Showing posts with label risks of living abroad. Show all posts
Showing posts with label risks of living abroad. Show all posts

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Problems in Retiring Abroad

Have you narrowed down your retirement options, yet?  Many Baby Boomers are unsure whether they would be better off remaining in the United States or moving to another country.  Moving to another country is an easier choice if you have relatives who live in that country.  However, if you do not have any connections, making a move to a foreign location can be more challenging.

Finances continue to drive the desire to live in a less expensive nation.  Unfortunately, the majority of Baby Boomers today can look forward to very low Social Security benefits that will be supplemented with only a small amount of income from their retirement savings.  When low income is combined with the high cost of living in many parts of the United States, an ever-growing number of Americans are choosing to move overseas to places like San Miguel de Allende, pictured here.  Many foreign countries can seem like paradise to cash-strapped Americans.

Improvements in medical tourism and access to modern conveniences are also fueling the increasing number of ex-patriots who are retiring overseas.  This blog has included a number of articles about the appeal of a variety of locations.  However, in order to paint a balanced picture, there are some specific problems that Americans need to consider before they make their final decision.

Possible Problems When Retiring Abroad

*  Something as simple as having goods shipped to you may be much more difficult when living in a foreign country.  One of our daughter's friends moved to Costa Rica to teach school about five years ago.  Since then, she has married a Costa Rican man and has decided to make that country her permanent residence.  Her first child is due in a few weeks and I asked her how to mail her some baby gifts.  Here is what she told me:  Do not have an American business, like Amazon, ship anything to her directly.  Do not send anything by UPS or Fed Ex; only use the U.S. Postal Service.  Do not put anything in a box; use a padded envelope, instead. In the customs paperwork, refer to the items as "used" rather than "new."   She said that her family has been trying to ship her things for years and, despite the fact she is married to a Costa Rican citizen, it has been very difficult for her to receive some of the items.  Even when she does, the cost of shipping is high if the item is very large.  In addition, when there is a problem, the Costa Rican mail service will not notify her about it.

In other words, you will be far better off if you are willing to make nearly all your purchases locally.  This seems to be what most foreign countries prefer.

*  Another issue that arises when living abroad is the fact that the cost-of-living in some other countries can be as high, or higher, as living in the United States.  If you are moving outside the U.S. as a way to save money, then scratch most major cities in Europe off your list, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

*  No matter where you decide to live abroad, you are likely to have some expenses that you would not incur if you remained in the U.S.  For example, anytime you decide to visit the United States, the cost of travel can be quite expensive.  In addition, while you can get your Social Security in other countries, you are not eligible to receive Medicare.  You have to buy medical insurance in your new country.

*  Another issue to consider is that the cheaper the country, the poorer the country.  This may mean increased crime and fewer conveniences.  For example, the young teacher and her husband, whom I mentioned earlier, live a very modest lifestyle in Costa Rica.  None-the-less, their apartment has been robbed and they have lost items such as television sets and computers. The State Department often warns Americans living overseas to exercise caution and avoid certain areas.  This is good advice, no matter how comfortable you feel in the area around your new residence.

*  If your goal is live inexpensively in another country, you must adapt to that country.  That means eating the types of foods that the locals eat, living in similar housing, doing without cable TV, etc.  Of course, most countries do have subdivisions that are geared towards Americans with larger than average homes, two-car garages, air conditioning, cable television, etc.  However, if you want those types of amenities, expect to pay American prices ... and sometimes more.

*  Depending on where you choose to live, there are other inconveniences you may experience, as well.  You may need to learn a new language and new monetary system.  The legal system and tax codes may be confusing to you.  You may also have fewer rights than people who are citizens of that country ... for example, you may not be able to own property or it may be more difficult for you to work or start a business.

