Retiring to Nicaragua on Social Security
By Suzanne Maxey — At age 62, with a total savings of $7,000, I gave away everything I owned, packed up my 3 cats and moved them and myself from Texas, the only state I had ever lived in, to Granada, Nicaragua for presumably the rest of my life or for as long as I liked being here.
It’s been nearly a year and I’m still here, the cats seem happy and another local cat and street dog have moved themselves in. I’m ekeing by on social security, learned an uncomfortable lesson about tropical intestinal infections but for the most part can admit that I prefer the slow, gentle pace of Nicaragua to the ADD, frantic, outdo the Joneses, random shootings and general hyper craziness that I think of when I recall living in the USA.
I had been a nurse in the states for years when a back injury ended my nursing career. Having also been a single mom for 17 years, there wasn’t much in savings and most of that went to support me and pay the house note for the year that my back was healing. So when my oldest son and his Nicaraguan wife suggested I move here, where it is much more affordable, and I would be near them and the grandkids, I was tempted. I gashed my teeth, pulled my hair and crunched the numbers for 6 months before realizing this was the best course for me to take, both financially and for my own happiness.
Friends told me I was crazy, some overwhelmed me with advice I neither wanted nor heeded, and one or two were actually envious!
Thanks to God or the internet network of new friends I had established, I was able to rent a 3 bedroom casa with private courtyard and a private backyard with fruit trees for $250 a month, and within walking distance of the city square and two blocks from the grocery stores. Electricity is $20 a month and water, $5.00. Internet is $40 and cable TV is free.
My first two months here, I cried at least twice a week, missing my other son back in Texas and his wife. But with time, the regrets faded, I began to make new friends and join some activities in town. As this is the colonial city most tourists visit when they come to Granada, there is a sizeable expat population. There is a Friday night get together, a book club, Sunday non denominational worship in someone’s home, monthly dinner and a movie parties and something of interest for just about anyone wanting to meet other expats.
But the people of Nicaragua are the prize of this country. Friendly, helpful, always smiling, willing to help even if there is a language barrier. Every morning at daybreak, the lady walks down the street calling, “Pan!”, which means bread, fresh baked and still warm. Right around the corner is a house that sells fresh tortillas. The fish man pushes his cooler by the house twice a week and the fruit and vegetable ladies go past several times a day. Two blocks away are the ladies who set up their sidewalk restaurants, where I can get enough food for two or three meals for about $4.00.
And the lady that cleans for me has also taken me under her wing, teaching me Spanish, cooking sometimes and knowing exactly where to go in the mercado, or street market, to get something that would cost three times as much in the hardware store or supermarket.
The doctor’s office is around the corner and when I was recently ill, he made a house call for $18.00 which included the lab work. Medications are much less expensive here, too, and mostly the same as you get in the USA.
The pace is slower, but that suits me fine. There are still horse drawn carts on the roads with all the taxis and motorcycles, you see stray dogs but thanks to a program started by an American lady some years ago, the strays are regularly caught, neutered and wormed and fed, then released so there are not nearly as many starved strays as in years past. Every morning about 6, a man herds his cattle down my street to their daytime pasture, then herds them back to their nighttime land at dusk. The first time I had to walk past the huge bull, grazing happily untethered by the supermarket, I nearly died of fright. But he ignored me and now I ignore him.
I don’t know how long I will stay in Nicaragua, as I get older, health care becomes an issue. Hospital care of stateside quality is available for much less than I would pay from an insurance copay in the states, but when I am eligible in two years for Medicare, I might go back for the healthcare should I get something catastrophic. That’s a long way off though. My health has actually improved a great deal in the 7 months I’ve been here. I’ve lost 42 pounds, never eat fast food, walk more than I ever did in Texas and my back pain has completely vanished.
Living in Granada reminds me of living in Beaumont, Texas back in the 50-60’s and I like it this way. If I want a modern city with huge malls, nightlife and all the trappings, Managua is just 40 minutes away. Just an hour and a half away is the beach where the cruise ships come and the world class surfers go. Up north a bit are the cooler mountains and the coffee farms. And scattered all through Nicaragua are the volcanos, mostly inactive, a couple still smoking and occasionally spitting out ash.
Considered to be the safest country in Central America and safer than some U.S. Cities, Nicaragua has become my home. And I like that just fine.