Considering Expat Life – Decisions, Decisions

If you are seriously considering spending your retirement years in a beachy, sunny, festive, low cost location SOMEWHERE outside of the United States, you are in good company.  The cost of health care (and insurance) in the US is a significant enough motivation, without adding in perks like travel discounts, exotic locations, and (sometimes) a low cost housekeeper for the later years when your knees/hips/shoulders make scrubbing floors and cleaning the refrigerator Not Much Fun. 

The challenge lies in determining what your priorities are, then winnowing down the options.  We have been considering Ecuador, Spain and Portugal.  A friend recent recommended a couple of cities in Italy, and one in Mexico.  We have a lot of research to do. 

So first, language.  I have to admit that I have always wanted to learn Spanish.  I’ve lived in California for a third of my life, and the casual exposure to Spanish gives me a leg up on learning the new language.  (not to mention I have friends whose first language is Spanish… so yeah.)  Don’t get me wrong, Portuguese sounds flowing and sexy, which is incentive enough.  But I love the fact that Spanish follows English in frequency of usage.  Still, if learning a language spoken by the most people on the planet was my main criteria, I’d have to go for Mandarin.  Hmmmm.  

Lately we’ve invested in several CD programs to learn more Spanish.  Pimsleur, Living Language, and Fluenz are several good choices, but the Spanish dialect spoken in Ecuador is different than the one spoken in Spain.  The same is true of Portuguese spoken in Brazil and Portugal.  So even this is not as easy as clicking a link on Amazon to get the starter set. There are also online courses where you can video chat with a fluent language teacher, immersion travel adventures, and any number of combinations of the three.  Hopefully I’ll have something useful to say about this in a while. 

Acceptance of LGBT Couples: The whole ‘human rights’ thing is a critical element… especially acceptance of LGBTQ individuals like yours truly and my amazing spouse. Here Portugal edges out Ecuador by a hair, and Spain comes out at the front of the pack… if you can completely ignore its history.  I can believe in political change, so all three are acceptable destinations on that count in my mind.  

Health care… now that’s a kicker. Quality of treatment has to be sophisticated, but not profit-based like the US. There has to be a universal payment/coverage system, or affordable coverage. Equivalent drugs must be available. Physical, occupational, and speech therapy must be available. All three candidates qualify in the large cities… less so as you get into the countryside (and that varies significantly from country to country).   Do your own research based on your conditions and needs.  Research claims that sound too good to be true, even further.  The impact of Ecuador’s geography (elevation and proximity to the equator) on its residents should definitely be taken into consideration

We have a long list of our own interests including (in order of importance to us… yours may be different); 
* safe tap water
* air quality
* cost of living
* safe public transportation
* hot water heaters in homes
* status of cannabis usage for medical purposes
* retiree discounts
* access to good restaurants
* access to wine country and quality adult beverages
* arts and culture

 There are a number of web sites out there dedicated to the interests of Expats all over.  Most should be taken with a grain of salt… especially the ones that bubble over with enthusiasm about the idea of leaving your home country for somewhere *better* (i.e. cheaper, sunnier, friendlier…)

Expat life is an adventure. Of that I am confident.  There will be no guarantees. It will shake us up, irritate the shit out of us, transform our way of seeing others and ourselves, and will probably change our relationship significantly. The Wife and I are are fully aware of the possibility that we will spend six to eight months glaring at one another and thinking, “You, and your bright ideas!”  

We are also pretty confident in our ability to adapt, savor the process of learning new things, and enjoying whatever splendid foods, beverages, and vistas we find in front of us. It’s our retirement.  Let’s have fun with it!

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