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Retiring in Aruba: How Much Can You Afford?

Retiring in Aruba

Retiring in Aruba - is it even a possibility? Everyone knows there are some islands in the Caribbean that are more affordable than others. 

It's one of the most unique Caribbean islands to which we've travelled which means that there are a lot of pluses if you're considering retiring in Aruba. 

For instance, it's out of the hurricane zone so you won't have to worry about your retirement investment being blown away by a hurricane or having to evacuate every once and a while. 

If you're interested in knowing more...we spoke with Miriam Engeln. She's not only a realtor on the island but she's an expat who has lived there for 16 years. 

She knows Aruba and what it takes to relocate there. She's been there and done that! 

Listen as Miriam reveals:

  • How a two-week vacation turned into a permanent stay
  • The simple choices you can make to reduce expenses on the island
  • Typical rental prices for homes 
  • Whether you can get an ocean view property for $250,000
  • And a lot more!

If retiring in Aruba is even a slight possibility, you can either listen to the podcast or read the transcript of the show below. If you're interested in visiting and looking at some properties, you can contact Miriam directly.

You can reach her by cell or WhatsApp at 297-733-1856 or by email at arubaconnections@gmail.com. And click here to get more information about residency requirements for retirees

TRANSCRIPT: Expand to Read the Retiring in Aruba Podcast!

Jerry: Today, we are going to be talking about a place that we have been to several times and certainly one of my absolute favorite islands in the Caribbean, Aruba. Hey, Evelyn, do you know what Aruba's slogan is?

Evelyn: I do.

Jerry: What is it?

Evelyn: It's, One Happy Island.

Jerry: And you guys are going to enjoy today's episode. We're going to be talking with Miriam, who's a realtor on Aruba.

Evelyn: Yeah, she actually has been living there for quite a while. And I can't wait to talk with her and hear more about retiring in Aruba and the real estate market. But before we get to Miriam, there is a little bit of research I've done on Aruba that I'd love to share.

Just a few fun facts about Aruba. If you ever want to go and visit, one thing, Aruba is great for all of those history buffs out there. And if you're really into ancient history, get this...there are over 300 prehistoric pictographs in Aruba. They have these systems of caves that you can go and explore and you can actually see these pictographs in the caves. It's absolutely beautiful. You have to go Google it and you'll see how beautiful it is. But we've never done it. And I can't believe I didn't know this.

Jerry: I can't believe I didn't know it either. But if you can, let's talk about what a pictograph is. Is that like the paintings on the walls that you see in Egypt?

Evelyn: Yeah. So, you know how the ancient people would tell stories through pictures on the cave walls. And so, you can learn about the history of a place. But these really are prehistoric people who live there. They lived in these caves, apparently, and there are the pictographs to go see. And I would love to go do that.

Jerry: That's interesting because when we were there, we were mostly just hanging out at the beach. I had no idea. Are there any other things to do in Aruba other than the pictographs and go to the beach?

Evelyn: Of course.

So, again, for history buffs and those who like to dive, Aruba has two World War II shipwrecks to explore right off their coast. One is the S.S. Antilla. This was a German ship that was scuttled by its captain in 1940. I did not know it scuttled meant when I first read that. Do you know what scuttled means?

Jerry: I think abandoned.

Evelyn: Close. When a captain scuttles his ship, he purposely sinks it. So that's sitting off the coast and also the SS Pedernales. This was an oil tanker that was torpedoed by the Germans in 1942. So apparently there's coral around here, lots of sea life to explore along with the ships. Lots of diving around Aruba. If you're an avid diver, retiring in Aruba can be great!

That's probably one of the, you know, main attractions people go there for. And so, one other thing (for those of you who really do want to go to Aruba and be on the beach all day) that is really interesting thing is that the sand won't burn your feet.

Evelyn: Thinking back, yes, this is the case. Their sand is made from crushed coral and shell composition. It's very fine and powdery. But the cool thing about it is the sand stays cool during the day. You're not going to get that really, really hot sand on your feet. So, you can be barefoot all day walking along the beach, enjoying the beautiful waters of Aruba.

Jerry: I definitely didn't know that. But now that I think back, I think you're right. We didn't necessarily burn our feet on the sand like we do in other places.

