5 Tips For Veterans Moving Abroad

The reason veterans are ditching the United States are depressing: rising cost of living, political division, and a loss of military values in the civilian population. The reason why veterans are moving abroad however…are inspiring. Veterans abroad aren’t only surviving, they’re thriving. Veterans are leaving the U.S. and discovering a more peaceful, happier life at a lower cost.  

Our government has always asked the impossible of us, for me and my generation of veterans…there was no winning the War on Terror in Afghanistan and no finding the WMD’s in Iraq. America hasn’t always kept its promises to its veterans, but we must keep our promises to one another. We must help ourselves and one another. That’s why I’m on a mission to get information to veterans on how we can live healthier and happier lives outside of the United States.

Veterans are adventurers. If we weren’t destined for exciting lives, we wouldn’t have joined the military to begin with. We’re uniquely suited to live abroad compared to civilians from our military experiences.  Any military career is going to take you to a lot of different places, and we’re trained to be flexible. We understand personal security and know how to take care of ourselves. We make great expats because we prioritize respect, we leave things better than we found them, and we’re committed to giving back.

#1 Find Your Country

It might not be one, maybe you want to live a few different places. Veterans are used to staying on the move. One of my close friends lives half the year in the Philippines and half the year in the Dominican Republic. Your location decision is a big one and it isn’t. If you don’t like it, you’re not a tree, you can go somewhere else. One of the best things you can do when it comes to thinking about where you might want to land is to trust your gut.

Here I have guides on Mexico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Thailand, Germany, and Colombia for veterans with more coming. To connect with the largest FB group of veterans abroad check out: Military Retirees and Veterans Living Overseas. This group might be the best place to connect with other veterans abroad to see what might be a good fit for you based on your preferences, budget, and priorities.

Many countries have more support for veterans and veteran groups. Here’s an American Legion in Mexico I’ve visited and a VFW post in Thailand. Where I live in the Dominican Republic, there are a lot of veterans and expats so making friends came easy. I go out to dinner weekly with a group of retired cops and veterans because community is important. Here’s a few country guides for veterans from my friends over at Poppin Smoke: Living Overseas. They also cover things like Space-A Travel which is something more veterans should take advantage of.

If you have kids, thinking about schools is important. Here’s an International Schools Database. What I can tell you after working in international education, getting a masters degree from Harvard in international education, and living abroad is that a lot of international private education is superior than American public education. Here is a school in San Jose, Costa Rica that’s ran by a Marine friend of mine to give you a look at an international school.

Your country is your decision, some veterans want to live in nature, some in big cities, some a party lifestyle, and some a quiet beach life. What I enjoy about living abroad is it’s easier to find a work/leisure/recreation balance outside the states. Some veterans don’t know where they want to go, they just know they want to get the hell out of the current nonsense of America.

You’ve got three main choices and these don’t necessarily go in order. You have to come to a decision on your country, city, and your neighborhood. Sometimes you can skip the country aspect and zero more in on cities if you know what you’re looking for. Different cities within countries can vary as drastically as they can in the United States. When thinking about where you might want to go, it’s best to first evaluate your must-haves.

My Must-haves

  • Beach
  • Good gym
  • Walkability
  • Low cost of living

With these things I’ve eliminated a lot of the world, because a place like South Beach in Miami might meet the first three but the sky high cost of living eliminate it from contention. Then I can pretty much do away with a place like Medellin, Colombia even though I love it there, because there’s no beach. Then I want to be able to walk, or at least take cheap and easy public transportation so that’s going to remove a lot of places as well. Everyone is going to have different must haves for their ideal lifestyle. Cities that fit my lifestyle are places like Patong Beach in Thailand and Sosua in the Dominican Republic.

Examples of your potential must-haves

  • Good schools
  • Distance from USA
  • Dog friendly
  • Safety
  • Internet reliability
  • Job prospects
  • Healthcare
  • Marijuana laws
  • Weather
  • Potable Water
  • English speaking
  • Pet friendly
  • Pollution

Then there’s even more to think about when it comes to immigration laws. Because maybe you found the perfect spot but you get your visa denied or can’t stay long-term. The legal aspect is one thing we all run into during our expat lives and it’s always more annoying then you want it to be and there’s the inevitable uncertainty. Some countries make moving there easy and some almost impossible.

