Monday, January 31, 2011

Retiring Abroad: Some Thoughts From Experience

             White sanded beaches.  Exotic, friendly neighbors. A low cost of living. If all of these pictures occasionally dance into your daydreams, then retiring abroad might be something for you to consider. Since I am , as the title of this blog would suggest, retired ,and also living abroad, I’ll spend today’s blog relating some thoughts on the pros and cons of retiring abroad.

                                          Be Informed
                   Just the facts mam. Some of you may remember that request from Sgt Joe Friday on the old Dragnet television series. Knowing the facts is essential if you are going to make a wise choice on whether to retire abroad and where to retire if you decide to do so. Fortunately the internet gives today’s researcher an incalculable resource for investigating retiring abroad. Of course not all information is equally valuable or accurate, so as always on the internet, remember “caveat emptor”. However, I will mention some of the sites I have found to be most credible.

                   One of those valuable sites is http://www.retire-abroad,org. This site contains a plethora of articles from expatriates from the U.S. and other countries, discussing their experiences. Another valuable website is The information here is oriented toward senior citizens retiring abroad, but also gives links to many other retirement abroad forums. Since I am personally living in the Philippines I will mention a couple of websites and forums that are Philippines specific, but provide insight about expatriate life that can be generalized for other countries, especially developing countries. The first such site is This is a web magazine run by an American who lives in Mindanao in the Philippines and is well organized and balanced. A second Philippine oriented site is This was not a misprint, the only difference in the domain title of the two sites is the ing. This is the oldest of the sites and gives useful information, though occasionally views life in the tropics through rose colored lens.


                      Life in a warm tropical climate probably sounds awfully appealing to any of you shivering in sub freezing temperature. I have to admit that knowing I’ll be nice and warm, makes getting out of
bed each morning here in the Philippines much easier . On the other hand as the day wears on and the heat and humidity take their inexorable toll,  I start thinking some cool weather would not be so insufferable.  (Notice I wrote “cool” not “cold’’).  If you like the four seasons you need to keep in mind that in the warm  balmy tropics you only have two seasons, rainy and dry and both are warm. Deciding what type of climate you prefer is a key question in determining where and if you want to leave the  climate in the U.S. you are currently accustomed to.    


                              Cost Of Living

                     I enjoy playing a game occasionally where I ask my friends and acquaintances “ if you had unlimited resources and could retire and live anywhere in the world, where would that anywhere be?  ( My choices are San Diego and Hawaii but I’m open to new options) Well, in the real world most of us don’t have unlimited resources so we have to take into account the cost of living. There are some countries where a person can retire on a social security,  or a  military pension alone and not work at all , at least for a salary. These countries are usually in the developing world and three countries that are often mentioned are  Panama , the Philippines and Thailand. I know some Americans who are living in the Philippines or Thailand with their families for as little as 1,200 U.S. dollars. My own opinion is that if you live in the provinces or small towns you could probably do fine on 2000  U.S. dollars, but if you lived in the cities such as Manila, Bangkok, or Panama City you would need about 2,500 U.S. dollars. This would also depend on lifestyle choices  such as how many American foods do you feel you couldn’t live without ( they are more expensive because they have to by imported) and  how often you feel the need to travel back to the U,S, to visit family and friends. Airfare from a Pacific area country could cost as much as 1,200 U.S. dollars while flying from Mexico or Panama City would of course be much less expensive.


                  I have found one of the more  surprising  and stressful factors in living outside of the United States  for me is the frustration of not understanding what is being said around me. I find this limit’s the  experience of living abroad because I can’t communicate with as many people and they also are not comfortable in communicating with me in English.  ( I actually have learned a lot of Bisayan words, the language spoken in the part of the Philippines where I reside , but the combination of my age, the idiomatic expressions of   any language, and my  trained in Texas tongue, keeping up with conversations is a huge obstacle)  and so my advice is to try and learn the language of the country you would like to retire in ; my own personal belief is that some people have a natural skill at learning language like some people can naturally hit a jump shot) or retire to a country that has a low cost of living and speaks English. Belize comes to mind.

                     Summing Up



Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Texas Legislature and Teacher Retirement: Hold That Line?

                     Hold that line. Most of us in the teaching profession have heard that old cheer, which basically means to keep your loss of yardage to a minimum. Given the current financial turmoil in the state budget, maybe “hold that line” should become our lead cheer. Let me explain.

                                 The Budget Shortfall

                 Most of you are aware that the state of Texas Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State currently faces a looming budget deficit of between 20 and 27 billion dollars. State law forbids the state from running a budget deficit and, unlike the U.S. government ,Texas can’t just print money so  cuts across the state budget are almost inevitable. So how does that affect retired teachers?

               A recent update on the TRTA website quotes Carl Eiland as saying that the state will probably cut the state’s contribution to the TRS fund from to the minimum amount; 6 percent from the current 6.6 per cent. This would mean the TRS fund would be further away from being fully funded and reduce the chances of retirees getting a cost of living (COLA)  in the near future. So I believe our number one objective in the current state legislature  should be convincing the state legislature to keep their contribution to at least the current state contribution of 6.6 per cent. In other words “hold that line”.

            Another piece of bad news in the TRTA update linked above, is that the state may reduce the contribution to the TRS Care fund from 1 percent to .05 percent. This will almost certainly mean a premium increase for those who are either relying on TRS Care as their main  health insurance and those who , like myself, are on Medicare and have TRS Care as our supplemental insurance. A premium increase in combination with a continued absence of a COLA would be a double whammy. So my second priority would be to persuade the legislature to keep the state contribution to TRS Care to the current 1 percent. In other words “ hold that line”.

                                    Federal Priorities

             The need to “hold that line” on the state level might give us more of a chance to advance the ball on some Federal legislation that could be helpful to retired Texas teachers. One helpful step world be for the Congress to allow TRS Annuitants to be taxed on their income after health insurance premiums are withheld. Many of you probably remember that you were taxed only on the amount of your salary after medical insurance, TRS withdrawals and other exceptions, while working full time. Current Federal law does not allow the same advantages for TRS retirees. TRTA has long pushed for legislation that would allow this tax advantage for retirees. As an example of how this would be advantageous , if a retiree was drawing a monthly pension of $ 3000 and paying $450 for TRS Care , he/she is currently taxed on the entire $3000, but under the change mentioned above a retiree would be taxed only on the amount after TRS Care premiums are withdrawn, or, in other words, the $3000 minus the $450. The taxable income would now be $2550 rather than $3000; a modest but still helpful benefit.  

          Another change in Federal law that would be helpful for many TRS  retirees would be to r remove the “off set” provision on social security. This has been a long term fight but probably one still worth fighting, especially since advances at the state level will be most difficult.

                                              Summing Up

     1, The chances of getting  a COLA, given the states budget problems are probably slim and none and slim just left town. So should we completely give up on the COLA this session? No, we should continue to educate the legislature about the need for a permanent COLA, and make sure they are aware that retirees have received no cost of living adjustment since 2001 ;but we should lower our expectations and also realize that we can’t just always  only ask’ what can our state do for us” (  Hard to believe it’s been 50 years since JFK made that statement in his inaugural address)

    2. We should instead make our main goal this session to hold onto what we already have by convincing the Legislature to keep the state contribution to the TRS fund at 6.6 percent and the TRS Care contribution at I percent . Again “ Hold that line”.

   3. So what can we do? Support our major voice by joining TRTA if you haven’t already done so and keeping yourself and your legislators informed.

                                           YOUR TURN

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