Beach Cocktails in December: Escape the Winter Gloom Living Part-Time Abroad

“We winter over in the Caribbean.” “We spend three months a year in the south of France.” “We escape to our place in Mexico when it gets too cold at home.”

That may sound like the bragging of a well-heeled set, but you’d be surprised at how accessible—and affordable—a part-time overseas getaway can be.

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A full-time move abroad can feel like a step too far for many folks who have ties and obligations keeping them home (read: boomerang kids and elderly parents). But that doesn’t mean you can’t still embrace a more international life.

Generations of Americans have escaped winter in this way—the seasonal shift to sunshine states like California and Florida was a mainstream trend as early as the 1940s.

These days, with higher costs in the U.S., it makes more sense to investigate overseas destinations, particularly those where the dollar is strong against the local currency—as it is in Mexico and Europe today, for instance.

Some folks opt to buy a property abroad. In the right places, you can find you get more bang for your buck than in the States or Canada. And if you buy with rental potential in mind, a second home overseas can pay for itself if you’re willing to rent it out when you’re not there.

But you don’t have to buy. Rent a place for the season, and if you love it, arrange to come back next year and stay in the same place. (Owners love advance bookings!) Or choose a different location each year—it’s a way to explore the world and live like a local each time. A couple months overseas is deep immersion, wherever you take it.

Our editors sat down with happy part-timers around the world to ask them about their experiences and mine their recommendations for anybody interested in following in their footsteps.

Lose the Winter Boots by Snowbirding

Cozumel
For Beverly and Peter, the warm Caribbean island of Cozumel is the perfect winter escape. ©VIRSUZIGLIS/iStock

“You’re never too old for fun in the sun and to play every day.” Beverly Jaramillo Betti laughs. Which is why spending half the year in Lake Tahoe enjoying endless summer days and then the other half swimming in the warm, impossibly blue Caribbean is the perfect fit for her and her husband, Peter.

Both world travelers with a healthy love of nature, their retired life—divided between the lake shore and Cozumel, Mexico—is exactly how they pictured enjoying time together after all the hard work was done.

Peter had been looking at living overseas for a long time before they left Dallas, Texas to build their dream home in Lake Tahoe. So, when they met another couple who had moved to Cozumel, they accepted an invitation to visit.

Falling in love with the island, they bought a condo overlooking the clear Caribbean waters that Beverly swims in daily. It wasn’t entirely an emotional decision to buy a place in Mexico. There were other, more practical drawcards, too: “It was safe, beautiful, easy to get to from the U.S—no nine hours of travel, dusty roads, etc.—and the large expat community was an attraction,” Beverly points out.

Now they have the best of both worlds. Life back in Lake Tahoe has its wonderful moments too:

“I love sitting by the window with a morning coffee at the start of the day or a glass of wine at the end,” Beverly says. “Every window view from my house looks like a piece of artwork. Especially when it snows and the landscape goes from green to pristine white.”

It’s a way to explore the world and live like a local.

But while the first snow is pretty, it’s also Beverly and Peter’s cue to fly south for the winter. “The gorgeous Caribbean blues make my heart sing,” Beverly says, “and the water is so clear you can see coral formations even from six stories up!”

Plus, Mexico’s affordability evens out the higher cost of living in Lake Tahoe.

As Beverly explains, “We get our dinner bill and we still laugh. I mean, we get salads, a bottle of wine, maybe some cocktails, a nice dinner of fresh seafood, perhaps share a dessert. It all comes to… maybe $50. Going out in Dallas or Tahoe, you can’t even get breakfast for that.”

It’s the same for their utilities, condo fees, and overall cost of living. With a big smile, Peter confides that the cost of living is so low that they also bought the condo next door. When visiting friends and family aren’t using it, they rent it out for additional income, so it pays for itself.

