The good news is that today, thanks to the internet, you can access lots of materials to help this process of planning and preparation. See the links at the end of this guide for some useful places to look if you are preparing to retire in a foreign country.
Worldwide, 12% of migrants are over the age of 65 (a common retirement age), according to the UN (PDF download).
Source: UN International Migration Report 2017
Various UK surveys show anywhere from 40-50% of Britons considering an overseas retirement. Currently, 207,300 British citizens over 65 are living in the EU, according to the Office for National Statistics (who used data from 2011-2017), and as the EU accounts for only 25.8% of British citizens living abroad, the upcoming Brexit deal is unlikely to affect this catastrophically.
In the US, hard numbers are harder to come by but people in the industry suggest there are also about 1million retirees located in a foreign country. This is far higher than the official figure reported by the Social Security Administration: 373,224 retired Americans living abroad in 2013. Incidentally, of those the largest number (68,054) live in Canada, followed by Japan (32,143), Mexico (27,512), Germany (24,499) and Britain (22,729). Other nations with a large number of retired Americans include Greece, Poland, Italy, Israel and the Philippines.
In Germany, the Federal Statistical Office reported in 2011 that 3.4million Germans live in other OECD countries. The over 65s represented only 4.8%: about 165,000. However, very many more spend part of the year living overseas, particularly in Spain. There is also a highly controversial boom in “exporting” people in care homes to other countries such as Poland, where care is more available and more affordable. According to a 2013 survey by TNS Emnid (a German pollster), 20% of people would consider doing this.
The same picture emerges – but with smaller numbers – in many countries.
Why are people retiring abroad?
The main reasons are:
- Way of life
- Lower property prices
- Lower cost of living
Is it for you? This guide will help you decide and then plan your move.
Don’t forget your family
Are they as keen as you to embrace international living and retiring in a foreign country?
Many of our US clients were pursuing a long outdated dream of retiring to a place with a good climate, good healthcare and where they could employ a live-in maid for US$100 per month. Whilst those days are long done, by retiring to a foreign country you can still live well for much less in very agreeable surroundings. These factors have driven the growth of places such as France, Spain, Mexico and Costa Rica as retirement destinations.
Clearly, your partner must be as enthusiastic about the idea as you are. Otherwise disaster looms. However, it’s not just your partner you need to persuade that this is a good idea. Your children and grandchildren will also be important in your life and they will often have misgivings about their “irresponsible” parents’ decision to up-sticks and move to a distant country.
Prepare not only for yourself but also for them. Better still; get them doing some of the preparation. They will then start engaging with the project.
Fortunately, most children come round to the idea when they see that the project has been properly thought through – and that there is an exit plan if you decide you don’t like it.
In fact, of the thousands of clients I have had who have retired abroad, most tell me that they see far more of their children/grandchildren than they ever did living “back home”. This is easy to understand. Your children may already live some distance from where you live and, these days, everybody seems increasingly busy. However, getting them to come to visit you in Nice or Acapulco may be more enticing, particularly if they can turn it into a vacation in your lovely villa.
Early preparation for retiring to another country
Some preparation for retiring abroad can be started very early on: before you have even decided which foreign country you want to retire to. Early preparation is a great time saver and can take a lot of the stress out of your move to retire abroad.
Many people start the process of preparation several years before they intend to retire.
You will find out that, once the time comes and your decision is made, the days and weeks race by and you will be hard pressed to get everything done in the time available. Preparation definitely helps.
You will, inevitably, need some paperwork in order to retire abroad or to travel to your new home in a foreign country. It’s too easy to overlook.
Is your passport about to expire?
Does the photograph still look like you? In many foreign countries they more attention to border control than you might see “back home”.
Is your driving licence about to expire? If it is a photo-licence, is the photo up-to-date?
If you have points on your licence but they are long out of date, get them removed if you can. You will suffer fewer problems if stopped by a police officer who does not speak your language.
Will you be allowed to drive on the strength of you ‘home’ driving licence? Do you need an International Driving Permit (“IDP”)? An IDP, which is slightly larger than a passport, is a multi-language translation of your driver’s licence, complete with your photograph and other information about you. It is recognised in most countries and allows you to drive using your ‘home’ licence.
Will you be required to take out a local driving licence? If so, will you need to pass a medical or a local driving test? In most countries you will only need a local licence after you have been a resident for a certain time: typically two years.
