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 (36 votes, average: 4.42 out of 5)


  1. So glad I Googled IL before succumbing to their daily advertising and found this site!

    I would rather join a forum or read a blog of actual expats and/or folks who are contemplating living abroad or have made the move.

    Any suggestions?

    • I used the info from the magazine to go to Ecuador I stayed for several months I loved it everything they wrote about was true, the people are lovely and friendly, food is delicious and cheap as were veggies and fruits! The realtors a lot of them are crooked and are not governed by law and there was no regard for the dogs that were everywhere but in a poor country I do understand why, they cannot afford to feed pets! So we should not judge!

  2. Also, how can I get these free emails to stop?

  3. Well I'm not going. I'm from Minnesota, lived in California over 45 years and now I'm in Arizona.
    Every Country they email me about I check out for my number one concern. Animals. I just put in the Country and dogs and it turns out without fail they they are way behind in knowing about them and they treat their strays like crap.
    It's cheap here too and they love animals here unlike California. I wish it was more liberal but I still love it.

    • The one good thing I've got to say about Uruguay, after living there for about six years, is that they treat there animals well, especially the dogs. They like big dogs, they get plenty of meat as it's cheap and the locals eat a lot of it. The strays always look healthy and well fed. It's illegal for a vet to put an animal down unless it's in a really bad way.
      If you love dogs (as I do), perhaps you could consider going to one of these countries that treat dogs badly and start an animal shelter, and teach the locals to care. I met a German woman in Penang who did just that. She now has 200 acres with 600 dogs that she cares for, all funded with donated money... very inspiring!

  4. Thanks so much for the information. You've just saved me $900 - the cost of ILF's conference on retiring overseas.

    • Hey Erica,

      Myself and my husband went to the Fast Track Retire Overseas conference in Phoenix last year. It was an unbelievable experience. I got to speak to so many experts who have gone through the entire process of moving overseas. They discussed the issues they encountered, what to expect, how to make friends and to ensure you rent before you decide to buy. That way you're able to decide if you like a neighborhood.

      Before I subscribed to International Living I went to visit a tax account, a lawyer and a real estate broker. Their consultant rates cost me $2300 collectively. The advice I got off vendors at the conference over a coffee was 100% times more helpful because those people actually live there. They had different lawyers from different countries to answer all questions directly.

      I'm moving to Costa Rica in 6 months and before myself and my husband leave we're going to their Atlanta conference to double check we have everything sorted.

      Our reasons for moving is healthcare and cost of living. My husband needs a warmer climate for his asthma.

      • Hello Janet,

        Why do you trust advice from people who were paid to persuade you to move overseas? And why do you think going to another conference presented by the same people is double checking their advice?


  5. I asked the general office a simple question and they said that IL did not know! All I am looking for was previously published summary al state tax rates, special provisions/exemptions on retirement/investment income by State and other key tax/financial features. This info was in an article/seminar about which state to consider in the US from a tax financial fact basis.

    Hoping I can get a better answering.

  6. Don't retire to a place. Retire to the world. Every year, relocate to a place that is cheap THAT YEAR. Buy nothing (or buy used). Live as local as possible. When you decide that you've had enough, move on. There are over a hundred countries. Many, many choices. Even Australia was cheap, in 2000-ish. Britain will be cheap after Brexit.

    Move annually, live locally, and one can still retire very inexpensively overseas.

    My mind lives on the Internet, so my body can live anywhere. Why not live where it's cheap? ;-)

    • Hi Bill

      Great information - I like the way you think - the world is too big & there are many places to experience before I die - wanderlust calls !

      I had a subscription to IL about 20 years ago & enjoyed reading about the places that were initially off my radar. Not being of retirement age back then I would only dream of one day relocating. Now I find there are many places I want to explore so I like your idea of relocating to a new place each year.

    • Brilliant idea!

  7. IL just deducted $49 from my account without my permission. I needed that money to pay a bill. Now their customer service number is conveniently not working, and I have been on habitual hold for a half hour. Not expecting anyone to answer. This is a scam and I am furious. DON'T DO IT FOLKS!!!

    • Hey Julia,

      Same thing happened to me. They deducted $49 out of my account but it was my own fault. I got 5 free issues and was auto billed for a year subscription on the 6th issue. I complained and got a most of my money back. They charged me for 2 issues which was fair enough.

