An Expat Retirement – Perhaps Not For Us

By now I’ve established that – while I like to plan ahead, I clearly don’t have all the answers (about anything, if I’m honest with myself,) but retirement most of all. As a result, The Wife and I have spent the last few years pondering how we want to live our lives when we hit retirement age. Shockingly, that’s not very many years away.

We have seriously considered life as Expats in some sunny and/or exotic location where the cost of living is lower, the health care better and cheaper, and we have the resources to travel, do a lot of art, and eat well. Once we sorted for countries that;

  • have good water and air quality
  • are LGBT friendly with a good (recent) human rights record
  • have health care which is superior to the US (not difficult)
  • allow the legal use of cannabis for medical purposes
  • allow you to bring home furnishings in without paying import taxes (on top of shipping)
  • have a friendly expat community that isn’t too separate from the locals
  • are proximate to some decent wine country
  • will grant a 2-3 year retiree VISA without us having to spend 6 months steadily chipping away at a mountain of paperwork (or invest half a million dollars)

…it wasn’t a long list.

In the past six months we’ve done a great deal of research on the matter, narrowing down our interests to a couple of locations. There is a lot to consider. Language. Citizenship and VISAs. Costs of renting or buying a home. Requirements to bring pets in country. Timing and protocols to bring household goods oversea. Attitudes of the expat community. The local culture. Can I buy peanut butter, the right cat litter and good mayonnaise locally or must they be imported? The kind of trade-offs you must make to live in another country are not minor. If you’re not able to embrace a new culture, you may want to save yourself some money and grief.

Ultimately the sheer volume of paperwork and hassles necessary to relocate ourselves, our three pets, and our collection of art glass made us step back from that plan. Better to stay in the US, and travel regularly abroad. Sometimes, there really is no place like home. In our case, Northern California. The longer we live here, the more reluctant we are to leave.

I would still love to spend a decade working abroad for some Global or Transnational organization, moving from location to location. The Wife is game too. It’s not completely off the table. But retirement abroad seems unlikely.

We don’t have a final plan in place yet, which is why my first recommendation on retirement planning is to start early. Don’t wait until you’re 64 to think about what retirement might look like. In fact, the earlier you start planning, the better. Work with a retirement planner to determine how much you need to save in order to retire according to your ideal scenario. This helps motivate you to grow your career, grow your income, and reduce your spending. The ideal scenario may change, but it’s highly unlikely you will regret having “too much money” in your retirement account.


Blah blah blah. More retirement pondering. I’m not sure if this is helpful to anyone else, but it certainly helps me get clearer about what I want from my future.

Aging & Assumptions

Today I’m 57 years, 65 days and about 30 minutes of age.  I took my first serious tumble about a month ago and the healing process has been slower than I personally think it should be.  I’ve never liked being sick.  It makes me all ….

Noooooooo! This can’t be happening to me.

In fact, I suspect this is fairly typical of anyone who has spent most of their life with a solid set of vaccines, decent health care,  a reasonable sense of balance, and good peripheral vision. 

Plus I’ve been lucky.  So I’m blessed x2. My genuine sympathy to anyone who wasn’t as lucky.  All that being said, I’m now a silver-haired woman of obvious middle years.  True I have a hip haircut (thank you Leonor at Lea’s Hair Studio), and I regularly indulge in a carefully calibrated amount of lavender / blue / pink / green / turquoise hair coloring.  Less “HEY I colored my hair turquoise” than, “Heh, see the slight iridescent sheen of my latest color application.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done the vibrant purple and turquoise.  It’s fun.  


It’s just high maintenance, and I have better things to do with my time.  

This is me about a year ago.  The POINT I’m trying to make is that I’m not your average helmet-haired, sensible shoe wearing Granny.   (well, I do tend to wear flats, but cute … and expensive high-quality flats)

Five years ago I was living in Los Angeles, walking to the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market, going to ‘Sweat Your Prayers’ dance once a week, and shopping at the boutiques in Santa Monica. The fact that I live in Modesto, CA in the central valley of northern California is a career and quality of life choice. 

So when Home Girl at Plato’s Closet sees me walk in with my graying (but slightly iridescent)  hair and my Skechers, the assumption that she makes should not be… oh… her clothing style must be oooooold too.  

