June 19, 2013

Retiring Overseas

I have written quite a few posts about various housing options we have to choose from for our satisfying retirement. A few weeks ago Another Retirement Option  mentioned a new spiritually based community taking shape on the Big island of Hawaii. In Retirement Cohousing  this relatively new choice was explored. How about spending your retirement living on a cruise ship or in an RV? See Unusual Retirement Options for more details. Of course, the debate between aging in place or moving to a planned retirement community is one we are all familiar with. I've written about those options many times, including What's Best: Aging In Place or A Retirement Community.

One option I have not really explored is the idea of becoming an expat...moving to another country full time. A few readers do live in Mexico and have commented before on the cost benefits and friendships they enjoy. Blogger Sonia Marsh spent in year in Belize and has expressed interest in retiring at least part time to Panama at some point. But, the subject of retirement overseas, or at least outside our borders, is worthy of a deeper look.

Because I have no experience or personal insight in this area, I thought it best to take a two-pronged approach. First, here is a list several web sites that seem to do an excellent job of looking at the pros and cons of retiring overseas. Not all are U.S. based but it seems their advice is universal enough to be worth the inclusion. Each has a slightly different approach, but are worth looking at if this subject interests you.

The last site listed ( expatexchange) is a tremendous place to go if you have a particular country, or even continent in mind. There are dozens of links to other sites that provide the specifics you may be looking for.






http://www.expatexchange.com/retire.cfm  (tremendous # of links)

Secondly, I ask anyone who is living abroad, has thought about living abroad, or was an expat and has returned to the their home country, to share your expertise with all of us. Obviously, moving to another country is not a step to be taken lightly. Nor, should it be dismissed as completely unworkable. If the idea is at all interesting to you, do yourself a favor and spend some time at these web sites and come back to read the comments from readers.

Who knows, Satisfying Retirement may come from the South Pacific some day!


  1. I think an international retirement is a great idea, though I'm guessing it would help a lot if you speak the language. But Mexico? The murder rate in Mexico is over three times the rate in the U.S. Who needs that?

    1. I would guess that the murder rate in Mexico is highly concentrated in non-expat areas, making the overall rate seem worse than it is.

      The murder rate in certain American cities is substantially higher than the average. For example, in 2012 Flint and Detroit Michigan, followed by New Orleans had the highest homicide rates. Retire to one of those areas and you are statistically more at risk than in Salt Lake City or Glendale, AZ.

      The most dangerous places to retire overseas are most parts of Africa and several section of Central and South America. The safest places are the South Pacific and Australia.

      Certainly, one of the important factors to consider if retiring overseas is the overall crime rate of the specific location you are considering.

  2. Bob, Deb and I have been investigating this quite a bit over the last year or so. Some of the countries on our list include Ecuador, Panama, Belize (kinda), and Ireland. Most of Europe is off limits because the key driver in our decision, costs, would not be lessened and likely increased in most of the desirable areas. The only problem with this approach is that the whole world is in on this angle, and prices of homes are being bid up fast.

    My recommendation is to do a lot of research, and ultimately take a trip to a location or two. We are at the latter point now, and want to be able to pull the trigger relatively quickly if we need to make a decision to go. BTW, if anyone wonders "why Ireland", their housing market collapsed along with the worldwide bubble, and their prices have dropped upwards of 80%. Being half Irish I could likely get a passport without too much difficulty, although most of the records were destroyed in the 1920s during the Irish Civil War.

    1. Ireland's economy is starting to recover at the fastest rate of those countries hit very hard during the downturn. I would imagine housing will start to follow. But, for now, I believe you are correct: housing prices are at their lowest levels in quite some time.

    2. I'll say here that getting a passport is really not dependent on things like this. Yes, they will ask you on the application where you intend to travel, but getting a passport is dependent on american citizenship and birth and lack of certain things in your history. I actually encourage everyone to have a passport because it is the perfect identification that no one can question and you do not have to be planning to travel now to have one.

    3. Barb, what I meant to say is that I could likely get Irish citizenship (and the attendant Irish passport) to go along with my American one. Dual citizenship, if you will.

    4. Well, as an almost ten year expat who planned to retire in Germany and often regrets that was not a realistic choice then,. I have only good things to say about the expat life stye. In fact, I will probably continue this thread on my blog here in the next day or so if that is okay with you Bob.

      Meanwhile, I still have many friends who are expats and keep up with. While I will talk about this on my blog here soon, there are some purely logistical issues that are worth discussing, pro and con.

      First, if you are considering moving, is it for lifestyle change, money saving or both. This will dramatically affect where you move.

      In many European countries your spending power will not increase a great deal because you will be earning dollars and spending euros or pound sterling and the exchange rate generally tends to be....well, yea! The dollar has improved against the euro but exchange is still not equal.

      When figuring cost of living realize that in almost ANY country medical care will be as good if not better and much cheaper. So much cheaper in fact, that medicare and insurance will not require pre authorizaiton in most countries. You will be what we would call a "pay patient", pay your bill and reimburse through insurance. Medicare and Insurance will love you, adore, you, thank you

      It is a major decision and for most people there is an outlay of expenses-think about what I have done and then think about selling most of what you own or paying the high cost of shipping it. overseas or to south America.

