Planning Your Veteran Move Abroad: The Big 5 Financial Aspects

How much money do you need to retire in the United States? Most Americans and retirement experts feel the number is 1.5 million. If you’re counting on Social Security to give you a boost, I probably wouldn’t depend on it given our current deficit.

But what if you were to live in a cheaper environment, where everything from housing to transportation to leisure activities simply costs less. That’s what I did when I retired from the military. I didn’t go back to my Iowa hometown, I moved to the Dominican Republic where there was already a thriving veteran community and healthcare options specifically for U.S. Veterans.

I discovered a high quality lifestyle that it would be impossible for me to have in the U.S. I live within walking distance of beautiful beaches, great restaurants, gyms, and it’s allowed me to pursue my dream of being a writer full time. I’m able to do things I’m passionate about, help veterans, and volunteer with a youth boxing program. I usually reject the word retired, even though that’s what it says on my Military ID Card now because retirement feels boring and I’m more alive than I’ve ever been.

What do you need to be happy?

A big house, fancy cars, Rolexes, and expensive possessions? If you’re a veteran those things probably aren’t on your mind. Lots of veterans are living under serious financial stress with inflation and the rising costs of surviving in America. I think veterans and military families deserve better. Your real goal is a happy and fulfilling life but we get trapped in artificial consumerism. We seek the highest paying jobs we can find to buy the most expensive things we can afford.

The movie Fight Club is a great critique of destructive American consumerism. As Tyler Durden says, “The things you own end up owning you.” In almost every single scene of the movie there’s a Starbucks cup on screen, and people are judged by what they own and how much money they have, not who they are. But as veterans we look at the world differently and want to follow our own values.

Vets strive to live authentic lives in an increasingly artificial world, not that I’m advocating for you to spiral into insanity and start an underground fight club. Just to think about the illusion of materialism that dominates America from our dating culture to celebrity worship. So much of what we think about doesn’t matter. The things that matter to us are our close relationships, our health, meaning, our contribution, and happiness.

Let’s Go

My goal is to show veterans that sometimes we can have a higher quality life at a far lower cost outside the country we fought for. You’re going to discover a lot of different opinions and costs when it comes to living abroad, there’s an abundance of expat blogs, groups and resources. Can you live on $1,000 or less in a few countries? Sure, people do it but I wouldn’t. The financial benefit is the primary reason why veterans move abroad, I wouldn’t move somewhere and not enjoy myself. Nor would I move to a country that has western prices like Sweden or Australia. Check out some expat blogs and groups and get different sources of information regarding your ideal lifestyle.

My goal is to maximize my money to live the highest quality life I can, to get the most bang for my buck.” Anthony M. AKA DJ Bad Habits an Air Force Vet Living in the Dominican Republic

Do I think every veteran should move abroad? Of course not, but I can’t ignore the thousands of veterans that kill themselves every year, the tens of thousands who struggle with PTSD, and the hundreds of thousands that are shaking their head at America. Moving abroad has challenges and it isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t work for some family situations or if you’re caring for a spouse, parent, or children. It can be lonely and difficult, it isn’t just partying on yachts everyday. And yes, I still have to pay U.S. taxes and do laundry.

People pay a lot of attention to the people leaving expensive states like California and New York for cheaper ones, but there’s also a large contingent of people moving abroad that can no longer be ignored. There’s no sugarcoating it – a lot of the U.S. has become too fucking expensive. Why in the world should a cup of coffee cost $8? Why does a small apartment cost an arm and a leg, and why has home ownership become harder than ever for hardworking people? I have my opinions and I’m sure you do as well, but that isn’t why I’m writing to you. I’m writing to tell you that in other countries, sometimes life is cheaper, more peaceful and more fun.

This article is going to explain the financial aspect and planning of moving abroad. Keep in mind I’m not a financial advisor, I live abroad and am trying to show other veterans the path. These are my own thoughts and there are no affiliate links here. If you want to support me, check out my book 365 Days of Veteran Affirmations which is an uplifting affirmation every single day written with military culture, creeds, and values.

Cost Of Living

Cost of living is one thing that is different for literally everyone and unique to you. I have a Marine friend who lives in the same town in the Dominican Republic that I do, and he spends half what i do. He lives in a small studio apartment he pays $400 for and he doesn’t drink. His hobbies are working out, hanging out at the beach, and snorkeling. He cooks at home, walks everywhere and I’m pretty sure he rarely spends more than $1200 a month. He’s one of the happiest people I know and we make the same amount of money from the VA but he invests $1,000 dollars more of it every month than I do.

