An Introduction to Retiring Abroad




By Rosanne Knorr

How can you live overseas? Donít you miss your family?" Thatís the phrase most retirees abroad hear from acquaintances at home. The answers vary; the people who retire overseas are as different in their family situations and flexibility as are their calendars.

Many people begin with plans for a relatively short stay abroad and are surprised at how much they enjoy the lifestyle and the adventure; the time goes so quickly that they havenít seen or done all theyíd planned. They keep extending their stay, not yet ready to come back to the States. Others came over fully intending to live in their chosen destination for the rest of their lives. In between are people who live abroad for a specific season or several months on a regular basis.

What you will do depends on your goals, personality, family, desire to travel, and budget. How do you decide whether you seriously want to live overseas and what arrangement would suit you best? Letís look at some options you may not have considered that make such an adventure more feasible.


Start Small

Even people who move lock, stock, and barrel overseas started with regular visits before planning a full-time move. You know youíre interested in living somewhere if your vacation plans target it for years on end.

You donít have to literally move to enjoy a long sojourn abroad. Thatís what John and Claire did when they rented another Americanís summer home overseas for five months. They have seven, yes seven, children and twenty-one grandchildren and didnít want to stay away from the States forever, but as Claire says, "This trip was different. It was the first time we only had ourselves to consider and no baby-sitting!"


The Part-Time Option

If you intend to live overseas for a few months, choose rented accommodations that leave you free to come and go without the commitment of purchasing a home. You can try new locations when the spirit moves you, and commit to a favorite spot later if you decide itís for you.

Check with real estate agents who also handle rentals. Look in local papers. Often, youíll find another American who already has a place that they donít use regularly and will rent. Itís easier to arrange with a compatriot because youíre both speaking the same languageóliterally and culturallyóand using the same dollars. Check the grapevine, universities, and the Internet.


Home Exchanges

A home exchange, in which you trade houses with another person for a specific period of time, can be a wonderful, cost-cutting solution to trying out different locations. You get to travel overseas and live like a native in a home setting, and the other person stays in your home in the States. Both of you live rent-free. Sometimes cars and bicycles come with the deal. Finding a home exchange can be as simple as a referral from a friend. However, you may need to widen the field with more formal arrangements.

Intervac International is a major player in the home exchange business. They publish five directories a year with about 12,500 listings. You can list your home and receive their directory for $93 a year. A Web-only membership costs $50. For information call (800) 756-4663.

Vacation Homes Unlimited has helpful information on their site with suggested terms for an exchange agreement. They have Internet and directory memberships for $65 and $30 respectively. For information call (800) 848-7927 or check

HomeLink International has twenty-six offices around the world and publishes five directories each year. You can view listings before you join, but to get the names and addresses of the exchangees you have to be a member. Membership costs $98, or Web-only membership costs $50. For information call (800) 638-3841 or see

An Internet-only source is Home, which charges $30 to list a property, but nonmembers can view listings and contact the owners free through email. For information call (805) 898-9660 or see them online at

If youíve set your sights on Europe, a British agency called Home Base Holidays provides three directories and online memberships for $105 a year. Web-only memberships are $57. For information youíd need to call Great Britain at (44) (20) 8886-8752, but check it out on the Internet first at

Seniors Home Exchange is specifically geared to retirees with an online database that you can browse for free. Youíll have to pay the fee for contact information. It costs $50 for a three-year membership. Check before paying your fee, though, because many of this serviceís properties are in Florida, not overseas.


The Full-Time Decision

Even if youíve decided to live overseas, take your time before setting down roots and making a major property purchase. You may change your mind based on the weather or the locationís ambiance. Or you may decide that rentingís preferable. In many countries, even the locals rent since home ownership in some areas of the world is not a high priority.

Itís best to live in an area for at least a year, to experience all its seasons and to note the distinctions in housing and prices, before jumping in with a purchase. Buying a home overseas can be as simple as in the States or fraught with unknown complications. Study the local laws, including inheritance regulations, before you buy.


Roaming Retirees

Donít want to limit yourself to just one retirement destination? Choose several in sequence. One couple I know came up with a novel idea. They bought a VW bus and stocked it with collapsible furniture right down to a folding bookcase for travel books and plastic storage boxes that transform into nightstands with colorful scarves covering them. With their belongings, theyíre able to rent less expensive, unfurnished accommodations while enjoying the feeling of being "at home."

They rented in San Miguel de Allende for three months. Then they were off to Europe, van and all. We met them in central France. Next came the apartment in the south of France, a block and a half from the Mediterranean. They sublet that to spend several months in Copenhagen. Still on the agenda? "Greece, Italy, who knows? This is too much fun," says Jan. "Every time we move, itís a new chapter."


From The Grown-upís Guide to Retiring Abroad by Rosanne Knorr. Copyright © 2001 by Rosanne Knorr. Excerpted by arrangement Ten Speed Press. $14.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-841-2665 or click here.