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.