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Retiring Overseas – Would You Like It?

By Kate Benzin

Do you love to travel? Do you plan to do extensive traveling in retirement? For many people, the answer is yes. In fact, traveling is one of the activities most often cited as what people want to do when they retire.

Travel has always been a passion of mine. When I was much younger, I claimed that I would take any kind of work for six months a year if it gave me enough money to travel the other six months. And I can travel on a shoestring, so that wasn’t unreasonable, and I ended up working it out.

The problem was that I found I wanted to spend a long time in one destination. A visit of three or four months just wasn’t enough to satisfy me. It wasn’t long enough to understand the intricacies of what living in that destination would be like.

The realization finally dawned on me that I didn’t just want to travel. I wanted to live overseas. I wanted the adventure of adapting to a different culture and dealing with all the complexities of functioning in a foreign environment.

So I’ve been doing that for more than 30 years in Indonesia. It hasn’t always been easy. In fact, there have been many times when I faced real challenges and questioned my decision to live overseas. But those moments passed and soon stopped completely.


Travel vs Living Overseas

I have a feeling that the urge to travel might often be a disguise for something else – the desire to live in another country.  In other words, sometimes people think that what they want to do is travel when they actually want to live in another culture – perhaps an exotic culture where even the most mundane tasks are full of adventure.

Every year, approximately 3.6 million Americans are retiring, and more people than ever are retiring abroad. As of 2013, the U.S. government is sending almost 375,000 social security checks abroad. And that doesn’t even include people like me who maintain a U.S. checking account where my social security check is automatically deposited.

Many of those who retire overseas do so for financial reasons. Right now the dollar is pretty strong, but even when weak, it can still go a lot further in a ‘developing’ country.

Adventure – the Biggest Advantage

Living in Indonesia, I certainly enjoy the financial benefits of living in a ‘developing’ country, and given the fact that I’m able to live far more comfortably here than I could in the U.S. on the same income, I’d definitely opt to live here.

The financial benefit, however, is not the main advantage that keeps me living here. No. For me, it’s the adventure of living in a foreign culture and learning how to adapt to a lifestyle that operates on a different plane from what I had been accustomed to.

Those challenges sometimes had me searching for the next flight back to the U.S. In fact, I’ve had a few confusing and depressing times over the 30+ years that I’ve lived here. But I’ve also had the greatest experiences of my life. Yes, during the phase of adaptation, my life sometimes seemed like a roller coaster, but eventually, the end result is the contentment and peace of my current lifestyle.

Over the years when I was adapting to a new lifestyle, I had lots of lessons –

  • learning first-hand how people with attitudes very different from mine face their daily routines
  • dealing with the intricacies of setting up house in an environment where many things seem counter-intuitive to me
  • learning how to recognize when ‘yes’ actually means ‘no’
  • driving on the left side of the road and competing with motorcycles and sometimes horse carts
  • recognizing when the first answer is not the real answer
  • learning to delegate errands – I don’t have to do everything myself
  • getting used to living with live-in help – If you think that’s an easy one, be prepared for a surprise
  • developing patience when things didn’t go my way
  • so many other things that it’s impossible to list them all


The advantages of living overseas have been monumental for me, but if you’re thinking of retiring overseas, you certainly need to consider potential disadvantages as well. Some ‘developing’ countries have already conquered many of the possible issues that would make retiring overseas an unwise decision, but don’t count on that.

  • Your general nature – If you’re not flexible, think many times before you decide to live in a culture that does things very differently from what you’re accustomed to. You’re not going to change their behavior – you will need to adapt.
  • Health care – Do you have medical problems that might need serious medical attention? The standard of care in some ‘developing’ countries is not as high as you might need.
  • Your family – Do you have family in the U.S. that you will want to visit often? Make sure to consider how the cost of those trips home will affect your budget.
  • Climate – Many ‘developing’ countries have hot and humid climates. Does that appeal to you?
  • Safety and stability – Is the government stable? Do you feel safe in the country?
  • Social life – Do you thrive on social activity? Will you be able to develop that kind of social life in the country of your choice?
  • Language – Do not expect to be able to function in English. Are you comfortable learning a new language?

You can see that there is a lot to think about. My suggestion is that you visit the country you want to make your home. Stay for a few months if possible to understand the advantages and disadvantages it offers you.

If this topic interests you, I will be doing a podcast with John, the owner of Life at 55 Plus, about my experiences living in a foreign culture. Check back frequently to learn more about this podcast.
Kate 8
Kate is a freelance writer who has lived on the island of Java for the past 30 years. Java became her home when she took a 3-month work assignment to train Indonesians on word processing equipment in Jakarta, and she fell in love with the adventurous lifestyle that she found there. She worked as a tour director in many countries of the world, but she now spends most of her time writing in her home/office in Yogyakarta, Central Java, which she shares with her two whippets and four Dalmatians. You can visit her at KateFreelanceWriter or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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