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Retiring Abroad: Is this really a thing for the average person?

Retiring to a location abroad with a temperate climate, local flavor, and possibly even a view of the beach or mountains sounds like something from an episode of the 80’s favorite show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” doesn’t it?  Surely this is not a valid retirement goal for the average person, is it?  Surprisingly, it can be!

There are a number of great options for retiring abroad where the cost of living is somewhat (if not significantly) lower than that in the U.S., and with growing expat communities, learning another language may not be necessary.  The two major expenses in retirement – housing and healthcare – are a major factor in retirement planning. By finding a new home where these are more affordable, many retirees are able to live a lifestyle far different from what they anticipated in the States.  Some popular destinations that repeatedly appear on “places to retire abroad” lists include Mexico, Panama, Columbia, Belize, Thailand, and the Philippines. 

Some important things to consider as you ponder this option:

  • Healthcare – Does your potential new location provide care of the quality you want at a price you are comfortable with?
  • Climate – Love the cold?  Hate humidity?  You don’t want to be constantly uncomfortable in your new home.
  • Taxes – Does your potential new home have a tax agreement with the US so you aren’t paying taxes twice on your income?
  • Culture – Do you need the hustle and bustle of a city with restaurants and shows, or do you prefer a quiet, self-reliant lifestyle?
  • Safety – While some destinations may seem like a great financial decision there may be a cost in terms of lack of security.
  • Visa/Residency Requirements – Some countries are easier than others.  They make it as simple as paying a fee and completing an application along with proof of minimum monthly income (many require amounts lower than the average social security payment).
  • Accessibility to the U.S. – You will most likely want to get back to visit family and friends from time to time.

Now for the fun part: you’ll want to be sure to have spent some time visiting your potential locations to ensure that they are what you think they will be, especially when it comes to climate and culture.  Plan to visit several times during different seasons; this will help you determine if the climate is a fit.  While visiting, be sure to get out and about to explore the area. The feel of an area from the confines of a hotel or resort property will be quite different from the feel of the general community.  Consider renting an Airbnb for a few weeks, find some local expats to speak with and learn from their experiences, and most importantly be honest with yourself about what you are looking for and if this is truly the right fit – a beautiful view won’t make up for the loss of access to your favorite things.

Recent data from the Social Security Administration shows nearly 700,000 American are receiving their social security payments abroad.  Canada, Japan, and Mexico top the charts for the most payments being sent abroad, but other notables are those much smaller countries to which thousands of social security payments are being sent--countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama.  And this only accounts for those who are having their money sent directly to their new home, not those whose payments are still being deposited into US accounts before being transferred overseas.  This growing trend is truly accessible for anyone with the desire and the commitment to do the research and planning necessary to make a comfortable transition to the life of an expat retiree.  If retiring abroad sounds appealing to you, start by making a list of what you are looking for from your new home by way of cost, climate, and culture then get out there and visit, see what feels like it might be home.  It’s never too early to start planning!


Investment Advisor Representative of and investment advisory services offered through Brokers International Financial Services, LLC Member SIPC, Brokers International Financial Services, LLC and J.C. Warrick & Co. are not affiliated companies. 

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