Americans Leaving the Country and Living Overseas For Economic Reasons

Packing the Bags

Being American and having lived overseas for a number of years, my point of view tends to be different than many Americans. People that are living overseas now or who have recently returned from faraway lands will speak of noticeable differences in this country, the people and the general happiness and joy in the faces of people.

When I last noticed the joy was about 5 years ago. People were doing well in general and the economy seemed to be strong. I went away to Ecuador, South America, where I started a family and got into business.

In my business, I had the unique opportunity to get to know a lot of people that were leaving their home countries: the US, Canada, Europe and other places. Most of the people immigrating there were from the US and Canada. While most of those people that moved out of the country and were living there 5 years ago are no longer there statistically, many more have since moved in.

The new people moving in to foreign countries are coming with the same explanation: they can no longer afford to live in their home countries. Their Social Security or pensions are not enough to survive or live comfortably on. The truth is, the majority of those people are correct: their monthly retirement incomes are not enough to live the American dream in many of the larger cities in the US. A few had more than enough income but were looking to shake things up and live their dream of going overseas.

Going overseas is not for everyone. It takes a special type of person to be able to pack up and leave behind their roots. Many people literally sell their homes, their belongings and show up with not much more than is on their backs at the time. Some maintain their homes here in the US just in case they decide to come back. What is the average age of these daring individuals? Most are over 70. Usually they are married. A few widows or single people may move overseas.

These people who average 70 or better generally adjust pretty well. They quickly meet people, get involved in community projects and become volunteers. Some start businesses because they simply cannot imagine doing nothing all day at home. Many take advantage of the opportunity to explore their new country and maybe even other neighboring countries. But what types of challenges do these people face once they get there?

New Challenges

Although not all people moving overseas are retirees, many are. The majority of younger people do not have the means or opportunity to simply leave their careers behind. For those select few that do, they generally adjust very well. For those older retirees, the challenges can be quite different.

Challenges for retirees can include trying to arrange for medical and dental care, making sure their pension or Social Security payments will reach them overseas and at a minimal cost, decisions with what to do with their lifetime of memories, houses, etc. How do they explain their move to their family members who think they suddenly have become crazy and irresponsible? They also have to try to navigate the often times complicated world of immigration law in a foreign country.

Medical and Dental Care

One of the priorities of senior citizens is to find medical coverage and facilities for their unique personal situations. While finding excellent medical care overseas is not generally a problem, it could be depending on where you go. Remember that many people are moving overseas to avoid the high costs back home which include medical care. In many countries in Central and South America, for example, a medical checkup may only be $10-$20 on average. Major medical coverage may be the sticking point. A lot of effort should be put into making sure the plans chosen are sufficient and will pay out should the need arise. You should also consider how long you may have to wait for emergency surgery including dental care.

Dental care generally is very cheap in Central and South America as well as parts of Asia. Many countries are famous dental vacation destinations. People can fly to various countries, receive major dental care and save money. Sometimes, you can get your dental work and take a vacation for the same price as just dental work back home.

Getting Access to Money

Obviously, making sure money will be available at all times is of paramount importance to everyone traveling overseas – retired or not. Some countries may allow tourists or residents to open bank accounts. Some countries may not. In those countries where they can, people have become very resourceful and found that if they simply deposit one of their personal checks in their foreign account up to about two weeks in advance, they can get their money without paying any special fees. They just need to plan a little bit in advance.

Of course, there are always money transfer services for emergencies but you would not want to use that type of service every month. The fees can get very steep, very fast.

Pulling cash out of ATM machines overseas can not only cost you money because of foreign exchange fees but also because the ATM machines often charge $5 or more regardless if you pull out $1 or $500. That gets terribly expensive especially when you need money for big ticket items such as apartment deposits, legal fees, etc. that may not be able to be paid by credit card.

Beyond the complications and expense of ATM withdrawals, the US government is also actively trying to limit the amount of money you can wire internationally on a monthly basis. Moving money in the future by wire transfer may continue to get more complicated and may require all sorts of paperwork to be filled out. Before leaving, make sure you leave instructions with your bank back home just in case you need to wire money.

When you speak with your bank, make sure you let them know you will be using any bank debit cards overseas. Also contact your credit card companies and inform them of the same thing. If you do not, you may find your cards frozen and you will have to call the bank or credit card company to get them working again. Not only can that be embarrassing but it can be really inconvenient.

