Growing up in New York City during the 1970s, our boisterous and popular mayor, Ed Koch, was constantly in the spotlight. Known for his tagline, he’d constantly ask the media “So How am I doing”?
Abandoning the blog for quite some time, I realized things changed drastically since Covid19 upended everyone’s lives. Knowing readers wondered what happened to us and why my sarcastically accurate views of overseas life disappeared, I decided it’s time to revisit how we got here, what we’ve learned and what happens to the blog now that we’ve left Southeast Asia.
Simply stated, we’re fine, financially better off than we first retired, and comfortably resettled into a (semi) post-pandemic Canadian life here in Edmonton, Alberta. Soliciting suggestions on what to write about since it’s likely our next adventure outside North America won’t be for some time, some readers suggested continuing the same premise albeit in Canada. Others suggested changing focus and concentrating on how we’ve grown our asset base solely through passive income. Stuck somewhere in the middle, I decided on a “page” post summarizing how we got here and what we’ve accomplished or learned over the first six years of early retirement. Unlike regular posts with publication dates, “pages” are static, stay visible at the top of a blog for easy retrieval and provide readers with a convenient answer to that question Ed Koch asked so many times.
So how are we doing?
Usually avoiding personal finances in my blog, our decision to leave the workforce was solely based on a financial gamble so, in this context, I’ll make an exception. Although I follow a handful of blogs devoted to early retirement planning and skills, they usually reinforce everything we’ve already done. Simply stated, if you’re not selling a lucrative business and don’t earn a six-figure combined income, preparing for early retirement takes two simple steps. Commonly referred to as FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early), we achieved it by living below our means and developing a well-diversified self-directed investment portfolio. Starting with the simpler of the two steps, I’ll share some tips.
Prioritizing early retirement over raising a family helped us financially but that’s not the point. Taking advantage of generous prepayment options, we paid off our first mortgage loan in six years. Intentionally designed to keep billionaires and corporations rich, the mortgage industry wants your cash until you die so they incentivize with debt-laden offers like refinancing, little or no cash upfront, and ridiculously long loan terms. Resisting, we took cash from our Canadian house sale and put 60% down on a suburban house in Walnut Creek, California. Desperate for buyers at the peak of the financial crisis, the seller accepted 15% under the asking price. Negotiating with the bank, we secured a 15-year mortgage with prepayment options and no closing fees and both found stable jobs in San Francisco. Becoming homebodies, our Saturday night routine usually included watching free videos from the library while friends dined out and took expensive day trips to nearby Wine Country. Statistically, only 20% of Americans use credit correctly. Always paying our balance in full every month and never charging more than 30% of our credit limit to keep credit scores high, we used a Costco Amex card and utilized every benefit offered.
Strategizing a path to early retirement, we took advantage of U.S. tax loopholes by lowering our taxable income and generating large refunds. Opting for employment with large companies offering tax-sheltered retirement accounts, we calculated the maximum allowable contribution and split the payroll deductions over 26 equal bi-weekly contributions. Employing a method known as dollar-cost averaging, this approach takes advantage of all markets, buying cheaper shares when markets are down. Constantly making excuses, many people with employer-based options like a 401k plan or superannuation bypass free money by not contributing. Thinking you can’t afford less take-home pay is a huge mistake. Realistically, you can’t miss what you never had, and reducing taxable income through pre-tax contributions means less cash now, more cash later, and annual tax refunds. Utilizing pre-tax contributions and other itemized deductions like mortgage interest and property taxes gave us thousands of extra investible dollars that paid off handsomely. Sounding almost cliche but working in the real world, ignoring instant gratification for future rewards always pays off.
Daunting as it seems, investing requires less skill than discipline. Critically important for an early retirement strategy, your must-do list includes constructing a portfolio, understanding asset allocation, and sticking to a plan regardless of market conditions. Secondary but equally important, avoid using investment advisors. Instead, save thousands in fees and use a “self-directed account” at a reputable discount broker like Charles Schwab or Fidelity. Finally, diversify your holdings in a mix of stocks and bonds appropriate for your risk tolerance and resist the trading urges. We hold only actively managed, no-load mutual funds with low fees from the nation’s best fund companies and an individual stock or two for our play money. Granted my background helps, so if this is all jargon to you, please read The Chicken Little Financial Post, my simplified primer on the investing side of early retirement.
