Across the world, buyers may purchase properties in other countries with an eye to retirement. Many CIPS designees mistakenly believe they can’t tap this market segment for two popular reasons. Either they believe they must be located in a popular retirement destination, or think they need to build an ongoing “conduit” of business (e.g., introducing buyers to a particular developer of retirement properties).
The truth is, any CIPS designee can cultivate overseas retirement opportunities in global markets. A solid framework can help you tap into this niche. Here are three key steps and numerous related resources that can yield excellent results.
Step 1. Have the discussion.
Overseas retirement is a popular topic that piqued many peoples’ interests. Maybe they’re drawn to the idea of enjoying a year-round tropical climate. Perhaps they’re concerned about their retirement budget, and imagine they’re enjoying a better standard of living in another country.
Regardless of the reasons, there’s a good chance people are open to engaging in a dialogue about overseas retirement IF YOU ASK. There are several different ways to approach it, including one-on-one messages and conversations, in addition to broader marketing efforts (an emailed newsletter, a personalized postal letter, in your social media posts, etc.).
In your messages, touch upon some of the most important and popular topics, including:
- Is it affordable?
- How difficult is it to become a legal resident?
- What about healthcare?
- Will clients be able to form new friendships?
At this point, your goal is simply initiating a conversation and building rapport. Learn more about their interests, their concerns, and their questions. Don’t present yourself as a retirement expert, but do learn enough to answer basic questions.
Give clients a copy of the consumer handout on page seven, which introduces many more topics to consider. Then, offer to follow up on any open items. This way, clients associate you as a key resource to overseas retirement.
Lastly, make sure you know where to turn for any specific questions outside your personal expertise during this process. (“I don’t know the answer to that, but I could put you in touch with an expert.”)
Social Security Recipients Outside the U.S.
According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, as of January 2018, there were nearly 675,000 U.S. Social Security beneficiaries receiving payments outside of the U.S. To view the most current list of the countries where these individuals are located, visit ssa.gov/deposit/foreign.htm.
Number of Social Security Recipients Outside the U.S.: Top Ten Countries by Rank
- Canada: 112,550 recipients
- Japan: 82,049 recipients
- Mexico: 60,750 recipients
- Germany: 41,116 recipients
- U.K.: 37,234
- Philippines: 34,071
- Poland: 30,895
- Italy: 29,655
- Greece: 24,043
- France: 15,824
Source: U.S. Social Security Administration
Step 2. Do your research
Anyone who is seriously considering retirement in another country should have MANY questions! Don’t attempt to provide answers beyond your expertise, but DO be sufficiently informed that you can point clients in the right direction. Several of the most important questions include:
Does the country welcome foreign residents?
Some countries are quite welcoming, even offering incentives to encourage retirees to put down roots (and contribute to the local economy). For example, Panama’s Pensionado (Retired) Visa2 is open to foreign residents and offers substantial discounts (15 to 50 percent) on entertainment, travel, energy bills and much more. Foreign residents who qualify for the program also enjoy a one-time exemption from import duties on household goods (up to $10,000) and tax exemptions every two years to import a car.
The U.S. Department of State is one of the best places to begin online research, regardless of your base of operations. Its Travel.State.Gov website includes information on obtaining U.S. visas, as well as an excellent compilation of resources for travel outside the U.S.
In most cases, obtaining a retirement visa involves demonstrating adequate funds, a health check, and a criminal background check. Many travel agents offer visa services, but for long-term residency, your clients should consider working with an immigration attorney. In either case, it’s a good idea to research visa options and related government fees independently (usually an easy search on an agency website).
Also keep in mind that it’s relatively easy for a citizen in the multi-country organization, such as the European Union or Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to establish residency in another member country.
Similarly, citizens of a country can easily retire to overseas territories (e.g., a British citizen moving to Gibraltar or the British Virgin Islands, or a U.S. citizen to American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Puerto Rico).
What is the cost of living?
People are often drawn to an overseas destination because they can enjoy an excellent lifestyle at a more affordable price. In many cases, this is true. However, the actual cost of living depends on many factors, including where and how you want to live. It’s easy to get rough comparisons, using the resources noted below, but encourage clients to pull together a more complete and accurate budget that also considers tax implications.
Will I be able to find and afford quality healthcare?
This is one of the most important items to include in a retirement budget. For U.S. citizens, note that Medicare and most private U.S. healthcare insurance does not extend to other countries.
It’s also important to consider the healthcare and affordability offered by each country. If public healthcare is offered, investigate whether it extends to foreign residents and budget accordingly. Additionally, it may be essential to factor in travel to another country which may be necessary in order to obtain skilled assistance, beyond routine medical matters.
When it’s clear that your client is focused on a particular destination, offer to introduce them to an agent in that market. Tell them you’re “a Certified International Property Specialist with access to a global network of the most qualified real estate professionals around the world.” Also mention the CIPS directory, with nearly 4,000 designees in 48 countries
More Online Resources
There's no shortage of articles and independent websites sharing rankings and tips on living and retiring in another country. Some of these resources include:
Wide variety of information and analysis on living, working, traveling, investing and retiring abroad.
Miscellaneous articles on overseas retirement, based on input from expat contributors. Also offers numerous forums.
