When preparing to retire overseas, people tend to occupy themselves with the practical concerns of obtaining visas, banking, buying property, dealing with language barriers, finding quality health care, and so on. These are pragmatic matters with concrete solutions -- and we believe that's why they're the easiest obstacles to overcome for people who are making this lifestyle change. While the issues above are important to address, we want to share with you what it really takes to move overseas.
It may surprise you, but we have found that more than anything else, the psychological and emotional challenges of moving overseas can destroy retirement dreams and sometimes even marriages.
How do you prepare for these obstacles ahead of time? We hope the following tips and insights will shed some light on the topic.
Just like home, only cheaper
Many people trip themselves up with their giddiness over the low cost of living in their new location. They often talk themselves into believing that their new destination is just like home but cheaper. We're here to tell you that no place overseas is just like home. Customs, foods, weather cycles, housing codes, laws, the treatment of pets, the language, and the quality of goods are all different.
Some people might immediately fall in love with their quaint new town, only to find that it's impossible to park near the market and there's no one-stop shopping, and therefore shopping day involves driving to six different locations, fighting traffic in between. Instead of taking this added time to enjoy their charming new surroundings, they get frustrated, and they carry that frustration with them all day.
Culture and customs
In developing nations, animals are typically treated as animals -- not as family members. Street dogs are common, which might be difficult for the tenderhearted. While we have seen expats adopt up to a dozen dogs as pets, this is not something we would recommend. You could become involved in animal rescue, retraining, and home placement, but that will not change the underlying cultural norms that caused the problem. We urge you to become involved as you feel comfortable, but at a certain point you'll have to accept that things will never be just as they are "back home." Resisting cultural differences is a futile and never-ending battle, and eventually it will make you miserable.
In some countries, the lackadaisical attitude of certain workers may drive you up the wall. They might tell you they'll come tomorrow to fix something but not show up until several days later. Finding just the right maid, gardener, or plumber in your new location could take some extra effort on your part. Once again, if your personality tends to the uptight and precise, life in a developing country could be a continuous challenge. It's really much better for your sanity to simply go with the flow. Start by asking other expats which contractors they would recommend. There's no point in getting yourself upset; that tension will build up, spill over into your personal relationships, and affect your outlook on life.
Flexibility of mind and attitudes
One of the best tools in your toolbox is flexibility of mind. A friend of ours says the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude, and that's true. If you find that your blood pressure is rising because people in your newfound country have a different sense of time and punctuality, then take a deep breath. Step back. Enjoy what this new lifestyle has to offer and realize that it's a package deal.
Try to get less done in a day instead of tackling those six different locations before noon. You're retired! Enjoy the leisurely pace instead of fighting it. Practice your communication skills with vendors or help and reap the benefits of learning a new language. If street dogs proudly do their business on the sidewalk, learn to step around it or scoop it up yourself and dispose of it.
In foreign countries, celebrations will occur on dates that have no meaning to you. Processions will assemble, stopping traffic and shutting down streets. Banks will close. Rockets will be set off at odd hours of the morning and night, perhaps disrupting your sleep schedule. Neighborhood dogs will bark, interrupting your peace and quiet.
While we were living on the tropical paradise island of Nevis, in the West Indies, a local man tied his donkey outside our bedroom window. This donkey brayed early every morning and throughout the day. What an unexpected sound!
You can allow these things to rupture your contentment, or you can let them slide off your back. Focus on the fact that the weather is glorious, the cost of living is low, medical care is abundant and accessible, and you actually have house and garden help to make your life easier.
Adjust to living locally
Some expats get upset because they insist on eating certain brand-name foods. In a foreign country these foods are now imported and thus cost outrageous amounts. If you insist on eating imported foods, then you will mitigate the benefit of living in a country with a low cost of living. As much as possible, purchase local brands of food, which are often quite good. Save that imported item for a special occasion and enjoy the extra cash in your wallet.
If there's a large expat community in your retirement destination, odds are there will be a selection of international restaurants. These can be enticing to those who yearn for a taste of home, but remember that they generally have higher prices than local businesses. If your budget will tolerate these prices, then there is no issue. If you're trying to live well on less, it's best to eat local and save the tourist haunts for a special time.
Even though you may have dreamed of living in a tropical climate for years, actually living in one might not be what you had expected. Many southern countries have two seasons: wet and dry. In Thailand or Vietnam, for example, dry season can be windy or dusty and could aggravate your allergies or sinuses. In the wet season, oftentimes it will rain buckets, drenching the landscape.
It's far better for your happiness to focus on the crisp clean air and green hillsides of the rainy season, and the spectacular sunny days of the dry season, than to find things to complain about.
Generally speaking, we have always suggested that retirees rent before purchasing property in a foreign country. Then, if you find you're not as flexible as you had thought, it will be far easier to change your mind, as you won't have to go through the long and complicated process of selling your property before you move on.
Not everyone can mentally and emotionally adjust to their new home country. When planning your dream retirement, take what we have offered here into consideration. Be willing to adapt. If you're not inclined to align yourself constructively with your new locale, you'll be setting yourself up for some unnecessary misery.
About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer's Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.