If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is how precious life is, how important our surroundings are, and why living a quality life filled with joy, purpose, health and prosperity should be on the top of our list of priorities.
For many, that means moving abroad. What once might have been an “I’ll do that later” idea is now becoming a real and viable choice…and one that is not just for retirees anymore.
Digital nomads and young families are among the new expats pulling up roots and finding adventure, better financial and personal opportunities, and a happier and more meaningful life. However, anyone considering such a big move should be prepared to do their homework (in all senses of that word) in advance, and, to the extent possible, go into a new situation with eyes open. For LGBTQ+ people, there are potentially different challenges awaiting. In a changing world, these may not be as daunting as they once were, but you’ll want to think about all aspects of your life before you make the jump.
Becoming An Expat
Post-pandemic more than 3 million Baby Boomers were pushed into premature retirement, according to International Living’s executive editor Jennifer Stevens. “Millions of additional workers were fired or furloughed. And, it spawned the Great Resignation. More than 24 million people quit their jobs between April and September, 2021.” Now, many of them are wondering, “what’s next?”
“We’re reconsidering what’s important,” says Stevens of these people. “We’re asking questions like what am I doing with my life?”
And the resounding answer for many is to shake up the status quo and move overseas where money can be stretched and the quality of life, significantly increased.
Susan Burke-March and her husband Ken embarked on their overseas journey, first moving to Cuenca, Ecuador and then to Valencia, Spain. They used Home Exchange (homeexchange.com) as a way to visit and test the waters of various countries, before making any permanent moves.
“We had done three previous home exchanges in Spain, the most recent in the late summer-early fall of 2019 where we spent almost two months visiting different cities, and decided that Spain, as part of the European Union, would be the perfect place to continue our travel adventures via doing home exchanges for some of that.
“Spain’s diverse cultures, the quality of life including citizen’s access to healthcare and education, their restrictions of possessing firearms, and their straightforward path to obtaining legal residency were important considerations in making our decision to move to Spain.”
When choosing an overseas home destination, experts agree that checklists are essential. Important considerations are entry requirements, cost of living, ease of residency and citizenship, political climate, weather, availability of good healthcare, cost of purchasing or renting a home, language concerns, ease, and ability to work and “fit in,” cultural, social and outdoors activities; children’s education, and vary by country and should be carefully considered in making this decision.
And, the best time to evaluate these is before you arrive to your new destination.
Edd and Cynthia Staton are among America’s most recognized experts on expat life and retiring overseas. Their website (eddandcynthia.com) offers a wealth of information about moving abroad and features “Retirement Reimagined”—a step-by-step master course to becoming a successful expat.
Among endless recommendations, how-to’s and personal accounts of being an expat, the Stantons also recommend, “Don’t rely solely on other people’s advice. Take a scouting trip to make sure the place you’re considering speaks to your heart. And, remember, a place you love to vacation in, is not necessarily the same as somewhere you’re going to want to live 24/7.”
Ellen Baker, who moved to Dublin, Ireland in 2015 agrees. “I would suggest that expats become very familiar with the country through regular visits, remembering that you won’t be on holidays; you would be living there. While we were in Dublin visiting, we would rent a furnished apartment and pretend we were living there, buying groceries, using facilities like a gym, getting our laundry done, everyday things to try our city out for livability.
“My husband has family in Ireland,” says Baker, “and we had been here many times and were hopelessly in love with the country and were looking for the ideal place to spend the rest of our lives as we were on the verge of retirement. Being a European socialist country meant that we would save tens of thousands of dollars each year just on medical insurance and medical expenses, not to mention other financial perks given to people over 65.
“We did loads of research, especially on medical issues. We opened a bank account in Ireland long before we moved and put regular deposits in it and used it for cash needs when we were visiting. I also listened to Irish radio on the Internet as much as possible, weekly talk shows and podcasts just to get more familiar with the politics, people, and lifestyles. And, we talked quite a bit with family members who helped steer us in the right direction when needed. Finally, we settled on where we wanted to live and what kind of lifestyle we wanted, e.g. rural, suburban, or city life. (We chose the latter).”
Mary and Tod Freeman, who moved to Salinas, Ecuador in 2011 from California, thought beach life was for them. After a year they discovered that they missed the cultural and social aspects that a city has to offer, so they moved to the UNESCO World Heritage Site city of Cuenca, Ecuador. Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador and its cultural capital. This stunning Andes Mountain town has consistently been listed in various top expat destination roundups over the last ten years.
