Retirement Planning, Elder Law, and Senior Finance

2/7/2024 | By John Levan

Retiring abroad can be an intriguing option after years of dedicated service and hard work. It offers unique opportunities to immerse in new cultures, meet diverse people, and enjoy a different pace of life. However, pulling up stakes and moving to a foreign country without first giving it a test run is risky, so we offer four unexpected ways to try out retirement abroad.

You can evaluate the realities of such a decision before you take the plunge by “test driving” your retirement destination before committing. In other words, spend a substantial amount of time there so you can experience the daily life, culture, amenities, and cost of living firsthand. This approach will help you decide whether retiring abroad is the right choice for you.

Why try out retirement abroad?

What if you discover that being so far away from familiar people and places is harder than you thought? Or what if you discover that the country you’ve chosen doesn’t match your expectations or lifestyle? 

A short-term stay in a foreign country (longer than a vacation) can provide a more realistic view of day-to-day life beyond the appealing tourist façade. You’ll get to understand the local culture, customs, and language nuances, which can significantly differ from what a tourist sees. This real-life experience can help you make an informed decision.

Additionally, “kicking the tires” in a foreign country helps you better assess practical aspects such as healthcare services, cost of living, and the expat community – better than a web search can. Access to quality healthcare is essential for retirees, and by spending time in your chosen location, you can better evaluate the local healthcare system’s efficiency and costs. 

Related: Deciding where to retire abroad 

Similarly, the cost of living can be strikingly different from your home country, and an extended stay can provide a clear picture of whether your retirement income will sustain you in this new environment. 

Finally, connecting with the local expat community can give you insights into their experiences and challenges, which could prove valuable in your decision-making process.

How to try out retirement abroad without committing

1. Volunteer 

A long-term volunteer opportunity puts you in the midst of a country’s culture. While you may not find volunteer work in your first choice of retirement location, you can nonetheless experience what it’s like to be away from family, friends, and a familiar culture for an extended time. 

Volunteering also offers a chance to serve people who need your time and experience, adding purpose, learning, and a spirit of giving to your life. 

The Peace Corps offers opportunities designed specifically for older adults. Retirees can choose from two volunteer programs:

  • Peace Corps volunteers serve for two years plus three months of training to immerse into a host country community.
  • Peace Corps response volunteers serve for three months to a year in a specialized, technical position requiring professional experience.

2. Become a Digital Nomad

remote worker on a video call. By Alessandro Biascioli for article on how to try out retirement abroad before you commit

Digital nomads reflect the recent trend toward remote work. Many countries offer freelance visas that will allow you to maintain employment in your home country while living abroad. Your current employer might allow you to work remotely, you may find a consulting job that uses your career experience. Or you can craft a freelance job such as photography or design that allows the flexibility you need.

3. Be a house sitter 

Living in someone else’s home presents a unique and cost-effective way to experience life in a foreign country for an extended period. This arrangement benefits both the homeowner, who gains a trustworthy individual to look after their home and possibly their pets, and the retiree, who enjoys the comforts of a home without the typical lodging expenses. 

This setup also allows for a deeper cultural immersion than what traditional tourism rentals can offer, encouraging retirees to live like locals and engage with the community.

Several reputable organizations coordinate such arrangements for varying lengths of time, including House Carers, House Sitters America, and Home Exchange.   

4. Get a new job

A job abroad allows you to experience a new country and perhaps even to discover challenges or joys you didn’t anticipate. 

You might be able to find a job in your career field or this may be a chance to experience something entirely new, such as English teacher or au pair or any number of jobs in the hospitality field.

Evaluate your experience

During and after your temporary stay, review your experience. Was the standard of living up to your expectations? Did you enjoy the lifestyle and culture? How did it feel being away from family and friends? You can plan a permanent move if you feel satisfied with your choice. If not, you can explore other retirement options. 

Remember, moving abroad, even temporarily, is a significant step that requires careful planning and extensive research. However, a well-thought-out strategy can open the door to an enriching retirement.

It’s crucial to conduct thorough research, visit multiple times in different seasons, and try out extended-stay rentals before making the final decision. Retirement should be a time of relaxation and enjoyment, so ensuring your chosen destination provides the comfort and amenities you desire is essential. The world is vast and diverse, waiting to be explored, making retirement abroad a viable and potentially fulfilling option for your later years.

John Levan

Freelance writer John Levan focuses on insurance, finance, and manufacturing as well as senior living topics. Based in Pennsylvania, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from Alvernia University and Master of Arts in humanities from California State University, Dominguez Hills.