There is no doubt about it, moving to another country to retire is a big thing. A bold move, an experience of a lifetime and, in many cases, a ticket to a new found freedom. However, there are lots of considerations and in a way it is a leap of faith. I have been an expat for over two years, choosing to retire in my favourite country, Thailand. To be honest, I have not regretted one minute of my new life here. It is wonderful living.
Seriously though, I have seen many expats move here and experience a bumpy road. Let’s face it, no adventure is purely smooth sailing. On the plus side, I know many expats that are living it up, going out, getting involved and loving every minute.
What I can tell you is that the expats that are successful in Southeast Asia do a few things that make their experience easier, better and richer. These steps are not difficult nor are they expensive, but they do make all the difference.
1. Get to Know Your Chosen Country
It is absolutely necessary to spend some time in the country that you are considering moving to. You need to consider the conditions that you need to be comfortable. For example, experience the climate, is it too hot? Too cold? Too humid? For me, a move to more tropical climates made me feel better. For example, arthritis dissipates in a Southeast Asian climate. But, if you don’t like the heat, you can find other countries better suited to your needs.
It is also important to get to know the lay of the land. Each country has its cities and country suburbs. It is important to ascertain whether you want country living or need to be close to vibrant city life. Will public transport be enough for your needs or will you need to buy a car/motorbike to get in and out of town?
Also things to consider are proximity. Do you need to be close to a hospital, shopping centres or schools?
Successful expats think about their own needs and find locations that provide the appropriate infrastructures. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to find areas with the services that you will require, but you don’t want to sign a year’s lease on a rental property only to discover that the location does not match your needs.
2. Take Care of Loose Ends Back Home (and in your chosen country)
As I was preparing to move overseas, I had to really consider taking care of loose ends. I brainstormed a list of ‘to do’ items so that I wouldn’t have any difficulties once I left Australia.
If you are seriously planning on moving overseas for a significant amount of time, setting up all the legalities make for an easy conscience. Personally, I contacted the electoral roll and suspended my voting obligations for five years. I didn’t want to do this permanently, as I wanted to make sure that I left my options open. I needed time to sort out my new living arrangements and was worried what would happen if I missed out on voting.
A visit to my accountant was also invaluable. He helped us work out how we would arrange tax time and helped us decide whether we would be ‘residents for taxation purposes only’. These things make a difference and it all depends on your personal context. So tax advice is a priority, if you want to be an expat with less worry.
Of course a visit to a solicitor was also money well worth spent. We had our wills updated and organised our ‘Power of Attorney’ and our ‘Executor of our Wills’. The price was minimal compared to having peace of mind.
Another trip was to a solicitor in our new country. We own a property in Thailand and we needed to have a will established here as well. But one thing that people do not realise is that it is important to have a ‘living will’. This is a legal document that just supports your wishes if anything terrible happened, for example, you ended up in hospital with no one else to advocate for your rights.
I know it is not a situation you want to think about, but it helps in case of family members being back home and having to make decisions on your behalf.
3. Don’t Judge Your New Country Through ‘Western Eyes’
When you move to a country that is very culturally different to your own, it is easy to become suspicious and frustrated. Government offices seem quite different, but just relax. Just because it runs differently, doesn’t mean that it isn’t working. Patience is essential.
I recall seeing things that I thought were completely chaotic. But then I learned that my judgemental thinking wasn’t helpful. There was just a different system in place. It was all going to be okay.
There are also cultural differences to consider. Different cultures place values on different things. In Thailand, for example, society is very hierarchical. If the person behind the counter at the bank isn’t being helpful, it is not because they want to make life difficult for you. It is because they are accountable to a person higher up the ladder. They are not allowed to make decisions.
Getting angry because the Western World places value on ‘customer service’ just won’t work in many Asian countries. I have learned to smile and come back another day. It is always possible to sort through problems, but basically, the ‘boss’ has to be there or the answer will be ‘no’.
Remind yourself that you moved to a different country for something different, not ‘more of the same’.
4. Network, Network, Network
There is so much to learn when you move to a new country. To me, I took this on as a personal mission. I wanted to learn quickly, feel empowered and then get onto my new relaxed retirement lifestyle.
That old saying ‘information is power’ is very appropriate when you retire overseas. You need to talk to other expats. Seek them out. Research your local expat club or get onto local Facebook pages that are run by expats in your chosen country.
I made an early discovery when I first moved to my home about internet providers. It was simply through watching discussion threads on expat Facebook pages that I discovered that some internet providers work better in different suburbs. The trick was to ask my neighbours what internet provider they were using.
All those little tips make for an easier and less stressful transition. It is important to add that other expats are an invaluable resource. They know the answers to questions that you haven’t even thought of yet. So don’t be shy. Expats are more than happy to help, because they know that they couldn’t have done it without the help of other expats as well.
5. Seek Out How to Spend Your Newfound Time
When you finally move to your dream destination, it is amazing how much more time you have in a day. Finding opportunities to use your time in enjoyable and productive ways is very important. After all, that is why you moved to your dream destination, isn’t it? To enjoy every second of your life was a major player.
In popular expat destinations there are clubs and groups everywhere. In Chiang Mai there are writer’s groups, sports groups, dining out clubs, scrabble meet ups and even an amateur theatre company looking for actors. It is impossible to be bored.
So do some research online, ask other expats or even start your own club!
Don’t be shy, remember, the squeaky wheel always gets the oil.