Is your overseas retirement doomed to financial disaster?

Updated: 

Retired to the sun

As the winter weather kicks off and the nights draw in, who hasn't wondered whether they'd be better off retiring somewhere warm and sunny? However, for those who make the leap from the dream to reality, the government is warning that there are very real risks.

The Foreign and Colonial Office has had to step in and help people facing heavy fines, financial ruin, or even legal trouble because they did not plan carefully enough for an overseas retirement.


Disasters

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office says that in the last year its staff across the world have had to help expats who have turned to them for help after being swamped by a financial nightmare. Some have had difficulties with a house purchase, others have run up medical bills that they cannot afford to pay, while others have hit problems with pensions and some have even gone bankrupt.

However, they're not recommending we stay put and live with the cold and the dark. Instead, they point out that 6 million British nationals currently live overseas, and the right preparations before you leave should protect you from the worst of these nightmares.

Prepare yourself

They say that the first stage is to do your homework - research your destination and visit forums and expat community resources to help get a feel for the area. Part of this will involve reading up on local laws and customs. The FCO's Know Before You Go page has some information to get you started, and if you have any enquiries for FCO consular staff before you go you can now ask questions via the FCO's new Twitter service @FCOtravel.

Once you have decided on an area, don't rush into buying abroad. Take time to visit the area and plenty of properties: don't be rushed into decision and ensure you are familiar with local protocol.

Before you buy, seek independent legal advice. Don't feel under pressure to use your property developer's or estate agent's contacts: check out the gov.uk website for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's English-speaking lawyers lists - it is vital that your legal adviser understands the law in the country you intend to move to.

Once your property is arranged, there are still lots of other financial considerations. The first is your health. Once you permanently leave the UK you are no longer entitled to medical treatment under the NHS or via a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Be sure to take out health insurance and if you are staying within the European Economic Area (EEA), read up on the S1 form (previously known as the E121 form).

Consider your long-term financial requirements too. Read up on the impact moving overseas may have on any benefits or retirement income received. Be realistic about your living costs overseas; don't assume they will be the same as at home. Do you have a plan B if things go wrong?

Read up on tax regulations - Be sure to research the taxes that will be applicable to you in your new home (as well as back in the UK) once you have moved abroad.

Calculate the costs. Don't forget to take into account exchange rates and potential financial implications of moving overseas.

Tell the government you are leaving. You need to notify the Social Security Office, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department of Work and Pensions that you are moving overseas, as well as your GP.

Finally, the FCO says that one key to success is to integrate. Try not to isolate yourself and do make an effort to learn the local language, this will play an important role in helping you settle in to your new home.