Moving to South America: Choosing Where to Live

Iquitos, Peru from the air

I’ve changed my mind several times on where to live I’d like to live if I move to South America. My original plan has always been to move to Iquitos, Peru where I am most comfortable in a city I know well and have the most friends, but increased violent crime against foreigners (who stand out among the locals) in a city where police help in minimal at best.

Then I began to think about living in Lima or one of the many suburban communities surrounding the city such as Miraflores on the coast. While it would certainly be more urban living with pretty much any amenity I could want nearby, the cost of living in the capital city makes me wonder if that would be the best move considering my desire to travel and explore Peru and South America.

I’ve also considered living in several other countries including Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Colombia. All four are considered highly desirable for expats, but the only one of these that I’ve ever visited is Costa Rica.

I’ve spent countless hours researching not only the various countries but also many communities within each which might make for a suitable place to live.

What are the factors involved in my search? Everyone has their own priorities upon they weight such a major decision. Here are mine (in no particular order):

  • Security – Living in a place where I feel reasonably safe and secure from crime is a major consideration mostly because of the photography and videography equipment that I use
  • Familiarity – It’s hard to put into words my desire to be comfortable in a particular place. Knowing the people, the culture, and the place makes a huge difference in easing into life in a new place – especially if that place is 4000 miles away!
  • Cost of Living – Obviously this has to be a huge consideration for me. Living on a Texas teacher retirement pension certainly doesn’t make one rich, but living in most South America communities lowers one’s financial requirements drastically. So many factors play into this, but one of the biggest is giving up things that I don’t need which frees up funds to do the things that are, in the end, more important to me. For example, in Peru, having a car is not really necessary as the cost of public transportation to anywhere is ridiculously low – especially outside of the capital city of Lima.
  • Availability of Varied Activities – For me, this is a major factor in my decision. I want to be in an area where there are lots of things reasonably close to keep me busy for a long time. Cusco certainly fits this as the surrounding mountains and valleys provide enough spectacular destinations to explore for years to come. Even Iquitos, a region I know well after years of exploring the rainforest, has untold places to visit up and down the Amazon River and its many tributaries. Many villages and small towns dot the banks of the river. Of course, entering the massive rainforest itself presents a lifetime of places to explore.
  • Other Considerations – Easy access to both domestic and international transportation, climate, and availability of decent internet speeds are also important factors that will play into my final decision.

The good thing about this decision is that I’m not locked into it. Being single with few important possessions to move, it is far easier to pick up and change to another city if I find a better place or if my current home is not what I hoped it would be.

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