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How to Retire Overseas Without Losing Touch

Kathleen Peddicord

May people think retiring overseas means losing touch with your old life back home. But our Internet age means it's easier than ever to communicate regularly, even in real time, with family, friends, credit card companies and online shopping sites anywhere in the world.

The key is proper set up in advance of your move. Taking the time to put efficient systems in place can make the difference between loving your new life in the new and exotic location overseas where you've chosen to launch it and pining away after your old friends because they've suddenly disappeared from your life altogether. It also means the difference between your communications expense living overseas being a significant part of your budget or a negligible one.

Here's how to easily and affordably keep in touch with those who live far away:

First, you should probably ditch your current cell phone and its accompanying monthly plan. Even if you intend to return home often, it's probably cheaper to switch to a pay-as-you-go phone to use when you're "back home." Assuming you're on a contract now, this could take some planning to make sure you don't pay penalties for opting out early.

Your new pay-as-you-go phone will not only save you money (maybe a lot of money) compared with the cost of your current cell phone contract, but it has another benefit, as well. You should be able to use that same phone in your new country of residence or other places you travel to simply by switching out the chip.

The bigger telecommunication complication when you move overseas is staying in touch with people back home from afar. Maybe you'll be able to dial internationally with your pay-as-you-go cell phone, but, if you have this capability at all, it will come at a cost. You probably won't have a local land line in your new country of residence, as they are increasingly unnecessary and an added expense that isn't really worth it. But if you do have a land line, the cost of making international calls from it will also be expensive.

The solution is to set up some kind of voice over Internet protocol service. In the United States, the big VOIP carrier is Vonage, but there are at least a dozen other similar services. In addition to the Vonage-type service (whereby you get an Internet modem that you plug into your phone), systems are also available that work from your computer.

The Vonage-type service is generally more convenient if you will be staying put, more or less, in one place. You plug the modem box provided for you into your Internet connection in your house, and then you plug a regular phone into the modem box. You can then call anyone in the United States just as you do now, as though you were dialing long distance from elsewhere in the country.

The main caveat with these services is that you have to arrange for them in advance of your move, as you must place an order for the modem box in time for it to be delivered to you before you depart for your new life. These outfits don't ship overseas.

Options for a Vonage-type system include Skype and Magic Jack. Skype started as a computer-based program you could use to call other Skype users for free. That part of the service still exists, but you can now also make outbound calls to regular telephone numbers. Magic Jack also uses your computer, but it works with a regular phone. You plug Magic Jack into a USB port on your computer, and then plug the phone into Magic Jack. Magic Jack is supposed to be portable, but you have to carry around a regular phone with you to use with it. I don't find that super-portable.

The cost of these services varies depending on the plan you sign up for. To call out with Skype, you don't need a plan. This works like a pay-as-you-go cell phone. You simply charge your account online using a credit or debit card whenever it gets low. But whether you sign up for a plan or pay as you go with Skype, your telephone expense will be a fraction what it would be were you to make international calls from your new country the old-fashioned way.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 28 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her newest book, "How To Buy Real Estate Overseas", published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.

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