Being a Military Veteran and Retiring Abroad

I think one of the largest groups of Americans who decide to retire overseas are military veterans. It makes perfect sense on many levels. Many military veterans have spent considerable parts of their career living abroad, they may speak two or more languages and have grown accustomed to life overseas, particularly in the developing world.…
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I think one of the largest groups of Americans who decide to retire overseas are military veterans. It makes perfect sense on many levels. Many military veterans have spent considerable parts of their career living abroad, they may speak two or more languages and have grown accustomed to life overseas, particularly in the developing world. Living back home in America may seem boring and slow, or you may just decide you want to try something new.

Regardless of your reasons for considering overseas retirement, you should take some time to make the decision before jumping in with both feet. Here are some pros and cons. Keep in mind this is just a top-level overview – just enough to get your thinking about it. If you think overseas retirement might be for you, then I recommend doing further research.

Benefits of overseas retirement for military members

Retiring abroad is a great option for military veterans. Unlike most Americans, they will have usually have a guaranteed pension on top of their social security benefits. This can mean a retired military veteran faces retirement in relative wealth compared to most Americans, and extraordinary wealth compared to other people if the veteran decides to live in a poorer, developing country.

Benefits of formal visa programs. Many countries, particularly poorer ones in Southeast Asia and Latin America have formal retirement visa programs under various names and guises. These visa programs have reduced or no taxation for retirees on a pension, allowing you to save considerable money over many parts of the United States. The requirements of these can vary substantially from country to country, but in general, you must not have a criminal record, you must show signed proof of your pension, you must show proof that you have private healthcare, and you must be over a certain age. You will typically apply for the visa stateside and apply through the nearest consulate or embassy of the country you wish to move to.

Expat communities. Many countries have entire communities populated by retired expatriates. No, we’re not calling you unpatriotic, that’s just a term for someone who chooses to live in another country! The benefit of these communities is a greater sense of home and a shared experience. It is much easier to make the transition to living overseas if you are around people who are in a similar situation – you can share experiences and help each other when needed.

Service and Benefits for Veterans Living Abroad: The Department of Veterans Affairs has a portal dedicated to providing information for military retirees who choose to live overseas during retirement. Visit the VA site for more info.

Downfalls and risks of retiring overseas

Drawbacks to retiring overseas. As any experienced expat knows, while there are many benefits to living overseas, there are drawbacks. You cannot export an American lifestyle overseas without substantial expenses. You will deal with inefficient businesses and bureaucracies, far worse than in America. You may deal with a lot of crime. You may see a lot of poverty. Healthcare may be cheap, but it might not be as high of quality. You may be far away from your loved ones and friends.

Risks of retiring abroad. While retiring abroad is being portrayed in the media as a way to garner a wealthy lifestyle for pennies on the dollar, it is still fraught with risk. The cheaper the country you move to, the poorer and potentially dangerous the country. A poor country is at best financially unstable, and at worst politically unstable. Do research on the history and the government of the country you decide to move to before moving.

Advice for those consider overseas retirement

My advice to any veteran considering moving overseas to retirement is to make use of the skills and instincts that allowed you to prosper in previous foreign residences. Be cautious, and keep a low profile. Americans are hated in some parts of the world, and in others mildly disliked. Don’t make waves.

From a financial perspective, my most general advice is to maintain some kind of address or contact back home for bills and banking relationships. Keep the bulk of your money in America rather than investing locally. And always have a plan for quickly leaving the country if trouble seems to be stirring.

About the author. Rick Todd writes at Expat Investing, where he writes on living working and retiring overseas from a financial perspective.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes, Military.com, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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  1. Sheila Kubik-Johnson says

    I lived in England for two for your toes each. I bought a house there but no longer own it. My son is a permanent
    Resident in England. I would like to go there and rent an apartment and work to keep active. I have my pension, my Social Security and Tricare For Life. Therefore, I will be independent and will not be a burden on the economy. I’m trying to find out what I need to do before I move, to allow me to rent an apartment and to be able to work in the country. Can I rent an apartment from the United States and move in without a problem? My son is they had to see the place and talk to the owner plus I would be conversing with the owner and paying first month and security most likely.
    Where can I get this information or do you have the answers for me?
    Thank you very much, Sheila retired Air Force 20 years

  2. Stephen Geiger says

    Ryan,

    Can you recommend any military retiree groups; blogs, FB, etc. that are active in Italy? There are a ton of civilian expat blogs in Italy, but our situation as military retirees is significantly different.

    Many thanks in advance for any vectoring….
    Steve

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Steve, I don’t have any specific recommendations here – I would try visiting some military retiree expat groups and trying to narrow down from there. I don’t frequent any of these groups, so I don’t have any recommendations.
      I hope you can find a group that will help you learn more about Italy! Best wishes!

  3. Andy Phelps says

    I have been pretty blessed and was able to retire twice over at 56yo (2013 & 2018 Military & civilian). I am also 100% VCA SCD, start drawing my retired pay this summer, and help out other Veterans for the state of WI currently — and considering living in Panama; the Colon area on the east side. I am hearing of expat communities and am exploring and asking about the +/-‘s of living in this region. Thank you.

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