The standard format for overseas retirement—that is, permanent relocation to a new country—isn’t for everyone.
For many, applying for and the implications of residency abroad aren’t worth the hassle. Others have a hard time landing on just one retire-overseas locale or want to see as much of the world as possible, traveling without limitation.
Overseas retirement is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Each agenda makes sense in context. And none might make sense for you, meaning you should invent your own. The idea is infinitely customizable.
Becoming a perpetual traveler (PT) is an alternate approach to the standard format. PTs are overseas retirees who have not settled in any one location. They go from country to country as they please, typically staying for as long as a tourist visa allows.
They’re just like digital nomads except they’ve been around a lot longer, they’re not tied to their laptops or governed by internet connections in the same way, and they usually don’t have to apply for visas.
Aside from the freedom and adventure the PT lifestyle brings, there are also administrative and tax advantages:
- It saves you from applying for residency, which can be a bureaucratic nightmare and usually involves paying fees and meeting specific financial, health, and criminal background requirements.
- It frees you from the constraints of the time-in-country requirements that residency implies. Take Belize as an example: To be eligible for permanent residency, you need to stay in Belize continuously for a year without leaving for more than 14 days. That means you only have two weeks per year to travel internationally.
- You can avoid triggering tax residency in another country. Portugal’s Passive Income Earner or D7 residence permit, popular among American retirees, is designed to make you tax resident. Tax residency triggers after spending 183 days in Portugal in any 12-month period, and the D7 permit requires you to spend eight months per year in the country for the first two years of holding it.
- If you’re living and earning an income abroad, you can qualify for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE). As an American, you owe taxes to the United States regardless of where you reside, but the FEIE can be a great ally, allowing you to exclude US$112,000 per person for tax year 2022.
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Which Destinations Are Best For PTs?
Americans can currently travel to 186 countries visa free or with a visa issued on arrival. Most grant one- to three-month tourist stays. To avoid traveler’s burn-out as a PT, it’s best to target countries that offer at least three months. Consider the following destinations, all of which have generous tourist-stay allowances and don’t require you to apply for a visa, at least initially.
Up To One Year
Up To 6 Months
- Barbados. Note that you may also be asked to present a return ticket to your country of origin.
- Bermuda. You’ll need to show a round-trip ticket or proof of onward travel to enter the country.
- Dominica. You might be able to get a three-month extension by paying a fee at the Treasury Department. You’ll need to show proof of onward travel and funds to support yourself during your stay.
- Fiji. A visa is issued on arrival for U.S. citizens for four months, but you can stay for two more months by applying for a Visitor Permit Extension.
- Mexico. Mexico stands out for its lack of cumulative in-country stay time limit. After your initial six months are up, you can legally cross the border and come straight back for another six months. That could change in the future. The immigration authority at your point of entry may request a hotel reservation and proof of onward travel and may only grant you to stay the amount of time you expect to be in Mexico.
- Panama. Visitors need to present proof of onward travel or a return ticket, usually requested before you board your flight to Panama. You may also be asked for proof of funds to support yourself during your stay. This can be a credit card, bank statement, travelers’ checks, or US$500 cash.
- Peru. Americans get slightly more than six months—183 days—with a tourist visa on arrival.
Up To 3 Months
- Chile. You can extend this for an additional three months by paying a fee at the Chilean Immigration Office.
- Colombia. You can extend your three-month allowance for an additional three months but only spend six months per calendar year in the country.
- Costa Rica. You need to present proof of onward travel or a return ticket.
- French Polynesia
- Guatemala. Stays can be extended an additional three months with local immigration authorities. Guatemala is part of the Central America-4 Border Control Agreement with Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras. This allows free travel between the four countries during the three months but it also means that once your tourist allowance expires, you have to exit the entire region.
- Jamaica. You may need to show proof of onward travel on arrival.
- Malaysia. The initial three months can be extended for up to two months.
- Seychelles. The initial three-month stay can be extended for three-month periods for up to a year for a fee. Visitors need proof of onward travel or a return ticket, confirmed accommodation, and proof of funds to cover expenses during their stay. US$150 per day is the recommended amount.
- The Schengen Area. Americans can stay in the 26 European countries that make up the Schengen Area for three months during any six-month period. After three months have elapsed, you have to leave the Schengen Area and wait another three months before you can return. Starting May 2023, travel to the Schengen Area will no longer be visa free for Americans. You’ll have to apply for authorization with the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS).