Taking advantage of a post-merger early retirement offer, he left the United States in 2001 at age 49 and retired to Cuenca, Ecuador.
Since that time, Lee has enjoyed properties in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Colombia, and the island of Itamaracá, in Brazil. Roving Latin America Correspondent for Live and Invest Overseas, Lee also writes and speaks for a number of publications about living abroad.
Today Lee lives and writes primarily in Uruguay, from his home in the beach resort of Punta del Este. He spends winters at his home in Medellín, Colombia, and a good portion of the year traveling and writing about retirement and investment opportunities throughout Latin America.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the JetSetter Show, where we explore lifestyle-friendly destinations worldwide. Enjoy and learn from a variety of experts on topics ranging from upscale travel at wholesale prices, to retiring overseas, to global real estate and business opportunities, to tax havens and expatriate opportunities. You’ll get great ideas on unique cultures, causes, and cruise vacations. Whether you’re wealthy or just want to live a wealthy lifestyle, the JetSetter Show is for you. Here’s your host, Jason Hartman.
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JASON HARTMAN: Hey, it’s my pleasure to welcome Lee Harrison today! He is the Latin American correspondent for Live and Invest Overseas, and we’re going to talk about five—maybe a little more—but five South American countries today. Lee, welcome. How are you?
LEE HARRISON: Good, Jason. How are you? Good to be here.
JASON HARTMAN: Good! Doing well, thanks. So you are coming to us from Medellin, Colombia, I believe, right?
LEE HARRISON: Yes.
JASON HARTMAN: Fantastic. Well, tell us what’s going on in South America! Where are the attractive places, and why are they attractive, and where should we avoid?
LEE HARRISON: Okay, well that’s wide open. Let me start I think with Ecuador. And what I’ll try to do, Jason, is kind of point out who it’s really popular with, and why they’re going there. One thing that Ecuador has—well, a couple of things Ecuador has going for it is the cost of living. Primarily properties are very inexpensive, cost of living is very low. You can still live there for very comfortable under $1500 a month, and it’s seen a big influx of expats over the past few years. So, another thing, and it speaks to the kind of expats that are going there, is that it’s a place to go if you really have a sense of adventure. The Galapagos Islands of course are part of Ecuador. They’ve got the Andes, the Pacific Coast, a lot of old Spanish colonial cities, and it’s pretty dramatic, very beautiful, a lot of nature, you know, natural environment to enjoy, there’s the Amazon Rainforest—so I think people’s primary motivator is cost of living, and they have a real sense of adventure, and want to enjoy a nice Spanish colonial or coastal lifestyle, and Ecuador is a really good choice for them.
JASON HARTMAN: Good, so a lot of variety then. And low cost of living. What about corruption? You know, I read recently that Ecuador was very high on the corruption index. In fact, one of the most corrupt countries. Is that true? Or has that changed?
LEE HARRISON: Well, it was true, and it has changed. When I first moved there, which was 2001, it was one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It was down below position 200 on a scale that listed 232 countries. And what I found was that it wasn’t just political corruption or business corruption, which Transparency International tends to look at, but it really—the corruption of the politicians was just a reflection of what the whole society lacked in the way of honesty. So, I found that when I first went there, it was, you know, a place where you’re gonna get your pocket picked, you’re gonna get things stolen. A lot of petty crime, shortchanging in the stores, 20% of the time you ever bought something. So I found that that was really extended throughout society. What happened, though, is when Rafael Correa got elected in 2006, I think it was, that began to change. And it’s changing not only among the politicians the businessmen, but it’s changing among the rest of the country as well. So, it was an annoyance back then that has gone away, and as a result of the reduction in the level of corruption, there’s a tremendous boom in the infrastructure in Ecuador. Right not the bridges are being built, highways are being rebuilt in a quality fashion, and trains are being brought back into service, a lot of things where that money was just kind of disappearing, have changed over the past few years, since he’s been elected. So it’s become, because of the lack of corruption and more honesty, it’s a much better place to retire and live in.
JASON HARTMAN: So where are they getting the money from to make these improvements?
LEE HARRISON: Well, that’s a good question, because he’s kind of a socialist leaning guy; he was educated here in the US—or, in the US, rather—so, the suspicion would be that he’s robbing from the rich and doing infrastructure projects. But from what I’ve seen so far, mostly it’s the money that was otherwise being stolen is being directed back to where it was supposed to be going in the first place. And I’ll give you a quick example. I lived in the province of Azuay, for five years. A little over five years. And the governor of Azuay once came out and said that he was giving away 50% of his budget to corrupt officials in Quito, just to get the budget approved. So, when you put that 50% of—just that alone, and he’s just one guy—when you put that back into the infrastructure, back into the economy, you get a tremendous economic boost without having to tax anybody or raise import duties or anything like that.
JASON HARTMAN: Good. Well, that’s the idea. You know, grow the economy—that’s the right way to do it.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah, he’s done pretty well with that.
JASON HARTMAN: Good. Okay, well, good. Do you want to switch gears and talk about the next country?
LEE HARRISON: Sure, yeah.
JASON HARTMAN: You can take your pick. I know we decided we were going to cover five, but I don’t care which order you do it.
LEE HARRISON: Okay. You know, I’d like to mention Chile.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah, I’ve been reading a lot of good things.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah, and I’ve never lived in Chile as a resident. But I have gone there—I’ve covered it editorially, and I’ve traveled there a little bit, and I’ve been following it since, and Chile had their economic growth has been just amazing the past few years. Levels of corruption are low, and what’s interesting is they’ve had socialist governments and they’ve had conservative governments, and their business friendliness and economic strength never seems to waver. So it doesn’t seem to matter who’s in charge, really, in that respect. They just keep going and going. Their currency has been strong, very business friendly, residency friendly, it’s fairly easy to get a visa there. So it’s a strong country that, for people that want a strength that’s not dependent on the US economy, I think Chile is a really good choice.
And something else I like about it from a lifestyle perspective is that it’s very diverse. It’s really just like a mirror image of California. It’s got mountains, the Andes mountains run down the eastern side of Chile, much like the Sierras would run down the eastern side of California. You’ve got the Pacific, you’ve got, you know, several different climates, you’ve got deserts in the north, and kind of Mediterranean rainy climates in the south; lots of wildlife, lakes, forests—a lot of things that have been destroyed in Latin America have been preserved in Chile. So, people that like an outdoor lifestyle, diverse lifestyle, four seasons, snow in the mountains, do you like to go skiing, then Chile’s a good option. It’s probably one of the more expensive places. I would say it’s probably the most—the cost of living is probably higher in Chile than anywhere else I can think of right off hand, in South America. But really, you got a first world infrastructure. It’s just like being in the United States, as far as the infrastructure goes, level of honesty goes, and the economic strength, is a little bit better. So I think—
JASON HARTMAN: But when you say the cost of living is the highest in South America, really that’s—more than Brazil? More than anywhere else?
LEE HARRISON: Yeah. I would say, and I don’t have the numbers in front of me to prove that right now, but it’s—I would say, if you’re looking at cost of living per month in Chile, I would allow $22, $2300 a month, maybe.
JASON HARTMAN: Still very low.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah, I mean, compared to—I worked in New York before I retired in 2001, so.
JASON HARTMAN: Well, there—now, what would you compare that to? Tell us—in every place we discuss, the experience can be completely different. I mean, New York is expensive, we all know that. But what do you get, and how much do you spend to get the same thing in Chile, for example?
LEE HARRISON: Well, I think in a place like Santiago, you could enjoy a comfortable big city lifestyle. They’ve got really nice gleaming high rises, new neighborhoods. It’s very clean, very—you know, efficient, efficient government and that sort of thing. So, you can enjoy the restaurants, theaters, the same kind of things you’d enjoy in a classy American big city. And generally speaking, it’s gonna be less. Now, if you—see, the United States is a pretty diverse place to come from. So, if you live in, say, Arizona, for example, your cost of living in Prescott’s gonna be lower than your cost of living in Santiago. But Prescott’s not Santiago either. But I would say it’s a little bit less than the equivalent lifestyle in the United States, and way less than a big city like New York or Los Angeles. But, generally speaking, it’s at the higher end of the lower costs in South America.
JASON HARTMAN: Uh huh. So, you picked Santiago, which is obviously the main city. But, are there some secondary cities that are really good picks? I mean, there are some beautiful places along the coastline.
LEE HARRISON: Actually, yes. If you want, for one place I really enjoyed, for city life, was Concepcion. And it’s a university town; you can see the, kind of the youthful energetic, intelligent, university influence, you know, walking around like, where you might see a guy strumming a guitar in Montevideo, a homeless guy or something, you see students playing like a jazz trio on the street corner collecting money in Concepcion. Just a whole different feel. Lot of good ethnic restaurants, not too far from nice beaches. Decent weather. So, Concepcion I thought was a real positive, pleasant place to be. One thing I don’t like about Santiago is the air pollution that kind of gets trapped in the valley there, and you don’t have that in Concepcion; you’ve got nice fresh ocean breezes. So, that’s one thing, one city I really like. Another one is—and this has gotta be like a thousand miles to the north. But it’s La Serena. La Serena’s interesting because it’s near the coast, and if you go like a half mile in from the coast, you’ve got this beautiful old colonial center that’s typical Spanish America, and it also has, part of La Serena is actually on the water, on the beach. So if you go to the beach you’ve got like newer high rises, more beach-type amenities, and you go back just a little ways, you’ve got the colonial center, so you really have two way different lifestyles you can pick from in an area where it stays pretty warm year round, you don’t get cold weather, you don’t get snow. Very seldom get rain up there. So, that’s—they’re probably my two backups—well, actually the two places I’d consider going if I were going to move there.
JASON HARTMAN: Good. And I’m hearing really good things about the Chilean government, kind of more of a libertarian feel? But you know, that could change at any time. The problem with Central and South America is, it’s like every decade—I guess we do that in the US too, but it’s not as dramatic or shocking. We swing from socialism and communism to free market, and you know, in the Chicago School of Economics, it’s all over the board.
LEE HARRISON: It’s funny you say that, Jason, because you do see it when you’re living abroad. When I was in Ecuador, at first we saw the—like, the George Bush refugees. You know, everybody who wants to leave the country because George Bush was president, so they come flooding down, and a few years later, I saw the Barack Obama—I was living in Uruguay by then—I saw the Barack Obama refugees were—they’re all leaving because he’s president, you know. And I thought it’s funny.
JASON HARTMAN: That is, by the way, hilarious. You know? It’s just hilarious. And I think what—there’s a funny thing about the human psyche, and you are welcome to take issue and disagree with me on this, Lee. But for everybody talking about how America’s going to hell in a hand basket, and I agree, that we’re moving in the wrong direction, in so many ways in this country. I mean, America’s incarceration rate is absurd; you hear every day about these police incidents of—that more and more like this police state flavor in America, which is very disconcerting, to me at least, and many other people. Police beating a homeless guy to death for no good reason—I mean, these absurd stories that just really, really worry people. And the debt, and the dollar collapse theories, and all of this kind of stuff, right? But if you ask me, America has a long way to fall. Because it’s still so far ahead of so many places. And in so many ways. Take issue with me if you want.
LEE HARRISON: Well, you know, it’s funny, because we tend to, as American, sensationalize the worst of what’s in the US. And there are some ways—and I’ll tell you, when you move abroad, you find that there’s a sense of freedom that you don’t have so much anymore in the United States. I mean just a sense of, you know, there’s a lot of intrusive practices right now by the government, with the NSA, and the phone records, and—
JASON HARTMAN: And hey listen, I agree with you completely, the NSA is disgusting. But, you know, how does that really affect any of our lives? I mean, it’s terrible, no question. But, what actual effect does it have on us?
LEE HARRISON: Well, it doesn’t. What I found, and I come to the US pretty frequently; I have family in Arizona and so forth, so we spend a fair amount of time there. And what I find is, when you don’t watch the news, it’s wonderful. The only thing that stresses me out, anyway, and this may not be a good way to look at life, but the only thing that really stresses me out is hearing being bombarded with what’s going on in a negative way, so frequently, in a 24 hour news cycle. So, you know, when you just don’t pay attention to it, then it’s wonderful, you know? And that’s part of what—
JASON HARTMAN: Ignorance is bliss.
LEE HARRISON: Oh yes. And really, I think you’re right, in the sense that it really just doesn’t matter to most people. So, when you don’t pay attention to it, you’re just not getting stressed about something that really doesn’t affect your life anyway. But what I have found, that made me feel freer, for example, in Ecuador, was the lack of regulation. Well, there’s two things, really. One is general lack of regulation, because they don’t feel the need to have a law that covers every aspect of your life. The other thing is, in a civil law legal structure, you don’t really have personal injury law. And until I moved there I didn’t realize how much of our lives are built around protecting ourselves from lawsuits. You know, the way we manufacture cars, the way we do baby toys, the way we put fences around our swimming pools, that sort of thing. And it’s not that those things are bad, it’s just that when that stuff is not—when you don’t have a personal injury law risk with your auto insurance, buying your car, and anything else, then there’s just a whole lot of things you don’t need to worry about anymore.
JASON HARTMAN: But what you do need to worry about is being injured.
LEE HARRISON: Well, you do, maybe, but—in fact, there’s—
JASON HARTMAN: I mean, I’ll tell you. I really noticed that at a very young age, when I first went parasailing in Mexico. And I must have been, I don’t know, 19, 20 years old, maybe. And I just was—I did not feel very comfortable with it. Yet if you go parasailing in Dana Point, California, it’s a much safer experience. I mean, because they’re concerned. Because they have regulations, they have insurance policies, they have fear of lawsuits. And none of us—none of us say we like lawyers, and I agree with you completely, you know, about that, but there’s a balance there.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah, there is a balance, you know, and I’m not sure—I haven’t seen enough things happen to know where that balance should be outside the US. I had a similar parasailing adventure in Mexico, in Acapulco a few years ago—
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah, and you lived to tell about it. So did I. But maybe some people don’t!
LEE HARRISON: You know what, I can’t tell you that didn’t cross my mind as the boat pulled away. I thought, this is—
JASON HARTMAN: They’ll put you right in between a couple of buildings, smack you with a building in your face.
LEE HARRISON: If the rope’s worn out, it’s gonna be too bad. So, yeah, it’s—it’s a difference, and I’m not sure where the balance lies. But I do know that when—for example, the doctor/patient relationship is far different when you don’t have insurance companies or personal injury law entering, or malpractice entering into it. And malpractice may be good recourse if something happens to you, but it really does change the relationship.
JASON HARTMAN: No, I agree. Okay. We don’t need to get stuck on that, but I just wanted to bring it up. Anyway, okay. Go ahead. Should we—are we ready for the next country?
LEE HARRISON: Yeah, I think—one thing I’d like to mention is Uruguay. And to me—and I have to say that I moved from Ecuador to Uruguay in, I think it was late 2006. Yeah, it was late 2006. And, originally I had just gone there on vacation. You know, we were taking turns, my wife and I, picking where we’d go on vacation that year, you know. And she picked Chile one year, and I picked Uruguay the next year. And so we get to Uruguay, and I was just amazed that it was—the first world ambience and infrastructure that was there, I mean, everything was clean and efficient, well run—
JASON HARTMAN: What city?
LEE HARRISON: Well, Montevideo is where I started, at the capital, and Colonia, which is, you know, a couple hours up the river, was a 16th century—or, 1600s, rather, Portuguese colonial settlement that’s still there, very well preserved. We basically toured—the country is only probably the size of Arkansas, you know, and it’s got as many people as Philadelphia in the entire country. So, it’s pretty small. We looped around the entire country, and then came down the coast, which is absolutely gorgeous. We ended up living in Punta del Este, which is a big seaside resort that’s a couple hours from Montevideo. But it was—so, anyway, one thing led to another, and we ended up moving to Uruguay, and completely enjoyed that. One thing that really surprised me was the Italian influence. It—the Italians have really got the dominant cultural footprint in Uruguay, and I’m not sure how it ended up that way, but really enjoyed that difference. You know, I expected Spanish America, and you know, the Spanish two-class influence that I’d seen in other countries. But you go to Uruguay, and it has a very, very large middle class, and everybody’s pretty well off, and low crime rates, mild weather, and that wonderful Italian influence I really enjoyed. So—and Uruguay right now, for people who are looking to diversify outside the United States, you know, they want a second residency somewhere, they kind of want a second—to own land in a different country has been real popular because of the farmland infrastructure, it’s very productive farming country, and very self-sufficient. Water-wise they sit on the continent’s largest—right square on top of the continent’s largest aquifer. So, a lot of things going for it. It’s very popular now.
JASON HARTMAN: Fantastic. Okay. And, feel free to talk about residency, or especially, second passports. So many of our listeners are interested in having a second passport, having a second citizenship.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah. It’s—Uruguay has been probably—and I’ll circle back and I’ll mention that, I’ll circle back to Chile and Ecuador on this as well, but, Uruguay’s been probably, been among the most popular, I think, for the last eight or nine years, for second passport, for second citizenship and residency. Residency is not particularly efficient to get in Uruguay, but it’s not particularly hard either. It just takes a long time. You turn in your stuff—but one thing that’s nice is, they have such a long, inefficient process that they give you your residency card at the beginning of the process. You sit down there and they ask for a few questions and they screen you and you turn your paperwork in and they give you your residency card. So, from that day on, you have all the rights of an Uruguayan citizen, except for the right to vote. So, when your residency gets approved a year later, it’s pretty anticlimactic. You just get a card with a longer drop dead date on it. Three years.
JASON HARTMAN: Right, but it’s still not a passport.
LEE HARRISON: Well, it isn’t—you can get a passport though; you can obtain Uruguayan citizenship in three years, if, under certain conditions—if you’re married, for example, or part of a domestic partnership, you can get a passport in three years—
JASON HARTMAN: To a citizen.
LEE HARRISON: Yes.
JASON HARTMAN: You can’t just move there as a married couple, right? Yeah.
LEE HARRISON: Oh, no, no.
JASON HARTMAN: Just wanted to clarify that.
LEE HARRISON: No, actually you can.
JASON HARTMAN: Oh, okay.
LEE HARRISON: I didn’t understand your question. You can go there as a married couple, and take advantage of that three year thing. You do not need to be married to an Uruguayan citizen.
JASON HARTMAN: Right, but you can do it faster if you marry a citizen, right?
LEE HARRISON: Well, there, you probably would get residency faster. I don’t think you would get citizenship faster. So—and otherwise if you just are there on your own, it would be five years to get citizenship. But one thing people like about it is their financial services infrastructure. They have a solid banking system, and a strong currency—
JASON HARTMAN: It’s interesting, I just gotta ask you a question about that, before you go, just super quick. So, if you’re married, it’s three years, if you’re single, it’s five? They like married people more?
LEE HARRISON: Well, it’s—there are other caveats with the married thing. I think you have to own property as well.
JASON HARTMAN: Oh, okay. Got it.
LEE HARRISON: So what they’re assuming is that if you’re married and own property, you’re pretty serious and stable. And if you’re a single guy down there, then it’s longer. So yeah, it was—Ecuador, is not hard to get residency. I’m a resident of Ecuador, and Uruguay, and Colombia. Ecuador, what happened—it’s pretty quick. I think mine was approved in just a matter of weeks. But you need to really live there. There are restrictions during your first 18 months, where I believe it’s, you can’t be out of the country more than 90 days per year for each of the first two years. That’s what it is. And then thereafter you can’t be gone more than 18 continuous months. So, if you plan on just getting residency and then moving to some other country or going back to the States or whatever, Ecuador is not the place to do that. But if you really want to live there, only being out of the country 90 days per year for each of the first two years, it’s not that big an imposition if that’s home. But otherwise, the thresholds are very low. Like Ecuador, you only need to show an income I think of $800 a month, or make an investment of $25,000, which could be your home. So, in that sense it’s really easy to qualify, and that’s one of the reasons it’s so popular right now. Uruguay the threshold I think is a thousand—it’s around a thousand dollars a month.
JASON HARTMAN: Still really, really low threshold. Really quite easy. Okay.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah. In fact, a thousand is more than most working Uruguayans make in a month, so you’ll be pretty well off.
JASON HARTMAN: That’s the great thing about geoarbitrage.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah. And, again, Uruguay, just to close on that, you’ve got colonial cities, you’ve got a big city in Montevideo, and you’ve got a coastal lifestyle all the way out the coast up to Brazil. So, there’s several good lifestyle options. Montevideo, in the end, even though that’s not where I started living, ended up being my favorite. But pretty much a good variety of lifestyles, including rural farm-type lifestyle available in Uruguay.
JASON HARTMAN: Good. Okay, you want to move to, what are we, country #3 now?
LEE HARRISON: Well, yeah. See, that was Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, how about Brazil?