      Contact them here - The guy Niall was very helpful.

      I've since gone back and signed up again though cause I really enjoyed the content haha.

  8. Just from the standpoint of the publication - it is a horrible magazine. After reading it for just a few months, it is obvious that the articles are all written by just a handful of people - probably all sitting in a shabby office in suburbia, USA. Every article has the same tone, everything is rosy and cheap. The magazine is just a front to sell their expensive retirement seminars and other publications. And apparently those are just a steppingstone to their real-estate connections. Save your money and your time - there is plenty of information on the internet but take all information with a grain of salt.

    • I disagree they handle their business fairly and I gleaned good advice I actually followed it and had an awesome experience!

  9. Dear All,
    Thanks for saving my small nest egg. Really I am grateful to you all for the wonderful feedback on IL. I was about to subscribe. Now I will unsubscribe from their regular bait emails.

  10. We were sucked in by International Living way back in 2007. We discovered that their main product is Real Estate. They joint venture with developers, organize a seminar in that country and take you on a real estate tour to sell you over priced properties... not the cheap ones they advertise in the promotional material.

    The information they offered on Uruguay was outdated and incorrect, and cost us dearly

  11. I am really getting ready to GO, somewhere, soon. Probably within a year or two. Any positive or factual information would be more than appreciated. Any and all links would be awesome. Mom of three grown children, 24, 22. 18. Recently divorced after 26+ years of marriage. I just want to live my life beautifully.
    Too bad my ex turned out to be such a downer. Brand new life, excited for new adventures and relationships. 48 going on 18! Thanks for all the info.

    • Let me know if you get any useful information on retirement abroad! I'm 61 and divorced with kids 21 & 25. Dying to explore the world and protect my modest investments!

      • I am heading to Belize in February for 3 weeks - part pleasure and part looking at real estate and/or rentals.

        I am so tired of the snow and the cold and want to see if living abroad is the way to go.

        I am divorced as well with children 20 and 25 and I am exploring the world!

  12. We too, bought a subscription to IL when it was on sale. Reading it every month has helped clarify 1. that we want to go somewhere other than the states; 2. that we want to keep our paid-for home here; 3. that we want to rent, not buy, and 4. narrowed down the places we want to VISIT while deciding exactly where to live. Since we've made the decision NOT to buy property, much what we read is useless to us. But we know that, and so we haven't been sucked into the hype these companies (IL and LAIO) try to push.

    • They're not just about real estate, they do have a publication for real estate buyers though. International Living have been really great to us on their insider forums. We want to know a question, they've gone out and found it for us. Even their free 'Ask the Experts' area was an unbelievable resource for me and my husband.

      This is the question they answered for my husband.

      I will say that sometimes we ask too many questions and sometimes we get a reply with a link to an article about the topic but at least they point me us in the right direction.

  13. 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.

  14. 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!!

  15. 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.

    • Well I was there last year one bedroom furnished condos were $250 per month so it s true you can live very cheaply I think you misunderstood what you read sorry!

  16. 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.

  17. The cost of Health Care Insurance is astronomical.

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

  18. 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.

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

  20. 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

    • Thank you for your truthful article. It was extremely helpful. I would like your opinion on other Expat locations.

      Thank you.

      Kindest Regards,


  21. 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

  22. 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.

  23. 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 :-)

  24. 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

  25. 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.

  26. 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

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.


  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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!

    • Terri, I have been travelling extensively for the last 12 years.
      Choosing a country to retire to depends a lot on what you are looking for
      eg - cheap living
      - access to modern medicine
      - access to consumer items
      - not to be targeted as a foreigner
      - require residence visa or passport
      - access to western food
      - permitted to drive
      - able to buy property
      - religious preferences
      - attitude to women
      - centrally located in the world
      - access to cheap airfairs
      - proximity to your home country, or other Western country
      - level of integrity of locals
      - friendliness of loals
      - access to alcohol and tobacco
      - cheap alcohol (Number 1 concern for many expats)
      - Ease of obtaining entry visas
      - Not too hot or too cold
      - Beach living
      - Rural or jungle living

      The list goes on

      I suggest you write your own list of your ideal country and what exactly you are looking for, and your budget. The rest should be easy, I (or someone else here) may be able to help

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