Things to Consider Before Retiring Overseas

Me and Mrs. Xyz are always dreaming up some exotic place to live once we hit our big number and retire. We use tools like the Expatistan interactive map to estimate the cost of living overseas and budget our retirement expenses. Living outside of North America allows you to stretch your dollar and increase your standard of living, depending on where you chose to live. The most popular stays for frugal ex-pats are in South-East Asia, especially Thailand, but there are a lot more to countries around the globe that can offer as much.

Credit: Expatistan

If you are thinking about retiring abroad or simply moving abroad to work overseas, there is a lot more than the cost of living to consider. The first thing is to consider the legal limitations such as immigration requirements. Not all countries will welcome you and the immigration process can be lengthy, tedious, and costly. If you choose to go the non-resident way, some countries will allow up to 180 days stays on a tourist visa. Most ex-pats from the G7 countries, including U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan, can get a 30-day visa in Thailand and simply cross the border for a short stay in Cambodia, Myanmar or Laos to reapply for another 30 days. In the Schengen Zone (many European countries), North Americans can stay up to 90 days every half a year.

Leaving it Behind

Once you figure out the immigration or visa situation, you need to determine the differences that you might confront overseas. If you move to a non-English-speaking country, you might have difficulties to fully integrate into the community and connect with the locals. There is a lot of countries where English is widely spoken as a second language and you will be able to communicate but you might miss your social circles. Thankfully, there is now plenty of free ways to learn new languages with apps like Duolingo. These are great options to learn Spanish, for example, but I would have a really hard time learning Thai, no matter how pretty the app looks.

Other fun ways to learn a new language include immersing yourself in the region by spending time at home stay, or taking a local language class like we did with locals in Guatemala.

To make such as drastic move also means that you probably cannot move all your belongings with you. If you are planning long-term expatriation, you might consider selling your belonging and renting fully-furnished apartments once overseas. In Thailand for example, you can find plenty of luxury apartment for rent under $300 per month. These fully-furnished apartments usually come with beautiful pools, gyms, and other luxury amenities you would expect in 5-star hotels.

This 10,000 Bath ($280) apartment comes with a full gym and pool.

Living in a hotel-style apartment does have it’s downsides, though. Space will be limited and you will not have all your personal belonging to cuddle to. This is a drastic lifestyle change that could be a shock if you are used to having your own things. Living a minimalist lifestyle, to begin with, would ease the transition but there will always be some things to leave behind unless your total possessions can fit in a suitcase.

There you go, all our possessions can fit in a suitcase!

Another thing to consider is your returns back home. You probably want to return to see family for holidays or major events. Unless you are heavily churning and collecting reward miles, travelling back and forth might cost you dearly. You can always consider Central or South America instead of Europe or South-East Asia and find cheap flights on sale. Not considering the flight costs can quickly offset the savings expected from a lower cost of living.

Culture and Lifestyle

Unless you move to a secluded ex-pat community, being overseas means that you will face a change of culture and lifestyle. You might miss North American entertainment like hockey or tail-gating your favorite football game but now with the internet, at least, you can stream anything from anywhere. Most rentals offer high-speed internet and extended TV packages with American channels.

Being open-minded and willing to discover events and entertainment offered in your new location as well as opening yourself to the culture and lifestyle will make you more appreciative and connected with the locals. You will notice that, in most countries across the globe, the pace of life is much slower than in North America. Things just take time. People are not stressed out about everything. Embrace the slower pace and enjoy your time abroad even if it might be frustrating to deal with government agencies or other essential services. Simply sit back, relax, and enjoy yourself.

In addition, most countries offer a very different shopping experience than in North America. If you are used to huge shopping malls, grocery stores, and 24/7 Walmarts, you will be shocked to see how most of the world shops. In smaller cities, you might only find markets and local retailers but that’s really the only thing you need if you are living a minimalist lifestyle.

Your dining experience might also greatly differ. In Thailand, for example, the best food is not found at fancy, sit-down, restaurants but rather, right around the corner. Street food vendors are everywhere, even in the countryside, and the authentic dishes they serve are simply delightful. You can easily find amazing meals for no more than 30–60 baht ($1–2 USD).

Now, if you are planning to move abroad to retire or for work simply for monetary reasons, you need to also consider cheap local options. There are plenty of cities in America where you can find reasonably-priced houses and low-cost of living without too many compromises. There is so much to consider when moving abroad that short-term trips might be the simpler option.

Using Expatistan again, the lower-cost cities in America are still considerably more expensive that what can be found abroad but should still be considered. For this metric, the value of 100 to a central reference city that happens to be Prague. Both Memphis, Tennessee (143) and Boise, Idaho (139) ranked under Barcelona, Spain (146) and many cities in Texas and Tennessee ranked under 150.

All of these North-American cities ranked in the middle of the index;

  • Montreal (Canada) 155
  • Indianapolis, Indiana (United States) 155
  • Omaha, Nebraska (United States) 154
  • Rochester, New York (United States) 153
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico (United States) 153
  • Kansas City, Missouri (United States) 153
  • Winnipeg (Canada) 153
  • San Antonio, Texas (United States) 151
  • Knoxville, Tennessee (United States) 150
  • Louisville, Kentucky (United States) 147
  • Kelowna (Canada) 146
  • Kansas City, Missouri (United States) 153
  • Winnipeg (Canada) 153
  • San Antonio, Texas (United States) 151
  • Knoxville, Tennessee (United States) 150
  • Louisville, Kentucky (United States) 147
  • Kelowna (Canada) 146
  • Memphis, Tennessee (United States) 143
  • Boise, Idaho (United States) 139

And if you are wondering, here is the bottom 10;

  • Yerevan (Armenia) 77
  • Timisoara (Romania) 77
  • Tirana (Albania) 76
  • Tunis (Tunisia) 76
  • Baku (Azerbaijan) 75
  • Madras (India) 71
  • Ahmedabad (India) 70
  • Tbilisi (Georgia) 69
  • Hyderabad (India) 68
  • Pune (India) 67
  • Kiev (Ukraine) 66

How About Us

We love to travel, a lot! We are currently exploring the world two or three weeks at the time but, once retired, we want to travel months at a time. I personally am not ready to sell everything and make the leap to become an ex-pat but there is a nice middle-ground that can be attained.

I think that the most important step when choosing to live overseas is trying it before completely taking the plunge. We traveled across the globe and would love to retire in Spain, Mexico, or Thailand, but there is more to consider than what those new countries can offer. What would we be giving up?

We live in a relatively low cost of living city for Canada and the benefits we would be giving up (free health care, great schools, pensions, family) out-weights the potential benefits we would get overseas. We are planning to travel throughout South-America, Eastern Europe, and South-East Asia for about a year at a time, then come back home for a while until we get the urge to travel again.

What about you? Where would you retire?