Climate and Geography When Moving Overseas

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on July  11, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.

Moving overseas is a big decision for most people, and it should be. In this column, you’ve seen articles about the various items to consider before you move. If you want to own property overseas, considering the climate and geography of the new location is critical for happiness. This element of your self-analysis is perhaps the biggest and broadest, but also fundamentally the one that will have the most daily impact on your life.

So, where do you want to live overseas? The answer may be, “A lot of different places.” And if so, that’s fantastic! Perhaps a life as a “Perpetual Traveler” (PT) might be right for you. For some folks, renting a home or apartment in a different location for 3-6 months at a time, one after another, fulfills a wanderlust dream of enjoying the freedom of retirement. For others, it’s a first step on the move overseas. This is a great way to evaluate multiple locations in search for a more permanent home later on, if planting roots in the future is appealing.

Climate and Geography When Moving OverseasPT life doesn’t have to be sailing the Caribbean…but it can be.

For people looking to settle down and enjoy a home in one place, we must ask ourselves many of the same questions we’ve asked ourselves when moving within North America. For instance, do you want to live in a city, a suburb, or perhaps in the country? Maybe you want to live on the beach, or do you prefer the mountains and cooler weather? Do you want to live in a 3-bedroom house or a 1-bedroom apartment? Would you like to have a backyard? A parking space? A place for pets? Perhaps a garden?   

But moving overseas is different than within North America. There are new and important questions to add to the mix. You still have to ask yourself all of those questions above; but, when you move abroad to Latin America, the biggest and the broadest questions are the ones you maybe have not considered before, because you were moving for a job our out of specific need.

For instance, what kind of climate and geography do I want to live in? Unlike previous moves where work, school, and/or family were the main factors, now without those constraints, new options can come to the forefront. Fun options and exciting choices that will provide an answer to a dream, rather than just simply a solution to a situation. First, let’s tackle climate. It’s a big one and an obvious one.

Climate and Geography When Moving OverseasSnowy Bariloche, Argentina

Climate and Geography When Moving OverseasTropical Ambergris Caye, Belize

The good news is that the geography of Latin America serves up just about every climate type imaginable, from breezy Caribbean islands to high, dry deserts, to snowy mountains, to vineyard areas similar to Napa Valley. From lush tropical lowlands to semi-arid southern California-feeling climates on the beach. From the solitude of a country home to very pedestrian friendly cities perfect for life without a car. Almost any combination of the adjectives here can be combined in a “pick one of each” category, with a corresponding location in Latin America.

  • Hot, warm, cool, cold
  • Dry, moderate, humid
  • Snow, hills, waves
  • City, town, country    

Climate and Geography When Moving OverseasCool, Moist Medellin

Climate and Geography When Moving OverseasHot, Humid Panama City

Let’s assume you like warm weather, which most people looking at Latin America as a destination do. Then we need to slice “warmer weather” a little thinner. There are actually several different types of warm weather climates in Latin America. As a result, you need to ask yourself some other questions in order to find your desired climate.

For instance, do you want to live in a hot climate? Do you like hot, dry weather? If so, then the deserts of Mexico would be a great choice. If semi-arid is preferable, then the coastline of Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica would be a place to consider. Or, would you like to live in a hot, humid climate? Then perhaps the tropical jungle regions of Panama would be perfect for you.

Think of it this way. The driest parts of Central America are along the Pacific Ocean and begin along Costa Rica. They extend north to the desert areas of Mexico, ultimately reaching cities like Puerta Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsula.

Climate and Geography When Moving OverseasCabo San Lucas – desert at the beach.

From central Costa Rica south on the Pacific side, the climate becomes humid. By southern Costa Rica, the geography has morphed into a tropical jungle at the beach and continues to become more humid as you go further south and east towards Panama.

So, for people that like an arid, warm-to-hot climate, similar to southern California, anywhere from northern Costa Rica and Nicaragua up to Mexico may be right for you. For a hot, humid climate on the Pacific coast of Central America, with a feeling like Houston or Miami, southern Costa Rica and Panama would fit perfectly.

The Caribbean islands and the eastern coast of Central America really just have two seasons: dry and rainy. Humidity levels are seasonally affected by the rainy/hurricane season running from late summer to early December. Around the Caribbean, the weather ranges from humid to moderately humid, and temperatures generally band between 80-90 °F.