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah, Brazil is a big one, obviously.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah. I got—I actually went to Brazil at first on a writing assignment, and exploring the northeast, kind of going up and down the coast in the northeast part of the country, and the idea was to get away from Rio and Sao Paulo, which are kind of written to death about. So, to kind of break some new territory. And while there, and it was probably the second trip there or so, discovered this little island that was just north of Recife in the northeastern part of the country, and bought a home there on the water. So, it was such a different experience from Latin America. I mean, from my stereotypical experience in Latin America, to go to Brazil and, for one, they speak Portuguese, you know, so at the age of like 53 years old, I had to start on a new language, and but the whole atmosphere of Brazil, and the lifestyle, is quite different from, you know, what I had seen elsewhere. The big thing that Brazil had going for it, especially at that time, was the emergence of a middle class. And we’re seeing this kind of in different places throughout Latin America, where the middle class is expanding. It’s pretty well documented in the US that the middle class has been shrinking. It’s in the press quite a bit here lately. But the middle class is expanding. So, unlike the US, you’ve got every year more people who can afford a second home, more people who can afford cars, more people who can afford appliances, that sort of thing. And Brazil benefited from that big time. Their middle class probably expanded faster than anybody else’s. So, the second home market was wonderful for investing in, like, beachfront condos, and beachfront homes, and that sort of thing. They were still inexpensive, but a very positive market there. So.
JASON HARTMAN: What do you think about—Brazil worries me a little bit. I keep reading stories about police shooting people, and I mean, we talked about America being a police state, but I hear it’s a lot worse there. You know, I have some Brazilian friends, and they say, unfortunately that kind of stuff is just all too common.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah, hard to say. I mean, most of the information I see about Brazil is around the bigger cities—Sao Paulo and Rio, where they’ve got the huge favelas, and you know, they’re trying to clean things up to make it look decent for the Olympics and the World Cup. So, you don’t hear much about—and I didn’t see much police presence in my stomping ground with like Recife, Fortaleze, San Luis, and Natal, places up in that sector. Didn’t see a whole lot of police presence. But I can tell you first hand that they’ve got an issue with police corruption. I got stopped at a road block to check my registration, and argued back and forth, and my negotiation skills in Portuguese are pretty sorry, you know. So, I ended up paying the guy the equivalent of $50, just to let me go, on what was just a completely bogus charge, and then, that wasn’t the only time that sort of thing happened in Brazil. And so, the police violence I didn’t see. In fact, they were very friendly and nice, and they’d stop by the house to talk, and all that sort of thing. But I did get kind of held up a couple times by them, because of the corruption in the police department.
JASON HARTMAN: That’s interesting. Now, what cities in Brazil, though? Where would you pick if you’re gonna go live there?
LEE HARRISON: I’ll tell you what I like, is, for a big city, I mean, like a three million type city, I think Fortaleza would be my first pick. Fortaleza’s right on the water, it’s very modern, very pretty. It’s got a wonderful infrastructure of restaurants and clubs and cafes and nightlife, and the beach, the water is a nice, like, a shimmering aqua color, clean water, right there in the city. So, a very attractive beachfront lifestyle, boardwalk lifestyle, but like, six blocks back, you’ve got nice little quieter neighborhoods. None of it’s I guess real quiet, but you’ve got more treed neighborhoods with little cafes and hidden away restaurants and that sort of thing, in a sector called Aldeota; you’ve also got a lot of opportunity up and down the coast from Fortaleza with new developments going in, new beachfront developments going in that are within driving distance of the city, but on what feels like remote sections of the beach. So, I think for big city life, I like Fortaleza.
And right behind that, I think I would pick Natal. And Natal is the same thing, and Ponta Negra, which is the sector of Natal that is the only one that I would consider living in. It has a nice beach environment, a nice downtown environment, a nice kind of a fun restaurant nightclub infrastructure. It has inexpensive older homes, it has brand new condos on the water. So, again, good variety, nice lifestyle. Neither is terribly expensive. I think properties have gone up on the waterfront, these past few years, but generally if you look at an older used property, the properties are reasonable. I would allow probably, in a city I’d allow on the order of $2000 a month for cost of living. I lived on an island that—it wasn’t a small island, there were 17,000 people there, but I lived on an island and I probably spend $5-600 a month to live there, you know, so there’s a wide range. And Brazil is larger than the continental US, so, and it’s just about as diverse. So you could find pretty much anything. But those would be—I like the rural beachfront lifestyle, and I like the city lifestyle as well. I’d be hard pressed if I were going back today to choose between the two, I think.
JASON HARTMAN: Good information. Well, shall we finish up by talking about where you are now, and that is Colombia?
