Many countries offer an affordable, budget-friendly lifestyle. However, it's important to note that other expenses related to living abroad can creep up.
If you’re thinking of moving overseas to retire, you’ll find that many countries offer an affordable, budget-friendly lifestyle. However, it’s important to note that other expenses related to living abroad can creep up.
There is no way to calculate the exact cost of moving overseas. “Much will depend on which country one moves to,” says Raoul Rodriguez, a wealth manager with expertise in cross-border financial planning at Pinnacle Advisory Group in Miami. Here are some often-overlooked fees to be aware of when planning for retirement in a different country.
Paying for what you leave behind. If you keep a home in the U.S. that requires upkeep and maintenance, you may spend money to have a professional service take care of tasks you previously did yourself, such as cutting the lawn or clearing out gutters. Flying home to carry out repairs will add to your costs.
Leaving a car in the U.S. might mean paying for insurance and maintenance on a vehicle that rarely gets used. “The biggest hidden expenses are often incurred because of hesitation to make a clean break with possessions,” says Jonathan Look, founder of LifePart2.com, who retired early to live overseas. Even if you sell your home, keeping some belongings in a storage unit can cost hundreds of dollars each year.
Steep utility bills. If at first glance a country appears to have lower costs for daily living than the U.S., check on prices related to electricity, Wi-Fi and fuel. “Inefficiencies, local taxes and state monopolies can make expenses such as phones, internet, power, natural gas and gasoline be more expensive than back home,” Rodriguez says. You may have to spend more each month to have access to the same utilities you used in the U.S.
Incurring higher costs for English. Moving to a location where you don’t speak the primary language can translate to spending more on entertainment and services. “There is often a ‘premium’ for not knowing the language,” says Gary Miller, CEO and owner of Algarve Fun, a Portugal provider of attraction tickets. “Sometimes this is overt with some bars or restaurants charging more to tourists and foreigners.” It can also occur if you need to call an electrician or plumber and want someone who speaks English. “This immediately limits your choice of workers,” Miller says. You might have to pay top-of-the-market prices for someone who is available and able to communicate with you.
Fees for not knowing the system. You may have always renewed your driver’s license easily in the U.S. However, getting a driver’s license in a different country can be complicated for foreigners. Other transactions such as getting a tax ID or applying for residency may also be unfamiliar. While locals might know what to do on their own, you could end up spending more because you need help. “There is often an advisor, broker or consultant needed, and that all comes at a cost,” Miller says.
Local health insurance fees.Medicare doesn’t cover health services for those living outside of the U.S. “It may be important to purchase an international health insurance plan or anticipate out-of-pocket health care costs,” says Frederic Behrens, a wealth advisor at Round Table Wealth Management in New York who specializes in working with global families.
There may be local insurance options at your new retirement spot. Some countries offer a national insurance plan. “In other countries, many people will want to purchase a separate private policy,” Rodriguez says. Private insurance might be cheaper than a similar plan in the U.S. However, keep in mind that even an inexpensive plan might have higher costs as you age. And if you have pre-existing conditions, you might not qualify for certain plans.
Exchange rate fluctuations. If you move to a developing country, you might find local exchange rates to be in your favor. “If you are moving to countries that have relatively strong currencies, such as Europe, you might find that a weakening dollar makes everything more expensive,” Rodriguez says. Keep in mind that exchange rates can vary greatly over time. Even if the rate is one that works well for you when you arrive, a gradual change over the course of five or 10 years could impact your day-to-day budget.
Spending on extras. Planning to visit family back home once a year might be a good way to keep in touch with children and grandchildren. However, you may find that you miss being around family and decide to travel to the U.S. more often. If a loved one’s health changes, you could spend weeks or months back home to be closer and help out.
Missing certain foods or electronics can lead to pricey bills too. “Now more than ever you might be able to find what you are looking for, either because you import it and possibly pay for the related shipping expenses and taxes, or because a local store has imported it for you with corresponding fees and markups,” Rodriguez says. For instance, you might be able to find peanut butter only at specialty food stores. You could have to pay double the price of what you spent for peanut butter back home to enjoy it.