Essentials Required for Retiring Overseas

Longtail Boats in Krabi, Thailand

Longtail Boats in Krabi, Thailand

A simple Google search will show that there are hundreds of websites and other resources devoted to telling you how much money you need to retire in exotic places all over the world. There are many other sites that will tell you what the requirements are for visas, health insurance, licenses and other essentials necessary to stay in places long term. Since I have created an easily transportable, minimalist lifestyle for my retirement I often read these sites with intense interest. But, before you figure out how to retire abroad, maybe you should figure out if you should retire abroad.

Financial websites will help with planning and investment, but what these sites neglect to tell you are things that are more basic than savings, insurance, logistics and paperwork. These are essentials of a more personal nature, but are required if you are going to have a successful life as a retired expat. Bear in mind, there are as many kinds of expats as there are people living abroad, but the most successful of them tend to have some common traits.


You can’t be just “interested” in moving abroad if you want to thrive in your new life. Just because you traveled here and there on vacation while you were working and found it pleasant, doesn’t mean you should pack-up and move your life overseas. To be highly successful you have to go beyond being interested and have a deeply passionate desire to live in new places and experience new things. Without that desire small items, that may in reality be only a minor inconvenience, will seem like huge obstacles that sap your energy and drag you down. Without a passion for living a life “contrary to ordinary” you are setting yourself up for failure.


When retiring abroad there is more to consider than what it costs and paperwork.

If you think the world is a place to be feared and people are generally filled with bad intent, you should probably reevaluate your plans to live overseas. In truth the vast majority of people in the world are tolerant, welcoming and generous, but you wouldn’t know that from the stereotypes perpetuated in the news. You can’t be happy if you are afraid of your surroundings or if the thought of what lies around the next corner fills you with dread. Instead of looking only at what is in the headlines, dig deeper and look at actual information. You may find the place you have been considering is safer than home.


You need to be flexible and know that just because things are different than what you are used to, it doesn’t make them wrong. When I lived in Thailand I paid my electric and phone bills, like everyone else, at 7/11. In Mexico appointments were generally more like suggestions that a meeting might take place. In Vietnam the best coffee is served street side on tiny blue stools. In Myanmar you call the waiter by making “kissy” sounds. Driving may seem chaotic and in some places the simple act of going to the toilet can seem “foreign”. These, and thousands of other things, are something you just need to learn to accept.

Agua Azul, Mexico

Agua Azul, Mexico

The Ability to Let Go of Your Stuff

Buddhists say that attachment is one the greatest causes of human misery. Generally moving overseas means giving up, or at least being apart from, your things. If you need the reassurance of being surrounded by a house full of your own possessions, you are going to have to come to terms with that. If you were looking merely to replicate your old life in a new location, you might as well stay home.

The Ability to Let Go of Your Opinions

Attachment can even extend to our attitudes and mindset. Even in light of new evidence humans have a tendency to remain attached to old opinions. A life of travel can (and should) challenge everything you believe in. If your opinions cannot be supported by new information you may have to adjust. If they do withstand new information they will be strengthened. Failure to change opinions in light of new facts will only result in alienation and frustration in your new home.

The Ability to Operate Outside of Your Comfort Zones

The very act of living overseas can be challenging and sometimes it pushes us to our limits.

There is a saying that, “The magic in life takes place at the edges of our comfort zones.” The very act of living overseas can be challenging and sometimes it pushes us to our limits. And isn’t that actually the point? How can we ever know how far we can go if we don’t get near to, and occasionally cross, the boundaries of what we find comfortable? Trying new things, going further, taking calculated risks and occasionally throwing caution to the wind is a great way to expand your horizons, or at the very least, a way to help you better appreciate what you have when you get back to your comfortable place.


Being interested in learning about a new place and the culture of your new home is essential in thriving as an expat. You will encounter new traditions, new taboos and new ways of thinking. It is possible to relocate overseas and operate almost exclusively inside expatriate bubbles, but if you want to truly thrive in your new locale you need to find out how it works and what makes it tick.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

And Finally: The most successful overseas retirees are those that are running toward something, not running away. If you want to move overseas because you are miserable at home, you are more than likely just going to bring your misery with you. A person that hates everything back home will likely hate everything overseas as well. A new setting in and of itself does not magically transform a person. However, if you are willing and open to change, travel can be a great catalyst. If your expectations are realistic, your heart open and your curiosity unquenchable; you are probably a good candidate for living an extraordinary life overseas.

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Author: Jonathan Look

In 2011 Jonathan Look decided to change his life and pursue adventures instead of comfort and possessions. His goal is to travel the world solo; one country at a time, one year at a time. To accomplish this he got rid of most of his possessions, packed up what little he saw as necessities and headed out. His goal is to spend ten years discovering new places, meeting new people and taking the time to learn about them, their values and their place on this tiny planet. He embraces the philosophy that says a person is the sum of their experiences and rejects the fraud of modern consumerism that makes people into slaves of their consumption. He doesn't intend to be modern day ascetic, just more mindful of his place in the world and to make decisions according to that new standard.

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