How to Choose an Overseas Retirement Haven

Ask yourself these questions before you retire abroad.

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Before you consider where you might retire overseas, you've got to develop a little self-knowledge. Determine what is important to you and what changes you would not be able to tolerate. What products, services, amenities, and pastimes would you miss from your current life if they weren't part of your new one?

[See The World’s Top Retirement Havens For 2011.]

No place is perfect. No matter where you go, you will find things you like and things you don’t. It’s a question of priorities and preferences. Here’s a quiz to help you get to know yourself well enough to be able to make the best overseas retirement choice. These are the key issues to evaluate.

Climate:

  • Do you enjoy a change of seasons?
  • Would you be unhappy without regular sunshine?
  • Do you mind rain?
  • Can you handle heat? Humidity?
  • Do you prefer a varying length of day?
  • Infrastructure:

    • Do you lose your cool if you can't send an e-mail every time you try to?
    • Does your work require reliable Internet service 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
    • Would you mind living on a dirt road?
    • Would you mind your road access being temporarily cut off during the rainy season?
    • Do you need American television?
    • Would you be unhappy if you couldn't watch football on Sunday afternoons?
    • Are you afraid of the dark? In much of the world, electricity isn't 100 percent reliable.
    • Would you be comfortable owning a car and driving yourself around in a new country? If not, think about places where you could afford a full-time driver or where a car is unnecessary.
    • Would you want to travel outside the country often, either to visit family back home or generally? If so, consider how far you’d have to travel to the nearest international airport.
    • Would you be unhappy without your favorite comfort foods? If so, consider places with access to international-standard grocery stores.
    • [See 10 Places to Reinvent Your Life in Retirement.]

      Access to back home:

      • Do you have children or grandchildren you want to see regularly?
      • Are you going to be keeping a home in the country where you're moving from?
      • Will you have some ongoing business concerns in other countries?
      • Language:

        • Do you speak a second language?
        • Are you terrified at the thought of learning a new language?
        • How you like to spend your time:

          • What's your favorite thing to do on a Friday night?
          • How would you rather spend a free Sunday afternoon—in a museum or taking a long walk in the woods?
          • How regularly do you want to be able to dine out? To watch a first-run movie in English? To visit an art gallery or attend the theater?
          • What would you like to see from your bedroom window? The ocean? A mountainside covered with wildflowers? A vineyard? A busy street scene?
          • Taxes:

            • From where will you derive your income in retirement?
            • Will you have pension, dividend, interest, rental, or capital gains income to account for? The source of your income has a lot to do with your ultimate tax liability.
            • Safety:

              • Are you a woman moving alone?
              • Are you moving with young children?
              • Do protests bother you? The French, for example, seem to assemble to make a point at the drop of a beret.
              • Do you speak the local language? If you do, situations that might otherwise seem frightening won't bother you. If you don't, you may sometimes feel uncomfortable even if there's really no cause for worry.
              • Have you traveled much internationally? If yes, again, you're probably better prepared for what otherwise might seem like worrisome situations.
              • [Find Your Best Place to Retire.]

                Be honest with yourself in your responses. And, critically, if you’ll be making the move with a significant other, ask these questions not only of yourself, but of him or her as well. It’s much better to address any conflicts up front rather than after you’ve signed the lease on your new Caribbean condo.

                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.