How to Move Out of the U.S. - Leaving America - International Living

How to Move Out of the U.S.
Start living the life you want sooner and for less money.|©iStock/SolStock

Things at home look unsteady today.

You’re not alone if you’ve thought, “I think I’m ready to leave the U.S.”

Attacks on our institutions... a supreme court that seems utterly out of step with most Americans... violence in our schools, parks, grocery stores... racial and gender discrimination... books being burned and banned...

Layer in the inflationary economy and tanking markets...

There are days when it really does feel like civil society is coming apart at the seams.

So you cannot be blamed if you’re looking for options.

Good news is: You have plenty.

In the right places overseas today, the opportunities are better than ever before…

From Portugal to Costa Rica to Thailand and well beyond—you can find warm, welcoming, safe places where life is lived at a sane pace, politics stays in the background, and you can live well for less than it costs you to stay where you are today.

In fact, on a budget of around $2,000 a month, you’ll find plenty of spots where a couple can enjoy a comfortable retirement.

Take a colonial city like Cuenca, Ecuador, for instance, which has a large expat population, making settling in easy, and where beautiful apartments rent for as little as $600 and a couple could live quite well on a budget of $1,835 a month, healthcare, entertainment, housing, groceries—everything included.

Even in Europe—the good-value living may surprise you. Take Portugal. Along the sunny Algarve in the south, our correspondent Terry Coles reports that she and her husband live well for just $2,500 and $3,000 a month. But a single person in a city like Mafra, about 30 minutes northwest of Lisbon, could live comfortably—housing, dining out, housekeeper every other week, health insurance, groceries, everything—for between $1,521 and $1,900 a month.

It means that you could start living the life you want sooner and for less money.

You could retire earlier. You could position yourself to profit in communities poised to boom.

You could arrange your life—whether you’re ready to retire or not—so you can afford to slow down and relax and enjoy yourself more in a place that suits you well.

Here at International Living, we want to help you match the vision of your ideal lifestyle—with a real-world community on the map where you could make it happen.

And you can get started right here, below, with our guide to moving out of the U.S.

On this page, you’ll find useful resources designed to help you assess your priorities in finding a destination overseas, sort out where your best options would be, get your “ducks in a row” for a smooth transition, and put a plan in place to go check a few spots out.

To be clear right up front: There are all sorts of ways you can live overseas: part-time, full-time, as a long-term traveler. Some folks go with the intention of never coming home. But plenty more try on life as an expat for a year or two or five... or more. The point is: a move overseas doesn’t have to be permanent. You can always return home.

That said, though, as many of our own far-flung editors and folks in the expat community will tell you: Once you’ve got the expat bug, you may find the appeal of adventure hard to resist. You may start in one place, but then, after a few years, try on another for size. The point is: The world is full of opportunity. We’ll show you where it is—how you take advantage of it is entirely up to you.

For more in-depth information on moving to the countries mentioned in this article, see below:

There are many benefits to moving outside the United States…some drawbacks too. But the actual process, while definitely doable (millions of Americans have done it), is not as straightforward as moving within the U.S., which you may have done in the past.

Here are some of the steps you should take as you’re planning on moving out of the U.S. no matter where you’re planning to move.

How to Profile Yourself and Find Your Spot


The first step on your journey to moving abroad is to look within.

What you must do is ruthlessly profile yourself. Think deeply about your needs and wants, in several areas:

  • What level of spending are you comfortable with…what can you afford to pay for rent, healthcare, and living expenses?
  • What level of healthcare do you need, and what can you afford to pay? Do you need specialist care due to a chronic condition?
  • Ease of transition. Remember, you’ll have to learn a new culture when moving abroad. But are you also comfortable with learning a new language? Do you need certain familiar items at supermarkets? Consider how easy it might be to get a residence visa or otherwise navigate the local bureaucracy.
  • How easy is it to get to and forth from your home country, for visits back home or for visiting family and friends.
  • Is there a community of expats? Or will you have to integrate more into the local culture? Which option appeals more to you?
  • Are there homes for sale and rent at reasonable prices? What can you afford—and is it available?
  • Do you like four seasons…or warm weather year-round? Is the heat and humidity of the tropics 365 days a year—and intense rainy season—too much for you to bear?
  • Is there enough to do to keep you occupied? Are you content with relaxing on the beach and enjoying seafood meals at simple restaurants? Or do you need a symphony orchestra and fine dining?

Look at all these factors and prioritize them in order of importance. Consider what your must-haves are. There could be other factors too, like the availability of assisted living or the potential to start a business. Then do you research. There is plenty of information available in International Living and other online resources. Join Facebook groups for locations you’re interested in.

