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Your 8-Step Checklist for Retiring Abroad

Maryalene LaPonsie

Not everyone wants to spend their retirement in a recreational vehicle or in Florida. Some people want to go somewhere more exotic. Others may be motivated to find a lower cost of living. Whether it's for financial or lifestyle considerations, living overseas can be an appealing proposition for retirees. If you're ready to trade in your life stateside for a foreign land, follow these eight steps to make a smooth transition:

[See: 10 Tips for Finding a Great Place to Retire.]

Start with the right location. It goes without saying that before you can retire overseas, you need to select a country. Greg Ghodsi, managing director of investments at 360 Wealth Management Group of Raymond James in Tampa, Florida, says his clients often choose to move to a location where they have been vacationing for years.

Other people may be hunting for specific attributes such as good weather, a low cost of living or a favorable tax climate. However, don't base your decision solely on these factors. "We've known people who have decided on a location because it looked good on paper," says Kathleen Peddicord, author and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas who is also a U.S. News contributor. "They make a move without having actually spent time in the place and then find that they just don't like it there."

Schedule a trial run first. To ensure a country is truly a good match, you'll need more than a short getaway to get acquainted with it. "Living in a place for a few weeks is a lot different than living in it for a few months," says Vincenzo Villamena, managing partner of OnlineTaxman.com. Renting a home for an extended stay will not only help you get comfortable with the culture, but also give you time to identify a favorite region or neighborhood.

Decide where you'll have residency. Some retirees may choose to become legal residents of their new country, but Peddicord says splitting time between two homes avoids any requirement to do so. "This is one of the big advantages of retiring overseas part time or dividing your time among two or three different locations," she says. "You never have to invest the time or money in establishing legal residency."

For retirees who will maintain a U.S. base, establishing residency in a tax-friendly state is an important step. Villamena says it's not as easy as simply saying a state is your new home. If you maintain a driver's license or receive tax documents at an address in a given state, you might need to pay that state's income taxes even if you try to claim another state as your home base.

[See: 10 Retirement Hot Spots in the U.S.]

Assemble your team of professionals. Not every professional has the expertise needed to understand the complexity involved in an overseas move. "You can go to 10 lawyers and get 10 different stories," Villamena says. Take the time to find real estate brokers, attorneys and finance professionals who have experience in international transactions. Ghodsi recommends his clients speak with a high net worth property and casualty specialist who can advise on how to protect valuable real estate and assets overseas. "It's not walking over to the local agent and saying 'get me a quote,'" he says of the process to be properly insured in another country.

Buy health insurance. Medicare does not typically pay for health care expenses incurred in a foreign country. Peddicord says retirees living overseas may decide to buy either a local policy or an international medical plan. Going without additional insurance is another option, albeit a risky one. If you require ongoing care or have prescription medications, have a plan for whether to obtain those services at your new home or during trips back to the U.S.

Find locals you trust. If you will reside in your foreign home part time, it's important to identify local workers you trust. "Most of our clients have people reside on the property to care for it," Ghodsi says. In addition to a caretaker, find a local attorney, accountant and tradespeople such as plumbers, electricians or others you can call on as needed. In the event of an emergency, having help lined up can prevent scrambling to locate assistance from afar.

Evaluate your tax and finance needs. Villamena says taxes often catch people by surprise when they move overseas. "People don't realize what's required as an American living abroad," he says. Having a good accountant or advisor who can ensure you don't run afoul of U.S. or foreign tax laws is critical.

While retirees will want to keep their U.S. bank account for Social Security and other deposits, opening a second account in your new country is a smart move. "Most of our clients will get a local bank account because that will help with currency fluctuations," Ghodsi says. He also suggests working with a financial professional to determine how much to set aside in cash reserves for emergencies and where to store that money.

[See: 10 Places to Retire on a Social Security Budget.]

Enjoy your new life. Once all the work is the done, the final step to successfully retiring abroad is simple: enjoy. Take the time to meet new friends, immerse yourself in the country's culture and sample all it has to offer. You can revel in the fact that you have done something many people consider extraordinary. "After you've made the move, you realize that you're more resourceful than you knew," Peddicord says. And that knowledge may just translate into the confidence you need to make your other retirement dreams a reality.

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