“Waking up here is a dream,” says Beverly. “The first thing I see is the ocean and clouds. I feel like I wake up in a beautiful painting every day.” Most mornings, she grabs a coffee, kisses Peter goodbye, and she’s off to jump off the nearby dock into that gorgeous Caribbean water for a swim. “We’re really happy,” Beverly admits. “Your dollar goes a lot further, and you can live well, retire early. We’ve fallen in love with the people and the place. The culture is something very special to us. We don’t regret it for a second.”

ARE THERE TAX IMPLICATIONS?

Snowbirding during the winter months allows you to avoid the cold weather but, alas, it won’t help you avoid U.S. taxes. The worldwide income of U.S. citizens is subject to tax no matter where they live and earn money.

The Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) allows U.S. persons who have a tax home in a foreign country and who are physically present there for more than 330 days in a 12-month period to exclude a certain amount of earned income (that is, income as an employee or from selfemployment) from U.S. tax. In most cases, however, people who spend the winter months in warmer climates and then return to the U.S. for the summer wouldn’t qualify for the FEIE.

Owning a home overseas does not automatically mean you have a tax home in a foreign country even if you satisfied the 330-day rule. Any rental income you earned from the second home would continue to be reported on your U.S. tax return.

However, the good news is that, as is the case with U.S. rental income, the foreign rental income is offset against related expenses such as property taxes, utilities, and maintenance costs.

Additionally, whether you rent the home or not, real estate you hold directly is not considered a foreign financial asset or account that is required to be reported on a FinCen 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account (commonly referred to as the FBAR).

You can avoid the cold weather but not U.S. taxes.

Many foreign countries use a 183-day test to determine if a person who is not a citizen is a tax resident. In other words, if you are physically present in a foreign country for 183 days or more during a year, you may be considered a resident in that country for tax purposes. Some countries may even consider you a tax resident if you own a home in the country regardless of how much time you spend there.

The most common item to be taxed if you are a tax resident of a country is income from sources within that country, such as rents, a business you operate, or your personal services. Some foreign countries may even tax the retirement income of a tax resident. But don’t be deterred; the U.S. has tax treaties with many countries to avoid double taxation of people in these circumstances. It is always best to consult with a tax professional to determine your liability.

Test the Waters for Full-Time Expat Living

Another benefit of part-time living is that it serves as a test-drive for a full-time escape. If you’ve been thinking about a move, but aren’t sure it’s right, try a place out for a few months first.

Andrea Huff, a consultant to people planning the next stage of their lives (see: Andreahuff.com), recommends this more gradual approach as it comes with less hassle and risk.

When choosing your destination, Andrea suggests, it helps to have a clear picture of what you want to achieve. “Is it to find a cheaper place to live, maybe a different quality of life, other expats to socialize with, better weather, new experiences to enrich your life, a chance to practice a new language—or a combination of those things?”

Having your priorities in mind can help you choose an appropriate location. Plus, it can also help you evaluate the overall success of your experience once you’re there.

For Andrea, who recently road-tested a move to Paris, France, her motivation was to find a location where she could gain exposure to art and architecture, accessibility to an international airport, proximity to the beach, good food, and friendly locals and expats to interact with.

“Ideally, stay in the neighborhood you think you’d like to live in based on the research you’ve done,” Andrea suggests. “Gradually you’ll feel more like a local and start recognizing people at the bakery and the market, and in restaurants, shops, or at expat events.”

Do it for Free by Housesitting

Paris
Housesitting is a cheap and fun way to experience cities like Paris without blowing your budget. ©KAVALENKAVAVOLHA/iStock

Most of the year, International Living Portugal Correspondent Terry Coles calls the warm-weather Algarve coast her home base. Palm-lined beachfront promenades and charming cobblestone villages come built in. Yet her appetite for adventure is undiminished. Egypt, Paris, Cambodia, Italy…for Terry, that Portugal home is the perfect hopping-off point for a life of global exploration.

“For much of my life, I thought that international travel was only for those with oodles of wealth,” she says. “Surely, someone like me could never afford to go on safari in Africa, delight in the great pyramids of Egypt, bask in the vineyards of Tuscany, or visit the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre in Paris? Yet I have done all of this, and much more, with little to no extra income.”

