Ernest Hemingway. Gwyneth
Paltrow. Jimmy Buffett. Over
the years, the romanticism and
adventure inherent with living
abroad have lured countless Americans to
pursue part-time living beyond the reach
of Uncle Sam.
Imagine sipping cappuccino in a Venetian café, diving off your dock on a tropical atoll in the middle of the Pacific or swaying to the rhythm of a snappy salsa number in Buenos Aires. This is the dream.
But—and there's always a but—without proper planning, the dream can quickly turn into a nightmare. To avoid that running-down-the-tarmac-and-grabbingonto- the-landing-gear-as-the-plane-takesoff feeling, there are literally hundreds of questions to ask before embarking on the journey of part-time residency outside the United States. Whether it's London calling or cheeseburgers in paradise, here are some things to consider that can make or break your escape plan.
Does wading through language barriers, transportation issues and potential isolation halfway around the world sound appealing to you? If so, continue. If not, Palm Springs is perfect this time of year.
"It's really an individual thing," says Jennifer Spatz, Bellevue Club member and founder of Paravati Family Travel. "Some people prefer resorts and hotels, and others want more of an adventure."
Jennifer is no stranger to living abroad. Her father worked for the CIA and she grew up in Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Austria and Taiwan. She speaks multiple languages.
"It made our family really close," she says. "When you move somewhere new and all you have is your family, you tend to bond as a unit."
This past year, Jennifer put her travel experience to use and founded Paravati Family Travel with family-friendly tours through India, South Africa and Morocco among others.
"Travel is in my blood—it's part of me," she says.
"HONEY, WE SHOULD MOVE HERE."
As you sip piña coladas under a palmthatched roof, it's natural to entertain thoughts of extending the vacation permanently. However, there are factors to consider before snapping up that cute, little beachfront property in Mexico.
"Once you've bought a property, it's not always vacation at that point," says Tere Foster, real estate agent and Bellevue Club member. "You now have obligations— property tax, upkeep, security when you're away."
All of a sudden, you've turned your next vacation into a to-do list.
L IS FOR LOGISTICS.
While there's something wonderfully bohemian in the idea of having a little place on the Costa del Sol in Spain, making it happen takes some serious type-A tendencies. If you're hoping to purchase a property, Tere suggests visiting several times before checking out the market.
"Go there first," she says. "Make sure it's a place you like to vacation."
Next, Tere says finding a local real estate liaison is key.
"You want to make sure to work with a local person to navigate that culture. I think that's critical," she says. "You have language issues, title issues, cultural issues.
"It's similar to buying property here. I would look for an agent that has several years of experience and has several properties available that are similar to the ones I'm interested in buying," she says.
But sealing the deal can be tricky.
"A lot of people don't realize that in America, we're very sophisticated when it comes to title ownership and transfers," she says.
Michael Walker, Bellevue Club member and associate broker at Reallogic Sotheby's International Realty agrees.
"Not all systems have respect for private property the way ours does," he says. "You don't want to get in a position where you're not sure what you're buying."
Each country has different regulations when it comes to foreigners owning property. In Mexico, for example, try to buy an Ejido (community-owned) property and enjoy jumping through possibly years of legal hoops to obtain an actual title. For a much-less-stressful retirement with greater flexibility, consider avoiding a foreign mortgage and rent a swank apartment instead.
Also, travel considerations are huge when dealing with living abroad.
"People don't realize that the airlines change their schedules and make it hard to get to where it may have been easier before," Michael says.
Michael once considered a second home halfway across the globe in Sydney, Australia.
"It was ideal for me to have a second home there—until I did that flight a couple times," he says.
RESEARCH AND (SELF) DEVELOPMENT
The days of blind exploration with your wits and a compass are gone. Finding paradise is now as easy as firing up Google Earth. Still, there are always surprises when living abroad, but they can be minimized with diligent research.
"Do your homework," Jennifer says. "Use the resources available to you. There are tons of books and websites out there."
For information on the real cost of living, visit The Economist's worldwide cost of living index at eiu.enumerate.com. For safety concerns, the U.S. State Department publishes warnings and tips for Americans traveling abroad at www.state.gov/travel.
If you're collecting income while abroad, it's important to research incometax regulations. The United States often still collects income tax from citizens while they live abroad. To avoid double taxation, find out which countries have tax treaties with the United States at www. irs.gov/businesses/small/international/ article/0,,id=96454,00.html.
Michael recommends connecting with local ex-pats before committing to living anywhere abroad.
"Talk firsthand with people that have done it before," he says.
Despite the abundance of resources, Jennifer believes the most important thing to take with you to a foreign country has nothing to do with a guidebook.
"Go with an open mind and open heart," she says. "The country often leads your experiences."
PACE-OF-LIFE PAY DIRT
Check out these sunny locales for seasonal living
Great wine. Good food. Slow pace of life. Favorable climate. Low health care costs. Stay during the off-season for cooler, albeit sunny, weather and lower overall costs.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
This mellow beach town is no secret, but it's still a great place to live. Yoga studios, coffee shops and beautiful coastline nudge this well-known yacht spot onto the list. If San Juan del Sur is too crowded, head up the coast for your own private slice of heaven.
This past year, Sydney ranked No. 10 on the Mercer Quality of Living survey. And why not? It is a well-cultured, fashionable city in a warm climate. It's kind of like Vancouver, B.C., with more sunshine. Bonus: They speak English— kind of. Downside: mind-numbing flights back to the States.
With a low cost of living, friendly culture and stunning landscapes, Southeast Asia is increasingly on the radar as a retirement spot for baby boomers. Made famous in Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love," this spot features warm seas and vibrant colors.
The highest-ranked South American city in Mercer's 2010 Quality of Living survey, Montevideo is relatively safe and definitely affordable. With a growing number of retirees, Uruguay's warm summer during North America's winter makes this a perfect seasonal partner for Northwest dwellers.