Unwilling to waste precious time off sitting at all-inclusive Mexican resorts getting drunk, we used our vacation time on Expat Research Vacations. Experiencing exciting adventures at bucket list destinations, we chose countries with thriving expat communities, a warm climate, and a low cost of living. Desiring cultural experiences and travel opportunities, we’d planned on working five to ten years longer than we did and never made it to places like Panama or Uruguay. But we did look at communities in Cuenca, Ecuador after visiting The Galapagos Islands and Penang, Malaysia following an amazing trip to Borneo’s rainforest.
Achieving maximum salary expectations given my limited skill set, potential new employers called me “overqualified” after I was laid off. Already seeing hiring freezes everywhere, The 2008 Financial Crisis crippled the industry and after a few fruitless interviews, we both knew early retirement was risky but possible. Taking stock of our financial picture, we ruled out all Spanish-speaking destinations and decided on Malaysia. Offering Southeast Asia’s most generous retirement visa (MM2H, short for Malaysia My Second Home), the application process was tedious but worth it because the visa was renewable indefinitely in ten-year increments. Having changed immensely since we applied, I can’t offer any current advice on the process but I did write a Primer on the MM2H Visa Application process as it was in 2015.
Unable to submit an MM2H application for 17 months due to a minimum age requirement of 50, I convinced Diane to keep working (very reluctantly) and spent time exchanging a record number of emails with our visa agent in Kuala Lumpur. Complicating the process, the application required police checks, obsolete personal bank reference letters, twelve months of financial records, and once in Malaysia, a medical exam and local insurance policy. Possibly the hardest obstacle, applicants need to maintain a bank account in Malaysia and deposit 150,000 Malaysian Ringgit (about $36,000) to be held in a fixed deposit for the duration of the visa. Opening foreign bank accounts from America became almost impossible since the Obama administration introduced a horrible tax act called the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Mandating foreign compliance with IRS reporting, many nations refuse to open bank accounts for American citizens. Luckily for us, Diane holds dual citizenship and I have Canadian Permanent Residency status. Stopping in Calgary before leaving for Asia, we found a friendly bank manager at HSBC Canada that helped us open an account at HSBC Malaysia account before we even arrived.
Unlikely to survive 40 plus years of retirement in California (or anywhere in America without employer-based health insurance), an experimental overseas early retirement became more necessary than optional. Needing liquid cash because access to our retirement portfolios, small private pensions, and Social Security was years away, we listed our house and began a massive liquidation of all our accumulated junk. Despite property value declines of almost 30% after 2008, Bay Area home prices rebounded so much that bidding wars started due to low inventories and once again, the timing was on our side. Walking away with almost $100K over the asking price, we said a sentimental goodbye to California and headed for Canada for a brief stopover before arriving in Malaysia’s capital where we’d spend three days before heading to Penang.
Always hating the question “So what do you do with yourselves every day?” I’ll be frank. I don’t know. Lacking specific retirement goals like entrepreneurship, returning to school, or volunteer work, neither of us knew what we wanted from our post-work life. And we still don’t. Responding as truthfully as possible, I’ll hypothesize that immersing ourselves in a foreign culture took up most of our time. Challenging enough, settling somewhere you’ve never visited is especially tough and we almost questioned our choice once we arrived. And acclimatizing to unimaginable tropical heat was difficult to say the least. Slowly settling into Penang, we found a great condo and began diving into the food. Living far from Penang’s hub in a rickety beach town called Batu Ferringhi, we had no car and relied on friends and public transportation for food and entertainment. Soon after moving in, we crammed into our neighbor’s dinky car, a Malaysian-made model called a Proton, and we all explored the backside of the island. Meanwhile, Diane read lots of books and I jumped into the blog with fun stories about developing world oddities.
