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 (12 votes, average: 4.92 out of 5)
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6 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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. Thanks.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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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