“We moved to Ecuador because it was less expensive and had safer living conditions than the U.S.,” explains Mary. “The U.S. dollar economy, the climate, the inexpensive and first-rate healthcare, and the varied terrain of Ecuador from beaches to mountains, to rainforests appealed to us, and we also had a true desire to experience a different lifestyle and culture.”
Getting involved in your new home country is a great way to ease the transition and can be one of the most meaningful parts of moving abroad. The Freemans started a foundation, “Helping Kids in Ecuador” (HKIE) (helpingkidsinecuador.org) that to date has helped more than 700 children, providing life-changing and life-saving medical care.
Baker has also found being a part of the local culture changed her overseas life experience. “I work as a volunteer at a charity shop one day a week and I lead tours of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. I also do volunteer work with a youth organization and each year we march in the Pride parade. All of these opportunities are a dream come true.”
Among the many questions, expats ask themselves, is “will I stay overseas?” That depends on many factors, according to studies of why expats return to their home country. Missing family and friends, the death of a spouse, the birth of a grandchild, and longing for the familiar are the top reasons why expats return.
“I think that those expats who move to another country and are not prepared for it to be different in oh, so many ways, might find it difficult,” says Burke-March. “Think about the language, things like what time the shops are open? Do they close for siesta? Can you get your favorite brand of milk? Do you have to drive on the other side of the road? We’re always laughing about Spain’s culture and especially time differences. Here in Valencia, in the area we’re living, the work day begins at about 8 am, everyone goes to the cafe for a coffee/pastry at about 9 – 9:30, then at 11 another coffee. Everything closes around 2 pm where people go home for lunch; then businesses reopen at 5 and close at 8 pm. THEN people eat dinner. “
Some expats, who are enamored with their new overseas life during the “honeymoon phase,” find that after a while what was once an adventure, is now an annoyance.
Say the Statons, “Remind yourself why you made the move in the first place. Focus on what’s right instead of what’s wrong. But if you do decide to leave, think of your time abroad as a learning experience, not as a failure.”
Many expats also keep contacts back home, such as. U.S. address with friends or family and take advantage of friends and family to send or bring things they miss.
As you consider such a big change, you can access numerous expat blogs, Facebook pages, e-letters, books, videos, and magazines designed for people going through this process.
Since 1979, International Living (internationalliving.com) has been helping people discover the world’s best places to live, travel and retire through their website, free and paid for publications and events, and in their daily e-letter, Daily Postcards.
Each year in January, International Living also publishes its “Global Retirement Index,” which ranks 25 countries according to 10 categories. This year’s winners featured 12 Countries to Retire to in 2022. In ascending order, the publication’s choices were Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Portugal, Ecuador, Colombia, France, Malta, Spain, Uruguay, Thailand and Ireland.
Similar publications like Live and Invest Overseas (liveandinvestoverseas.com) also publish their top picks for expat destinations each year, and in their recently published “Overseas Retirement Index 2022” they highlighted their 15 top international cities they deemed best for retirement.
Nomad List (nomadlist.com) is a community of nearly 40,000 remote workers around the world who rank their new home countries on overall guideposts, but also rank items such as Internet speed, places to work, freedom of speech and LGBTQ+ friendly cities.
Special Concerns for LGBTQ+ People
Probably the biggest challenge LGBTQ+ expats will find are the varying attitudes towards them around the world. (You can find that in the U.S., too, depending on where you live, so don’t let that stop you.) Some nations are accepting; others not so much. The ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Trans and Intersexual Assocation) (ilga.org) is a good resources, and a January 2022 report from Expatica (expatica.com) highlights “The Most Friendly LGBTQ Countries in the World.” (See sidebar).
There are cultural issues unique to LGBTQ+ people, such as whether you can be openly affectionate with one another, and legal issues include applying for spousal visas. In some countries, members of a couple may have to apply for visas separately. You’ll also want to see what kind of LGBTQ+ community may be available to you in your new home.
Many other resources are available. If you’re planning to move to Europe, publications like “The Rainbow Report”(find it at ilga.org) highlights the best cities for LGBTQ+ travelers. For the sixth year in a row, Malta continues to occupy their number one spot on the Rainbow Europe Map, with a score of 94 percent out of 100.
Author and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, Kathleen Peddicord, also published a 2020 report on “The Most LGBTQ+-Friendly Places to Retire Overseas.”
This only begins to scratch the surface of what to consider, but if you take away anything from this article, it’s that this is not a decision to be made lightly. Joking references such as “If the politics get any worse, I’m moving to Canada,” may relieve a little stress, but the reality is a little more complex than loading up the U-Haul and going. Still, if you’re looking for adventure and go into it with your eyes open, it may be your best next move.