International Living Magazine Review: More Hype Than Substance?

International Living Magazine Cover

Kudos to International Living's marketing machine. You can't possibly do any research online related to retiring abroad without coming across their main site or an article sourced from them. You see they've hit upon a winning formula. Every year they publish a listing of the top retirement places around the world. This list then becomes a free download if you're willing to exchange your e-mail for it. At the same time, a whole bunch of media outlets, hungry for content, repurpose the list which increases International Living's exposure. It's a simple formula that works.

I was one of those that traded an e-mail address for the list. And from then on I received daily updates from International Living about other great opportunities. Nothing I can complain about after all I did sign up for these updates. I also received offers to become a paying member. These offers became increasingly better (i.e. lower cost) until my curiosity got the better of me and I subscribed. In addition to the printed magazine and an archive of previous issues, I also received access to member-only articles.

Unfortunately, it didn't take too long before the shiny veneer began to wear off of International Living. Every article seemed to be the same rose-colored view of retirement in paradise. Real estate deals abounded, food was cheap, and people were all nice. Ummm… really? How could this possibly be true in so many places around the world?

And every e-mail or article included some pitch for a tell-all expensive ebook, conference, or service. Now I get that people need to make money to pay the bills, but there's also the need to maintain editorial integrity. And unlike the NY Times, I couldn't help feel that the advertisers had far too much influence on the content. How else can you explain the near lack of anything negative?

As my suspicions grew, I started to look into what others had written about International Living. Sure enough, posts emerged describing the exaggerations and, according to some, the lies that International Living propagated including glossing over difficulties in some countries, overstating the cheapness of real estate, and an overall lack of balance in their content.

So after a relatively short period as a member, I decided I would cancel. Guess what? The online customer service form didn't work. I thought at first that it might be down due to maintenance, but it didn't work over the course of several days. Next, I called customer service. I didn't get a human on the other end. Instead, a basic IVR system guided me through the cancellation process. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that International Living is actually just one guy in his basement with a bunch of freelance writers sending stuff in for him to publish.

Not all was bad with IL. There were some articles that were truly useful. For example, the one on moving to a state with no income tax prior to moving abroad to save on state taxes was pretty interesting. Unfortunately, the signal-to-noise ratio was just too low for my liking. The good news it that with enough digging there are plenty of trustworthy sources on the web and I'll be sharing those in other posts.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (25 votes, average: 4.64 out of 5)


  1. It sad to say but the information offered by International Living is often out of date and over exaggerated. The concept of providing international information is wonderful, if only the articles were true. The bottom line is they want to sell you something even if inaccurate. I purchased a condo in Salinas Ecuador and I have been travelling to Ecuador for 5 years. Some of the information is much older than 5 years. IL needs to step up their game and be real so people can make a informed decision.

  2. Thanks for the warning everyone. I was thinking about accepting their introductory offer of a $4.95 book, but to be on the safe side I've now decided against it and unsubscribed from the free reports I was being bombarded with since first visiting their site.

    I have noted too that reports (postcards) from expat Aussies living overseas all seem to have either been edited or written by the same person (s) - well articulated and with lots of enticing descriptive wording. Makes you wonder!!

  3. I'm not surprised at all about this. Four years ago, my wife and I considered retirement in Ecuador after reading an International Living article saying a couple could live comfortably, including rent for a nice condo, utilities, groceries, a full time maid and great health insurance and healthcare, for $600 a month. Two years ago, they were saying $1,800 a month, not including healthcare or servants. The more we looked, the clearer it became that it was all as phony as a three dollar bill.

  4. In the 90's I bought into IL's puffery about Roatan, Honduras. Came to found out the island was overhyped and a couple of crooked developers were very busy there. The people scowled at you for the most part, the dogs and cats were mistreated, it was full of realtors from Texas, there were machete robberies on the beach, and the natural environment was getting pretty trashed. I'm sure it was a good investment, and it was an interesting place (rather "third world" back then, and that was just fine) but it was not the paradise described by IL. The Bay Islands must have the worst sand flies on the planet. A friend was hauled off to jail (because a local didn't like him) and there were several murders and lots of robberies. However, good coconut bread and banana pancakes; shrimp & rice, Salva Vida beer, snorkeling and diving...but I digress. I think the key is, if you have money, the world's your oyster and you may select the best parts of it; if you don't, the statements about how great everything always is and how cheap--well--they're not true. Nothing's inexpensive anymore and poor people are toast. Fearing for the planet--don't believe the hype about Paradise.

