I made my first overseas move about a dozen years ago. With the help of the international publishing company where I’d been working for more than 13 years, I relocated from Baltimore, Maryland, to Waterford, Ireland. The morning we were to fly to Dublin to launch this grand adventure, my then 9-year-old daughter lay crying on her bed, holding her grandmother’s hand, and begging to be left behind. Between sobs she’d mumble, “I’m an American. I belong in America.”
Ignoring her pleas, we loaded her into the SUV along with the 10 oversized suitcases we’d packed with all the worldly possessions we wanted to have with us upon our arrival on the Emerald Isle.
I’d always wanted to live in Europe. About this time, a dozen years ago, the publishing company I was working for decided it wanted an EU office in Ireland. Kismet. We were off for a new life in the Auld Sod.
Fast forward seven years, and we were packing again, this time for a move from Waterford to Paris, where my daughter had decided she wanted to spend a year studying abroad. I’d half-heartedly researched Paris family-stay options for Kaitlin, while (successfully, finally) working to persuade my husband that we should take this as an opportunity for a family sojourn on the Continent.
This time, it was not Kaitlin, but her little brother Jackson, age 4 at the time and born in Ireland, who struggled with the idea of international relocation. “Please don’t take me back to that place again,” he’d beg every morning as I pushed his stroller the eight blocks from our apartment to his maternelle (nursery school). “They don’t have an English voice, and I can’t find my French voice. Please don’t make me stay there…”
Most recently, we moved from Paris to Panama, this time, again, for business.
But I’m getting ahead of my story. I simply want to show that there are many good reasons to think about living or retiring in another country—reasons to do with a reduced (sometimes significantly) cost of living, with better weather, with a healthier lifestyle, with paying less in tax, and with enhancing the quality of your life. In some places around the world, in fact, you could dramatically reduce your cost of living while elevating your standard of living, affording little luxuries that are probably not possible to manage back home—a full-time maid, for example, a cook, a gardener, even a driver. It’s possible to live comfortably as a foreign retiree many places right now for as little as US$1,200 a month. In a handful of places (in Ecuador, for example, Nicaragua, or Thailand), your total monthly budget could total US$800 or less.
The challenge as you begin the process of preparing to launch a new life in a new country is to make sure that you’re moving for your reasons and that you understand what those reasons are in your own mind. At this early stage of your retire overseas adventure, the most important thing is to be honest with yourself and, very important, with your significant other. There is no one-country-fits-all overseas retirement paradise. It’s a question of priorities. I’ve told you my reasons for my initial move overseas a dozen years ago and for the two international moves I’ve made since. Your reasons for thinking about residing elsewhere at this stage of your life might be very different.
Retirees in the States right now face a serious dilemma. Many have lost much of their retirement savings as a result of recent market downturns, and it’s increasingly difficult to live on Social Security alone. The cost of quality retirement living choices in the United States is escalating rapidly. Most retirees can’t afford a retirement home, and a lot of people currently working can’t afford to retire at all. But, the truth is, the situation is not as desperate as some fear. There are good options.
Economies collapse and then recover, values—of real estate, of stocks—fall and then rise again, financial meltdowns come and go. The circumstances of life change. When living becomes intolerably difficult in one place, move to another. I’m not being flippant. I’m sharing what I believe is the secret to realizing a dream retirement. The first move is the hardest, so, as you embark on this overseas retirement adventure, you need help and options.
Let’s start with this: You do not have to resign yourself to reducing your standard of living during this important phase of life. You do not have to plan for two or three decades of scraping by and making do. All you have to do is to think outside the box and beyond your own borders. Do that, and you discover opportunities for a completely new and improved life available for a bargain price.
In places like Leon, Nicaragua; Montevideo, Uruguay; and Languedoc, France, the concerns and struggles in the United States about the cost of living, the cost of housing, and the cost of health care seem far away. Many other beautiful, safe, and often super-affordable places offer alternatives, viable, appealing options for Americans at and nearing retirement age trying to figure out how in the world they’re going to make it in this phase of life.