Often thinking our retirement resembles George Castanza’s presentation to NBC on an episode of Seinfeld, “A Show About Nothing” felt like us compared to dozens of like-minded expats we’d seen on the long-running TV series House Hunters International. Avid fans of the HGTV production, we’ve seen hundreds of shows and highly recommend watching for anyone interested in overseas retirement. Ironically, the producers either thought otherwise or hadn’t done enough location shots in Penang. Contacting them blindly, they surprised me when a London-based producer accepted our story for final consideration. Paying $1,500 USD for your time and only taking three or four days to film, they use a skeleton crew with one producer and two camera people to keep it non-invasive. Sadly, management at our condo nixed that plan by refusing to sign waivers allowing them to film on site.
Offering up a bogus story, the obnoxious condo manager claimed all 130 owners of each unit needed sign-off on filming. Owned mostly owned by wealthy Chinese from Singapore or the Chinese mainland, Penang’s condo investors sought easy money from real estate gains but the financial crisis ended that idea fast. Leaving most properties unrented rather than taking some income or selling at a loss, the “face” concept prevalent in Asian culture led to a 70% vacancy rate and that left the condo’s huge infinity pool with a view of the bay mostly for us. Designed around a concept where would-be expats compare and narrow down three different residences in their chosen location while explaining their background, here’s a House Hunters International spoiler alert. Staged, and filmed months after the participants already settled in their new homes, the producers often use actors if local realtors aren’t available and also embellish the story for content.
Interacting with average Malaysians was easy on our 30-minute bus commute to the supermarket or mall. Always friendly and willing to help foreigners, western stereotypes and stigmas about Muslim culture proved mostly wrong. Adapting to local norms like Friday afternoon closings for Prayers and wake-up calls from local mosques sung by Imams sounding like wounded animals, we barely had time to adapt before the worst part of Southeast Asia reared its ugly head. Directly responding to western nations’ insatiable demand for palm oil, Indonesia burns millions of acres of land illegally to clear land for quicker production on plantations. Wafting over three nations, the air becomes an unbreathable stench of poison and the skies become an apocalyptically dead shade of white. Bucking international pressure, Malaysia doesn’t even use the internationally accepted air quality index (PMI 2.5) for reporting so nobody knows how serious the health risks are.
Forcing us away from Penang after six weeks of unlivable air, we hopped on an overnight express train, spent our first Thanksgiving away from North America in Thailand, and began looking at Chiang Mai as a potential living option. Including Thailand as one of our expat destination vacations, we’d hoped to move there someday anyway but never-ending paperwork, unreasonably short visas, and a two-year lease at the condo played a role in our decision to stay put in Malaysia until 2017. Still unclear on what to do with life after work, we decided to forget about new horizons and focus on inexpensive regional travel. Unfortunately, Australia was high on my list, and since it’s a six-hour flight from Malaysia and anything but cheap, we needed a plan.
Touted on their website as “The leading community for cultural exchange, working holidays and volunteering”, an organization known as Workaway solved the problem (Kind of). Exchanging room and board for work, hosts in 170 countries connect with mostly young people otherwise underemployed, broke, and willing to work for free, often in harsh conditions. Justifying our plan as a form of volunteer or community work, we filled out a long profile and went searching for gigs in Australia appropriate for those with “life experience” (retirees that didn’t save any money). Happening on a feisty old lady in Tasmania that made and sold condiments weekly at Salamanca Market, one of Australia’s most visited attractions, we agreed to a three-week commitment in exchange for two days off per week for tourism. Unusually rare, Workaway hosts rarely give time off but understanding that we hadn’t worked in some time and knowing we weren’t broke, she relented. Providing an enriching experience, we picked veggies, helped make jams, and awoke at 5 AM twice to attend pop-up booths and sell goods to customers. Spending off days touring the area, we grew tired of manual labor, left a week early, and spent more time in Melbourne. And that’s the extent of our volunteer and/or community involvement so far in six years of retirement. Apologizing for our cushy white-collar attitude, I’m not sure if making the world a better place is in our wheelhouse.