European Health Insurance Card
If you are a citizen of an EU country and you are going to retire in another EU country, it is a good idea to get a European Health insurance Card (“EHIC”). This covers you for emergency medical treatment, but only whilst you are a ‘visitor’ to the country. As a person who lives there full time, you will be a resident and so need different paperwork. See our guide to healthcare for the country where you will be retiring to see what you will need. However, the EHIC is still worth having for when you first arrive.
You obtain an EHIC in your own country. You can usually do it online. It is free.
When retiring abroad – whether you intend to spend the whole year there or just to make regular visits for up to half the year – it is a good idea to get a copy of all of your medical records, including the drugs you are taking. Many of those drugs will be described using brand names, which may be different in the country you are going to, so it is a good idea to get them ‘translated’ into the generic drug name. A doctor will usually do this for a modest fee or you can do it yourself online. It is worth doing this even if you are going to a country where your language is the first language.
If you have a complex medical history and you are going to retire in a country where your language is not their first language, in it is a good idea to have your medical records translated, to keep a copy yourself and to give a copy to your new doctor. Translation is not cheap: Absolute Translations charge about £700 (US$1,000) to translate 5,000 words of medical records from English to Spanish. However, this is far better than a fatal misunderstanding with your doctor!
Educational and professional records
You never know when you might need to produce your educational and professional qualifications. You might, for example, be invited to become a local member of the Society of International Engineers. Obtain copies. It is not worth translating these unless you are specifically asked to do so.
Power of Attorney
It is a good idea to give someone “back home” a wide ranging Power of Attorney so that they can deal with things – particularly the unexpected – on your behalf. This is not usually expensive.
Note that you will usually only need a “local” Power of Attorney (one of the type you would use if you were still living in the country) rather than the much more expensive “international” type. See our Guide to International Powers of Attorney. See also our country-specific guides for more information about making a Power of Attorney for use in the country where you want to retire and in the country where you are now living.
I don’t want to sound pessimistic but now is a really good time to make – or update – your Will. If you are retired in a foreign country, especially if you have property and possessions in more than one country, if the worst happens a will makes dealing with your affairs far simpler, quicker and cheaper. If you have children or a complex life involving (say) divorce, two families or a gay relationship, making a Will becomes essential. For information about making international Wills, see our Guide to International Wills. See also our country-specific guides for more information about making a Will in the country where you want to retire.
Be aware that you may well need two or more Wills: one in your ‘home’ country, one in the place where you are retired and (possibly) another in any other countries where you have assets.
Get yourself in order
See your doctor and get any routine checks carried out before you go. Even if they will be covered by your health insurance, it will be much easier to do this “back home” and, of course, if there is anything wrong it could affect your plans.
Similarly, get your prescriptions sorted out. It’s a good idea to take three month’s supply of all your medications to give you time to get set up in the country where you will retire abroad.
If you already know where you are going to be living during retirement, now is a good time to find out what shots/vaccinations you are going to need and to start having them.
A visit to your dentist is also a good idea.
If you know which country you are going to be retired in, learning the language – or brushing up your skills – is a good idea. The sooner you start the better. Speaking the language, however badly, will greatly improve your experience of retiring abroad. Speaking it well will transform it.
Get your possessions in order
Most of us have possessions. Often too many. You will need to decide what to do with them. Remember that, in many cases, you will be “downsizing”: moving to a smaller home. Storage – and display – will be an issue.
Some of your possessions will be of huge sentimental importance: you cannot live without them. Take them with you.
Others will just be things you have accumulated. Take as few as possible. Some will probably break on the journey. The ones that don’t will often be ill suited to your new home.
Should you take your car with you or buy another one when you arrive in the country? This is a more complicated decision than you might first think!
There are three main issues: safety, cost and repair.
There are two issues here.
Having a foreign car – especially if it is still foreign registered – can make you very obvious and turn you and your home into a priority target for thieves.
More importantly, if you live in a place where they drive on the left hand side of the road and you are moving to a place where they drive on the right, your steering wheel will be on the wrong side. This is much less safe, especially when driving on tour own and especially when driving on smaller roads.
Selling your car can often cause you a large financial loss and so it is tempting to keep it, especially if it is an older car in good condition. However, there are costs associated with taking your car. You will usually have to re-register it as a local car: typically after 6 months. This can involve inspections and be expensive.
