The Pros, Cons, and Considerations of an International Retirement

Category: International Retirement

April 23, 2013 — Notes: This is Part 2 in our recent series about International Retirements. Part 1 provided our list of the “10 Best International Places to Retire“. Also of note, Part 1 generated an interview request from Radio Kerry (Ireland), which was delighted in Ireland’s #1 ranking on our list. The short radio conversation (Ireland Is Best Place in the World) was fun to do, you might find it interesting to listen to.

If you happen to be on the mailing list for some companies it would be easy to think that an international retirement is your ticket to paradise. One that includes plentiful maids and gardeners, cheap but glorious real estate, doctor house calls for $10, perfect warm weather – all of which is available on a social security income. While that vision might be possible, we read many reports of ex-patriots who regret their move abroad. This article will attempt to present a balanced view of the pros and cons of an international retirement. We have relied heavily on the member Comments made to Part 1 of this series (thanks very much!), and we invite others with experience to join in with additional Comments to this one. Note that for every person who has had a bad experience with a particular country or issue, there is usually someone else with an opposite point of view. Which leads us to our standard advice – before you make any decision about where you live in retirement – visit the location for an extended stay and see for yourself!

Note that in this section and in the Cons we have chosen a representative comment from a member. Know that there is almost always someone else who disagrees!

Live on a Social Security income. From Priscilla: “(Ecuador is great) for single women who can’t survive on paltry Soc. Sec. payments
Improved lifestyle. Thanks mostly to a strong dollar and choosing an interesting place to live, many retirees experience a richer and more interesting lifestyle abroad than they could have in the U.S., Canada, or Europe.
Inexpensive and good healthcare. JaneH: “Europe generally has good health care provided you are granted access to it”. Dave: ” I have several good doctors, had a double cataract/lenes replacement operation done a couple years ago for less than 1/4th the cost in the USA, see a specialist when I want to for about $9.00. That’s not my co-pay, that’s the whole pay at his office in our local hospital. I also have something not many Americans back in the USA have .. my doctor’s cell phone number in my phone, along with his receptionist’s.”
Inexpensive domestic help. The advantages of having inexpensive staff to help with domestic chores is often touted as an advantage of an international retirement.
Interesting experiences. Many members comment about the happy and interesting exchanges they have with their new neighbors.
Warm weather. Mexico, Central America, South America, and much of Asia has better and warmer weather than the northeast or midwest U.S.

Corruption and crime. Paul: “Danger is directly proportional to poverty and we yanks have no idea as to the degree of poverty that exists in these countries”.
Service and bureaucratic nightmares. We have heard many tales of waiting for a year to have a phone line installed, or having to pay off the building inspector to get work done.
Immigration problems. Ron: “Anyone thinking of retiring in New Zealand should start by checking the strict immigration rules related to age.” Holly: “I love that Ireland was first on the list but, as with most countries – you cannot just pack a suitcase,get on a plane and show up at Dublin Airport and tell them you’re here to retire! We lived in Scotland during our early married years and would LOVE to go back there but the UK has strict rules about emigration and the fact that you have to have a certain amount of money deposited in UK banks”.
Being the target. Several said in comments that they felt North Americans were viewed as targets and not friends in various countries. On the other hand, others said that expats who make efforts to learn the language and interact with locals tend to be accepted.
Far from family and friends. Depending on where you move, you might not get many visitors from home – and your return trips will be expensive and time consuming.
Inexpensive and plentiful healthcare. Doug: ” spent 2 years in Mexico near Lake Chapala…..nice spot, local folks are friendly….but the problem, is medical care….sure, the Doctors are excellent, but have little or no experience with older people…”.

Questions only you can answer
What will the healthcare system be like? Will you have ready access to it? How much will it cost, and what is the quality. Will doctors be familiar with your complaints?

Can you be part of the community, or will you stick out? Will you have to/do you want to live in an expat colony? Is the country welcoming to foreigners?

Various. What is the situation for that particular country for security, crime, immigration laws, cost of living, infrastructure and amenities?

Blend in or not? Do you want to make an effort to assimilate, or are you looking for a little America abroad?

Do you have family and friends that you will miss? Glenn: “Unless you have no sibling/children/grandchildren you will want to to visit family and the commute from half-way around the world costs time and $$$.”.

Taxes and fees. Some countries impose heavy taxes that mostly affect foreigners; for example a hefty tax on the sale of your home.

Overpromises. JimyP: “One needs to be aware that there are many companies selling the wonders of Latin America and they are doing so for profit and without regard to your well-being whatsoever.”

Places and countries we didn’t list, that others thought we should have
Philippines. There were multiple positive mentions of this country citing its weather, cost of living, and friendly people. There were also some negative comments. Representative comment from Bonjie: “Low cost of living, nice culture and awesome traditions year-round, great places all over, good cuisine, friendly and hospitable people, English-speaking, fun activities 24/7”


Madeira and the Azures.

Thailand. Warm weather, great beaches, friendly people.

