Future retirees realize it might be challenging to survive on the retirement savings they’ve managed to accumulate in their employer-sponsored retirement plan. Some think retiring abroad could make the money go farther and offer other advantages.
According to a Wisebread report, lots of people are turning to retirement outside the U.S., where their dollars may go farther and where they may even be able to take advantage of programs just for retirees.
In fact, according to Social Security Administration statistics, the number of Americans retiring abroad grew 17 percent between 2010 and 2015, and now totals some 400,000.
It’s not surprising when you realize that households with a resident aged 65 or older have a median income of just $38,515, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That money will go farther in lots of places outside the U.S. and make for a more comfortable retirement.
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But it’s not as simple as packing up and going; there are all sorts of considerations to take into account—such as medical care, Social Security benefits, banking, and whether—or even if—one can buy property there.
Here are 13 advance financial steps that the report says should be taken care of before venturing beyond the U.S. in retirement.
13. Find a retiree-friendly destination.
Some potential sites for a carefree retirement might offer actual incentives designed to attract American retirees, such as tax breaks and visa offers, like Panama and Costa Rica’s pensionado programs.
In addition, some countries offer senior citizen benefits that were put in place for locals. Ecuador, for instance, offers a senior discount program that offers savings on airfare, utilities and sporting events.
Check with the State Department on country-specific information about visa laws, health and safety conditions, and even how much money one is allowed to bring into the country.
12. Make sure it’s possible to receive Social Security payments there.
With some 60 percent of retirees dependent on Social Security for at least half their income, it’s not prudent to wing off to a country where they can’t get payments—like China and Cambodia.
In addition, some other countries may make a retiree jump through hoops to get the money—such as in Ukraine, where you must meet certain conditions to get your payments, such as appearing at a U.S. embassy or consulate every six months.
Fortunately, the SSA offers the Payments Abroad Screening Tool to help figure out if one can collect payments overseas.
But bear in mind, too, that for a non-U.S. citizen receiving Social Security because they worked in the U.S., or are a dependent of someone who did, it’s more complicated. Check with the booklet Your Payments While You Are Outside the United States. In addition, many American embassies worldwide have a Federal Benefits Unit to help retirees with any Social Security issues.
11. Hire a new financial advisor.
Someone only familiar with the rules in the U.S. won’t be much help with regulations in other countries. Make sure to find a cross-border specialist who can handle local income tax laws.
That advisor can also help with safely moving spending money from the U.S. to the new residence, and keep retirees from getting into trouble because of other issues they might never have considered.
The Cross-Border Financial Planning Alliance can help in finding someone familiar with the intricacies of a different country’s laws.
10. Figure out what to do with bank accounts.
It would be wise to keep a U.S. bank account open for stateside bills and expenses and to open one in the new home country too.
If the U.S. bank charges a fee for making withdrawals from foreign automatic teller machines, upgrade the account or change banks before moving.
When it comes to that foreign account, Expat Info Desk recommends choosing a large, well-known bank and transferring money using an international currency exchange service that can provide a better conversion rate. Another option is to ask the home bank if they operate in the destination country.
And remember that if American citizens have more than $10,000 worth of assets in foreign accounts, they must report this to the U.S. government every year by filing a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) or face penalties of up to $100,000.
9. Don’t forget to pay U.S. taxes.
Even when living abroad, retirees are on the hook for taxes—unless they simply surrender U.S. citizenship, but that can lead to benefits complications.
The Internal Revenue Service offers guidance on how and when to file a tax return from overseas.
Oh, and if retirees think they’re so far away it won’t matter? Wrong—in fact, if retirees owe more than $50,000 in delinquent payments, they could lose their passport.
8. Get online.
Some may have resisted online banking and bill-paying up till now. However, considering that snailmail can still be unreliable in some countries, now would be the time to take the plunge to avoid delays and the cost of international postage.
7. Rent a home while investigating buying.
The Australian Expat Investor suggests that renting might be a better option in the new home country, unless retirees are already familiar enough with it from previous visits to be sure they’re there to stay.
There will be rules about what can and can’t be done—and some retirees may even have to pay an entire year’s rent in advance.
Even if a lease isn’t signed before the move abroad, retirees should put aside the money they’ll need and learn how to transfer it.
Once established in the new country, retirees might want to buy a home for financial reasons; it could cut costs and serve as an investment if the local property market is rising.
6. Look at a U.S. home as a cash cow.
Especially if one doesn’t want to sell it at first, consider renting all or part of the home in the U.S. In fact, says the report, some retirees use Airbnb to make money from their U.S. home, but keep the rental schedule flexible so that the home is available for them to stay in on visits back to the U.S.
If, on the other hand, retirees want to refinance their U.S. home to get the cash to buy overseas, they need to make sure to take care of that before leaving the States—it can be tricky to handle that sort of transaction from a foreign country, with more paperwork and more hassles.
5. Make an estate plan.
If retirees don’t have a will, or never considered putting assets in a revocable trust, they should talk to an estate attorney before heading off to the new home and get it done.
The lawyer should be knowledgeable about the ramifications of living abroad, so they can advise on whether a U.S. will can provide for distributing foreign assets, or if a second will created in the new home country will be needed.
For those who already have an estate plan, make sure to check with an attorney to see if any amendments will need to be made to cover assets located abroad.
4. Make a health care plan.
Retirees won’t have Medicare if they live overseas. But they still have to decide whether to enroll to be able to use it on visits back in the U.S., and while it’s pretty easy to decide in favor of Part A—which doesn’t cost anything—Part B isn’t necessarily cheap.
If one waits until it’s needed to enroll in it—say a retiree becomes disabled and has to come back to live in the U.S.—it will cost more and may take months for eligibility.
But health care overseas is cheaper than it is in the U.S., so while that’s good news — still one needs to plan for it. Local insurance or a hospital membership may be the answer.
3. Buy insurance for everything else.
Check out in advance what the requirements are for insuring property in other countries—a good source is the local real estate agent there.
2. Get a financial power of attorney.
If something comes up in the U.S. that requires handling, such as selling or buying property or investments, a representative can make decisions or be authorized to carry out a retiree’s wishes and sign for them. Perhaps an adult son or daughter can deal with it—but not without a financial power of attorney.
1. Make an exit plan.
Circumstances can change. Whether a retiree is planning on coming back to the States in the event of ill health, or simply wants remains shipped back in the event of death, they need to be prepared for that to happen with all documentation in place or a plan to execute the move in reverse.
Retirees should also look into emergency evacuation/repatriation insurance to help with medically equipped flights home or transportation of remains.