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Retirement Overseas? There’s a Lot to Consider

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Moving abroad seems like an exotic retirement.

A new culture, climate and locale make retirement an everlasting vacation in many ways. But it does take some consideration and planning to become an expatriate.

Selecting where to go is more than picking a place with sunny weather or with preferred culture and cuisine.

Diana Apostolova, investment consultant with Rochester Investments, encourages clients to look at the nation’s healthcare.

“Can you continue to use Medicare rather than paying for medical services and medications out of pocket?” she said.

As far as Medicare coverage, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa are considered part of the United States. In most other areas and circumstances, Medicare will not cover medical expenses for U.S. citizens living abroad. Some countries offer universal healthcare or inexpensive care. It is also vital to evaluate the quality of the care provided.

“Is it on par with what is offered in the US?” Apostolova said.

As people age, they tend to need more healthcare services and medications. The availability of healthcare will become more important.

“Also, they should continue to follow the US tax laws and file taxes in the US and possibly in the new country,” Apostolova said. “If they need to travel back to the US, they should budget for it, as flights can get expensive.”

Traveling stateside for weddings, graduations and births of grandchildren will add up. But family networks are not the only ties affected by moving overseas.

“If you are uncomfortable with leaving your network, including doctors and other professionals, then retiring overseas maybe not a better option,” said Phillip Provenzano, insurance agent and financial adviser with The Financial Guys Insurance Agency in Rochester.

While the financial advantages of a strong dollar, low cost of living and universal healthcare can make some foreign lands sound financially enticing, Provenzano said that other factors matter, such as the stability of the new country and cultural and language barriers.

Some of the travel expenses may be mitigated by currency exchange rates, depending upon the country. Jeff Feldman, Ph.D. and certified financial planner with Rochester Financial Services in Pittsford, said that Argentina offers an example.

“The dollar is strong and the peso is weak,” he said. “You could live very comfortably. From a financial standpoint, you could do well. In many places, you’d be better off financially. But you’re not living in the US; you’re giving up a lot for a financial benefit.”

Along with greater medical needs, most people need help with activities of daily living as they grow older, such as transportation, housekeeping, and personal care. It is essential to ensure that these supports are available in the target country.

Visiting a few potential countries for extended periods can help narrow down the options to the right choice. Immigration professionals can help guide in the legal aspects of moving abroad, such as passports, visas, documentation, immunizations, pet documentation and how to move household items.

International moving companies can also lend assistance in these matters.

Tax attorneys can be helpful in navigating tax liability abroad. Online banking can make it easier to access funds from anywhere, but some brick-and-mortar banks operate in other nations. It is also helpful to let credit card accounts know about the move so the companies do not freeze the accounts for suspicious activity. Traveler’s checks make it easier to readily have cash on hand.

Not all cell phone companies provide service worldwide. Moving abroad may mean getting the phone unlocked and buying a SIM card from a local provider in the new country. Most other nations use different wiring than the US, so expatriates will need adapters to protect their electric devices.