Print magazine and online journal providing extensive reporting on the best places to retire, workd rankings, and related topics.
Offers extensive and up-to-date (U.S.-oriented) reporting on planning for retirement, including a helpful "best countries" list.
Live and Invest Overseas
Publishes an annual Overseas Retirement Index, evaluating 13 key factors (cost of living, healthcare, etc.) with substantial reporting by country, and by budget.
5 Need-to-Knows for U.S. Retirees
- U.S. citizens still receive their Social Security benefits if they move to another country.*
- Medicare insurance does NOT extend outside the U.S.
- Most U.S. issued private health insurance policies do not cover living abroad.
- U.S. citizens may be required to file annual returns with the IRS, reporting on income earned worldwide, regardless of current residence.
- Consult with a tax and immigration attorney to discuss individual circumstances.
*There are some restrictions, in terms of sending payments to a small number of countries. Visit ssa.gov/international/payments.html for complete details.
Step 3. Use your resources.
It’s important to do your research, but at some point in assisting a client, it will become essential to turn to the CIPS network. Every country has their own real estate licensing practices. There are simply too many important nuances from one market to another—plus significant legal, tax and financial details that must be answered by local market experts. These designees can also help find local attorneys and other necessary professionals.
Work the CIPS network to find a designee in the location of interest who can assist. Ask about anything that’s important to your clients, including:
- What is the agent’s experience working with other foreign nationals?
- Have a specific question regarding properties in a particular country
- Can they converse in your client's preferred language?
- Can they offer solid recommendations on immigration attorneys, tax specialists, etc.?
- There are many different ways to tap into the CIPS network. You can reach out to other CIPS designees directly, via joining the closed Facebook group or by using the CIPS directory. To obtain answers to countryspecific questions, you may also want to turn to pertinent Cooperating Associations. See below for details.
Be sure to use a referral agreement, to help solidify your referral opportunities. NAR has prepared a special form for CIPS designees, which you can modify to your own specifications. See below.
Finally, stay involved in your clients’ progress. Hopefully they’re making multiple trips to explore their second home before solidifying a purchase decision. Make note of their travel dates, and follow up with a call, to inquire about their most recent trip. (This is also an excellent time to check in with the referral agent.)
Staying involved also puts you in the perfect position to handle your clients’ local real estate needs, which will very likely include the sale of their current home. When discussing this possibility, remind them that, as a Certified International Property Specialist, you are also able to market their property to the world through the CIPS network. It’s another way to leverage the power of the CIPS network and win new listings!
Visas and Other Key Travel Facts
To learn the visa requirements for any given country, start with the U.S. Department of State's travel website: bit.ly/CountryInformation Enter the name of any country, and you'll receive a detailed profile, including:
- Quick facts on passports, tourist visa requirements, vaccinations, and currency restrictions for entry/exit
- Entry/exit requirements for U.S. citizens, dual nationals, minors, restrictions, and links to all relevant governmental agencies for additional details
- Plus, additional sections on local laws, safety and security, health, travel and transportation, location of U.S. embassies/consulates, and more.
Numbeo.com compiles cost-of-living data (plus crime, health care, pollution, property prices, quality of life, and traffic) for nearly 7,000 cities, using New York City as its index benchmark (=100). The site relies on user contributions, but has amassed enough data since its 2009 launch that international publications appear confident in quoting it. Key features include:
- Current and historical cost-of-living index rates, by city
- Additional indexes, by city: rent, groceries, restaurants, and local purchasing power
- City-to-city comparisons across multiple dimensions
- Property price index rate, by city: price-to-income ratio, plus several breakdowns
Note: A pop-up window may appear while using Numbeo, indicating registration is required to continue using the site. However, registration is not a requirement.
Expatistan.com also relies on user-contributors to compile cost-of-living (and salary) data for hundreds of cities around the world, with Prague as its benchmark. Less comprehensive, but perhaps easier to use than the other sites listed, Expatistan provides:
- City rankings: for the world, and broken into seven regions
- City-to-city comparisons: select any two cities you want to compare
- Detailed cost breakdowns, by city: data is more robust for some cities than others
For Expert Answers: Turn to the CIPS Network
Have a specific question regarding properties in a particular country? Looking for local market experts who can assist with legal, tax and other related questions? There are several ways you can leverage your CIPS network to find expert assistance.
- Facebook Group: Called "Official Group: NAR CIPS Designees," this closed group includes 2,000 world-wide members who actively exchange tips, referrals, and suggestions.
- CIPS Directory: Search for members by location, knowledge areas, or languages spoken, then make a direct inquiry to the best prospects.
- President's Liaisons: Serve as liaisons to real estate professionals in designated countries, and may be able to point you to the best resources for addressing specific issues in that market. Search by name or by country at
- Cooperating Associations: NAR maintains bilateral agreements with real estate organizations around the world. To identify these resources, by country, visit
CIPS Referral Form
When conducting business with other members of NAR, you may want to use this sample referral form, which should be modified to fit your particular needs.
- Go to the NAR Global Marketing Center
- Select "CIPS Designee Resources"
- Open "Referral Contract Form" (a downloadable PDF file)