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4 Things No-On Tells You about Retiring Abroad Until It’s Too Late

By Margaret Manning November 18, 2015 Managing Money

If you are thinking about retiring abroad, you probably have a pretty good picture in your mind of what life in another country will be like. You’ve done your homework, scouring the Internet for information about healthcare costs, climate and culture.

This is a great first step. However, speaking from my own experience, there are several things that are hard to discover from articles and blog posts.

Here’s the Truth About Retiring Abroad

You need someone on the ground who can tell you the things that other people are afraid to talk about. You need someone like my wonderful guest on this week’s episode of the Sixty and Me show, Kathleen Peddicord.

When it comes to retiring abroad, Kathleen knows that she is talking about. She is the founder of Live and Invest Overseas, a publication that offers advice for men and women who are looking to move abroad in retirement.

Before you pack you backs and set off to your new retirement destination, I suggest that you watch my interview with Kathleen. In it, she shares the 4 things that no-one tells you about retiring abroad.

None of this is intended to scare you. I have been happy in my new home, Switzerland, for several years. I also know many women who are absolutely loving their lives overseas. At the same time, the more prepared you are, the better your chances will be of finding a place to live that is perfect for your budget and lifestyle.

Here are 4 things that Kathleen says no-one tells you before you retire abroad.

You Will Struggle with the Language… So Learn to Have Fun with it!

From the second you step off the plane, life in your new home will be different. While some people in your chosen country may speak English, all of the signs, government forms, loan applications and other official documents are likely to be in the local language.

As with so many things in life, surviving in a country whose language you don’t speak is a matter of perspective.

Try not to get frustrated. It may take you years to feel comfortable ordering food at the local market. Be prepared to laugh at your own mistakes.

If you are feeling ambitious, learning the local language can be rewarding and fun. But, at the same time, don’t expect to be fluent for a long time. Find people that you can trust to review any important documents with you before you sign them. Download the Google translate (or a similar) app. Most of all, have fun with it.

The sooner you start speaking, the sooner you will start to feel comfortable in your new home.

Be Prepared for Underdeveloped Infrastructure

Many people imagine that their new destination will be much like their home in the U.S. or U.K. – but, with sun and plenty of Mai Tai’s. The truth is that the infrastructure in many countries is decades behind the U.S. This is not a criticism. It’s just a fact of life.

In most countries, the water from the tap won’t be safe to drink. In others, you may lose hot water for days, or even weeks, at a time. The Internet is likely to be sporadic. The healthcare systems of many countries are surprisingly good – but, not everywhere.

The main thing is to know what you “needs” vs. “nice to haves” are. If you have a specific medical condition, make sure that the local healthcare system can support you. If you are going to run your business from your new retirement destination, make sure that the Internet is sufficient. You probably won’t get everything that you want – and you may end up paying more than you expect to get what you need.

Once again, the trick is to be realistic about the things that aren’t essential and pragmatic about the ones that are. Try to see your new home as an opportunity for adventure. It will be – whether you like it or not!

Watch my interview with Kathleen to hear her specific advice for living in a country with underdeveloped transportation infrastructure.

Retiring Abroad Requires an Open Mind About the Local Culture

Cultural traditions and norms pervade every aspect of daily life. Take the time to learn how your local neighbors interact with each other and how they see the world. Pay attention to how people shop. Do they accept the price “as is?” Or is every price just a starting point? Does the local culture place a high degree of importance on timeliness (as my home, Switzerland, does)? Or, are the local workers more relaxed about when a project is completed (as they tend to be in Spain)?

The point here is not to stereotype. The point is that you should pay attention to what people consider “normal.” In our interview, Kathleen reminds us that it is important to remember that the people in your new country may have a different set of experiences than you. They may also have different concepts of personal space, cleanliness and appropriate behavior.

Don’t be surprised if things are done differently in your new country. Just keep in mind that, in most cases, the local cultural norms aren’t “better” or “worse” than yours. They are just different.

Queueing is Basically Crowd Control

In many western countries, we are taught to be polite and organized when it comes to queuing. If you are in a certain position in a line, you don’t expect people to jump in front of you – and you certainly don’t expect them to push past roughly.

In Latin America, Asia and some parts of Europe, the idea or queuing is somewhat different. Actually, as Kathleen explains, it’s more like crowd control. So, as Kathleen suggests, be ready to jump in. Watch what is normal and don’t be nervous about embracing the chaos.

One specific suggestion that I can give is to leave your valuables at home before going to places that you will need to queue. Crowds are ideal places for pickpockets to operate, no matter which country you choose.

While we’re on the topic of queuing, be prepared to do a lot of it! Unlike in the U.S., where almost everything can be handled online, many tasks abroad require you to show up in person. This could include paying your electricity bill or topping up your phone. In Panama, where Kathleen lives, it is not unusual to wait in line for 2 hours every month to pay your electric bill.

Retiring abroad is a fantastic idea for many people. There are limitless cultural opportunities and the cost of living is usually much more reasonable. But, before you pack your bags and set off into the sunset, make sure that you speak with a few people that already live in your chosen country. They can give you the inside story – the good, the bad and the ugly.

If you are interested in retiring abroad, I highly encourage you to check our Kathleen’s website Live and Invest Overseas.

Are you thinking about retiring in another country? Which one and why? Have you retired abroad? What advice would you give to someone who is moving to another country for the first time? Please join the conversation.

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The Author

Margaret Manning is the founder of Sixty and Me. She is an entrepreneur, author and speaker. Margaret is passionate about building dynamic and engaged communities that improve lives and change perceptions. Margaret can be contacted at

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