Our friends over at NextAvenue.org, the PBS website for baby boomers, have a stable of experts upon whom we like to call from time to time. Especially when they write about new ideas for all of us. “Unretirement” expert and award-winning journalist Chris Farrell, whose new book is Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life, has just done that, with an essay entitled How to Retire Abroad and Make Money, Too. All we can say is, what a concept!
In 2013, when he was 70, Dr. David Vesely retired from work as a research scientist at the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine and chief of endocrinology at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Fla. Then, last July, Vesely (who’s also my brother-in-law) spent a month in Paris teaching medicine to 15 high school students at L’Académie de Paris through the New York-based Oxbridge Academic Program.
He earned $4,000, lived for free in the dorm and had his breakfasts and dinners paid for. “It was interesting to be back with that age group again. They all wanted to learn,” says Vesely. He hopes to teach there again next year.
I imagine the thought of traveling abroad brings back fond memories for many boomers like me — things like hitchhiking around Europe, staying in hostels and diving deep into the local culture. Now that you’re older, you may be wondering: What would it be like to unretire and work part-time, like Vesely, in a place like Lake Atitlan, Guatemala or George Town in Malaysia’s food capital? (Don’t tell my editor, but I had several fun hours daydreaming while researching this story, looking at lists of “best” places to retire overseas.)
Pros and Cons of Working in Retirement Abroad
Unretirees overseas find earning a part-time income helps pay the bills, reduces the draw on accumulated savings and taps into the skills and experience they’ve built up over a lifetime.
Trouble is, many foreign governments want Americans’ money, but don’t want Americans taking jobs away from local workers and entrepreneurs. Don’t despair. It takes work (no pun intended), but there are a number of avenues for making the launch of your overseas unretirement a reality.
Many foreign governments want Americans’ money, but don’t want Americans taking jobs away from local workers and entrepreneurs.
Just ask Joan Fulton. In 2009, when she was in her mid-50s, Fulton was laid off from her Geneva, Switzerland job at a Spanish bank. “My retirement was forced,” she says. “So, I repurposed.” Today, Fulton teaches business classes at Schiller International University in Madrid, earning about 10 percent of what she did before. She’s also developing an entrepreneurial venture with a friend in Indonesia, matching students willing to learn and work with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). “I have lots of ideas,” she says. “My brain hasn’t stopped.”
That’s a mantra Kathleen Peddicord hears a lot as publisher of Live and Invest Overseas and a veteran observer of the expat scene. Her recent Live and Invest Overseas annual conference added its first-ever session on working abroad.
Which Types of Work Are Best
What kind of work can you do in retirement abroad?
Establishing a brick-and-mortar business is rough. In many parts of the world, governments require expats to find local business partners to help keep the wealth in the country.
But everyone I talked to for this story said a good option is teaching English to locals. This can be an ideal choice for unretirees who want to live and work overseas for a year or two. You could rent out your house back home and ultimately return to the U.S. without incurring many relocation expenses.
“We would suggest teaching English as a second language as one of the best ways to easily get a job and to make some money,” say Akaisha and Billy Kaderli, the sixty something peripatetic owners of the Retire Early Lifestyle site and current residents of Guatemala. “Often, lodging is part of the salary, so one would not only be making money, but would be saving money on daily living expenses.”
Peddicord adds that starting a virtual business is another practical, relatively barrier-free option. Digital nomads usually aren’t taking jobs or income from natives, since they’re earning money off the global economy.
Create an income stream where you can generate out of your laptop, whether sitting in a café in Spain or in the mountains of Ecuador. Peddicord recommends you start the enterprise, refine the business plan and line up clients before moving abroad.
What kinds of digital businesses? Peddicord rattles off possibilities, including consulting, tax preparation, medical form processing, travel writing and Internet-based research.
“The options are really up to your imagination. Create a business that provides an income and allows you to do what you want to do anyway,” she says. “You won’t get rich this way, unless you’re willing to put in a lot of hours. But that’s probably not on the agenda.”
Keep in mind that for 2015, the IRS’s foreign earned income exclusion tops out at $100,800. Earn more and you’ll owe U.S. income taxes, but most unretirees aren’t even close to taking home that kind of paycheck.
How to Do Your Research
Start doing research online, say, at a portal like Live and Invest Overseas. Take an extended vacation at your intended location, long enough to know what daily life is like and the real cost of living for you. Review your health insurance options and the quality of health care in the country you’re considering.
Find out how robust the local digital network is there and how friendly or hostile the country’s government is toward working expats (ask expats already working there). Begin looking for information on work-related topics from sites like Careerframes.com.
You can begin a preliminary job search by heading to Workingoverseas.com. It offers links to other overseas job boards. The U.S. State Department site offers a useful list of online resources for working abroad, too.
Before you go, I’d recommend you check with a tax accountant with international expertise to make sure you understand the domestic and foreign tax ramifications of working abroad.
For many boomers, unretirement is the search for meaning and money during the traditional retirement years. Living overseas adds one way to do it. Fun to think about, isn’t it?
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(All photos ©David E. Henderson)