Your goal is to find locations that match up with your profile. Places that have all or some of the things you need and want. Your ideal location is out there. You just need to find it.

How to Secure Your Residence Visa


Several countries make it quite easy for retirees to obtain visas. They have dedicated retirement programs. For example, Costa Rica has its pensionado program, which allows a person and their spouse to live there full-time. The main requirement is a guaranteed $1,000 a month in income from Social Security or a retirement fund. Belize’s Qualified Retired Persons program requires you to be over 45 years old; have $2,000+ in income from Social Security, pension, or annuity; stay in Belize 30 consecutive days annually; and pass a criminal background check. As part of the program you can import a car and/or boat tax free, as well as your household goods. You’ll be tax exempt on all income from outside Belize.

In Europe, there are also visa programs. In Portugal, for example, the Type 1 visa is available to those who have private healthcare insurance valid in Europe and sufficient funds to cover the cost of living in the country. You first receive a temporary visa, good for one year. You can renew for two years twice. Then you can convert to a permanent resident.

In Mexico, where there an estimated 1 million retirees and other expats from the United States living full or part-time (as well as a half-million Canadians), there is no designated retirement visa. But it’s quite easy to receive a temporary or permanent residence visa. For temporary residence, you need only about $1,400 a month in income to qualify—and you can bring you U.S. plated car into the country.

In many countries, getting a visa is the first step to eventual citizenship and a second passport; a process that usually takes years and could require you to learn the local language.

How to Make Money While Living Abroad

©iStock/Gulcin Ragiboglu
©iStock/Gulcin Ragiboglu

If you still need to generate an income while living abroad, you’ll have to keep in mind that most countries don’t want you to take a job from a local. And many residence visas for foreigners do not allow you to work. Besides, the salary you might make would no doubt be much lower than the U.S. anyway. That doesn’t mean you can’t make money. There are plenty of options.

1. You could work remotely with your current job.

In many jobs you essentially sit at a desk and interact with colleagues or customers via email, phone, instant message, or other online communication. Face to face time is rare. In that case why not do it from a location overseas? With high-speed internet available just about everywhere, it’s not difficult. What about meetings? You could join in via video conference with software like Skype or through a teleconference line.

2. You could work online as a freelancer.

You could take the skills you have now and start offering your services as a freelancer or consultant. You’ll be working with clients around the world online. You could even take on a new skill.

Some examples of good freelance careers include proofreading and editing, content writing for websites, copywriting (which is advertising writing), graphic design, website design, and many more. You could also be a virtual assistant, which is like being an administrative assistant but remotely—helping someone organize their business and schedule.

You find these jobs through referrals or online job sites like Upwork.

3. You could start an online business.

Again, you could take something you’re an expert on or have an interest in and transform that into a business selling products online. For example, you could sell e-books on, books you write or public domain works you find. You could also sell products as an affiliate, which means you advertise products on behalf of a larger company and when you make a sale you get a commission, which means you never actually have to physically ship the products or handle refunds or customer service—simple. You could also create your own digital products like guides, or videos, or online courses based on an interest expertise. These products you would sell to customers as digital downloads from your website or platforms like this.

4. You could start a brick-and-mortar business.

If you’ve always dreamed of owning a restaurant or beach bar paradise, or a clothing boutique, or an ice cream place… or any of a number of other businesses. In many countries, the cost to start and operate a business is much lower than the U.S. And there is less red tape.

5. Rent out your home.

One easy way to make an extra income, or in some cases cover all your expenses, is by renting out of your home in the U.S. short term through sites like Airbnb or long-term to renters who take out a year or multi-year lease. In this case you would have to own your home, of course. Also, it’s best to have a property manager handle bookings, check-ins, and maintenance on the property. They’ll get a cut of the rental income in exchange for their services.

How to Plan a Scouting Trip to Find Your Ideal Spot


It might be tempting to simply pick a location you’ve researched or once traveled to…and simply pick up and move there. But before you sell your home or sell most of your possessions, it pays to test the waters so to speak. There have been many people who always dreamed of living at the beach…because that’s where they’ve always vacationed. But once they stayed more than a few weeks, they discovered they didn’t like the heat and humidity…or the sand that always seemed to be getting in the house…or all the tourists.

This means an extended scouting trip to the location you’ve picked out. This is not a two-week vacation. Instead take two months…three months to really get to know a place. You’ll have to rent a home or apartment, which are usually available for affordable rates through a property management company or individual owner. You can even ask Airbnb or VRBO hosts if they’ll cut you a deal for a long-term stay.

