Retire Overseas and Live Abroad
Comfortable retirement in the US has become a pipe dream for anyone who is not super-rich. If you don't have a huge retirement savings, expect to work until you drop. But what if I told you there was a hack that could make it feel like you doubled your retirement savings? It's simple. Jump on a plane and Retire Overseas.
For 50% less than what you are spending in the US, you can live large abroad: leisurely summers exploring Europe, warm winters on sunny Southeast Asian beaches, gourmet dinners out, housekeepers, and private drivers. You don't have to be wealthy to enjoy this luxury. You just need someone to show you the shortcuts to Live Abroad.
Since 2012, I have traveled across Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia to experience the world's best international retirement destinations first hand. I've met and interviewed dozens of expats who live abroad to get inside information on what it is like to retire overseas. On Nomadic FIRE, I share the lessons for you to upgrade your life overseas.
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Thinking about Living Abroad and Starting a New Life in a New Country?
Do you often catch yourself gazing out your cubicle window, and wonder what are you doing here? Here in this office, grinding another 50+ hour workweek? Attending the same tedious weekly meetings? How often do you contemplate escaping the 9-5 drudgery and ditching it all? Do you often daydream about living internationally and experiencing adventure in another country?
The reality is many of us fantasize about leaving the corporate rat race to start over. We dream of a different life, a better life living in a foreign country. My trigger to make my fantasy come true was a surprise; I was fired during a corporate restructuring. I didn’t panic. I didn't stress. I had been working toward Financial Independence for several years. Building up "F*ck You" money was more calming than yoga, antidepressants, and therapy combined.
I was invested, diversified, and had an emergency fund. Getting fired was the perfect storm, and this was my moment. I retired at 41 and have been living internationally for 5+ years. You don’t have to wait until something as drastic as being fired happens before you follow your dream of living abroad.
“Sure,” I can hear you thinking, “maybe after I work another 25 years and save a million dollars, I can live abroad. Or maybe I’ll just win the next lottery.”
Yeah, there are lots of people who fantasize about moving internationally, but not many who actually turn the dream into reality. If you are perpetually dreaming of living overseas, hoping and thinking, but feeling overwhelmed by how to do it, Nomadic FIRE can help. International retirement is honestly much easier than people think.
How can Living Overseas Upgrade Your Retirement?
The truth is you can enjoy a richer life living abroad for cheap.
Low Cost of Living is one of the biggest reasons people look to retire overseas. By utilizing Geographic Arbitrage, you can cut your monthly expenses by 75% or more. Your housing costs, cell phone bills, weekly dinners out, transportation costs, nearly everything will be much cheaper than you are currently spending. You will be shocked at the high quality of life you can afford when you live abroad.
For less than $1500 a month, you can live a more exciting and richer life in beautiful places around the world. From European rivieras, colonial cities in Latin America, to white-sand islands in Southeast Asia, all are available to you for a fraction of your currently monthly expenses.
Besides a Low Cost of Living, there are other incredible intangible benefits of living abroad.
The list of reasons is long: better weather, exploring new cities, going on weekend adventures, spectacular sunsets, broadening your horizons, gaining new friendships, adding several fascinating stories to your collection. The benefits are endless, but the specific advantages will vary for each person. Some of my favorites learned over the years are below.
Top 12 Benefits of Living Abroad Besides Low Cost of Living:
1. You will challenge your view of the world
Coming from the US, I had a very US-centric view of what is “normal.” I wasn’t a typical ‘Murica, F*ck Yeah,’ prototype, but spending most of your life in a single country narrowly defines your perspective. My views on everything where challenged living aboard.
Simple things like when, how, and what to eat can be different.
- When: Living in Brazil, I had to get used to eating dinner at 10 pm.
- How: In most Asian cultures, you don’t have a personal meal. Everyone at the table shares the dishes and eats communal. I had to get used to people picking at a plate of spicy chicken that I ordered for me.
- What: Includes me eating guinea pig in Peru, water buffalo in Cambodia, duck embryos in the Philippines, and cow anus, also in Peru (That’s a story for later).