The most questions I get from veterans are about cost of living, so I’m going to try to get into detail a bit and provide all the resources and information I have for you. If there are resources I should add to this article, let me know.

The Earth Awaits: A cost of living tool that takes some questions from you about your lifestyle and calculates a monthly budget for you from over 600 cities around the world.

1: The Painful Aspect: Evaluating Net Worth

It’s a pain and it always cuts deep but calculate all that you have. A lot of veterans don’t think in terms of their Net Worth but everyone has one even if you’re not a millionaire. This is always a difficult process, I’m not sure why but it’s hard to put your own financial situation under a microscope. It’s like refusing to look at your bank account balance because you know it’s not going to be pretty. Your net worth is all of your assets minus your liabilities. Your income, for example VA benefits is part of your cash flow – not your net worth. But your cash flow is important to analyze because one of the best things about VA benefits, and a military pension is that it’s consistent.

Clearly define all the sources of your income, assets, liabilities, and expenses. Even if you’re currently dead broke, living paycheck to paycheck that doesn’t mean moving abroad isn’t possible if you get serious about it. You can always join the Peace Corp or hunt for overseas contracting jobs with the DoD. Here’s a list of DoD overseas contracting jobs on ZipRecruiter. You can google more or work with an international organization like the United Nations or other international orgs. When I moved abroad for the first time I was teaching English in Thailand.

Knowing your net worth is important for two main reasons. First is that it helps you fully understand your financial situation. Secondly because it’ll provide an important reference point for your progress towards your goal of moving abroad. It’s a big picture snapshot and chances are you’re not going to be satisfied with the number but outside of Warren Buffet nobody is so don’t feel bad. Even if it’s negative, don’t freak out. The American lifestyle is designed to trap you into debt and it can be a challenge to claw your way out from student loans, car payments, mortgages, and credit cards. Check out this article on Tips To Improve Net Worth from Investopedia. Figure it out from one of the calculators below.


2: The Fun Part: Pick 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. Once you pick your country, you can get specific when it comes to your financial planning on how much money you’ll need to live there.

Countries have different costs of living and cities within those countries do too just like America. If you’re talking about cost of living in Colombia, it can vary wildly so it’s more accurate pricewise to think in terms of cities rather than countries. Even getting more specific certain neighborhoods are going to be far different average rents than others. Sticking with the Colombia, if you look at an area like El Poblado in Medellin it’s going to be far more expensive than other neighborhoods.

Here I have guides on MexicoCosta RicaDominican RepublicThailand, Colombia, and Germany for veterans with more coming. To connect with the largest FB group of veterans abroad check out: Military Retirees and Veterans Living Overseas – I strongly recommend you network here. This group might be a good place to talk about your personal preferences, ideal lifestyle, and budget so you can make the right decision. Every veteran is going to be different, but my favorite countries are the Dominican Republic and Thailand.

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. There are lots of your fellow veterans abroad and most are going to be happy to help you out with your move or offer advice. I personally think it’s good for vets to be around other vets, so I usually recommend countries with existing Veteran networks like the Philippines for example.

John’s Quick Thoughts

A location is like a restaurant. There might be a lot of reviews and you shouldn’t ever believe one persons opinion.

There are no perfect countries, cities or places. There’s no Heaven on Earth.

Tourism isn’t reality.

Determining why you want to live abroad can help you narrow down your options.

Let your budget eliminate countries and cities that won’t work.

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. 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 eliminates 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.

Examples of your potential must-haves

  • Good schools
  • Distance from USA
  • Dog friendly
  • Safety
  • Job prospects
  • Healthcare
  • Minority friendly
  • Marijuana laws
  • Weather
  • English speaking
  • Pet friendly
  • Pollution
  • Safe for solo females

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. Sometimes you’re in something of a limbo waiting to hear back if your visa got approved. Check out my Guide for my section on Visas and border runs.

Beyond that there’s your hobbies and passions, if you’re into hiking or surfing then you’ll want to be somewhere you can do that. If you love scuba diving then Roatan in Honduras might be your spot and if you’re an avid snowboarder St. Anton in Austria might be your target. One reason I like living in the Dominican Republic is the ease of immigration compared to other places.