While many American believe that moving to a foreign country will be a dream, other Americans have discovered that it can be a nightmare if they have not prepared properly.  Make sure you visit in advance and speak to Americans who have gone before you.  Meet with an immigration attorney and a CPA to discuss any laws and rules that could have an affect on you.  Have a real estate agent show you some properties for sale or rent, so you know what to expect, both in price and quality.  You are less likely to be surprised if you are well-prepared.

If you are still interested in learning more about retiring in a foreign country, check out the "Retire Overseas" tab at the top of this blog.  That is the section where you will find links to more information about popular retirement destinations.

Use the other tabs to find links to additional articles about the best places to retire in the United States, family relationships after retirement, healthcare issues, and financial planning.

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

More Places to Retire Overseas

Baby Boomers are well-traveled and love new experiences.  As a result, many of them are giving serious consideration to retiring overseas.  Consequently, a number of different websites have produced their own lists of some of their favorite places to retire outside the United States.  In December, 2012, U.S. News published the list they had compiled.  All the locations on their list are fun, interesting places where you will not be lonely.  Most of them have thriving ex-patriot communities made up of retired Americans.  Below is the U.S. News list, along with some basic information and my personal impressions of each.

Where to Retire Overseas

Cuenca, Ecuador

Ecuador is considered one of the more affordable places for Americans to retire.  As I have mentioned before in this blog, some retired friends of ours were actually house-hunting in Ecuador when the wife was stricken by an unexpected brain aneurism.  The doctors and medical facilities in Ecuador were amazing, and she was able to receive life saving brain surgery there.  Of course, their plans to move to Ecuador were interrupted, and now they are back in the United States while she recuperates.

According to U.S. News, a retired couple could live in the charming colonial city of Cuenca for about $1,200 a month.  A small condo there can be purchased for as little as $40,000. This means that many Americans could pay cash for a nice condo in Ecuador by using the equity in their current home, and live comfortably on their Social Security benefits.  It was this affordability that first attracted our friends, as well as many other people.

Granada, Nicaragua

This is another charming city in Central America with an affordable cost of living and low real estate prices.  The government of Nicaragua has had a bad reputation in recent years, so many people may be reluctant to visit this area.  However, there is an ex-patriot community of Americans living in Granada, and most of them feel very comfortable living there. 

Cebu, Philippines

The island of Cebu is another popular and affordable real estate location.  Many members of the U.S. military have chosen to  retire here because they can live so well on their military retirement.  There are some restrictions on purchasing real estate in the Philippines, but it is still possible for Americans to purchase a condo.

One of the more interesting comments the U.S. News article made about the Philippines was that many American men in their 50's and 60's move there to find wives and start families!  That is the first time I have ever read that about a potential retirement location.

Medellin, Columbia

According to the U.S. News article, this South American city is safe and beautiful.  There are also large literary, artistic, industrial and financial communities in the city.  However, personally I was surprised to see Medellin on the list.  Isn't that the location of the Medellin drug cartel?  Before flying off to this city, I suggest that my readers check the State Department website to make sure there are no travel warnings for that location.  Currently, the State Department website says "security in Columbia has improved significantly in recent years ... but violence linked to narco-trafficking continues to affect some rural areas and parts of large cities."   Later, the website talks about the danger of both violent and petty crimes. 

This brings to mind the fact that we should all do our own research and use our own judgement before moving to another country, even if we see a location on a list from U.S. News or some other reputable news source.

New Zealand

I have known several friends who vacationed in New Zealand, and they always returned full of enthusiam for this dramatically beautiful country.  This is considered a good place to retire part-time, because it is so difficult to become a full-time resident.  However, you can stay for six months at a time, return to the U.S. to visit friends and family, and then return to New Zealand. 