More complex social norms and economic view points are also culturally influenced.
- The level of hand-holding and kissing between male friends and family in other countries compared to the US is surprising. Coming from the US, I thought the first time I hugged my dad was an accomplishment.
- European cost of university education is mind-boggling to someone like me who graduated college over $40,000 in debt.
- I still have to remind myself to fight for position when a Chinese person cuts in front of me in line.
2. Your social circle will be a refreshing change
We are a bit boring in the US. Our lives revolve around work. The US is the only developed nation that doesn't mandate any vacation days. More than 40% of us don't take any vacation days. NONE. ZIP. ZERO.
Most of us don't even have a passport. It’s no wonder only 13% of people from the US traveled internationally last year (note: this amount is overstated, but that is the MAX). We can’t take any vacation. Think about it, how many great stories have you heard that started with “This one time I was at work…”.
By comparison, people in other countries are going to have loads more stories to tell. Remember point 1 up there, about seeing things from a different perspective. Want to learn why Thai monks aren't allowed to touch women? Are you curious about the German point of view of WWII? Are you interested in why women in Colombia like to get catcalled? Listening and discussing the crazy cultural differences with your international circle of friends will bring more than a few laughs and head shakes.
3. You will be forced out of your comfort zone
Humans are creatures of habit. Especially when you are caught up in the 9 to 5 grind. You eat the same meals, at the same restaurants, and see the same people. For me, it was Work. Eat. Gym. Sleep. Repeat.
Living internationally takes you out of your comfort zone. The moment you arrive at your new destination, your brain is taking in new stimulus. The buildings don’t look the same as back home. A mix of different languages form a background cacophony of noise. The spices in the food and even people walking past you smell different.
Streets are new (bless you Google maps). People you meet are new. Food you eat will be new. From the moment your shoes hit the ground, everything is new, and you get to experience it for the time. Comfort zone crushed.
4. You will realize how little material things matter
I could never be considered a minimalist in my past. I saved money, but I bought stuff I liked. I had a weakness for gadgets, watches, and dress shoes. Before I moved, my 1200 square foot condo housed the collection of my life. I accumulated and stored 41 years of stuff there.
In preparation for my international move, I sold my car, sofa, bed, and some electronics. For what was left, I had several estate buyers go through and give me a price to buy EVERYTHING in my condo. The best offer was $1200. Basically, everything I owned, the sum of my life, was worth $1200.
5. You will learn to prioritize your stuff
After liquidating my life for $1200, everything left fit into two carry-on sized bags. I travel the world with a Tortuga 40L bag and backpack small enough to be considered a “personal item” by most airlines.
When you move abroad permanently, prioritizing what is essential and getting rid of stuff you don’t need is a necessity. A shirt I like but never wear isn’t going to get packed and carried around the world. I miss my espresso maker dearly, but minimalism and versatility is the new mantra.
6. You will start to value experiences over things
Minimalism means not shopping just to shop. I’m not buying stuff that doesn't fit into a carry-on sized bag; the latest big screen HD television isn't going to fit. Getting the latest laptop is not essential to my happiness. However, I will spend money on travel memories:
- A motorbike trip in the mountains of Northern Thailand with one of my oldest friends. Yup.
- Trekking to see Everest Base Camp. Check.
- Music festival on a deserted island in the Philippines. Surfing in Bali. Yoga classes in India. Yes! Yes! Yes!
You get the picture. The memory of visiting a new country and experiencing living overseas brings a longer lasting smile to my face than buying a new pair of shoes ever will.
7. You will develop a newfound appreciation of your life
You will have frequent bouts of profound gratitude while traveling. For me different things trigger it: Enjoying a Thai sunset with a beer and my best friend. Watching smiling Filipino kids in the street playing a simple game with flip flops and a soda can. Sharing a sauna with naked strangers in their Estonian countryside home. Getting invited to a Colombian family party to watch New Years Eve fireworks with people you just met.