Climate and Geography When Moving OverseasTradewinds in San Pedro, Belize, keep temps in the 80s most of the year.

The pleasant reality of living in the Caribbean, however, is that the temps and gentle humidity are offset by the tradewinds blowing in off the sea.

Note: This is only true if you live on the coast. Inland areas of the Caribbean side of Central America can become humid and quite warm, with seasonal temperatures reaching the mid-to-high 90s in low lying areas.

The topic of hurricanes is important, too, in much of the region. The southern reaches of the Caribbean in Central America (specifically Costa Rica and Panama, as well as Colombia in South America) do not have hurricanes. They do receive the rainfall and humidity of tropical systems passing north of them but have never in recorded history endured a hurricane.

Owning a property in a hurricane zone is fine for many folks. After all, more than 100 million U.S. citizens live comfortably within hurricane zones. Knowing that your home was built correctly is key. That and the ability to obtain insurance should be key factors in your decision-making process.   

Check out the video of the 2×4 smashing into a test window. This is exactly what you want to have protecting your property.

Climate and Geography When Moving OverseasHurricane windows and concrete construction – the bedrock of safety in the zone.

While many, even most, folks look for a warmer weather property in Latin America, some people are not looking for a beach location. They want a cooler climate, one that comes close to resembling springtime year-round. In places like the Central Valley of Costa Rica or Medellin, Colombia, temperatures are in the 80s during the day and the 70s at night, every day of the year. If even cooler temperatures are what you want, places like Bogota, Columbia, or Cuenca, Ecuador, will provide temperatures in the 70s and 80s during the day and the 50s at night.

Throughout tropical Latin America, you will largely find that an area’s temperature is determined by elevation. If you want to live in a cool weather location but have never lived at 5,000-10,000 feet above sea level, living at altitude could be a challenge for you. Most people can and do adjust. But the higher the elevation, the longer the adjustment period. Cuenca, Ecuador, possesses a wonderful year-round springtime climate and sits at 8,500 feet. Stairs are a lot more “fun” there, I can assure you from personal experience.

Climate and Geography When Moving OverseasCuenca, Ecuador – 8,500 feet and springtime all the time.

Remember, much of your climate choice in the tropics is simply a result of geography. This means that you must carefully factor into your planning what kind of geographic features you want to live by. For example, do you want to live at sea level or do you want to live in a place with high elevation? Hot or cold, dry or humid? As you explore these and many other considerations and options in terms of climate, please be aware of the issue of altitude sickness and adjustment to life with less oxygen in the air.

For instance, if you know you want to live in a hot, humid urban area, then perhaps Panama City or Cartagena, Colombia, would be perfect matches. Small town Caribbean could be Ambergris Caye, Belize, where rainfall is only one-third of what it is just 100 miles south in the same country. Thinly slicing even a country as small as Belize becomes critical in locating the right climate type for you.

Maybe you want to live in a hot, dry, rural, coastal area, then the Pacific coast of Nicaragua or San Ventura, Costa Rica, would be excellent candidates. The southern coasts of Ecuador between Bahia and Guayaquil have little actual rainfall, but the air is more humid than areas in Mexico along the Pacific coast.

An example of a cool, urban area would be Medellin, Colombia. A cool, small city would be Cuenca, Ecuador, a 400-year-old Spanish colonial gem with 500,000 inhabitants, two symphonies, and a plethora of restaurants and activities all close at hand. A cool small town, with outskirts running toward very rural, would be Boquete, Panama, where dairy farms and coffee plantations grace the volcanic mountains nearby.

Climate and Geography When Moving OverseasBoquete, Panama  – rural charm and an established expat community.

So, do you want to live in an urban area, or do you want to live in a rural area? Will it be a coastal rural area that is semi-arid? Or do you want a humid urban area? Do you want a modern city with high rises, a subway, and shopping malls, or would you prefer a small colonial city with brick streets, small markets, and rough sidewalks?   

Answering these types of questions on geography and climate will greatly help you identify and locate possible cities and areas that would meet your criteria. The main factors to consider are these listed here, but none are black and white. There’s a lot that can and should be lumped into the mix-and-match equation. The good news is that the incredibly varied geography of Latin America can usually serve up the right solution for almost any need. Happy exploring!

This article was published in the Escape Artist Weekly Newsletter on July  11, 2018. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter, please click here.