July 01, 2019 Lifestyles

Four Questions to Ask Before You Retire to Another Country

G.M. Filisko

You don’t need as much money to live off of during retirement if you’re in a lower-cost locale. However, moving abroad isn’t as simple a decision as it seems.

It’s tempting!

The thought of relocating to another, much more affordable, country for retirement is an idea more and more Americans are exploring—and even doing.

Before you make the move (literally), be sure you understand the financial and personal implications. Here, people who’ve done it or considered it offer their suggestions on what to evaluate before choosing the ex-pat life.

1. How much will it truly cost you to relocate? Susan Schenck is the author of Expats in Cuenca, Ecuador: The Magic & The Madness, and she advises probing to get at the full cost of a move. For instance, what things will you want to take, and what will you leave behind? Then how much will it cost to store things at home—if you plan to hang onto anything—and then to have other things moved to your new home?

Another issue to consider is the full cost of medical care in the countries you’re considering. That’ll take some research, and you’ll want to evaluate whether you’re going to maintain your Medicare Supplement in the United States.

Along the same lines, consider how your credit will be affected. “Your credit history and scores will generally not transfer over to a new country, and you’ll have to build up any credit from scratch,” states Jacob Lunduski, lead credit analyst at Credit Card Insider. “You should research how the credit system of that country works and whether there are any steps you can take to establish credit before moving.”

2. How far is your preferred location from access points? “I’ve been living abroad for a decade,” reports Kelly Hayes-Raitt, author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva. “I’m based in Mexico but travel extensively as a housesitter, where I live in someone’s home at no cost while caring for their pets.

“An often-overlooked criterion for choosing a new destination in which to retire is how far the nearest airport is to catch a flight back to your home country—and family, health care, and so on—and how expensive those flights are,” adds Hayes-Raitt. “Long or expensive rides to the airport and pricey flights can unexpectedly eat up the financial savings of living in a foreign country.”

Hayes-Raitt recommends you test a potential new location by housesitting before you make a major move. “This way, you can see firsthand what daily life is like,” she explains. “How fast is that internet? How reliable is the electricity? What’s neighborhood life like at all hours of the day in the community to which you’re thinking of relocating?

“I’ve housesat in London; Paris; Amsterdam; Berlin; Gibraltar; throughout Africa; Hanoi, Vietnam; Osaka, Japan; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia—even Ya’an, a village in China where I was the only non-Asian face I saw for a week,” she says. “I’m thinking of relocating to either Athens or Ljubljana, Slovenia, and will be housesitting in those cities during the coming year.”

3. Is there a chance you can still practice law? Brad Biren is an attorney at Johnston Martineau in Des Moines, Iowa, with dual citizenship in the United States and Israel. He’s thought about moving to Israel several times and found himself running through the questions that need to be addressed before committing.

“Israel was particularly alluring to me as an option because it offers a tiered attorney licensure system,” he states. “There’s a domestic bar, and upon admission to it, you can practice in Israeli courts and counsel on Israeli law.

“But it also has a foreign license option,” he adds. “With that admission, you can practice the law of any country while living in Israel. You can call yourself an attorney, yet you’re restricted to advising clients on the laws of the foreign country only. Similar arrangements are available in a number of Central and South American countries, such as Uruguay, Guatemala, and Paraguay.

“So if you plan to work at all, an important thing to learn about any country before moving is whether you can still practice in some capacity, as either a consultant or attorney on U.S. law and contracts in that foreign country or if you’re relegated to being a consultant with a limited title.”

4. Do your needs and personality suit the location? Schenck says she declined to move to an Asian country based on a few factors. One was how steep the language barrier was. “How hard is the language?” she asks. “Or is this a country where you can get by on survival levels of the language in restaurants, to call a taxi, or to shop since many people speak English?”

Another personal-preference issue: “Can you handle the climate?” she asks. “That’s another reason I shunned hot and humid Asia. Also, are you a Type A personality who’s bothered by inefficiency, long lines, or delays? If so, you might consider avoiding certain countries in which the pace of life is slower.”

Schenck says it’s also important to ask if there’s an expat community. “That can be important if you want friends who are like-minded and speak the same language,” she explains. “If one exists, how big is the community?”

Finally, since we’re all lawyers here, it’s important to know how you’ll handle and feel about the local legal system. “Have you researched the country and its laws?” Schenck asks. “Some countries people consider retiring to have ‘kangaroo courts’ in which judges are bribable for a few thousand dollars.’”


G.M. Filisko

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and the consulting managing editor of Experience.