Your job on this visit is to feel what it’s like to live in that location. You talk to locals and expats about their lives—the benefits and drawbacks of the place. You can go to expat meetups like Saturday morning breakfasts or sunset happy hours to find expats and get the scoop.

Go grocery shopping in local grocery stores and farmers’ markets—see what’s available and what the prices are. Visit local medical facilities—do they have the specialists and medications you need. You also check out the internet speed and reliability of electricity and water.

Are their local groups catering to a hobby of yours like crafting or poker? Figure out if it’s too noisy—does the local church set off fireworks every morning? Is the beach town too much of party spot? Is the quaint mountain village you dreamed of actually too sleepy? Is there enough of an expat population?

You explore different areas and neighborhoods of that location…and then travel around the region or even country to see if another spot strikes your fancy. The idea is to experience life fully there to see if you could be there full time and be comfortable. Again, this is not a vacation but it’s more like work as you really investigate this location.

If you’re wondering about how to move out of the U.S., you won’t get there overnight but this guide will help you to find the right location and gives you the tools and resources to stay there and enjoy a new life.

10 Good Reasons to Retire Overseas


1) For a better quality of live happier, healthier, and with less stress. 2) To find the perfect weather, where you never again have to shovel snow, scrape ice from your windows, or heat your house. 3) To escape the 9-to-5 drudgery of a day job and work for yourself, to completely reinvent yourself, or not work at all if that’s what you choose. 4) To find more time to spend with your family, to pen that book you’ve always thought about writing, or to spend your mornings fishing or snorkeling. 5) To live more luxuriously than you ever could at home, for a fraction of the cost. 6) To start your own business in a country where you’ll pay fewer taxes and keep more of what you earn. 7) To put yourself on the ground in a place that’s about to boom, and in doing so, position yourself to profit. 8) To arrange your financial affairs so you’re saving on your U.S. taxes. 9) For the adventure of it—to learn a new language, make new friends, and explore a new world. 10) Access to national healthcare plans and high-quality private health care at a fraction of the price of the U.S.

Your Checklist for a Smooth Transition Abroad


By Paul Carlino

A successful move involves more than just knowing the nitty-gritty of where you will go. And while every pre-departure to-do list should include selling your things and packing your bags, there is more to it than that. After my wife, Rebecca, and I decided to move our family to Mexico, we took several months to wind things down in the U.S. Here’s a list of items we addressed before we left the U.S. (and some things we wish we had done) that will help smooth your transition to life abroad.

To Sell or to Rent Back Home

Selling your house can benefit you by removing a substantial debt (in the form of a mortgage) from your balance sheet, and provide you with a lump sum of money to purchase a property in your destination country. If it is your main home prior to the sale and you meet certain IRS ownership and use tests, you may be able to exclude or reduce your taxable gain.

On the other hand, renting your house to the right tenants can provide a steady stream of income. Because Rebecca and I are not eligible to take retirement distributions, we liked the idea of having a monthly rental income to cover our daily living expenses and reduce the amount we drew from our savings to meet these needs. Having a source of income also gave us peace of mind while we developed other business ideas.

Hire a Professional Photographer

We considered using a property management company to market and manage the rental of our house. This is ideal for a no-hassle rental experience. In the end, however, we balked at paying a month’s rent as the fee. Instead, we created our own webpage using the photos we commissioned from a professional photographer. If web design is beyond your skill set, there are multiple existing online services where you can successfully market your rental home, including Airbnb, VRBO, and Sabbatical Homes (see:

Contact Your Home Insurance Carrier

Most policies do not cover damage that may occur while the house is being used as a rental. Instead, convert your policy to “landlord insurance” to protect against liability, property damage, and loss of income in the event your house becomes uninhabitable.

Will you allow pets or smokers? Is there a room that you will use to store personal items? You can put together a lease from different free sites found on the internet (see: or Consider including a clause requiring your tenants to have renter’s insurance to protect their belongings.

Create online accounts with the utility companies that service your house and with your local real estate assessment office to receive and pay bills electronically. Rebecca and I also provided our tenants with contact information for reputable companies in our area to make any necessary repairs to the house or appliances.


If you sell your car, be sure to notify your state department of motor vehicles (DMV). Many states will refund part of your registration fee if you no longer own the car. The date of sale is also used to prorate any state property tax due on the vehicle.

Be sure to also notify your car insurance carrier of the sale to cancel the policy and obtain a refund of a prorated portion of your premium payment.

Driver’s License

You can drive in many countries with a U.S. license.There are good reasons to keep your state-issued driver’s license when you move abroad and even to get a second copy. First, your U.S. license serves as a source of identification that can fit in your wallet, rather than carrying your passport. Second, you can drive legally in many countries, including Mexico and those in Central America, with just a U.S. license.

