To get from where you are today to the richer, fuller life you’re imagining in the beautiful, safe, and dramatically more affordable overseas haven of sunshine and sea breezes you’ve been day-dreaming about for too long, first: Know yourself.
That is, consider, honestly, what’s important to you. Detail your priorities, your agendas, your lists of Things I Don’t Want To Put Up With and Things I Can’t Live Without, and, critically, your retirement budget.
How much do you have to spend and what kind of lifestyle do you want to spend it on?
Then: Take out a map and consider the geographic possibilities. Where would the would-be retiree, expatriate, and adventurer do well to call home in 2009? Panama is the land of opportunity…Ecuador is the world’s most affordable retirement haven as 2008 comes to a close…I’d argue that France is the most beautiful and most romantic…Argentina offers a Euro-feel retirement on a developing world budget…
For more Where To Retire In 2009 ideas, take a look here and here.
Step #3: Research residency options in the countries that interest you. For this, you need the help of a local attorney. The critical thing is to understand your options for a residency visa before you get too far into your relocation plans.
Most user-friendly in this regard are Panama (which offers 15 choices for how to become a legal resident of that country, including its famed pensionado program and a reforestation visa program that gives you a hard-asset investment along with your visa) and Belize (where you can become a QRP resident if you’re older than 45 and can show a regular income of at least $2,000 a month from outside the country).
Step #4: Buy a plane ticket, because no amount of Internet research can substitute for traveling around a place yourself. A country can make sense on paper but appeal not at all in person. Often, you’ll know within 24 hours of arriving in a new country if it’s a possible match…or not. It will feel right…or it won’t.
In addition to a local attorney, while you’re in each country on your Dream Havens list, meet with as many local real estate agents as you can. No real estate market anywhere is as efficient as that in the United States. No other country offers a nationwide Multiple Listing Service. And in no other country do real estate agents cooperate the way they do in the States. You’ve got your work cut out for you.
Step #5: Get good tax advice. You don’t want to organize your life according to tax code…but you don’t want to make plans to move to a new country without considering it either. If you’re an American, you need two tax advisors, one in the States (where you never lose your obligation to Uncle Sam) and one in the country where you’re considering establishing residency.
Again, do this work before you have an address in your chosen haven. Certain opportunities for mitigating your tax burden can be taken off the table once you make the move.
Your tax situation once you’ve taken up residence abroad has a great impact on your retirement budget, of course, and the best case if when your gross retirement income is your net retirement income after taxes. This is sometimes possible but requires good planning and good advice.
Step #6: Shop health insurance options. If you’re an American, Medicare won’t follow you outside the States (although your Social Security will). Local health insurance can be your best bet.
Or maybe you go without any local coverage and pay for day-to-day medical expenses out of pocket. In many of the world’s top retirement havens, this can make sense because health care costs are so low.
In addition, you could invest in a health insurance policy that amounts to global major medical, through, say, MEDEX, BUPA, or HTH. This would cover you in case of any catastrophic event.
This is our current approach. We pay for doctor’s visits, prescription medicines, dental check-ups, etc., out of pocket in Panama, where they’re very affordable. But we carry BUPA insurance that would cover us in case of serious emergency. The cost is 120 euro a month for Lief, Jackson, and me.
Health insurance can be the most challenging item on your Retire Overseas Checklist, because, long term, it’s perhaps the most important. It’s also very personal.
Step #7: Show up. Woody Allen once said that this is 80% of life.
Do your research, make your plans…then take the leap.
I’ve been beating this drum loudly lately, and I will continue.
Over the years, I’ve met people who’ve been thinking about living or retiring overseas for years. They can tell you how to get a visa, where to open a bank account, how much to budget for rent, and the per-square-meter price of buying a home in a dozen different countries.
Still, they’re deliberating…weighing the options…not quite sure the time is right…
To everyone who’s been long planning for a new life overseas…and, especially, to you, dear reader, I say now: Just do it.
Pack your bags and go for it.
What’s the worst thing that could happen? More on that tomorrow…