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6 keys to retiring overseas

Using foreign ATMs can be tricky if you don't know what to expect.

For example, Knorr says the machines in France don't have letters on the keypads, and some don't accept PINs longer than four digits, making it difficult for people with personal identification numbers that are based on words. The default language is also foreign, so you'll have to figure out how to switch it over to English.

Fees can add up, too. Foreign ATMs often charge currency exchange fees and withdrawal fees based on a percentage of the withdrawal or a flat rate. The fees are on top of what your stateside bank charges.

Further, if you're accessing money from a U.S. bank using a foreign ATM, your bank (suspecting fraud) may freeze your account temporarily.

"If a customer is traveling internationally, we encourage them to call us before their trip and inform us of their intentions," Wachovia Bank spokeswoman Jennifer Darwin says. "This would ensure no disruption to their service."

Sardella says uncooperative ATMs and long waits in lines aren't the only issues to contend with when you open a foreign bank account.

The U.S. Treasury Department wants to know if you have any foreign bank accounts with over $10,000 in them. If you do, you'll need to report it on a Form TD F 90-22.1.

The penalties for not filing the form are stiff -- up to a $500,000 fine and prison time.

"It's to make sure you are including and reporting all your worldwide income," Sardella says.

Packing decisions 
If you're going overseas for a few months, you may be able to get by with a couple of suitcases, says Knorr. But if you're planning to retire abroad, you'll need to start packing months in advance.

"I think you should take the least amount possible," she says. "It's just easier to move around and you save money on shipping."

Prescher agrees that less is better. Bring along heirlooms and photos, and rent storage in the U.S. for any other things you want to leave behind.

You should sell or get rid of large pieces of furniture and major appliances. Now is the perfect time to have the "mother of all garage sales" and pocket some of the money toward your new furniture.

Remember to focus on why you're making such a gargantuan move in the first place.

"This is a great time in the life of someone to disengage from the material stuff and just really travel light with an open mind and see what this new opportunity may have to offer," says Zabal�a-Goddard.

Prescher says he doesn't know anybody who has retired overseas just to kick back and live off retirement income. Expatriate retirees nowadays are trying new things and getting more involved in their newly adopted communities.

"They're moving to try new stuff and reinvent themselves," he says. "They're in it for the adventure and the new horizons that are opened up by this."

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