She’s been able to bankroll her travels by slashing the cost of her accommodation to zero as an international house- and petsitter.

Housesitting was a gateway to a happier expat life.

“My husband, Clyde, and I recently returned from spending the summer months in Vaucresson, France,” she says. Vaucresson is an affluent, and pretty, suburb of Paris. It has a town center in its own right, but you can also be in central Paris within 25 minutes.

“We lived for two months in a five-bedroom house with a garden, weekly house cleaner, and the most chilled out dog we have ever met,” Terry says.

“Within a short walk of the house we could hop on a train to Paris, Versailles, or other cities that most people only dream of visiting. And what a pleasant surprise it was to discover that the Tour de France cycle race whizzed right past the house. We sat outside with a glass of wine and watched it go by—front row seats.”

Vaucresson is leafy, upscale, and situated in the well-to-do western edge of the French capital. “The best part,” says Terry, “is that we were living in this dazzling destination absolutely free.”

Housesitting allows Terry and Clyde to stay in homes all over the world, and truly live like locals. “Once we arrived at the house in Vaucresson,” Terry says, “we were free to unpack, cook meals in their kitchen instead of eating in restaurants, shop at local markets, and live in the community as locals instead of tourists. Because our accommodation is free when we housesit, we often get to spend more time in a city or country than a regular tourist would.”

It’s not just Europe, either. “Over the past seven years, our house- and petsitting adventures have taken us all over the world,” says Terry. “To date, our housesitting itinerary includes Panama, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, England, Wales, Scotland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, and Portugal. We have explored the exotic sights, sounds, and scents of Thailand and, with the money we saved living there rent-free, we were able to afford a side trip to Hong Kong and Cambodia.” An added advantage is that housesitters aren’t confined to budget hotels or low-end destinations to save money. They stay in a fully functional home, often in upscale areas.

“El Gouna, Egypt, a luxury resort on the Red Sea, was our destination for five months,” says Terry. “The spacious home featured an infinity pool that led to a sandy beach and spectacular views of the Egyptian sandscape. With the money we saved on hotels, we could afford a lavish cruise on the Nile River from Luxor to Aswan and got to explore more antiquities from Cairo.”

Ultimately, for Terry and Clyde, housesitting became a gateway to a happier life as expats. “It was a housesit that opened our eyes to Portugal, a country we knew little about, but soon came to love. So much so that we bought a home there,” Terry explains.

“Now that we have a home base in Europe, it makes it easy to pick and choose housesits in places we want to explore, pack a bag, and go. But that’s just a detail; it would be just as simple to arrange international housesits from a base in North America.”

To be clear, housesitters do have duties to their hosts, but they’re not arduous ones.

“As house- and petsitters, we receive no money for our services, but we are allowed to live free in someone’s home,” Terry explains. “In exchange for our free accommodation, we agree to care for animals according to the owners’ specifications and keep the home neat and tidy. “We pay for our flights and other transportation to and from the house sit, and buy our own food and supplies once we are settled in. The pet owners can enjoy their vacation knowing that their beloved pets are being cared for, walked, fed, and loved in the comfort of their own home.”

(For more information about how you could help fund a part-time overseas life as a housesitter and stay around the world for free, see International Living’s guide at IntLiving.com/housesit)

Why Rent if You Can Buy?

Marie Seckler Slimmon and Donald Slimmon are active world travelers who could have settled just about anywhere. They chose Panama. After several careers and 35 years in real estate, Marie understood better than most the benefits of investing in property. In 2005, she joined a small group of fellow Canadians in buying land in Panama’s coastal Chame district. She spent $10,000 and held on to her property for 10 years. Eventually—after marrying Don—she sold and put the modest profit toward a condo. The couple’s first part-time home in Panama, the condo was located in the beachfront Playa Blanca development, just outside the hub town of Coronado. “We got a three-bedroom, three-bathroom model for $155,000,” says Marie. “It had been vacant for three years and needed a fair amount of work. Our real estate agent lived in an identical unit, which was nicely done, so I knew that there was potential beyond what I saw. Don is a bit of a handyman, so we said, ‘Well, shall we go for it?’ and we both agreed that we should.”

