10 things to consider when retiring/moving abroad

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The team at International Citizens Group has compiled their top 10 tips that are often overlooked, but very important for those moving abroad.

  1. Americans who move abroad must still file U.S. tax returns and must pay taxes on income above a certain threshold. You will also have to pay taxes in your new country if you become a resident. It can take up a bigger chunk of your budget than many people realize. If you have a foreign bank account with more than $10,000, it must be reported to the United States. Other assets may also need to be declared.
  2. If you have developed an estate plan involving a trust, it may not be recognized in the country you are moving to. Inheritance taxes also differ significantly depending on the country in which you reside. Have your estate plan reviewed by someone with expertise in financial planning in your new country.
  3. If you have life insurance in your home country, it is unlikely to be reimbursed if you die during your retirement abroad. Many life insurance policies do not pay if you die while living in a foreign country. You may need an international life insurance plan, which will pay wherever you are in the world.
  4. Medicare will not cover you in other countries. However, you should keep it both for home visits and in case you decide to return to the United States. And if you haven’t registered, be sure to do so before age 65 so you don’t incur a penalty!
  5. Perhaps you are considering moving to a country where health care is “free”. Although it may be free for citizens, this is usually not the case for people coming from abroad. Or you may be prevented from enrolling in the system due to a pre-existing medical condition. In most cases, you will need a private health insurance policy as a retired expat.
  6. Many drugs you may know by brand name (Prozac, Viagra, Lasix) are called by a different name overseas. Be sure to get the name of the drug from your doctor as well as the brand name so your health care provider in your new country knows what to prescribe.
  7. Make sure your medication is not illegal in the country you are moving to. Common prescription drugs in the United States that are banned in other countries include sleeping pills such as Ambien, attention deficit disorder medications such as Adderall and Ritalin, and pain relievers such as OxyContin and Vicodin. This also includes over-the-counter medications. What Americans call Tylenol or acetaminophen is known as paracetamol in most other parts of the world. Many over-the-counter allergy medications also have different names overseas. Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) is illegal in a number of countries, including Mexico. Don’t bring it with you – an arrest is a terrible way to start life in your new country!
  8. Your wheelchair battery may not be able to travel with you on an airplane. Even if it is legally permitted, sometimes airlines will not allow you to board. US Representative Jim Langevin, who uses an electric wheelchair, was denied boarding by Lufthansa in August 2022 even if the battery of his wheelchair was compliant. If you bring your power chair to Europe, Asia, Africa or Oceania, you will need a 220-240 volt charger for your battery. Most power chairs offer this option, but if you have an older chair, you may need to invest in a new one before moving.
  9. Spend months there in the “off season”. Thailand can be beautiful in November, but you may find the monsoons from July to September a challenge. Likewise, foreigners who have only visited Costa Rica in March or April are often shocked when they experience the rainy season in May-December. Retirees who moved to Portugal for the sun are surprised by its winter downpours. (Yes, rain is a theme.)
  10. If the first language of your destination is not English, then it will be more difficult to obtain medical care in English. If you have a heart attack or stroke, do you speak the local language well enough to communicate with a medical professional? If you are not fluent, identify medical facilities where you can be treated by doctors who speak your language. If you have an international medical insurance plan, your plan may direct you to private facilities where the professionals speak English.
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