So you and your spouse have decided to retire. At some point in your retirement planning, you must ask yourself where you would like to spend your golden years. Answering the following questions should place you on the right path to finding the location that suits your needs.
First things first
The first question you must ask yourself is whether you want to stay in your current home or move elsewhere. Retirement is a big change, and sometimes people feel more secure staying in familiar surroundings, which makes the transition to their new lifestyle smoother. Others want to relocate, whether for financial reasons, a change of pace, health reasons, or better weather. In this case, the next decision you should make is whether you want to stay in your home country or move overseas.
If you want to stay in your home country, then you must decide what sort of climate is most attractive to you. Do you want to experience the four seasons or have a more moderate, year-round climate? Do you like mountains or beaches? What size of city or town do you most enjoy? These questions are important because they will automatically exclude places you won't need to research. Knowing what you prefer regarding climate, city size, and overall environment carries a lot of weight in terms of your happiness quotient.
Another thing to consider is whether there are adequate medical facilities nearby. Larger cities tend to have a full range of medical care. Smaller towns generally have clinics and a variety of doctor's offices, but perhaps not the equipment needed for complex medical situations.
Narrowing your search
There are limitless ways to live out your retirement. Ask yourself how much you value certain lifestyle choices, and you'll greatly narrow your search for the perfect place to retire. For example, consider how much you value the following:
- Access to nature and outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and sports.
- More urban activities such as theater, fine dining, bridge, concerts, and art exhibitions.
- Proximity to a university, which brings the energizing qualities of a young population and all the activities (and lower prices) that a university town offers.
- The ability to snowbird or travel part of the year, which may require you to downsize your home, arrange a home exchange, or house-sit.
- Being surrounded by like-minded retirees.
- Living in a walkable city where you can get rid of your vehicle and either hoof it or use mass transport instead.
Asking yourself this range of questions narrows your search even further and defines a location that is well suited to your preferred style of retirement.
Cost of living
Another important factor is cost of living. There are many retiree-friendly locations in the States that have a below-average cost of living. Or perhaps an average or even higher cost of living suits you just fine, so long as your other needs are met. Try checking out GreatRetirementSpots.com's list of potential retirement locales and see if any of those places fill your requirements for city size, weather, activities, and medical facilities.
Know what you want
The more specifically you can describe your requirements for happiness, the easier it is to find a retirement location that will fulfill your needs. Make a list of what is important to you and put those requirements in numerical order of importance. You might find that you must make concessions, but not necessarily so. If most of your requirements are fulfilled, then you have been successful in your search.
In making our own list of what we wanted in a retirement location, climate was a big consideration. We also like to have access to a variety of fresh food and dining options. We want to experience natural beauty and prefer large towns over big cities, and we like to have an international airport within reasonable distance so that we can continue our travels easily. For the most part, we live overseas, so being near an active expat community is important. We also make use of medical tourism for our medical needs.
If you find that your retirement is underfunded, or if you enjoy travel and a bit of the exotic, then those are good reasons to consider moving overseas for a retirement haven. Countries such as Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala are close to the States and Canada and are in similar time zones, so it's easier to snowbird, visit with children and grandchildren, or call them on Skype or Facetime. You may choose to live in these foreign locations full-time. These countries offer large cities, small towns, mountains, and beaches, and they all have active expat communities. Excellent medical care is available as well.
If you're considering moving overseas, then becoming familiar with expat forums is essential. These forums are free to join and will give you access to those who are already living in areas that appeal to you. You can read threads about daily life, house rental, cost of living, and visas and residency permits, for example. You can also start your own thread with specific questions you want answered.
Testing the waters
Now that you have your list of requirements and you have narrowed your search, it's time to test the waters. Nothing replaces going to the location of your choice and seeing firsthand if it will work for you. If at all possible, rent an apartment or home in these locations for several months -- and hopefully several seasons -- before you shell out money to purchase.
Allow yourself some time to observe and to adjust to your new location before you make any binding decisions. You won't regret it.
For more information on relocating in retirement, take a look at our Relocation Page.