When she gives me a bunch of attitude about how they’re only looking for H&M, Forever 21, and Hollister clothes – “Like… you know, BRAND name clothing.” 

It takes everything I have not to roll my eyes, and say,”You’re referring to cheap disposable clothing that looks like crap after three washings? I personally like to spend my money on better quality clothing from places like Lululemon, Vince Camuto, Lucky Brand and Free People.” (all of which also happen to be mentioned on the Plato’s Closet web site).  “AND on really great boutique stuff like American Hardtail, All Saints, Slate & Stone, and James Perse.”   It’s a close call. 

I don’t even bother talking about the quality and timeless style of Eileen Fisher, Etro, and Tahari, because this place is for young people, and young people simply cannot afford to think in terms of investment clothing.  I know.  I was twenty-two once myself. 

So I hand over a couple dozen hangers of the cream-of-the-‘clear my closet out’-crop.  Stuff that fit me 5 years ago, and maybe even 3 years ago… but not any more. It’s an expensive chunk of clothing. It physically pains me to let some of it go, but I have a whole lot more left in my closet.  (a fact which regularly irritates the bejeesus out of me – the money I’ve wasted on clothes and shoes over the years.) 

I’ve also brought a bunch of leather belts and purses – Coach, Vince Camuto, Kipling, Donald Pliner, Le Sportsac… and an almost new mirrored pair of Banana Republic sunglasses (in the case).  

Home Girl with the bad dye job and terrible make-up gives me a thin smile and tells me they’ll go through everything and decide what they want.  I nod and wander off to buy groceries at Trader Joe’s.  

I get that the staff at Plato’s only wants to buy what they truly believe they can sell.  I’m hip to the business case.  You can’t sell a younger audience high end designer clothing that they don’t relate to because it’s not in their fashion vocabulary.  Yet. The customers here are kids who can’t afford to shop at the mall, but want to look to their peers, like they do.  

When I come back 15 minutes later, Home Girl shows me a bin with 3 belts and says, “I’m afraid this is all we can take.  We’ll give you $17.39 for these. ” I survey the bin, and the clothes hanging up… and ask casually,   “I thought you were interested in Lululemon?”

It’s like offering a dog a treat.  If she had floppy ears they would have perked up.  “Lululemon?   Where?”  I tell her what it looks like (which is what about 80% of all Lululemon looks like), long, black and stretchy.  She siezes it off the hanger, gives it a casual once over to make sure the logo is there, then starts typing into the computer. I refrain from mentioning the three other Lululemon, the Free People, the brand new $109 Athleta yoga pants, and the American Hardtail.  I ask her about the purses.  She pulls herself back from a sneer.  “Oh, well we really like cross bodies that are from name brands.  You know, with structure.”  I’m done.  I take my Coach cross-body, my pristine black leather cross-body with the purple trim (Vince Camuto), and everything else back to the car. 

Inside I’m actually laughing at Home Girl and her seriously badly applied eyebrow makeup (despite the fact that I would pay money to give her a makeover because she could be SO cute with a bit of help). 

The problem here is that someone looked at an obviously older person, and made some assumptions.  (ass, u, me, etc…)  The evaluation team at Plato’s Closet clearly needed better training.  They didn’t evaluate the clothing, they evaluated the seller – which is why they didn’t find at least a dozen items that would have easily sold at a profit to their target market from a seller who was more than happy to take a big loss just to get some room back in her closet. 

That’s ageism, pure and simple.  (and from a business perspective, why ageism is so bad for the bottom line)  You see, ooooold people can afford better stuff.  Maybe not once we retire, but in the last third of our career… yep. Those of us who were ‘fashionistas’ in our younger thinner years, are still willing to spend money on beautiful styles, fabrics, and high quality design as we age. 

Anyone who is interested in a career in fashion design should seriously bear this in mind.  Stop selling to the thin and young.  They’re paying off student loans, saving for a car, or blowing their money on cocktails and travel abroad with their friends.   Make a middle-aged professional, twenty pounds over her ideal weight, look really good, and you have a money making machine on your hands. 

So part of me is offended.  This is the first time I’ve been so blatantly treated like I’m old.  (well, if you don’t count medical care in the Coachella Valley)  But it’s also true.  