An additional factor is that, in some countries, there are high taxes and duties applied when you buy a car and, in some of these countries, their retirement visa scheme gives you the large perk of being able to bring your car and possessions tax free. In these countries it is usually a good idea to take your car: ideally, if the rules allow it, a new one.
If you run a car not sold in the country, getting parts will be a nightmare. Worse, the garage will not tell you there will be a six week delay in getting the necessary bits until after they have dismantled your car and it is immobile.
Even if you have a car sold in the country but which you bought “back home”, there is surprisingly often a difference in specifications that can make parts tricky.
See our country-specific guides for more information about taking your car to the country where you want to retire.
Furniture & ‘white goods’
White goods are things like cookers, washing machines and other domestic appliances.
The same comments as to car repairs apply to white goods. They will become throwaway items.
For all electrical goods there is the additional issue of whether they will work. Are they on the same voltage? Do they require more power than the local circuits in your new home can provide?
For TVs, do they use the same transmission system? If they don’t they will be useless. There are three main analogue television systems in use around the world: NTSC, PAL, and SECAM. Now in digital television (DTV), there are four main systems: ATSC, DVB, ISDB and DTMB.
For furniture, the issues are different.
- Furniture is often large and large means expensive – and slow – to ship. It can be cheaper to replace it.
- If it is made of wood, some countries insist that it should be sprayed, fumigated or otherwise treated to guard against insects. This can ruin it.
- It will probably not suit your new home. Its style will be alien and, if you are moving to a hotter country, your heavy northern European armchairs will be too hot.
Generally, it is better to get rid of all but your most sentimental items and buy new. With luck, you will have a family member who is setting up a new home and who will appreciate them.
Get your finances in order
You will need some money!
If you are going to move to another country to retire, your finances will be critically important. Unless you are really knowledgeable about the opportunities in your own country AND those in the foreign country where you will be retiring, it is ESSENTIAL that you take skilled advice.
There are a number of issues you will need to think about:
Savings & investments
Does it make sense to keep your current arrangements for your savings and investments? If you are living in (say) the US and you are moving to (say) France, your existing savings will probably almost all be in US dollar investments. If you had US$1million of investments and they were generating you a rock-solid 5% per year (we should be so lucky!), you would have an income of €50,000 per year. However, you will be spending euro, not dollars. If the exchange rate changes your real income will go up and down. The same will, of course, apply to your pension but you often can’t do much about that. However, you can arrange your savings so that they generate you income in euro.
Is this a good idea? It often is but it depends entirely upon where you live, where you are going to be living and your personal circumstances. Take advice.
Pensions & other income
How can this be maximised?
There are lots of things you might be able to do. Again, it depends entirely upon where you live, where you are going to be living and your personal circumstances. Again, take advice.
Cost of living
What is the local cost of living? What is it likely to be in 10/20/30 years? See below for more about this.
What arrangements are you going to make about banking. Are you going to use your bank “back home” as your main bank – receiving your pension and investment income and perhaps, if you are still being employed by somebody in your own country, having your salary being paid into it. You can then transfer what you need to the foreign country where you are retiring. Or you may to have all your money paid into a local bank account in the country where you are retiring.
Either way, you are likely to need a foreign bank account (in the country where you are retiring) and a bank account “back home” to deal with any ongoing expenses there and to receive any money to which you are entitled (maybe your final salary cheque of a tax refund). A credit card on that bank account can also be a very useful tool, allowing you to spend using the most appropriate currency and account.
See our Guide to International Banks and Banking for more information about your general banking options.
Major decisions here and the options are not as simple as you might think. There are five main choices.
Rent + rent
If you are living in rented accommodation, it is pretty simple. You will probably also rent in the country where you will be retiring. However, a few people – especially if they come from a place where they were renting because they couldn’t afford to get on the property ladder – will decide to buy a property in the country where they are going to be retired. It makes them feel more in control.
Sell + rent
Others will sell their house or apartment “back home” and rent in the foreign country where they will be retired. This gives them a lump of money to invest to supplement their income.
Is this a good idea? Will the money they generate be more than the cost of the rent? Generally and in most countries, property prices (and so rent) are on the increase whereas the income you get from leaving your money in the bank or in an investment is small.
If you don’t yet want to commit to buying a property but intend to do so later you may find it better to rent out (let) your old home and then sell and buy when you are ready. This all depends upon your personal circumstances.
