What if We Just Up and Went?

The ex-FSO and I have often discussed the idea of a “gap year” after he for-real retires. While we love our little house, we now understand (thanks in part to pandemic telecommuting) that we are going to need a little more space post-retirement. So, if we are going to move anyway, why not just put our stuff in storage and go do something fun before settling into the next house? (Or the next town?)

For reasons discussed in my previous post, we’ve recently started to consider this idea a lot more seriously. I have to say, spending two weeks in Portugal last November was a bit of a nudge as well. Southern Europe has always called to me: over three decades with the State Department, we bid Spain three times, Italy twice, and I am pretty sure we bid Lisbon at some point as well, with no success. What if we could just post ourselves to one of these countries?

And so, I put my EFM hat back on (temporarily) and hit up the internet for some Post Research.TM

I was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered. For the three countries of most interest to us, it is not actually that difficult to obtain a one-year residence visa, as long as you don’t intend to work on the local economy. There is quite a bit of paperwork involved, but the key factors are that you have to prove that you can support yourself and pay for your own health insurance. After the first year, renewing the residence permit is a relatively streamlined process. (Search for Retirement Visa, Passive Income Visa, or Non-Lucrative Visa for more details.)

Oh, so this how people “retire abroad.” I have always wondered!

I also joined some expat groups, which have been pretty inspirational. When I think about how in the Foreign Service everyone stresses out so much about getting shipments under 7,200 pounds, and here are stories of couples (or families) who literally sell off everything, DIY their visas, and post joyous photos of themselves arriving in countries where they don’t even speak the language with like, four suitcases and a confused dog…well, you have to respect that kind of initiative!

Of course, there are many complications. Moving is always complicated! Just the idea of bringing cats on an airplane again gives me a pain behind my eye, for a start. Taxes would also be, um, interesting. Dealing with all of our stuff, however, does not intimidate me that much. I can see that it could be kind of freeing not to be able to bring very much on an international move. And we do intend to move eventually anyway. We have already downsized quite a bit to fit in this house. I’m not actually very attached to most of our secondhand furniture, and as far the rest, well, storage units exist for a reason. Also, not our first rodeo. Not even close! We would grumble a lot about it, but it would get done.

This could be a one-year plan in which we bring just our suitcases, rent a furnished apartment, travel and enjoy ourselves, then return to settle down. It could be a three-to-five-year plan in which we bring over a bit more stuff and maybe take a break from the American dumpster fire for a little while. Or we could decide to buy property and permanently emigrate. The point is, we don’t have to make any final decisions. We could just…go! And figure out the rest later.

After decades of often-frustrating planning with the State Department, my mind boggles at this level of independence and flexibility. However, we are not packing any bags just yet. There are family considerations, and the ex-FSO is not ready to stop working altogether. It may not happen at all. I haven’t changed that much: I am not actually a nomad by nature. In an alternate reality, in which the country weren’t on the slow boat to autocracy, fascism, theocracy, or whatever the hell we are calling it lately, I probably wouldn’t be considering anything more adventurous than an extended vacation to celebrate retirement.

But right now, as we watch history unfold in front of our eyes–and not in a good way–I do like to know that my options are as wide-open as possible.

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