You might have a few must-haves and then you get into your wants. There’s always going to be a few tradeoffs when it comes to living abroad. There’s no such thing as heaven on earth but there are places that feel a lot closer to it than others. What country appeals to you?

#2 Understand Your Benefits Abroad

A lot of veterans are under the false impression you can’t receive VA benefits outside of the U.S. That’s not true, you aren’t in the military anymore and the government can’t tell you where to live. You can receive VA disability abroad, military retirement, receive healthcare and utilize your GI Bill. There’s no using your VA loan abroad, that’s restricted to the U.S. and American territories. If I could then I would own a bunch of mansions around the world.

Here’s an international Tricare locator, you can enter a country and find providers that will accept Tricare. The Foreign Medical Program is also an option to treat service-connected injuries, even those injuries rated at 0%. Read a little bit about the Foreign Medical Program here. There are clinics popping up abroad specifically who work through the FMP and ChampVA like MedVets in Puerto Plata and VCCA in Punta Cana where I live in the Dominican Republic. In the future more of these types of clinics will emerge throughout the world. You can contact these facilities directly with specific healthcare related questions.

The happy reality of healthcare abroad is that it’s a lot cheaper than in the United States. Prescriptions and procedures are cheaper and easier to obtain. For a lot of things you need a prescription for in the states, you can just pick up from a pharmacy abroad. If your medication is running you fifty dollars a year in Colombia, you might not even bother submitting it to Tricare. There are lots of international health options, both private and public as well as travel insurance you can get. I try not to recommend anything I haven’t personally used, but if you look up healthcare options for expats in the country you want to go, you’ll discover options. To learn more, check out this unofficial TRICARE Abroad Facebook Group.

People have mixed opinions on FMP, it’s a VA program so occasionally there are problems. Some places they want you to pay up front and then reimburse you. But again, remember that healthcare is less expensive. Some Tricare overseas is similar, occasionally they’ll ask for 25% up front then let Tricare reimburse you or however they want to do it. Groups like US Veterans in the Philippines on FB discuss healthcare options there, the good and the bad for veterans. No situation is perfect, but lots of veterans abroad I’ve talked to stopped needing sleep medication, anxiety medication and more when they started living healthier and less stressful lives.

Many veterans abroad use their GI Bill at foreign institutions, here’s a GI Bill locator of places the VA has approved and will pay for. Now that doesn’t mean you won’t have to do a lot of the legwork yourself, some institutions like Instituto Allende in Mexico have a streamlined GI Bill situation because they’ve had a lot of veterans. Schools near military bases are always going to be solid, but some random school in Argentina probably isn’t going to understand the GI Bill unless they have a history of veterans there.

The GI Bill overseas rate is $2,109 in 2024 no matter where you go to school if you’re a full time student attending at least one class in person. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Europe or Mexico, it’s $2,109. A lot of veterans are smart and do things like receive their 100% from the VA and then go to school online, where you’ll get an extra $1,000 a month while pursuing your education.

#3 Plan Your Budget

Many veterans are on a fixed income with their military and VA benefits. This can make things easier when planning exactly how much money you’re going to need per month. If you’re ready to commit to financial planning to move abroad read my article Planning Your Vet Move Abroad: Finances.

Financial health is mental health and when you aren’t worried about the bills, you can enjoy your life. Working abroad can be a challenge, but many veterans like me work remotely. I taught English in Thailand and Cambodia for a bit, that income plus my military benefits afforded me a high quality of life. If you want to read a bit about teaching abroad here’s a Forbes article. Plenty of veterans start businesses or find creative ways to work abroad including volunteer work to take up time. Veterans volunteer more than civilians, we should be proud of that.

Check out some Cost of Living Calculators

  • Numbeo – This link will take you to a comparison tool where you can insert where you’re at now and then where you might like to move to.
  • Expatistan – Cost of Living By Country
  • LivingCost– Here you can see the most expensive country in the world is Monaco and the cheapest is Pakistan.

One pitfall veterans can fall into abroad is that they struggle to get off the party/vacation mode spending. If you’re living somewhere, even if you’re on a beach, you can’t splurge everyday like you would on a resort. Budgeting is still a part of life, no matter where or how you’re living. When I first moved abroad, I went out too much, drank too much and spent too much. After you get settled you’ll get the hang of things, eat at home, and live more normally.

Sometimes there’s an unavoidable gringo/farang tax out in the world – If I inquire about a price for something, I’ll get a higher price quoted than a local would. That’s life and you learn how to operate as you go. You’ll make mistakes but if you spend fifteen dollars on a taxi that should cost five, no big deal. Live and learn.

