Scenic View of Beach

I wondered if there was something in the water keeping these seniors so youthful and fit. I soon found out there was.

It was early in the morning, but it was already close to 100 degrees. I heard howler monkeys off in the distance. I dodged iguanas as they ran back and forth across the path. As I hiked toward the beach, I looked forward to the sunrise at Playa Guiones. While anticipating solitude, I was fascinated by the number of senior citizens draping surfboards and sprinting by me. More notable was the physical shape these seniors were in. These senior surfers were running toward the waves without getting winded. In Costa Rica, someone had discovered the fountain of youth.

As I sat on the beach, I wondered if I would like to retire in Costa Rica. I also wondered if there was something in the water keeping these seniors so youthful and fit. And, I soon found out, there was.

The Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica is considered a “Blue Zone.” Blue Zones are areas that describes communities where people live the longest.

A researcher by the name of Dan Buettner identified five geographic areas where people live longest: Nicoya (Costa Rica), Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Icaria (Greece) and in Loma Linda, California. Prior to Buettner, two research demographers, Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, found clusters of villages with the highest levels of longevity in the world. They drew concentric blue circles on maps and began referring to the area inside the circle as the Blue Zone. The Blue Zone name stuck.

Even with all of our medical technology, the United States lacks Blue Zones. Concurrently, we are facing a retirement savings crisis. Living abroad in a jurisdiction with a lower cost of living may become an alternative retirement choice. Throw in the fountain of youth of a Blue Zone, a cool title of “Expat,” and living abroad starts to look promising.

Since the world is a big place, and retirees may choose different countries to live in, it’s impossible to give an exhaustive list of things to think about. Regardless, here are some things to consider if retiring outside of the U.S.

Check visa and residency requirements for any country you plan on residing in. Immigration and residency laws differ greatly from country to country. The State Department provides country-specific information on visa requirements. Paperwork in foreign countries is very confusing, and it’s recommended that a local qualified attorney help with it. Country-specific U.S. Embassy websites will list qualified local lawyers.

Technology has made it much easier for expats to manage routine financial transactions. ATMs and credit cards are accessible in most countries. Retirees can arrange to have their pension and or Social Security checks deposited directly into their bank accounts and have easy access to their funds. However, expats without a U.S. address may run into problems. Foreign banks have been closing expat accounts, citing Patriot Act provisions (designed to stop terrorist’s dealings). If you use a foreign bank account, you’ll probably have to file an annual Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). This form is mandatory if the total value of your foreign financial accounts exceeds $10,000 on any day during the calendar year. Failure to comply with this reporting requirement will trigger penalties with the U.S. Treasury.

Leaving the United States does not exempt you from tax obligations. Even if you move all of your assets, you must still file annually with the IRS. You may also owe tax in your new country of residence. Luckily, the United States has tax treaties with many countries, and double taxation issues may be diminished.

Will you want to own property abroad? First, find out if it’s allowed. Rules for property ownership differ widely by foreign jurisdictions. Mexico, for example, bars foreigners from directly owning property within 62 miles of any border and within 31 miles of any coastline.

Medicare does not typically cover medical care you receive outside of the United States. While some countries have national health care systems, know the eligibility requirements of the jurisdiction. It is recommended that you get private insurance to cover your medical and dental, and most importantly, make sure you have insurance for medical evacuation back to the United States. You’ll want to know if the local witch doctor is any good before there’s a true emergency.

For most expats, being away causes stress. While the internet has made staying in touch with the grandkids easier, adapting to a different language and culture is challenging. Many make the mistake of assuming that living abroad is simply a cheaper version of life in the U.S. It’s not! Living in a country that speaks a foreign language can be isolating.

In summary, do your homework before you move to any foreign country. The State Department is a tremendous resource for jurisdictions you may be interested in. Crime stats, roads, medical, cost of living, etc.; the State Department will have pertinent info for you.

Whether it’s in the U.S. or abroad, live the simple life in your golden years. Or, as they say in my favorite Costa Rican Blue Zone, “Pura Vida.”

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