Evelyn: No, we didn't. OK, so I think that's enough facts for the day. Let's get to Miriam. Hi, Miriam. Thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate your time with us. And we can't wait to learn more about Aruba because I know it's a really popular island in the Caribbean.

So, I'd love to know a little bit more about you. You know, I know you're not from Aruba, so, you know, maybe talk about why you chose to move to Aruba.

Miriam: I am from the Netherlands in Europe. My name is Miriam Engle. And my mom moved to Aruba in the Caribbean. And my sister and myself had a ticket to come and visit her. That is how the whole adventure started.

So, we flew here and I already checked online and it's great for scuba diving. There's no hurricanes and I thought this could be something for me. Because in the Netherlands, it's quite cold in the winters, very dark, sometimes snow, and that's not really my cup of tea. So, we landed. We have 10 days of a great vacation in Aruba, went snorkeling on a pirate boat. We saw flamingos, iguanas, donkeys, you name it. And within six months, I moved here.

Evelyn: Wow, that sounds really wonderful. I know I'm not a cold weather person either. So, living on an island sounds fantastic. How long have you actually been living in Aruba?

Miriam: I moved to Aruba in the year 2004. It's 16 years and counting. And I thought, let me just move to the Caribbean for a year, enjoy the nice weather.  It was 16 years ago and I liked it so much. I got myself a rental place. I got a piece of land at one point, built a house, found a job, got a cat, you know, settling down. And it's been 16 years, and I'm still here, still going strong.

Evelyn: That is awesome. I actually have a question that just popped into my head because I've heard people talk about some people getting "island fever" or they get sort of feeling like they're closed in on the island and they can't leave easily. They've got to get on a plane as opposed to living somewhere in Europe where they can drive or take a train. Is that an issue?

Miriam: Island fever for me did not occur. I also heard about people that cannot deal with not changing seasons. So, we have four summer seasons and that's all.

So, yes, for me it's been really good. If I feel that I need to get off the island because it is small...you see a lot of people regularly. One hundred thousand people or more. I just fly to Miami. That's not even three hours flight straight. I go to Toronto, I go to Europe, South Africa. I go to South America, Panama, or Belize. It's all really nicely located here. A lot of flights. If you're retiring in Aruba, there are lots of options to travel.

Evelyn: That's actually a good point. We've been to Aruba and we've been able to take direct flights from Houston and it's only four hours as opposed to maybe living somewhere like Maui, where it's a really long haul to get anywhere. I think that would make a really big difference.

Miriam: I would say so because the cost now with all the airline is doing some special deals. You can sometimes get a round trip ticket for like four hundred dollars, which is great even from New York area. And it's also about four and a half hours. So, yeah, we have a lot of international visitors and sometimes just for a long weekend.

Jerry: We have visited Aruba, absolutely love the island, but we've always gone there for a week, or two weeks. So, tell us, Miriam, why do you think Aruba is a great place to retire?

I would say Aruba is a great place to retire because it's very mellow. The weather is nice. The people are friendly. If you want to cross the road, they stop the car and let you pass. It's really island time.

There's always a happy hour somewhere with live music. You know, I'm not talking about this current time, of course, with all the challenges the world is facing with the virus, but it's a very happy island. So, I would say retiring makes it better like that, that you don't have to run or people are not welcoming to people from another nationality. Everyone speaks English. You can pay with the US Dollar; we have no hurricanes. The health care system is good. So, I could not think of any other place as nice as Aruba to retire.

Jerry: That does sound wonderful. Now, Miriam, you're a realtor there, right?

Miriam: Yes. So, I work in real estate in Aruba now for almost sixteen years, almost from the beginning when I arrived. And I specialize in residential homes as well in condominium sales. So that is what I am doing full time.

Jerry: So, tell us a little bit about the real estate market in Aruba.

Miriam: Sure. So, we have MLS system. We copied that from the USA, actually, because in Aruba it was like every real estate company had its own website, its own social media sites, and it wasn't really linked. And now we have the twenty-five biggest and most professional realtors on one website. So, in that sense, it's been really good to find your place here. It's for a long-term rental, for vacation, for investment, I would say it's a great, easy search.

Evelyn: I've noticed that because when I fantasize about retiring in Aruba, I do have to admit I go looking at property and see what I could get for the money. What areas do expats or retirees that come in usually settle down in?