My friend Paul Terhorst began his overseas adventures more than 25 years ago, when the accounting firm he was working for decided to pull him out of Argentina. Paul and his wife Vicki had grown to like Buenos Aires. When his superiors told him that his BA posting was over, Paul told them that his retirement had begun. Paul and Vicki have spent the quarter-century since discovering the world as their wanderlust inspires them and their budget allows. They lived in Paris when the U.S. dollar was strong and Buenos Aires when Argentina was a bargain. Today they’re at home in Chiang Mai, Thailand, one of the cheapest places on earth to live well right now. Paul made a brave leap, walking away from a good-paying job with a big international firm. But he and Vicki haven’t regretted a minute of their adventures since.
Another friend, Lee, also took early retirement, about seven years ago, when the engineering firm he was working for was bought out by a larger one. He saw the corporate restructuring as a chance for a bigger change. Instead of moving up the company ladder, he and his wife Julie moved down south, to Cuenca, Ecuador. As Lee explains, Cuenca was a great first move outside the States. It’s a safe, friendly, comfortable city. But it wasn’t his and Julie’s dream. What Lee and Julie really wanted was a home at the beach. So, from their new base in Cuenca, they launched a search up and down the coasts of Central and South America. Two sun-filled years of beach-scouting led them to Uruguay’s Gold Coast, which today they are delighted to call home.
I could cite business, financial, and tax reasons for why my husband and I decided to move abroad, first to Ireland, then to Paris, now to Panama. And, indeed, we’ve enjoyed serious financial advantages living in these places. But these aren’t the real reasons we’ve pursued a life overseas. The truth is, we savor the adventure. We look forward to finding out where it leads us next. And we’re not alone.
Our last evening in Paris, the night before our move to Panama City, I went to dinner with a group of local women friends. Around the table in that restaurant at Odeon sat an Italian, a Spaniard, an Aussie, a Brit, a Croat, four Parisians, and me, the American. They chatted in a crazy mix of French, Spanish, Italian, and English, and I did my best to keep up. What did they talk about? A desire for change. This eclectic mix of 40- and 50-somethings shared a common yearning for something new at this stage of their lives. Again and again, my friends brought the conversation around to their longing for more, for new, for different, for adventure.
The Croatian woman and her husband were considering moving to Australia to start a business. The Spaniard and her husband were looking ahead to when their children would be in university so they could spend part of each year in Paris and part of each year elsewhere in Europe. The Brit was thinking about Asia. The Parisian women and their significant others had no idea where they wanted to go or what they wanted to do, but had a traveling itch. All of us recognized that it’s a big, interesting world, and simply wanted to see a little more of it.
The reasons for packing up and starting a new life in a new country are many. Some are urgent—a need to reduce the cost of living, for example. But retiring overseas isn’t only about the money. This is about an opportunity to enrich your life and to reinvent yourself.
The big question, of course, is where? Where might be the best place for you to think about spending your golden years?
More than a country, you’re choosing a way of life. To make that choice successfully, you want to understand all the options you’re choosing among. The truth is, there’s no best place in the world to retire, and there’s no one-size-fits-all overseas retirement haven.
Furthermore, no place is perfect. Some countries make more or less sense than others depending on your particular priorities and objectives. Comparisons become important. Few things are absolutely true. No country has absolutely perfect weather, for example, but some countries have better weather than others.
The first overseas move is the toughest. Once you’ve made it, though, you set yourself on a path of discovery and opportunity that leads who knows where. Perhaps to a second move. Perhaps to dividing your time among two or three places you identify as particularly appealing. Perhaps to perpetual wandering…
In the next issue of Escape From America Magazine, Kathleen Peddicord lists ten retirement havens she recommends you focus on. Be sure to check back soon.
About the author: Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of liveandinvestoverseas.com. A full-time expat herself, Peddicord lived in Ireland with her family for several years before relocating to Paris and, most recently, Panama, where she currently lives with her husband and son.
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Note from the Editor: Retiring overseas is not a decision to be made lightly. If this life changing move is one that you are seriously considering undertaking, dreaming about or on the verge making the transition you may think you have thought of everything. Then again, you may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of packing up and moving overseas to the point where you decide to stay put and give up on your dream of a better retirement.
Whatever your circumstances, Escape From America Magazine recommends that you buy the new book by Kathleen Peddicord, HOW TO RETIRE OVERSEAS: Everything You Need to Know to Live Well (for Less) Abroad. Packed full of information, tips and encouragement this definitive guide will take you one step at a time to arrive at the retirement you deserve.