Sell + buy
Most people like the idea of buying a property in the place where they will be retired. Some nationalities – for example, the British – have a bit of a fixation about owning their home and so this appeals to them.
If you buy, you get the benefit of any increase in house prices and you are not only in control of repairs and redecoration but you also get any financial benefit that arises from doing them. However, buying is an expensive option. In many countries the cost of buying a home – legal fees, taxes etc – is about 10% of the price. The cost of selling it tends to be about 5%. So you really don’t want to do this until you are sure you like the place and that retirement abroad is for you.
Renting may involve paying about 4-5% of the value of the property as rent. So for the cost of buying and selling you could have rented for three years and your money could have been employed elsewhere.
Unless you live in a place with rapidly rising house prices – and where they are likely to keep rising for the next few years – it is seldom a good idea to buy if you are likely to be living abroad for less than five years.
Sell + rent + buy
This is, for many, the best option.
You sell your property back home and keep the money in a readily accessible form.
You then rent a property in the place where you want to retire. You rent for 3, 6 or 12 months. This gives you plenty of time to decide whether you like retirement abroad, to work out exactly where you would like to live and search for exactly the right house. Renting for 12 months lets you see the place in all seasons.
When you find the right place, you are a cash buyer – and so can strike a really good deal.
What you pay in rent will probably be more than your money generates as an investment – but probably not a lot more. If you are downsizing substantially, as many people are, it could be less.
Keep two homes
This is the deluxe option but it is chosen by a lot of people.
They decide to keep a property “back home”, where they will spend part of the year. They then buy another property in the other country, where they also spend part of the year.
This has lots of advantages apart from the obvious. For example, you can often choose where you pay your taxes. In most countries, your primary tax liability – where you pay taxes on your worldwide income – is where you spend more than six months of the year and the other country will be a secondary residence, where you will only pay taxes on any income you generate there. If country A has taxes of 30% and country B taxes of 10% this can make a huge difference to your tax bill.
In most cased people sell both houses, buying a smaller and more convenient property back home and a property in the second country tailored to their likely use of that property. The money generated by downsizing can go a long way towards paying for the second property. Other people keep their original home and just buy another.
This way of doing things can also make you money.
I have a former client who hates hot weather and skiing but loves mountain walking. She bought a house on the Costa del Sol in Spain and another in Bansko in Bulgaria. She spends the summers (when it is too hot in Spain) in Bulgaria taking advantage of all of the trekking and mountain activities in this lovely area. She spends the winters in Spain.
This means that she can rent out the house in Bansko during the whole of the ski season – and make a decent amount of money by doing so. She then rents the house on the Costa del Sol for the whole of the summer season, when it is most in demand and rents are highest.
Until a few years ago, by buying THREE houses in different countries, you could often end up paying almost no tax anywhere. People still talk about this. Sadly, it is never or very seldom now possible.
It is worth spending a bit of time with your calculator before making this decision. Get it right and you could make more from the property than you do by way of salary. Get it wrong and it will cost you a lot of money.
You will almost certainly need some insurance if you are going to be retiring in a foreign country.
This will be for any property you retain “back home” as well as the place you are living in the foreign country where you are retired.
Remember that, if you are letting (renting out) your property you will usually need a different type of insurance from what you would have used as an owner-occupier. See our Guide to Insuring Investment Property for more information on this subject.
In many countries you will need to produce proof of health insurance before you can get a visa to retire in the country. See our country-specific guides to health insurance for details of what is available.
If you are leaving a car “back home”, this will probably need to be insured, as will any car you buy in the country where you will be retiring abroad.
Make the most of your contacts. You will probably be surprised how many friends or friends of friends have already lived or worked in the foreign country where you will be retiring.
Make use of them. Contact them. Add to them. Build a network before you arrive.
Research before retiring abroad
This general preparation will be pretty much the same for each foreign country where you might want to retire. So how do you choose which it is to be? If you are pursuing your dream, the world – or most of it – is your oyster.
Research will help you decide which is the foreign country to which you want to retire.
Access by air
Is there an easy link from an airport where the people likely to visit you live and an airport where you want to retire abroad? Are there reasonably priced flights?
This makes a huge difference to the frequency with which you will receive visitors.
