“Aruba, Jamaica ooh I wanna take ya to Bermuda, Bahama come on pretty mama”-The Beach Boys
In conversations about retirement, moving overseas is always a hot topic. The ocean is always bluer on the other side of the equator. We all know or have heard of the wonderful places, the low cost of living, and the incredible experience of moving to an exotic land. But, what is the reality of making an international move. What does it take? Do you just show up? Is it as easy and as great as it seems?
Let’s get a realistic look at what you need to do to live in the top retirement locations or become a legal resident. What kind of lifestyle would you like to have? There are the sunny, sandy beach communities, towns in the mountains, big city life. Which is for you?
For some a warm tropical climate, walks on the beach with palm trees, and the smell of salt air is their dream spot. For others a mountain location with a cooler climate and less humidity may be right. You might like the fast pace and the hustle of a big city with all the conveniences that come with it. You don’t have to give up your dream of having those things. It’s all out there. You just have to find the right locale for you and your budget.
There are several countries that welcome retirees and do their best to make coming to their shores attractive and inexpensive. Both Panama and Ecuador have incredible discounts for retirees. They want you. They want American dollars to boost their economy, and they make it easy for the retiree to get long-term or permanent visas.
The discussion below is not intended to be exhaustive by any means, but just a brief overview of the most popular retirement destinations.
Remember, countries are large and individual places within a country will be very different. Think about someone moving to the United States. What would you tell them it was like? Like the beaches in California, the intensity of New York, or the slow southern tempo of Kentucky?
There are general requirements for moving overseas and those specific to individual countries.
For each country you may consider relocating to, there are basic visa requirements that you must provide. You will need:
Current Passport-good for six months
Criminal background check
All documents will have to be validated by a government agency and notarized. There may be additional legal or translation fees required to process your application.
Each country will then have its own financial requirements. The most popular locations with a low cost of living are listed below. I will caution you that information on the Internet can be incorrect and outdated. It is best to get your information directly from the embassy or consulate for the country you choose. Requirements change frequently as does the process involved.
Panama, in Central America, is currently the #1 country in the world for attracting retirees, with a generous discount program for pensionados and a modest income requirement. You must prove an income of $500 per month for an individual or $600 per couple from a government or corporate source for a long term visa. There is no deposit required to live in Panama. While the length of the visa is indefinite, you do need to prove annually that you have the necessary income to remain in the country. The Turista Pensionado is the best option for those collecting Social Security or a pension. Contact the embassy for the most up-to-date information.
Discounts are available for just about everything: transportation, entertainment, restaurants, utilities, hospital visits, medical and dental care as well as prescriptions. They range between 15 and 50 percent for retirees and make living here much less expensive.
Ecuador, a South American country, is also a popular retirement destination. It boasts an attractive discount program similar to those offered in Panama. One additional feature is that retirees never have to wait in line. You automatically go to the front.
For immigration purposes for Ecuador you must apply for the Pension Visa and prove an income of at least $800 per month. There is no deposit necessary.
Mexico, our nearest neighbor to the south, has long been a retirement destination for many Americans. To immigrate, you must first apply for a Temporary Resident Visa. The Temporary Resident Visa lasts up to four years. According to the Consulate, you must prove $2,000 tax-free income per month or an average balance of bank accounts and investments of $95,892 over the past 12 months. After the four-year period, you can then apply for a Permanent Resident Visa. For this you need an income of $2,500 per month or a balance of $119,865 for the past 12 months.
Belize is a small country on the Caribbean just south of Mexico. The Qualified Retired Persons Visa (QRP) is a long-term visa available to those who can prove an income of $2,000 or more per month.
Nicaragua, a Central American country, which has both a Pacific and Caribbean Coast, requires an income of just $600 per month and is working hard to compete in the arena for the attention of retirees.
The Philippines is a South Pacific country made up of over 7,000 islands with an SRRV or Special Resident Retiree Visa, the most appropriate for American retirees. This visa requires proof of $800 monthly income or $1,000 for a couple and does require a $10,000 deposit. If you do not have a verifiable income, you can still obtain this visa, but the deposit requirement goes up to $20,000.
