Once you’re bitten by the expat, overseas bug, how do you go about choosing your best country for overseas retirement?
At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s a vital part of your relocation process. In fact, it’s so obvious I needed to be reminded of it! A few days ago I received this email from a reader:
“I stumbled on your site and was looking for info on the process you used to select Panama. For example, what other countries did you remotely and in-country evaluate. How long did you spend on your evaluation for each country. I guess I was looking for a “prepping the country selection” process as you provided for your countdown to Panama.
That’s a very good question.
I guess I haven’t written a lot about the process for choosing your new country, because mine was pretty non-standard.
Do As I Say — Not As I Do!
First, understand that our situation was dire. The financial meltdown really destroyed us, and every month we stayed in the US we were digging ourselves deeper into debt. So taking lots of extended trips just wasn’t an option.
We originally had three countries on our short list: Ecuador, Panama and Mexico. I’m also very interested in Uruguay, but it didn’t make the short list because of distance back to the US. (We have a child still in college, and my husband’s parents are getting quite frail, so the probability of having to make a hasty trip or two is a real one.)
With the drug-related brutality in Mexico in the news, one of our kids told me if we moved there she would never be able to visit because she wouldn’t feel safe. My husband was also starting to get anxious about it, so we took Mexico off our list, at least for now.
That left Panama and Ecuador.
My husband, who was initially pretty reluctant to embrace this whole move overseas thing, knows someone who does business in Panama. That gave him a comfort level with Panama which he didn’t have with Ecuador. So Panama became our choice, by default.
We did visit here last year, enough to believe we could make a life here. We don’t consider ourselves settled, at least not yet.
We’re keeping a light footprint here initially — renting a furnished house, no car — so we’re not tied down. Further exploration of the country and the region is definitely in our plans.
That was us. How about you?
If you have the time and resources to visit several countries while you still live in the US, I think it’s a better way to go. We didn’t have that luxury.
Creating Your Countries Short List
Before you can create a list of your best places to live overseas, you need to spend some introspective time (with your significant other if you have one) deciding what’s important to you.
This is a new exercise for many of us. For most of us, our choice of where to live is initially determined by our parents (we have to be born and raised someplace), then by education, employment and circumstances. Sure, a few hardy souls decide they’d like to leave the East Coast and live in sunny California or progressive Portland, but most of us just drift along. If a job sends us elsewhere, we go and we make the best of it.
So thinking about what we’d actually like is a foreign concept (yes, pun intended. Feel free to groan.)
Be brutally honest here. Living in a new country has way too many challenges to add the extra burden of resentment or anger at your partner over where you live.
If you’ve always wanted to live at or near a beach, Germany’s probably not a good choice. If you wilt in the heat, don’t consider the tropics no matter how romantic the thought of lying in a hammock sipping a margarita.
When thinking about the best place to live overseas, here are a few of the issues you need to consider:
- Geography (beach, mountain, other)
- Big city, small town or something in between
- Proximity to your home country
- Schools and childcare if you’re moving with young ones
- Health care
- An expat community
Notice I didn’t include cost of living here — that comes later.
Additional questions to ponder:
What’s really important to you, something you simply aren’t willing to give up? My husband’s an avid bicyclist, and he wouldn’t consider going someplace where he couldn’t ride. Maybe you can’t live without French pastries or live theater. Maybe you would shrivel up and die if you couldn’t watch football in real time during the pro season. If there’s something in this category, be honest about it.
There’s no such thing as the perfect country where you’ll retire overseas in perpetual bliss, but there are plenty of places in this big world where you can live a pleasant, affordable life that suits you. Once you’ve completed your soul searching and answered these questions, you can start looking at destinations.
This is the first of a 3-part series.