Retiring to another country can be a very attractive option. Lower cost of living and health care expenses along with exotic locales and temperate climates persuade many seniors to retire outside of the United States. If you want to ensure a smooth transition, however, there are many issues to consider and steps to take before packing up and moving.
One of your first considerations should be where to keep your money. When you move abroad, you will most likely need to open a bank account in the new country in order to pay local bills. Opening a bank account in a foreign country can be difficult because of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), passed in 2010. The law requires banks to disclose data on American clients to the IRS, and many banks are refusing to accept clients from the United States because they don't want to deal with the requirements. Your best bet may be to look for a big bank that has lots of dealings with the United States.
Once you have a bank, you will need to consider how much money you want to put into the local account as well as the best way to transfer money into the local currency. If your money remains in a U.S. bank and the exchange rate changes suddenly, the value of your money can change drastically. Another option is a foreign exchange specialty firm that may be able to provide you a fixed rate for transferring money. Before moving, you should consult with a financial planner to determine the best way to protect your money.
The United States wants to prevent citizens from hiding money in overseas bank accounts, so there are special reporting requirements. If you have $10,000 or more in a foreign bank account you will have to fill out an annual Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) with the Department of Treasury. FATCA (see above) also has its own reporting requirements. If you are married and have a foreign account with more than $400,000 at the end of the year (or more than $600,000 at any time during the year), you will need to file a special form with your income taxes. If you don't comply with the requirements, you could face stiff penalties.
Moving to another country doesn't mean you don't have to pay taxes in the United States anymore. All U.S. citizens have to pay taxes, regardless of where they live, and if you still have a residence in a U.S. state, you may also have to pay state taxes. In addition, you will likely have to file a tax return in the country you are living in. If you pay taxes to a foreign country on a source of income and are subject to U.S. tax on the same income, you may be able to take either a credit or an itemized deduction for the foreign taxes paid. For more information, click here. It is important to consult with a tax professional who is familiar with taxes in the country you are moving to.
You may want to invest some money in the local currency so that your assets keep pace with cost-of-living increases. Having investments in the currency of the country you are living in also protects the value of your investments from drops in the value of the dollar.
Purchasing real estate is not always straightforward in another country. Before deciding to buy, it is important to understand the rules of the country you are moving to. For example, in Mexico foreigners are prohibited from owning property within 31 miles of the coast, so property is often held inside corporations or trusts, which can create tax issues for U.S. citizens. In addition, there may also be different inheritance laws that could affect property. For example, in France children have priority over a surviving spouse.
Traditional Medicare does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the United States, so if you are retiring in another country, you will need to purchase health insurance from another source. If you return to the United States, you will still be covered by Medicare Part A, which covers hospital stays, but unless you paid the premiums for Medicare Part B while you were away, you may have to pay a penalty to enroll in Medicare Part B. For more information about Medicare while traveling or living overseas, click here.