8 things to do before retiring abroad


Have you always dreamed of living in a French village or on a Mexican beach? Although the dream may sound like a happy one, falling in love with a place is not the same as settling there. My husband Barry and I have been part-time expatriates in the UNESCO-listed city of Guanajuato in the highlands of central Mexico for 16 years. After interviewing expats who live here, in other parts of Mexico, and in Europe, I found eight suggestions from people on the ground to help you determine if you are seriously considering retiring abroad.

1. Home search

You can know a lot about a place before you get on a plane. Simply browse the web by searching for “expat groups in _________”. For example, I searched for Chaing Mai, Thailand, and Cuenca, Ecuador, two popular expat sites, and in each case, I found several English speaking organizations, Facebook groups, and personals. Chaing Mai, in particular, was inundated with activities, from book clubs to dance lessons, cryptocurrency meetups to language exchanges. By joining sites before you leave home, you can ask questions and learn about housing options, health care, banking services, and other practical information.

Nattakorn_Maneerat / Shutterstock.com

2. Decide if you can afford it

A common incentive to retire abroad is that the cost of living is often lower than in the United States, even in parts of Western Europe that are not known to be good economic deals. Nonetheless, you need to make sure that you can afford it or wait until you can, making sure you have adequate financial and retirement plans in place to allow for the move. Mary Anne Machado and her husband, Ricardo, a management consultant, who lived in Chicago until a year ago, began working with a financial planner twenty years ago to set up a savings plan that would allow them to retire in their mid-fifties. They moved to Querétaro, Mexico, a beautiful colonial town two hours north of Mexico City, where they live in a chic apartment in the Querétaro neighborhood. historical cuadro. Even now, they save money by not having a car and by eating most of the time. “In Querétaro, I cook almost all of our meals at home, using my favorite knives and other utensils that I brought with me. We spend a lot less on food than in Chicago, where we ate a lot in restaurants and shop at Whole Foods, ”says Mary Anne. “We’ve also eliminated foolish buying. I used to buy stacks of books that I never read. Now I am using my library card to pick up ebooks. We spent next to nothing on clothes last year.

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3. Visit at least twice

I recommend visiting at different times of the year and staying in different parts of the city. As a future expat from Guanajuato, John Fiore, who has yet to move because he and his wife are still raising teenagers and putting their finances in place, says: “In recent years we’ve been going down once or twice a year. and stay at different neighborhoods to assess the vibe, how the sunlight hits the area, the ability to walk, proximity to neighborhood stores, smelly drains, the slope of the callejones (alleys), distance from the nearest café, proximity to local products tiendas (stores), concentration of gringo, barking dogs and areas of chickens, noise of vehicles, quality of neighborhood infrastructure – sidewalks, potholes, art objects, architecture, if houses are maintained, etc.

Embajadoras market and walking area in Guanajuato, Mexico.
Embajadoras Pedestrian Zone and Market in Guanajuato, Mexico (Photo credit: Louisa Rogers)

4. During a visit, meet and interview expatriates

Retirees abroad are generally an outgoing and friendly bunch, they must be, having put themselves in a foreign situation day in and day out! Many were ready to help us when we first arrived in Guanajuato, and now we are returning the favor. Over the years we have lived in Mexico, several people considering moving have contacted us and we chatted with them via email, over lunch, or while hiking together.

If you join an online group from home, you can probably find email addresses through the group (or write a Facebook post), but once in town you will get more details by chatting with people face to face. . Ask them if you can choose their brain in exchange for coffee or lunch.

5. Recognize that your first fantastic location may not be where you end up landing.

Before Barry and I bought our house in Guanajuato, we had considered several other cities. I had always dreamed of living in Europe, and Barry, a Briton, had loved visiting the continent as a teenager. In pursuit of our dream, I spent two weeks in the early 2000s in Budapest, Hungary, and several months later in Amsterdam while exploring business opportunities. For various reasons none of these cities worked, and although I was disappointed at the time, I now realize that everything went well. Ironically, we were already familiar with Guanajuato and even lazily looked at buying a home before considering European locations.

Likewise, Carole Muschel and her husband, Kennie DeLoatch, owned an apartment in Mazatlán, Mexico for 15 years, but were only there part-time until their retirement. “When we moved full time to Mexico, our beach house was too hot most of the year,” she says, “so we headed for the hills, having long been curious about the historic town of Guanajuato. After 2 1/2 years in a rental apartment, we bought a house. We love it here.

Elyn Aviva and her husband Gary White spent 11 years in Spain before deciding to return to the United States. They lasted for a year in Arizona. “We felt like strangers in our home country,” Elyn said. They returned to Europe, this time to Évora, Portugal.

woman relaxing near the beach.
Chinnapong / Shutterstock.com

6. Determine accommodation while you try out a city

In 1999, when Barry and I first arrived in Guanajuato, we were at the start of our 20 month sabbatical. We enrolled in a Spanish homestay school, living with a woman who is now our neighbor. Towards the end of the sabbatical, we came back for a few months, this time renting an apartment. A few years later, we were invited to home sit several times before we finally made an offer for a house. This incremental process is often how visitors turn into expats.

These days, most people I know rent an Airbnb while they check out a location, but a surprising number of people stay at home – although no one does so through a formal agency. For example, a friend sat down for a coworker who owned a house in Guanajuato but could only come while on vacation in the United States. Ten years later, my friend bought her colleague’s house. Another couple I know came to Guanajuato, got to know the foreign community, and ended up keeping the house for different expats over a period of five years. Some expatriates leave the city for long periods, to see their adult children and grandchildren, for work or medical reasons, or simply to go on vacation. This couple continued to respond to opportunities until they found the right home in the right place at the right price.

Even once you think you’ve found the place you want to retire, I wouldn’t buy a house too quickly. Circumstances change. I have seen a number of expats coming back to the United States due to the death of their spouse or for medical reasons, and it might not be that easy to sell your house.

Many full-time expats in Guanajuato never buy a home because the rent is affordable and they don’t want to be burdened with the burden of home ownership.

7. Try part-time

A lot of people, like Barry and I, spend the winter abroad and the summer in the United States. Switching to part-time to start is another way to lower your risk. A couple from Portland, Oregon, who live in Guanajuato year-round, started part-time and had no plans to move to Mexico permanently. But the more they were there, the more they liked it, and three years after buying their house, they moved full time.

Passports, compass rose from an atlas and toy planes
cvm / Shutterstock.com

8. Review visa requirements

Make sure you understand how long you can stay in a country before your visa expires. In Mexico, for example, your tourist visa, which you get at the airport or wherever you cross the border, gives you six months. In most EU countries, the Schengen Agreement only allows you 90 days before you have to leave. Unlike Mexico, where you can turn around and re-enter the country a day later, you have to wait a year before returning to the countries that have signed the Schengen Agreement.

Mexico, Panama, Thailand and Australia are among the countries where it is easy to immigrate. Others can be found here.

By trying expat life in a low risk way, you can find out if this is really what you want. You will get past the stage of infatuation with a foreign community and see if you are serious about getting involved. After all, you’re not 20 anymore and you don’t have time to make bad decisions. Think of it this way: retiring abroad isn’t an adventure, it’s a marriage, hopefully for life.

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