Miriam: That's a good question, Evelyn, because the island is small. So, there isn't really one space specifically where all the people that retire centralize, but I do have to say close to the beach and close to the golf course is very popular. So, if you arrive in Aruba, you land at the Queen Beatrix airport. It's about 15 minutes’ drive to go to Palm Beach and that is also where you have to Ritz Carlton, the Marriott Hyatt, and that is where most of the retirees would like to buy a property in that area.

Evelyn: Since we're talking about that, I'm thinking about different price points: $250,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000. Can you maybe talk about what one could get for each of those price points as far as house versus condo, ocean view versus non-ocean view, those types of things?

Miriam: Sure. So, you can imagine on an island we have the ocean surrounding us and it's a pretty flat island with a couple of mountains here and there. So, the ocean shore is being divided by hotels, the downtown area for shopping and casinos, the airport and a lot of golf courses is also on the ocean. So that means pretty much all the houses between $250,000 and $500,000 are a little bit set back behind the hotels. So that means if you would like to have an ocean view, you will spend more money or buy a condo because condominiums are in high rise buildings and you will have easily an ocean view as well.

Evelyn: Great. One thing I don't know if everyone realizes about Aruba is that it's like a desert in that it's got cactus. It's one of the things that I think sets Aruba apart because I've been to different Caribbean islands and it really has a wonderful feel. It's almost like you're in Phoenix, Arizona, surrounded by the ocean. And so, I'm just curious with that kind of environment, I'm really curious about things like snakes and scorpions, the types of things that you would normally get in the desert, let's say, in the US. Is that common in Aruba?

Miriam: In my 16 years on the islands, I did see a dead snake that is a boa constrictor. So, it's not poisonous and I haven't seen any scorpions or evil stuff. There is a lot to do in the ocean and you may see a lionfish. Lionfish don't really have any predators or enemies. So, I know that you could find and you have to be very careful when you go deep diving to not be close to a lion fish.

But for the others, I hardly ever see any insects. It's more like nice birds, iguanas. We have donkeys.

Jerry: Yeah. We went to the donkey sanctuary.

Evelyn: Yes, I love that. I do not like bugs. I know I've mentioned it on other episodes. It's not my thing. And so that's the thing about Aruba, is it's not your typical Caribbean island that has the, you know, like the rainforest thing where you've got tons of rain and tons of bugs and that sort of thing. I can see why it's one happy island.

Miriam: Yes. And to answer the question a little bit better about bugs, too, we have a constant breeze. So that means if there were any insects, they are blown away by the constant wind. So, it's very nice. I don't even have mosquito screens in my house at all.

Evelyn: Yeah, you know, that's the other thing. We noticed that when we had gone to Aruba, it was probably the most comfortable island we've been on because of that breeze.

And we didn't have to put bug spray on the entire time. It's a plus.

Miriam: I know for me, too, nobody likes them.

Jerry: So, you mentioned snorkeling and scuba diving and golfing. Those are certainly things that I think a lot of people enjoy. I'm curious what other activities there are in Aruba for folks who are retiring.

Miriam: Do you mean skydiving?

Jerry: Some people may want to try skydiving.

Evelyn: For the adventurous!

Jerry: Exactly.

Miriam: So, yeah, that could be one of the options, if you're brave enough. Then we have two tropical islands where you can go and spend a day with a water park, flamingos, restaurants. We have casinos.

There's some get together of expats groups snorkeling. Well, a lot of people have their own boats, their own four-wheel racers. That's a lot to do.

Jerry: Again, we have enjoyed it a lot. And there's a few things on that list that you mentioned that I think we might have skipped. So, we're going back soon and do a few of those items.

The one item we forgot to ask you about when you're talking about the homes and the different price points. I'm curious about the overall cost of living. Is it expensive to purchase furniture or expensive to purchase major appliances when you're living in Aruba?

Miriam: Well, Jerry, we do have a lot of furniture stores. However, everything has to be imported and shipped to Aruba. So basically, when you walk into a store in Austin, Texas, you will have a better competition for you as a buyer to have better deals.

We, however, have reasonable prices. Sometimes we have discounts on membership stores, but it's not as economical in the USA like the mainland in general, because it all has to be shipped here. So, we have a lot of stores to shop. It's just not as much competition as you would hope for to really get the price down.

