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Would you consider retiring abroad?

by retirebyforty on January 17, 2013 · 24 comments

in Guest Posts, retirement

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For most families, the biggest monthly bill is their housing cost. Soon-to-be retirees should make it a priority to finish paying off their mortgage before leaving full time employment, but that’s not always an option. Over 40% of people age 65 to 74 still have a mortgage or home equity loan according to the Survey of Consumer Finances. That’s a lot of retirees. I quit my job in 2012 and we still carry a mortgage on our home. Mrs. RB40 is still working at a job that is tied to our current location, so she is paying the mortgage from her paycheck. Once we both fully retire, then we will have more options to move elsewhere. One of those options is to live part time in another country with a lower cost of living when we get to that point.

beach thailand krabi

Krabi is in southern Thailand.

Spending Winter Abroad

Every drizzly winter, I think about living some place warmer. It is a drizzly 38 degrees day and it will be like this for many more months. A day like this is when I would rather live in balmy 80 degree conditions for a few months. My dad lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand now and he has several condos that he rents out to Japanese retirees. The Japanese retirees like living there because the cost of living is so much lower than in Japan and the winter weather is warmer as well. Their pension checks go a lot further in Thailand than in Japan. They can go out and eat good food, drink sake, and enjoy their retirement without having to endure bone chilling weather.

Healthcare can be cheaper abroad

Since I have family connections in country, Thailand would be the logical place to live part time. Another big benefit is the health care cost. Right now we are signed up with Mrs. RB40’s employer health care plan. It is working out very well, but once she retires, we’ll have to shell out big bucks for health insurance in the US. Thailand on the other hand, has affordable health care AND public health care. The wait can be long, but for most health concerns, the public health care system is a good option. If I need faster or better service, I can pay cash out some investment to pay for it at a private hospital as well.

Central location for traveling

Another big benefit to living in Thailand is the location. We can live there for a few years and travel to all the places we have wanted to visit. I want to go to Vietnam, Japan, China, Malaysia, India, and Russia, to name a few places in that part of the world.  Thailand would be a great home base for a few years just for this purpose. Once we visit all those countries, perhaps we can move to Medellin, Columbia for a few years to tour South America.

Of course, we still have family in the US, so that’s why I would like to live here for a few months out of the year too. I love the summer in Portland and it would be our first option. We refinanced last year and are paying extra toward our monthly mortgage. The plan is to have the mortgage paid off before Mrs. RB40 retires and if it works out, then perhaps we can keep our condo.

What about you? Would you consider retiring to a different country? How about part time?

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin January 17, 2013 at 8:09 pm

In Nicaragua now finalizing our ocean view property for retirement. Thailand is a great option. I would think 3 times before retiring to Medellin. We went 2 years ago and it is definitely not the safest area and Colombia is still a bit sketchy for my retirement. We stayed in the city though so it is probably better on the outskirts. Vietnam is cheap but doesn’t hold a stick to Thailand. We are going to live in Nicaragua 6 months, Thailand 3 months, and California 3 months.

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retirebyforty January 17, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Hope you are having a great time in Nicaragua. One of my old roommate is from there. I haven’t been to Medellin, but I’ve been reading more about it. It’s too bad that it’s not safe. I like your plan. :)

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Ekey.biz January 17, 2013 at 9:24 pm

I’ve been doing a lot of research on this for the past year or so. We have a baby daughter and what I have decided is buying a house in the southern U.S. might be the best bet. I believe we will be able to completely pay off a mortgage buy moving to a southern city or college town. The weather is pretty nice, my daughter can have a pretty normal childhood, we will not be too far from California and we will have eliminated our biggest bill leaving us with plenty of money to travel.

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Alexa @ travelmiamor January 18, 2013 at 8:57 am

I would LOVE to retire abroad! It’s my dream! I think similar to what you wrote above, live somewhere and then visit all the surrounding countries and then move on to the next place!

