How To Retire Overseas
The following questions, which we receive regularly, are often preceded by, “I feel a little foolish asking, but I’m just not sure…”
Don’t be shy. It never hurts to clarify. For example:
1. “If I move overseas, could I ever return home?”
Yes, of course. Living overseas, even full-time, even as a legal resident of another country, affects your ability to spend time in your home country not at all. You’re still an American (or British or Australian, etc.) citizen, after all. You can come and go as you please.
2. Living overseas, would I lose my original citizenship?
Again, no, your residency status abroad has no affect on your citizenship. Residency and citizenship are two different things. If you’re a U.S. citizen, the only way to lose your U.S. citizenship is to renounce it formally. This is a serious step that you can’t take accidentally.
In other words, there’s no chance you’d lose your U.S. citizenship without realizing it. Renouncing it requires a formal application and at least one interview with the FBI. Once your application to renounce your citizenship has been approved, you then must appear again before federal authorities to relinquish your blue passport with the eagle on the cover. The United States doesn’t want to lose you as one of its citizens, for, as long as you carry American citizenship, no matter where you roam, you are obliged to report your income and earnings to Uncle Sam.
3. Do I need a passport to retire overseas?
You need a passport to travel anywhere in the world, no matter how long you intend to stay.
4. Do I need to let my home government know that I’m leaving the country?
No. If you’re an American, for example, you can register your presence in your new country with the local U.S. embassy if you like, but you are not obligated to do so.
5. What happens if I die while living in a foreign country?
Someone should inform your country’s local embassy and consulate. The consulate will help organize the repatriation of your remains (if that is your wish). If that is your wish, be sure to include repatriation as part of your international health insurance policy. Shipping remains home can be expensive.
6. What happens if I get arrested in another country?
When in a foreign country–as a tourist, a resident, a retiree, etc.,–you are subject to its laws. If you are arrested for breaking one of them, get a local lawyer quick. Your consulate, for example, likely will not be able to help much, other than perhaps to make a local attorney recommendation. My best advice on this point is, don’t get arrested. Know the laws of the country where you’re living and respect them.
7. Do I need any vaccinations?
It depends where you’re going. Some countries require you to have specific vaccinations before you’ll be permitted to enter. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a good section on its website discussing the question which vaccinations might be advisable, depending on your current state of health and where in the world you intend to spend time. Take a look: wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
8. Can I drink the water?
Again, it depends where you’re going. The tap water is potable in France, for example, of course, but it tastes funny because of the chemicals it’s treated with. The tap water is generally not potable in Ireland, but it is in Panama City and other parts of Panama. The easiest strategy (the one I follow) is to drink bottled water everywhere.
9. Is it really safe?
Yes, every country I recommend to you in these dispatches is safe. That is not to say no one ever does anything he or she shouldn’t do in any of these places. Nowhere in the world is 100% crime-free. Use your common sense. Lock the front door to your house. Don’t leave the keys in your car. Don’t wear flashy jewelry on the street. But, in all the places I suggest you think about retiring overseas, don’t worry about violent crime either.
10. Are there bugs or snakes?
Yes, there are mosquitoes, gnats, sand flies, cockroaches, and spiders nearly everywhere. You’ll find snakes in the jungle and other rural areas, including, sometimes, poisonous ones. It’s easy enough, though, to educate yourself on which varieties of creepy crawlies you might encounter in your new home once you decide where you’re moving. Note that every state in the United States has snakes, too.
11. Are there earthquakes or hurricanes?
Yes, again, depending where you’re talking about. Panama, for example, sits outside the hurricane belt, but, down here in the Hub of the Americas, sometimes, the earth does quake.
12. Can I still receive my U.S. Social Security payments?
Yes. If you’re eligible for U.S. Social Security, you can even have your monthly check direct-deposited into your account in some countries. See: www.ssa.gov/foreign/index.html.
13. Will Medicare cover me living overseas?
No. No exceptions. As an American abroad, you need to make another plan for covering your medical expenses overseas. See Top Health Insurance Options For The Retiree Abroad.
14. Will my computer work in another country? My cell phone? My DVD player?
Your laptop computer will work anywhere, as all laptop AC adapters should be dual current, meaning they should work with 110V and 220V electrical systems. You may need a plug adapter to be able to plug your computer cord into the outlet, depending on where you’re going to be spending time. Most of Central and South America uses the U.S.-type plug. In Europe, Asia, and Argentina, you’ll need a plug adapter. You can find adapter sets in shops in most international airports.
Your cell phone may or may not work. First, find out if your current carrier has coverage where you’re traveling. Second, check with your carrier to find out if your account allows “roaming” in the country where you’re going. Long term, you’ll want a local cell phone.
Every DVD player is programmed to play DVDs from particular zones. Bring your U.S. DVD player with you to Europe, Asia, or South America and try to use it to play local DVDs, and you’ll be disappointed. Won’t work. Unless you have a multi-zone player in the States, leave it behind and buy a new one in your new country when you arrive. They are easy to find and typically not expensive most places in the world.
15. Can I drive on my home country’s driver’s license?
Yes, typically for the first 30 days to one year that you’re resident in a new country. After this time, most countries require you either to qualify for a local driver’s license or to have your home license validated locally.
16. Do I really need to learn the local language?
No. You could get by most places I recommend in these dispatches speaking English only. I don’t recommend it.
17. Is there Burger King?
It depends where you’re thinking about retiring. The sorry truth, however, is that, yes, fast food has gone global. You can buy Coca Cola almost anywhere on earth, and McDonalds, et al., are to be found except in the most remote regions of the planet.
18. Can I get a job?
Probably not. To work in a foreign country, you’ll need a work visa. This is not easily obtained unless you’re sponsored for a job by an international employer and relocated to the country with their help. You can, though, many places in the world, start your own business. Easiest is a laptop-based enterprise.
19. Can I vote in local elections?
No, not as a foreign resident. To vote in government elections, you’d have to become a citizen of the country. Again, remember, residency is not the same as citizenship.
20 Will my credit and debit cards work overseas?
Yes, they should. Before you use them, though, research what fees you’ll be charged. Some credit card companies impose such onerous fees when their cards are used in foreign countries that it can be worth switching to another group before you move.
21. How will my friends and family be able to stay in touch with me?
E-mail. The Internet Age has made it possible to retire overseas and still communicate with friends and family on a daily basis.
22. Can I bring my car with me?
Yes. Normally, I don’t recommend it.
23. How much does it cost to move overseas?
How long is a piece of string? If you pack up a couple of suitcases and head on out, your total cost could be as little as the cost of your plane ticket. However, if you want to establish formal residency in a country, you should expect to spend US$1,000 to maybe US$3,000 per family member (between attorney and government fees) for your resident visas, and, if you decide to ship a container-load of your household goods, figure another US$10,000, more or less, depending where you’re moving from and to.
The real cost of your move can be the cost of the research and travel involved if you have a long list of countries you want to check out.
24. Can I continue to vote in my home country elections from overseas? Does my vote count for less?
Yes, you can vote in your home country elections while living overseas. If you’re an American, go to www.overseasvotefoundation.org/overseas/home.htm to learn more about how to vote in U.S. elections while residing outside the country.
And, no, your vote doesn’t count for any less. One vote is one vote, no matter where it’s cast.