These are just a few moments where I realized how lucky I am to be doing what 99% of the world can’t. Most people don’t have the opportunity to live overseas. While other people are working, I am out experiencing the world. DAMN, I AM LUCKY. These flashes of gratitude make me appreciate the breaks I've had in life.
8. You will find renewed motivation
If you haven’t retired yet, move abroad to use Geographic Arbitrage, and retire sooner. Your international experience will push you to double your efforts to retire overseas. My experience working in Rio De Janeiro intensified my motivation to retire internationally.
My company moved me to Brazil to run a 70-person business they purchased for $26 million based on my recommendation. I was under tremendous pressure. It was two exceptionally stressful years of 70+ hour work weeks, but it was worth it.
It was my first taste of what life was like to live abroad. While my workload was relentless, fitting in unforgettable experiences like watching the World Cup live, dancing in the streets during Carnival or simply watching the sunset with friends reminded me why I was sacrificing to retire overseas.
9. You will have better stories to share
Remember the new international social circle you made in point 2? Your new friends aren’t your run of the mill co-workers. Your discussions won’t be comprised solely of TPS reports, office gossip, and the weather.
I’ve made friends with several circus performers, a handful of adult film actresses, and a few witches. I count stand-up comedians, traveling yoga teachers, professional mermaids, and rocket scientists as part of my tribe. You’ll cross paths with internet millionaires and urban harvesters alike. Late night conversations with these folks are anything but mundane.
10. You will reap the benefits of “Slow Travel”
Most people from the US take less than five vacation days a year. Without much time to travel, when we travel internationally we are on a mission. Visiting a foreign city means checking off the boxes as quickly as possible.
In Paris, we “do” Montmartre in the morning, Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe before lunch. We tackle the Eiffel Tower, Grand Palais, and the Louvre all at once in the afternoon and cram Notre Dame in before dinner.
Living aboard is not like being on vacation. Take your time to soak in and experience your new surroundings. Go ahead and spend a lazy weekend reading a book by Slovenian lake. Spend leisurely Saturdays walking your local Bulgarian farmers market to shop for fresh yogurt. Casually sip your Vietnamese coffee while watching locals practice Tai Chi in Hanoi. Even better, get invited by your new local friends to secret beaches you would never hear about as a tourist.
11. You get the opportunity to immerse yourself in a foreign country
You have the time to get to know your new town. Immersion, true immersion is a rare opportunity. You have a chance at becoming an adopted local. Allow yourself to see how different cultural norms influence the daily lives of your neighborhood.
Shop for your weekly groceries and sample the fruits at a chaotic local market in Medellin. Wonder at the blinding speed and precision vendors can knife prep a pineapple without losing a finger.
Wake up shortly after sunrise to offer morning alms to monks in Thailand. Donating and exhibiting goodness to others is based on the Buddhist Principle,
The More We Give To Others The Better People We Become
Putting a deposit into your "good merits" bank is not a bad way to start the morning.
Adopt a local team and watch a rivalry soccer match live in Brazil. Learn the fight songs, cheers, and dances. Scream your head off when they win. Cry in your beer when they lose.
12. You will enjoy celebrating your little victories
Moving to an entirely new country is not without challenges. You wanted a fresh start. Moving overseas is it. But fresh starts have an adjustment period. It will take you time to settle into your new life abroad. I’ll get into some of the challenges of living overseas and how to overcome them in a later article. But know that the awkwardness and frustration fades with time. Till then, revel in your progress and celebrate your incremental wins.
- Figuring out the public transportation system for the first time? Enjoy a cup of coffee.
- Effectively arguing for a store refund in another language? High five yourself.
- Navigating the bureaucracy and getting your first foreign driver's license? Do a little dance.
- Successfully driving a motorbike on the wrong side (left-side) of the road? That one deserves a beer.
Remember to look at the big picture. You escaped the 9-5 grind. You beat the rat race. You reached the dream of retirement overseas. You are reaping the benefits of living abroad. You’re starting a new life in a new country. While your friends are putting on snow tires and getting their winter jackets out of the closet, you are still in flip flops and shorts. I call that an upgrade.
UPGRADE YOUR RETIREMENT
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