Recalling one of the most inspirational moments of our travels, we visited Myanmar in 2016. Fresh off an election that put the military dictatorship back in the hands of the citizens, democratically elected leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi promised new beginnings and hope for Thailand’s western neighbor. Still new to tourism, the capital city of Yangon became accessible when Air Asia began offering direct service from Malaysia and we’d hoped to capitalize on Southeast Asia’s last undiscovered destination. Inspired by its beauty and people but saddened by horrible infrastructure and countless miles of discarded trash, we took a walk down a local street one day. Catching us off-guard, a family living in a traditional Burmese wood-bamboo house motioned for us to come inside. Hesitantly accepting, we saw they couldn’t speak English and were poor but they shared tea and some local food anyway while allowing us to photograph and video their traditional lifestyle. Recognizing most people on the planet are generous and helpful, seeing how they lived humbled us and made us think how spoiled and privileged most citizens of rich nations are. Recently, the military took back power in Myanmar and began a killing spree so visiting anytime soon may be impractical if not dangerous. We wish them well.
Monkeying around (literally) proved most entertaining in Penang. Well adapted to urban environments, macaques are dominant, often aggressive, and always acting like characters while the other species in Penang known as Dusky Leafs are shy and elusive. Never missing a chance to interact, we saw them everywhere in Malaysia, and sometimes they end up being the unintended stars of the day on guided tours. Hosting a few small festivals and occasionally included on the Australian traveling comedy circuit, Penang doesn’t qualify as a hotbed for excitement. Geographically small, Malaysian tourism revolves mostly around its capital city, Kuala Lumpur. Expansive, modern, and worth visiting, many working expats complain about the lack of recreational paths, parks, and green space. Overly conservative for our taste, Malaysia’s other provinces mostly look and feel the same and the national parks are insanely too hot for exploring unless dehydration is your thing.
Garnering a small but loyal following, we don’t usually interact with my blog’s readers but an odd encounter came when we met a strangely fascinating retired chef from Switzerland married to a boisterous woman from Nigeria. Mimicking our every move when it came to his transition to Penang, he couldn’t find turkey in Penang but insisted on cooking us a Thanksgiving feast anyway as we celebrated our second holiday away from home. Constantly bickering like cats and dogs, the mismatched couple came off like the stars of a sitcom but their generosity didn’t go unnoticed. Another time, someone approached us at Gurney Paragon, Penang’s swankiest mall. Recognizing us from blog pictures, she knew us by name but refused to let me write, photograph, or reference her in any capacity. This didn’t bother me at all. Unclear what SEO strategy even means, I’ve never commercialized my blog, accepted advertising, or written for financial gain and that’s fine by me.
Relocating to Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2017 proved easier than expected thanks to a guy named Jim. Considered the resident expert for all visa-related issues at Penang’s Royal Thai Consulate, he charged about $90 and obtained what’s known as a 90 Day Single Entry Non-O Visa for both of us. Insanely complicated and overly tedious, the Thai visa process is overloaded with reporting rules, financial requirements, and long waits at Immigration offices. Even after muddling through the process, foreigners entering Thailand with the aforementioned visa need to “extend and convert it” using an entirely different set of criteria once inside the country to stay longer. Further confusing everyone, expats can avoid the conversion process by applying for a different visa called Non-OA from a Thai embassy in their home country. Confused yet? So were we. Detailing everything you’d need to know if you’re interested in settling in Thailand, please refer to my post titled Big Beautiful Border Wall; A Thai Retirement Visa.
Although Malaysia shares a border, there are few commonalities with Thailand. Negotiating an entirely new culture after two years in Penang, we settled into a suburban enclave 15 minutes south of Chiang Mai and that meant we needed a car. Thankfully, we found a local dealership owned by a foreigner that specialized in selling and servicing used cars to foreigners and we bought a 2011 Nissan Tiida for about $9,000 USD. Learning right-side driving for the first time in a nation known for its ungodly high rate of traffic deaths was fun but Thailand’s vast geographic diversity meant exchanging international vacations and currency issues for domestic road trips. Bringing slightly cooler air from China, December’s a good time for day-tripping and nearby provinces offer plenty of recreational opportunities. Landlocked and nestled in the mountainous Northern region of Thailand, Chiang Mai’s nearest beach is a six-hour drive but like Malaysia, Thailand has its own “burning season”. Unlike in Indonesia where demand for palm oil is the cause, local Thai farmers burn their fields simply because it’s the fastest way to prepare the land for harvesting in the absence of environmentally friendly methods used in other developing nations. Promising year after year to solve the problem, Thailand’s corrupt government cares little about anything but power and controlling its citizens. Forcing anyone that wants to breathe livable air out of the region for about three months, we grew tired of annual trips to Southern beaches becoming the norm and used the pandemic as a final excuse to leave Southeast Asia in 2020.