Another option that U.S. News recommends is that you spend six months of the year in New Zealand and six months in another country, like Panama.  This would give you a perpetual summer.  It is an intriguing suggestion, although I think many Americans might want to spend at least part of each year back in their old neighborhoods in the U.S., especially if they have left family behind.  One advantage of New Zealand is that they speak English.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

My husband and I first traveled to Puerto Vallarta in the early 1970's.  Back then, a number of celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, had vacation homes in the town. We fell in love with this tropical paradise and have returned several times since then.  Unfortunately, the area has become more developed and more expensive since the 1970's.   While it is not as cheap as some of the other spots mentioned here, it is beautiful.  There are fabulous beaches, golf courses, restaurants, shopping, marinas and five star hotels with great entertainment venues. However, in recent years I have also heard reports of increased crime in the city. 

Samana, Dominican Republic

Are you hoping to enjoy a relaxed Caribbean retirement?   The Dominican Republic is one of the more popular Caribbean locations.  It is very affordable and real estate is less expensive than in many other Caribbean countries.

One of our daughters went on vacation there with some friends.  The trip was very inexpensive, and there were lots of fun things to do.  They found the country to be both relaxing and vibrant.  They felt comfortable and safe while they were there.  Of course, it never pays to get careless about your personal safety in any country.

Rural France

This U.S. News suggestion surprised me.  I have actually heard rural Spain mentioned more often as an interesting and affordable place for Americans to retire.  U.S. News admits that France is not a budget retirement choice.  However, my husband and I have traveled to France several times and loved it, and so have many other couples we know.  There is no question that there is plenty to do, although not everyone can afford to retire there.


I was delighted to learn from this article that Belize is one of the safest countries in the world.  It is a tiny country.  Although I have not been inside Belize, my husband and I have spent time on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, just north of Belize, and were fascinated by the Mayan ruins and the mountainous jungles. It is an awe-inspiring part of the world.

Although it has been decades since our visit, I understand that most of that area has changed very little over the years.  There is no reason to feel lonely if you retire there. Ambergris Caye in Belize is home to a close-knit expat community of like-minded people.

Before You Move Overseas

If you are thinking about retiring to another country, there are certain things you need to take into consideration.  Not all of these countries have easy access to medical facilities.  Some of them have restrictions on your ability to buy real estate.  Other countries have restrictions on how long you can stay.

In addition, governments change and sometimes they may not always be friendly towards foreigners who have moved there.  As always, I suggest that my readers check the State Department website if they are visiting or moving to another country.  Pay attention to any warnings that may be issued.

Another issue you should consider is whether or not you will be happy living so far away from your current friends and loved ones.  While it may seem like an adventure at first, you may begin to feel lonely, especially if you lose your spouse.

However, if you are up for an adventure and you want to have the experience of living in another country, US News has provided us with a great list of potential countries.


If you are trying to decide where to retire, you may also be interested in reading some of the other posts that have been written for this blog.  Links to all of them can be found in the index articles listed below.  In particular, you may be interested in checking out the articles in "Great Places for Boomers to Retire Overseas."

Gifts, Travel and Family Relationships

Great Places for Boomers to Retire Overseas

Great Places to Retire in the United States

Health and Medical Topics for Baby Boomers

Money and Financial Planning for Retirement

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Risks of Living Abroad

Over the years, this blog has included a number of articles that suggest beautiful and exotic places to consider if you are interested in living overseas.  Many of these areas, such as Costa Rica, Belize, Ecuador and Panama, have well-established communities full of American ex-patriots and there are agencies which are able to provide you with tours of the countries and help you find your dream home.  It all sounds idyllic and the perfect way to spend your golden years.  However, I would be doing my readers a serious disservice if I left everyone with the impression that life is always perfect in these developing countries.  Here are just a few incidents that I have heard about from people who thought they were going to improve their lives by moving overseas.

Costa Rica and the Pacific Ring of Fire

As a resident of Southern California, I shouldn't express concern about earthquakes.  We have experienced several of them, and there has been no significant damage in our area as a result.  However, we have a young family friend who teaches school in Costa Rica and  they have had a 7.6 earthquake there.  Neither she nor her students were injured in the earthquake, but she reported that she had a difficult time getting home because of the damaged roads, mudslides, and similar hazards.  Fortunately, once she did arrive home, she was able to use a computer and let all of her family and friends in the U.S. know that she was safe.

