01/18/2013 09:30 am ET Updated Mar 20, 2013

Why Part-time Living Overseas May Make Sense for You

Think you might like to try out the expat life? But not sure where to start... and maybe not ready to give up everything you have going on in your life right now?

You can do both. The adventure and great benefits of life overseas can be yours right now -- and you don't have to sell everything and make a "forever" move to get them.

Rather than plunge... take a part-time paddle to test the waters someplace new. Increasingly, retirees (and folks with young kids, too) are doing exactly that.

"We love Canadian summers at our log home, right by a large lake about an hour north of Toronto," says our friend, Gail Swainson, who -- with her husband John -- spends part of the year on the Yucatán Peninsula. "But Canadian winters? We don't love those so much. So when the blizzards arrive, our tropical home in Mexico really hits the mark."

Three months... six weeks... even a long vacation, taken with an eye to finding a new home -- this kind of short-term escape is a flexible alternative to the "all or nothing" move -- and one we recommend.

Like the Swainsons, you can trade in your mittens and snow shovel for a winter spent someplace warm. You benefit from year-round sun and you're never too long gone from family and friends "back home."

If you have children in the house, consider making summer your "adventure months." Spend six or eight weeks living someplace new. It can be a chance to introduce your kids to a new culture and language and a way to survey places where you might eventually like to live full-time.

Plus, with this part-time approach, you avoid the hassles of a full-time move and skirt the need for a residency visa, too. It may well cost you less to spend a month or two in a good-value escape than it would to pay your utility bills back home.

One of our friends discovered exactly that when he came to visit us in Ecuador. He told me, "I could live for a month here and spend about the same amount that I spend on air conditioning alone every month in Phoenix."

It's easy -- and fast -- to get started, too. Begin with a visit. Just pick a place and stay as long as you can. Rent an apartment or home to see what daily living is like. If you find it's not for you... head someplace else.

The point is: There are no rules. Do what works for you. You can keep a foothold back home if you like.

That's what the Swainsons have done. A few years ago, while both were still working, they built their home on the Yucatán Gulf Coast of Mexico near the small beach town of Telchac. At first, they enjoyed spending week-long vacations there, especially when it was bitterly cold back in Canada.

Now they're both retired, and they plan to spend the winters there. "We still have so many connections in Canada, including our grandkids, that a permanent move to Mexico just isn't in the cards," says Gail.

They were also reluctant, she says, "to toss overboard our right to participate in Canada's free health care system, which has a six-month residency requirement in order to maintain benefits."

Concerns about health insurance -- specifically Medicare in the U.S. -- is what many folks say keeps them from venturing abroad full-time. But with this part-time approach that roadblock disappears.

Texans John and Patti Hardman spend six months of every year in France cruising the extensive canals and rivers aboard a 17-foot Dutch barge they renovated in 2004. They adore traveling through life at five miles an hour. But "a residency permit in France requires proof of insurance. We're retired and on Medicare with a supplement, neither of which is good outside of the country," says John.

"We would jump at the chance to live in France full-time. We love the country and the people so much and have made so many friends there. But we also have family members in the States who need some attention during the colder months here."

And, John adds, even though he is retired, there are a couple of jobs he takes on at home in Dallas every year from October through December. So their part-time arrangement, which accommodates their U.S.-based health insurance, makes sense for them.

What makes sense for you? Only you know that. But where there's a will, there's a way. And if you have a desire to live the good live overseas, there are plenty of places to do that... even if it's only for a few months out of the year.