The decision to retire abroad is not something that should be taken lightly. For many people it’s the best decision they’ve ever made—the adventure of a lifetime. And their only regret is that they didn’t make the move sooner. While other people just can’t adapt to life in a new country.
How do you figure into which camp you fall? Many people making big life decisions make a list of the pros and cons. That works in this situation too.
Check out the pros and cons list below for retiring abroad. It’s general information about what you’ll encounter when living abroad in Latin America, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean…or wherever you want to go. You’ll discover the many benefits you’ll enjoy…and the drawbacks too.
Pro – Cost of Living
One of the primary reasons many people are looking at moving overseas in retirement, is that you can live well for much less than back home. In many countries in Central America, for example, you can live well on $2,000 a month. In Asia, it can be even less. And you’d be surprised how affordable Europe can be; yes, even France.
Prices for rent, real estate taxes, healthcare, food, utility bills, and more can be a fraction of what you’re paying right now. Your Social Security, pension, or retirement savings will go much farther. And you’ll be living in prime areas, close to pristine beaches, in well-preserved colonial towns, or on a hillside with views of vast forest and farmland.
With these low costs, you could even retire sooner than you planned.
Pro – High Quality and Affordable Healthcare
With the chaos surrounding healthcare and insurance in the U.S., moving abroad can be a welcome respite for expats. In many countries, expats who become official residents have access to a government-run healthcare system, that provides extremely low cost but good quality medical services.
There are also private clinics and hospitals offering all the latest treatments and procedures at up to half of the cost in the U.S. Low cost private insurance options are also available. Having a chronic medical condition is not an obstacle to retiring abroad.
Pro – Great Weather
For decades people from the northern states of the U.S. and Canada would retire, or snowbird, to places like Arizona and Florida to escape dreary winter weather. With ease of travel and low costs, why not go a bit farther?
In the tropics, you’ll find warm weather year-round. For some the coasts are too hot and humid, but get some elevation and you’ll find areas like Costa Rica’s Central Valley with spring-like conditions all year round.
Pro – Adventure
Maybe you didn’t travel much during your working life, due to commitments or finances preventing you from doing so. But, when you live abroad you’re having an adventure. You’re seeing new places, experiencing new cultures and languages, meeting people from all walks of life, and so much more. Whether you’re trekking through a tropical rain forest in Panama…strolling the frenetic streets of Hanoi…or enjoying an espresso in an Italian piazza…it’s an exciting experience that’s a lot of fun.
Con – Culture Shock
You’ve lived your whole life in one culture. You’re used to how things “work.” So it can be a bit of an adjustment when you move abroad. People are people around the world, with most being friendly and welcoming, not to mention helpful to newcomers.
But there are key differences you must get used to. In Latin American towns and cities for example, noise is a fact of life. Barking dogs, loud parties, fireworks…it’s part of the experience. Ideas around personal space are very different in other countries as well. And of course, the food and products you find in stores, not to mention local cuisine, can be very different.
You’ll also find bureaucracies tough to navigate if you’re getting a driver’s license or opening a bank account, with seemingly arcane requirements.
Most expats do manage to adjust to this new way of living. That loud neighborhood festival. Why not join the fun?
Con – Language Barrier
Unless you’re going to an English-speaking country, like Belize, you’ll have to learn at least a serviceable amount of a new language.
In many countries, locals speak at least some English. In more tourist-friendly areas, you can get by without speaking the local language at all. But, to have a richer more rewarding experience it is recommended that you try to learn the local language. You’ll make local friends, better navigate government offices, and be a better neighbor.
Con – Leaving Behind Family and Friends
You build up a social network over a lifetime. As an expat you will form close ties with the new people you meet, fellow expats and locals. But you do have to leave family and friends behind.
Fortunately, with low cost flights to many destinations around the world, it’s easy for them to come visit you, or for you to fly back home for holidays and special occasions. From Central American countries like Nicaragua, Panama, and Costa Rica, Miami is only few hours’ flight.
Technology like Skype and FaceTime means you can do video calls for free with your kids or grandkids. Also, with international cell phone plans and services like MagicJack (which give you a U.S. phone number), you can easily stay in touch. So, while the physical distance may be far, you can stay close to family and friends.
Putting It All Together
While the overseas lifestyle isn’t right for everybody, it can be life-changing for the right type of person. If you’ve gone through the list and found the pros outweigh the cons, and you feel like you have what it takes to be a retired expat, you should consider taking the next step. Start reading about destinations that you are interested in, and relentlessly research to find out the pros and cons of those specific areas. Narrow down your list. And then visit to see with your own eyes.