Evelyn: Well, and as you were talking about that, I was thinking about like Panama has the Pensionado program for retirees who come in and they offer discounts for different services and entertainment and products. Does Aruba have anything like that for retirees coming in?

Miriam: Well, I know if you buy a property in Aruba, you automatically can stay one hundred eighty days a year on the island. So, you don't have to do anything just to have your title deed with you when you travel and you can stay the whole winter, for example, or two weeks and months, a year for the whole year. And the discounts, sometimes they have discounts in restaurants for locals and also senior discounts with water and electricity bills.

So, we know that. But it's not an official program. You just have to show your age, you show your ID and then you can check for a discount. You have to actively go look for it. It's quite a good idea. Now, you mention it to now you ask it. Maybe we can do something like that to put like a nice thing together in a link with all the senior discounts.

Evelyn: I know it's something that's on the top of people's minds as they retire and they're on a budget that certain countries do offer these, I guess, incentives for people to come and retire. And so that would be interesting just to have a nice roundup of what Aruba offers.

Miriam: So, let me tell you about the expected cost of living here on the islands. Because selling property to people from North America in general, they spend a little bit more on electricity than people from Europe just to compare to both.

We have, for example, no central AC because we need no heating. We just have split unit air conditioning. So that means when you're in a room, you press the remote control and it cools that one room. Then we do know this, that people from the US and Canada leave the AC running day and night. So that could almost double your fee for the monthly utility bills. So, I just give you one basic general idea for water could be around $50 a month.

But at my house, I only spent 20 bucks a month, and that's a two-bedroom house, one bathroom. And the utility bills, if you have like a one- or two-bedroom condo or home, you can spend around two to three hundred dollars a month. I'm Dutch, I can say I'm cheap, that's what we say, right?

And I spend about $125-$150 a month on electricity. So, it really depends on the usage and how many people and how often you turn the AC on. For example, a stackable washer/dryer. I chose just to have a washing machine. I do the laundry, I hang the laundry outside and within two hours, it's dry. So, you know, it's choices. You can do it economically for sure.

Evelyn: Right. Are you going to expect everything that you had, where you came from? Do you want to equal it where you're going or do you want to save when you can? And so that's a really interesting perspective.

Miriam: That's true. We also have cable TV packages like you have back home. If you would like the expensive sport and movie channel, you pay maybe twenty, thirty dollars extra a month. So, it is all about choices.

Evelyn: Is there a healthy rental market on the island? Let's say you don't want to buy. You want to live there for a little bit, but rent. So, or are the rentals all taken up by the vacationers coming in?

Miriam: That's a very good question. Yes, I know we do have the high season that most of the owners that rent out a property, they prefer to do nightly rental because of the income during Christmas, New Year, Carnival, Easter.

That is when you can make more money than the rest of the year. But we do also have a good, solid case of long-term rentals and those houses have a more reasonable price.

And you rent for three months, six months or a year, for example. There's a little bit of both.

Evelyn: What would you say, the typical rental price for maybe a two or three bedroom and let's go for one- or two-bedroom home or condo.

Miriam: Yes, I would say between a $100 a night and $150 a night. That is a tourist price. If you go for a week or two, you know. But if you want to rent a home, for example, we have nice two-bedroom, two-bathroom homes for $1400 to $1500 a month.

Evelyn: Well, that sounds pretty reasonable.

Jerry: Sign us up!

Miriam: Yes. When are you guys coming?

Evelyn: As soon as we can. Actually, Aruba is the first place on my list to travel to when we can travel again. I'm coming to Aruba for at least two weeks to a month.

Jerry: While she's working, she typically has a second computer that has the webcam of one of your local beaches constantly playing in the background.

Evelyn: Yes! I look at it every day. That is my dream. So, I'm heading right towards you.

Miriam: So, you see me walking past. Next time I will wave!

Jerry: You know, as a realtor, I'm sure you work with a lot of folks coming in and they're buying property in Aruba. What have you found that retirees or expats are most surprised about when they're buying property in Aruba?

Miriam: At the moment because it's a buyer's market, most of the people that want to buy in Aruba retire here, move here. They find the price is really low because a lot of them do a lot of research like yourselves. They went to other islands, they went to mainland, they went to Costa Rica, to Belize. They come to Aruba and they see everybody speaking English and using US dollars.

