Clockwise from the top left: Croatia, France, Ireland, Mexico, Japan. (All photos courtesy of unsplash)
Have you ever thought about living in a foreign country? Maybe not forever, but for a few years? Have you dreamed of working overseas, or retiring to a country and/or place you love?
Brett and I were fortunate to spend six and a half years, courtesy of the navy, living in Japan, and we caught the bug for overseas living and what it can offer. After several false starts, we plan to finally make our move to a foreign country after we leave Tennessee.
There are many things to consider when thinking about where to live, and which country or countries could be a good fit. One of my favorite blogs, Poppin’ Smoke, all about military travel and everything that goes with it, had a great article a few weeks ago about all the things that need to be considered if you’re thinking about a permanent or long-term move to a foreign country.
Living somewhere is very different from visiting. I cannot stress this enough, and cannot tell you how many stories I’ve read of big moves overseas and returns to the U.S. in under a year because someone hadn’t thought through all the realities of living somewhere different. Anyone thinking of living overseas should seriously consider staying in a place for several weeks to a couple of months to get a feel for daily life before making a move. Brett and I visited and lived in places during our travels where we knew by the end that it wouldn’t work for us.
I asked Brett what he thought, off the top of his head, was the number one issue to consider when choosing where to live overseas. He said it would be the cost of living, but no, the answer is: what kind of visas are available? If there is no visa that fits your situation, then living long term in that country is not an option no matter how much you want it or can afford it. We would still jump at the chance to live in Japan, but there is no visa for retirees that would allow us to stay there for more than 90 days (our son and daughter-in-law cannot sponsor us either). Have you dreamed of retiring in England? For most, there is no visa that will allow a retiree to stay more than 180 days per year. Permission to live long term in New Zealand requires a retiree investment of $750K NZD ($470K USD) plus have an additional $500K NZD ($313K USD) in savings. Ireland also has strict monetary requirements to obtain a visa. Just because you would love to live somewhere doesn’t mean it’s possible, and research is necessary to know where on can qualify for a long-term visa, retirement or otherwise.
Below are other things that must be taken into account before making a decision about a possible move overseas:
- Financial considerations are at the top of any list. What is the cost of living in your preferred location? Numbeo is a great website for finding current prices in almost any location. You can compare different places and see which place better fits your budget. What is the tax situation in another country? Will you have to pay income tax there? Is your retirement income exempt? Can you work there? Many retiree visas do not allow the holder to work in that country. Also, will you need or want a car or rely on public transportation? And, do you want to purchase a home in another country? If that’s your dream, what are the rules for that? What would it cost to ship your household goods to your chosen location?
- Is there high quality, accessible health care available? If national health care is available, can you participate? If yes, when or how? If not, what kind of separate health insurance is needed? We are fortunate that our military insurance covers us anywhere in the world, but it does not include repatriation insurance (return to the U.S. for care, or of our remains if we die overseas). Medicare cannot be used for healthcare overseas, but if it’s dropped, it’s not available if necessary when back in the U.S. for a visit.
- Are you a good fit for the culture? Are you more comfortable in a relaxed or more rule-bound culture. Japan, for example, is very rule-bound when compared to the United States, both legally and culturally. Things are often done in ways that seem foolish or don’t make sense to us, but it’s how they’re done there. Are you able to change and adjust, or tolerate different ways of looking at things? Do you speak the language of the country where you want to live, and are you willing to learn a new language or plan to stick with English (which is possible in some places)? Can you adjust to a different cuisine? And, are there other expats in the area? If so, are there too many or not enough?
- Will the political environment of another country fit with your personal views?
- How safe is the country you want to live in? Some places, or places within a country, are less safe than others, and it’s imperative to know where those places are.
If you’ve ever considered an overseas move, it’s important to figure out why you want to live overseas without having to rationalize those reasons to both yourself and others. Do you want the travel opportunities an overseas location might provide? Will the cost of living help your budget stretch further? Do you enjoy being surrounded by a particular culture and feel comfortable in it? Or, do you just want to get out of your native country? All of these are valid reasons for relocating to another country, but you should take the time to know why it’s the right decision for you, and why the location you’ve chosen is right for you as well.
13 thoughts on “Want to Live Overseas? A Checklist”
I lived overseas for a couple years and it definetly is not for everyone but was an awesome experience and one I would do again. And I agree with the visit before you just jump in. And longer than a week or 2, you can not get a sense of a place in a short amount of time. Research and plan..
I completely agree that living overseas is not for everyone. So much depends on one’s attitudes, abilities to adjust, and preparations. Research is imperative as is planning for a move. If there is a chance to make a long stay first, take it! Sometimes however, one doesn’t get that choice, and then have to either decide to make the most of it or not.
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Lot of good food for thought, thank you! I’m currently in no position to move abroad, but it’s at the back of my mind for when circumstances change, so I’m always very interested when you talk about your plans and considerations.
There is so much that goes into moving to a foreign country, both before and after the move. Research and planning ahead of a move is imperative, and the ability to let go of pre-conceived ideas about that place. Culture shock is very real, and the curve tends to follow the shape of a W – an initial high at being there then frustration as reality sets in. Then another high, another low, and finally back up again and leveling out. If you understand the process, it makes it much easier to understand what’s going on and adjust.
This is our third year in Mexico and we love it. But then, we knew the culture pretty well after traveling here for over 20 years. 🙂
We spend 6 months back in the USA and get all of our medical stuff that is covered by Medicare done during that time and have evacuation/repatriation insurance insurance if we need to be transferred back to the states.
Got our permanent residency done this past October and are pretty happy to have that finished, as they keep raising the financial requirements.