The couple learned their way around, discovering the best places to shop for home goods, appliances, and more. “Our Spanish was limited, but we got along just fine, people were very friendly, and we used Google Translate when needed. Since we knew we’d be snowbirding in Panama every year, we also proceeded to get our Pensionado visas.” (Panama’s famed retiree visa offers one of the world’s most appealing program of special benefits, including discounts on transport, entertainment, and home energy bills.)

We loved being by the beach for daily walks.

Every year, Marie and Don would fly down to spend a few months in Panama. “We loved being by the beach for daily walks, collecting shells, and swimming. And we loved the view of the mountains and ocean. We always referred to it as our Panamanian Riviera,” she says.

“Don and I enjoyed the people that we met, and several couples were from British Columbia (BC).” And people Marie and Don met in Panama became friends they could socialize with when they returned to BC for the Canadian summer.

They enjoyed Playa Blanca immensely, but after seven years, the couple decided to make some changes. “We were always visiting people in Coronado,” says Marie. “We wanted to do more with friends there, golf more—there’s an 18-hole course in Coronado—and be closer to the dentist, doctors, and so on. We decided we’d be better off in Coronado.”

The couple rented out their apartment in Playa Blanca. (They plan to list it after their current tenants leave, expecting it to sell it for a profit of $40,000 or more.) They then bought a two-bedroom apartment on the golf course in Coronado.

The compact apartment had beautiful views of the golf course, the Pacific Ocean, and a lush green mountainside. It was perfect for a few months out of the year. But then the couple decided to transition from part-time living to fulltime residence…

“Don voiced that we should have a bigger apartment if we were going to be there all the time,” says Marie. Luckily, a larger unit in the same building was available and their offer was accepted.

“We’ll have room to entertain—a dining room and a place to play cards and games, so we don’t have to go to the building’s social area.” The new unit is just over 1,800 square feet, and they got it after making an offer of $275,000.

For two Canadians coming from British Columbia, it was excellent value. The building has pools, a gym, direct access to the golf course, and more. “We say Coronado is Hawaii on a budget,” says Marie. “We found things to be very reasonably priced, even when converting Canadian to U.S. dollars.” “We went back to Canada this year and we were shocked, we spent $60 on groceries that would cost us $20 in Panama. For seven years now we have had our teeth cleaned in Panama for under $50. It would be three times that in Canada.”

OWN A PART-TIME BASE FOR PLEASURE AND PROFIT

Ronan McMahon

Years ago, I vowed never again to face into snow, ice, or freezing rain. I also decided I’d steer clear of oppressive heat and humidity.

In a nutshell, I promised myself a life of travel punctuated with enjoyable stays in properties I owned, doing things I loved. I promised myself perfect weather and a strong income from each property.

In practice, that usually means I end up using a property when the bulk of people don’t want to be there. I like the quiet… and I avoid the crowds. But crowds mean renters and high demand, so by following this strategy, I also make the most of peak rental season. It’s a win-win.

The truth is, almost anyone can own a profitable home overseas. With the right real estate plays and a lot less money than you might think, you could actually own several…stay in them part-time, travel between them, rent them for a good income when you’re not there, and the day you want to sell, you could lock in a meaty profit.

Some homes overseas can pay for themselves (including the mortgage) just by renting them out for eight to 10 weeks of peak summer season when you probably don’t want to be there anyway.

In fact, just this summer, my beachfront condo on Portugal’s Silver Coast generated €7,000 ($7,006) from renters in a four-week period. In two months, I had made enough income to cover my entire mortgage and expenses for the year, and then some.

