Expat Retirement: Torn Between 2 Loves


Are you considering expat life as your retirement nears?  Maybe you already are an expat who has moved to the country of your dreams?  As I circle around all my options for retirement, I think about the allure of living the life of an expat.  I have lived outside the country before, so I have realistic expectations of what expat life in my retirement years will look like and get very excited about that option.  But then I think about my friends and family who would remain here, while I ventured on.  Conflict.  Torn between two loves.

I suspect if I were one half of a couple that this decision would create less conflict, but I am not sure.  Maybe it is even more difficult for a couple, because of the ties that each have.  There is a pull between affordable adventure that will allow me to save money, travel home for visits while putting money away for long term security, or living downsized on a tight budget, with little to no disposable income, but the closeness of friends and family.

When I lived in the Peruvian Amazon in my late 40’s, after an adjustment period of 6 months, I bought a very simple house outside of the city of Iquitos, in a joven community, a newly established community, near the little airport.  Most of the houses in that community were made of slatted boards with dirt floors, but mine was created of cement blocks, a little more upscale than the majority of the others in that area. It had belonged to a local judge who was moving to Lima. There was no window glass or screens and it was protected above by a corrugated tin roof that sang loudly when it rained.  I only paid a few thousand dollars for it, which I thought was reasonable, although local friends, on the other hand, repeatedly told me  “You paid too much. You paid too much.” I was a “gringa” after all, so I expected that I would pay more than a local.  I was fine with that.  I liked having my own home and that’s what mattered.  It was quite simple and required a dropdown ceiling be installed, only because rats racing across the cross beams while I slept was way outside my comfort zone.

I did enjoy living there, even though the community was located 15 minutes outside of town and I would need to hop the chicken bus, take a mototaxi, or drive my 20 year old beater of a Volkswagen Bug that I called “Broken Down” to get into town. Broken Down was guaranteed to die daily, at least once, as I went to and from the city center. I found myself running back and forth to town throughout the day, and most evenings, and often Broken Down and I would end up waiting for my dear friend Waldermar to come and fix my car that seemed to prefer sitting on the side of the road rather than moving down it.

In Guatemala, I lived in the city, in a hotel, not far from the center, that had been converted into small, but efficient apartments. Things were closer and buses were frequent, so reliable transportation was never an issue and I didn’t have a temperamental VW Bug to deal with.  The hustle and bustle and energy of the city was palpable. I loved urban living.

Eights years from now is my target retirement date, so I spend a lot of time considering what lifestyle would be best for me when retirement comes, as a single woman in my seventh decade of life and beyond.  I am healthy and get around easily and anticipate that will continue, so neither health nor mobility impacts my decision.

In this moment, I am leaning toward a secure apartment in a bohemian or artsy type neighborhood in a city, so that I can walk, have ease of access to transportation, easily visit the market, restaurants and entertainment. The idea of walking to the market, to my favorite coffee shop, arts and entertainment events, and an evening strolling along the river or malecon as the day comes to an end means a full life, daily exercise and continued health.  Those are important considerations.

I think I have decided that I will live in the city if I, ultimately, decide to live abroad.  But the song “Torn Between Two Lovers” keeps coming to mind.  Well, maybe not “lovers,” but loves.  My love for adventure and foreign cultures tugs at me.  It calls to me during my sleep and my waking hours. It never leaves me. It calls for me to come.  Those calls and tugs trigger my senses to recall international living, the smells of traditional foods being cooked in open air storefronts, the scurry of activity in the market as vendors set up for their day’s work. I hear the chatter of a language that becomes more familiar everyday and cherish the experience of being in a different culture, in a foreign land.  I love.

On one side of the coin the love of a new life adventure calls, while on the other side of that same coin there is a whisper in my ear asking about the love of my family and friends, tugging at me to stay.  I feel torn.

When I was in my late 40’s and early 50’s, I would just make up my mind to move, sell off all my belongings, hop on a plane, and be in another culturing living the life I dreamed of.  It was a blink of an eye decision.  It seems funny to me now, that in just a decade’s time, the same decision that was made 10 years earlier isn’t as simple and clear cut as it was back then.

If I stay in this country, then the question to be answered is equally complicated.  Sell the house and then what?  Will I still be around friends and family or will I move to a different state to live in a 55+ community or travel the country in an RV?

I know these questions will be answered over time, but for now…my head spins around my two loves…life as an expat in a foreign land or life here with family and friends.

Are you experiencing any of these same questions that tug and pull as you think about becoming an expat?  How are you reconciling the question of “two loves?”