Retiring overseas begins with a lot of thinking, planning, reading and researching. But at some point in the process you’ve got to get on a plane. Visiting each destination that has caught your attention can give you a sense of what living there would be like.
However, overseas travel comes at a cost, of both time and money, so you want to make your scouting trips as efficient and effective as possible. These trips should be enjoyable, but they aren’t vacations. You need a plan.
If you can swing it, allow at least two weeks for each visit. In addition, try to plan your trip during the least agreeable season in each destination. See the place at its worst. If you like it then, you’ll love it when the sun is shining. Here’s how to scout out potential retirement spots overseas.
Be a tourist. Your initial scouting expedition to each place you’re considering for your new life overseas should be part research and part fun. Allow yourself time to enjoy and get to know the destination as a tourist would.
Choosing a new home overseas is something like choosing a mate. You want somewhere that suits you practically and realistically, and that provides for every agenda item and priority on your checklist. But you also want someplace that gets your blood flowing and sparks your imagination.
To that end, you should take a city tour, a bus trip or an overland adventure, depending on the destination. Dine out as often as possible, both in places where locals eat and where expats gather. Go to the museums, stroll in the parks, linger in the cafes, golf, hike, fish, snorkel, dive, spelunk, watch the birds and watch the people.
Pretend you’re already a resident. During your scouting adventure in each location, spend some time acting like a tourist, but also invest time pretending you’re a local. Do the things you would do if you lived there.
Go to a grocery store, see what’s on the shelves, take note of what’s not available and compare pricing with back home. Spend an afternoon at the local shopping mall looking at things you’d normally shop for, such as clothing, shoes, home furnishings, linens or kitchen utensils. Take local transportation to get to places you’d ordinarily want to go, including the grocery store, bank, movie theater and dry cleaner. Something as simple as reading the local paper is one of the best ways to gain quick insight into the culture of a new place.
Connect with the existing expat community. Even if you know that your plan is to live among the locals, take time to connect with the existing expat community if there is one. This will be your primary support group following your move. These are the folks you’ll turn to for answers to your questions about finding household help, sourcing household goods, shopping for furniture, planning your Friday nights, getting utilities installed and buying a local cell phone.
Read the local English-language paper. This will connect you with the activities and interests of the expat community. Attending a meeting of the expat social group is a great way to make English-speaking friends and contacts.
Set up some meetings. You will need to meet with some key people in each place you visit. Here’s who you should speak to in the places you are considering for retirement.
— Real estate agents. You definitely want to meet with more than one real estate agent. Most of the world’s property markets operate without the benefit of a multiple listing service. This means that listings are not shared, but proprietary and not accessible in any centralized way. It also means that the same property can be listed with different agents at different prices. To get an idea of what’s available that might suit you for rent or for sale, you need to meet with more than one agent. Also, don’t commit to a property rental or purchase during an initial scouting visit. Rather, use it as a chance to begin to get the lay of the land. Find out what is available for rent and for sale at what price. Your objective at this stage is to gather as much input from as many different sources as possible.
— An attorney. Met with at least one attorney with experience working with non-locals. You’ll need an attorney’s help if and when you eventually decide to purchase a home of your own. An attorney can also help you with the residency visa application process if you intend to relocate full time and need a residency visa. Use this initial scouting trip as an opportunity to interview one or two attorneys you might eventually want to rely on for counsel.
— A banker. Even if you’re not ready to begin the process of applying to open a local bank account, take time during your scouting expedition to visit at least one bank and to speak with at least one banker. Ask for details on what would be required to open an account with that institution. Some banks will have a formal list or an information package for foreign account applicants. Take this away with you for future reference.
— Expats. Talk to as many expats already settled in the place you’re considering as you can find. You want to speak with many different people and listen to as many points of view as possible. Find out what the expats already living in the place like about their new lives and what frustrates them. Ask if they are happy with their choice to relocate.
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group.
More from U.S. News
4 Strategies for Choosing an Overseas Retirement Spot originally appeared on usnews.com