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Jay January 18, 2013 at 9:42 am

Retirement abroad sounds ok but I suspect we may become snowbirds, going between 2 places for each season. DW and I are still in the “let’s make it happen” stage, so the question of “where” seems inconsequential right now. Almost equivalent to mentally spending lottery money when you haven’t won. LOL

I’ve read an interesting article yesterday about ER, which gave me pause. The writer claimed rather than focusing on your amount of savings/passive income/dividends/etc. that the person should just pick an age that seems “do-able” and retire then. Then, adjust their lifestyle to suit their passive income stream.

This is meant to combat the “100k syndrome” that delays peoples plans. (If I just get another 100k saved, THEN I’ll retire.) You’ll never *really* have enough passive income to make you completely comfortable, so just pick a date and work towards that.

Actually following through with it seems really scary. But, what’s also scary is waking up when I’m 50 and realizing I’ve been working the same horrible job for 15 years and my hourglass is out of sand.

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retirebyforty January 19, 2013 at 10:55 pm

That’s interesting… I guess it could work for some people. I would say find an enjoyable way to make a little money after ER.
That way you can put off withdrawal from your saving. It will give you time to get used to a more frugal lifestyle as well.
I agree about working the same horrible job.

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jim January 18, 2013 at 11:17 am

No, I would not move out of the country to retire. If I had relatives in a foreign country then I might be more open to the idea. Usually it seems to me that this idea of retiring abroad is pitching all the positives and ignoring the negatives of such locations. The standard of living is often relatively low in the nations mentioned and sometimes crime rates are very high.

Thailand sounds generally good, but I’m sure there are places in the US that are nearly as cheap.

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sin camisa January 18, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Ekey.biz – when you say Southern, I hope you mean Southwest. I would not touch the Southeast with a ten foot thermometer. Can you say humidity? OK, bias alert; I just came back to the West Coast after living in Florida for 10 years. What a crap hole!!! It’s cute to wear sandals in January; but Holy suffocation comes June. Sure; it’s dirt cheap….and after a few months you realize the reason(s). I had to remove my kids from there (and the mentality). Retirees spend their careers dreaming about FL, and do you know what they do once there? They sit inside with the AC on. I can’t even count how many left my neighborhood to move back to the Northeast (NJ and NY).
As a Spanish speaker, my overseas choices are many; but at this point, the Pacific Northwest and it’s rain is fine with me and the family. I can’t imagine a place with the choices of activities we have here. We’ll see how much cold my old bones can take in a couple of decades.

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Ekey.biz January 19, 2013 at 7:07 am

“I hope you mean Southwest. I would not touch the Southeast with a ten foot thermometer.”

Have you spent anytime in the Carolinas? While everyone that lives in Florida seems to hate it everyone in North and South Carolina seem to love it. Our top choice right now is Charleston, which is on almost every “best cities” list. It has a lot of culture and I think we could purchase a home for about $200,000. The only month the weather is supposed to be awful is August and I plan on visiting family in California every August. We could use Charlotte and Atlanta as launching pads for international travel and sail from Charleston to the Caribbean.

“I hope you mean Southwest” “the Pacific Northwest and it’s rain is fine with me and the family.”

We live in San Diego and 99% of our friends and family are in California, the Southwest or Pacific Northwest would be closer to our friends and family but because of weather we have eliminated these areas for the most part. My in-laws live in Palm Springs and we will not visit them April-October because it’s so hot you can’t do anything. We are not fans of desert climate. Vancouver B.C. and Eugene Oregon were on the top of our list but the rain and grey day are so bad we have also eliminated the Pacific Northwest. It seems that the only really nice place on the West coast is coastal California which we love but the cost of living is really high. Spain is 2nd on our list right now behind the Carolinas but it seems a little too far. Keep in mind I want to make this move in 5 years when our daughter enters 1st grade and I would like her to have a normal childhood. Belize and Bali were at the top of our list before she came along.

Thanks for the advice I really appreciate it.

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sin camisa January 19, 2013 at 9:52 am

I agree. Those of us affected by the FL curse are tormented. The Carolinas indeed come year in and year out as a top destination. Many retirees there are “half backs”; they moved to FL and after not liking it, they moved “half back” to NY ending up in the Carolinas. They have mountains, beach, seasons, history, and a doable drive to everything the Northeast has to offer.
Californa? Well, it’s not a coincidence it has 35 million people and it’s the tenth economy in the world. It’s beautiful; and of course, expensive.
I don’t know I could live in Indonesia. Sometimes Americans underestimate the cultural differences (meals, etc). Spanish countries are an easier transition. Spain is spectacular; but it is indeed far.
Good luck with your decision.

