Retiring abroad: the inside story

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If you asked 10 northerners what they wanted to do in retirement, nine would probably say “travel”. But for some, the urge to spend time abroad grows into a desire to actually leave home and spend their retirement in a new country, living the life of an expatriate.

There can be many reasons for making the move. For some expats, it’s the chance to live the rest of their lives without the punishing winters of their northern homes. For others it’s high taxes, a deteriorating environment in their home country, or a desire to return to the places they grew up.

Whatever the reason, it’s a big step, and there can be pitfalls, as you’ll know if you’ve ever read the pages of International Living, a magazine for those looking to retire abroad. It can be a challenge to adjust to the language, the customs, and the rhythm of day-to-day life in another country.

But many who do it find it an adventure, and develop a real love for their new countries. In the next three posts I’ll spotlight the experiences of three expats who’ve made the transition and are living a new life in their adopted homes.

Today I talk to Loren Chudy, a successful executive at a communications company who decided to leave Toronto with his wife, Jan, and spend their retirement in the village of Daglan, France. Loren is known as the voice behind Radio FreeLoren and Jan Chudy Daglan, an entertaining blog about life — and especially food — in a typical French town. Loren and Jan are pictured here in Le Petit Paris, a favourite restaurant in Daglan.

Travelling Boomer: What prompted you to move to your home away from home?

Loren: Our starting point was that, several years ago, we decided to retire somewhere without Toronto’s ice and snow. Perhaps a major reason is that neither of us is a native Torontonian, and while we lived there for many years, it wasn’t really “home” in the full sense. Put another way, we liked it, but didn’t really love it, as a city. So we don’t see Daglan as a “home away from home,” so much as “home.”

Our first choice for retirement was the Caribbean, which we know well. But we then decided there were too many drawbacks, including the small size of the islands, the high prices, and so on. We both love Italy and France, so we started considering them. France won out, because we feel the “social system” is better and more straightforward. We had made a bike trip to the Dordogne in the fall of 1998, and loved the area. So when we started house-hunting in the fall of 2004, we looked only in the Dordogne.

TB: What do you like best about living in France?

Loren: After years of Toronto (and for me, a few years of Montreal) we love the rural life — the slow pace of life in the village and surrounding area, the excellent restaurants, the beautiful countryside, the lack of traffic (except for July and August), the ease of going for bike rides or walks without any hassle.

TB: What’s your day like in Daglan?

Loren: Our days are pretty quiet and slow, especially in the winter months when I don’t feel like bicycling. In warmer weather, we’re outside nearly every day, often taking nice long bike rides. Otherwise we enjoy a relaxed breakfast, a long lunch (either at home or in a restaurant), and a light dinner.

We do a reasonable amount of sightseeing, and a reasonable amount of socializing with friends here or entertaining visitors.I also write my blog (although not every day) and still do some freelance writing. My wife Jan is reasonably involved in “village life,” and we’ve both taught English (informally) to elementary school pupils in Daglan.

TB: What were the biggest adjustments you had to make?

Loren: It took a while to get properly “registered” or plugged into the system, with such things as a residency card (for me, as a non-European citizen), driver’s licences, and most importantly, getting into the French health system. It was a huge help that Jan is also a U.K. citizen as well as a Canadian citizen, as integrating into the health system was much easier (and far less expensive) than if we had to do everything through private insurance.

It was also smart that we owned our home here (as a vacation home) since 2004, and didn’t move until 2010. So we had lots of time to have renovation work done on the house while we weren’t here, and we also had two long-ish vacations each year, when we could learn about the village, our neighbours, the local area, where to shop, and all that.

Beyond that, improving our French is an ongoing challenge, and we know we have a long way to go. We can certainly function in French, but need to be more fluent (better vocabulary, and so on) to enjoy French life to the fullest.

TB: Is there anything you miss about your old home?

Loren: We do, of course, miss seeing family and friends as often as we used to. Probably what we “miss” has more to do with having left a major, cosmopolitan centre and having moved to a village in a rural area. So here in southwestern France, we don’t have the variety of  restaurants we used to have in Toronto (Chinese, Italian, Greek, and so on), the variety of wines from around the world (in the LCBO), and the variety of goods that we used to find in Toronto shops. One answer is that we buy much more online than we used to, and have things delivered. But on balance, we feel that what we have gained more than makes up for the things we miss.

TB: Would you move back home permanently?

Loren: As noted earlier, we don’t really consider Toronto “home”, despite the fact that we have family and friends there, and we feel quite at home here. So the short answer is: No such plans!

Loren and Jan’s move to Daglan seems to be an unqualified success. If you want to find out more about their life in rural France, check out Radio Free Daglan. In the next post, I’ll talk to a Canadian who’s adopted Mexico as his perennial winter home.

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

6 Comments

  1. Thanks, Loren, and a good point. I’m sure there are couples who find that one partner is enthusiastic about the move while the other is lukewarm. And some people have more trouble adjusting than others. I’ll be exploring the issue further in future posts.
    PJM92 recently posted…Retiring abroad: the inside storyMy Profile

  2. Great article Paul! Loren and Jan are our role models. My husband and I are 2 months away from retiring in Spain and we are both equally enthusiastic about our adventure. Loren and Jan are very generous with their help and great advice on lots of practical matters involved in an international move.

    • Thanks, Gaynor. Keep watching this series — I have a couple who’ve beaten you to it and retired in Spain, so maybe you’ll get some pointers. Loren and Jan seem to have made the move as successfully as you can do it; I’m sure they’re a great source of advice.

  3. The couple here has a way into the European health insurance because one member had citizenship in Europe. For those of you who don’t, getting health insurance in place is difficult. Personally I would never consider Europe as a retirement destination because it is more expensive than the US.

    I would also never purchase a home in a foreign country. In France you have no control over who inherits the property and there may be need to involve your heirs if you want to sell it. The laws are very different than those in the US where you can just leave what you own to anyone you like. It is something to think about.

    Many Americans retire to places such as Thailand or Costa Rica. Those places are nice to visit but you can have complications with politics. Just look at Thailand right now. You will never, moreover, really fit in if you do not speak the language.

    Many retirees decamp and head home when they become ill. That is another good reason not to buy a home. It adds another complication if you need to move back.

    I home exchange all the time (many times in Europe) but I would never consider moving somewhere else as a home base. When the wanderlust gets me, I just pick up and do another home exchange and Medicare covers me for illness in the US.

    • Thanks for the input, Lauren. There are certainly bureaucratic obstacles to moving abroad, and they shouldn’t be underestimated. The laws are different and so are the customs. However, in most countries there are ways around these problems that are regularly used by expats. Once those are dealt with (usually with help of a reputable lawyer), many people live happily for years without major problems. I’ve spoken to people who have lived in places like Costa Rica and Ecuador and loved it. But as they told me — it’s not for everybody.

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