There are as many different ways to expatriate or retire overseas as there are expats. You can
- live full time in your new country abroad
- divide your time between your home country and overseas country
- travel all the time
I know people from each category, and each style has its pros and cons.
Certainly the easiest way to enjoy life abroad is to keep one foot firmly at “home” for part of the year. That way you can keep all that’s familiar wrapped snugly around you — family, friends, shopping, entertainment, and whatever else is important to you.
Unfortunately, that’s also the costliest way to do it, and therefore not an option for many of us. (If you’re looking for something to walk you through your finances to figure out what will work for you, I highly recommend 52 Days To Your New Life Overseas (aff). I’ve reviewed it here.)
It means maintaining two homes, often two sets of vehicles, household furnishings, etc. I have to admit, in some respects I’m a bit envious of those who can swing that type of retirement.
According to friends who consider themselves “perpetual travelers,” retiring on the road can actually be the least expensive way to expatriate as you simply go to where it’s cheapest at any given time.
Right now that’s Asia, and these friends spend about three months in a country and then move on.
They consider Chiang Mai, Thailand as their “home base,” having spent time there for the past couple of decades. From there they branch out to China, India, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia — wherever the mood takes them.
They live mostly in guest houses, and carry very little with them.
It’s a way of life that has worked well for them, but it’s not for everyone.
Last spring, my husband and I got rid of the contents of our Florida home and moved full-time to Panama. We’re renting a furnished house here, and brought with us only our dogs, computers and clothing. We consider ourselves full-time expats.
We’ve met a fair number of other full-time expats here. Some have moved everything and bought homes here. Others are renting apartments or houses — fully furnished, semi-furnished or unfurnished. Some bought home furnishings here, others moved theirs in.
Some have brought in cars, others bought them here and some do without.
Which Type of Expat are You?
How do you choose which style of expatriation is the right one for you?
Your finances will drive that decision up to a point.
We simply did not have the option of going the part-time expat route. Our financial situation was dire and would only get worse the longer we stayed in the US. We had to get out.
It was the right choice for us. Since moving to Panama we’ve started digging ourselves out of the financial hole we were in, and I’m now feeling much more optimistic about our future than I did a year ago.
We’ve gotten around using public transportation and taxis since we moved here. It’s been workable for day-to-day life, and it’s been quite affordable.
Happily, we’re now able to purchase a car here which we hope to do within the next few weeks. After that it’ll be a whole lot easier for us to explore our new home country, something we’ve looking forward to.
At this point we don’t have any plans to purchase property here, but that could change.
Feels Like Home to Me
On a more personal note, I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to the US to sell the car we left behind for our daughter to use over the summer.
It was lovely to be back in the US, and I had the chance to see four of our kids, my uncle, and friends.
I have to admit, selling the car was a wrench. It was the last material thing tying us to the US (other than our Florida house which we’ll sell if the market ever improves enough), but I love that we now have the option to get our own wheels here.
Before my trip, I had wondered how I’d feel about being in the US, and then returning to Panama. I’m happy to report that, although I hated to leave the aforementioned family and friends, coming back felt like a homecoming.
In fact, on arriving by bus in Las Tablas, I walked to the taxi stand 20 feet away. The cabbie who pulled up to collect me was one of our “regulars,” Luciano. (He played a role in bringing our lost dog home.)
He greeted me by name and headed toward my house — no need to give him instructions.
I was home.