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How Couples Should Choose Where to Retire

This globetrotting pair offers advice based on their own experience

So you and your spouse have decided to retire. At some point, you’ll need to figure out where you’d like to live. We’re here to help.

We took early retirement at 38 in 1991 and our perpetual gypsy life has let us enjoy living in scores of countries around the world since then (we blog about this on Retireearlylifestyle.com). So we want to offer our insights to help place you on the right path for finding the best location for your needs:

First Things First

You may want to relocate in retirement for any number of reasons: financial, a change of pace, for your health or for better weather, to name a few. The more you can describe your requirements to be happy, the easier it will be to find the right retirement spot.

If you want to stay in your home country, determine what sort of weather and surroundings are most attractive to you. Do you want to experience the four seasons or have a more moderate, year-round climate? Do you like mountains or beaches? What size of city or town do you most enjoy? Answering these will automatically exclude places and carry a lot of weight for your retirement happiness quotient.

It may help to make a list of most important factors to you in a retirement location and put them in numerical order.

If you’re leaning towards relocating to a town or small city, find out whether there are adequate medical facilities nearby. Larger cities tend to have a full range of medical care; smaller towns generally have clinics and a variety of doctor’s offices, but perhaps not the equipment needed for complex medical situations.

Narrowing Your Search

Next, think about the importance to you of outdoorsy activities such as hiking, biking, sports and access to nature versus city-type activities such as theater, fine dining, museums, concerts and art events.

Some people revel in college-town retirement life, enjoying the energizing qualities of youth plus all the activities (and lower prices) that a university town offers. If that sounds like you, do a search online for them; Kiplingers and TopRetirements.com have good pieces on great college towns.

Some other questions to answer to further narrow your search:

  • Do you want to snowbird (half the year in a warm weather locale; half the year in a cool one) or travel part of the year?
  • Are you amenable to a home exchange or housesitting to achieve your travel desires?
  • Are you willing to downsize your home if necessary to accomplish your preferred vision of retirement?
  • Would you be happiest in a traditional retirement community?
  • Would you consider a highly walkable city,  selling your car and getting around by foot, bike and public transportation?

The Cost of Living

No matter what size community you choose, penciling out the cost of living there is essential. Many spots in the United States have a below-average cost of living. Just be sure that any place you select because it’s a bargain also meets your other requirements.

Know What You Want

It may help to make a list of most important factors to you in a retirement location and put them in numerical order. The result may lead you to make concessions, though not necessarily. If you can fulfill most of your requirements, you’ll be successful in your search.

When we first made our own list of what we’d want in retirement locations (mostly overseas), climate was a big consideration. But we also knew we’d need access to a variety of fresh food and dining options and the ability to experience natural beauty. In addition, we decided we’d prefer large towns over big cities and an international airport within a reasonable distance. For our international retirement living an active expat community would be significant.

Moving Overseas?

If you find that your retirement is underfunded or you enjoy travel and a bit of the exotic, those are good reasons to consider moving overseas for a retirement haven.

Countries such as Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala are close to the States and are on similar time zones, so it’s easy to snowbird from there back home to visit children and grandchildren. These countries offer large cities and small towns, mountains or beaches and all have active expat communities. Excellent medical care is available, also.

If you are considering moving overseas, then becoming familiar with Expat Forums is essential. They’re free to join and will give you access to people already living in areas that attract you. Read the forums’ threads on daily life, house rentals, the local cost of living, visa and residency permit rules. Or start your own thread with questions you want answered.

Testing the Waters

Once you have your list of requirements and have narrowed your search, test the waters. No amount of research can replace going to the location of your choice and seeing first hand if it will work for you.

If possible, rent an apartment for several months — for hopefully several seasons — before you shell out money to purchase a place. By renting, you might find that you prefer the town just down the road rather than the one you are living in. And if you are moving overseas, you might learn that although you’re enthralled with the spring weather, the rainy season might not work for you or the summers could be too hot and humid.

Allow yourself some time to adjust to your new location before making any binding decisions. For more information on relocating in retirement, take a look at our site’s Relocation Page.

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