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Overcoming the 5 Big Obstacles to Retiring Abroad

This expat expert says your fears may be overblown

By Chuck Bolotin

There are plenty of reasons people consider retiring abroad, among them:

  • A lower cost of living (sometimes much lower)
  • Better weather (sometimes much better)
  • The ability to live a different type of life — perhaps less stressful, healthier, more meaningful or a self-reinvention
  • To have an adventure

There are also reasons why people won’t consider retiring abroad. But based on the 4,700 answers and 200 stories posted by the 300+ expats on our site,  Best Places In the World to Retire, I think five commonly perceived “obstacles” are overblown and can easily be overcome:
Obstacle 1: Fear of the Unknown
If you feel you don’t know enough about moving abroad or can’t find credible information, it’s innately human (not to mention wise) to be fearful.
Our site’s contributors say: First, appreciate and accept that a certain level of anxiety and/or skepticism is a very good thing and, second, see whether you can overcome it. 

(MORE: Best Places to Retire Around the World)
Don’t move until, and unless, you’re completely comfortable doing so from every aspect: financially, intellectually, emotionally and even spiritually. Don’t let anyone bully you into retiring abroad, not even your spouse; if you move when you’re not ready, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
The flip side is that if you do your homework before moving, your chances for a successful, rewarding, interesting, life-changing experience will be greatly increased. Then, you might become one of those many expats we hear say: “My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.”
A tip: When doing your research on the Internet, ignore unrealistic sales come-ons and instead, get your information from a credible source with diverse, first-hand views. (Shameless plug: Among such sources are the questions and answers section and the expat stories section of our site.)

(MORE: How to Retire All Over the World)
Obstacle No. 2: Your Temperament and Attitudes
Anywhere you move overseas will be different from the U.S. The way many people think about this is to make value judgments and divide those differences into ones that are “good” and ones that are “bad.” If you do that, you have to honestly ask yourself, given your personality and temperament: “After considering all the ‘bad’ things, can I accept them in order to obtain the ‘good’ things?” 
Life is a tradeoff.  The question you have to ask yourself is, are you willing to make the trade?
Before answering that question, keep one thing in mind: very few places abroad (including most of Europe) have the efficiency of the United States. The “mañana culture” exists, and not only in Spanish-speaking countries.

(MORE: How to Retire Overseas on Under $25,000 a Year)
If it would ruin your day in retirement because the handyman who was supposed to show up at noon actually appeared at 2 p.m. or you’d be seriously aggravated if the grocery store didn’t stock your favorite brand of peanut butter, you might not be a great candidate to retire abroad.
As an example, you might ask yourself, “In order to live where it’s in the mid ‘70s all-year-round, with lower costs, access to first-rate health care, beaches, mountains and a thriving expat community, would I be able to accept having the cable guy show up a day late?” If you can’t, there are very few places where you’ll be successful moving abroad. (By the way, the example I gave is of Boquete, Panama.)
Obstacle No. 3: Distance From Family and Friends
Being away from your kin and chums can be disconcerting for some. But remember: if you need to be physically close, some popular retirement destinations such as Panama, Nicaragua and Belize are just hours away by plane to many parts of the U.S. (The flight from Panama City to Miami is 2 ½ hours, for example.)
Technology can bridge the distance, too. For those times when they’re not physically with family and friends in the States, the contributors to our site often use telecommunication tools like Skype. Its video calls are free.
Some of our experts tell us they’re actually closer to their friends and family after moving overseas than before because their new location is a better place to visit than where they used to live. In the past, they’d have to bribe their grandkids to visit for the standard, non-memorable “two weeks with grandma and grandpa.” Now the kids might visit in an exotic place providing memories to last a lifetime.
Obstacle No. 4: Finding a Home
There’s not much different about the process of picking an overseas property (a house or an apartment) than one in the United States, with these possible exceptions:

  • You won’t find MLS listings or anything like them in most parts of the world. As a result, some foreign real estate agents won’t show you all the houses on the market; just ones for which they have listings.
  • Some parts of the world don’t let foreigners own land. 
  • Contracts are legal only in the language of the country. 
  • Obtaining clear title to your property can be more of an issue (although very doable).

Tip: If you want to buy a property, engage more than one real estate agent and find an attorney you trust.
Obstacle No. 5: Health Care
Frankly, you’d be amazed at the recent progress in the availability of American-quality health care in much of the world, and at a small fraction of the cost in the States. For example, Hospital Punta Pacifica in Panama City is affiliated with Johns Hopkins and Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas in Managua, Nicaragua, is accredited by Joint Commission International.
Almost without exception, our experts living overseas have been very pleased with the cost and quality of their medical and dental care. Ironically, for some people, access to quality health care has flipped from being a reason not to move overseas, to becoming a reason to move overseas.
Tip: When choosing a place to retire abroad, try to find out about the experiences of as many people there as you can who have health care expectations and needs similar to yours.
One Last Tip, From Me
Here’s a personal observation: The expats I’ve met tend to share a few traits in common, including a more adventurous outlook and a willingness to try new things. I think they also lead more interesting lives than they would’ve if they hadn’t moved.

But they’re practical, too. As many of them like to say: “Hey, if it doesn’t work, you can always move back.”

Chuck Bolotin is a vice president at Best Places in the World to Retire, which has more than 9.500 answers to questions about living abroad, provided by expats already there. He recently published his own family's story, One Year on the Road and Living in Mexico — Adventures, Challenges, Triumphs, Lessons Learned, available for free download. Read More
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