Dear Savvy Senior: What tips and resources can you recommend to folks interested in retiring abroad? My wife and I will be retiring next year and are intrigued with the idea of living in a foreign country. What can you tell us?
Dear Looking: Whatever your reasons for wanting to retire abroad -- a desire for adventure, a lower cost of living, a better climate -- you need to do your homework and learn everything you can about the country you're interested in because there are many unknowns. Here are some tips and resources to help you get started.
You can find lots of information and articles on the countries and cities you're interested in retiring to at websites like International Living, Escape Artist and AngloINFO. International Living even offers a short quiz you can take to help you discover your ideal overseas retirement location.
There are also some great books on this topic like "How to Retire Overseas: Everything You Need to Know to Live Well (for Less) Abroad" by Kathleen Peddicord, and "Retirement Without Borders" by Barry Golson. These books and others like it are available in book stores nationwide or online at amazon.com. Or, check with your local public library.
Another good tip is to talk or network with some expatriates who have already made the move you're thinking about making. They can give you tips and suggestions, as well as the advantages and disadvantages and day-to-day reality of living in a particular country. Some popular sites to finding expat resources are expatexchange.com and expatforum.com. Here are some other areas you need to investigate.
Cost of living: Retiring abroad used to be seen as a surefire way to live beyond your means, and for some countries it still is. But the U.S. dollar isn't what it used to be, so your money may not stretch as far as you think. See numbeo.com and xpatulator.com for a country-by-country cost of living comparison.
Safety and stability: The U.S. State Department offers background notes or fact sheets on 200 countries providing information about the land, people, history, government, political conditions, economy and foreign relations.
Weather: Use worldclimate.com to get weather information on just about every significant city in the world.
Taxes: No matter what foreign country you decide to retire in, as long as you're a U.S. citizen you still have to pay U.S. taxes. For details see the IRS publication 54, "Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad."
Health care: Medicare does not cover retirees outside the U.S., so you'll need to contact the embassy or consulate of your destination country to see how you can be covered as a foreign resident. Many countries provide government-sponsored health care that's inexpensive, accessible and just as good as what you get in the states, or you may want to buy a policy. Outfits like the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, April Medibroker and Bupa International offer or broker affordable health plans.
Social Security: This is the one area you don't need to worry about. You can receive your monthly Social Security benefits almost anywhere you live around the world. Your benefits can be deposited into your bank account either in the U.S. or in your new home country - there are some exceptions. To learn more, see ssa.gov/pubs/10137.pdf.
Test run: Once you settle on a destination, be sure you visit multiple times during different seasons to see whether you can envision yourself living there and not just exploring the place as a tourist. If you like what you see but aren't sure where to live, rent before you buy to be certain you're happy with your choice.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.
Ecuador may be one of the most inexpensive places to live for retirees on a budget. Not only is the cost of living extremely cheap, according to Fortune magazine, but the South American country also uses the U.S. dollar. One couple interviewed by International Living lived on $600 a month, spending as little as $1.25 per month on gas and $1.70 per month on water. (Image via Flickr, Carly Lyddiard) Correction: A previous version of this slide said that Ecuador was in Central America.
Easy accessibility and excellent health care are two major draws for retirees settling in Panama. According to U.S. News & World Report, the cost of living is not the cheapest -- especially in Panama City -- but the great retirement benefits, travel and entertainment discounts and country-wide use of U.S. currency make up for the extra expenses. (Image via Flickr, Francesco Veronesi)
Since 1985, 25,000 foreign retirees have settled in the Philippines, Global Post reports. Taxes are minimal, so living is very comfortable on a pension of $3,000 per month. Post 50s may have to share the beach with younger folks since the minimum age for ex-pat retirees is 35.. (Image via Flickr, SToto98)
For a tropical climate where English is the official language, retirees should look no further than Belize. The coastal country offers no tax on foreign retirement income and minimal sales and property taxes, according to U.S. News & World Report. (Image via Flickr, Ian Morton)
Some cities in France may be a bit out of the price range of the average retiree -- looking at you, Paris -- but the monthly expenses of other towns in the southwest are more affordable, notes the AARP. For Francophiles looking to settle in France, the history, culture, wine and food are among the biggest enticements. (Photo credit: AP)
With consistently perfect weather and beautiful beaches, Bali joins dozens of other beachfront locations that make for great retirement living. According to The Wall Street Journal, retirees can settle down on the Indonesian island for about $1,000 a month (not including housing), as long as they don't mind trading in a front door for a open entryway -- as is custom in Bali. However, medical care is not the best. (Photo credit: Getty)
With no taxes on foreign retirement income -- according to U.S. News & World Report -- Costa Rica may be one of the ideal places to retire. Nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, the cost-friendly country boasts stunning beaches and rain forests. HuffPost bloggers Jeff Jones and Gay Haubner wrote about their experience finding a house in Costa Rica. (Image via Flickr, Dottie Day)
No list of places to retire abroad could be complete without Italy, where Diane Lane's character traveled to in the 2003 film "Under the Tuscan Sun." Settling in Rome is not the most feasible option, but like France, there are several Italian cities that offer a comfortable life of leisure, full of delicious Italian food and wineries, on a budget, AARP reports. (Image via Flickr, Russell Yarwood)
Certain cities in Mexico are not the safest, especially along the U.S.-Mexico border, but there are still parts of the southern country that are increasingly popular with retirees. Campeche, located near Belize, boasts beautiful waterfront properties on the Gulf of Mexico and a low cost of living. A week's worth of market fruit and vegetables cost less than $10, according to International Living. (Photo credit: Flickr/Malias)
While taxes are a bit higher in Argentina than other South American locales according to U.S. News & World Report, the large country offers a wide range of places to settle -- from major tourism hubs to smaller, inexpensive villages. However, retirees should plan on spending a little more on monthly expenses, because of the rising cost of living and devaluation of the U.S. dollar, U.S. News & World Report writes. (Image via Flickr, Luis Fernandez)