Another part of me is exploring the experience.  I am old.  In fact, I’m ‘early retirement’ old.  That opens up an entirely new set of considerations. 
My neighbor, in his seventies was talking about his children (in their fifties), and saying that he still felt like they were children.  Seriously? So from one point of view, I’m still a child?  Interesting. The thing about being part of the elder generation, is that you understand business, other people, and yourself far better than you did two decades ago.  In my thirties, the idea that the older generation considered me a child would have been offensive.  Now, it’s just another insight into human beings.   

So what about you?  If you’re in your first and second quarter (1 – 25 and 26 – 50), when do you notice peoples’ age?  If you’re in your 3rd and 4th… when did you first notice other people acknowledging your age?  Was it surprising?  Are you used to it?  How does that feel?  Let me know!  I’m interested. 

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!

Expat Destinations – 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.  

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.

Really really tempting… but not in my late fifties.    Add to that the fact that a significant percentage of young Portuguese have been exposed to enough American movies to give them an ear for English… and I figure we can muddle through together.  I’ve always wanted to be fluent in other languages, let the games begin!

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!

Is Early Retirement Possible?

The Wife and I are planners.  I’m a Project Manager by trade and my better half is a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer.  Our plans have contingency plans, risk management plans, communication plans, and vendor management plans.  We’re perfectly willing to make the best of any situation, but we don’t leap before looking, double-checking with other people who have had a similar experience, triple checking our resource inventory, and weighing the bad press against our skills. We do our best to mitigate risks and ensure smooth transitions.  When things don’t go well, our ‘fix it’ mode kicks in and we can totally stress ourselves out trying to take care of everything at once. 

Retirement planning takes all those habits and kicks it into high gear.  What kind of weather do we enjoy?  What activities?  We love to entertain, eat out, explore new sites and experiences, and spend time with our menagerie (two small dogs and an extremely sociable cat).  While I love my career when its in full swing, my employer has undergone an extended transition that has left me sitting on the sidelines, twiddling my thumbs.  

So lately we have been discussing early retirement for me (my wife retired from the Navy after 20 years and is now a Realtor).  I could collect a small pension, that along with hers would be adequate if we were to go abroad as expats.  Since we both  love to travel this idea seems like an exciting adventure.  (I am fairly certain we will have a number of moments when it will seem more like the last crazy act of people on the verge of senility.)

True to form, we’re researching possibilities.  Although neither of us speaks a second language, I’ve always felt comfortable picking up a few phrases for trips to Paris and Japan. Given an environment where I’m forced to learn a new language to get around, I think I can pick up the basics and grow from there. The Wife is the same.  So language is not an impediment.  

But we’re looking for a culture that is human rights and LGBT friendly.  The Wife prefers cannabis as a pain management solution to opioids, so that has to be legal.  We want access to high quality health care, housing with some 1st world amenities, safety and proximity to an urban environment with shops and restaurants.  We also want to bypass vehicle ownership, so access to public transportation is a must.  Cost of living is a consideration until we reach official retirement age and have access to our long term investments and whatever is still available from Social Security.  

While I’m trying not to be an alarmist, I’m already experiencing arthritis in hips, hands, and I recently injured my knee.  My wife has had her shoulder joint recently replaced.  We are beginning to realize that time is not on our side, so retiring at 58 doesn’t seem quite as irresponsible as it once did. Now we just have to find a way to make it financially doable.  Hence the expat scheme.

I have been fortunate in my employment, in addition to socking away a significant percentage of my income into retirement accounts, my employer offers a pension.  This is something I just learned recently.  Until a few weeks ago,  I thought my retirement funds were my sole source of retirement income until I was able to collect Social Security. So this is my first bit of advice,  involve a financial planning professional earlier in your calculations.  I am preparing to take my own advice. 

Meanwhile we have come up with a short list of Spain, Portugal, and Ecuador. The more we research, the more we recognize how little we know. So the next course of action is to take a trip to experience these locations first hand. Fortunately, we like to travel.  I mentioned that, right?  

Stay tuned.  I’m going to continue to write about our planning and preparations for life abroad.  Who knows?  I might actually learn something of interest to you.