LEE HARRISON: Well, yeah, Colombia—and I can’t fault—I mean, I can’t see how you could beat Colombia right now. But, in all honesty, I have to say that part of that is a result of where I’ve been for the last 13 years. Having been in Ecuador with the adventure, and dramatic beauty of that country, and been in Uruguay with the European feel, and been to Brazil, and then Colombia is a wonderful extension to that. What I’ve found—I live in Medellin, and Medellin is a modern—I compare it to, if anyone knows Scottsdale, Arizona, I compare it to Scottsdale—
JASON HARTMAN: That’s where I live. I love Scottsdale.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah, it’s clean, it’s modern, it’s well run, it’s lots of great restaurants and cafes, and what it does have that Scottsdale doesn’t, is nice weather. I would say that—well, the average is 29 degrees Celsius, which is I think 81 degrees Fahrenheit during the day—that’s the average daytime high throughout the year. Daytime lows are about the mid 60s, I guess, at night. And the temperature variation is only one degree throughout the course of the year. So, we basically open the windows, and the windows stay open day and night, no screens, all the time.
JASON HARTMAN: What about humidity?
LEE HARRISON: Humidity is—it’s more humid—it’s not dry. I would say humidity runs like 60%. 60, 65%. So, it’s not what I’d call comfortably dry, but it’s not uncomfortably humid either, compared to something like Panama City, where you’d have 90% humidity levels. So, it’s been—it’s comfortable that way. It’s—they have—it’s very, very lush, because they have rain—they have some rainier periods of the year, but it can rain almost any time. You can get a shower there in the mountains. And so, the cost of living is reasonable. Properties are very inexpensive, because of Medellin’s lousy reputation. You know, I compare it frequently to—
JASON HARTMAN: The drug cartels? But that was really 20 years ago—
LEE HARRISON: Yeah, it was over in 1993. But people my age have long memories, you know, and don’t—almost everybody who hears that I’m living in Medellin asks me about the drug lords, you know?
JASON HARTMAN: They all went to Mexico and Belize.
LEE HARRISON: Right. So, it’s—but the drug lords have done us a big favor, those of us who bought property there. In Montevideo—now, Medellin is—in El Poblado neighborhood is much more clean and upscale and first world than Montevideo. But Montevideo would be more than—I would say double the price for the same property. So, Montevideo has a wonderful reputation, and Medellin has a bad one, and even though that’s no longer the reality, the property prices have not caught up to it yet.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah. And that’s—that’s always an opportunity, when the reality and the perception differ, that’s kind of an arbitrage opportunity. But hey, I just gotta take issue with you on one thing, Lee, and that is, Scottsdale weather. Eight months of the year, Arizona’s year is about the best in the world, I think. I mean, you know, I lived in California all of my life until moving here two and a half years ago, and I—it’s just, you wake up every day and it’s just gloriously beautiful, and it’s just the perfect temperature, and the people are so friendly, and I just—I gotta tell you, I just love Arizona. However, you know, four months of the year it’s not too pleasant. And the one thing I will say is, at least personally, I actually get a little sick of the sunshine! We have about four gray days a year, and I really kind of like them. They’re so rare. I’d like to have a little more Seattle weather occasionally. But not too much of it.
LEE HARRISON: My wife’s from—spent a good part of her life in Scottsdale, which is why we’re there now, because her family’s there. And she just loves the rain. She has never gotten over the appreciation for rain, and the occasional cloudy day, just because of the prevalent sunshine there. Where I would need to go years and years before I got tired of that Arizona sunshine.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah, that sunshine, it’s really—I think it really, when you live in a place with sunny weather, the people are happy and friendly. It just totally influences people’s attitudes.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah, I spent four years, I think, in Sacramento, and Sacramento is bright and sunny for six months of the year, and then totally overcast and drizzly for the other six months. At least it was back in the 80s when I lived there. And it was amazing how irritable and cranky people got by the end of that six months of drizzle. I mean, we used to drive to Jackson, up in the foothills, just to see the sun shine, you know, and spend the day there and have lunch, and then drive back down into the soup. Just to give your psyche a positive boost, you know, of sunshine.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting. Hey, I gotta ask you. One thing that always bugs me as I travel, and as I go to less developed countries—I’ve been to 71 countries now, and it’s Internet access. The lack of modernity, I can live with a lot of stuff. But nowadays, so many of our global, nomadic listeners—they need to connect, they need to be able to get work done, and they need dependable, fast Internet access. And it’s funny, because I was talking with your associate, Lief, who I think was in Panama, just the other day, and his Internet kept cutting out! And I’m like, oh gosh, this would drive me nuts if I had to put up with this. You know? It seems like every less developed country I go to, that’s what you suffer with.
