Three Myths About Retiring Abroad

By Suzan Haskins and Dan Prescher,

This article comes to us courtesy of, the world’s leading authority on how to live, work, invest, travel, and retire better overseas.

Granada, Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua

We've been living and working abroad for 16 years now, and we've met a lot of people who have taken advantage of the option to retire outside of their home countries.

Many of those retirees had some pretty specific expectations about retiring in a foreign country that they soon found out were not true. When boots actually hit the ground, reality can be an eye-opener.

Not all the dashed expectations we've heard from overseas retirees have been the optimistic kind. Many retirees moving abroad—especially those whose primary motivation is financial—expect the worst. They expect to rescue their limited retirement resources by reducing their healthcare and living costs, but they really don't expect to be as happy in a foreign culture as they were back home. When those kinds of expectations are dashed, it's a good thing.

From the vantage point of having met and talked to thousands of retirees living in countries from Argentina to Russia and beyond, here are the three biggest myths that turned out to be false, at least for most of the overseas retirees from the U.S. that we've met.

1. When you Move Abroad to Retire, you will Instantly Relax.

Sorry, relocating your life to a foreign country and culture is a lot of things, but relaxing isn't one of them, at least not immediately.

People who believe this myth have confused their memories of a week or two of blissful vacation from work swinging in hammocks on the beach with a major relocation.

It is interesting and challenging to transfer your life to a new culture and language, to try to get a phone set up or utilities put in your name or to file for a new visa or sign up for the local healthcare system. It keeps you engaged, attentive, and on your toes. It helps keep you young.

But it is not without stress, at least at first. Once you learn the ropes and get your basic legal and financial necessities in order...that's when the relaxing begins, if relaxation is indeed what you're after.

2. When you Move Abroad to Retire, you will Instantly Start Saving Money.

Lowering your cost of living, and especially your cost of quality healthcare, is one of the great benefits of moving abroad to the right location. But it doesn't happen as soon as you walk out of the airport.

We've heard from some very disappointed new retirees who literally walked out of the airport and excepted every restaurant around them to have $2 lunches and that the rent for every apartment would be less than $400 a month.

Do those prices exist? Absolutely. But not in every neighborhood of every city and town in an entire country.

It takes some time to find the bargains.

Likewise, even in countries where the cost of living is extremely low, there will be inevitable up-front and set-up costs. Rent deposits, utility service charges, fees for visas and other necessary legal work, shipping costs if you bring a container of personal items with you, furniture and appliance costs if you rent an unfurnished apartment or buy an unfurnished condo or home.

It's perfectly possible to cut your cost of living in half or more by retiring overseas, depending on where you come from and where you relocate. But in our experience it takes about six months for things to settle into place, so a decent financial cushion to cover foreseen—and unforeseen—expenses is necessary.

3. When you Retire Overseas, you can Get Anything you Want at Half the Cost of the U.S.

No, you can't.

Some things you won't be able to get at all. We've seen retirees give up on living in particular places because they couldn't get a specific brand of mattress there. This is a symptom of lack of research—first, brutally honest research into what you yourself really need to be happy, and second, research into the local stores and brands.

If you can't live without a particular brand of mattress, or peanut butter, or toothpaste, that's fine. People need what they need. But they shouldn't discover what those things are after they've moved to a place where those things aren't available.

Not everything is available everywhere in the world. Tariffs, trade restrictions, local brand competition, or simply a lack of anyone needing something until you show up needing it are all reasons you won't find certain things in certain places.

Some things you will be able to get, but they will be more expensive than they are back home, again because of local or regional market conditions. Electronics, specialty food items, and vehicles can all be generally more expensive abroad because of tariffs and local taxes.

The rest of the world is not simply the U.S. at half the cost. Living in these places and cutting your cost of living in half involves, in large part, living like a local. Local markets, local brands, local ways of doing things will all be generally less expensive than in North America, but they will be local, and if that is a deal breaker for you, you should find this out before you relocate.

Doing all this research before making a move abroad is easier today than at any time in history. The internet has changed everything, and it's certainly changed the speed and depth with which research about almost anything can be done.

Even so, the benefit of actually getting your boots on the ground in a likely retirement spot for as long as possible before pulling the trigger is hard to overstate.

Do the research, dispel the myths, see for yourself. This will go a long way toward making your overseas move a successful one.

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