The Pacific Ring of Fire is the term used to describe the coastal areas that surround the Pacific Ocean where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.  This Ring of Fire includes many of the places that are frequently under consideration by people who are moving abroad.  Among the countries included in the Ring of Fire are Mexico, Chile, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Philippines, Panama and all of Central America and Southeast Asia, including Thailand.  The earthquakes that occur in these areas can be very severe and do significant damage to the local infrastructure.

Serious Medical Problems Experienced while Living Abroad

Many Americans travel to other countries in order to obtain inexpensive medical treatments.  This is called medical tourism and often involves elective or cosmetic surgeries that are very expensive in the United States.  It is not unusual for many less developed countries to have fabulous hospitals that cater to medical tourism.

However, last spring a retired couple we know were exploring the idea of living abroad in Ecuador.  They had researched it thoroughly, made arrangements to rent a house for a couple of months, and signed up to start their Ecuador experience with a tour of the country.  Halfway through the tour, the wife collapsed when an aneurysm in her brain burst.  The tour company took her to a high quality hospital where they were able to stop the bleeding in her brain and repair the aneurysm.  The medical facility did an excellent job on the repair, as attested by her American doctors.  However, she was very lucky.  It took the tour company eleven hours to get her to the appropriate hospital.  This couple is back in the United States and they have dropped the idea of moving overseas to Ecuador or any other foreign country.

When our young friend who is teaching in Costa Rica became sick with an identified infection about a year ago, she was sent by the school where she worked back to the United States in order to receive better treatment.  Although the American doctors were unable to determine the cause of the infection, she is now healthy and has returned to Costa Rica.  However, it is interesting that she needed to return to the US in order to get the medical treatment that she needed.

A California Family's Experience after Moving to Belize

Readers may also want to read the new book, "Freeways to Flip Flops," (available from Amazon using this link).  It is about a Southern California family's experience when they moved to Belize.  They sold their home in Lake Forest, California and moved their entire family there, including their teenage sons.  In a little over a year, they moved back to California.  They spent their time in Belize dealing with scorpions, rats, smelly drinking water, heat and humidity.  They were dissatisfied with the educational opportunities for their children.  The husband attempted to work from Belize; however, the computer system was so unreliable that he lost his job.  There were many other problems that they experienced, as well, so it might be worthwhile to read this book before you decide to make such a dramatic move.

Do not expect to find life in a foreign country to be like your life in the United States.  There will be inconveniences.  Our young friend in Costa Rica eventually moved to a gated community there, after her home in the local town was robbed.  Her home in the gated community was considerably more expensive ... similar in price to homes in the United States.  She also has bars on the windows and still has to deal with plumbing problems, huge spiders, etc.  She loves living there and has no plans to move back to the U.S.  However, living overseas does require some flexibility.

The Bottom Line on Moving Abroad

If you are the adventurous type, you may discover that living in another country is not a problem for you.  Like our young teacher friend, even if you run into difficulties you may fall in love with your new country and decide to stay, no matter what inconveniences you experience.  In fact, this young woman has now married a Costa Rican businessman, and they now have a one-year old daughter.  This has made her even more cautious about her home's security.

When I wrote posts that recommend different countries where you may want to live, I do not want to create the impression that everything will always go well.  There will be challenges and inconveniences that may grow tiring after a while, especially as you get older.  The important thing is to be realistic and aware of some of the problems you may experience before you make such a life altering decision.

Looking for more ideas about where to retire?  Use the tabs or list at the top of this article.  They will connect you with hundreds of additional articles on where to retire, financial planning, medical issues, changing family relationships and other related information.

You may specifically want to read:

Best Places to Retire Outside the US
American Retiring in Panama
Live in Ecuador Comfortably on Social Security
Retiring in Luxury to Hua Hin, Thailand
Why Retire in Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands or Guam

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