People with assets still back home probably should consider leaving a power of attorney with a trusted relative. Many people moving overseas have already put their homes on the market but have not sold them yet. In today’s housing market, it can take a long time to sell a home so there may be no reason to put off your overseas move unless you cannot afford to go without the sale first. Bringing the minimum things possible with you is highly recommended. With all the airlines jacking up their fees on what seems like a daily basis, lugging along an extra 5-10 suitcases can not only be difficult but also expensive. You may have to make some tough decisions on what goes and what stays. Storing things with relatives might be an option. The other thing you can do is make an earlier exploratory trip to your destination country with the intention of checking out furniture stores, etc.

Exploratory Trips

If you do make exploratory trips, you have the opportunity to see what brands and qualities are available where you are going. Many American brands may be much more expensive overseas. Many imported Asian brands can be relatively cheap though depending on what it is. In Ecuador, for example, electronics are very expensive. You will pay twice the going US price for pretty much any appliance or electronic. Do your research however you can in advance and it will likely pay off in less moving expenses. Also, be sure you know the laws regarding the importation of your household goods in the foreign country should you decide to move your things anyways. The laws may limit your options until you have residency or nationality status. Even the quantity of electronics and other goods in your carry-on or checked luggage may be an issue so do your homework.

Your Family Back Home

It is not very uncommon for older retirees to need to explain why they have decided to leave their family behind and move overseas. Often times family members will try to discourage their parents or close relatives. The family members may be concerned about their relative’s safety or may be wondering if they are going off the deep end. These close connections are perhaps one of the main reasons why people only live on average just a few years away from their home country before returning. As someone who has known many retirees in exactly this same situation with their families, I can tell you that it is never easy for them. While people keep in close contact with their loved ones, they generally do not let these initial concerns by their family members stop them – and rightly so.

Keeping in Touch

With the internet and the generally low cost of making phone calls, keeping in touch with loved ones around the world has become fairly inexpensive and easy. Many retirees going overseas look for the most economical way to make phone calls. They sometimes will make them through internet phone programs such as Skype. Other times, they will buy something such as the MagicJack which allows you to make phone calls using regular phones but over the internet. Regardless of the means of making phone calls, the quality will generally be good and some of those solutions even allow for calls at 2 cents per minute or less.

Getting Legal, a Different Beast

These people, young and old, that want to move overseas never had to worry about staying legal in foreign countries for periods of time longer than a tourist would normally stay. The retirees will need to hire an attorney or legal consultant and get the process started as soon as possible in order to stay permanently. Ideally, they have already come prepared with required documents such as proof of income (Social Security, Pension, etc.), marriage and birth certificates, divorce decrees, etc. If they have not already obtained these documents and are already in the foreign country with the intention of staying as a resident or citizen, they have likely already made their first critical and expensive mistake.

Mistakes are not hard to make when moving overseas. Planning far in advance is very important. Just as someone would plan for their medical coverage or dealing with their assets still back home, a very high priority should be given to obtaining legal permanent status as quickly as possible. Many people travel to foreign countries every year and overstay their tourist visas. Some may not realize that they even need to be residents or obtain long term visas. Planning early may include obtaining those documents required to apply for permanent status.

Those required documents generally need to be legalized back home before going overseas. The exact process for that legalization of documents will depend on the type of document and even what country you are moving to. Each country will have established requirements for how you can prove to them that a document is genuine. The most common methods are the Apostille and the Certificate of Authentication.

Apostilles and Certificates of Authentication are issued by the Secretary of State in the US state where the original document was issued. For example, if it is a marriage certificate, the Secretary of State where you married would be in charge of legalizing that document. If it is a birth certificate, the state where the person was born would do the job. If there are documents from multiple states, each document must be sent to its respective state for legalization.

The process of legalization of documents may require additional steps such as notarization. You will only know the exact requirements for legalizing the documents and even what documents you need to obtain after research has been done on the foreign country’s requirements, the Secretary of State’s requirements and even the US Department of State’s requirements. In addition, some documents may need to be legalized by the respective consulate or embassy of the foreign country.

Once you have all of your documents properly legalized by the proper authorities, you are ready to present them to the overseas government. All of the research you have done will hopefully pay off with a smooth legal process for you.

David Beyer has lived overseas for numerous years and has worked as an immigration consultant. He owns [] and offers legalization, apostilles, authentication, certification, translation and relocation consulting services.