Retiring overseas is much more than dwelling on the seashore — right here’s what you should know


Planning to retire abroad? It will take a lot more consideration than which beach or mountain you want to reside near.

As Americans prepare for retirement, they may not have the funds to support the lifestyle they want — unless they leave the U.S. Moving abroad may be difficult, emotionally and physically, but it offers a lower cost of living, and even a fun adventure during this next phase of life. More than 500,000 Americans receive their Social Security benefits overseas, an increase from 400,000 people in 2000, according to the Social Security Administration.

Weather, shops and dining, time zones, real estate, visa and residency documentation and of course affordability in housing and health care are all factors that need to be worked out before booking a one-way flight. Even before officially deciding on a place, individuals should take trips during the off-season to ensure their new home is paradise (at least to them) all year long, said Edd and Cynthia Staton, a pair of married expatriates originally from Georgia now living in Cuenca, Ecuador.



Edd and Cynthia Staton

A move abroad and the lifestyle change that comes with it may be the final result of years of dreaming, or it may be for more practical reasons, the Statons said. Retiring within the U.S. may be too expensive for some retirees — for housing, taxes, medical care and so on — and the cost of living could be more affordable, depending on the country they choose and their living arrangements. The Statons lost their jobs and much of the value of their home during the 2008 economic crisis, and realized — with great hesitation, they said — that their best bet at a comfortable retirement would mean leaving the U.S.

See: 5 places to retire abroad that haven’t been overrun by Americans

After a decade abroad, and a lot of research, the couple created a program to help other Americans looking to follow a similar path. They were inspired by their own experience, navigating the processes of moving thousands of miles away and debunking many of the misconceptions associated with expat life, like you lose your Social Security benefits and will have to learn a new language.

“Most people never have the luxury to create a list of what they want in a location,” Cynthia said. “So for many, this is the first time ever they can ask themselves, ‘Well, if I can pick anywhere, what would I want?’ It doesn’t even occur to them.”

The program, called “Retirement Reimagined,” features 10 countries, and walks participants through all of the decisions to be made before leaving the U.S. as well as how to live well on a fixed budget, like solely on Social Security. Participants fill out psychological, emotional and physical profiles, create a wish-list of everything they’d like to see in their new home and plan a scouting trip, which might include connecting with other Americans now living in that area. The Statons share their living arrangements and budget, and also talk about managing communication with family members still in the U.S., including their grandchildren.

Of course, retiring abroad isn’t for everyone. Both spouses need to be committed, and they have to have a sense of adventure — and humor — for when challenges arise. Expats should also have a “re-entry plan,” expatriate Dan Prescher, a senior editor at International Living living in Ecuador, told NerdWallet. He and Kathleen Peddicord, another expat, said some Americans may decide after a few years they want to come back to the U.S., and will need to figure out where to live and how to get their documentation and health insurance in order.

Don’t miss: How to retire abroad and make money, too

Aside from the fun stuff — the nightlife, the museums, the views — here are a few of the most important factors to consider before uprooting yourself for retirement:

Income and budgets

Expats can of course use their own savings wherever they end up living, but not everyone knows Social Security will follow them to their new home. Social Security can be deposited electronically into a U.S.-based bank account, where retirees can then electronically transfer the funds to an overseas accounts. Some foreign financial institutions are also partnered with U.S. to accept these funds.

Some retirees find their budget is much more flexible overseas. Jim and Jiab Wasserman from Dallas retired in their 50s and moved to Granada, Spain. They live on about $40,000 a year, spending about $1,120 on rent, utilities and internet access and $500 on groceries and household items. The Statons spend less than $2,000 a month in Cuenca.

Health care and insurance

Some expats recommend Americans sign up for Medicare, even if they do move off U.S. soil. Medicare, which retirees can enroll in beginning age 65, is only available within the country, but those who visit or decide they’ll eventually return will need it or face a penalty for late enrollment. Medicare Part B’s premium jumps 10% for every year someone could have been enrolled, but was not (so for someone who let 10 years go by, that would be double the cost in premiums).

Health care in other parts of the world may be better, or worse, than in the U.S., so it’s important to read up on costs and available procedures and medications before leaving for good. France is well-known for its health care system, as well as Mexico and Malaysia. Expats can sign up for health care in their new country, or an international health insurance policy for when they’re traveling.

Also see: One country is missing from the list of best places to retire — America

Expectation versus reality

Some retirees think of beach towns as they are in the summer — warm weather, low tides, maybe sipping a mojito or two on a reclined chair — but not as they are in the winter, or during a hurricane. Retiring abroad shouldn’t be romanticized, experts warn, and everyone considering the move should spend a few weeks or months renting in the area during the “off season.” Americans should also research local laws, taxes, crime and involvement in U.S. politics, the U.S. State Department said. When the Statons did their scouting trip before making the move to Cuenca, they went looking for all of the reasons they shouldn’t go there.

Before jumping on the internet and looking up attractive countries to live, individuals considering retiring abroad should do some reflection. “Start with yourself and what you want,” Edd Staton said.



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