John and Susan Pazera
John and Susan Pazera in Columbia. @latitudeadjustmentblog via Instagram

John and Susan Pazera's dream of early retirement seemed out of reach while living in the United States, where the average retirement age is 65 for men and 63 for women. Faced with the high cost of living, healthcare expenses, and the general financial strain of staying in the US, they knew they needed a different approach.

Their journey took a transformative turn when they decided to relocate to South America. At the age of 59, both John and Susan retired and now enjoy a rent-free lifestyle in Colombia. Their inspiring journey from the high costs of the US to the vibrant, affordable life in Colombia offers a compelling blueprint for others considering a similar path.

Moving to Colombia

At 68 and 64 years old, respectively, John and Susan were seasoned sailors. Their love for adventure had taken them on numerous sailing expeditions, but a three-year career break in 2001 truly opened their eyes to new possibilities. During this break, they cruised down the West Coast of Central America, including a memorable stop in Panama, which planted the seed of retiring abroad.

John said to Business Insider, "It started getting us to think that maybe we could retire at a younger age if we moved outside the country." This thought stayed with them as they returned to the US and strategised their next move.

John and Susan initially focused on growing their savings while preparing to move abroad. Their plan was meticulous: they sold their home and cars and packed everything into seven duffle bags. In 2015, they returned to Panama with their two dogs, ready to embrace a new chapter. However, after some time, they realised that Panama wasn't the perfect fit. The couple then decided to move to Colombia, a country they were more familiar with and felt more comfortable in due to their prior travels.

The Cost of Living in Colombia

John and Susan Pazera
John and Susan Pazera after buying their home in Medellin, Columbia. @latitudeadjustmentblog via Instagram

Since moving to South America, John and Susan have eliminated rent costs by purchasing a property outside Medellín, Colombia's second-largest city. This strategic decision has significantly lowered their living expenses, allowing them to enjoy retirement without financial stress. However, living in Colombia isn't entirely without expenses. They still have to pay property taxes and apartment insurance, around $137 monthly.

Their regular monthly costs include roughly $45 on electricity, $40 on cell phones, and $36 on internet access. Although healthcare costs vary, they usually spend around $300 monthly. The couple has found that these costs are significantly lower than what they would be paying in the US, enabling them to live comfortably on a modest budget.

Retiring overseas also gave the couple peace of mind, knowing that they'll have access to a reliable healthcare system as they age. John explained, "If we stay in the US, one of us gets really, really sick with some strange disease, and the insurance company says, 'Well, we don't cover that.' And then it's all out of your pocket." They know they can get sick with anything and receive care in Colombia.

Susan emphasised that while healthcare isn't free, it's "really eye-opening" to see the kind of treatment she can access in Colombia for a significantly lower price than in the US. This aspect of their new life has given them a sense of security and comfort that would have been challenging to achieve back home.

Why Are Americans Retiring Overseas?

Many Americans are relocating overseas for a more attractive and cost-effective lifestyle. Older US nationals often find that moving overseas helps secure their financial future. According to the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, more than 50 per cent of those over 65 reported making $30,000 or less in 2022 while residing in the US. This financial reality forces many to seek alternatives to maintain a decent quality of life during retirement.

"Everything was just so expensive," John said. "And we were able to afford it, but it's like, do we want to have this lifestyle until we retire? We got to figure out an exit strategy to get out quicker." This sentiment is echoed by many retirees who find the cost of living in the US unsustainable in the long term.

One leading reason for many expats is lower healthcare expenditure. Debra Crockett, another expat, recently told Business Insider that she relocated to Turkey because she could no longer afford the high cost of healthcare in the US, finding prices much more reasonable there. For many, the cost of healthcare is a significant factor in the decision to move abroad.

Advising Others to Move Abroad

John and Susan Pazera
John and Susan Pazera retired at 59 years old. @latitudeadjustmentblog via Instagram

John and Susan are grateful they can live as retirees abroad without worrying about money. They also enjoy other perks, such as their walkable neighbourhood, engaging in various outdoor hobbies, and frequent cultural celebrations.

"It's not easy all the time, but it's forced us to get out into the community and learn because it's complete immersion," Susan explained. "And it really feels like the place we are meant to be at this point in time."

However, they have faced difficulties, such as adapting to the political climate and overcoming language barriers. "You have to adapt to that country's culture and lifestyle," John explained. "You can't bring your US mentality to another country and expect everything to be the same. You have to wipe clean everything that you expect from the US that you think you're going to get from another country."

Having learned from their experiences, John and Susan advise anyone considering relocating overseas to visit the area multiple times first, preferably in the off-season and less favourable weather. They also suggest waiting a few years before buying real estate. This approach allows potential retirees to fully understand the local culture, climate, and cost of living before making a long-term commitment.

The Rewards of Early Retirement Abroad

John and Susan's story is a testament to the benefits of careful planning and a willingness to embrace change. By moving to Colombia, they have secured their financial future and enriched their lives with new experiences and a sense of community. Their journey highlights that with the right mindset and preparation, early retirement abroad is not just a dream but an achievable reality.

Their advice to others considering this path is clear:

  • Do your research.
  • Be open to new experiences.don't
  • Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.

The rewards, as they have found, are well worth the effort.