I know many of you enjoy traveling. Perhaps you have even thought about what it might be like to live abroad during retirement.
With technology today, if you are retired or working remotely, you don’t have to be tied to one place if you don’t want to be.
Imagine if you could raise your standard of living and spend half of what you are spending now. By moving to a country with a lower cost of living, you could stretch your retirement income dollars further than what's possible in the U.S.
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On a personal note, I'll be in Mexico when this episode drops. Every year I like to try to get away in the winter for 4-5 days or so with some friends and family. We find the east side of Mexico to be easy to get to, relatively inexpensive, and there are a lot of nice places. And, of course, it's nice to be on a beach during these cold, dreary months in the central Illinois area.
I recently listened to a podcast interview by fellow CFP® advisor Benjamin Brandt where he interviewed Tim Leffel, who is an American living in Mexico and the author of the book A Better Life for Half the Price.
Tim Leffel is a travel writer, and he and his wife had traveled extensively before their daughter was born. They enjoyed experiencing other cultures like a local would, instead of how a tourist would.
When their daughter was born, their homebase was in Nashville, TN. As she got older, they began to move back and forth between Mexico and the United States for a few years. Once their daughter finished high school in the U.S., they permanently moved to Mexico.
His website includes resources for saving money on traveling and living abroad.
Now, I will share some benefits of living abroad, and tips to make it work, based on that interview.
Biggest Savings from Living Abroad
Mild weather year round is often a big benefit of moving to certain countries, but the cost savings can be huge. The biggest cost savings from living abroad are rent, health care, and labor.
You can expect to pay half the cost (or less) for renting a home in Mexico compared to the United States when making an apples-to-apples comparison.
For example, a beachfront property in Mexico will likely be half the cost of a beachfront property in California or Florida.
Or a home in a medium-sized city in Mexico might be half the cost of the same square-footage home in a similar city in the U.S.
Healthcare expenses are known to be high in the United States. You can expect to pay much less for medical care in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
You won’t be able to access Medicare abroad. So, if you need a major surgery or procedure, you may want to travel back to the U.S. to see a specialist that accepts Medicare.
However, even with Medicare, it still might be less expensive to get your medical care abroad. You might need to do the math and also compare the quality of healthcare with the options available in both locations.
As for labor, anything that is service-based is usually much cheaper in other countries than in the United States.
For example, hiring a housekeeper, a repair person, or going to a barber or beauty salon is going to be less expensive.
Don’t Rush to Buy a Home in Another Country
This all sounds great, but make sure you take your time when choosing a new country as your home.
Choose a location you have visited and that you enjoy. Or visit a location you think you might enjoy. The Leffels chose a mid-sized city in Mexico because they liked the culture and food and it was close to home while their daughter was in school.
Do a month-long trial run in the city you are considering before completely moving. This will give you an opportunity to experience the local culture more than a tourist would.
Rent before buying. Other countries don’t have the same zoning laws that the United States has. Plus, it’s easy for foreigners to get swindled when they don’t know the value of property in an unfamiliar area. Once you have been somewhere for a year or two, you can get a better idea of the market value of the area.
Common Barriers to Living Abroad
There are common barriers people often think of when it comes to traveling or moving to a new country, such as the language, money, and leaving their home and community.
Learning the language of your new country is helpful, but often not essential. You can live in some areas without knowing the native language, especially if you live in an expat community of a city.
Knowing some of the language would certainly help keep you from being overcharged. And there are apps available to help you learn the basics of a new language quickly.
Access to retirement accounts and Social Security
You don’t have to change bank accounts when you move to another country. You should still have access to your retirement and brokerage accounts over the internet.
And your Social Security payments can still be sent to you even if you have a foreign address.
Then you can use ATMs to get cash in the local currency.
Leaving your home and community
If you don’t want to completely leave your home, you could split your time as a snow bird and spend 6 months of the year abroad and 6 months at home.
You won’t save as much money this way, but you will still get some savings benefits while you maintain your connection to your home and community. And you can choose to leave during the worst weather!
Finding resources for living abroad
There are lots of support systems available because so many people have had the experience of living abroad.
There are expatriate websites and Facebook groups that can help you with the transition to living abroad.
When you have questions about how to handle various situations, like your money and taxes, there are resources available to help.
- Book: A Better Life for Half the Price by Tim Leffel
- TimLeffel.com for articles on travel and living abroad
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