  5. The cost of Health Care Insurance is astronomical.

    They fail to mention this and do not provide any information on Health Care Insurance.

  6. Retired MD expat traveler published in Mexico/SA IL is mostly revenue driven real estate investors many scammers. Be very careful always involve an attorney(abogado). In Costa Rica there are squatters laws you can lose 100% to ANYONE who camps on your property for 6 months. Best to travel locally in an area you like ALWAYS lease before you buy.

  7. Hi there,you mentioned realliable sources,,, Please send me the info.
    Thanks BillBill

  8. I have a subscription and I read and hear so much about Panama City. So I went last week and stayed in Panama City for a full week.

    Folks, please listen to me. Their economy is a complete house of cards that is built on money laundering. Skyscraper after skyscraper are practically empty. Read up on the numerous reports of shoddy construction. The landlords don't care whether you rent or not because that is not the purpose of the skyscrapers. Same thing with the malls. Albrook mall is just one of four malls and it has over 700(!) stores. Houston Galleria has 352 stores. It's impossible for the people of the country, much less the city, to support that many retail stores.

    By trade I am a criminal defense attorney. I can smell a money laundering business without seeing the books. It's common sense.

    Don't listen to the hype on Panama City. One day the winds will shift and so much of this economy is going to shambles because it's not real. Yes, there is quite a bit of commerce, but nowhere near enough to support the kind of buildings and stores and casinos that you see everywhere.

    The people of International Living should be ashamed for promoting this city. As people learn more from the Panama Papers, you will learn what I am saying is true.

    Do your due diligence on any country, but I would caution anyone to be very careful in investing in Panama.

    • Hi David, Thank you for your good advise. Panama is where, I read, Putin and Jackie Chan plus other celebs were caught in a money laundering scheme that was aired on Chanel 7 in Los Angeles, CA. I was married to a criminal layer until he passes (early for his age). It is hard to stay balanced in crim law but I am certainly grateful to know you are also keep keeping your ears and eyes open for the public. And, I was listening. JBS

  9. I have had ITl for 2yrs now and have been fortunate not to be scamed
    Or cheated out of money . I have order books and cancelled and recevied
    My refund with 5 businesses days.

    I'm reading all there piece's on Costa Rica & Panama . I hope what I read
    Is true.

    • not true at all on Costa Rica. We traveled there early 2016 very third world, terrible roads. If you want to live in a gated community cut off from the locals then maybe you would like it

  10. Thank you everyone for your comments. I too was almost pulled in. People need a clearinghouse identifying internet thieves. How easy would that be? I I feel I am an intelligent person. And yet I have been suckered a number of times. Why do credit card companies even process charges made by these crooks? I would be very open to a policy whereby I am giving notice if a certain company is on the list. I guess it falls on the old adage, buyer beware.

    • Interesting to note that this international marketing of retirement destinations is so prolific worldwide. It's the same here in Australia where ILM does exactly the same saturation marketing via an already existing on-line financial advisory newsletter that is always claiming that "...the end of the world is nigh". In Australia, we do have a federal government service and website that is trying to do something about scams. This is the link:

      Obviously very Australian specific but most of these scammers are internationally present and located only God Knows Where.

  11. Once I subscribed, I was bombarded with "pay me, pay me, pay me" for more of this, and that, and this service, and that program, and this seminar, etc etc etc...

    To confirm the OPs comments, check out on any of the places on articles they send by email. I have found that the information IL provides is rather (very) suspect ... "I live for $1500 a month in a 2 bedroom condo" .... etc ... I suppose anyone can find a $500 2 bedroom dump to rent.

