There are many reasons to choose where you’ll retire. Like so many Americans, several of my ancestors came from Ireland. In my case, County Cork and County Clare. My last ancestor, my great-grandmother Ellen, and her mother, Mary, came by ship in 1898.
When my daughter Jackie started graduate school in Dublin in 2018, it felt like the family had gone full circle. It didn’t take much for me to consider retiring here. It has always felt like home.
Here are some of the things I’ve found particularly useful when retiring abroad.
1. It’s Nice To Have Your Things With You — But You Don’t Need Everything
I downsized from a 4,000-square-foot house to a 450-square-foot furnished apartment. As much as I love my baby grand piano, it would’ve taken up the entire living space. I took over what I needed, two suitcases at a time.
I don’t need nearly as much as perhaps I thought I did in the U.S. but I do miss my crafting room.
Pro Tip: If you do ship your goods, make a checklist of each of your packing boxes and what, precisely, is in each one, with its value. You’ll need it for customs.
2. Know The Language
In addition to English, many of the people of Ireland speak the Irish Language. They do not call it Gaelic. I’ve learned that just a few words in this ancient language come in very handy. And so do the English idioms.
“You’re most welcome” is a “hello” into someone’s home, not the response to “thank you.”
“What’s the craic?” (pronounced “crack”) means “How are you?” or “Where’s the fun?”
“Is it yourself?” can be used when you meet someone famous, or someone you haven’t seen in a while. I like to use it when I can’t immediately remember the person’s name.
Fortunately, everyone understands “Can I buy you a pint?”
3. Figure Out The Money
The difference between euros and dollars may not seem like much, and financially, it’s not. But banking in Ireland is different from the U.S. If you’re not a student, there’s no such thing as a “free” account. They have negative interest rates (which means if you leave cash sitting in the bank, they deduct money each month) or increasingly steep fees (our bank currently charges 6 euros a month without transaction fees).
Online banking makes a big difference for converting between dollars and euros and any other currency I receive from my writing. And, I’ve learned to accept ATM fees when I need to withdraw cash.
Fortunately, most places do accept credit cards. If you have a no foreign transaction fee credit card, you’re good. Ireland is not one of the countries that accepts direct deposits from social security.
I expect to keep a U.S. account to accept my social security payments (when they’re finally available to me) and to pay credit card bills.
I’ll also have a local savings account, despite the fees, knowing I have to fill out more U.S. tax forms with this. I’m glad my accountant keeps up on all this for me.
And that is important. Be sure someone on your financial team — banker, lawyer, financial planner, accountant, or wealth manager — understands the ramifications of you being overseas. It’ll save you trouble later.
4. Figure Out The Visa
As an employable adult, my options became gaining employment with a facility that would sponsor my visa or investing in Ireland — more than a million euros for at least 3 years. The Irish government does list medical professionals as meeting “critical skills employment” so once I receive the proper permit, I could apply for residency after just 2 years.
Sadly, Ireland doesn’t have hospitalists, so my skills don’t easily transfer.
As a retiree, though, I could be accepted, after obtaining a D-Reside and O stamp, but had to prove I had passive income (like a pension or social security) of $50k a year and “a lump sum equal to the price of a residence” in case of emergency expenses. Since I’m not old enough to receive retirement funds, that became problematic. It took changing my investment strategy and investing in real estate syndications to have steady cash flow. All of this had to be accomplished prior to entering the country. You can’t go in as a tourist and have your retirement visa approved.
5. Health Considerations
Before you leave the U.S., you should obtain a complete physical, copies of your doctor’s records, and a complete list of your medications. Some of your medicines will not be available in your new country. In Europe, the green plus sign indicates a pharmacy. The pharmacist will be able to assist you with converting to the best option. Or you’ll need to speak with your physician and U.S. health insurer about getting a year’s supply at a time.
Keep in mind that you may need to provide proof that you need the medication for customs and excise purposes. And some places won’t allow you to take certain medications (Adderall, for example, when traveling to Japan) into their country under any circumstances.
Medicare does not pay for services rendered outside the U.S. As a physician, I do believe all of us should maintain our Medicare benefits throughout our lives. But you should speak to your advisor about your particular situation. I know some people that live in Belize who plan to return to the U.S. for any healthcare issues. They’re in their early 60s and this might work for them … until it doesn’t. A stroke or heart attack, for example, requires prompt care. So, it’s important to consider health insurance, especially when your adopted country requires proof of it.
When I moved to Dublin, I was aware I’m not covered under its universal healthcare. I’d have to be a resident to receive those benefits and it currently excludes people that enter under the retirement visa. Proof of health insurance was required. GeoBlue from Blue Cross/Blue Shield is one option. And others can be found in the private sector.
6. Get Out In Nature Often
No matter where you are, be sure to get out in nature. It helps you learn the area and remember why you relocated. It provides a mental lift and gives you the ability to meet new people and find new places to explore. It carries the same emotional benefits you received back home.
When in the city, it’s easy to enjoy nature with parks scattered throughout, often hidden from easy view.
I like to get out and about, sometimes, too, away from the city, especially to the seaside towns a bit out of reach from the DART.
Before you leave the U.S., you’ll be well-served to obtain your international driving license. I received mine through my local AAA office. Having it before you arrive in your new destination will save you time and hassle.
In Dublin, I don’t keep a car since public transit is so convenient in the city. But when I travel to the country, it’s easy to rent a car with my U.S. driver’s license and international driving license (you need both). And I laugh at how I cursed my father when he left me with a stick shift car in the middle of St. Louis, not knowing how to drive it. Now 30 years later, I take advantage of the dramatic cost savings and get the standard, rather than automatic transmission to tool around the country.
Pro Tip: Buy the insurance. What I save in getting a manual rather than automatic transmission car more than makes up for the full coverage for potential damage to the car. It also makes returning the vehicle super fast and easy.
7. Things You Probably Haven’t Considered
One of the best things I did before moving overseas permanently was establishing residency in a state that has no state income tax. I’m not an accountant or financial planner, so check with your own advisor. For me, it will help reduce my tax burden on further income, retirement funds, and social security benefits.
And one last tip. You’ve chosen your new home (rent or purchased) and have an address. One super simple thing you can do before you go is to have change of address cards to hand to friends and family. If you want to take this one step further, get a self-inking stamp from somewhere like Vista Print and use that to make forwarding your mail easy-peasy. (It’s also great for things like Wedding Expositions where you’re signing up for promotional deals). And it’s your return address for all the mail you need to send from your new home.