My condo is in Praia D’El Rey Golf & Beach Resort and my total monthly payments (including mortgage, taxes, HOA fees, and golf club dues on two great courses) comes in at just under €1,110 ($1,111). And get this, my neighbor has recently listed their condo—the same unit type as I own—for €95,000 more than I paid for mine.

I bought my Silver Coast condo as a pure luxury lifestyle buy. It was never meant to be a financial investment. Yet, by buying well and owning something in demand, my beachfront home, which looks out onto rolling dunes and miles of golden-sand beach, now pays for itself and even generates profit, all while giving me a place to live while I’m in Portugal.

This winter I’ll be spending time in another one of my part-time bases in Cabo San Lucas in Baja California, Mexico. I did buy there as a financial investment along with Real Estate Trend Alert members as part of a RETA-only deal in 2015. Our get-in price was $336,156. Today, condos in this community are in such high demand that I’m getting emails from brokers asking if I’ll sell for $600,000.

However, I love my condo there so much, I don’t want to sell. And when I’m not using it myself, I can still rent it out. Rental rates have been going up and up. They jumped from $1,800 to $2,000 per month in 2018, to $3,300 to $3,500 today.

My point is, owning a part-time home overseas doesn’t need to be an expensive luxury. If you do it right, it’s a smart way to generate income while securing your wealth in a brick-and-mortar asset. At the same time, it gives you the perfect place to spend time for as long as you want throughout the year

Sidestep Visa Hassles With a Second Passport

France
With a European passport you can easily spend extended time in places like France. © ALEH VARANISHCHA/iStock

For many part-time expats, the hassles of arranging long-term visas are exactly why they choose to restrict their overseas adventures to bite-sized stays of three months or less. Entry restrictions are as varied as there are countries in the world, so there’s no firm rule-of-thumb when it comes to your permitted length of stay. That said, there’s a strong recurrence, worldwide, of the 90-day tourist visa.

For many, that’s more than enough time to spend overseas. If your sole intention is to avoid the ravages of a North American winter, 90 days will see you through the worst of December, January, and February (and eating Christmas lunch in tropical sunshine is a quirky pleasure everyone should experience at least once).

Nevertheless, those 90 days can pass quickly, and the often-unmentioned additional restriction is that there’s generally a limit on how soon you can re-enter the country after your 90 days have passed. In Europe, for example, an entry visa to the Schengen Area (comprising most of the EU) is valid for 90 days out of 180.

In summary, that means that if you spend three months touring, say, Portugal, France, and Italy, then return home… you can’t re-enter the Schengen Area for another 90 days.

While there are a few good digital nomad visas out there which allow visitors to continue working remotely as they travel, they’re mostly aimed at online workers and don’t usually allow you more than a 12-month stay anyway. For anything more hands-on, work permits are an additional hassle for part-time expats who wish to support their time overseas with a little additional income.

A second passport can provide you the freedom to come and go as you like. And you may be surprised to find you already qualify for one and don’t even realize it. A second passport entitles you to all the benefits of the issuing country, allowing you to enter and leave with the same rights as if you were a full-time resident citizen there.

Futhermore, in many cases, a second passport entitles you to fewer travel restrictions in a host of networked countries. One example of this is the CARICOM area of the Caribbean, whereby holders of passports issued by any of its 15 members can stay for up to six months—and even longer in certain circumstances—in any of the other member states.

Fewer travel restrictions with a second passport.

With a second passport from Saint Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis, Dominica, Antigua & Barbuda, or Grenada, you’d qualify. All those countries offer citizenship-by-investment programs. And any one of those island nations would be a wonderful place to spend a winter, or more.

The concept gets even more compelling when it comes to Europe. With full access to 27 member countries, a European Union passport is one of the world’s most valuable documents. Holding one of these innocuous burgundy booklets is like having a backstage pass to the world’s most varied continent.