Malaysia is a South Pacific nation that is connected to the mainland of Southeast Asia by Thailand. This is known as West Malaysia. Another section located on the northern side of the island of Borneo is called East Malaysia. The two are separated by the China Sea. Malaysia offers the MM2H, Malaysia My Second home, visa. This is a ten-year renewable visa. A deposit of $45,878 is required along with a monthly income of $3,058 (at today’s conversion rate).
Thailand in Southeast Asia has long been a popular retirement destination. It offers the Non-Immigrant Long Stay visa, which allows you to stay for one year. After that you must reapply, and an extension may be granted. A verifiable income of about $2,015 per month is required or a deposit of $24,800.
As we have seen, income requirements vary a great deal. Some are very low at $500 per month, and others are over $3,000 per month. Deposits can be high or not needed at all. Your income and the type of environment you want to live in will help determine which place is right for you.
One of the things that all of these countries have in common is that they are in a warm climate—some warmer than others—but they are all closer to the equator than we are. It is also generally true that the cities will be more expensive, though the further away you get, the lower the cost of living. Also, the closer you are to the metropolitan centers, the better the services will be.
Most of these countries are continually upgrading their infrastructure to accommodate the growing number of immigrants—and yes, you will be an immigrant—but some are further along than others. As a general rule, medical care, utilities, water, Internet connections, and cell coverage will vary the farther away you get from the city. The more remote the location, the less reliable the services are. If you need the Internet or a cell phone to conduct business while abroad, you’d want to make sure you have what you need before making the move.
Road conditions are also something to consider: though they are improving all the time, the existence and maintenance of roads is a major factor. If you like to travel and explore, this may be something you want to think about and investigate.
You may also want to consider the distance you live from a good hospital and how long it will take for you to get there in an emergency. It’s not fun to imagine traveling on a bumpy road when you are sick or hurt.
Language can be a fun factor. In general, more English is spoken in the city than in the rural areas, unless you are in an area with a large expat community. It is always easier, and you will acclimate better if you speak at least a little of the local language. You’ll be able to communicate with your neighbors and handle situations better. You’ll be more engaged in your community and have better relationships. Another perk is that learning a language is one of the best things to do to keep your mind sharp, and we could all use that—so start creating those new pathways in the brain.
Shopping is another thought. Many cities cater to the expat communities and import things you are used to. Merchants want to keep you happy, so they import foods and products that you like. This may not be true in more rural areas.
We all need to remember that we live in a highly efficient country. Things here work. That is not always the case elsewhere. Electricity, water, phone service, etc. may all be subject to outages or spotty service.
Administratively, there can be problems that seem so easy to fix. You will face dealing with what will seem like ridiculous and redundant procedures, and there may be nothing you can do about it.
Best to learn and endure. You are not going to change things and will be frustrated trying.
In many countries you cannot just walk into a bank and open an account. You need referrals and documentation from other banks and institutions. Not a big deal in our world, but it can be in theirs. This can be a Catch 22 because you can’t always get a bank account without a residence, and you can’t get your utilities turned on unless you have a bank account.
Health insurance is something you need to look into. Medicare does not cover you when you are outside the United States, but Medigap might depending on your policy. You may be able to join a local healthcare plan, but some countries, like Malaysia, require you to carry your own policy. Because of the low cost of care, many expats choose to pay out of pocket when they need care and forego the regular cost of insurance.
There are numerous ways of calculating cost of living and plenty of conflicting information. Numeo.com claims to have daily updates, and it is very simple to use. You can put in any two cities and do a comparison of the costs. They can be in the same country or different ones. You can compare cost of living in Bangkok to Phuket or Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. You can also choose the currency you want the results in. You don’t have to try and compare Malaysian Ringgits and the Thai Bhat and then try to figure out what that means to your budget in U.S. dollars.
Should You Move?
There’s a big wide world out there, at all prices, just waiting for you. There’s adventure and fun to be had, if that’s what interests you. You have to ponder a few questions and determine what you want your life to be like.
Are you adventurous?
Do you like cultural diversity?
Do you make friends easily and fit right in or prefer a quieter life?
Do you need quick access to the U.S.?
You need to consider if you have special health needs, require constant Internet access, and where your money will buy you the most.
It’s all out there. All you need to do is pack up and go!