Access by car
To the airport
How long does it take to get to the airport at either end? The travel industry has done a lot of research on people’s travel habits. If the link, at either end, is over an hour then 50% of people won’t travel. Granted, your family and friends will probably be a little more flexible but – if possible – make it easy for them.
Is the access by motorway/freeway or by twisty local roads? Many people feel uncomfortable about travelling on minor roads.
Of course, this will also benefit you when you want to travel. Some people who retire abroad travel a lot, seeing family and vacationing.
Is the place where you intend to retire easily accessible on a day to day basis? Is it at the top of a steep hill accessed by a narrow and twisty road? If so, as the years go by, you may feel uncomfortable about driving to it – especially at night. It is worth thinking ahead a few years.
Access by public transport
Is there a bus or train service? Are there plentiful taxis?
If not, and you break you leg, you will be a bit of a prisoner. You will also become an unpaid taxi service when your family visit.
Access on foot
The importance of this is greatly underestimated
Many clients who didn’t have this on the checklist at all say how useful they found it to be able to walk to a local shop: maybe one that only sells bread, milk and canned goods but somewhere they can go to without getting the car out. It can also be nice to have some restaurants in walking distance – so nobody needs to be the designated driver!
Shops & services
Will they be open all year round? In many tourist areas, everything closes in October and stays closed until April. Not only could yours be the only house occupied but you would find that the bars, restaurants, shops and doctor would all be closed and that the taxis would cease to come to the area without being pre-booked. This is not good if you are going to be living there all year round.
Is there a major shopping facility – usually meaning a large town – within a reasonable distance?
Is there a local doctor who speaks your language?
If you have a known medical condition, is there a local facility for dealing with it – again, ideally, where they speak your language?
What kind of community are you looking for?
- A ‘local’ community where you will really need to speak the language to become integrated?
- An expat community of people from your own country?
- An expat community of people who at least speak your language?
- A general expat community, in which case English is often the common language?
- A young community of expat business people?
- A community where there are lots of retirees?
- A community with an emphasis on art and culture?
There are other options.
You need to be clear about this. Otherwise, you may well be very disappointed by your choice.
There are several ways of finding out the type of community in the places of interest to you:
- Print editions of the local newspapers, either picked up whilst you are in the area or sent to you by someone in the area
- The online editions of those newspapers
- Guidebooks – often unreliable and far too general
- A personal visit, involving studying the local press, meeting people and travelling the length and breadth of the area. I believe this to be essential before you make your final choice of a foreign country for retirement.
Your special needs
You will almost certainly have personal requirements. For example:
- A church of a particular religion or denomination
- A beach where you can windsurf
- Sports & social facilities: tennis, golf, croquet, bridge, chess etc
- A marina
Type of property
A holiday home is not necessarily suitable as a permanent residence:
- Room sizes tend to be small
- There is limited storage space
- Heating and cooling systems may not be very sophisticated
- There may be no garage
Look for a home where there is space for guests. Many people think that a three bedroom home will be fine: one for us, one for visitors and one as a study/for junk. They have no idea how popular they will be when they own a home with a pool in Nice! The world and his uncle wants to visit. Worse still, they want their visits to overlap: John in New York can only get a direct flight on Wednesdays but Peter in Manchester can only fly Mondays and Saturdays.
Most of clients wished they had bought a larger house. If you have the money to do so, that is probably good advice: unless, of course, you want an excuse for not seeing your family and friends!
Do you want a private pool? This is what most people want but they are expensive to maintain. Could you be happy with the shared use of a communal pool?
How much garden do you want? Many people enjoy gardening but remember that you will be getting older and that most of you will be retiring to places where it is hot in the summer months, when most gardening needs to be done.
You will, in most countries, need secure parking or a garage if you want to keep your car safe from theft or damage by over enthusiastic parking.
Are you going to be away a lot? If so, security and ease of maintenance will be an issue. Apartments are the easiest but homes in small communities with a communally maintained pool and gardens might be an option.
Cost of living
What is the cost of living like in the place where you will be working? In particular, what is the cost of living like for a person living the way you live? This will probably be much higher than the cost of living for a local person.
Expatistan also has a useful – if limited – cost of living calculator, – which gives you a direct comparison of various costs between named cities where you might be working abroad – but it works on a relatively small number of data points.
Numbeo has a similar calculator.
Reassuringly, both come up with similar results and they are easier to use than the military/government cost of living allowance documents.
