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.

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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.

  4. Yang Burton says

    I am a widow of a military retiree. I am planning on moving to South Korea. There are numerous military bases and I can use the bank, commissary, BX and other facilities on bases. I am also allowed to have a post office box for correspondences and mail at one of the military bases in Korea when I establish a residence in Korea.

    I am planning on keeping my finances in a US banking system on US military base. Also, I am not planning on purchasing a house or real estate. I am planning on living in a rental property in Korea. The real estate in Korea is too expensive and I cannot afford.

    Is a Will written in Texas valid for a US citizen/a widow of a military retiree when I die while living in South Korea maintaining financial ties in USA and paying USA tax?

    I would greatly appreciate if you reply to my question.

    Thank you for your assistance.Best regards,

    Yang

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Yang, I am sorry for your loss. I am not an expert on legal matters for residency and similar topics. I recommend contacting your bank or financial institution for more information. You can also contact a lawyer that specializes in such matters. Again, I am sorry for your loss, and I wish you the best.

  5. Linyan says

    Hello every friends.My husband is an American, serving in the military for 20 years and retired. If he has passed away. I am a Chinese citizen and US green card. I want to return to China. If I live in China, can I still get my husband’s pension? thanks a lot.

  6. Hector says

    Good day everyone. I am happy to read the comments and questions on here as I am a year away from retiring from the Army. My plan is to migrate to central Mexico but I am concerned as to how it would work with becoming a dual citizen, my pension, VA benefits, taxes, pros and cons of such move.

  7. Kevin Lockridge says

    Take responsibility for your self is my advice. You should never have to depend on another human for your source. I teach my daughter this. VETS are not lonely because of some choice, many are hurt due to the wounds inflicted them during their time of service. I simply cannot place my head around why a non-military person regardless of their affiliation to the military thinks as you. It is simply a disgrace.

    • Mark Fisher says

      EX: I believe you cannot use medicare overseas to other countries? If you are a veteran the VA does not have VA hospitals in those countries. The VA will reimburse payments for your service connected disabilities only through the FMP ( Foreign Medical Program ).

      So, If you cannot use Medicare overseas, or go to a VA Hospital say for example in Germany ( which is where I was looking into moving one day ) then are people having to buy their own insurance? There are military hospitals there, however you would only be low priority, and active duty will always take precedent no matter what ( which is they way the priority of course should be).

      So, if a Veteran wants to move or retire in another country, then my question is, “What are you guys doing for insurance there?”

  8. Rick Gauger says

    I am a 100% disabled US veteran. My monthly income from the US Veterans Administration and Social Security is approximately $4200 a month. I’m a healthy 75 years old. I would like to reside in Australia. I would not be seeking employment there. Would the Australian government allow me to take up residence there under these circumstances?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Rick, Thank you for your question. I am not an expert on the rules for each country. I recommend contacting someone who specializes in immigrating to Australia. They should be able to provide more information about residency rules, visa requirements, and other information that you would need before being able to make that kind of move.

  9. Douglas Meredith says

    I am 100% service connected disabled veteran and also receive SSA and Medicare. I am interested in Ireland or Wales (UK). Is this possible and would I still receive both pensions in full?

  10. Chase says

    I am a 38 year old 100% DAV looking to move to Belize and retire. My research indicates that I could live well on $1500 every month which is less than half of disability payment monthly. I am looking for someone with 100% VA disability in a similar circumstance who would like to live in a place where people vacation and save money to the point where working would be an optional affair.

    Although I could definitely do this alone, I think it would be better to find someone that would be willing to go half on a really nice luxury 2-3 bedroom ocean front rental property, which cost anywhere from $1200-$1600+ in Belize. This way we could share a huge place and save on rent. Otherwise, I would have to settle for a 1-2 bedroom inland for $400-700.

    • Jason says

      My wife and I are just starting to look into the possibility of retiring to Belize as well. There are so many things to think about before we pull the trigger. I would love for someone who has retired there to share some info and/or insight on things like, cost of living, taxes, security, healthcare, etc. We spent many years overseas while I was in, however being retired and not having the support of a base nearby would make this an entirety new experience.

  11. Sigi says

    I live in Australia, worked in the US and my ex spouse is a retired Air Force member. How come I am eligible to receive my social security from America here in Australia, but not my share of my ex spouses retirement pay.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Sigi, I would hire a lawyer in the US that specializes in military divorce cases. They should be able to help you understand the laws and rules surrounding your situation.

      • Ilona says

        Thanks for your info Ryan. It’s a bit difficult to hire a lawyer from the US while I’m living here in Australia. And I could imagine the fees from overseas would be outrageous. Thanking you, Ilona

    • Glenn says

      Read up on social security and foreign coutries. The US has agreements with other countries where there employees can work in the US and gain points towards their system and our US citizens can work in other countries and gain points in our social security. As for his/her MRP – if you do not divorce in the US where a court MAY grand you a portion of the MRP then you have no rights to the MRP as other countires are not under the jurisdiction of the USFSPA.

