The Search for the Ideal Lifestyle Overseas

Some people have to visit several countries to find one that fits.

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Some people need to try out several different countries before they find a place that fits. After seven years in Spain, Linda Maples of the U.K. and her American husband Richard decided it was time to try living somewhere else. It took an extended scouting mission to four different countries with their two children in tow before they found the ideal place to settle down.

"We agreed we'd spend a year or so trying different places on for size," says Maples. “We wanted to do this before our children, then 6 and 10, got too old to appreciate the adventure or the time with us.” Here’s a look at the places they visited.

[See The 10 Best Places to Retire in 2012.]

Mexico. The couple first flew to the Caribbean coast of Mexico, at Merida. “We'd done a lot of research and thought we'd really love this part of this country,” says Maples. They rented a house in Progreso, the beach town outside Merida, for a month. But the experience of living there did not work out as imagined. “We knew within the first 24 hours, however, that this place was not for us. It was too hot, too flat, too arid,” says Maples. "We stuck out our month here but couldn't wait to move on.”

Panama. From Merida, Linda and Richard traveled to Panama. They knew from their research that Panama City would be too hot and sticky for them. But in their reading online they discovered a mountain town just an hour-and-a-half outside Panama City called El Valle. It looked green and lush, and temperatures were reported to be noticeably cooler than in the capital.  So this is where they decided to base themselves for their trial stay in this country.

They loved El Valle. The climate was cool, plus there were rolling green hills all around. The trouble for the Maples was that, while there are a dozen or more good international schools in Panama City, there are none in El Valle. So, while they really enjoyed their time in this part of the world, they knew they’d have to move on.

[See The Real Best Places to Retire in 2012.]

Costa Rica. While the couple was in El Valle, other expats recommended they take a look at Costa Rica. They learned about the lush landscapes, cool climate, and good international schooling options. On paper this was a perfect fit. Linda and Richard rented a house for a month. But again, the place didn’t live up to their expectations. “We just didn't feel comfortable or safe,” says Maples. "All the expats we met had invested in gates and grills and glass-encrusted walls around their properties. Home break-ins are very common, we found out.”

France. Linda and Richard finally decided that Central America just wasn't working for them. “We'd been so happy in Spain all those years,” says Maples. "What we really wanted, we realized, was Europe.” More research led the wandering family to France, where they’ve been happily installed for more than two years now. “France simply offers the best quality of life of any country I know,” says Maples.

Linda, Richard, and their children have settled in the Bearn, next-door to the Basque region in the southwest of this country. The lifestyle is very relaxed, and the community is welcoming. Linda and Richard say they feel completely at home and safe, and the crime rate is exceedingly low.

The Bearn was the birthplace of a great French king, and was the seasonal favorite of royalty of all nations. It was once named as “the center of the sporting world,” and was home to the first ever Grand Prix and the Wright Brothers’ flying school. The majestic mountains of the Pyrenees dominate the views, and beautiful beaches are just a short drive away.

"The geography is intense,” says Maples. “It reminds me of a young child's drawing of the countryside, where every type of geographic feature is squeezed onto one sheet of paper: Small steep valleys, rolling hills, towering mountains, meandering rivers, a wild coastline, forests, and woodland, all crammed into about 31,000 square feet and all gloriously green.”

[See 6 Affordable Places to Retire Abroad in 2012.]

This part of the world is historic, cultured, and beautiful. It offers the best of quintessential French country life, but at a cost that even those on a relatively modest budget can afford. A couple could settle comfortably here on a budget of as little as $2,500 per month.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.