Talking to people already living there will also give you a good idea of costs.
Day to day living
These days there is a vast amount of information online on websites, forums and blogs – it’s not difficult to find accounts of others’ experience of living abroad if you’re considering almost anywhere with a significant retiree population.
Look also at the online editions of the local newspapers for the country you’re interested in. A lot are available in English: some are only in other languages such as German, Russian and Mandarin Chinese, but Google Translate is improving every day.
See our country-specific guides for more information about living in the country where you want to retire.
Immigration & visas
Check this out first. You may not be able to work in this foreign country legally. That puts off most people – but not all. Working illegally is risky.
See our general guide to Global Immigration.
See also our country-specific guides for more information about immigration to the country where you want to retire.
How safe is the destination that you’re considering? Nowhere is totally safe but some countries are particularly dangerous. Do you want to expose yourself and, possibly, your visiting family to those risks?
The level of risk will vary depending upon your nationality and the funds available to you. See our Global Guide to Crime, Justice & Corruption. Also be sure to regularly check your own embassy’s or Department of Foreign affairs website for their assessment of the risk in the country where you will be retiring. Things can change quickly.
Wherever you come from, you can always get caught up in some random act or an attack directed at someone else. This is particularly so if, as is often the case, you are living in an area with many foreign residents and a high volume of tourists.
Investopedia has produced a list of the cheapest, safest places to retire in the world (from 2017).
There are measures of Country Risk – notably that produced by the OECD. However, this really refers to the risk of doing business in a country. Whilst this takes into account some of the factors of concern to you, it doesn’t quite hit the button when it comes to judging your personal safety. However, it’s still worth a look. You can access it via Wikipedia.
There are also surveys of places where tourists are least safe. However, once again, these don’t quite give you the information you need.
InterNations, a really useful expat website, has produced an index assessing 64 countries’ desirability as places to work abroad but it doesn’t deal specifically with physical risk. Malta comes top, Greece bottom – but there is no mention of lots of popular destinations.
The OECD produces an index of personal safety, assessing your risk of assault etc in about 40 countries around the world.
In 2017 the Economist Insights Unit produced a Safe Cities Index covering an interesting selection of 60 cities: Tokyo, Singapore, Osaka, Toronto, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Sydney, Stockholm, Hong Kong, Zurich, Frankfurt, Madrid, Barcelona, Seoul, San Francisco, Wellington, Brussels, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, New York, Taipei, Washington, DC, Paris, Milan, Dallas, Rome, Abu Dhabi, Buenos Aires, Doha, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Athens, Shanghai, Santiago, Kuwait City, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Istanbul, Moscow, Jeddah, Delhi, Lima, Mumbai, Bogota, Riyadh, Casablanca, Bangkok, Johannesburg, Cairo, Tehran, Quito, Caracas, Manila, Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Dhaka, Yangon and Karachi.
This, again, takes into account factors other than personal safety.
Finally, the Global Terrorism Index and the Global Peace Index both, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, do what their names suggest.
A pretty similar picture emerges from most of these assessments.
This will be your biggest expense. What will it cost you to live in a style that you will accept? In many places, it’s a lot more than you might have thought.
Rental/letting and estate agents (realtors) are accessible online in most countries.
See our country-specific guides for more information about the property market in the country where you want to retire.
What is the standard of public and private healthcare? What will you be able to access?
See our country-specific guides for more information about healthcare in the country where you want to retire.
See also our general guide to Global Healthcare Systems.
Social security benefits
What (if any) social security benefits – other than healthcare – will you be entitled to whilst living in the country to which you are retiring?
Check out the availability and cost of the various insurances you will need.
If you have children – perhaps not too likely if you are retiring, but some people are lucky enough to retire early – this will take a lot of time.
What type of education do you want to give your children? What is available in the area? How much will it cost? Google is a good starting point.
The best solution will depend upon all sorts of factors but my personal opinion is that you can give your children no better education than to make them truly bi-cultural: at home equally amongst (say) Spanish and (say) English friends and in the Spanish and English languages. That can often be best achieved by enrolling the children in local schools.
Will you be able to take your pets?
Once you are living and working in a foreign country, what taxes will you have to pay in that country and what will you be expected to pay “back home”? You need to research both your own country and the one you’re hoping to retire to.
How will you transfer money from the foreign country where you are retired “back home” – or the other way round?
