Many people approaching retirement, particularly those who retire early, consider moving to another location entirely. Those who are adventurous and in good health tend to see retirement as a new beginning rather than a time to kick back. The Pacific Rim has much to offer the adventurous retiree: beaches, mountains, interesting cultures, exotic cuisines. And many destinations along the Pacific Rim are friendly to foreign retirees. However, the Pacific Rim roughly corresponds with the Ring of Fire, home to 75 percent of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. Also, because of the region’s underlying plate tectonics, as much as 90 percent of our planet’s earthquakes occur along the Ring of Fire.
Chile-In South America
Chile offers a wide range of activities for the retiree: fishing, mountain climbing, bird watching, and just about any activity associated with water, given that the country’s Pacific coastline stretches for more than 2,500 miles. Most foreign retirees settle along the beaches in the north of the country, where the climate is mild. For a more alpine environment, try the Lake District, around Temuco south of Santiago. If you prefer an urban environment, the capital Santiago has the most to offer, but the seaport city Valparaíso has become a cultural center, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The cost of living in Chile is very reasonable; foreigners are able to purchase property in their own name, and obtaining a retirement visa is a relatively straightforward process. However, seismic activity is a fact of life in Chile. The Valdivia Earthquake in 1960 was the most powerful ever recorded, rating 9.5 on the Moment Magnitude Scale (MMS). More recently, an earthquake in February 2010 measured 8.8 in magnitude and battered the center of the country, home to 80 percent of Chile’s population.
Costa Rica-In Central America
Costa Rica has long been touted as a retirement haven for North Americans. The country is a tropical paradise, with coastlines along both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea; the interior is mountainous. Given Costa Rica’s popularity as a retirement destination, the country has become very “user friendly” for North Americans; with a substantial foreign population already living in Costa Rica, moving here is an easy transition. As in Chile, foreigners can own property outright, and the cost of living is cheap, though you will need to learn some Spanish. And, unlike other Central American countries, Costa Rica has a peaceful history; it is a long-standing democracy, ranks very high in environmental protection, and disbanded its standing army for good in 1949.
Costa Rica is also one of the quieter locations along the Ring of Fire; small-scale tremors are common, but the last major earthquake occurred in 1991, measuring 7.4 in magnitude. There was limited damage along the Caribbean coast, but the death toll was light. Costa Rica’s five active volcanoes are among the country’s most popular tourist destinations.
Alaska-In North America
Few people consider Alaska an attractive retirement spot, but if you enjoy outdoor wintertime activities, Alaska is hard to beat. Winters, of course, are long and cold, particularly in the vast interior, but the long panhandle that stretches southeast along the Pacific coast is more moderate in climate.
Alaska can be expensive, but there is no sales tax and, for American citizens, no state income tax; the overall tax burden for Alaska residents is the lowest of any U.S. state. Homer, a small fishing and resort town south of Anchorage, is one of the state’s most popular retirement destinations; it is near the Alaskan Maritime Wildlife Refuge and boasts a large population of bald eagles. Seward, also south of Anchorage, is a larger town in a beautiful setting — a bay ringed on three sides by snow-capped mountains.
Alaska is geologically active; the Good Friday Earthquake of March 1964 was the second most powerful ever recorded, destroying much of Anchorage and permanently raising the ground level around Kodiak (southwest of Anchorage) by 9 meters while dropping the ground level to the southeast by nearly 3 meters. No earthquake approaching that severity has occurred since.
Japan-In Northeast Asia
Japan, likewise, is not considered a popular retirement destination for foreigners, except for those with a particular interest in that country. Japan does not issue “retirement visas”; gaining permanent residency is usually done through working in Japan or marrying a Japanese citizen. Get started early, and learn the language. Foreigners can purchase property in Japan, but be sure your residency status is well established before investing in a house or condominium.
Japan is a very expensive place to live; winters can be cold. And earthquakes in Japan are a serious business. The Japanese are accustomed to feeling tremors, even violent ones, on a routine basis; building codes are among the strictest in the world. Destructive earthquakes occur several times each century. And, as the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami near the northeastern city of Sendai demonstrate, catastrophe is just a heartbeat away.
Philippines-In Southeast Asia
The Philippines is a beautiful country, with a tropical climate, gorgeous beaches, and extremely low living costs. The government-controlled Philippine Retirement Authority (PRA) is tasked with promoting the country as a retirement destination for foreign nationals, and issues retirement visas, provided that the applicant is able to deposit a minimum amount of funds in a Philippine bank. Foreigners are able to own condominiums but not land; if you wish to live in a house, you will need to rent, or purchase through a Philippine citizen.
There are a wealth of possible destinations; most attractive are the beach communities found throughout the Visayas, the belt of small and medium-sized islands in the center of the country. But be sure to spend some time — at least six months — in the Philippines before making a commitment. This is very much the developing world, and poverty is prevalent. If you are not Asian by birth or by heritage, you will stand out. Make sure you are comfortable with the wealth disparity you will encounter, and other differences with your home country.
Although earth tremors are routine in the Philippines and destructive earthquakes occur occasionally, the country is better known for its volcanoes. Mount Pinatubo, on the island of Luzon north of Manila, erupted massively in 1991, hastening the permanent closure of the U.S. military’s Clark Air Base in nearby Angeles City. And Mount Mayon, in the far southeast of Luzon, erupts with frequency. These eruptions can be devastating to local communities, but rarely have destructive effects beyond that.
If you are seeking an active retirement, have an adventurous spirit, and can stomach a little risk, then retiring along the Pacific Rim might be for you.