A photo from my Instagram in Tokyo: On an Airbnb experience tour

#4 Understand Visas

Every country is different when it comes to Visas and immigration- one reason I like living in the Dominican Republic is that it’s literally the easiest country to move to. You can just come and be good to go, most places have more bureaucracy. A basic rule is that if you have money, or steady income then you’ll qualify for a visa most countries. Some countries like Mexico and Costa Rica allow you 180 days before needing a Visa, other countries like Thailand give you 30 days. When I was growing up in Iowa, the dream for people used to be to retire to Florida…well now Florida is too expensive but abroad is a different story.

Here are overstay fees in the Dominican Republic. As you can see they are very low. When you stay more than 30 days, when it’s time for you to go: you just pay this on your way out.

With the explosion of remote work though and people moving abroad, there are good options in most countries for renter visas, retirement visas, student visas, digital nomad visas, etc. Thailand literally offers a Muay Thai Visa if you’re training.

What’s a Visa Run?

A Visa Run is when your visa is about to expire, and you bounce over to another country for a day or two to get a reset on your visa. For example, if you’re on a 30 day tourist stamp in Thailand, you can catch a flight or a bus to Cambodia, Malaysia or wherever else and then come back in a few days to reset it. Since Mexico gives six months, many veterans will just leave before the six months are up and come back. It sounds a little weird but it’s part of veteran expat life in certain countries. Also referred to as a Border Run.

What are the best countries for veterans?

In my opinion the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Philippines, Panama, and Thailand are the top five countries for American veterans. Let me know if you think differently, I’ve also heard Portugal is great so I’ll toss that in for an honorable mention.

Should I marry someone to get a visa?

Lol no. Please don’t. Don’t get married to the first girl you meet on a military base and don’t get married to the first girl you meet abroad. Or guy. Check out my article on Why Veterans Should Get Divorced More, Not Less.

What’s dating like abroad?

I’m a no wife, no kids, no problems type of veteran. I find dating abroad to be a lot of fun and les stressful than the U.S. Check out my article here about 3 Reasons Why Single Veterans Should Move Abroad and let me know your stories and thoughts.

#5 Go Visit

Veterans thinking about moving abroad should always do an extended trip to see if it’s for you. Vacationing is different than living. Take some time and patience before you sell your stuff and buy a one-way ticket somewhere. I also always tell veterans to not listen to the international realtors and rent for a while first. Maybe a long while because you never know what life is going to bring.

Tip: Make sure you negotiate your rent abroad. Places like Facebook Expat Groups are a great place to look at properties and get an idea of what renting will be like. Here’s a Facebook Group for Expats in Cancun to check out where you can connect with other expats and ask questions. Groups like this occur all over the world so just type in your desired location in FB.

See what kind of vibe is right for you, somewhere like Mexico is so big that I would try to check out 2-3 places before you decide on a spot. Talk to veterans on the ground before going and do all the research you can. Look into Expat Facebook Groups. But at the end of the day, like when you joined the military, it’s about pulling the trigger and going for it. Like General Patton says, “A good plan violently now is better than a perfect plan next week.”

We’re Stronger Together

If you’re a veteran living abroad and can help me with information, resources or articles for our fellow brothers and sisters in arms please reach out. If you’ve used your GI Bill abroad or have had good or bad experiences with healthcare abroad…let me know so we can get that information to more veterans. You can hit me up through my website, or IG or TikTok. If there’s anything to add, or links to change or anything to improve the quality of the information here, let me know.

To get deeper into your research about moving abroad. Check out my Free Guide For Vets Moving Abroad.

John’s Note:
My mission is to provide positive information for veterans about living abroad, resources and information. There are no affiliate links in any of my living abroad articles. To support my mission, check out my books like 365 Days of Veteran Affirmations. I believe sometimes veterans can be healthier and happier outside of the United States. There’s no running away or escaping your problems. But often times, you can heal, grow, and find peace abroad in ways you can’t in the USA. If you’re struggling with your mental health, I’m here for you if you want to talk. You can also contact a veteran organization or chat with the Veterans Crisis Line.

If you enjoyed the article, please share it with a fellow veteran. Sometimes the price of peace is the price of a plane ticket. If you’re traveling abroad, let’s meet up for a beer.

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