I am often asked why I picked Fiji as a place to retire. Well, part of the answer is related to my job. I’m a Professor at Harvard Medical School and am often invited to give medical research talks all over the world. I have travelled to most of the countries in Europe, as well as Japan, several times. Each time I go to a new country, I envision what it would be like to live there.
Several years ago, my family accompanied me on a trip to Australia for a conference. Given the distance we traveled, we decided to also visit Fiji. We rented a house on the Coral Coast of Viti Levu for two weeks because we really wanted to experience Fiji life – which meant doing normal daily chores, such as making our own beds, going grocery shopping and preparing all of our meals.
After three days, my wife and I agreed that Fiji was a nice place to visit, but we could never live there. What we failed to realize was that we were ‘missing’ the fast-paced life, the TV, the hustle and bustle of American/Western-style living. Instead, we were relaxing. After another three days, my wife stated she did not want to return home the following week. During those three additional days, we had more time to relax and interact with the locals. We both fell in love with the people, culture and slow pace of life in Fiji. The day before we left, the owner of the rental informed us that his sale of the adjacent property—9.5 acre farm on the Coral Coast—had fallen through. After two weeks of discussion back in the US, we hired an attorney in Suva, Fiji and purchased the property.
In 2017, my wife and I will retire and move our household to Fiji. For us, moving to Fiji is about a lifestyle change in retirement. Retirement is coming early for me, as I have had some health issues resulting from the high-stress life of being a research scientist. Fiji is a good fit, as my wife and I were both raised on small farms and are accustomed to a slower-paced life and ‘living off the land’.
Most of the land in Fiji is owned by the local villages/tribes and a small percentage is freehold; however, 99 year leases of land are very possible and might be considered safer than owning freehold. Our land is leasehold and by the time my children are 84 years old, the lease will be renewed for another 100 years, so I’m not concerned about the ‘potential loss of lease.’ There is no property tax in Fiji and my yearly lease costs are only $400! The cost of living is very low compared to the US, which was a huge consideration for us, as the dollar goes a long way. Local wages are about $2/hour, so hiring locals for cleaning, food preparation and gardening can be done inexpensively. Normal monthly expenses total about $1000/month, if not less. Fiji has a modern banking system, so wiring money into your local bank account is easy and ATMs are located throughout the country. I currently pay my Fijian expenses for mowing and land upkeep while living in the US via online bill pay through my local Westpac checking account.
I anticipate that cultural acclimation will also be relatively seamless. Having visited many countries and observed many cultures, I can honestly say that I have not met a friendlier group of people than the Fijians. Everyone from the youngest to the oldest is always presenting themselves with huge smiles and greeting you with a healthy “BULA!” English is used by everyone, but I am currently learning as much of the local language as possible. If you like outdoor life, then Fiji could be your oasis. With world class surfing, SCUBA and fishing, there is plenty to do in the ocean. Golf, white water rafting, ziplines, and hiking to waterfalls will keep land lovers busy, as well.
I admit not everything is ideal in Fiji. The one thing that might keep some from considering the move is healthcare. Depending on where you live, healthcare could be a concern. Modern hospitals are located in the larger cities, particularly in Suva. The government has increased spending on healthcare, however, and a new clinic was recently built in our area due to an increase in tourism. If healthcare is a concern of yours, keep in mind that New Zealand and Australia are just a 3 hour flight away via commercial airlines. Also, the pharmacies in the area are stocked with most of the medications that can be found in the US, and at a lower cost.
During retirement, I plan to use my education and training to help the local villages. Fijians are a poor but proud people. As a third world country, they don’t have access to what we would consider modern technologies or concepts that improve the health and welfare of their people. I have already talked with several natives, as well as an ex-pat from the US, about how I can help. One project will involve coral gardening to revitalize the reef system, which has been decimated by over-fishing of several species that are responsible for a healthy reef. The second project is teaching the natives how to use local resources more efficiently and to sell their local art, handicrafts and other talents to the ever-increasing tourist industry, as well as the US and Australian markets. Needless to say, I’m not just going to lie in a hammock with an adult beverage in my hand: I’ll be very active in my retirement.
While moving away from friends and family is never easy, we plan to come home at least once a year to visit. During this time, we will also make use of the medical and dental facilities in the US if needed. Our guess is that more people will be coming to visit us (than vice versa) so they can cross Fiji off their ‘bucket lists’. Many of our friends are requesting their own private room in our house, so they can come and go as they please.
If what I have described appeals to you and you are considering a retirement in Fiji, make sure to visit first and see if ‘island time’ is right for you. Remember, if the plumber states he will come by on Wednesday, he didn’t tell you which Wednesday of the month! Everyone lives on ‘Fiji time’ and you either love it or you hate it. We love it!