    Thanks for this www site ... I did call the number in the first reply and have cancelled my membership. I must say, the telephone people were very nice and advised of the amount that would be returned to my credit card. Lets see if that actually happens :-)

  12. Feeling mighty stupid as I've just paid the $17 and then moments later decided to look up reviews. I thought I did already but it was for one of their sub-publications and didn't find anything bad.
    Of course the first thing I find is complaints about scams. Damn I feel stupid for letting them snow me I into thinking this had value.
    I will call my credit card company and request that they block any further charges from this company if that is possible.

    • Hi

      You can try International Living magazine, as our guarantee is you reserve the right to cancel for a pro-rated refund at any time.

      Here are the details to contact us if you wish to cancel - you can call us Toll Free on 1800-681-2402 or Local/INTL on 443-353-4232. Our office hours are Monday through Friday, 8am to 8pm. [link removed by Infolific Staff]

      We look forward to hearing from you

      Kind regards,
      Customer Services International Living

  13. About 3 weeks ago I received an email from International Living (IL) offering information about Ecuador, a country I've visited and am considering visiting again. I ordered their service offered using my credit card, which enabled me to access information on Ecuador on the IL Website.

    This was supposedly a "special" deal for just $7.00. I figured that even if I did not use it...well, it's not much of a loss...and if I did use it I might get a sense of the value of IL services are without a major cash outlay.

    A week later my credit card was charged an additional $140.00 for something else from IL. When I phoned IL to ask them to explain and remove this charge, they refused to explain it and just said I should have read the fine print in their offer. I told them that I have not yet accessed their computer to obtain any information, but they do not care.

    My credit card bill arrived a few days ago and I noticed the $147 in charges from IL. I phoned my credit card company to try to get them to help me get my money back, since I never even accessed IL's computers for the Ecuador data, nor any other services from IL. My credit card company said that in cases such as this, it is unlikely that customers will get their money back. Since then, I noticed a website called pissedconsumer that details many similar horror stories about IL.

    What I think IL is is a small group of people spread among about 10 to 20 countries. As Marios suggests, they write similar boilerplate articles about each country, touting the cheap housing and food, friendly natives, great weather, etc. Every place gets a glowing review, with few if any downsides. IL have ties to a few major real estate developers, which they will gladly steer you toward if you care to take one of their field trips. They have enough useful information to hook some suckers like me, but eventually you realize they are scam artists.

    • Sorry to hear about your situation Todd. It's unfortunate that IL is able to get away with such things. It would've been nice to hear that your credit card company reversed the charges. Of course, a reputable company would refund your money so the fact that IL won't speaks volumes.

  14. IL is a joke for the amount of money it cost to attend a seminar I could be traveling to these so-called retirement countries... If you do your research you can find a great place to retire on your own

  15. Its a sweet sweet dream really. Just take a vacation first and then you'll know.

    Most folks bail out when grandkids arrive or a health issue does.

    Find a place in the states....

    • I think you're right that most people bail. I think an extended vacation (say 3 months) is needed to get any sort of idea about how things are really going to be. A quick 2 week visit and you'll still be in the "honeymoon" phase where everything seems great.

  16. It pays to do your research. I almost got sucked in. You know the old saying, "if it sounds to good to be true".

    • Have you given up entirely on the idea or are you just setting realistic expectations? I'm in the second camp myself.

  17. I too got sucked in and subscribed to their magazine but when I informed them I no longer wanted any of there magazine or subscription services I still got charges for Ecuador Insider debited to my credit card. This resulted in me needing to cancel my card and as I was living overseas and travelling it cost A$100 to get a new cards and the inconvenience of having to change my new card details with all my honest service providers.

    I have now reported their actions to my bank as fraud. When you try to unsubscribe you can only use their forms which don't leave you with a copy of your email request. Cunning, sneaky bastards.

    I have been travelling through South America for nearly 2 years now and confirm a lot of what they say is bullshit!!!! :-) Don't subscribe is my advice.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. It's always good to hear that others have experienced the same thing. Too bad about the charges though. Too bad also that IL hasn't chosen the path of providing real information. It's not like most of us would be dissuaded by honest, but useful information!

