What we take with us

No doubt, our plan is to unload all our earthly possessions and arrive abroad with a suitcase or two of clothing, a laptop, perhaps a few cherished books, photos, or keepsakes, and not much else.

But of course, that is not all we have.


To establish residency abroad without a job, you need to prove you have income and won’t be a drag on their system. One of the main reasons to consider moving overseas is because most of the world has a much lower standard of living that the U.S., while still offering benefits like better healthcare, better mass transportation, and fresher food sources. As long as you stay away from certain areas—mostly big tourist cities like London and Paris—you can probably get by on $2000-2500 a month in Europe, less in Asia and South and Central America. That includes rent, food, utilities, public transportation, and healthcare. Kit and caboodle. At least that is my current research indicates. (Note: unless otherwise indicated, I will always use U.S. dollar amounts.)

Most countries require monthly income minimums you must prove in writing when applying for long-term residency visas. These tend to be in the $2000-2500/month range. Without getting into the details of our private finances, I can say that by 2024, between a pension and social security, we will have a guaranteed income (if you can call Social Security benefits a “guarantee”) in the range of $3800-4200 per month. This is good because Uncle Sam will still be taking his yearly cut. My wife could start taking SS now (she’s not currently) but I need to wait those three years. This is without touching our retirement savings at all.  If we had to, we could draw out about 5% of that and stay even or experience growth as long as the market sees at least 5% annual growth.


Many countries require proof of healthcare when you apply for long-term visas. Some, like France, allow you to access their national system after you’ve lived there for 6 months. Healthcare costs are anywhere from half to a third of the US, often with better care. France’s system then refunds 70% of your expenditures. Sweet, right? In countries that don’t allow expats in their system, there are health plans that seem very affordable as long as they exclude coverage the U.S.


My wife is fluent in Spanish and is one of those people who pick up languages quickly. Me, not so much. Once we pick a destination, however, I plan to immerse myself in lessons, so I don’t seem like a complete rube when we land on their shores. I refuse to be one of those Americans who expects everyone else to speak English.


Lastly, we are bringing low expectations. We are not in search of luxury living or amazing experiences or a hassle-free existence. We know there will be an adjustment. We know there will be struggles and frustrations. We know it won’t be easy. If any of it is, bonus! But we have eyes wide open on this.

First on the agenda is to start researching areas of the world. I have a few in mind. We need to list considerations like weather, cost of living, access to services and infrastructure, banking, visa requirements, healthcare, and so much more. Then we need to decide which of these things is most important to us. Ideally, I’d like to narrow things down to two or three desired destinations and then spend some extended time there. But right now, we have about a dozen possibilities—and it is a moving target.  

Published by Tom Cox

Tom & Jean, a couple of contemplative ex-pats from Pittsburgh, shed all their earthly belongings and move to Costa Rica. What could possibly go wrong?

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