No matter how much you plan, retiring abroad is a shock to the system. I still remember arriving in Switzerland. Pink suitcase in hand, I weaved my way through the airport, my head spinning with unfamiliar sights and sounds. I was completely overwhelmed with emotions – excitement, fear, curiosity and many others.
Like my guest on today’s edition of the Sixty and Me Show, Perley-Ann Friedman, I’ve experienced the ups and downs of retiring in another country. I’ve struggled to learn the language, founded a company, made new friends and missed my family.
At the end of the day, I’m happy with my decision to move. That said, there are several things that I wish someone had told me before I arrived. In this interview, Perley-Ann and I will demystify the process of retiring abroad and help you to your new life off to the best possible start.
Here are our top tips for retiring in another country.
Half of success in retiring abroad is mental… the other half is all in your head! Before you set out on your next big adventure, make sure that you are ready to be flexible, open minded and resourceful. No matter how much you plan, you won’t be able to avoid every problem.
You will spend hours trying to explain solve small problems in the few foreign words that you know. You will receive scary looking official looking documents that you can’t read. You will experience cultural misunderstandings. These things are all a part of life abroad.
No matter what happens, the best advice that Perley-Ann and I can give you is to roll with the punches. 9 times out of 10, you will look back at each situation and laugh.
Many women ask me whether they should learn the language of their new home country. My answer is a qualified yes. On the one hand, you can gain a great deal by taking the time to learn the local language. Not only will it give you a deeper appreciation of the local culture, but, it will also help you to make friends.
That said, you should never use your limited grasp of the language as an excuse to stay isolated. Depending on where you live, you may find that quite a few locals speak English. In addition, there are established expat communities in most major cities around the world.
Personally, I have found learning German to be quite difficult. But, with Duolingo.com – and frequent trips to my local coffee shop – I am well on my way to being conversationally fluent. Thai is arguably a more difficult language to learn than German, but, Perley-Ann has definitely given it a shot.
There is one big caveat when it comes to language. While learning the language may be optional for making friends, it is essential when it comes to dealing with government officials. If you don’t feel comfortable translating official documents, which you won’t, for several years, make sure that you have a friend who can help you. In addition, you should always have any legal documents checked by a reputable local attorney. It’s worth every penny.
For most of our lives, we are able to rely on the friendships that we developed as children and young adults. Moving to a new country can be a shock because we are forced to learn how to make friends all over again.
The trick is to be proactive. Perley-Ann and I have both had success meeting friends in our respective expat communities. Most local expat communities, including the one in Koh Lanta, where Perley-Ann lives, have Facebook pages, making them easy to find. So, get out there. Explore your passions. Say hi to your local neighbors. Trust me, they are curious to meet you too!
Finally, don’t forget the moving to a new country doesn’t mean that you will need to give up your old friendships. Perley-Ann and I agree that technologies like Skype offer great ways to stay in touch with friends and family, while you build your new social circle.
Every country has its idiosyncrasies and ways of getting things done. As with so many things in life, you just need to take the good with the bad. For example, I love the fact that everything “works” here in Switzerland and that everyone follows the rules without being asked. At the same time, I have had a couple of heated exchanges that resulted from my inadvertent breaking of the rules.
Thailand is known for its sunshine, beautiful beaches and kind people. At the same time, it tends to be a place where “schedules” are actually “suggestions.” Once again, the important thing is not to let yourself get stressed out. Most of the time the “good” and the “bad” of any country are simply two sides of the same coin. So, just relax and enjoy the ride.
I hope that you enjoyed my latest interview with Perley-Ann. You can see more of her writing on her website.
Are you think of retiring abroad? Where do you want to go? Have you recently retired abroad? What advice would you give to the other women in our community?