Moving Abroad Tips: What to Expect

Living Abroad is Looking Better and Better to Many Americans

By Kathleen Peddicord

The challenge as you begin preparing to launch a new life in a new country is to make sure that you’re moving for your own reasons and that you understand what those reasons are in your own mind. At this early stage of your overseas retirement adventure, the most important thing is to be honest with yourself and, very important, with your significant other.

There is no one-country-fits-all overseas retirement paradise. It’s a question of priorities.

Retirees in the States right now face a serious dilemma. Many have lost much of their retirement savings as a result of recent market downturns, and it’s increasingly difficult to live on Social Security alone. The cost of quality retirement living choices in the United States is escalating rapidly.

Can’t Afford to Retire

Most retirees can’t afford a retirement home, and a lot of people currently working can’t afford to retire at all. But the truth is, the situation is not as desperate as some fear. There are good options—which is my fundamental reason for writing this book.

Economies collapse and then recover; values—of real estate, of stocks—fall and then rise again’ financial meltdowns come and go. The circumstances of life change. When living becomes intolerably difficult in one place, move to another. I’m not being flippant. I’m sharing what I believe is the secret to realizing a dream retirement. The first move is the hardest, so, as you embark on this overseas retirement adventure, you need help and options. This book will deliver both.

Perhaps you’re not ready to make the leap for good. Maybe you’ll never be prepared to cut the tires back home with your children, your grandchildren, the home you’ve lived in for decades, or on-going business concerns completely.

A road trip in Ireland's Dingle Peninsula is one of the highlights of seeing the country off season--in January. Read about it in this story.
You could retire to a place as beautiful as Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula.

Retiring Part-time

These are good reasons to retire overseas part-time. Two others are the weather (why not move south when the snow begins to fall up north?) and budget. If your retirement nest egg is modest, your prospects for retirement living in the United States may seem grim.

On the other hand, if you spend half the year someplace where the cost of living is significantly reduced and rent out your U.S. home while you’re away, your retirement funds could expand accordingly during the months you’re stateside. Retirement could go from a source of concern to a cause for excitement.

Places that make sense as part-time retirement choices are those where establishing full-time residency is a hassle or, perhaps, impossible. You’ll have your work cut out for you trying to organize full-time legal residency as a retiree in Croatia, for example.

Many foreigners remain indefinitely in Thailand without formalizing their stays, making regular “visa runs,” as they’re called, every few months to refresh their tourist papers. Of course, I don’t recommend this. It’s easier and safer simply not to limit your visit so that you don’t overstay your tourist visa, making Thailand another good part-time choice

Moving to Waterford Ireland

We knew not a soul in Ireland when we moved to Waterford a dozen years ago. Looking back now, I realize how much that slowed us down. It took us several years to accomplish in Ireland the things (setting up housekeeping, establishing an office, and, finally, developing a circle of local friends) that we’ve accomplished already after only a year in Panama. Here, our transition from outsider to local (broadly speaking; no one mistakes us for Panamanians when they see us walking down the street, of course) has been seriously fast-tracked.

What’s the difference? When we moved to Ireland, we’d visited that country but a handful of times, and for only a week or ten days at a stretch, before becoming residents. On the other hand, Lief and I had been spending time and doing business in Panama, visiting for as long as six weeks at a time, for more than twelve years before we made our move to Panama City.

Panama Citys Museum of Contemporary Art
Panama Citys Museum of Contemporary Art. This is a favorite city for many American expats.

In that time, we’d bought real estate in the city, opened bank accounts, installed Wi-Fi, renovated buildings, hired staff, shopped for appliances….

Before we arrived as full-time residents, we already knew how to get around and where to go for help. We didn’t have to place any of those “where do I go to find such-and-such” calls that our friend Chris made during his first several weeks living here. We knew from our own experience where to source the things we needed.

You aren’t likely going to invest in a dozen years of preretirement visits to your chosen overseas retirement haven, and that’s not what I’m suggesting. My point is that the better connected you are on the ground in your new home before you arrive, the easier it will be for you to navigate the initial transition from visitor to resident. It’s all about who you know.

Settling Into a New Home

Some days, once you’ve settled into your new home abroad, you’ll be frustrated, paralyzed, maybe even driven to the point of loud screams by the paperwork, the bureaucracy, the inconsistencies, the inefficiencies, the unexpected…

Here’s the key to happiness in your new life overseas: recognizing and accepting that any place you go is going to have its own ways of doing things. Those ways will be different from what you’ve known all your life until now. For the sake of your sanity, you must give up the notion that the “American way” is better. Sometimes, in truth, it can be. But sometimes the new ways have their own benefits. Embrace the differences. They’re part of the adventure.

Take my word for it. No matter how much due diligence you’ve done, no matter how ready you are for the move, at some point, probably during your first year abroad, you’ll wonder what in the world ever possessed you to think this “leaving home” thing was a good idea. This isn’t an adventure. This is nuts.

My best advice is to wait out the panic. It will pass.

Kathleen Peddicord has covered the live, retire, and do business overseas beat for almost 30 years and is considered the world’s foremost authority on these subjects. She has traveled to more than 50 countries, invested in real estate in 23, established businesses in seven, renovated historic properties in six, and educated her children in four.

Kathleen has moved children, staff, enterprises, household goods, and pets across three continents, from the East Coast of the United States to Waterford, Ireland…then to Paris, France…and, most recently, to Panama City, where she, her husband Lief Simon, and their young son currently make their home and base their Live and Invest Overseas business.  

In addition to her own daily e-letter, the Overseas Opportunity Letter, Kathleen writes a weekly blog for U.S. News & World Report () and another for Huffington Post .

Buy this book:  How to Retire Overseas: Everything You Need to Know to Live Well (for Less) Abroad

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