  12. JAIME says

    i am planning to reside in the philippines, i’m retired and 100%. va here in the states told me that my disability and pension will be cut in half if i reside there permanently, va advised me that if i plan to stay there, i have to go back to the states every six months so i will not be considered a permanent resident in the philippines, is this true?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Jaime, Thank you for contacting me. I don’t know for if these statements are true. I don’t believe your military retirement pay would change. But I can’t speak for the VA regarding your disability compensation. I recommend speaking with the VA and asking for a reference so you can see the rules in writing. They should be able to provide you with some reference material. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

    • Andy Phelps says

      Hello Jaime, I have never heard that before – I ask again at the VA and your local CVSO )County Veteran Service Officer) in the State you live in. Also searching the VA website they have links for overseas various services.

  13. MD_Miles says

    I am a 48 years young USNHM DAV. I am in between careers. I am single with no children. I do have one Service Dog Reilly. I am seriously thinking about moving to the Philippines. I am Staunchly Catholic. I have been researching this for the better part of the last year. I even talked with a Filipina online for some time. I didn’t know if I was going to pursue my career here, or slow down and move there so we don’t talk as she was looking for a husband. In the last year I have looked at Panama, Belize, Chili, Guam, Spain, and Greece. Something keeps bringing me back to the Philippines. I am rated 90% and soon probably going to 100%. Regardless I am looking to live on a beach, find a Catholic Woman, and enjoy life. Life has just been “The Grind” for me the last several years. Since I am in between jobs this is really on my mind. I am waiting to hear from several Federal, and State (Michigan) Career Positions I am being vetted for. Now may be the time for me or forever hold my peace. I am Bachelor of Science Degreed, and I could work in the Philippines; or I could start a business, or just help out at the Catholic Church with kids. I have been a Counselor for at risk youth for a time since my active duty. Any thoughts from anyone in “The Know” would be helpful.

    • Robert Blake says

      Hi MD,
      I too am a staunch Catholic or as I sometimes say when asked if I’m born again, “Yep..I’m a born again Catholic”. Anyway, a short background on me: In 08 I deployed [to Chad] as a Sergeant in the Irish Army. [ NATO Equivalent OR – 5 ] I was there from June 08 – Oct 08 to support the UN’s effort as part of EUFOR Chad/CAR. I was waiting on my green card for the U.S & that was approved in 2010 so I did not reenlist. After arriving in America, I joined the Marines. I am trying to find out if I will still receive my Army pension from Ireland. I’m a dual citizen. Have you ever come across this?

  14. douglas meredith says

    What about europe? Any experiences including Spain, Portugal, Italy. Also Great Britian and/or Ireland.

    • Rafael Rico says

      I have been living in Spain and loving it since retiring in 2010.
      Transfers from DFAS, VA and SSDI, have been flawless and with the correct exchange rates.
      But even considering that the euro is stronger than the dollar by about 12% as of today the day to day living expenses are way cheaper than having the same amount in the US having the same lifestyle.
      I live in the Andalusia province in southern Spain.

      • Sabre Garcia says

        This is great news to me because my husband and I want to retire to Spain. Are you able to have dual citizenship? Do you have to go back to the US for certain timeframes? Thank you

      • Kevin O'Connor says

        As a 100% disabled vet, I am also interested in retiring to Spain. Somewhere down south, warm and tropical. However, I’m concerned about whether my retirement and disability pay will be taxed? I understand I still have to file US taxes, but do I need to file Spanish tax forms as well? Can anyone give me feedback

  15. Tom Miller says

    Not knowledgeable in the language, but interested in retirement in the Philippines whereas, English is accepted and understood by many residents. I am retired Navy and a senior drawing social security, military and VA compensation plus civil service retirement from my VA employment. Can you advice me as to the best places to reside with my wife. Thank you

    • Ryan Guina says

      Tom, Thank you for contacting me. I don’t have specific information on this topic. I recommend trying to find some internet forums or websites where ex-pats share tips and information. I’m sure there are several of them out there. Once you find some information, it would be a good idea to schedule a trip or two or three to the area you are considering moving to so you can get familiar with the area and make sure this is something you want to go through with. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  16. CavTrooper0430 says

    The philippines is great because there is a VA clinic here. There is direct deposit. The way it works is, the big banks here have contracts with US banks to wire your deposit straight from these contracted banks to your Filipino account. E.G.: I have a BDO direct deposit account (ph peso), the direct deposit is actually to the NY Melon Bank, but the prefix on the account number will designate that these deposits are wired to your Phi account. I get my monthly disability, as well as all VA meds and treatments here on time, actually faster than in the US. If you have a new claim here, or apply to increase, the claim takes, at most, 6 months. There is a VA regional office here that handles VBA claims, and since the case load is much smaller, claims are handled almost immediately. Expect a C&P within 1-2 months of making a claim. The cost of living here is a fraction of what you pay in the States.

    • Kenneth Studwell says

      Im planning on moving there as soon as my passport arrives. Can you share with me which websites you used to research the country?

