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Retiring Abroad: A Complete Guide

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Are you considering retiring overseas? You're not alone - more and more people are choosing to settle in a new country after retirement to enjoy a relaxed lifestyle, lower living costs, and pleasant weather. Before you decide to make the move, read on for more information on how to retire abroad and what the best countries to retire in are.

Retiring Abroad: A Complete Guide

Determine your budget

Many retirees decide to move abroad (especially to places in Central and South America and the Caribbean) because of the more affordable living costs, cheaper medical insurance, and low taxes. However, making the move can be costly, so you should calculate your moving budget in advance to determine if it is within your means to relocate. You should also consider ongoing expenses, such as rent or a mortgage, and travel costs to visit family back home. Once you calculate how much your move and the subsequent lifestyle will cost, you can determine if it will be sustainable on your current income. If you keep your U.S. citizenship, you should still be able to maintain your bank account and collect your Social Security checks, pension, or any other income you receive in your new home country.

Do plenty of research

Before choosing a country for your international move, be sure to do thorough research on the country's economy, culture, weather and other important factors to ensure it is the best place for you. It may look beautiful in photos you see online, but the reality of life in that country may be quite different than the images portray.

Make sure to check the following things before you decide to retire abroad:

  • Taxes: Many countries in the Caribbean (including Aruba, the Virgin Islands, Barbados, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands) and Latin America (including Costa Rica, Panama, and Uruguay) are considered tax havens - countries that levy certain taxes at a very low rate or not at all.
  • Crime Rate: Sometimes paradise is marred by violent or petty crimes. Many countries in the Caribbean, while popular retirement destinations, have high crime rates. Research potential regions before purchasing or renting property to ensure it is safe as well as affordable.
  • Weather: Not everyone enjoys living in a tropical paradise. If high heat and humidity don't appeal to you, you may want to consider retiring in Europe or a region with a more temperate climate.
  • Cost of Living: Affordability is an important attribute for many retirees when seeking an overseas destination. Popular international retirement destinations like Thailand, Nicaragua and Ecuador are among the most inexpensive, with established expat bases.
  • Healthcare: When retiring overseas, make sure that the new country has affordable healthcare facilities. You'll probably need to buy health insurance and there are other requirements as well that vary from country to country. It's advisable to have a checkup before you leave from the US to avoid any medical emergencies while you are settling in the new country.

    It's important to note that Medicare will not cover health expenses abroad and therefore you'll have to look for private health insurance options. Alternatively, you can choose a country that lets you buy their national health plan. For example, expats retiring in Mexico can sign up for Instituto Mexican del Seguro Social (IMSS) coverage.
  • Culture: Adjusting to the differences in culture when moving to a new country can often be the most difficult aspect of retiring overseas. Make sure to find out as much as you can about the country's cultural norms and lifestyle before moving there. Many countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia have simpler standards of living, unique cuisines, and starkly contrasting attitudes and etiquette than what we are used to in the U.S. Even life in Europe, which is often considered closer to the U.S in terms of lifestyle and culture, is drastically different.

Check your visa and residency options

Not every country makes establishing residency a simple process. Every nation has its own visa process' and requirements, and the paperwork you will need to enter the country and settle there will vary. Also, the residency and immigration laws differ in every country. Contact the U.S. embassy in any country you are considering for relocation or visit the consulate website for more information on obtaining a visa and becoming a resident. Don't forget to check for passport validity and restrictions regarding currency.

Take an advance trip

No matter how much research you do, moving to a new country without an advance visit is a bad idea. Reading about the country and looking at pictures is no substitute for experiencing it firsthand. How will you know if you can spend the rest of your years there without a visit?

When planning your trip, make sure to stay near the region where you would potentially move, rather than a resort or a faraway city. You will get a better impression of what your new life will be like by immersing yourself in the neighborhood, visiting nearby shops and restaurants, and conversing with the locals.

Things to consider

An important tip when learning how to retire overseas is to make sure that you weigh all your options. Here are some important choices that you need to make when retiring abroad:

  • Living with expat community vs. living with locals: Is living with mostly other expats important to you, or would you rather be immersed in your new culture and live among the country's native residents? Many popular international retirement destinations have large expat communities if you are looking for a smoother transition into your new life.
  • Renting your home vs. selling: Are you planning on selling your home in the States? Renting it out? Keeping it to return for visits? Depending on your financial situation, renting out your home could supply a steady stream of income while you are overseas.

    Also, enquire whether the country you are planning to retire in allows you to own a property and find out on what conditions can you sell it. For example, in Malaysia, an expat can buy a property, but if he sells it, the proceeds will be kept with the country's bank account.
  • Hiring professional international movers: Your goods will have a long way to travel - you want to make sure they are safe and free of damage when they arrive. Hiring reputable international movers to wrap, pack, and crate your belongings to prepare them for shipping is an important part of your moving process.