There's no hurricane stress and the prices are low. And they say, "Woo, hoo...sign me up!". And on top of it, the property tax is only 0.6% a year. So that's also fairly reasonable.

Jerry: That's amazing compared to what we spend in Texas. Texas does not have a state income tax, but our property taxes are two to three and a half percent every year, depending on where you buy.

Evelyn: So, yeah, that's a savings.

Miriam: There you go. It's a good savings for sure. And even if you don't want to retire full time, you can just spend the winters here, for example, becoming a snowbird and then rent out the property the other months of the year.

Evelyn: That's a nice investment. So, what advice would you give people looking to come to Aruba for retirement or even just coming to live part time?

Miriam: Make sure that you work with a trusted person to inform you because, you know, it's a small island. Not a lot of things happen. So, people like to talk and say yes. Do you sell these? Can you do that? And maybe they don't know the rules exactly, but they don't ask to the government, they ask around.

So, make sure you have a trustworthy person informing you about what can be done and what can't be done, because we have the customs here.

So, when you arrive and when you depart, it is very important, you comply with the rules, right? Especially in these COVID times, you see a lot of people advising people on Facebook or Instagram, and it's not officially true.

They think they know, but make sure they know.

Evelyn: Yeah, that's great advice, really, for anywhere you go.

Jerry: Are there any other laws that people should be aware of with respect to foreigners buying property in Aruba?

Miriam: So, everybody can buy on the island. There's no nationality, no person that cannot purchase in Aruba. The only thing that you need to declare is where the money comes from. So, it works with bank wires to notary's escrows. So, you have a choice of six notaries who would function as a researcher of the title that a buyer has a clean title and the money to purchase a property you wire into a notary's escrow. So, the money to purchase goes from the buyer's bank to the notary's escrow bank accounts. So that's very important to know. You cannot pay by check. You cannot pay cash, either.

Anybody can buy, but not anybody can just live here. So, once you buy a second home here on the islands, you can spend up to 180 days a year. If you would like to live here permanently, you could request to be a retiree and you have to show proof of income or pension.

Evelyn: That is really important information for our listeners to know. Obviously. Miriam, you've got a lot of wonderful experience in real estate and you know of the Aruba market. If one of our listeners wants to speak with you about purchasing real estate property in Aruba, what's the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Miriam: Well, I could share my telephone number on my WhatsApp number or my email address, for example, and I will reply within twenty-four hours. You know, real estate, we're always working. I never want to miss anything so I can get back to anybody with questions. I'm right here to help. My email address is arubaconnections@gmail.com and my cell phone number that's also WhatsApp is 297-733-1856. That's my direct number.

Evelyn: Perfect. And when we publish the podcast on our website, we'll also have that information so people can either remember what you said or they can just hit our website at Retirement Rovers dot com and that information will be there.

But thank you so much, Miriam. This has been really helpful and interesting I know Aruba is a place at the top of my list, very top of my list. I love, you know, the weather. I love the fact that there's no hurricanes there. It's just a comfortable, pleasant place to be. And so, I know a lot of people will be interested to listen to this. So, thank you!

Evelyn: Miriam was awesome. I really enjoyed talking to her. She had so many great details to share about Aruba that it got me thinking. And of course, I went to check out some of her real estate listings. And I saw that she had a really nice mix of condos and homes. And one of the things I thought about when I was looking at the homes is the fact that the desert climate means that the homes have rocks in the front yard and the backyard. And for those who might want to live in Aruba part time, this is so much easier to maintain.

Jerry: Are you telling me that I don't need to bring my lawn mower to Aruba?

Evelyn: Yes, that is exactly what I'm telling you.

Jerry: Awesome!

Evelyn: So, leave that lawnmower at home, everybody!

So, there are so many other great things about Aruba that would make me want to go live there. You know, the wonderful breeze that makes it such a comfortable island, the beautiful ocean. It's absolutely gorgeous. There's lots of direct flights from the U.S. and the people really are amazing. They really make you feel welcome on their little island. So, Jerry, I think that is all we have for today.

And I want to thank all the listeners for joining us. I'm really hoping the information you heard today is helpful, and I hope it'll help you find your paradise.


If you're looking for a place in the Caribbean a bit closer to the U.S. and Europe, check out our Retiring in the Bahamas podcast

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