      • Is there a company out there that is legitmate to do the job that International Living claims they can do, but really can't do? I would be very interested in. Is there such an animal that exist out there other than International Living? Please Respond. Thank you, Marguerite Zeman,

    • Thank you for your input. I almost bite.

  18. Many years ago (1970's) when I was preparing to get my feet wet in Paris(as a tourist), I studied everything I could get my hands on, including a subscription to IL, then about a 2 sheet staples and folded edition. I couldn't figure out the one-color ink cycle. The publisher then was William Peddicord.

    Although I eventually dived in by going to visit my dear friend Arlene who lived mostly in Paris as well as in NJ -- who taught me the best of all things (how to use the Metro comfortably) -- receiving and reading IL made me feel I was ready, whether I was or not, or at least could manage.

    I need to visit my other home and review the mags to see if they were really relevant to my research or just that I knew so little that they seemed informed and informing.

    I do recall thinking that there was a good deal(or a bit too much) of advertising about the seminars and such even then. But there were also adverts that read more legitimately. (ITN is the best source for all data.) It seemed that the more general articles provided useful data although at a certain point there was a change when I posited that William died or retired and Kathleen (and the redoubtable Leif) took over. Then followed the morphing into more touting of opportunities in .... some Paris, not the UK, not Europe ... but eventually totally South/Central America in which I had no interest. Seminar after seminar followed broadsheet after broadsheet recommending seminars.

    In the end over the years since, a lot of Paris Real Estate was visited. In the 1990's I didn't buy as I didn't realize the advice I was getting from my new banking executive husband was based more in his own conservative position than in the needed boldness of finding and tying down a property, as is my business in the US.

    A fortune could have been made in buying ca. 1994 and selling when the market exploded. (The pressure of those from the Middle East snapping up every likely unit probably drove the prices to a point where as one of my French friends said, "But, of course, it is what all my friends must pay.)

    I doubt --although still watching the SeLoger's -- that the kind of place --not gussied up to an extreme extent -- that I really want 7ième or limite 15ième will ever, even in the current extreme "chute" of the prices, reach the price level I am willing to pay. Even the 7th floor 9MC chambres de bonne, not even two joined together, are still priced above 100,000E. As much as I might hope that my health and stamina might still be up to visiting, that is not my price point for what be provided. So I haven't lost but I haven't gained but it seems there must be a profit motive in publishing IL and IL&I.

  19. You are so right on this. At first I was really excited. Looking at lots of places to retire but they all seemed the same. Cheap real estate, cheap or no taxes, cheap food and friendly. I went to Ambergris Caye in Belize where all of the numbers they gave me were wrong. Taxi 3 times the amount quoted, food expensive (just like the states), real estate just like the states but the people were friendly. For a snorkeler I would need to own a boat to even really snorkel. On to Honduras. Expensive also. Forgot to tell you it rains a lot and everything in your house molds. People not friend, real estate high and lots of loops to jump thru etc. etc. If you have any real genuine articles, please let me know.


  20. I was intrigued with the several daily expat reviews and some had useful information on a given country. After the offers for the magazine got more and more attractive, I subscribed to a short trial subscription. It may be coincidence, but soon after, the daily blogs started 'shilling' for paid investment sevices :-(. I am already beseged with to much of this kind of investment hype and accordingly dropped the daily free blogs. I have yet to receive my first magazine, but based on others reviews, now anticipate being dissapointed...

    • What ended up working for me is taking the list of countries that IL mentions and then seeking out blogs from those that have made the move to those countries of interest. For example, some good blogs from folks that have moved to Ecuador include EddSaid and Ecuador George. Even those that are trying to make money via affiliate links are still providing valuable advice that is based on actual experience.

  21. Thanks I was just about the pull the trigger on a subscription ;) I looked around Costa Rica, but that ship has sailed from the $values I encountered looking at townhouses in Tamarindo.

  22. You mentioned that you were going to post regarding trustworthy sources for working or retiring overseas. Could you send me the links to your articles.
    Thanks so much!

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