DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: What tips and resources can you recommend to folks interested in retiring abroad? My wife and I will be retiring next year and are intrigued with the idea of living in a foreign country. What can you tell us? — Looking Abroad
DEAR LOOKING: Whatever your reasons for wanting to retire abroad — a desire for adventure, a lower cost of living, a better climate — you need to do your homework and learn everything you can about the country you’re interested in, because there are many unknowns. Here are some tips and resources to help you get started.
You can find lots of information and articles on the countries and cities you’re interested in retiring to at websites like International Living (internationalliving.com), Escape Artist (escapeartist.com) and AngloINFO (angloinfo.com). International Living even offers a short quiz you can take and help you discover your ideal overseas retirement location.
There are also some great books on this topic, including “How to Retire Overseas: Everything You Need to Know to Live Well (for Less) Abroad” by Kathleen Peddicord, and “Retirement Without Borders” by Barry Golson. These books and others like it are available in bookstores or online. Or check with your local public library.
Another good tip is to talk or network with some expatriates who have already made the move you’re thinking about making. They can give you tips and suggestions, as well as the advantages and disadvantages and day-to-day reality of living in a particular country.
Here are some other areas you need to investigate.
• Cost of living: Retiring abroad used to be seen as a surefire way to live beyond your means, and for some countries it still is. But the U.S. dollar isn’t what it used to be, so your money may not stretch as far as you think. See numbeo.com and xpatulator.com for a country-by-country cost of living comparisons.
• Safety and stability: The U.S. State Department offers background notes or fact sheets on 200 countries (see state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn), providing information about the land, people, history, government, political conditions, economy and foreign relations.
• Weather: Use worldclimate.com to get weather information on just about every significant city in the world.
• Taxes: No matter what foreign country you decide to retire in, as long as you’re a U.S. citizen you still have to pay U.S. taxes. For details see the IRS publication 54, “Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad,” at irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p54.pdf. Or call 800-829-3676 and ask that a copy be mailed to you.
• Health care: Medicare does not cover retirees outside the U.S., so you’ll need to contact the embassy or consulate (see usembassy.state.gov) of your destination country to see how you can be covered as a foreign resident.
Many countries provide government-sponsored health care that’s inexpensive, accessible and just as good as what you get in the states, or you may want to buy a policy. Outfits like the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (aaro.org), April Medibroker (medibroker.com) and Bupa International (bupa-intl.com) offer or broker affordable health plans.
• Social Security: This is the one area you don’t need to worry about. You can receive your monthly Social Security benefits almost anywhere you live around the world. Your benefits can be deposited in your bank account either in the U.S. or in your new home country — but there are some exceptions. To learn more, see ssa.gov/pubs/10137.pdf.
• Test run: Once you settle on a destination, be sure you visit multiple times during different seasons to see whether you can envision yourself living there and not just exploring the place as a tourist.
If you like what you see but aren’t sure where to live, rent before you buy to be certain you’re happy with your choice.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.