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Why U.S. Citizens Shouldn't Retire Overseas

Paul is an over-75-year-old American ex-pat who has been living retired in Thailand since 2007.

The British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands

Why I Retired Overseas

After I retired from U.S. federal service and moved to Thailand in 2007, I was looking at living in Thailand only through tunnel vision. Feeling young at 63, I had a Thai fiancee and an opportunity to teach English in a Bangkok school. Living in Thailand was exciting, and the inconvenience of getting a work permit and an immigration visa didn't bother me. I also gave little thought to my future health. Perhaps I thought I would never grow old.

Seven years later in 2014 at the age of 70, my school forced me to retire from teaching. Since then, I have been living fully retired in Udonthani, a provincial city in the northeastern part of Thailand.

Although the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic hastened the decision not to spend the remainder of my retirement in Thailand, I started becoming disillusioned with life in Thailand in 2015 at the age of 71. I had been forced to retire from teaching in 2014, and in 2015 lost my left kidney to cancer.

Suddenly, I felt socially isolated. I also finally realized that I could not use my Medicare and VA medical benefits while living in Thailand. In this article, I explain based on personal experience why I don't think retiring overseas is a good idea.

Six Reasons Why Retiring Overseas Isn't a Good Idea for U.S. Citizens

In Thailand and other countries, you can apply for a marriage visa at any time and a retirement visa at age 50. If one is in good health and can secure a work permit, there are advantages to retiring overseas at an early age. The standard of living is probably lower than in your native country and the climate is also warmer.

As one gets older and reaches 70, however, some factors override the advantages of living overseas. I have found the following to be negative in retiring overseas.

1. You Won't Be Permitted to Use Certain U.S. Benefits

After having kidney surgery in 2015, I inquired about using Medicare and VA medical benefits overseas. To my disappointment, I learned that Medicare benefits cannot be used overseas. VA benefits can be used but only for a service-connected disability.

My medical insurance carried over to retirement from federal service, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, has a deductible and co-payment. It doesn't pay all of my outpatient expenses. By taping into Medicare, I would be able to have almost all of my medical expenses covered with no out-of-pocket payments. As I get older, I can only expect to need more medical coverage.

I am a Navy veteran and hence entitled to VA medical benefits. Since I have no service-connected disability, however, I cannot get VA medical benefits while living overseas.

As an American ex-pat living outside of the United States, I have had a long wait in getting a covid-19 immunization. In my home state of Wisconsin, residents over the age of 65 started getting covid shots in February 2021. I had to wait, however, until August and September 2021 to get my first two free covid shots. In January and February, I will get Moderna booster shots which I have already paid more than $100 for.

2. You May Become Isolated from Family and Friends in the United States

As I get older, I feel more and more isolated from family, relatives, and friends in the United States. A journey of one day halfway around the world is a long distance for an older person to return home. I can travel now but suppose my health prevents me from making a trip in the future.

Except for one son in Taiwan, my three sisters and one brother live in Wisconsin. My parents also lived there until they passed away in 2004 and 2011. All of my other relatives reside in Wisconsin. I have been seeing them once every two years but would like to spend more time visiting relatives, especially my two older aunts.

Isolation in Thailand is most depressing during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and other U.S. holidays that I miss spending with family, relatives, and friends.

3. The Language Barriers May Pose Difficulties

Although I can understand and speak Thai to a limited degree, I still regard language as a barrier when trying to completely comprehend what is happening on TV and in the newspapers. Also, my Thai wife's English is limited which makes it sometimes difficult to communicate with her.

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If you cannot understand or speak the native language of your host country, expect to run into language barriers unless you retire in a country where English is used as a native or second language.

4. You'll Be Treated as a Foreigner

As a white Westerner residing in Thailand, I am labeled as a foreigner but most commonly as a "farang." A "farang" is a white Westerner. When living in Taiwan earlier in my life, some native Taiwanese called me "adoga" or a big-nosed person.

I got used to these politically incorrect words but still must deal with Thailand's immigration inconveniences if I want to live in Thailand. Every year I must apply for a retirement visa and every 90 days report my address to Immigration. The visa costs 2,000 Thai baht or $67 and I must deposit 800,000 Thai baht or $25,000 in a Thai bank for one year to have the privilege of staying in Thailand for one year. If I want to work, I need to apply for a special visa and a work permit.

