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Rethinking Retirement

Turn Your Overseas Retirement Fantasy Into Reality

Plenty of adventurous retirees set up housekeeping full-time or part-time in Europe, Latin America, Asia or other parts of the world.

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Here’s one of my retirement fantasies: Sell the house and put just a few things in storage. Explore this country, then spend a month in Provence and a month in Tuscany. After a year of traveling, come back, settle down in a condo, and savor the memories.

See Also: 8 Great Places to Retire Overseas

Lynne and Tim Martin had a much bolder plan. Four years ago, they sold their house in Paso Robles, Calif., and embarked on an open-ended journey that, in the first year and a half alone, included stays in Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Paris, Florence, London and Marrakech. Since then, they have spent seasons in California, New York City and Paris, with stops in Berlin and Lisbon. The couple (Lynne, now 74, once owned a public relations firm; Tim, 69, owned an electronics company) are perpetual travelers. They have no permanent home.

The Martins’ vagabond lifestyle may seem like a drastic way to get the extra mile out of retirement, but plenty of similarly adventurous retirees set up housekeeping full-time or part-time in Europe, Latin America, Asia or other parts of the world. To get an idea of how many, note that the Social Security Administration sends nearly 375,000 benefit payments to banks or addresses in other countries. Plus, that statistic understates the number of retirees living abroad because many expats have their checks deposited in U.S. banks.

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Affordable adventure. Why would anyone want to leave family, friends and familiar territory for foreign climes? Adventure is one reason, but for some, affordability is the bigger appeal. Costa Rica, Ecuador and Malaysia are among the many countries where you can live the good life on $25,000 a year while enjoying great natural resources and a rich culture, according to The International Living Guide to Retiring Overseas on a Budget, by Suzan Haskins and Dan Prescher (www.internationalliving.com).

Another boon to the expat: the Internet. The Martins bank and pay bills online, use PayPal to pay for home rentals, and have their Social Security checks deposited to their U.S. account. They go online to research destinations and book travel, and they get face time (if not hug time) with their grandchildren via Skype.

Like most retirees, stateside or otherwise, the Martins finance their living expenses through savings and Social Security income. “We live on exactly the same amount of money as when we lived in the house,” says Lynne, who wrote about their peripatetic retirement in Home Sweet Anywhere (Sourcebooks). As with any budget, sticking with it involves trade-offs. Rather than stay in hotels, they rent more-affordable vacation homes through HomeAway. And they offset expensive sojourns in, say, Paris with stays in cheaper locales, such as Portugal. Because Medicare doesn’t cover care beyond U.S. borders, the Martins buy travel insurance for the periods when they’re out of the country. When they are no longer able to travel, they’ll settle back in California, near their adult children.

Reading Lynne Martin’s accounts of moonlit mosques in Istanbul, snake charmers in Marrakech and duck cassoulet in Paris tempted me to up the ante on my own plans. Why not skip the U.S. travel and try something more exotic? And why one year and not two? But a series of questions posed by Haskins and Prescher give me pause. Among them: Can you learn to speak a new language? (Not easily.) Are you okay with adventure? (Only in small doses.) “Know thyself” is the mantra in both of the books, and I know that adapting to change is not my strong suit.

So maybe I’ll stick with my original idea or come up with something completely different. Whatever the plan, I like the idea of retirement as a road trip to new destinations, even if you never leave home.