For years, you’ve toyed with retiring abroad. Maybe you have a college friend who lives in Tuscany. Or maybe every time you and your partner go out for dinner, you always end up talking about Costa Rica. Or you’re divorced and looking out the window one day while scrubbing the kitchen sink, you muse about selling your condo and living abroad. After all, the kids are grown, you’ve saved wisely… why not?
But then your phone pings, stuff happens, you’re busy, and besides, it’s such an enormous step. Move to another country? Really? How do you even start?
It is an enormous undertaking, but the first step is simple. If you’re ever going to live in a foreign country, you’re not going to do it just by daydreaming or sitting at home reading expat memoirs and blogs. You’ll probably need to visit a place a couple of times, maybe more, before you’re sure. Retiring abroad is like getting married: best to do it right the first time, not act on impulse, and then realize later you made the wrong decision.
Mark Your Calendar
Here’s the secret my husband Barry and I learned long ago, a trick that ultimately led to buying a home in Mexico and embarking on a new life. In August 1999, 3 months before the trip that changed our lives, we took down our hanging calendar from the wall, a thank-you gift from the World Wildlife Fund. We spread it out on the kitchen table, studied the upcoming months and our commitments, and then, in dark irreversible ink, blocked out the time we’d be away from home. Those black strokes represented our promise to each other: neither of us would commit to anything in that timeframe without checking with the other first. That time was sacred.
For me, it was hard to draw the lines. As Barry waited restlessly, I hesitated, dragging it out. Yes, I know travel is alluring, but I also love the comforts of home. The very moment I start planning to leave — long before a departure date — I start missing my friends, my routines, my home.
But once we drew the line, everything became easier. We didn’t even know where exactly we were going! We had ideas, but nothing definite. And certainly, we had no idea we’d discover a beautiful Mexican town called Guanajuato, where a few years later, we’d buy a house.
All we knew was that we would store our stuff, rent our home, and leave the middle of November. Sure enough, like clockwork, on November 15 we flew from San Francisco to Mexico City and took a bus to the historic town of San Miguel de Allende. Three days later, a couple we met from Minnesota invited us to join them on a day trip to Guanajuato, a UNESCO World Heritage Center. We were so charmed by the city, we returned to San Miguel, packed our bags, and spent the next six weeks studying Spanish in Guanajuato, staying with a wonderful Mexican woman named Rebeca. Five years later, we bought a house across the street from Rebeca, and now we’re neighbors. None of that would have ever happened if we hadn’t blocked out the time on the calendar.
When you mark off the time, you don’t need to know where you’re going, either. Nor does it matter how far in advance you dedicate the time away. It might be 2 months ahead, a year, or more. What’s important is that you commit the time to yourself and to your plan — even if you don’t know what the plan is. You will know.
How can you be sure you’ll stick to it? If you’re part of a couple, you have each other to hold accountable. If you’re single, I recommend sharing your decision with a friend.
Ride The Momentum
Once you’ve blocked out the dates, things will take on a surprising momentum. You’ll find yourself poring over maps and checking out Facebook groups in different parts of the world. Odd synchronicities will appear, like you’ll find out that your neighbor’s sister lives in the south of France, one of the places you’re considering. Soon you’ll be checking flights. The logistics that seemed so daunting earlier suddenly will seem straightforward.
It will all fall into place. As the quote from Goethe goes, “… the moment one definitely commits oneself… all sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred… Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
But first, you have to stake out the time. What are you waiting for? Go ahead. Boldly begin! Get out the calendar, now.
For more, see our robust retirement category. Here’s some select content to get you started:
- Where I Decided To Retire After Moving 33 Times During My Life
- 9 Tips For Keeping Your Mind And Body Sharp After You Retire
- 8 Signs You’re Ready To Sell It All And Hit The Road In An RV
- 8 Best LGBTQ+ Places To Retire Internationally