5. You Won't Be Able to Work or Volunteer

My retirement visa stipulates that I am prohibited from either working or volunteering in Thailand. As a retiree, I would be able to do this in the United States but am prohibited by Immigration from doing so.

5. You Won't Be Able to Own Land

Foreigners living in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries are prohibited from buying land. In Thailand, a foreigner may only purchase a condominium unit.

The Takeaway

If you are considering retirement overseas, make sure you consider both the advantages and disadvantages. Don't wait until you are a septuagenarian like me to realize that you are forfeiting health benefits by retiring overseas.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on June 22, 2020:

You make a good point about the Medicare payments overseas but it is what it is. Thanks for commenting!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 20, 2020:

Thanks for writing this honest appraisal of the reasons that might be adverse about retiring overseas. It is too bad that the Medicare payments do not transfer if living out of the country since they were earned when living here.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on June 01, 2020:

I just hope that others will consider how retirement overseas will be when they hit their 70s. Thanks for commenting.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on June 01, 2020:

Being away from siblings and relatives is painful especially during the holidays. Foreseeing possible medical problems is a major concern for me.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on June 01, 2020:

I am definitely planning to return to the USA within the next 2 years. If my wife is not willing to go with me, we will have to live apart most of the time.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on June 01, 2020:

Does your husband have good medical insurance? Also is the Malaysian health system good and affordable? Considering my medical situation, I know that Medicare and VA benefits will be necessary for me in the future. Are you happy about living in America?

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on June 01, 2020:

Up to this point, I have lived in Thailand to make my wife happy. As I approach my late 70s, I have to consider paying for my future health. I also am through neglecting my siblings and relatives in the States. Also, I want to have the freedom of working and volunteering without getting permission from the government. I want my wife to accompany me to America but I can not force her. She has an elderly mother and two daughters and other relatives here that she is concerned about.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on June 01, 2020:

Thank you very much for your insights, Ken. Thailand's health care at international hospitals is good but my insurance will not pay for all of my bills. That's why I think it is important to use Medicare as I get older. I miss working and volunteering without the hassle you have of doing it in Thailand. If I were 15-20 years younger, I would have no problem continuing to live in Thailand.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on June 01, 2020:

Thank you very much for your comment, Umesh!

Liz Westwood from UK on June 01, 2020:

Thanks for sharing your experience to help others who might be considering retiring overseas.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 01, 2020:

I have thought about retiring out of the country but I didn't want to be away from my children. I certainly see all the reasons why retiring in anouther country would be difficult, especially the possible medical problems. This is a well-written article outlining all the possible problems.

RoadMonkey on June 01, 2020:

Some very prudent thoughts for younger people thinking of retiring abroad. Would you think of returning to the USA? Would your wife be willing to go?

Liza from USA on June 01, 2020:

I have an American husband. I'm sure he will face the same issue like yours if he wants to retire in Malaysia. However, I haven't really look into this matter so, I'm not sure how is different between Malaysia and Thailand. Thanks for sharing your concerns and thoughts, Paul. Above all, stay safe!

MG Singh emge from Singapore on June 01, 2020:

This is a very interesting article. As and when I retire I have no plan to settle in any country other than my motherland and that is India. Your article was interesting and to the point. I was wondering whether you could go back to the United States with your wife?

Ken Burgess from Florida on June 01, 2020:

Great article.

I do believe that the benefits and problems one would face would vary from person to person and from nation to nation.

I applaud your willingness and determination to have done so, seven years is not a "tourist event" but a real commitment to making a life somewhere else.

The only problem I found in my travels to being labeled a foreigner comes from when a good percentage of the population has a poor opinion of foreigners, for whatever the reasons.

South Korea is like that, you have to live down decades of history with "ugly Americans" when you are in Korea.

The look of surprise that would come over their face when I spoke to a shopkeeper in their own language was priceless, most Americans don't take the time to learn the native language, it is considered a sign or respect, and the treatment I received was almost without exception very improved because I had made the effort.

I found the same to be in other countries I traveled to as well.

I imagine it would also be different if you had traveled to a country where you "blended in" more. In a place like Lithuania or Slovenia you might not be considered a "big nose".

The article gives food for thought however, one has to consider the health system available, when planning to move overseas. So long as it is affordable and decent I could live with it... not sure I would consider Thailand as qualifying in the 'decent' category.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on June 01, 2020:

Very useful and informative article Paul. Thanks.

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