It was the Irish winter. Though I'd traveled in Ireland for years, I'd never lived through an Irish winter. Some days the sun rises after 9 a.m. and sets before 4 p.m. in the afternoon. In between those hours, it's typically gray, drizzling, overcast and damp. Ireland can be a great place to call home, but before you commit to retirement in the Auld Sod, experience it in winter. Spend time in the country in January and February. Or consider spending only part of the year in the country. Ireland is a place that makes good sense as a part-time retirement haven. You could retire to Ireland each summer, then spend your winters someplace bright and sunny. That was our strategy. After our first long winter in Waterford, we escaped to the tropics every December and returned to the Emerald Isle in early March, in time to appreciate Irish spring and summer. A few years ago, I mentioned the phenomenon to a friend preparing to move overseas for the first time, suggesting that he shouldn't worry about the panic stage he'd eventually experience because it would pass. My friend smiled and nodded politely, humoring me. It can be hard to imagine during the excitement of the pre-move phase that after maybe only a month or two in your new home, you might find yourself questioning the move altogether. My friend insisted that it wouldn't happen to him. "I've spent months researching and making my plan," he explained with confidence. "I understand what I'm getting into. I've thought this through from every angle, and I'm fully prepared." A couple of years later, over drinks one night, he remarked, "You know, before my move, when you talked about the panic stage that everyone goes through at some point after relocating to a new country, I laughed to myself. Panic, I thought. Why would I panic? The idea seemed extreme and, frankly, silly." But then he continued, "But, I have to tell you, it happened to me. It was maybe a year into my move to Ecuador. I realized that I was feeling out of my element and uncertain in a fundamental way, unsure of myself and my new situation. I was experiencing a feeling that, I had to admit, could best be described as panic." I asked what he decided to do. He responded, "I remembered what you'd recommended. I waited it out. I realized that I was feeling overwhelmed by the frustrations of living in the third world. I reminded myself why I'd wanted to make the move in the first place and of all the things about Ecuador that I love. There are many. After a little while, the panic passed." Your panic phase in your new home could be a result of the weather and the seasons, as it was for us in Ireland. It could be a reaction to the trials and frustrating tribulations of life in a developing country, as it was for my friend. It could be homesickness, which you should be prepared for. You're going to experience it from time to time. No country is perfect. Everywhere has its pluses and minuses. The minuses eventually are going to get to you. Living high in the mountains in Panama may provide glorious views and a gentle, spring-like climate, but you won't be near a real city or an international airport. You'll be living a country life among neighbors who, in this part of Panama, speak only Spanish. Sometimes the remoteness will overwhelm you. Ecuador offers an extremely affordable cost of living, but it is also a third world country. Retirement in the third world isn't for everyone. Although it was our third international move and our third country of residence since we left the United States, my husband and I experienced the panic stage in Panama, where we've struggled adjusting to the tropical climate and to the inconvenience factor. Panama is working hard to earn recognition as a first world nation, but, right now, it's not. This is a land where things don't always work as you'd like or expect. The key to being happy in your new home, wherever you decide to make it, is to keep your perspective and your sense of humor. When doubt and frustration creep in, as they will, remind yourself of two things. First, don't make any hasty decisions. The moment of panic will pass. Second, while you're waiting for that to subside, remember why you chose this country in the first place. Was it for the beach? Then escape to the coast for a few days of relaxation beneath the palms. Was it for the super-low cost of living? Take yourself out for a nice dinner on the cheap. What do you enjoy most in your new home? If you moved there for the fishing, then make time to catch some fish and then have your new friends over for an authentic home-cooked American dinner. Think about why you're feeling uncertain about your decision. Once you identify why you're second-guessing your move, you can address those points. If you don't like the current season, go somewhere else until it passes. If you're missing family back home, invite them to come visit. If you're not happy in the neighborhood where you've initially settled, consider another. Be prepared, at some time during your first year of retirement overseas, perhaps even during the first month or two, to wonder what in the world you've done. No, this wasn't crazy, and it wasn't a mistake. Wait it out. The panic will pass. Just on the other side is the new life you came to find. Kathleen PeddicordEditor's Note: All our top-selling how to retire overseas resources are on sale right now as part of our Black Friday/Thanksgiving Weekend mega-sale. Take a look.
May 27, 2014
"Kathleen, I read the Overseas Opportunity Letter every time it's in my inbox. I was wondering what experts in international legalities can I contact for specifics related to Canadians who want to retire or live overseas as I believe we have some differences from U.S. expats? Who may I contact in Canada to get information for Canadians? "Thank you for all the information. You all work very hard to get out to everyone considering this as an option in their lives." --Leslie T., Canada All information we provide is as relevant for Canadians as for Americans with one exception, which is taxes. The tax situation is different for Canadians than for Americans. The good news is that it is different in very good ways and much simplified.