Quirkily, Thailand gets things done with strange efficiency. Officially stuck somewhere between poor developing nations and the 37 rich members of OCED, Thailand’s wealth inequality ranks number one across the regional grouping of Southeast Asian Nations known as the ASEAN. Richer than most billionaires and some nations, Thailand’s King, although politically powerless, could easily eradicate poverty overnight and transform the nation into a global power if they’d focus more on world affairs and practice their English. Instead, most Thai people struggle financially and a new middle class drives luxury cars that most Americans can’t afford. Springing up like wildfire since our first visit to Thailand, gated communities (known in Thai as moo-baans) dominate Chiang Mai. Strangely, Thailand became so convenient for expats with a little cash that complacency sets in. From water delivery to gardening, anything you need is quickly available at a fraction of comparable western prices. Driving old jalopies that would never pass inspection in the west, teams of low-wage workers serve wealthy Thai homeowners and expats which helps keep the unemployment rate low. Hiring more staff than needed, corporations reward educated Thai people with easier jobs in air-conditioned big box stores. Always imitating western names, teams of clerks from Baan and Beyond and Home Pro greet, follow and covet foreigners like flies on a pig searching for commissions.
Despite Thailand’s high entertainment value and low cost of living, change inevitably happens everywhere and without being any closer to new life goals by our fourth year as overseas expats, homesickness crept in. Devoid of summer and winter, Thailand’s equatorial climate was hot enough when we arrived and now experiences droughts and long periods of extreme heat every year. Normally enjoying early morning walks, dehydration and sweat overpowered me while average afternoon temperatures hovering at 35 Celsius inhibited our active lifestyle. Meanwhile, in 2019, the Thai government implemented immigration policy changes that increased financial requirements for annual visa renewals. Favorable exchange rates (now gone) and significant increases in our investment portfolio also played into our decision to leave Southeast Asia and try Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Closer to home, Mexico fast-tracks qualified applicants right to permanent residency with one visit to any Mexican Embassy worldwide (but not from within Mexico). Demonstrating economic solvency using proven savings, you simply need to show a specified minimum monthly balance (cash or investments) over the last 12 months based on Mexican minimum salary requirements (Explained in detail, Mexperience is an excellent source for expats). Considering how many Mexican nationals we saw in Thailand, I’m unclear why Mexico has an Embassy in Bangkok, but they guided us through the process by email and we had appointments booked until Covid19 kiboshed our plans.
Possibly lulled into laziness from the heat, we ticked off one more destination on the bucket list in 2019 but utilized a European-based guided tour company and spent two weeks in Vietnam. Normally planning everything myself from hotels to daily activities, I discovered a financial fluke and learned that most American-based banks won’t participate in the world’s most globally recognized credit card authentication system. Creating all kinds of problems with our final payment, the trip started poorly and went downhill when our first tour guide didn’t meet expectations. But there were some great highlights. Educationally enriching, eye-opening, and downright depressing at times, we highly recommend a visit to The War Remnants Museum in Saigon. (Nobody in Vietnam calls it Ho Chi Minh City except the airlines) Known as The American War of Aggression by the Vietnamese, you’ll see atrocities and footage they won’t show in American history books. Presented from the old Communist Government’s point of view, it stands out as one of the most humbling things we’ve seen in our Southeast Asian travels. Terminating our MM2H Visa later that year, we flew to Malaysia one last time and cashed in our fixed deposits. Allowing participants to stay on the visa program while living outside Malaysia, the government’s only requirement is keeping your funds on deposit so we took advantage of interest rates quadruple that of comparable bank deposits in North America.
