Retiring Abroad: What You Should Know

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August 01, 2012

Who hasn’t dreamed of living near the vineyards of Provence or eating amazing Italian meals day after day under the Tuscan sun?


Whether you envision your retirement including warmer weather, a sandy beach, or a mountainside village, retiring abroad is easier than you might think with a variety of countries that offer world-class arts and culture, convenient transportation, and in some cases, lower costs of living and financial incentives for an upgraded lifestyle.


“A lot of people retire overseas not to lay in a hammock all day, but to pursue lifelong ambitions or dreams they have waited their whole lives to achieve,” says Michael Manville, founder of, an online community of prospective retirees, expatriates and seekers of unique lifestyles.

“Whether it be sailing the Caribbean, starting an orphanage, or tending a vineyard, often these dreams are related to the unique characteristics of overseas destinations.”


But it does require some planning.


If retiring overseas is something you’re considering, start researching and preparing right now, says Kathleen Peddicord, author of How to Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well (For Less) Abroad, a book that offers step-by-step instructions for planning and executing a fulfilling retirement abroad.


“No matter what stage of life you’re in, this can work for anyone, at any age,” Peddicord says. “The biggest regret I’ve heard from readers over the years is that they wish they’d made the move sooner.”


Charting Your Course

To choose the perfect location, Manville recommends exploring your top three prospective communities. “It is difficult to make judgments without actually visiting new locations, meeting with other foreigners living overseas and seeing things with your own eyes,” Manville says.


Keep in mind that the short duration of these research trips isn’t indicative of what your day-to-day life would be like as a local there, especially when it comes to how much money you will spend.



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August 01, 2012

“All too often would-be expatriates return from a holiday overseas having spent far less than they thought in the local bars and restaurants, and this gives them the false sense that it will be very cheap for them to live permanently in this nation,” says Susan Beverley, Editor in Chief and Media Consultant for the Overseas Radio Network. “However, as we all know, it’s taxes, utility bills, fuel, and insurances that ratchet up the cost of living.”


So how do you narrow the world down to your top three choices? Start by considering some of the most popular retirement destinations today, most of which not only offer scenic beauty, but also financial benefits for retirees.


Destinations to Consider

According to International Living’s 2012 Retirement Index of the “World’s Top 19 Retirement Havens,” Ecuador is the top-rated retirement country because it boasts the cheapest costs of living, the best values in real estate and beautiful landscapes. Within Ecuador, Peddicord recommends the city of Cuenca, which offers one of the most interesting retirement lifestyles available, supported by theater, orchestra, restaurants, and other big-city amenities.

Top 10 Places to Retire Abroad


In fact, you could live quite comfortably in Cuenca on only $2,000 a month, according to International Living’s annual Quality of Life Index in 2011. With that, you could afford very good health care, have several cell phones, dine out twice daily, and employ a maid, the survey found.


Cuenca’s appeal as a retirement haven is expanding in important ways, thanks to a recently developed program promoting the city as a medical tourism destination, says Peddicord. The city's five top hospitals have joined together to offer bundled programs of medical tests, procedures and services available for anywhere between $66 and $401 (costs for comparable services in the United States would be multiples of these amounts).


Belize, however, is Peddicord’s top pick for retirees who want to get away and create their own reality in a tropical, sparsely populated country where English is still the official language. “Ambergris Caye is the best of the Caribbean at a discount, while the Cayo is a frontier where the independent-minded pioneer can do his own thing, peacefully and privately,” she says. The climate is tropical, warmer on the coast, cooler in the mountainous interior. Peddicord says you’ll find an established and welcoming community of expats at home in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye, and an emerging community of like-minded expats in the Cayo around San Ignacio.

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August 01, 2012

The countries currently offering retirees the most financial discounts are Panama and Malaysia, according to Beverley. Panama offers a pensionado program to all seniors, which entitles retirees to various discounts, including 50 percent off movie and theater tickets and 30 percent off public transportation. To encourage foreigners, especially retirees, to relocate to Malaysia, the government provides renewable, 10-year multiple-entry visas, and benefits from the “Malaysia—My Second Home” program include exemption from Malaysian income tax on pensions.


According to an April 9, 2012 MSN Money “World’s Top Retirement Havens” story, “in countries like Ireland, Brazil or Chile, for example, you'll get discounts on public transportation, utilities, importing your household goods and more.”


European Adventure

European cities offer the convenience of a mass transit society where everything is easily accessible by foot, rail or taxi. There are plenty of museums, artwork, castles and nightlife to keep one occupied for years. AARP recommends Languedoc-Roussillon region in Southwestern France with its Mediterranean climate and its proximity to Provence, hilltop cities like Montpellier, and Paris, just three hours away via the high speed train. Plus the French health care, which according to World Health Organization (WHO), ranks the best in the world followed by Italy’s (with the United States ranked 37th on the list.) If Italy is your preference, consider Le Marche, a city recommended in its February 3, 2011 story “The Best Places To Retire Outside the U.S.” for its vineyards, mountains, beaches and stellar fish dishes.

Try Before You Buy

Even if you love that castle on the hilltop overlooking a vineyard, experts recommend that you don’t invest in property immediately after you move abroad. It’s often a big pitfall, Manville says. “It is easy to overpay for real estate overseas if you are not personally familiar with the market dynamics,” he says. “Bankrupt real estate developments, corrupt attorneys, and flat out scams can result in major losses for the real estate investor who hasn’t done their homework.” Avoid this by renting a home for the first year you live there, he adds, and using that time to learn who you can trust.


5 Questions to Ask Before Retiring Abroad


Cultural Differences

Retiring abroad can result in a substantially better lifestyle for the same or less cost, Manville says, thanks in part to the lower cost of labor for household help found in most overseas retirement destinations.


“For example, a full time gardener who maintains your organic vegetable garden, coffee plantation, exotic fruit farm, medicinal herb garden, flower garden, or specialty landscaping will cost less than $500 per month in most Latin American countries and even less in many Asian countries,” he says. Other labor-intensive services like personal assistants, physical therapists, in-home living assistants, maids, chauffeurs, and personal chefs are often a fraction of the cost one would pay in the United States or Europe.

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August 01, 2012

Cultural differences are inevitable when you retire abroad. But isn’t that the point? Pack your sense of humor, or sense of adventure and experience what your new life has to offer. Try to anticipate those changes by asking yourself “How will I make friends and integrate into the new culture?” says Beverely, who writes for Escape from America magazine. She also recommends asking yourself, “How will I get the most out of my life overseas?” 

and “How will I keep in touch with old friends?”


“If something challenges your way of thinking, you need to be prepared to adapt,” Beverley advises. “To have an easy life abroad, you need to learn to let go and just go with the flow.”


And that’s precisely what retirement is all about.


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