Does your retirement vision include a lower cost of living, better access to healthcare and a radical change of scenery? If so, retirement overseas may be the ticket.
According to one survey, 82 percent of people who pursue an overseas move are searching for a simpler, less stressful way of life. Finding a lower cost of living was important for 87 percent, while 31 percent were on the hunt for more affordable medical care. And 74 percent said they just wanted to enjoy better weather.
Retiring to another country certainly has its perks, and the potential for lower costs is a big one. The cost of living in the United States is 64 percent higher than in Argentina, for example. If you prefer a European destination, countries like Portugal, Belgium, Germany and Greece are all cheaper to live in than the U.S.
While a foreign retirement could make your nest egg last longer, that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. Here’s what you should consider before making a move.
How Far Will Your Money Go?
This is really the big question, and the answer hinges on where you plan to spend your retirement. South America, for instance, may be a much better bargain than Europe or Asia. You need to be sure that your savings are enough to give you the kind of lifestyle you imagine enjoying in your chosen destination, so compare costs of living in your hometown (and other parts of the U.S.) with destinations that interest you.
Take stock of your assets, including money you have in a 401(k), Traditional and Roth IRAs, taxable brokerage accounts and regular savings accounts. Then, think about how long this retirement phase of your life will last. The average 65-year-old man retiring today can expect to live to age 84, while a 65-year-old woman has an average life expectancy of 86.
Ask yourself how much annual income your investments and savings will generate. Let’s assume you plan to retire at age 65 with $1 million in savings, for example. You estimate (and it’s always just that) that you’ll spend 20 years in retirement. Earning a 4 percent return on your investments, with a 2 percent inflation rate, you’d be able to withdraw just over $44,000 annually.
That figure doesn’t include any money you might receive from Social Security. The average monthly retirement benefit was $1,325, as of July 2017, which adds another $15,900 to your annual income. In an extremely cheap country, that much money could allow you to live in luxury. On the other hand, if you’re choosing a pricier place to retire, you may have to scale down your standard of living to avoid running out of money.
Looking at the overall cost of living—including healthcare, housing, transportation and food—can give you an idea of which country or city is a good fit for your budget. Healthcare is particularly important, since Medicare doesn’t cover you in foreign countries. You should also consider whether expats enjoy any financial benefits in the country you’re looking at. Panama, for example, offers the Pensionado Visa Program, which grants tax benefits and other incentives to eligible expats. Other countries may allow expats to gain access to free or low-cost medical care. Those kinds of perks could make a more expensive country more affordable if they’re available.
You also need to factor in the cost of travel if you plan to make trips back to the U.S. from time to time. And if you’re not planning to sell your home before retiring, you’d need to budget in the cost of maintaining it while you’re away—and managing it if you’re renting it out.
Don’t Forget About Taxes
Living abroad in retirement doesn’t eliminate your tax liability back home. U.S. citizens and resident aliens are taxed on worldwide income, including taxable distributions from a retirement plan and money earned from self-employment or a part-time job. Depending on the type of income involved, you may also owe taxes in the country where you’re living.
The IRS does cut expats a break when it comes to taxation. In 2017, Americans living abroad could exclude up to $102,100 of foreign earned income, which is doubled for married couples filing a joint return. If you’re concerned about getting hit with a big tax bill, you may want to talk to a tax professional to find out how an overseas retirement could affect your long-term financial strategy. You also have to report your holdings in foreign bank accounts.
Look Beyond the Numbers
Retiring abroad isn’t just about the financial considerations. You also have to think about what it means in terms of culture shock. If you’re planning to move to a country where English isn’t the dominant language, for example, how comfortable are you with learning a new language? Are you the kind of person who easily and happily picks up local customs and rules regarding proper etiquette and manners? Are you open to adopting a new daily routine, if necessary? In certain European and South American countries, for instance, lunch is typically the main meal of the day and dinner may not be eaten until 9 or 10 at night.
Safety, getting around and the variety of activities are other things to factor in. If your goal is relaxing, you’d most likely want to avoid cities where crime is high or traffic is a nightmare. Likewise, if you want to stay active, a sleepy town with little to do or see is probably a mismatch.
A good way to proceed is to make extended visits to places you’re thinking about as retirement destinations before you make a move. Rent a place in a neighborhood you’re considering and pay attention to how the locals live. Where do they spend their time? How do they go about their daily lives? Which neighborhoods are the safest? How welcoming are they to expats? And how do you like the expats you meet?
You’ll likely be leaving longtime friends behind if you retire abroad, except for occasional visits. Do you think it would be easy to make new friends? These are all questions that can help you shape your choice of destination if you’re set on seeing a little more of the world in retirement.