Other countries may require you to have an International Driving Permit (IDP), which you can obtain only if you have a valid U.S. license. An IDP can only be issued by the same country that issued your driver’s license, so it is best to know what your new country requires. If you do need an IDP, you can apply in advance of your move at your local AAA office or online.

If you want to obtain a driver’s license from your new country of residence, you may be required to turn in your U.S. license. This is where having a second copy (even an expired one) comes in handy. When I applied for a Mexican driver’s license, I turned in an expired copy of my Virginia license and kept my current one. It is also useful to have a second copy in the event that one is lost, as replacing it may be difficult from overseas.

Change of Address for Mail

You should notify everyone who sends you mail of your new address and the date of your move. Most bills and statements have an area for notifying the sender of an address change.

You should also complete a change of address form with the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) 30 days before your move. USPS will provide mail forwarding services—including to a foreign address—for up to a year. If you do not file a change of address with USPS, it will attempt to return mail to sender. Mail that is unable to be returned will be discarded.

If you want to receive mail at a different domestic address—such as at the home of a family member or a P.O. Box—you can change your address and request mail forwarding to the new address online at

If you want your mail forwarded to an international address, you must complete a change of address form at your local post office. Make sure that mail service in your new foreign country is reliable before opting to have mail sent there.

If you live in a country with unreliable mail service, consider a virtual mailbox or mail forwarding service. For a monthly fee, these services provide a physical address, open and scan your mail, and can even forward packages using private courier services. Which one works best for you depends on the services you require and the country you’re moving to, but Anytime Mailbox, US Global Mail, and PostScanMail are good places to start.

Voter Registration

Generally, when you move outside the U.S., you can continue to vote in the state where you were last domiciled, provided you were registered to vote in that state before you moved and have not registered to vote in another state. If you will be overseas on the date of the election, you can notify your local office of registration and elections that you want to vote absentee. Many states will send you an absentee ballot by email.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program website ( provides rules specific to each state and has contact information for state election officials. It also includes information about what to do if you cannot obtain an absentee ballot from your state.

Medical, Vital, and School Records

If you are enrolling children in school in your new country, check with the school officials to see what records you should bring. Schools may require vaccination records and/or a birth certificate for admission and it can be helpful for education professionals to see prior school records to determine academic placement.

To be accepted as legitimate, vital records, such as birth and marriage certificates and court documents relating to divorce or child custody, may require an apostille certification. Apostille is an internationally recognized convention for certifying the validity of certain documents, similar to a notarization in the U.S. Each state has its own rules on how to apostille a document.

Credit and ATM Cards

Notify your credit card company about your travel plans and make sure it does not charge foreign transaction fees on overseas purchases (an unnecessary fee commonly set at 3% of your purchase). If you are going to a country where credit cards are not commonly accepted, you will find yourself frequently withdrawing cash from the ATM and these fees can add up. We opened a High Yield Investor Checking account with Charles Schwab, which has no minimum balance and no monthly fees—and the bank reimburses all our ATM costs. If you are eligible for a USAA account, those also have excellent services for international travel.

Generally, you must be a resident of the U.S. to obtain a U.S.-issued credit or debit card. For this reason, it is easier to open new accounts before you move.


As important as having the proper visa to enter your destination country is having the required shots. After two flight connections and eight hours of travel, a friend was denied entry to Bolivia because he did not have proof of his yellow fever vaccination. While recommended immunizations can sometimes be obtained after arrival in a foreign country, often they are simply not available. And, as in the case of my friend, you can be denied entry if you have not had the required shots or can’t prove that you had them.

The Destinations page (found under the Travelers’ Health tab on the homepage) on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website ( lists recommended vaccines and medicines for each country. The CDC can also locate the clinic nearest you that has the necessary vaccines.

Make sure that you have current immunization records with you, and that you are up to date on routine vaccinations such as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and tetanus.


I am a former IRS attorney, so taxes are never far from my mind. While U.S. citizens and green card holders owe U.S. taxes on income no matter where they live, moving overseas may reduce state tax liability. Filing as a part-year resident or non-resident generally requires that you pay tax only on income earned while resident in the state or from state sources (such as rental income from a property in the state).

Researching what measures you can take before moving abroad to minimize your state tax liability can greatly increase your long-term savings.

Learn the Language

Learning even the basics of the language spoken in your destination country before you get there will allow you to hit the ground running. The ability to speak with vendors in the market about what produce is in season, ask the waiter for the best dish on the menu, or even just say hello will increase your enjoyment of your new home. And you will find that people will more often than not greet your effort with a smile. The Duolingo app is a good place to start, or the free, downloadable programs at, but getting some actual lessons at a language school or online really accelerates your learning.

