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Money & Policy

How to Choose Your Ideal Place to Retire Abroad

These expats say it comes down to four key elements


If you’ve been contemplating the idea of retiring abroad, you may have done a little research. Maybe you’ve even jumped on the internet to look for the country that’s best for you.

Big mistake.

You probably know the old saying: “If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?” The same logic applies here.

To find your ideal overseas retirement destination, start by imagining everything you would want in your new 24/7/365 home. Be forewarned: This initial step may prove more difficult than it sounds. It’s possible that you’ve never truly asked yourself, “What do I want in a retirement location?” Give yourself permission to dream!

Before you make the move, make sure you’re honest with yourself about how far away you’d be comfortable living from your family.

We’ve been expats for quite a while, and suggest keeping in mind these four key elements when creating your Retire Abroad Wish List:

1. Your Cost of Living

There are dozens of fantastic locations around the globe where a couple, for instance, can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle for anywhere from less than $20,000 a year to the sky’s the limit. On which end of the spectrum do your finances fall?

Begin by calculating your retirement budget.

The Social Security Administration offers a Retirement Estimator that provides an estimate of your future Social Security benefits based on your employment earnings. That figure plus your savings (minus your debt) will give you at least a rough idea of what you can afford to spend each month.

Then, you’ll be in a better position to identify locations where you’ll be able to live within your means.

2. Your Preferred Climate

If you could choose to live in any climate, what would it be? The heat and sun of the beach? Cool, clean mountain air? Do you enjoy the changing of the seasons or would you prefer year-round springtime?

All of those choices are available within a wide range of monthly income. Once you’ve determined your budget, limit your search to places with the weather you want.

We always recommend taking a scouting trip to your favorite location to make absolutely sure the place speaks to your heart as well as your head. Be sure to do this during the area’s worst time of the year, climate-wise, so you know what you might expect should you decide to relocate there. Because if you’re good with the weather then, you’re gonna love it the rest of the time!

3. Distance from Your Family

You may be able to adjust your budget and get used to fickle weather after retiring abroad. But before you make the move, make sure you’re honest with yourself about how far away you’d be comfortable living from your family. And how often you’d want to return to the States to visit them.

We’ve seen too many promising expat experiences go sour when separation from grandchildren proved too emotionally painful. Or when the needs of an aging parent required an immediate return home.

Fortunately, there are plenty of desirable locations only a few hours away from the U.S. on an inexpensive flight. Even better, there’s a good chance your cost of living abroad will be much less than it was in the United States. In that case, you may be able to afford spending weeks with your loved ones when you visit, not days.

4. Your Daily Life

It’s important to envision what your daily life would look like in the country where you’ll retire.

Finding interesting and constructive ways to occupy your time can be challenging, though. A recent retirement study by the National Citizens Service in Great Britain found that one out of three retirees are bored after only a year.

So, spend some time thinking about what you’ll want to do all day and whether the country you’re considering will let you do it. Fishing? Golfing? Exploring museums? Community theater? Traveling? Volunteering? Only you know best which activities will be most appealing.

Remember, too, that retiring abroad will give you an opportunity to try new things, not just to do more of whatever you already enjoy.

Final Thoughts

When prospective retirees assess their relocation needs and desires, they often wind up choosing an overseas location that reminds them of where they like to vacation.

Reality check:  Vacation is where you go to escape from your daily life. You need to think about where you’ll want to live your daily life.

So, invest the time and energy to write down everything you want in your new home abroad. Armed with this self-knowledge, you’ll be equipped to find the overseas retirement destination of your dreams.

Happy hunting!

Edd and Cynthia Staton
By Edd and Cynthia Staton
Edd and Cynthia Staton are a married expat couple living in Cuenca, Ecuador and creators of the Retirement Reimagined program. It's a course to help people research retiring abroad. They are authors of three Rescue Your Retirement books and blog about the expat life at EddandCynthia.com.

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