See our general guide to Foreign Exchange and Moving Money.
In some countries, the cultural issues that face a foreigner newly arrived in the country are enormous. In most other places, the challenges are not as great but still substantial. It depends how close the country you’re retiring to is to you: both geographically and culturally (for instance, an American retiring to the UK might have an easier time, culturally speaking, than a Briton retiring to Iceland).
Research before you travel helps a lot – as does flexibility, meeting people half way and not assuming that your system is better than theirs: a common problem with expats retired to a foreign country.
See our country-specific guides for more information about the cultural issues in country where you want to retire.
Learning the local language is a key task for people going to retire abroad. Doing so transforms your experience and their effectiveness at work.
Before you go, find out the various ways of learning – from online course through to intensive 1 to 1 immersion programmes.
The logistics of the move
Research the logistics of making your move. There is a lot of useful guidance – even if you are not a diplomat – on the US Department of State website.
Time spent doing this will be particularly well spent and save you a disproportionate amount of trouble and stress later.
Most people who move around a lot will tell you that the less you take with you the better.
Check out the Department of State’s Crisis Readiness Course. Most of it will help you.
Look at what you should do in the event of an emergency and create an electronic and paper resource to help you if you need it. We have created a free checklist for you to print out:
Keep your new resource somewhere safe and close at hand. Electronics, and the internet, often fail in an emergency.
Many people retire to places they already know well. They have, perhaps, vacationed there for years. Maybe they previously lived and worked there.
Even for these people, in my view, a pre-retirement orientation visit is really important.
For everyone else it is essential. I have long been amazed at the number of people who decide to retire to a place – and even buy a home there – without spending time in the area. Not just a few days: several weeks.
Before you move
Before you move there are things to be done:
Mail, email, telephone
Redirect your mail – either to your new location or, often better to family or friends near you where you currently live.
Redirect your land line phone and decide what you are going to do about your mobile/cell.
Tell all your contacts about your new telephone and email arrangements.
Register, if you can, as an overseas voter for elections in your own country.
Brief for family
Prepare a briefing pack for your family:
- What you are doing
- Why you are going
- The length of time you are likely to stay there
- Your address
- Your contact details
- Time differences
- Copy of your passport and other key documents
- Details of your health insurance
- Details of your travel arrangements
- How and when you expect to keep in touch with them – for example, weekly by email or a Whatsapp video call, plus updating your Facebook page
- Background information about the place you are going to
- Background information about the company you will be working for
- When they will be able to come to visit you
- What to do in the event of a local emergency such as an earthquake or terrorist attack
If you have made a Will – which you should have done – give your executor (the person who will be responsible for dealing with your affairs) a copy of the Will and a more detailed brief including a full list of your bank accounts and other assets. Then keep it up to date. Tell your executor where to find the original of your Will and the up-to-date version of your list of assets. This is best kept in the same envelope as your Will, but not physically attached to it.
Make a detailed plan – with timetable – when you research the logistics of your move. Packing is, obviously, more complicated when you are shipping your household possessions or your car to the foreign country where you will be living. It is very easy to lose track of things if you’re not organised about it.
Prepare your immediate travel kit:
- A change of clothes – remember the likely weather in the place you are travelling to
- A month’s supply of all medicines & basic medical kit
- Computers etc
- The originals of all key documents: passport, travel insurance, appointment letter, visas or work permits
- Copies of all important papers – passport, medical insurance, bank details etc
- Credit cards
- Cash – including some in the country you are travelling to. Although this is often best obtained when you arrive you need enough to get to your destination if all the ATMs are down. US$150, for me, is about right.
- Details of your travel arrangements
- Paper & pen
Keep an open mind about your new home. When I have travelled to or worked in a foreign country, I’ve considered myself to be a tourist for the first two months. It’s important to listen, learn and absorb as much as possible. Wait until everything sinks in before forming an opinion about the place.
Yes, you will have some preconceived notions about the way certain things should be done in all aspects of life – from leisure activities to local bureaucracy. Try and push those biases to the back of your mind and instead focus on learning new things. The fact is, there are many different ways to do things. This is a terrific opportunity to discover them.
Of course, you may still come back to the view that the way something is done in your new country is just ridiculous!
Keeping in contact
Don’t forget your family and friends. They will stop you from going totally nuts when things are going badly – which they will from time to time.