You’ve spent countless hours scouring the Internet in search of the perfect place to retire abroad. At last, you think you’ve pinpointed your dream location. So what’s next? We recommend a scouting trip.
A scouting trip will confirm, or deny, what you have learned through your research. It will also reveal any red flags your research didn’t find. You will read all sorts of conflicting information online but what really matters is how you feel about your retirement location. When you personally experience the culture, weather, and way of life, you are given a perspective you cannot garner from a computer screen.
1. Visit During Shoulder Season
If a particular type of climate is on your wishlist, the time of year you embark on an investigative trip can be incredibly important.
Many popular expat destinations have only moderate temperature fluctuation year-round. But all have “seasons,” and often the variable is precipitation. And the differences between the dry and wet seasons can be extreme.
We suggest visiting locations with definite climate inconsistencies during “shoulder season.” Not familiar with that term? In the travel industry, it’s used to describe the time between high and low season for tourists. Here, we’re referring to the transition between climate seasons.
Showing up then gives you the best chance of experiencing a little of both seasons in a short amount of time. While you may get some glorious days interspersed with not-so-great ones, that’s exactly why you’re there.
Pro Tip: If you can’t schedule your visit during shoulder season, think about going during whatever is the “worst” time weather-wise. Possibly contrarian thinking, but if you are good with it then, you’ll love being there the rest of the year, right?
2. Stay As Long As You Can
When asked how long to stay, the short answer is, “As long as you can.” Some people stay months, which puts them in the ideal position of actually living in their prospective new home before making a final decision.
If you aren’t in that enviable situation, we recommend planning a trip of at least 2 weeks. With anything less than that, you’ll be trying to cram too much into too little time.
You may be traveling a long distance and crossing several time zones to get to your destination. In that case, you need to factor in the possibility of experiencing jet lag at the beginning of your arrival.
Two weeks will give you sufficient time to acclimate and get acquainted with your potential new home at a comfortable pace.
3. Check Your Passport
Make sure your passport has at least 6 months available from date of entry until expiration. Before departing, let the bank know the dates you will be out of the country. Otherwise, you run the risk of having your account frozen when “mysterious” charges start showing up abroad.
4. Consider The Cost
This scouting trip isn’t just a weekend getaway, so it’s important to set a realistic budget. Here is a list of possible expenses you’ll have before you even leave.
- Boarding pets – The national average is $40 per night.
- Airport parking – Even parking in satellite lots can run $15 per day. For a 2-week trip, that’s over $200 for your car to sit there! Consider a service like Uber or Lyft as an alternative.
- Flights/baggage fees – Most airlines allow one free checked bag plus a carry-on and personal item for international flights, but be sure to verify.
- Travel insurance – We strongly advise purchasing a travel policy if you are not covered abroad with your existing health insurance. Squaremouth is a top-rated travel insurance website that we’ve used for years and highly recommend.
- International cell phone coverage – As an alternative to expensive daily rates for international coverage with your domestic carrier, consider purchasing an eSIM card online. It’s easy to install and extremely economical. We’ve used Airalo all over Europe and Latin America with great results.
- Foreign or international transaction fees – Many financial institutions charge an average 3 percent on credit and debit card transactions made abroad. Find out what your bank charges before departing to avoid disappointment when the monthly statement arrives. (Get more info here about no-fee credit cards.)
- Accommodations – You have a lot of flexibility to control expenses in this category. You will be pleasantly surprised to discover that comfortable lodging, like the overall cost of living, is very affordable in many countries outside of the United States. Airbnb and Booking.com are great choices for finding suitable accommodations.
Once you arrive, you’ll want to be prepared for in-country expenses.
- In-country transportation – Car rentals in foreign countries can be quite pricey. Consider creative alternatives like hiring taxis or a local driver (not nearly as expensive as in the U.S.). Using in-country buses and trains is usually an economical option.
- Guides/excursions/classes – Professional guides and tour companies can add a lot of value and enrichment to your experience. Same with perhaps a language or cooking class.
- Miscellaneous expenses (souvenirs, etc.) – You know you are going to bring back gifts and keepsakes from your trip. Decide in advance how much you want to spend.
- Emergency fund – Set aside money for unforeseen events and hope you don’t spend a penny of it.
5. Tour Local Neighborhoods
Wander around different neighborhoods. A scouting trip is different from a vacation or a sightseeing excursion. You very well could be walking around in the place you will soon call home. How cool is that?!
So make good use of your time while you’re there. Your goal is to confirm your research and to be on the lookout for unacceptable surprises. Most importantly, after all the investigation, you need a “yes” to the question, “Does this place speak to my heart?”
Pro Tip: We also recommend finding a real estate agent to show you some properties. Since many real estate professionals are not licensed in various countries, it’s typically best to get a personal recommendation from expat groups.
6. Visit Local Stores
Visit grocery stores to learn what things cost and what’s available. Also, you are looking for products you typically purchase. For example, can you live without Jif peanut butter or your favorite (fill in the blank) if it’s not there?
Do you prefer specific name-brand cosmetics and toiletries? Be sure to stop by a pharmacy to see if they are on the shelves. Make sure you have access to the medications you currently take.
7. Don’t Overplan
Decide what information is necessary for you to gather, but try not to overschedule. Set aside some time for fun activities as well. Plan a day trip. Take lots of photos. Immerse yourself in the experience.
Because honestly, there is a chance your investigative trip may reveal it’s not what you expected, and you don’t want to live in this place after all. It’s better to learn that now than after you’ve moved there. In any case, you’ll have had a great adventure and some terrific lifelong memories.
8. Commit To A Realistic Recap
When you get on the plane to come home, you want to know if you will be happy in this location 24/7/365. But here’s an advance warning: Even if your trip has exceeded expectations, it is perfectly normal for the reality of what you’re thinking about doing to give you second thoughts.
If you know this is the right place for you, it’s time to conquer your fears and move forward. Don’t let that voice inside your head try to take away your dreams. Go home and start getting ready to begin your exciting new life abroad!
Additional Retirement Scouting Resources
A scouting trip is but one segment of the journey to becoming a successful expat. There’s so much to know and a lot of moving parts. Many people are intrigued with the idea of living abroad, but trying to get your arms around the process can seem overwhelming.
To address those concerns, we’ve created Retirement Reimagined! Based on our 13 years of personal experience as successful expats, it’s a fun, step-by-step guide (including more in-depth tips about taking a scouting trip) that takes away the guesswork and confusion.