  17. Hd says

    You did not mention anything about the complexity for filing taxes. It is not at simple as it is for Americans who live in the U.S. And usually requires paying a tax professional to fill out all the required forms. Eg you must file a form for every bank account no matter how small. Each missed account comes with a $10,000 fine.
    Cross border tax services do not come cheap so you’d better account for that in your retirement expenses. There are additional tax risks; selling a home can incur a Capitol gains tax, if you also have a foreign source of income, your spouse’s pension may be required to be reported. It goes on and on.
    I live in Canada. I am lower middle class. I was hoping to retire but to become tax compliant I will not be able to afford to retire because my pension and retirement savings will be taxed by both countries and because the cost of a tax specialist keeps me working.
    I would like to know how other expat vets are dealing with this citizenship tax.
    Btw I hate that term- expat. I am still very much a patriot and fly both the American and the Marine Corps flags.

    • KenRay says

      I used TurboTax when I lived overseas. You can electrically sign each required signature page and file it electrically. So, you do not have to go back to America to file taxes. If you are receiving a pension, you can also access and print out copies of your W-2 forms online.

  18. James D Ward says

    I am looking to retire permanently to the Philippines this September. The DFAS doesn’t offer Electronic Direct Deposit to the Philippines and my local bank says to wire transfer money to the Philippines each month I will have to be here to do it? So my question is once I live there how do I receive my money? I know I can use my ATM VISA card on a U.S. Bank Account but when it expires they said they will not send me one overseas….So what every 3 years or so I have to fly to the U.S. to get a new ATM Card???? There must be a better way. I already have a Savings Account with Philippine National Bank in Baguio. Thanks

    • Ryan Guina says

      James, That is a great question, and something I haven’t looked into before. I would start by looking at different banks, and seeing what their policies are. We have a list of some of the top military banks here. Those banks and credit unions may have different policies.

      It should also be possible to have your direct deposit made to a US Based bank, then do an international wire transfer to your bank in the Philippines. If your funds are in your bank in the Philippines, then you should be able to easily access your account where you live.

      If this doesn’t help, then I would try to find some online forums that cater to Americans living overseas. There is also a large contingent of retired US Military members in the Philippines. You may go out there and find out how they are making their retirement funds work. I hope this helps. Best of luck in your retirement, and thank yo for your service!

      • RICK says

        There used to be a few U.S. banks in the Philippines serving regular, non-commercial accounts. Now, as far as I know only Citibank has branches in the Philippines, mostly in Manila and one or two branches in Cebu City. You can open a Citibank account in the U.S. and access it at one of the branches. In this way, you won’t have to pay for money transfers from a U.S. bank to a Philippine bank.

      • KenRay says

        True, Citibank now requires that you have an ACR card and an established residence in the Philippines before they will allow you to open an account. Then afterwards, you will be allowed open both U.S dollar and Php peso accounts. You can direct U.S. dollars in to your U.S. account and withdraw Php peso while in the Philippines. But they do charge a transfer fee based on the amount you transfer from you dollar account to your Peso account.

    • robert says

      I have wells fargo and they have a system to let you send money to mu DPO bank here in the PI for like $5 a transaction up to $3000 a momth but they chew you up on the exchange rate but still lot better then using atm card

  19. Sigi says

    After my ex-spouse and I retired from the US Air Force, we moved to Australia. When we did our settlement, the courts told me I could not get my 50% of his retirement pay because there is no jurisdiction in Australia, even though I should them all the appropriate paper work ‘Spouses Protection’ etc…I got divorced I 2007, but this will not leave my mind – that is my entitlement and simply seems so unfair…now I am 65 on an Australian pension and financially finding it very difficult. I always felt I had some kind of security, knowing that if ever we separated or divorced, I would be taken care of by the US Department of Defence. The problem also is that the courts here in Australia have no idea, and look at it as his income and did not account for it as property…What can I do?

  20. Kevin Janey says

    For veterans who needs assistance with their claims before VA and who live abroad, I can help you. I am an accredited claims representative authorized by VA’s Office of the General Counsel to assist, prepare, and represent other veterans and their claims before VA. I also live overseas and specialize in representing other veterans who live abroad, although I do represent veterans living in the States too! Except for one person in the Philippines, I am the only one living overseas able to represent other veterans before VA. My services are FREE. For contact info just visit my website at; http://www.vaclaims-help.com

    Sincerely,
    Kevin Janey

  21. Mark Thompson says

    Retiring in Thailand or Philippines is your best bet. I’ve seen many veterans retire in Philippines and have a great way of living. I’m talking about 3-4 houses, and numerous cars. But that stuff doesn’t happen over night.

    You must save your money during your Active Duty days.

  22. Chief Roberts says

    A pension can go a long way in some countries. An old military buddy of mine retired in the Philippines and says his money affords him a nice lifestyle, complete with a bungalow not far from the water and a maid service. He tried to get me to go out that way, but living close to my grandchildren is more important! It can work for some people though!

    Chief Roberts

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