The main thing that seems to cause issues for people who either snowbird or stay year round is that they aren’t able to deal with the slow pace of the culture here. Well, that and the noise, as Mexico is not a really quiet culture. 🙂 Add in that we’ve spent time over the past 20 years becoming good friends with other people and that meant we had a great support network when we got here.
We just renewed our lease for the next year. We pay so little a month, that we can afford to rent year round and just leave our stuff here. Which makes traveling with cats a whole lot easier. 🙂
Great list of all of the things to think about if you are thinking of living overseas! Thanks for taking the time to write it all out.
I love the way you have done this. Renting a place in Mexico year round is genius (and totally doable while maintaining a residence in the U.S.). I’m glad you also brought up having a support system – it’s important. We look to see if there is an expat group in any location we’re visit, just to see if it exists and is there is we need it. Expats have annoyed us at times, but are a wealth of knowledge and support when we have needed it.
I so agree that Mexico is not a quiet place to live, if that’s what you’re looking for. Can’t tell you how often we were awakened by LOUD firecrackers (Palomas) nearby during the night. And we were outside of the crowded tourist areas which we heard were VERY noisy day and night. It’s one of those things you honestly don’t know about until you’re there.
And that’s one of the things you need to know about yourself before moving overseas – can you accept and adjust to those kinds of things? Some can and others can’t.
I think your last paragraph puts it perfectly! How well do you know yourself to know what is absolutely essential to your happiness and what is nice to have, but not necessary.
Plus it helps with the noise if you can find a place that is located well away from any churches. 🙂 The firecracker bombs are often part of the saint day celebrations and they are loud! Our neighborhood is a Mexican neighborhood and we are right next door to a restaurant. We’ve adjusted so well that when we are back in the USA, it is way too quiet for us.
Mostly we just ignore the daytime noise. As my spouse says…unless the noise sets off more than 4 car alarms, we don’t even hear it anymore. 🙂 At night we have a white noise machine that we play and that pretty much blocks out 90% of the sounds.
And language is so important, especially if you aren’t living in an area full of tourists! I understand more Spanish than I can speak, but my spouse is fluent after taking many lessons in the past 20 years. The translation apps work reasonably well and that helps a great deal
Thanks again for your thought provoking posts!
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I have to admit the palomas about drove us nuts. We stayed in a Mexican neighborhood, and shortly after we arrived a young man who lived the next street over was killed. There was of course a funeral and all that involved, but palomas were set off nightly in his honor for almost a month afterwards, usually around midnight or early morning. Boy, does that noise wake you up in a hurry! Added to that were the palomas set off during the day by a group from the next neighborhood over who were practicing for around a month for a festival (the festival eventually ended up winding its noisy way down our street). I thought everyone in our complex would go nuts from the noise – they all said they had never heard anything like it. But, we managed and adjusted . . . and learned. It’s what you do. I’d rather have church bells though than palomas.
Interesting post. I’ve never considered living outside of the US, mainly because of distance from family and I’d have no idea how to navigate visas and health insurance. Not to mention the language issues. Some of the advice you give would apply even when moving within the US, especially trying out a place for at least a few weeks to be sure you want to move there. It’s easy to fall in love with a location because it was fun during a vacation, but vacation is not reality. Looking forward to finding out what country you are planning to move to!
The advice about moving overseas to a foreign country definitely applies to moving to Hawaii (except you don’t need a visa). We met and know of people that moved to Hawaii after only sporadically vacationing there – some have adjusted and put down roots, other didn’t last a year. It all has to do with one’s reasons for moving there and being honest with yourself about the realities and your reasons for making the move. It’s the same for any country overseas. We have been seeing stories recently of Americans moving overseas and not knowing or trying to know the language. Without some knowledge of the language, I can’t figure out what they’re trying to get out of the experience.
Exactly, it doesn’t make any sense to go to another country and not even try to learn at least a little of the language. Even when I’ve gone as a tourist I’ve learned basic phrases, just in case. It’s a lot easier now with the translation apps. Honestly, I think if I was married or had someone to move to another country with, maybe I’d be more inclined to consider it, but doing something like that on my own just seems so overwhelming. All the experience you gained through your travels with the navy was great preparation for your lifestyle. I’d love to live in Hawaii for a short time and may test it out by renting an Airbnb for a month or so at some point. I’ve been waiting for things to settle down with COVID and for the crowds to return to pre-COVID levels. Not sure if that has happened yet, so I’m thinking of doing this next year. I work from home most of the time now so it’s a lot more doable than it was pre-COVID.
Although we have spent six years overseas (Germany, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia), I am comfortable living in the countryside of the US. That does not stop my need to be new places, which I am now enjoying with our grandchildren. This summer is Italy. Next summer- maybe Japan.
If I ever get the urge, 90 days anywhere would be enough for me at this point. After sixteen houses, I’m done with moving my stuff!
My husband, otoh, never plans on leaving the US again. He figures there are 100 state and national parks within a day drive from us. That is plenty to see!
We loved our military overseas experiences, and although it was hard at the time, are now grateful for the time we spent living off base because of all we learned about how the culture worked. Once we got on base we were wrapped in an American bubble once again. But, we knew we could live in a different culture and make the most of it. It’s been our dream ever since, and we have this one last chance to give it a go. For us, it’s both exciting and motivating. That said, we seriously thought thought about buying an RV and touring the U.S. for a few years. In the end it just seemed like too much work.
We have downsized to the point that a move overseas doesn’t faze us any more. We’re down to what we own fitting into a 7′ x 10′ storage container. We don’t intend to downsize any further, and will store what we have so that we don’t have to buy everything once again.
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