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6 keys to retiring overseas

Retiring to a foreign country can be a cultural epiphany if you're seeking exotica. But without realistic expectations and careful planning, your move abroad could be fraught with frustration.

Even mundane tasks like opening a bank account or getting a plumber to fix a leaky sink could take ages for people used to getting things done quickly in the U.S.

"It's vitally important to relate your pace to the culture," says Rosanne Knorr, seasoned traveler, expatriate and author of "The Grown-Up's Guide to Running Away From Home."

Before taking the expatriate plunge, spend a minimum of several weeks in a country immersing yourself in the local culture and honing your foreign language skills, experts say.

Research your newly adopted country's health care system and tax laws. Make a good assessment of your cost of living. Such preparation will smooth out your transition, helping you avoid potentially costly pitfalls.

Following are six issues to consider before retiring abroad.

Retire overseas 101
Moving abroad can be a great move for retirees with a sense of adventure. Consider these issues before taking the leap.
6 issues for expatriates
  1. Cultural concerns
  2. Land ownership issues
  3. Health care needs
  4. Tax considerations
  5. Banking logistics
  6. Packing decisions

Cultural concerns 
The potential for "culture shock" tops the list of things to consider before retiring overseas.

You can enjoy the experience of discovery without having to mimic the characters depicted on wilderness survival shows -- chomping on live grubs and the like -- to fit the bill. But it helps if you're open-minded and love exploring new places.

Flexibility goes a long way, too.

"You have to have the patience to deal with different systems, and if you're an American who doesn't know the language, everything is going to take you 50 percent longer," Knorr says.

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People who retire abroad are usually seasoned travelers who've spent a significant amount of time "on the ground" in a particular country.

Many people retire abroad to save a lot of money and enjoy the good life for less -- both valid reasons. But Knorr says you shouldn't expect to recreate an American lifestyle in many countries.

"If you like to eat your early bird special at 5 p.m. and in Spain people don't eat until 10 p.m., you might feel a little bit strange or you might have to find another way to eat," she says. "Some cultures appeal to certain types of people."

Common traits of expatriate retirees:
  • Desire a lower cost of living but a higher living standard.
  • Want better weather.
  • Appreciate a laid-back lifestyle.
  • Have an interest in learning about new cultures.
  • Have friends or family already living abroad.
  • Adapt to cultural differences.

Land ownership issues 
Maybe you've found your Shangri-La and are considering buying a home there. Before plunking down a huge deposit on a Caribbean villa or a French farmhouse, try renting first.

If possible, rent for more than one season. This gives you a better feel for the climate, how much utilities cost and what your community is like once the tourist crowd has evaporated.

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