LEE HARRISON: Well, you know what’s funny, is that in Ecuador, which is the least developed of any country I’ve lived in, I never had—now, this is just luck of the draw in some ways. But I never had my Internet out of service in Ecuador. And it was—
JASON HARTMAN: I don’t necessarily mean out of service completely. I mean just sometimes it’s just not dependable. It gets really slow and spotty. When you want to do a Skype call, as we’re doing now, it cuts off, and the call keeps disconnecting, and you know, if you’re doing podcasts, that’s really a problem!
LEE HARRISON: Yeah. What I’ve found is, of course, I moved to Ecuador in the dialup days, so I’ve kind of been—the continent has been evolving with the technology, I guess. But what I’ve found lately is that in the big cities, it’s been pretty good. Now, it sounds like Panama City had their trouble when you talked to Lief this week. But in Medellin, it’s—I’ve had degradations in quality, you know, now and then. I’ve got five megabit service, I think I can get up to 25 if I wanted it, but I’m able to stream movies and all with what I have, so I’ve been pretty satisfied with it. But every now and then the thing grinds down, and I’ll do a speed test, and see that my speed’s kind of been degraded, and it’ll pick back up. But mostly in the big cities, I’ve been pretty happy with it. I was happy with it in Uruguay, happy with it in Colombia. And near the end of my time in Ecuador, once we got off dialup, it was pretty good in Cuenca. I think once you get outside the big cities—I mean, I liked in Vilcabamba for a while, I had a second home in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, in the Southern Sierra.
It’s a little village of a couple thousand people. And there, the way we got Internet is, they had some regulation where only the government could provide Internet service. And so, there was a local clinic there who had a government Internet connection, and being corrupt as they are, he sold his Internet, or leased his Internet connection, to this German guy that had a local hostel there, and he went and hung repeaters all up and down the valley and sold this Internet connection from the hospital, who didn’t even have a terminal, for 35 bucks a month, and it was horrible service, but it was better than nothing out in the middle of the Andes. But that’s kind of what you see once you get outside the big cities; we’re not gonna have the infrastructure. Whereas in the States, I don’t know that there’s anywhere that you can’t get a good connection, even if you’re on satellite. You might have to go to satellite, but you can pretty much get it if you want it.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah, very interesting. Well, Lee, this has been a great discussion, and please give out your website, and tell people where they can learn more.
JASON HARTMAN: Fantastic. And any closing thoughts, anything I didn’t cover, anything you want the listeners to know?
LEE HARRISON: Just one thing, is that people tend to overanalyze, and I think, they’re thinking about setting up a presence overseas, maybe obtaining overseas residency, which incidentally, Colombia was the easiest of any country I’ve ever been to. I got it in less than an hour. But they tend to analyze, and they run spreadsheets, and you know, look at discussion forums, and you get bogged down with too much information, and I think, if you look at a place, and it really connects with you, you connect with it, if you love it there, you like the people, the lifestyle looks good, you appreciate the weather, then I think you can find a cost of living and a property that’s gonna meet your needs, and you can be happy there. People who make the decision on cost alone, generally end up unhappy, because they’ve ignored what’s really important in the long run, which is their own happiness and lifestyle. So. And the other thing that happens is they put it off too long. So, you know, if you want to get started overseas, and enjoy what the rest of the world has to offer, you can enjoy it a lot more the younger you are. So, the main advice I can give is, don’t wait, and don’t overanalyze, and just go out and enjoy it.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah. The paralysis—in my investment company where we help people acquire real estate for income purposes all over the US, the people that suffer from paralysis of analysis tend to really do themselves a really big disservice in life. They miss a lot of opportunities. So, you gotta just, at some point, you gotta just jump in and go for it.
LEE HARRISON: Yep.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah. Well, Lee Harrison, thank you so much. This has been a fascinating discussion. Thanks for joining us.
LEE HARRISON: Yeah, I’ve enjoyed it, Jason. Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company. All rights reserved. For distribution or publication rights and media interviews, please visit www.HartmanMedia.com, or email [email protected]. Nothing on this show should be considered specific personal or professional advice. Please consult an appropriate tax, legal, real estate, or business professional for any individualized advice. Opinions of guests are their own, and the host is acting on behalf of Platinum Properties Investor Network, Inc. exclusively.
Transcribed by David
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