Retirement can be the beginning of a brand new life, rather than the final stage of a life you’ve already lived. As we live longer and often retire earlier, we can enjoy 25 or 30 years of active retirement living — ample time to discover new worlds and engage in new pursuits. For many people, retirement overseas is the best way to embark on new adventures.
North Americans have long retired to Europe. The American writer Henry James, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, wrote a few dozen novels, mostly about Americans and their misadventures in European locations.
James himself, who spent most of his adult years in England, France, and elsewhere, took on UK citizenship late in life. These days, Americans on a fixed income are likely to find Europe too rich for their blood. The dollar and euro fluctuate against each other constantly, but western Europeans themselves found that their living costs increased precipitously when their local currencies were replaced by the euro at the turn of this century. Still, bargains do crop up. As of November 2011, property prices in Ireland were quite affordable, due to the economic crisis in that country; Greece may have bargains too. And countries outside of the euro zone will be cheaper still; if you’ve dreamed about an Adriatic retirement, skip Italy and explore Croatia’s long, beautiful coastline on the Adriatic’s eastern shore.
American retirees on a budget have flocked south of the border, to Mexico and Central America, particularly Costa Rica. Many Central American countries are now looking to foreign retirees as a source of income — local prices remain low while services have developed that cater exclusively to expat residents. Costa Rica has perhaps become overrun with foreigners; Panama and Nicaragua are still a bit off the beaten track. Or, further south, Colombia is becoming an interesting option, now that that country’s troubles seem to be coming to an end. Wherever you go — you will need to learn Spanish!
Europeans (and, increasing, Americans) are also looking to Southeast Asia as a cheap retirement destination. Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines are the prime destinations. Land ownership can be an issue, and adjusting to income disparities — particularly in the Philippines — can take some time. Still, all three countries welcome foreigners, and language is not as much a barrier as in Latin America. Most Filipinos and Malaysians speak English from an early age (along with their local languages), and more and more Thais speak some English as well.
No matter where in the world you go, it will take careful planning. You’ll need to obtain a retirement visa, which is usually a matter of paperwork and the ability to show that you have enough money in the bank to fund your retirement. Research health care facilities, land ownership laws, and other issues. Spend at least four months living in your target country before committing to it; you may find that you don’t like it as much as you thought you would. Make some effort to learn the language; your time overseas will be amply rewarded if you do so. In general, learn to live like a local — don’t get shuttered away in some expat ghetto, you’d just as well retire in Miami. At the same time, “expat clubs” can be a great source of information, local lore, and new friends. If you’re up for the adventure, you’ll soon feel like you’re embarking on a brand new life.