Although your individual circumstances may present additional things for you to resolve before you go, tackling the above list is a great start as you plan your international move.

Three Things You Can Do Right Now If You Are Considering a Move Abroad

©iStock/Balate Dorin
©iStock/Balate Dorin

By Lynn Roulo

I talk with lots of people who are considering a move abroad, and I’ve noticed one central thing that holds them back: they adopt an “all or nothing” approach. They either want to pack up and move all at once or they decide not to move at all, fearing too many unknowns. My own move overseas was more gradual, and yours can be too. Below are three small things you can start doing right now to prepare for the possibility of a big move.

1. Engage a Native Online Language Tutor

I hired an online language tutor one year before I moved to Greece, and it was tremendously helpful. My Greek tutor lived in Athens, and we did language lessons via Skype while I was still living in San Francisco. The lessons were inexpensive, and my tutor, Rania, gave me advice on neighborhoods to explore, insights about the Greek economy, and even helped me find my first apartment to rent when I did eventually move. Having a local, friendly contact who is interested in your success is extremely helpful during your move to a new country.

You can use websites like or try a free language exchange through portals like Don’t be surprised if it takes a few tries to find your ideal language tutor. If you can find someone who shares some basic interests, you might find the lessons “click” more. Or even better, you can post a question to an online expat group for your target area and see who the local expats recommend for online tutoring—which leads me to my next recommendation.

2. Join Online Social Networking Groups Based in Your New Location

Most people who move abroad need to make new friends and develop a social network. The good news is you can start that process now. I joined several Facebook groups including “Expats Living in Athens,” and “Foreign Girls Living in Athens” to help start my new chapter. In these groups, you can pose questions, follow conversation threads, and get a general sense of community. And you don’t need to limit it to expat groups. You can find local groups in your new town or city that match your interest in things like hiking, painting, or whatever it is you are passionate about.

Meetup is another great resource where you can start seeing events you will be able to attend when you move. is an events portal that was formed by a group of friends in New York after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. These friends noticed they felt better when they would “meet up” and started to organize around the idea. Now Meetup is a worldwide site offering activities to locals and newcomers alike. While you can’t attend events in person, you can start making connections now. These groups also can serve as a basis for a social life in your first weeks in a new place.

3. Research and Plan Reconnaissance Trips

You might not be able to right travel now, but you can plan your next trip for when travel opens up again. If you are serious about a move abroad, try to plan a trip for at least three or four weeks in the area you are considering. If possible, come two or three times for several weeks at a time so you can live in the area in different seasons. You can do research now and begin looking at neighborhoods to explore, road trips to take, even restaurants to eat at. Planning is fun and with all the online resources available, you can do a tremendous amount of legwork before you even book your flight.

Equally important is to figure out how you will leave your home during these reconnaissance trips. If you have pets or plants, you can consider housesitters through sites like If you worry about missing mail, you can set up services like And if you wonder how you will communicate while abroad, you can set up international telephone numbers via Skype or install free mobile phone applications like WhatsApp or Viber. Start getting these pieces in place so when you go on your research trips, you are prepared.

The Importance of Baby Steps

I started thinking about coming to Greece in 2010 and came for two “dry runs” in May of 2011 and a few months later in September that same year. These baby steps meant that when I boarded the plane in February of 2012 to move to Athens, I felt calm. I knew the city I was landing in and had a good idea of how my first few months would likely go since I had already been there twice before. Despite the fact I moved alone, I had already established a basis for social connections through and various other groups. It’s been eight years now, and I feel completely at home in Athens. Last Christmas, someone asked “Are you going home for Christmas?” wondering if I planned to travel back to the U.S. The question actually confused me, and I turned and said “I am home.”

Is a Move Abroad Right For You?

Choosing to move to a new country is a deeply personal choice, but for me, it was the best choice of my life. I’ve been able to craft a life in Athens I could never have dreamed of having in San Francisco. I quit my corporate work and started writing and teaching yoga. With more free time and less stress, I’ve been able to focus on things I love. Since moving, I’ve written two books, purchased and renovated two apartments in Athens, developed new friendships, and explored the world. I’ve gained a new perspective. To me, all these things are priceless. If you are considering a new life abroad, you don’t need to decide it all now. Just take the first step.

We can help. Check out our Overseas Retirement Calculator. Based on your age, savings, and projected annual retirement income, our quick-and-easy (and free) Overseas Retirement Calculator will point you to your best global retirement destinations.

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