There are plenty of drawbacks to permanently exiting the United States in retirement. Selling everything you own, packing your bags, and leaving your home, your family, and your friends may seem bold, intimidating, even ridiculous.
Perhaps you don't want to sell your house or be a plane ride away from your grandchildren all year long. Your business or family responsibilities in the United States could make it inconvenient to reside overseas, at least 12 months a year. Some retirees just want to escape winter. They're not looking to leave home, only to avoid shoveling the driveway or scraping ice off the windshield four or five months every season.
These are all good reasons to consider retiring overseas part-time. Another is budget. If your retirement nest egg has taken a beating recently, your prospects for retirement living in the United States may seem grim right now. On the other hand, if you spend half the year some place where the cost of living is significantly reduced and rent out your U.S. home while you're away, your retirement funds could expand accordingly. Retirement could go from a source of concern to a cause for excitement.
[See 6 Reasons to Retire Overseas.]
This snowbird approach to retirement isn't new. Retirees from upstate New York and the Dakotas have been migrating south for decades. The difference today is that they're migrating farther south. Panama has become the new Florida — the top choice among Americans looking to escape winter back home by spending that season in far sunnier climes. Top snowbird destinations today also include Mexico, Nicaragua, and Belize. Other good part-time retirement havens are Argentina and Uruguay, where the seasons are the reverse of those in North America. These aren't tropical getaways but offer more cosmopolitan wintertime escape options.
It makes sense to retire part-time in places where establishing full-time residency is a hassle or perhaps impossible. You'll have your work cut out for you trying to organize full-time legal residency as a retiree in Croatia or Thailand, for example. Many foreigners remain indefinitely in Thailand without formalizing their stays, making regular visa runs every few months to refresh their tourist papers. I don't recommend this, of course. It’s easier and safer simply to limit your visit so that you don't overstay your tourist visa.
You don't have to sell everything you own, say good-bye to everyone you've ever known, and take off for a new life in some distant and exotic place, never to be heard from again. That's not the only way to realize the many benefits of retiring overseas. If you're just warming up to this idea of spending your retirement years in a new country, take the pressure off. Retirement abroad doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.