“It gives me options,” says Vancouver native, Kathryn Anderson of her U.K. second passport. “And it’s always good to have options. It’s not just that when you arrive in Europe, the lines at immigration are shorter (although that’s pretty good). It’s about knowing that I’m never stuck. During the COVID pandemic, I was still allowed to fly, for example. You were allowed to return ‘home,’ if you have a passport there. The only downside I’ve come across is that I once got my passports mixed up and tried to leave the U.K. with my Canadian passport. It should have had an entry stamp on it, but didn’t, since I’d entered using my U.K. one. No problem, I simply handed over the correct passport and it worked out fine.”

Kevin McGoff, from Indianapolis, Indiana, spends seven months overseas every year, usually spread between Ile Sur le Sorgue in the south of France, and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. For Kevin, his Irish second passport is invaluable.

“My parents were from Monaghan, Ireland,” he says. It means that he’s eligible, by ancestry, for an Irish passport. With that, he’s free to travel, work, and live across the European Union, including France. “When I started spending more than 90 days out of every 180, I began using my Irish passport to enter and leave France. It’s nice to know that if I want to stay longer, I can. That’s the luxury.”

For Kevin, his Irish passport came via his Irish ancestry. The easiest and quickest way to acquire second citizenship, and a second passport, is through your bloodline: citizenship resulting from the nationality of your father, mother, or grandparents.

Most countries go back only one generation, so at least one of your parents must be from the country in question to be eligible for citizenship. But in a few countries, like Ireland, grandchildren qualify.

Nations that grant citizenship based on ancestry— that is, if your parent or grandparent was a citizen— include Ireland, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, Luxembourg, Hungary, Greece, and Armenia.

Most of those countries are European Union member states, so their citizenship gives you the freedom to live and work in all the member states of the EU.

Hungary’s program is particularly generous: If you can prove that anyone in your family tree was Hungarian, you can obtain Hungarian citizenship…and a tasty little EU passport.

THE PRACTICALITIES OF PART-TIME EXPAT LIFE

Mail and Phones

The best option of all for keeping up with your mail while away is to have a trusted friend or neighbor keep tabs on your mailbox. Failing that, mail scanning services such as Mailboxes-etc.com, Postscanmail.com, or Usglobalmail.com are an excellent way to keep up with your delivered mail.

As for phone communication, beyond the obvious convenience of VOIP providers such as Skype or WhatsApp, consider MagicJack.com, which allows users to keep their U.S. phone number while overseas, without racking up undue expense.

Car Rental

For many part-time expats, part of the appeal of their chosen destination is that they can get around without needing a car.

Nevertheless, if you’re reluctant to do without, there are options. Unless you plan to drive to your overseas location, or buy a vehicle to leave there, car rental is a cost you’ll need to budget for.

Part-time expat, Keith Van Sickle, who spends several months a year in the south of France, suggests that for stays over three months, it makes more sense—and costs less—to lease a car long-term than go with a standard rental. He uses Europcar.com/rent- 3plus while he’s in Europe.

Alternatively, owner-operated rentals service Turo offers unbeatable prices on a range of vehicles in international locations. You can search their inventory at Explore.turo. com/globetrotters

Finding a Place

When it comes to rentals of two months or more, we’ve found that a much better option than Airbnb and VRBO is to consult local real estate agents for listings.

Bear in mind that many of these small businesses have minimal online presence, and often, properties never make it as far as a web listing. Visiting agencies in-person once you’ve arrived in your location could present a better range of options. Many part-time expats arrange their next year’s stay while on-location.

Although there are few countries worldwide with as comprehensive a multi-agency listing as the U.S., searchable resources such as Orpi.com in France, Century21Global. com worldwide, or even niche services such as SabbaticalHomes.com can throw up far better deals than vacation specific rental sites.

House or Condo?

If you choose to buy a second home overseas to visit regularly, think carefully about maintenance and upkeep.

Though it may be tempting to buy a historic home or a quaint hacienda, the part-time expats who contributed to this article were adamant on one point—choose a lock-and-leave condo or apartment if at all possible. Arranging for the upkeep of a garden, outbuildings, and external structural features while you’re away is an additional stress that you can do without.

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