Overshadowing our last year and forcing us to stay three months longer than planned, the pandemic’s effect on Thailand devastated their economy and 40 billion dollar tourism industry but thankfully, remained surprisingly tame when it came to cases and deaths. Ironically, we’d planned a trip to Italy for March 2020 to celebrate our 20th anniversary. Splurging for what would’ve been our first long-haul trip ever in first class, we reluctantly canceled our flights and contacted all the hotels and vendors early enough for full refunds. Irritated and antsy, we decided to visit a good friend in Brisbane, Australia for two weeks since the burning season approached and we’d already reserved a pool villa in Southern Thailand to ride out the haze. Becoming the stupidest decision in our overseas retirement, we narrowly escaped being stuck in Australia indefinitely as the pandemic worsened and Thailand began locking down its borders. Panicking, we departed early and literally caught the last international flight before Thailand implemented travel restrictions. Trapped in a small beach town for 55 days during the height of the pandemic, we couldn’t make it back to Chiang Mai if we wanted to.
Despite throngs of North Americans coming and going to Mexico during the pandemic, Puerto Vallarta experienced serious outbreaks and did little to control the spread. After they canceled our appointment at the Mexican consulate in Bangkok, we decided to take the reverse plunge and head back to Canada rather than apply for a retirement visa at the Mexican Embassy in Calgary. Easier said than done, Thailand suspended all incoming international flights by April except for some carefully controlled repatriations, and airlines cut departures down to almost none. Eventually driving back home, we spent the next four months trying to book one-way tickets from Chiang Mai to Calgary. Unable to transit through Hong Kong, Air Canada canceled the flights we’d booked before the pandemic. Complicating things, quarantine restrictions meant we couldn’t collect bags and change airlines without “entering the country” which subjected passengers to an immediate 14 days in a hotel. Needing a codeshare itinerary to Canada where we could check bags through in Bangkok, Asiana Air, a member of Air Canada’s partner network, was the only option. Already in dire financial straits as Korean Air’s top competitor, they substituted cargo for passengers flying into Thailand but only a handful of passengers flew back on the twice-weekly return flight. Adjusting flight schedules according to demand, they bumped our flight to Seoul up one day at the last minute, forcing us to stay overnight in Bangkok before ending our last nail-biting months as expats in Southeast Asia.
Journeying through four airports on three airlines, we endured 45 hours including stopovers. Wearily arriving in Vancouver, we tried to retrieve an online submission detailing our mandatory 14-day quarantine plan but it expired because they only allow 24 hours from destination to arrival. Satisfying a friendly Canada Customs agent with a hastily prepared manual version, we spent another hour dealing with special forms for returning residents shipping unaccompanied personal artifacts at the cargo claim area. Finally making our way through an eerily deserted airport, we drank coffee at Tim Horton’s and waited another six hours for a connecting flight to Calgary. Experiencing Covid19 concerns for the first time since the pandemic started, we nervously jostled past passengers on the first full flight we’d seen in months. Cutting domestic service to skeleton levels, Air Canada lost millions but demand nonetheless remained and our new reality kicked us in the teeth. Realizing that encounters with “freedom-loving” anti-maskers and conspiracy theorists were the price to pay for ending the overseas expat early retirement experiment, we pulled our masks tighter and said a final mental goodbye to Southeast Asian life.
Currently living in a small but comfortable condo in Edmonton, Alberta, it’s been a mostly smooth adjustment period since our return from Asia. Settling close to Diane’s aging parents and acting as caregivers when needed, we’re still enduring pandemic-related restrictions while Americans return to “normalcy” despite a pathetically low vaccination participation rate. Thankfully for me, Canadian immigration rules allow the continuation of permanent residency status no matter how long you’ve lived outside Canada as long as you meet a substitute residency obligation. Needing to prove that you traveled outside Canada with your Canadian citizen sponsor for five consecutive years, I’d recommend maintaining impeccable vital records for anyone contemplating an overseas move.
