How to Retire Overseas, Part 1

In my life there have been certain books that are just “it” when you need to address a specific issue.

They are the go-to solution for something you’re looking to address.

For instance, The First 90 Days is a book I have read and followed after accepting almost every new job I’ve ever had. It’s designed to help you make your first three months a success and is a very valuable resource for starting a job on the right foot.

When we went to Disney World many years ago, we read and studied The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2020. Our trip was PERFECT as a result! If we ever go back (maybe with grandkids one day) we would read and study that book again.

And from a general business success standpoint, I can’t think of a better book than The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I’ve read the book many times and even attended workshops on its principles. I wish I had it earlier in my career and that I was better at implementing its teachings as it’s pure gold IMO.

Well today, I have another one of those go-to books to introduce you to. It’s called How to Retire Overseas: Everything You Need to Know to Live Well (for Less) Abroad.

The book is written by Kathleen Peddicord who runs Live and Invest Overseas.

We’ll get into what the book includes over the next few posts (short answer: it covers EVERYTHING on this subject), but for now let’s set the stage on what the book is about, straight from the author:

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 a lower tax bill, and with an enhanced quality of life.

In some places around the world that I’ll introduce you to in this book, in fact, you could dramatically reduce your cost of living while elevating your stand of living, affording little luxury it’s that are probably not possible to manage back home—a full time maid, for example, a cook, a gardener, even a driver.

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.

The reasons for packing up and starting a new life in a new country are many. Some are urgent—a need to reduce 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 payoffs of a retirement overseas can be myriad, but so, in truth, are the challenges. This book will prepare you for the hurdles and frustrations involved in realizing your dream retirement in a foreign country, helping you minimize the hassles and maximize the adventure and the fun.

The big question, of course, is where. Where should you think about spending your golden years? In the pages that follow, I’ll walk you through the critical thinking you need to do to make that decision. 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 is no “best place in the world to retire.” But there is a best place in the world for you to retire. Let’s go find it…

Seems like a bunch of big promises, right?

Well I can tell you, this book delivers.

If I was ever going to move overseas, I’d probably read this book at least five times, take lots of notes, and genuinely consider what it has to say before I did anything.

Over the course of three posts I will be covering part 1 of the book — where it details the ten steps you can take now at home to determine if you want to retire overseas, how you might do it, and the like.

I’ll share what the book has to suggest and add my comments as always.

In the last post I’ll also list all the other information the book includes so you can get a complete view of what it covers.

Retiring Overseas

Before we get into that, let me go into our brief history of potentially retiring overseas.

As I’ve posted, retirees can save up to half on their living expenses by moving overseas. This is a great strategy for those who have limited funds or want an increased retirement lifestyle.

That’s not really a concern for us since we’re not forced to pinch pennies in retirement.

Our “retire overseas” journey (if you can call it that) began with our very first cruise. We visited several islands in the Caribbean, loved them, and started dreaming (mostly me) about retiring there.

We stoked the fires of this dream by cruising the Caribbean a couple more times, visiting Grand Cayman twice, and watching episodes of both Caribbean Life and House Hunters International (when they focused on the Caribbean) so much that if you tell us the island and how much the house hunters have to spend, we can tell you if they’ll get a mansion or a shack. (FWIW, money goes way farther somewhere like the Dominican Republic than it does on St. John.)

But once we really started thinking about living the beach life, questions popped up. After all, it’s one thing to visit an island when all is bright and sunny and everyday life cares are nowhere to be seen. It’s quite different to live there and deal with issues day in and day out (like bugs/animals that like tropical weather, hurricanes, questionable infrastructure in many cases — at least not to the level we prefer, less attention to a schedule/timeliness, etc.) Not to mention, it’s living in a foreign country (unless you select a U.S. Virgin Island) — did we really want to do that?

Ultimately our answer was “probably not”, though this book has given me a new tropical place to consider (Ambergris Caye in Belize — La Isla Bonita for you Madonna fans). What we’ll probably opt for instead is wintering in Florida and spending the rest of our time in Colorado. Life could be a lot worse than that. 😉

That said, I have a friend who has already made the move overseas (Jim from Route to Retire moved to Panama — fun fact, they were on an episode of House Hunters International), another one headed to Belize soon, and my former bosses spent half the year in Costa Rica. So retiring overseas seems to be more common these days.

With that said, let’s suppose you (or I) actually wanted to move overseas. What would be the ten steps we could take at home to think through the issue completely?

I’m glad you asked…because that’s what we have up next.

Step 1: Know Yourself

The first step (of course) is to really get in touch with yourself to ascertain the kind of life you want to live.

This seems like it would be easy, but it involves being honest with yourself, something many people aren’t that good at.

Here’s a summary from the book that introduces this concept:

One of the fundamental choices you must make as you survey the world map in search of the overseas retirement haven with your name on it is this: Would you be more comfortable retiring to an established expatriate community, a place where you’ll have no trouble slipping into the local social scene and finding English speakers who share your interests? Or do you want to go local, immersing yourself in a new culture completely?

This important early decision may never have occurred to you. But I encourage you to consider the question directly and as early as possible in your “where and how should I reinvent my life overseas?” thinking, for the answer sets you on one track or another, and they lead to very different places.

Next they introduce other factors that come into play when deciding whether or not to move overseas (and where):

In addition to that fundamental question, in my experience fourteen other factors are important to take into account when you’re shopping for a new county to call home. The key is to consider each of these things within the context of your personal circumstances.

