When Michael and Vivien asked if I was interested in writing a guest post for their blog, I wasn’t quite sure what subject I would pick. The bottom line is that my life has been so crazy for the last decade, I have too many stories to tell! Let’s just say that you are never too old or too young to move abroad. My wife and I made the decision almost ten years ago and haven’t looked back.
I first lived abroad almost twenty years ago when I took part in a teaching exchange with a guy on the coast of Scotland. We traded houses, cars and jobs for one year. My wife (now ex-wife) and I, two kids, and a dozen suitcases made the trek from rural British Columbia to the coast of Fife. It was a wonderful experience and I vowed to do it again when I had the chance.
The opportunity arrived almost ten years ago when I was invited to teach in China at a large international school. The kids were now adults with their own lives and I had recently remarried. It was a good time to start a new life abroad! Without much hesitation, we jumped at the chance to leave our tiny rural British Columbia town and move to a city of 10 million in the middle of China. Within three weeks, I quit my perfectly good job; we sold most of our “stuff” and gave away the rest to friends and my ex-wife. We headed to Asia with two suitcases each, the new extent of our belongings. And, like Michael and Vivien, we both loved this new feeling of complete freedom.
We spent six fun years in the bustling city of Wuhan, China, and enjoyed every minute of it. It was noisy, chaotic, polluted, and incredibly crowded. But what an exciting experience! My students were great, the food was amazing and we had the opportunity to travel all over China and Southeast Asia. When it came time to retire, we decided to move to Thailand. Canada was too cold and too expensive, and my American wife, Nancy, has no interest in moving back to the US.
So for three years, we lived a wonderful life in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Once again, we made tons of great friends and saw a lot of the country. As a retirement destination, the country is hard to beat. White sandy beaches, tropical climate, amazing food and friendly people. What’s not to like?
One downside for us was the continual need to renew our visas every year…forever… and also the need to file a report with immigration every 90 days. There was no end in sight for any kind of permanency in the country. We would always be foreigners in this part of the world. Despite our love of Thailand and its people, we decided we wanted to live in a country where permanent residency would be an option down the road. This would give us the opportunity to work part-time if we so decided, which is not possible on a Thai retirement visa. (see an update on this in the footnote)
Because of several factors, we chose Peru as our next destination. Here in Arequipa, we still have a great quality of life for almost as low a cost of living as Thailand. We only needed a pension income of $1500 per month to obtain our Rentista Visas (Peru’s retirement visa). These are good for life, not one year. In two years, we can apply for permanent residency, which gives us all the rights of Peruvian citizens except the right to vote. We could even apply for citizenship if we wanted to obtain second passports.
Will this be our final stop? Who knows! So far it has been great. There are over 300 days of sunshine per year and daily temperatures hover in the low 70s (20s C). Located between the Andes to the east and the Pacific coast to the west, we have a variety of places to explore. The city itself has a UNESCO designated historic centre of over one square mile that dates back to the sixteenth century. The food is to die for and the people are friendly and welcoming. It just feels right!
I guess the moral of the story is that it may take a few trial runs to find a country that is right for you. For those thinking of retiring abroad, the important thing is to just do it. It doesn’t really matter where you start. The world is a big place and once you begin the journey, you will somehow be led to where you belong. If you are sitting on the fence, just pack up or sell that stuff and hit the road. You never know where you might end up. But it will sure be fun getting there!
Steve now lives in Arequipa where he continues to write for International Living. You can read about his experiences in Thailand and China at http://thaicanuck.com. He is currently building a website about Arequipa that should be up and running in the next month, http://123arequipa.com.
Footnote: As of 23 November 2016, the Thai Government has announced plans for the introduction of 10-year retirement visas. Full details are still to be published.