      You'll leave your family and friends behind, and it will cost more to visit them-this is the single reason I am not retired in Germany, because of the cost to visit my children and family in the US by plane two times a year minimum or bring them to me. Will you be able to live with seeing your family one or two times per year?

      Are you looking to live just in an American enclave and keep the same lifestyle in a different place, or do you wish to actually "live" in another country. Either way in most countries you will find some expat support. In our case we chose to live away from other American expats for the most part and in a mainly German location (although we did go to an international expat church with brits and germans and participated in things like the American community ski association)

      Even if you choose to live in that little American town, you will be taking on much of the cultural habits of the country you are moving to. In Germany in non city locations stores tend to close in the midday for example, and Sunday is absolute quiet day-no mowing, loud music or home improvements (one of the many things I miss and cry about weekly)

      Just like moving anywhere else, it will be lonely at first, but you will make friends. I'll say here that I believe the younger you make this kind of move, the easier it is to make friends anywhere, Europe or not.

      You can learn a language if you like. I would not rule out a country because of the language per se-at least not a western or South American country. Immersion is the best language teacher. Buying the wrong thing at the store will only happen once!

      You may or may not be allowed to work in your future country. You will be allowed to stay six months as a tourist and then apply to live and prove that you are self supporting.

      Finally, no country is perfect including America. If you are one of those people who thinks that the US does everything better than everyone else, you probably will not be happy elsewhere, saving money or not, even in a "little America" type area.

      Every country including ours has things we do well, things we do poorly, bad and violent places and good places to live. As such there are a few locations I would automatically rule out as a place to live, depending on your needs.

    5. This is exactly the type of detailed feedback from someone who has lived this life that I was hoping for. You have had "boots on the ground" and give a perspective that is needed.

      Thank you, Barb, for your excellent thoughts and by all means use this as a jumping off point for your blog.

  3. I agree with Tom, being able to speak the language is important to help you fully enjoy and get the best out of your retirement, that and the must do of researching a place before you go there permanently. We find that a few of our members at www.homeexchange50plus.com use Home Exchange as a way of getting to know an area prior to moving there on a permanent basis. Spending a few weeks etc in a chosen area does let you get a feel for it and can confirm or otherwise if you want to live there long term. Also your exchange partner can provide useful info about the location and neighbourhood.

    1. The above comment is promoting a specific commercial website. Generally I do not allow these comments since the primary purpose is to generate business for that company.

      But, the idea of a home exchange to learn more about an area is a good one that deserves consideration. If you are interested in learning more, click on Brian's name to be taken to their web site.

    2. Bob

      I understand and appreciate your thoughts above and thank you for including my comment. We have often thought of retiring to France from London but one of the things that has stopped us so far is the fact that my French is lousy although Catriona is fluent. We make do with regular trips there though as we love the country.



  4. We have retired and moved to David, Chiriqui, Panama (close to the Costa Rica border) It has worked out wonderfully and we are really really happy here! Our cost of living is much less, the country has everything we need, and these people are a wonderful. You really need to know at least some Spanish though, IMO, to fully enjoy living here. I could say more, lots more, but I hardly know where to start so I'll send you to things I've already written.

    http://thepanamaadventure.com/information (website with some organized links)
    http://blog.thepanamaadventure.com/ (my blog)

    Expat life isn't for everyone and you really need to do your homework, but at least consider it. It might turn out to be a really good experience.

    1. Thanks so much, Kris, for leaving your thoughts and those excellent web references. The first one with all the links to specific areas of concern would be extremely helpful to someone interested in Panama.

      I read your most recent blog post, too: a 4 inch grasshopper? That would give me a start.

  5. My pleasure :) The grasshopper was big but very peaceful, so no worries.

  6. Thank you for your article. I have considered retiring abroad! Maybe in Italy…?

    I also found the following article to be helpful. It gives several
    options for overseas retirement, as well as what to do if you want to
    retire overseas but your spouse does not.


    1. Thanks, Amanda. You've raised an important issue: what if the spouse doesn't want to become an expat? Thanks for the article link, too. The more information the better!

  7. I'm not quite familiar yet of what Obama is going to implement, so, thanks for this information. I'm primarily concerned on how this would affect 55 and over communities in new york. I'm just afraid that this may do a bad thing. I don't want my plans for retirement to be ruined.

  8. I'm happy to share this. My wife and I chose San Miguel de Allende six years ago for its combination of climate, culture and the basic warmth of its people. I became interested in the process of becoming an expat and wrote a book based on conversations with 32 Americans and Canadians who had also made the move. It's mainly a way of getting inside their heads. It's called San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. Here's a link to an excerpt on my website:

  9. After 15 months of criss-crossing Mexico, I also have a new book looks at Americans and Canadians who’ve chosen to avoid the big expat colonies in San Miguel de Allende and Lake Chapala. What they’ve found is both diverse and surprising. The book is called Into the Heart of Mexico: Expatriates Find Themselves Off the Beaten Path. There’s a sample on my website:


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