Home » How Will You Spend Your Retirement as an Expat?

How Will You Spend Your Retirement as an Expat?

The Loaded Question

Once friends and neighbors got over their shock that we were pulling up the tent stakes and moving 5,000 miles to the south, their next question was often along the lines of “So, what are you going to do down there?” They seemed sincerely mystified that someone could actually step out of the rat race and out of the country. The implication was that we were putting ourselves out to pasture, and worse still, going to live in utter poverty in the so-called Third World. Had not we read the regular mainstream financial press bulletins, which informed all of us that we need at least a couple million in the bank before we could retire to the good life? If that meant working until your 70s, so be it, goes the conventional wisdom.The Obvious Answer

The first few times I heard that question, admittedly my answers were hesitant and murky. I was a little taken aback that the answer did not seem obvious to them. I could have answered that we would be engaged in our personal interests instead of the interests of those who paid us to pursue theirs. Instead, I issued indistinct replies, which typically generated a subtle smirk of satisfaction on the inquirer’s face. Obviously, they thought, we had not quite thought things through to the end. We had missed the memo. We would be sorry in the end, returning soon with tails tucked.

We felt we had thought it through, however, at least as much as was possible. We had confidence that our finances would hold up and after more than five years, they have. Beyond that, what others did not seem to grasp was how we could possibly avoid sheer boredom and despair without an 8 to 6 daily grind at the office.

Having acres of time to myself, however, does not generally disquiet me. My Type A+ personality keeps me moving, but I do relish the many opportunities I have now to chill at will. I have always had more hobbies or projects cooking than time to do them, and, remarkably, it is still the case. Perhaps we should have relocated to a different planet with 60-hour days.

If one of the reasons you have not cut the cord to your job is worry about filling up the hours in a day, consider the suggestions, which follow.

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Pursue Your Hobbies

My hobbies make a broad sweep, from playing guitar to tinkering with electronics, horticulture, and endless do-it-yourself projects, when I’m not writing, of course. Even if you do not currently have one or more hobbies, you probably have certain deferred interests that you would like to take up. Without a regular workday in your way, creating new hobbies, or digging deeper into current hobbies or expanding any of your extracurricular interests becomes much easier. You will have more time, too, to find others who share your interests.

If it makes sense relative to your pastimes, you might add criteria that help determine your ultimate expat destination. For instance, if your interests include bird watching or nature photography or fishing, then a place such as Costa Rica should get an extra vote or two.

Make Money

You might even find that with extra time available that your hobbies grow into more than just an avocation. Even with a solid retirement income, extra money is always useful. Besides, you may enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of starting a small business in your new country. Hobbies are often a great place from which to start a small moneymaking enterprise.

Obtaining a retirement residency in another country usually does not give you permission to work outright for an employer, but often it does allow you to manage employees in your own business endeavor. The idea, from the government’s point of view, is that they want you to provide more jobs to their citizens, not replace them.

Some expats, once they have been in country for some time, are able to transfer their enthusiasm for retirement and their new country to other would-be expats, and they create some extra income along the way. You could provide guest quarters for visitors or offer them tours of your area. If they eventually migrate, then offering a service that helps them settle in and navigate the maze of adjustments for your country could provide you with part-time employment.

Regardless of the type of residency you obtain, if any, there is nothing to stop you from continuing to work for a company in your native country, or to start a business there, such as an online shop. Occupying your time as your own boss can be quite challenging as well as satisfying.

Take a Local Vacation

You might imagine retired life to be an indefinite extension of the usual two or three weeks of annual vacation that you get now. Lolling about on the beach working on your sunburn, however, gets old fast for most folks. What most folks find is that very soon the concept of vacation itself loses its meaning. That is because there is nothing to “vacate” from once you have left behind the routine of five-day workweeks and two-day weekends ad infinitum.

When your time becomes your own, life can feel like one long vacation at first, until it becomes the new normal. Instead, you become active, involved, and even work long hours, but in alignment with your personal goals. Under those conditions, just taking frequent, but brief breaks from your routine are more than enough to do a reset on body and soul.

Save money by taking advantage of local recreational or sightseeing opportunities that your newly adopted country offers. Dig into its nooks and crannies, as well as those of countries nearby. Since you will not be tied to a two-week window anymore, you can hunt up bargains on lodgings and tours as well. You can visit the same place in different seasons in a single year to see how it changes.


There are always endless opportunities to volunteer your time helping others, especially in countries where the standard of living is low. In Costa Rica, many people spend a weekend or even a week in remote areas helping indigenous people improve their lives by adding basic infrastructure or utilities. There are always opportunities for local beautification projects.

Sometimes all these need to get off the ground is one person with some organizational skills. In our area, there is an expat women’s club that usually has one or more volunteer project going, such as improving the lives of local residents of nursing homes. You really are only limited by your own imagination in coming up with worthwhile projects.

What Else Comes to Mind?

You could always start that Great American Novel, of course. Alternatively, learn the local language. Those alone should keep you busy for some time. I hope that some of the preceding suggestions have helped dispel the notion that retirement must be a time of idleness. Personally, I am as busy as ever!

I am very interested to hear what others plan to do in their retirement, or if you have concerns that it will not offer you an opportunity to reinvent yourself. Please share your thoughts in comments below.

Casey Bahr writes part-time on a variety of topics, including his family’s move and their ongoing adventures in Costa Rica, chronicled in his blog, A Dull Roar. In addition, he authors two other blogs and contributes articles to Hubpages about do-it-yourself projects, science and technology topics, amateur radio, life and humor.

Read Casey's other Expat Focus articles here.

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