More and more people are retiring overseas in search of a better climate, a change of scenery, new experiences and challenges—and yes, access to affordable healthcare. Most people who retire overseas are likely to choose a location they’ve visited before. Time spent on that sunny beach in Southeast Asia, a favorite European village or an expat-friendly town in Central America can provide valuable clues about what life would really be like overseas.
When you retire overseas, you leave behind a place of comfort and familiarity to move somewhere new and relatively unknown to you—that’s part of the adventure, after all. Still, it’s important for any would-be expat to consider this: Experiencing a foreign culture as a tourist is vastly different from being there as a full-time resident. With that in mind, here are four tips to help you enjoy your retirement overseas.
Create a Realistic Budget
For starters, you’ll need a clear picture of the cost of living in your overseas destination. Many people retire overseas because it allows them to enjoy a higher quality of life on a smaller budget. It is possible to retire abroad in some places for a fraction of the costs you’d have at home.
It’s important to remember, however, that while your daily living expenses may be lower, you still have to plan for the upfront costs you’ll incur just to move and get started overseas. These include visas, legal help, travel expenses (for you, your pets and your belongings) and setting up your new home overseas. Be sure to include an emergency fund to cover any unforeseen expenses—there are likely to be a few of those no matter where you live. And remember to budget funds for visits back home.
Patience Is a Virtue
Expect routine activities to be different overseas. Life may not move at the same pace you’re used to. Errands that would normally take a few minutes can end up taking hours—or even longer. Goods and services that you take for granted at home may not be available, no matter how much you want them. And the process for doing things—from standing in line at the bank to picking up a prescription—will be different.
There’s a steep learning curve when it comes to adjusting to life overseas. Being patient is key while you’re getting used to your new surroundings and learning the local customs. You’ll be happier, and so will the people around you.
Keep an Open Mind
International travel has a way of testing our tolerance and perspective. A willingness to see things from a different viewpoint can help ease the transition overseas and ensure a more meaningful experience. An open mind can help you see things that other countries do differently or even better than the United States—from public health systems to public bathrooms (seriously, why are bathroom stalls in the U.S. designed to guarantee a lack of privacy?).
Keep in mind that while many people in the U.S. grow up thinking that the American way is the only way, other folks don’t feel the same way. You’ll gain much more from living abroad if you keep an open mind and embrace the cultural differences—instead of resisting them.
See the Humor in Everyday Life
They say laughter is the best medicine. Nothing can turn a potentially frustrating or humiliating experience around faster than a good sense of humor. As an expat retiree, you will likely push your comfort zone each and every day—at least at first. Simple tasks like ordering off a menu (and getting something entirely unexpected—say, raw hamburger with a raw egg on top) or trying to send a package home can be surprisingly difficult. Try to see the humor if something goes wrong—you’ll be happier (of course) and it will be easier to learn how to handle those tricky situations better the next time around.