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Ekey.biz January 20, 2013 at 7:48 am

Thanks for the feedback on the Carolinas. After doing a lot of international research on best places to live with reasonable real estate prices it surprised me how well the United States ranks outside of the most popular cities. Right now the Carolinas seem like the best mix of everything without leaving the U.S.. I think if Spanish was my 1st language Spain might be my top choice right now. I also really like Ireland but my wife has no interest in rainy climates.

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retirebyforty January 19, 2013 at 11:05 pm

How about the CA central coast? Are the cost of living a bit more affordable in that area?
Palm spring is way too hot in the summer. We have families in that area too and we try to visit in Spring or Fall.
I visited Charleston for a few days and it was nice.
The Pacific NW can take a little getting used to. The first few years were really tough for me here.

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Ekey.biz January 20, 2013 at 8:01 am

The central coast is not that affordable. Santa Barbara is probably more expensive than anywhere except San Francisco. You could have got a fantastic deal near San Luis Obispo over a decade ago but that secret got out and the market is pretty normal now. There is one city called Santa Maria that has reasonable real estate but after researching the city it seems very average and boring. Thanks for the feedback on Charleston, everyone seems to love it and that’s why it’s currently #1 on our list.

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retirebyforty January 21, 2013 at 10:03 pm

I went to school at UCSB for 5 years so I know it’s quite expensive there. I was thinking more about San Luis Obispo and the Pismo beach area. I guess it’s not that fun to live halfway between SF and LA.

retirebyforty January 19, 2013 at 11:00 pm

The grass is always greener on the other side. :)
I could take the humidity when I was young, but the last time I went to Bangkok, it really hit me hard.
I’m sure I could adjust though.

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sin camisa January 20, 2013 at 8:54 am

The grass is always greener on the other side, indeed.
Do not underestimate the activities available in an area. Not everything is weather; otherwise the South would be the most expensive area in the country. Not having seasons is very hard on people. No one wants Midwest winters; but even in places with mild weather, if the highlight of your day is to walk around Costco….

I was under the impression that the Carolinas’ Real Estate prices had already adjusted for its new trendiness. But of course, it all depends what your reference point is.

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Ekey.biz January 21, 2013 at 8:04 am

Ya I agree about the weather thing. Ireland, Chicago and Montreal all look very good to me. My wife does not feel the same way, weather is the first question she asks. That’s what getting spoiled in San Diego will do for you. I’m sure the Carolinas have gone up but from a California perspective it still looks very reasonable.

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papadad January 23, 2013 at 10:58 pm

interesting. I’ve spent the past 22 years living and working all across SE Asia, Japan, and China i can tell you that retiring abroad is not for those who have spent little if any time living abroad earlier in their career. Adaptability is key, and most Americans (yes, a generalization but i have seen it first hand many times…) who are in their mid to late 40’s, want to retire and have not lived this lifestyle will struggle with the cultural / other changes that come with living in a different country, different language, etc. Yes, it can be cheaper on paper to live abroad for basics of rent and basic medical care but for even slightly higher standard items (eg, your favorite western breakfast cereal, visiting a western doctor, gasoline, electric, and the periodic travel back to USA, – to visit family or when emergencies back home come up, …. the costs escalate quickly. The key is to transition to a relatively local lifestyle – which quite frankly, few westerners can do. Not saying it’s impossible, but after living 22 years abroad, I found housing to be way cheaper in the USA — got 10 acres and a 2000 sq foot house just outside a major university college town for the same price that I could get a 800 sq foot condo in a highrise in Thailand…. Our plan is to have a couple places — spend summers in USA, winters in warmer climate (place TBD). With 20+ years of expereince, I have yet to find an ideal place – there are pro and con with everything.

Many many articles on the internet about retiring abroad, my observation is 80% say no way, 18% talk about doing it, 2% actually pull the trigger and move abroad, and less than 0.5% stay abroad through retirement, ie, beyond 5 years.

