Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
Baby boomers are an adventurous bunch. They have seen the world, and they love it.
It is no real surprise that more people are deciding to retire outside the United States, finding a place where the cost of living allows their dollar to go farther, the weather is warm and they feel welcomed. Of the four million Americans the U.S. State Department estimates are living abroad, one in four or one million people are retirement age.
Start doing some online research, and you will find enticing stories about living on pennies a day under tropical skies with daily housekeeping services and drinks overlooking a sunset view every night. Couples live like kings and queens on nothing more than a Social Security check.
As the economy continues to struggle in the United States, these stories are alluring. Should you consider retiring abroad? There are good reasons to consider it. But you must do plenty of homework, and be honest with yourself about your needs, your lifestyle and your limitations.
Websites like TopRetirements.com have good advice on making decisions about retiring abroad and choosing a place that is right for you.
- What are the tax laws? How will they affect your personal financial situation? It is imperative to discuss this with an accountant or tax expert.
- If you need to receive payments from the U.S. from Social Security or a pension, how do you get money to yourself from outside the U.S.?
- Are there restrictions on buying real estate or land ownership for foreigners?
Health and Safety
- What kind of medical care is available? How will you pay for it?
- Do you have a specialized condition that requires a unique type of care?
- Do you feel comfortable being treated in a foreign country?
- Do you have any condition that requires emergency treatment on occasion? If you need to get to the United States, is there a way to do so quickly?
- What is the crime rate? Will you be trapped in a gated community because you are too fearful to travel to more urban areas due to crime?
Culture and Leisure
- Will you be welcomed as a foreigner? Are Americans well regarded, or will you be ostracized to an expatriate community?
- Are you open to a new culture and learning another langugage? Or would you rather keep to yourself? Is English widely spoken?
- What kind of leisure activities are available? Are you able to do things you enjoy easily?
- Are you comfortable with the type of weather common to the place you are considering? If you hate warm weather and humidity, the tropics are not for you.
- Are you OK witnessing widespread poverty, or will it depress you?
- What is the political situation? Is it stable? Are the laws something you can live with?
- Are you a Type A personality? The laid back culture of many countries and the leisurely pace of doing business frustrates many gung-ho Americans.
- Can you live away from family and friends? Can you afford to visit often? Are family and friends willing and able to visit you? Missing family is the number one reason people return to the United States after retiring abroad.
It is critically important to do your homework. Most experts suggest you rent a home in your chosen community for six months before you make any decision about a permanent move. By then you will have experienced most weather extremes, encountered the everyday problems beyond the positive testimonials, and can make a more informed decision.
No matter how good your situation, it is imperative you have an exit strategy. Political regimes can topple overnight. Prices can rise suddenly, especially if your personal paradise becomes a popular destination for other ex-patriots. Most important, your health may suddenly decline and you need the kind of resources and support system available only back in the United States.
There are numerous lists of the best places to retire. AARP, Forbes Magazine, and TopRetirements.com are among the best. Their top choices year after year include:
Belize and Panama: These Central American nations have excellent weather, are close to the mainland U.S., and English is widely spoken. They actively welcome Americans.
Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam: Retirees are welcome and the cost of living is low. Weather is agreeable if you don’t mind rain and healthcare is surprisingly good, especially in Thailand. But language barriers can surface, and the political regimes are not always stable. They are also a long way from the U.S.
France and Italy: Food and culture plus good weather are significant draws, and health care is plentiful and inexpensive. Social services help offset the cost of living. But bureaucracy can be frustrating at times.
Australia, Ireland, and Canada: English speaking nations with stable governments, friendly to Americans with good healthcare. In the case of Australia, it is a long distance from the U.S. Irish and Canadian weather can test many Americans used to milder climates.
The bottom line: do your research, hire a tax expert and determine your priorities. Answer questions honestly and with a clearheaded approach and you will make the right decision for you.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!
LifeCycles is intended to provide inspiration and information only. If you are considering any health, dietary, exercise or lifestyle changes based on the information provided here, please seek advice from a qualified professional.