When family and friends from the States came to visit, we'd take them to nearby Bantry Bay for the weekend or to Dublin for a day of shopping and museums. We'd do the tourist thing. When they went home, we went back to business. We traveled internationally often, then as now. We came and went so regularly during our time in Ireland that the immigration officials at Shannon and Waterford airports came to know and greet us by name.
It's no wonder, then, that we managed to remain tourists in our adopted hometown for years. If not for Kaitlin and Jack (born a year-and-a-half after our move), we might have lived our entire seven years in Ireland as visitors. Jack, though, was born Irish and welcomed at his daycare and preschool as a son of the Auld Sod. Kaitlin, too, made friends, participated in activities at school, and, long before the notion even occurred to Lief and me, she began establishing herself as a local. Kaitlin and Jack drew us into their lives. We met their teachers and the parents of their classmates, and we gained a glimpse of real Irish living.
In Paris, we made the same mistakes at first. This time I recognized from the start that we were depriving ourselves of a true Parisian experience, but we had no choice. Again, we were relocating a business, establishing an office, hiring staff. And, in Paris, we were working 12 hours a day with fellow English-speakers. We were fully insulated from the French-speaking world around us. It was not until our final year as Parisians that we felt we'd begun to penetrate the tourist level of this city. We improved our French, spent more time with local French friends, and joined in neighborhood activities--the annual June street party, for example, when our rue de Verneuil ropes itself off, lays red carpets on the ground, and sets up tables for pot-luck French-style--we hadn't had time for previous years. As my friend Rose explains, it can take a lifetime to penetrate the French culture, but, our final year living in this country, we enjoyed a clearer view beneath the surface.
In Panama, we've worked hard not to repeat the errors of our past lives overseas. Four years on in this country, we're more fully integrated than we ever were in Ireland or Paris. Here we arrived as full-time residents with an advantage. We'd been spending time and doing business in this country for more than a decade before we settled in more permanently. Again, we've established a business, hired staff, etc., but we had resources in place to help with this, local friends and contacts who made the getting-settled phase easier to navigate.
At home now in Panama City, we dine and drink where the locals do, and, in these places, carefully guarded secrets from the tourists, we're welcomed as regulars. We run into friends at markets and fairs, and we're invited to help them celebrate weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. We still stand out as gringos when we walk down the street, but we're doing our best to blend in otherwise, and we're being rewarded with a chance to experience la vida Panameño.
The key is to make local friends. You want expat friends, too, of course. You want to know fellow English-speakers you can call for a round of golf, a game of bridge, or a drink after a particularly frustrating day in the land of mañanas and fiestas. But try not to give in to the temptation to spend all your time with fellow foreigners. They won't be able to show you what local life is really like. You can live overseas for years, as we have, without gaining that knowledge, but you're doing yourself a disservice. Why go to all the trouble of relocating to another country only to miss out on the chance to get to know what living in that place is really like?
How do you get started penetrating the tourist barrier? You understand and embrace the local customs and etiquette. This is a simple but effective first step. Much of the rest of the world is more polite and takes manners more seriously than do we Americans.
In much of the world, it's impolite not to greet everyone and anyone you encounter throughout the day. In France or Panama, for example, walking in and out of a shop, getting on and off an elevator, entering and exiting a movie theater, an art gallery, or a café, you'll be thought very rude if you don't offer the appropriate greetings and farewells.
Before you arrive in your new country, therefore, make an effort to know these phrases. Bonjour, salut, au revoir, a bientot, and bonne nuit...Buenos dias, Buenos tardes, hola, hasta luego, and ciao...know a handful of polite phrases and understand how and when to use them. Panamanians, for example, switch from Buenos dias to Buenos tardes around noon and to Buenos noches when the sun goes down.
The French will think you mal-eleve if you do not offer a merci and an au revoir to every person you encounter when making your way out from a shop. Every single person, at least once. As you walk out the door, you might offer a final, general, "merci, au revoir" to the entire place. My friend John tells of an experience he had early on during his time living in Paris, when he offered but a single "merci, au revoir" to the cashier in the bakery where he stopped to buy baguette on his way home. He said thank you, good-bye, then walked out the door. The proprietress of the shop was so appalled by my friend's obvious lack of acceptable manners that she followed him out in to the street lecturing him on proper social conduct. In France, when in doubt, it never hurts to offer one more "merci" for the road.
The point is to make an effort to show your respect for the local customs. This small thing will ingratiate and open doors for you. It's the start of penetrating the tourist barrier and becoming part of the local scene.
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Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.
Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.
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