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retirebyforty January 24, 2013 at 8:53 am

I think you are 100% correct. Only people who spent significant time in other countries and are adaptable can retire abroad. Most Americans can’t do it.
I’m pretty sure you are comparing a condo in the heart of Bangkok to a college town in the US. I’m sure a condo in a major US city would cost more than Thailand. I would love have a nomadic retirement and move every few years, but maybe I would change my mind when I get to 65. Who knows. Great comment!

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Prasun Choudhury June 5, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Just came to know of this blog today and really very interesting articles! As you said, I would dream a life of a retired nomad from early 50’s but who knows, my lifestyle and passion might change then. I think it is hard for anyone to settle down in a completely different country. In face, I see people from the lower 48 states of US finding it difficult to get accustomed to living in Hawaii! I can give an example of one of my relative from UK; initially they thought of moving to Turkey but changed their mind due to a variety of reasons (language, culture, etc, albeit Turkey is a lot cheaper). Now they are thinking of Spain as a retirement destination which is still a lot cheaper than UK but has a more European feeling than Turkey (and probably more expats living there). But some countries, especially in Central (Costa Rica, Guatemala) and South America (Ecuador, Chile) has seen a surge of US/Canadian expats in the last few years. I have found this website (http://www.retireearlylifestyle.com/) to be useful, especially for information about Central & South America. If I am not wrong, there is a significant western expat community in Chiang Mai, Thailand as well.

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retirebyforty June 7, 2013 at 9:05 am

Welcome to Retire By 40!
I would love to be a retired nomad, but Mrs. RB40 definitely won’t go for it. We’ll figure out a compromise somehow.
There are quite a few western and Japanese expats in Chiang Mai. The cost of living is so low compare to home.
Spain sounds good, but it’s still quite expensive, isn’t it? I guess almost anywhere is cheaper than the UK.

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Prasun Choudhury June 7, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Since, you have some ancestral roots in Thailand, I am taking the liberty of asking you a few questions about retiring in Thailand. What do you think should be a ballpark no. in current US dollars for a retiree to live in Thailand and/or Chang Mai, say for a single person, renting a 1 – 2 bedroom decent apartment, eating out once in a while and just leading a normal but not necessarily frugal life (not including the cost of travel and other non-trivial entertainment). Also, how do you think about the health care system in Thailand; can one get individual health insurance or is it more common to pay per doctor visit, medicine, etc?

I am originally from India, living in US for 15 years now but would love to explore a few countries (south east Asia, central, Latin America, some relatively cheaper European countries) while retiring. Thailand looks to be an attractive option (some of the reasons you have already mentioned in your post) and its just a 3 hour flight to my home town in India!

I have come to know a bit about the country based on having Spanish roommates for 3 – 4 years. I think, one can currently live in Madrid for ~$2000 per month (rent, utilities, food, entertainment/movies/etc + eating out once in a while and preferably using public transit), assuming the apartment is not right in the city center. Plus, the public transit is very good, so really no need to have a car. Things will be cheaper, if one goes to the countryside; based on what I have heard, there are quite a few British expat communities scattered around Spain (more outside the big cities).

Laurie January 25, 2013 at 5:42 pm

I agree. You need to go earlier and lay down roots. We spend at least a month every summer with my husband’s family in Peru and it has been an adjustment for me because although I speak the language pretty well, catching the deeper nuances and being careful not to offend (generally more formal than I’m used to) can be daunting. And as an impatient American – things just work differently down there. So it takes time to acclimate.
Plus, I can’t imagine trying to deal with health issues in another country. It’s bad enough maneuvering through the healthcare labyrinth here, much less another country’s system/language. But def for us this is a retirement option bc of our connections there. Interestingly, clothing is cheaper here in the US, I guess because of diff trade agreements.

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retirebyforty June 10, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I’m sorry, but I don’t really know. Here is my best guess for Chiang Mai.
It probably cost $3-$500/month to rent an apartment in the city central area.
Eating out is quiet inexpensive. Probably $5 to $10 per day.
You can probably live on $1,000/month very comfortably.
For health care, Thai citizen has public health care. You can also get private insurance.
Most foreigners probably just pay per visit.

Sorry I’m not that helpful.

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