Could Retirement In A Foreign Country Be In Your Future?

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to live in another country? The world is a more fluid place now and many young people today get that opportunity with their jobs. Those opportunities were not nearly so abundant in the ’80s and ’90s when the baby boomers were building their careers.  However, now that we are at the retirement phase of life, that opportunity may finally be upon us – for those who want it.


Approximately 400,000 United States citizens over 50 now live somewhere other than the U.S. That somewhere may be as close as Canada or as far away as India. There are a handful of spots that have attracted American expatriates for decades and those places are still attracting new retirees every year. Because of the climate, Mexico holds greater attraction for retirees than does Canada, though both are only a few hours distance by plane to most U.S. cities. The Lake Chapala area of Mexico, close to Guadalajara, boasts one of the oldest American expatriate communities in existence. Coming on strong is San Miguel de Allende, a beautiful, colonial era UNESCO heritage city. Neither is on the coast. Rather, they are well inland and have enough elevation that the climate is mild and pleasant all year.

While Mexico and Central America are some of the biggest magnets for U.S. retirees, there are cities and town in Europe and Asia that also have large U.S. retiree communities. On the short list are Portugal, Spain, Thailand, and Malaysia.  What do all of these popular countries have in common? The dollar is very strong against the local currency and there is adequate to excellent medical care available to Americans. 

Thank you might be a candidate for retirement abroad? Not everyone is suited to life in a foreign country, so before jumping online to compare housing prices in Panama with those in Portugal, consider some of the following factors:

How flexible are you? Utilities and services are not as reliable in many other parts of the world as they are in the United States. How do you react to things you cannot control? Is a forty-eight-hour electricity outage an unfortunate inconvenience for you or a major catastrophe? If the repairperson who told you he would “see you in the morning” to fix your malfunctioning gas stove doesn’t show up by 5:00 p.m., do you shrug, fix a sandwich, and enjoy the rest of your evening, or do you try to reach him by phone every thirty minutes from 2:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.? If you chose the latter options, you are probably not suited to life in a more laid-back country like Mexico, Italy, or Costa Rica.

How close are your family ties and obligations? Are your parents still living? Will they need you to be nearby as they get older? Traveling during major holiday periods or on the spur of the moment during an emergency can be expensive and fraught with delays in the winter months. These are all important considerations. If your family counts on you to be with them for special occasions and emergencies, you will need to find a spot easily accessible by air and have the means to make frequent trips.


How do you feel about being a “minority”? When you relocate abroad, your face, your language, and your customs will be the exception, not the rule. How do you think you will respond? People may be kind and helpful, but they are not going to learn a new language to converse with you. You are the one who will need to change. You must also be willing to learn new ways of behaving and find new opportunities to connect with people. You may have other Americans around for support, but they won’t be your whole world. Transacting business and communicating with health care providers will become an everyday challenge and will shine a spotlight on ways in which your adopted country does things differently than what you are accustomed to. If you approach such differences as being inferior to what you know, you will set yourself up for an extremely disappointing experience.

What are you willing to sacrifice? Living abroad will entail many changes. You may not be able to get your favorite breakfast cereal, your favorite TV programs, or your favorite underwear brand. You will have to make do with what the locals purchase––or pay a lot of money in shipping costs. You may be able to relocate to a college town with rich theater and film offerings, but they will generally not be in English. Nor will the classes themselves, should you wish to learn something new. How attached are you to air conditioning, quiet plumbing, and deli-counter take-out? Take a hard look at all you may have to give up to live in a foreign land.

Consider the following issues and rate yourself (and anyone who might be moving with you) on your attitude about each topic. It’s a good measure of adaptability to such a major change in your life.

 Safety—how safe do you generally feel in your environment? Are you compulsive about locking doors? Do you carry pepper spray or another defense weapon with you? Are you nervous being out alone at night?


Politics—How comfortable are you with other rules of government and law? Are you comfortable with a socialist or communist government? How about a dictatorship?

Attitude Toward Americans—Would you be comfortable overcoming negative attitudes about who you are and where you come from?

Likelihood of Natural Disasters—Have you had experience living with the threat of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions? Are you comfortable with the likelihood of one or more of these?

Health Care—How healthy are you currently? Do you need constant monitoring for a health condition? How attached are you to your current doctors?

Language/Communication—Do you speak another language well enough to converse about important issues? How willing are you to learn another language? Are you willing to take classes to learn another language?

Ease of Travel—Do you want or need to travel back to the United States frequently? How easily do you travel?

Entertainment & The Arts—How important to you is American TV, opera, symphony, museums, and theater? Are you willing to give up the kind of entertainment you are used to?


Shopping—How important is the ability to shop in places like Trader Joe’s, Nordstrom or Target? Will you have trouble giving up the opportunity to buy what you want easily and quickly?

Infrastructure and Technology—How attached are you to 24/7 electricity? Fast Internet speeds? Uninterrupted phone service? Will you need these for work?

The expatriate life can be a wonderful experience, especially for solo agers and others who do not have strong familial ties to the United States, but do heed the cautionary notes, and above all do your homework. International Living, an organization that tracks and measures the expatriate life and where Americans are going each year will be releasing their 2019 survey next month.  Check out their website for loads of good information on retirement possibilities throughout the world. You may even decide to subscribe to their newsletter or attend one of their seminars.

If you think you are suited to the expatriate lifestyle, spend sufficient time in your future home to get a good feel for everyday life. Go at different times of the year. Don’t cut all your ties until you are sure life in a foreign country is right for you.