For years, Nancy Kiernan and her husband Mike talked about the idea of doing something new and different in retirement. The couple wanted to break out of their old life entirely and imagined moving to a new country where they could create a whole new one.
“Each year, as we struggled through another Maine winter, we’d daydream about starting over someplace where we’d never have to deal with snow and ice again,” Kiernan says. But their discussions always contained a number of telling phrases including “maybe someday”, “what if” and “maybe after we’ve saved more money or are able to sell the house”.
Finally, the couple realized that if they were really going to move overseas they had to commit to the idea, no matter what. So that’s what they did. They decided they weren’t going to think about retiring overseas anymore. They were going to retire overseas. “Today, six years later, I see that as the first step in this process,” Kiernan says.
Now, with the help of hindsight, Kiernan recognizes five steps that are required for making a move overseas in retirement:
Step 1: Decide
Step 2: Research
Step 3: Plan (with contingencies, because nothing is going to go as you plan)
Step 4: Test (put your boots on the ground)
Step 5: Plunge
Steps two and three depend on understanding what you want and come down to making a list. You need to decide what you would like your new life to look like and what’s important to you. But equally important is figuring out what you do not want to give up in your new country and the circumstances in which you could not comfortably live.
Nancy and Mike made their list, and it led them to identify four places that might be what they were looking for: Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica and Uruguay. The couple then proceeded to step four by planning an extended trip that allowed them to spend time in each of those four countries. They started in Ecuador, where they realized quickly that the country wasn’t for them. Ecuador was more third world than they wanted.
However, on that trip to Ecuador, Nancy and Mike met another American who’d retired in Latin America years before. They told this retiree their plan, explained what they were looking for, showed him the list of lifestyle priorities they’d made and he offered a recommendation. Go look at Colombia, he told them, specifically Medellin.
Nancy and Mike adjusted their plan. Rather than moving on to Panama, Costa Rica or Uruguay, the couple hopped on a plane to Medellin. They intended to stay two weeks, but ended up staying two months.
“In those two months we fell in love. Medellin was everything we were looking for,” Kiernan says. “We rented an apartment for a year, and here we are about 2 ½ years later in a place we love more every day.”
Nancy and Mike now live in a completely remodeled home, which features a large terrace with perfect positioning for watching the sunset each evening. Of course, the move wasn’t without some challenges. Nancy and Mike had to disregard and overcome a number of outdated stereotypes and resistance from their family and friends in the U.S. They were warned about drug lords, kidnappings and the dangers for women overseas, especially in a city like Medellin, Colombia.
There were legitimate obstacles, too. Neither Nancy nor Mike spoke Spanish when they made their decision to relocate to Medellin. But the couple ignored the stereotypes and tackled the practical hurdles with determination.
Today, Nancy and Mike have embraced their new lives completely. Nancy’s Spanish is quite good. Mike’s had less time to study, but that doesn’t stop him from engaging almost anyone in conversation.
The big hurdles are behind them. Now their biggest decision is determining which wine to enjoy while watching the sunset.