Any move to another country is a lot of hassle and work. It's easier to stay put and retire where you spent your career. But it can also be very rewarding to launch a new life abroad. Here are five retirement overseas challenges and how to overcome them.
1. Your significant other wants to stay put. Making a success of a new life overseas requires energy, commitment, and a positive attitude. You don't want to force someone else into it. But you also don’t want to write off your own dreams because your significant other doesn't share them. And you shouldn't have to.
Practically speaking, you have two options. You can leave your spouse (I'm not recommending this, simply stating the obvious.) or you can engineer a compromise. Start by trying to understand your partner's reluctance. Find out if it is based on not wanting to have to learn a new language, be a 12-hour plane ride away from your grandchildren, or a general fear of the unknown.
Break the proposition down into steps and give your better half a chance to raise and voice any concerns along the way. If not wanting to be too far removed from family is the primary objection, consider destinations an easy plane ride away from the U.S. such as Panama, Mexico, or Belize or places where your children and grandchildren will want to come visit. It's also easier than ever to stay in touch with people you don't want to leave behind. A move abroad doesn't have to be all or nothing, and certainly not at first. Start by taking a trip. Treat it as a vacation. Let your spouse choose the destination and stay as long as he or she is comfortable.
2. You have young children. Bring your children with you. Children raised overseas are generally self-confident, open-minded, and resourceful. They learn to make friends easily and to adjust quickly to change. They will be able to add a second or even third language to their resume and maybe even pick up a second passport.
If you're hesitating about making an international move because you have children, you're making a mistake. My daughter Kaitlin, age 8 at the time, cried herself to sleep every night during our first year living in Waterford. She was fiercely opposed to the idea of leaving her grandmother, cousins, friends, and school in Baltimore behind, and she made sure we were painfully aware of that fact every single day.
My husband Lief and I, of course, thought we were doing precisely the opposite. We believed we were enriching Kaitlin's life and expanding her horizons. But some nights I'd lie awake wondering if maybe Kaitlin was right. Maybe launching a new life in a foreign country at age 8 would translate into years of psychotherapy down the road. But a decade later she wrote in her admissions application for St. Johns College, "I fought against my family's move to Ireland and resisted life in that country completely. But, if not for Ireland, I probably wouldn't have gone to Paris. And now I can't imagine not having had the chance to live in Paris." Kaitlin plans to return to Paris after college.
During our first year in Paris it was Kaitlin's little brother Jackson, age 4 at the time, born in Ireland, who struggled through the transition. Every morning, as I'd turn to leave, Jackson would wrap his arms around my ankles, crying and begging, "Please don't make me stay here. They don't have an English voice, and I can't find my French voice." I'd pull myself free and race out the door and down the street, fighting back tears myself and wondering, again, if moving around the world with kids was really such a good idea. "Give him six weeks," his preschool teacher advised me every morning when I dropped him off. "At this age, he'll adapt very quickly. In six weeks, he'll speak French, and he'll be fine. You'll see." Six agonizing weeks later Jackson spoke French, had adjusted, and made friends.
Moving abroad with children, your biggest worry might be their ability to adapt and to adjust. It has been mine. Having now moved my 8-year-old daughter from the U.S. to Ireland, my 14-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son from Ireland to France, and then my then 8-year-old son from France to Panama, here's what I can tell you: Your children will be fine. The move will be harder on you than it will be on them. They will learn the new language quicker than you will, they will make new friends more easily, and they will assimilate more readily.
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3. You don't speak the language. New languages don’t come easy to me. I’m embarrassed to admit that after more than a quarter-century of spending time and doing business in countries where the people speak Spanish, I don’t. It’s possible to live almost anywhere in the world, and certainly in any major city, by speaking English. It’s the world’s language. Businesspeople and school kids everywhere speak enough to help you get your point across. If the idea of living among folks who speak a different language than you do terrifies you, stick with countries where the language is English, such as Belize or Ireland.
4. You’re too old. I have a friend planning enthusiastically for and counting down the days until his move from the East Coast of the U.S. to Panama later this year. He’s 88 years old. Yes, it’s easier to stay put wherever you happen to find yourself. Making an international move in your 80s also comes with additional concerns, such as the availability and quality of health care. But every day in a new country could be an adventure.
5. You can’t afford it. Your retirement nest egg has been marginalized, and many people think there's no way they could afford to launch a new life in a new country. This is probably the most often given reason for why someone who's interested in moving abroad hesitates or even abandons the idea altogether and it's the least valid. The truth is you can't afford not to retire overseas.
It is possible to live for very little in many places around the world. You could retire to Cuenca, Ecuador, for example, and enjoy a comfortable life in a safe and pleasant colonial city on a budget of as little as $800 per month. In Granada, Nicaragua, Penang, Malaysia, and the interior of Panama, you could also live well on a modest budget.
You owe it to yourself to go find out just how affordable and fun spending time overseas can be. A new life in a new place isn't for everyone, and there can be practical reasons why you couldn't or shouldn't reinvent your life in a foreign country, such as health issues. But most obstacles you can imagine could be overcome.
Maybe it won't be easy. It's certainly easier to retire in the same place you spent your career. But think about the adventures you will have and the stories you will get to tell. There is no single right time or best place. But there is a place that's best for you right now. You just need to go find it.
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.