Ghana and West Africa. Anthony: “Ghana West Africa the best place on earth God created almost at the Centre of the world with Gold almost everywhere, diamonds, bauxite, manganese, 12 hours of Sun, chocolate galore, best democracy in Africa, friendly industrious people, great talents in many area, peace loving people.”

Greece. George: “I think Greece the best place by far”.

Sri Lanka (Negumbo). JohnH: “Has a visa program for pensioners. Affordable , modern health care is available. With my modest teacher pension and social security we would be comfortable and able to afford just about anything we would need in either place.”

India (Pondicherry)

Vanuatu (cluster of 80 South Pacific Islands). Mitch: “consider Vanuatu, a cluster of 80 South Pacific islands, great climate, friendly people, little or no crime, no income tax, no CGT, no inheritance tax, no property taxes. Low cost of living and housing “.

Chile. Best place to live in South America. Has a strong economy, stable government.

Places to avoid
Belize and the Honduras were mentioned by several people as places to avoid. Likewise some of the countries on our top 10 list had their detractors (and supporters). Those included Mexico (too dangerous), Costa Rico (no bargain), and Croatia (corruption and crime). We recommend you read the actual Comments to our “Top 10 International Places to Retire” to get more perspective.

Bottom Line
The next time you read an article or get an email about some incredible international place to retire – stop. Think about the factors discussed here. Ecuador, Panama, etc. might be retirement paradise – but there are 2 sides to every story. Make sure you know both.

Comments? This is the fun part for us, when you share your experiences and opinions. Please let the rest of us know what you think about these pros and cons, as well as the commentary and suggestions on other international places to retire.

For further reading:
MarketWatch- Factors to Consider Before Retiring Abroad
Yahoo Finance: Top Places to Retire Abroad
Topretirements Country Guides to Retirement Abroad

Posted by Admin on April 23rd, 2013


  1. […] March 26, 2013 — Note: This is Part 1 of a 2 part series on international places to retire. Part 2 is “The Pros, Cons, and Considerations of an International Retirement“. […]

    by » 10 Best International Places to Retire Topretirements — April 23, 2013

  2. I have been living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for six months now. Warm weather, very inexpensive, great food, friendly smiling people, and I am preparing to to leave. There is so much good about this place that it has been difficult for me to finally admit that this is not the place I want to spend the rest of my life. I do not fit in. I will never ever learn to speak Thai. As good as everything else is I do not want to feel isolated from everyone else around me, so I have to move on.

    Others have lived here for decades and still do not speak Thai. They are more adaptive than I am. Things like this you will not know until you give it a try.

    Best of luck to all of us trying the expat life. I am not sure where I am going from here but I am certain of I do not want to return to my home country.

    by dpcjsr — April 24, 2013

  3. I have lived overseas. If you are not flexible, you won’t like living overseas. There are no McDonald’s, Taco Bells and Pizza joints all over the place. If you want to eat out, get acquainted first with restaurant. In Tahiti, Chinese restaurants can fill you up handily, while tourists areas will pick your pocket. Your appetite might go nuts with the outdoors, and you’ll be hungry all the time. Just like any where, if you are not comfortable with where you are, leave. Don’t push it. I loved Tangier, Morocco, because I had access to Gibraltar. Personally I do not care for anything south of the border. When I was with State Department, send me anywhere but south of the border, and that was years ago. Nothing has changed my mind since then other than seeing that things have gotten worse in some places. If you can’t handle humidity, do a search to check average humidity ranges. If higher than what you can handle, don’t go there bag and baggage. If you still insist on going somewhere, do your homework with both eyes open.

    by Edward — April 29, 2013

  4. Long term travel may be the better option – keeping somewhere to come home to in the states in case you don’t enjoy living overseas.

    by Oakmonte Village — April 30, 2013

  5. There is an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal about an American couple who decided to retire in Israel. You can get a very informative feel for what that is like from the article

    by Topretirements editor — May 20, 2013

  6. RE: moving aboard. I have lived and worked in several countries and have now reached the conclusion that I would not be happy living abroad on a permanent basis. There are many adjustments and cultural aspects to consider when making such a move and one never truly fits into a foreign culture, from my experience. As Americans, we are always thought of as fat cats by the locals and often targets of opportunities for them. I agree with Oakmonte Village that long term travel and a home in an affordable area of the USA is a much better option.

    by Marilyn — June 7, 2013

  7. Living abroad is not for everyone. My wife and I have advanced educations and had excellent jobs for the USA while living on the economy in Germany. We loved most everything about our life there .. but … even though I had studied German for four years and could get by 90% of the time with locals (white collar) thinking I was German (so I could practice my German) … still … trying to converse about issues with someone on technical items (computers, utilities), mechanical (car or HVAC) was just about impossible, as their ‘blue collar’ people didn’t know much English and I couldn’t explain our problems well enough in German. Small things like this, as much as we would never trade back our time overseas, made us crave a less frustrating lifestyle.

    by High Yield Consultant — June 8, 2013

  8. This NY Times article is an excellent primer on what you need to consider about health care insurance when retiring abroad. This insurance is usually expensive and you will probably be rated for it individually.

    by Admin — February 23, 2014

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Salary Data custom salary reports specific to your state and industry.