    Be sure to compare quotes from several companies and do a thorough background check on any company you are considering hiring. Also, ensure they are trustworthy, licensed and insured.
  • Managing your assets: While you're away in a foreign land, you may still have assets in the US. Unless you give up your US citizenship, you'll need to pay taxes even while living abroad. So, contact your accountant or attorney to ask how to deal with your assets owned in the US and what the transfer restrictions imposed by the country are.

Prepare yourself for the practicalities

Once you have considered all the factors that made retiring abroad a wise choice, you'll need to get started on how to deal with the practical challenges of starting a new life in a foreign land. From learning a new language to communicating with foreigners to opening a bank account in your new country, you'll have to prepare yourself for all kinds of tasks. You'll also need to establish electricity, cable, and internet connections, as well as find a good plumber.

Best countries to retire in for US citizens

When retiring abroad, you'll need to know the best countries where you can settle as an expat. For this, you'll need to consider which places have an affordable cost of living, peaceful environment and proximity to major travel destinations.

The annual global retirement index mentions countries as the top 10 places for expats to retire in as stated by the International Magazine in their survey. This list has countries ranked on the basis of housing, healthcare, language barriers, culture, and other important aspects.

Vietnam

Vietnam stands at the 10th position on the Global Retirement Index. Not only does the country offers lush greenery and beaches, but it also has a low cost of living. A retiree can live well at $1,000 a month here. The rent in Vietnam is also 62.89% lower than the average amount of all of the cities in the US.

France

France is not one of the cheapest countries to retire in but since it's vast in size, some of its cities may offer a lower cost of living. It has all 4 seasons and there are numerous places to visit. Although people usually converse in French here, there are chances that you might find an expat community where most of the people living there speak English. Also, the healthcare facilities are better and more price transparent compared to the US.

Spain

Spain has a Mediterranean climate that allows you to have a great time at the beaches and savor delicious foods. Besides, the ride sharing options that are available there have inexpensive rates and there are many expat communities that converse in English. A monthly budget of $2,500 is enough for a couple to lead a good life in Spain.

Malaysia

Owing to its location, retiring in Malaysia will allow you to take flights to a host of islands like Phuket and Thailand. The housing options as well as the healthcare facilities are available at a lower cost compared to the US. Moreover, most people there are bilingual which means you can adjust easily even without having to learn a new language.

Ecuador

If you are okay with adjusting in a developing country and counter cultural differences, the low cost of living can be a great reason to retire in Ecuador. It's a small country with a slow pace which is ideal for those retiring in their old age. Most importantly, there are a lot of benefits for senior citizens like concession on public transport and tax refunds. A couple can easily live a good life here for around $1,800 a month.

Columbia

Columbia is the 5th best country to retire in as per the Global Retirement Index. Owing to the low cost of living it's one of the most preferred places by expats to retire in. When it comes to healthcare, doctor visits, health insurance and procedures are quite inexpensive compared to ones in the US. Depending on the city you choose to retire in, you can lead a good life at around $1,030 - $2720 a month.

Mexico

Mexico is one of the best countries to retire in for US citizens for several reasons. These reasons include Mexico's proximity to the USA, rich culture, and a low cost of living. There are many thriving expat communities in Mexico that cater to the American retirees. Also, you get a wide variety of housing options ranging from modest ones to the more gated communities. When retiring in Mexico, a couple can enjoy a good life at around $1,500 to $3,000 a month, depending on the city they choose.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is not just a country laden with scenic beauty, but it also offers a lot to expats, especially retirees. If you decide to retire in Costa Rica, there are 3 residency options available. The healthcare facilities are great, and the cost of living is quite affordable compared to the US. You along with your spouse can enjoy a good life here by spending around $2,000 a month.

Panama

Panama is one of the best countries for expats to retire in for a lot of reasons. Apart from affordable healthcare and friendly locals, the country offers a lot of benefits to retirees. There is also a one-time exemption of duty tax for goods worth up to $10,000 along with a full exemption on buying or importation of a vehicle in the country every 2 years. The basic housing and living costs of a retired couple here can be covered at around $2,000.

Portugal

When retiring in Europe, Portugal is one of the most affordable places for expats. Besides, it's really peaceful and safe for senior citizens. You can establish a permanent residency in the country after just 5 years of temporary stay. There are several tax benefits for foreigners and property owners that can be extended for up to 10 years. You can lead a comfortable life in Portugal with an expense of around $2,500 a month.

Nicole La Capria  Posted by Nicole La Capria on July 30, 2014

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