongues before we reply, "Of course it's safe ... Why in the world would we live somewhere that wasn't safe?"
Landscape of Guanajuato, Mexico
Over the last 15 years, we've done a lot of research about the best overseas locations where retirees, families, and anyone seeking an adventurous change in their lives can enjoy a high-quality lifestyle at a bargain price. We've lived in quite a few of those attractive locations ourselves.
And our own experience tells us that none are crime free -- because no place on earth is crime free.
But we can also say from personal experience that none of the places overseas we might personally consider living are any more dangerous than our hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. That's true, in fact, for every one of the seven cities, towns, and villages we've lived in throughout Latin America over the past 15 years--including the three communities we've called home in Mexico.
Mexico, by the way, is one of the most popular overseas retirement destinations. And it's one of the world's top tourist destinations. The places where tourists go...and the places where most retirees choose to live...are very safe, for the most part. Yes, crime happens, but when you take common-sense precautions, it's doubtful it will happen to you.
Medellin Skyline in Colombia
Colombia is another rising star for North American retirees. If you believe what Hollywood tells you -- or what the mainstream media tells you -- you might have some concerns. But if you should visit, you'll see why today's Colombia deserves your attention ... and why tourists are visiting in quickly growing numbers.
(Medellín -- which back in the 1980s had a very unsavory reputation -- is one of our favorite cities today. It's a true comeback kid, now referred to as the "Medellín Miracle" and a so-called "model of urban development" by The Economist.)
Of course, safety is as safety does, and we've always practiced the same common-sense precautions while living abroad that we did back in the U.S. We don't walk through dicey neighborhoods late at night -- and every city of any size anywhere in the world has dicey neighborhoods. We're careful about the taxis we take.
We don't leave our doors unlocked when we're out of the house, and we don't leave our valuables out in plain view in front of open windows or in cars. We don't pull out our wallets and count our money on the street. When we're in an unfamiliar city, we don't pull out our Smartphones or cameras without first taking a look around.
If we plan a trip or excursion, we don't advertise on Facebook pages or expat bulletin boards that we're going or how long we'll be away. In other words, we take common-sense precautions -- the same you should take anywhere in the world, no matter where you live.
Remember, also, that much of Latin America and Southeast Asia -- places that are most popular with American and Canadian retirees -- are considered to be the "developing world." (Tell that to someone living in a state-of-the-art penthouse apartment in Panama City or Cancún ... it's almost laughable.)
Still, there are some things you'll need to be aware of ... One of the factors that makes living in Latin America and much of the rest of the world so affordable is the low property taxes you'll find. This is a wonderful benefit when it comes to lowering your cost of living, but the flip side is often a generally lower level of public services than in the U.S. or Canada, including police and emergency services.
This is not necessarily a drawback ... it's just different than we're used to.
Instead of expecting to call 911 and have a policeman or paramedic at your doorstep in a matter of minutes, you'll need to take a bit more responsibility for your own safety and security. In our community here in Ecuador, for instance, neighbors watch out for one another. You will have someone to call if you have an emergency ... and your neighbors can be there faster than anyone.
The best advice when you're looking to buy or rent a home overseas is to take a cue from the locals....
Take a look around the neighborhood you might be considering living in. Talk to the neighbors and ask about any security issues. Be observant of how they live. You might see bars on doors and maybe even barbed wire atop walls and fences. This doesn't necessarily mean it's a risky locale...
Remember, it's all about taking personal responsibility. And you'll want to take these same kinds of precautions. You might want a security system. Or maybe a dog.
Plaza Grande in Merida, Mexico
You might want to live in a gated community. This is the preferred living situation for not just expats but many of the locals, in fact, from the middle class up. You'll find high-rise apartment buildings in cities with keyed entry or a doorman. In cities and towns of all sizes, you may find neighborhoods with a guard booth or gated entry of some kind ... These typically provide an additional layer of security and can make sense, especially if you plan to travel often, as we do. (We're big fans of lock-and-leave worry-free condos.)
We feel very fortunate to have never been robbed, mugged, or assaulted in our 15 years abroad. But our situation is not all that uncommon. Most of our expat friends have never had an issue. Still, just as at home, it pays to be careful and always, as we've said, exercise common sense.
After all, your health and safety is most important, and greatly affects your quality of life -- no matter where you live.
This article comes to us courtesy of InternationalLiving.com, the world's leading authority on how to live, work, invest, travel, and retire better overseas.