By: Margo Pfeiff |

People retiring today are spending less time at home and more in foreign countries—in the Americas, Europe and even Africa.


“We could never afford to live like this in Canada,” says Dan McTavish, who worked in marketing and now, along with his wife, spends his days volunteering and raising money for local charities. “Our dollar goes so much further here; $100 annually for property taxes on a $250,000 waterfront home. The mild weather means no heating or air-conditioning costs, and medical care is good and inexpensive.”

A winter population of some 6,000 Canadians makes the Lake Chapala region the second-biggest community of Canadians abroad after Florida.

It’s easy to obtain a six-month tourist visa for Mexico; those over 51 are eligible for Rentista (a longer-term non-working visa) but must prove they receive a monthly income. There are well-organized expatriate communities in snowbird destinations like San Miguel de Allende and Lake Chapala.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica, despite being one of the most stable democracies in the region, has a reputation for pickpockets and thieves. But that doesn’t bother the Hancks of Montreal, who have wintered in the tropical town of Quepos alongside Manuel Antonio National Park. “We just don’t carry much cash,” shrugs Roger, 58, a former Bell Canada manager. He and his wife, Joanne, 54, enjoy an active, Bohemian lifestyle, hiking volcanoes and visiting the rainforest. They’ve rented a two-storey bungalow that costs less than a one-bedroom apartment in Montreal; dinner with wine and entertainment is cheaper than a fast-food restaurant back home. “When it’s inexpensive, you can truly relax,” says Roger, “and stay as long as you want.” The Hancks returned to Costa Rica this winter and are considering Argentina for next year.

Canadian citizens do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica for up to 90 days, just a valid passport.


Across the Mediterranean from Portugal, this country, with its favourable climate and numerous golf courses, is a popular snowbird destination. Former advertising executive Paul Bertrand of Longueuil, Que., retired 13 years ago at age 45 and spends every March and April in Tunisia. “It’s all pros,” he says, “no cons. It’s an embarrassment of riches at a bargain price.” He moves to different parts of the country, enjoying the weather, the culture and the all-inclusive resorts. And medical care is excellent, he says, with no waiting lists—a comment echoed by snowbirds in Panama, Costa Rica, Cuba and Mexico.

Canadians can visit Tunisia for three months without a visa.


Panama was rated the No. 1 destination in the world for retirees by U.S.-based International Living magazine six years in a row. That’s where Mary and Bob Sloane moved in 2004 after selling their Vancouver home and buying into a Pacific Coast golf resort 115 kilometres from Panama City. “Life here costs one tenth what it would in Canada,: says Mary, 60. “Plus, we wanted to live someplace where we had to learn a new language and culture, to keep the old brain working.” As is the case with Mexico, Panama has active expatriate communities that help new arrivals learn the legal and cultural ropes.

Canadians need a tourist card to enter Panama for 90 days.


Cuba has been actively recruiting snowbirds in recent years. Each year, 600,000 Canadians make up the biggest group of visitors. One advantage to Cuba is its safety, which isn’t always true of other areas.

According to the Cuba Tourist Board, a tourist visa is valid for up to 90 days for Canadians and can be extended another 90 days. Long-stay resorts include beachside condos in Varadero and Tarara Beach. For those who prefer the urban lifestyle, there are efficiency units in the posh Miramar suburb.


In the Southern Hemisphere, countries from Brazil to South Africa offer long-stay programs. Myra and David McNee of Halifax spent three months during 2006 on Australia’s Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane. From their beach condo, free buses shuttled them to a variety of activities. “There’s no language barrier,” says Myra, “and our high dollar gave us an extra bonus.” The same is true of New Zealand. While the airfare is costly, Shirley Rourke of Toronto-based Goway Travel says, “Once you get there, it works out to about the same price as a U.S. Sunbelt trip.”

Pat and Linda Wardell of Duncan, B.C., devised an ultra-economical plan so they could enjoy three months of warm weather in Australia in 2006. “We linked up seven consecutive homestays, trading our home and car with those of families in four sunny spots in Australia,” Pat, 64, says. With a laugh, he adds, “I think we’ve broken some kind of record.”

All visitors to Australia need a visa for stays up to 90 days.