Normally, American citizens enter Canada seamlessly with no visa requirements. Suspending this privilege as soon as Canada began limiting entry to citizens, permanent residents, and essential workers, the Canadian government forced my hand in Thailand. Not having obtained Canadian citizenship, they began requiring a “permanent resident travel document” to enter as a PR. Nervously sending my passport, 45 pages of backup documentation, and a four-page application to the Canadian Embassy in Bangkok, my timing was impeccable. Normally contracting with a third party for visa-related issues, they agreed to process my request directly in a few days since the Embassy was officially closed for in-person visits. Advising I apply for a new permanent resident card once arriving back in Canada, they completed it quickly, gave me a two-year validity with multiple entries, and ironically, reopened two days after mailing my document which meant wait times for visas went back to a month or two.
Retrospectively, spending five-plus years as overseas expats proved enriching, entertaining, and highly enjoyable despite cultural barriers, language issues, and blazing heat with humidity. Forming lasting friendships with like-minded expats from various countries as well as locals bridges gaps, teaches tolerance, and removes barriers perpetuated by xenophobic ignorance that’s poisoned the western world. Often humbling, visiting developing nations opens one’s eyes and shows why racism, hatred, and discrimination based on radical theories of white supremacy have no place in a civilized society. Financially speaking, we’d probably have a larger retirement portfolio balance had we worked five to ten more years but making up for lost time isn’t possible if you live to work. And surprisingly, our total net worth between cash and investments is 21 percent higher today than our first day of early retirement without having earned one penny in employment income. Without the hassle of high-priced advisors, developing one spreadsheet tracking monthly budgets, historical financial progress, and future goals is all we’ve done except for some cross-border taxation research. Slightly more complicated for American citizens, tax planning creates challenges because the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t exempt non-residents from filing taxes. Also taxing worldwide income, Canada has tax treaties in place to help limit and offset potential liabilities.
Realizing I haven’t discussed healthcare, I don’t want to diminish its importance as a vital consideration for overseas living. Summarizing into two categories, first I’ll say that all American citizens benefit from inexpensive quality health care that’s offered around much of the world. Usually able to “pay as you go”, doctors in Southeast Asia are often educated in the USA and Europe and there are no ridiculous insurance forms. Malaysian hospitals charge by the service and you choose what doctor to see from a menu. Each needing a specialist once, Diane and I received lengthy consults with no waiting and they even analyzed test results themselves. Luckily, we never saw the inside of a hospital while living in Chiang Mai but Thailand’s medical tourism rank (5 out of 46) speaks for itself. Conversely, Canadians, Europeans and almost all citizens of earth accustomed to basic free healthcare might need to adjust their expectations and budget accordingly. Often prohibiting foreigners from participating in national policies for citizens, some countries offer low cost insurance policies that reimburse healthcare expenses.
Soon after returning to Canada, we obtained new driver’s licenses, Alberta Healthcare cards, and lines of credit so easily it’s almost as if we hadn’t been out of Canada for 14 years. Adjusting to cold winter weather and 18 hours of daylight in summer, we ruled out moving to Mexico for the immediate future and decided to sit tight in Edmonton for now. Designed to last 15 years and then switch from cash to pensions, retirement portfolio distributions, and social security, my financial plan held up well. Mostly from five years of inexpensive living in Asia, our cash goals are ahead of schedule, and we’re now targeting a property purchase in Edmonton with by year ten. Based on a scary and risky start to an experimental early retirement, I never imagined we’d generate enough portfolio growth to sustain an estimated 40 plus years without working.
Eventually, we’ll get tired of snow and cold so the new plan is “snowbirding” somewhere for at least some of the winter months once buy property. Still lacking specific goals for retirement, Diane joined some gardening groups and devotes time to the challenging task of growing plants and veggies in a northern climate. And I took up long-distance walking despite a 50 Celsius degree difference in winter because health clubs in Alberta were closed when we arrived. Appreciating the opportunity to share stories and lessons learned, I’m also trying to revive the blog but need some direction now that part one of the overseas adventure is history. Welcoming everyone, please contact us with questions, comments, or suggestions and thanks for reading.