I list these considerations according to a general order of priority. Your personal priorities may be very different. You must determine for yourself what’s most and least important to you. On which points are you happy to be flexible? I’ll walk you through some exercises to help prompt your thinking, but here’s the list for reference:

  • Cost of living
  • Cost of housing (renting or buying)
  • Climate
  • Health care, both the quality and the cost
  • Infrastructure
  • Accessibility to the United States
  • Language
  • Culture, recreation, and entertainment
  • Residency (if you want to be able to stay indefinitely in the country you choose)
  • Environment (things like pollution levels)
  • Taxes
  • Special benefits for foreign retirees
  • Education and schools (if you’re making the move with children, in which case this becomes one of your top priorities)
  • Safety

The book lists several questions to answer for each of these criteria. As someone who has lived in multiple locations overseas, the author has been there and done that and knows exactly what questions should be considered for each subject.

Later in the book certainly it offers suggestions for which places to consider based on the categories above (i.e. If cost of living is your main concern, here are the three best countries to consider.) It’s one of the most valuable things about this book IMO.

Before we get to my thoughts, here are a few other comments from the book to wrap up this topic:

I include safety as last on the list because you can take for granted that every place I introduce in these pages is safe. In some, you won’t even have to worry about locking your doors at night. Everything else on the list of factors to consider is a matter of priorities and perspective, but unsafe is unacceptable.

One of the other important issues for anyone considering a move to another county is cost of living. In some cases a reduced cost of living is the primary and driving agenda. It’s also the issue most affected by your answer to the “go local/don’t go local” question. Living among the locals can decrease your cost of living significantly, certainly compared with the cost of trying to export your U.S. lifestyle to another county.

Climate is probably the next most common reason (after cost of living and cost of real estate) for thinking about moving to another country and could be your main motivation for considering the idea. Some places around the world boast spring-like temperatures year-round. For many, this is reason enough to relocate at least part of the year.

No place abroad is the United States. You must assume (and accept) that everything—from the health care system to the property purchase process, from the foods they eat for breakfast to the way they celebrate Christmas—will be different from what you’ve known until now.

Many thoughts from me:

  • As I said previously, costs weren’t a big issue for us (within reason, of course) but moving overseas can make a world of difference expense-wise for many people. It could transform a “barely getting by” lifestyle in the U.S. to one that is quite luxurious in another country (would you rather live like a prince in Central America or a pauper in the U.S.?) And based on how much most Americans have saved for retirement, this might be their only retirement option that doesn’t include eating mac and cheese every other night.
  • I would be a 100% renter if we moved — at least for the first year or so. I originally thought I’d be a buyer but I think it’s better to get the lay of the land first by renting. Plus, if things don’t go well, it’s always easier to leave as a renter. And, if a hurricane hits, it’s much better to be a renter. 😉
  • Climate was the biggest reason I thought about moving overseas. Plus I simply LOVE the beach and the water. If there’s warm, clear water around, I have to be in it!
  • The more I learn about healthcare overseas the more I think it’s 1) better and 2) cheaper. Some might want to consider moving overseas for this alone. Of course you can always live in the U.S. and do medical tourism for big healthcare needs.
  • In general, my experience is that tropical places generally have much poorer infrastructure than we do in the U.S. Utilities can go off and on, water can be an issue in some places (we had a young lady working on a catamaran we took an excursion on tell us that she lived on that island, caught her water from rain, and since it hadn’t rained in awhile she hadn’t had a “regular” shower in 10 days), internet can be spotty, and so on. These may seem like small things to some, but if I lived in a place that was hot, I would need my AC — or die! And don’t get me started on what happens if the internet goes out!
  • Accessibility to the United States is a key concern for many as they want to come back to visit family/friends or have them visit their new home. This is an objection I get often (family/friends) for reasons people don’t even want to move within the U.S. (like from a high cost of living location to a low one.)
  • Do you want to learn another language or not? It’s a big issue. If you’ve ever lived/visited a place where they generally don’t speak English, it’s a very different experience. Personally, I’m not a big fan of learning another language, so I’d probably opt for an English-speaking location.
  • Culture, recreation, and entertainment are three very different things, though also related at least in part. Our reasons for moving would have been more recreation-related, but I know the other two are popular as well.
  • Residency is an issue that’s more down-the-road IMO — when you’re really interested in moving. We never got that far so I didn’t think much about it.
  • I can’t see many people wanting to move to a place with high pollution levels. But there are those who live in U.S. cities that aren’t that great, so perhaps I’m wrong.
  • Imagine if you could save on your taxes by moving. The thought makes me want to consider up and moving now! LOL! We’ll cover this issue in detail later in this series. The savings can be dramatic.
  • As the book details later, many locales have special benefits for foreign retirees. What are some of these? Well, the book lists Panama as offering the following: 50% off entertainment, 30% off bus, boat, and train fares, 25% off at sit-down restaurants, 25% off airline tickets, and much more!
  • No kids for us so no worries about schools.
  • As the book says, safety goes without saying. If you don’t feel safe, why would you ever move to a place? I’ve been on Caribbean islands where I felt as safe as I do in the U.S. (most places are like this actually — especially when you’re on a cruise/excursion) and places that were way more sketchy (like with machine gun armed guards patrolling the beaches). One reason my wife likes Grand Cayman is that it feels completely safe to her.

Anyway, that gets us started on this book — there’s a ton more great information to go through.

If you’d like to read more about retiring overseas, check out part 2 of this series.


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