The ideal way to find the best country for your expat life is to visit and fall in love.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to spend time in other countries, you can use that experience to choose your overseas retirement spot — or at least whittle down your list of choices.
But for the rest of us, there’s a process in determining which country, and then which city, town or region, is the best spot for us to retire overseas.
Here are the major points to consider.
Do you love snow skiing? Swimming in the ocean year-round? Or are the changing seasons more to your liking?
Sure, people are pretty adaptable and most of us can get used to most any climate. But if you’re looking for a place where you can live a happy life, think about its climate first.
It seems almost too obvious to mention, but if your brain melts when the temperature exceeds 80 degrees, don’t choose the tropics.
If you suffer from SAD, don’t choose a place with limited sunlight.
You get the idea. . .
City Living or Country Quiet
Do you enjoy the stimulation a big city has to offer? Or is your idea of heaven the quiet and solitude of the country? Maybe something in between?
If you’ve always lived in cities, you might find the idea of country life appealing but you won’t know until you live in it for a while.
Beach or Mountain
One of the things I love about Panama, especially the Azuero Peninsula, is you can be really close to both. From Las Tablas we can be digging our toes in the sand or cooling off in the mountains within 15 minutes.
We didn’t have to make this choice, but in most places you’re going to have one or the other.
Distance from Family and Friends
Do you need to be able to get back to your home country quickly, easily or cheaply? That limits your choices.
Sadly, I lost both my parents within the past couple years, but my husband’s folks are still alive. And we have five grown children and grandchildren we’d like to see from time to time. Even though I’d love to explore Asia, we’re sticking to the Western Hemisphere for now.
Do you need to obtain good health insurance? Are you comfortable going without insurance and paying for medical care out of pocket? Do you have any existing conditions to consider?
Most of the countries that are attracting lots of expats these days have good medical care available, so that’s not so much the issue. But you have to know how you’ll pay for it.
Are you up for learning another language? If not, you’re limiting your choice of country, your social circles or both.
Entertainment and Culture
Live theater, sporting events, movies, the symphony, many of us are used to having loads of entertainment choices. Your new country may not have all those options, so think about what’s really important to you.
When we lived in Orlando we had dozens of movie theaters within a few minutes drive. In less than 30 minutes we could be at Universal Studios or Walt Disney World. We could enjoy Broadway productions, symphonies, operas, drama, professional and semi-professional sports. . . and that doesn’t even count all the entertainment available through the many local colleges and universities.
Here in Panama, well, not so much.
Schools and Childcare
If you have children at home, what about their schooling? Will you need to find someone to care for them while you work? If you want an American or international school for your children, know up front that you’ll be limiting your choices to the larger metro areas.
How important is it for you to have a community of other expatriates nearby? In Mexico, the Lake Chapala area is home to thousands of US and Canadian expats. Boquete, in Panama, has become an expat enclave. You’ll find lots of expats in most major cities throughout the world.
Then there are places you could find yourself the only expat in town.
Cost of Living
I purposely didn’t list this one first. That’s because you can’t really determine “cost of living” country by country.
Here in Panama, for example, the cost of living in Panama City is easily double what it’s costing us to live in Las Tablas. You can’t gauge the cost of living in a small town in Iowa by what you’d spend in New York City.
In general, though, you can be sure that living in a large city will cost more than living in a small town, so if you’re a city person you need to be prepared for that.
The good news is that whatever your preference you can find someplace in the world that has the life you want at a price you can afford.
More about cost of living:
- Mid-2017 Cost of Living Update
- Our Top Picks for Sunny Post-Election Living
- Las Tablas, Panama – What Does It Really Cost to Live Here?
- Living Abroad – Does it Make Financial Sense?
Timing Your Move
If you plan to expatriate in two years or longer, you’ve got plenty of time. But if you want to make it happen faster I have two recommendations that will help you, depending on your timing.
Six to Twelve Months
If you want to make your move within one year, consider attending a conference — it will help you narrow down your choices fast.
You’ll learn about the countries, their cultures and customs, real estate options, cost of living, visa requirements and more. Information about portable careers is on the agenda as well. The conferences I recommend are hosted by Live & Invest Overseas. I’ve attended them, and I also spoke about portable careers at their big conference in Orlando, FL in 2011, the year before I moved to Panama.
Here’s the link to all their 2018 conferences. They offer conferences in (and about) specific countries, but if you’re just starting to narrow down your country choice, look at the Las Vegas Retire Overseas conference, where they’ll cover move than 20 countries and you’ll have a chance to mix and mingle with experts and expats.
Six Months (or Less
Here’s a program that will take you through every step of the decision-making and preparation for your overseas move.
It’s called 52 Days to Your New Life Overseas. I’ve recommended it before.
Kathleen Peddicord (pubisher of Live & Invest Overseas) draws on her considerable experience — over 25 years worth — to walk you, step by step through the process of moving from wherever you are now to your dream location overseas.
Here’s what Kathleen says:
“I’m writing today to offer you, not more information, not more resources, but a plan. A step-by-step, this-is-what-you-do-first…and-this-is-what-you-do-next program.”
And she delivers, too. It’s too bad this program only became available after we’d started our own move-to-Panama countdown, because it could have saved us lots of time and sleepless nights.
It actually took us about six years from when we started thinking about it, and a little over three years from the moment we got serious about it, to make our move.
With the guidance and information available here, you could do it in that many months.