Sunsets, Beaches, and Visas: Retiring Abroad


These days, more Americans are thinking about retiring outside the United States. There can be some definite advantages to retiring abroad, but if you are evaluating such an option, be sure to consider the following issues.

First, ask yourself why you want to retire in another country. Some people go for the weather; others for certain public policies (such as same-sex marriage). Others retire abroad for financial reasons. Some countries have advantageous tax laws or a lower cost of living. After determining the “why,” you can properly assess whether you should be a seasonal or permanent resident. This decision will likely affect your immigration status, your ability to buy property in some countries, and your health care.

Once you have established where you are going and for how long, you need to determine the necessary documentation and immigration steps. Some countries recognize retirees as a separate immigration category, meaning that you can simply apply for status as a retiree, but this is by no means consistent worldwide. For example, Mexico has a special immigration status for retirees, but the United States does not. To find out how to apply for the necessary documents and visas, contact the destination country’s embassy or consulate here in the United States.

Regardless of the requirements of the destination country, you will want to make sure that you have a valid U.S. passport that will allow you to travel back to the United States and to other countries, should the need arise.

The next issue to research is whether any restrictions are placed on foreigners in your destination country. Some countries restrict the amount of land that foreigners may own, or require them to obtain special permits. Others have very liberal policies towards foreign landowners. Regardless of official policies, if you plan to buy or rent property in another country, you should do so only after detailed research and professional legal advice. Obtaining clear title is not always as straightforward in other countries as it is in the United States. Whenever possible, consider purchasing title insurance.

Before actually leaving the United States, compile a packet of your important documents and information to be left with a loved one. This should include copies of your passport and other identification, a recent passport-eligible photo, your original birth certificate, and contact information for the U.S. Embassy in your destination country. This ensures that if you lose something or if something should happen to you, important information will remain easily accessible.

Another issue to consider is how you will pay for medical expenses. Even if your destination country offers public health care, you may not be eligible to receive these services, especially when you first arrive. You may need to purchase insurance above and beyond what you currently have. Additionally, you should find out from your family doctor whether you need to get any vaccinations before traveling to your new home.

If you are a pet owner, find out if there are any restrictions on bringing domestic animals into your destination country. Some countries require updated vaccinations, and others may require your pet to be quarantined for a period of time when you first arrive. You should contact the country’s embassy in the United States well before you plan to leave so you can make appropriate arrangements.

Living abroad is a valuable option for many soon-to-be-retired Americans but should be discussed thoroughly with an attorney as part of one’s retirement legal “checkup.”

Before retiring abroad or even traveling abroad for extended periods of time, you should make sure you have thought about the following important issues:

  • Why are you considering a certain country? Tax purposes? Social policies? This may impact your immigration status and the length of your stay in the destination country.
  • What documents and immigration status do you need? Can you file for a special status as a retiree?
  • Do you have a valid U.S. passport?
  • Can you purchase land in your destination country? Are there any restrictions or special issues you should be aware of?
  • Does someone back home have the necessary paperwork? Make sure to leave copies of important documents with a family member or friend back home.
  • How will you pay for medical care if you get sick? Does your U.S. insurance cover you in your destination country?
  • If you own pets, can they come with you? Do they need special vaccinations? Will there be restrictions on them when you arrive?

These are important topics to discuss with your attorney when planning for retirement. If you have any questions about specifics in your destination country, contact its embassy in the United States.