So you have made the big move. You have dreamed of retiring overseas for some time now, and you actually did it. Congratulations. But after the bags are unpacked and the new place is settled into…then what? You have plenty of free time, perhaps more than ever before in your life, but what are you actually going to do with it?
Many new expats, especially those that chose to retire abroad, fall into a very unhealthy pattern of doing very little socializing once they have made the move. Because they do not have their typical circle of family and friends around them that they are accustomed to socializing with, they may feel too overwhelmed to start over and create a new social group.
It has been shown time and time again that keeping busy is an essential component for expat contentment. Yes, putting your feet up and relaxing, enjoying siesta or long walks on the beach are important. But so is taking full advantage of finally having the time to do all of the activities that you have dreamed about being able to do in your retirement years.
Here are some ideas that will hopefully inspire you to get out there, make new friends, and live the retirement abroad that you have always imagined.
Start or Join an Expat Club
Ask around town to anyone who looks or sounds remotely foreign if they have heard of any expat gatherings. Don´t be shy! If your new town has an expat club, they would love to meet the newest members of the community and will likely welcome you with open arms. The wealth of knowledge here of fellow foreigners living abroad is so beneficial. Whether it comes to your questions on visa requirements, typical prices for local general labor, or if you just can not seem to find Mexican food anywhere, there is surely someone in the group that has encountered the same problem and would love to help you out.
If you can not seem to find one, start your own! It can be as easy as setting a time and a place, whether it is once a week or once a month, perhaps at a café for breakfast or at a bar for happy hour drinks. Then, you just need to find the foreigners and start inviting! A good place to start is a local real estate office. They will likely remember the foreigners who have moved into town, and would probably be more than happy to hand you names and numbers, or to pass your information along.
Language schools are also an easy place to find other expats. If someone has recently made the move abroad, they are a likely candidate for wanting to learn the local language.
Start or Join a Book Club
A common complaint from those that have made the move overseas is the difficulty of finding books in English. The local library may have a shelf or two if you are lucky, but they may be books from the 1950´s, and in no time you will probably exhaust the supply. Books are also heavy and expensive to keep shipping. So why not pool resources and share books with other expats? Not only will it keep your mind active and reading, but it will spark conversations with new friends! A good place to see if there is an expat book club is, of course, through an expat club, your local library or bookstore.
The options here are endless. Whether it be teaching English at an elementary school, helping out in a hospital, or getting your hands dirty at a local organic farm, there is an activity for everyone. Many schools and hospitals abroad are severely underfunded and understaffed, and would love to have an extra set of hands to help out. It is a great way to make contacts, interact with the locals, practice the language and feel good about yourself all at the same time. For a list of organic farms internationally that are in need of volunteers, try exploring www.wwoof.org.
Open your Home and Your Heart
You have a roof over your head. You have a lifetime of wisdom to share and an infinite number of stories to tell. Because you are living abroad, you are obviously open to travel and cross-cultural exchange. There are many websites that form connections between locals and travelers who are passing through your town who do not wish to stay in hotels and who wish to get off of the tourist track. You can offer to show them around your town, to meet up to cook a home-cooked meal or share a drink, or you can offer them your couch or extra bedroom for a night or two. Your level of involvement is completely up to you.
Personally, my family is actively involved in www.couchsurfing.org. I cherish the friends that I have made through this organization. Some have ended up seeming like family and I continue to this day to stay in contact with them. I have made connections, shared meals, thoughts and laughter with people from over 40 distinct countries. There is nothing like it to make the world seem very small and cozy. My children have been exposed to so many cultures, have learned recipes, songs, handcrafts and words from so many different ends of this earth. Another good resource is www.hospitalityclub.org.
You may not get rich doing it, but this is a great way to earn some extra income and meet some locals along the way. Post fliers for your services, and start some group or private classes. English is a desired language to learn in pretty much every foreign country, and word of mouth will soon travel that there is a native English speaker offering classes. You do not need to be certified. It can be as informal or as formal as you like. Children thrive by singing songs, playing games like bingo to learn vocabulary, and reading books with you. A lot of adults may have a basic understanding of English, but never get the opportunity to practice. They may just want to hire you for conversational sessions.
Start a Cooking Exchange
There is no better way to learn to cook the food from your new culture than to learn from the locals. Whether it be once a week or once a month, find a local neighbor or friend who is as intrigued by the food from your culture as you are of theirs and start cooking. Share your famous recipes and cooking techniques with them, and have them do the same. Nothing brings two people together like sharing delicious food!
Keep a diary from the get go.
It is astounding how much you forget what you have done and achieved, especially during the first year of relocating overseas. You will amaze yourself when you look back. Both smiles and groans are inevitable when your memory is refreshed. A more modern version is to start a blog, an online diary that you can keep private or share with friends and family, or even the whole world.
Take a Class…or Two, or Three
Get out there and stay active. Dive deep into the local culture and learn as much as you can. For example, if you are living in Argentina, it might make sense to look into a tango class. If you are living in China, try tai chi. If you are living in France, why not take a French cooking class? Living in Spain? Try folkloric guitar. It is never too late to learn new skills, and doing so will keep you young and keep your mind open.
Write an article for Escape From America Magazine.
Your experience is invaluable to others and you don’t need to be a prize winning author to submit your story. We have editors willing and able to support you by working your ideas into an article worth reading.
If you have made the move to retire abroad, you have already done the hard part. Now you just need to take advantage of every single opportunity that you have to enjoy this time in your life fully. No one is going to step up and live your life for you. Your happiness and contentment abroad is your own responsibility, and the sooner you create a network of friends and interesting activities around you, the richer your retirement years overseas will be. Good luck, have fun. What are you waiting for? Go get started!
About the author: Cathy Brown is a mother, writer, artist, teacher, traveller and explorer originally from Michigan. She has a serious case of wanderlust and currently lives in Argentina with her three amazing children, ages nine, seven, and five. She writes for and maintains Expat Daily News – South America