Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

For retiring expats, choosing the right location is only part of the equation


When writing for a website that is mostly about different locations around the world that are popular with expats, it’s easy to focus way too much on the location itself when it comes to being happy. I think it’s common for almost all of us who are shivering away in a snowy winter city to think “If I were only in Hawaii (or Aruba or Bali etc.) right now I’d be happy.” But how long would that happiness last if it’s only based on sitting in the warm sun?

After reading an interesting article in the expat section of the Telegraph.co.uk website that discusses the notion of “doing something you love” as the key to happiness, I think it makes a great point. How long can you really sit in the sun and assume that you’ll be happy doing so?

The writer is living in Spain and gives several examples of how expat friends of his (some retired and some not) who are happiest are those who’ve gravitated toward an activity that they find fulfilling on its own. He mentions pet rescues and care that some are involved with, and that got me thinking of some people I know here in Turkey who are doing the exact same thing.

Volunteer or start a business, but do something

Shortly after I arrived here in Kas, Turkey last year I heard about a fundraiser for a local pet charity run by some British expats. I didn’t give it much thought until recently, but now I see that they’ve likely gotten involved because it’s something they really enjoy, rather than because it was a problem that needed to be solved and locals weren’t doing it.

Like other countries in this part of the world, there are cats and dogs everywhere you look, literally. Their population tends to regulate itself, and most locals have more pressing concerns than spaying and neutering pets. These expats could probably put the same effort into a program that helped local children and perhaps do more good, but the “pet people” derive happiness and satisfaction out of their organization and they are definitely doing way more good than harm.

The point is, this town likely has bigger problems than its pets, but this group of people here have found purpose in their lives which they wouldn’t have otherwise. I think it’s a good lesson for all of us. Sometimes charity work seems like it’s really not making a dent in any real problem, but the work itself helps people socialize and feel like they are contributing in some way.

For those of us who are decades away from actual retirement, it’s tempting to daydream that all we’ll need to do is find a nice little cottage on a sunny beach somewhere and our lives will be complete. However, research suggests that expats are happiest when they go out of their way to be part of the local community and also find an activity that they love. There are definitely plenty of unhappy expat retirees out there, and it appears that happiness takes some work and isn’t all about finding a hammock to relax in.


2 thoughts on “For retiring expats, choosing the right location is only part of the equation

  1. I taught English in Brazil for a year, most of the year spent in Salvador da Bahia. While I was there I met a few Americans (mostly Canadians and Europeans) vacationing, one young couple (American) had a very small restaurant. These were Afro-American entrepreneurs in Brazil. I was so impressed! As it turns out, that restaurant was a meeting place for American expats now residing there. So, I asked about meeting days and times so that I could network with Americans such as myself. All the Americans were Afro-Americans, in total, about seven. I was shocked and hopeful. Being Afro-American myself and well-traveled, it’s rare to meet a group of Afro-Americans in one place at one time outside the comfort of the U.S. Nobody at the meeting had to be older than 45 at the most. My perception of senior citizens looking for a place to die after retirement went away immediately.

    There is a discreet and exclusive network of Afro-Americans from the U.S. that are expats also, albeit, on a vacationing or full-time basis. I hate to break this down and talk in terms of race but whites and blacks are received differently in various parts of the world with less or more prejudice pending the country you travel in. However, this topic is taboo in the expat forum. But anyway, I would be interested in contributing to your lovely website that I subscribe to and have suggested to friends to also subscribe to as well. I agree with many articles written here.

    There are Afro-American expats; I want to find them and get an idea of where they are most likely to become expats. Where they feel the most comfortable, wanted. Taking myself for example, I see myself living in Salvador da Bahia in Brazil’s lovely northeast. I’m considering an early move and definitely will retire there but I’ve not seen all the northeast, for example, I hear that João Pessoa, Natal and São Luis are also nice. There are many cities and beach towns in the northeast I have yet to see, not to mention all along the entire Brazilian eastern coast. Given the similar history as that of the U.S., its modern-day embrace of black equality along with it’s extreme diversity, it’s a perfect fit for my ideal place. It also helps that I can communicate in Portuguese quite effectively.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Seph Callaway III
    [email protected]

  2. Yes I agree, having been an Expat for 12 years, the idea of a hammock and peace soon disappears as we start to look for new activities and then there is often not enough time in the day.
    I now enjopy exploring Spain and writing articles for a local magazine many of which I have now published on Kindle under the title ‘Spain Exposed’ which I guess is a classic example of how the hammock is gathering cob webs.

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