  • Here’s a map with your average cost of living for that country with every country in the world. From the most expensive to the cheapest. Add probably 10% to this number because it’s national averages and you’ll probably live in a more upscale area of the country you choose.
  • 100 Countries list for average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment.
  • Cheapest and Best 5 Countries in the World by International Living

3: The Exciting Part: Creating A Move Abroad Timeline

Even if the desire to buy a one way ticket to Mexico or a beach somewhere feels overwhelmingly strong, think about a targeted date first. Most veterans I talk to already have a date in mind. For some it’s when they hit their 20 years in the military and are retiring abroad. Other veterans are waiting for their kids to get out of the house or waiting on a second retirement. It’s easier than ever to move out the United States whether it’s a permanent thing, a couple months sabbatical or an extended vacation. Check out these 10 Cheapest countries you’d want to move to.

If you’re rated 100% from the VA or retired from the military, you can move abroad to a lot of countries literally tomorrow with that cash flow. You need a bit more up front and I wouldn’t do it like that, but you can and you can receive your VA benefits no matter where you’re living. You earned those. How many countries can you afford to comfortably live in on 100% VA Benefits? The majority of them.

Having an idea when you want this dream to come true is going to motivate you. Here’s an idea of steps to take and how to create your own timeline. The more time you have to plan the better off you’ll be but like jumping out of an airplane, that final step is the one that matters.

6 Months Out

  • Renew Your Passport
  • Visit Your New Location
  • Apply For Visas

3 Months Out

  • Inventory Your Possessions: What to sell, donate, and store
  • Visit Doctors, Dentists, Optometrists, etc
  • Join Expat FB Groups of the city you’re moving to and get networking

1 Month Out

  • Figure out your travel arrangements
  • Meet with accountants, figure out your mail, healthcare, banking, etc
  • Scan your documents, records, and prepare to start living the dream

There’s a lot more to moving abroad, but everyone’s timeline is going to be so different. For some more detailed information regarding specifics and tips check out my Free Veterans Guide to Moving Abroad.

One thing you don’t want to do from a financial perspective is essentially pay for two lives, one abroad and one in the states. A lot of vets want to keep a residence in the states and if you can afford it then go ahead. I have my brothers address as my mailing address and store my military stuff in his basement, then when I visit I just crash with him. Other than that, I don’t really have any possessions. Setting your timeline is charting your course to your next destination. This turns your vague goal of moving abroad into a more concrete objective. Timelines increase commitment and will help you prioritize your financial tasks when it comes to moving abroad.


4: Sacrifice: Embrace F.I.R.E

FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. It’s a pretty simple philosophy in practice but hard to put into action because it requires sacrifice. But if you’re a vet, you understand sacrifice in ways other people can’t comprehend. It’s best summed up by JL Collin’s manifesto of “Spend Less than what you earn – Invest the surplus – Avoid debt.” The best advice is always the simplest advice whether it comes to the gym or finances. Humans love to overcomplicate things and most experts out there want to confuse you to buy their program, book, or coaching.

I’m writing for you to embrace FIRE because if you’ve got a goal of moving abroad, it might take short term sacrifices to reach your long-term goal of reach financial freedom. The math for FIRE is simple, save 50% of what you earn, invest those savings in usually index funds, and retire early. The FIRE principle works well for veterans because of our already existing financial benefits like discounts, the VA Home Loan, and the GI Bill among others. This philosophy can be undertaken by any income level and whether you reach FIRE in 1, 5,10, or 15 years the sacrifices will have been worth it. I’ll share some resources so you can research how to apply FIRE to your life but there’s some great blogs out there as well.

The critique of the FIRE method is that people shouldn’t retire in their thirties or forties. Now the inflationary rates are throwing a wrench into the FIRE math but the principles are sound. Achieving a level of financial independence isn’t about retiring to sit on a beach for the rest of your life sipping margaritas. It’s not even the end of your working career, it’s the opportunity to pursue your dreams, be an entrepreneur, volunteer, and do things you’re good at and love. I don’t make much money writing, but I like doing it and I’m proud to tell people I’m a writer. I was proud to tell people i was in the Army too. I spent a lot of years living on the military’s terms and now it feels like the ultimate freedom to live on my terms while giving back to the veteran community.

I want that for you too, for you to start the thing you’ve always dreamed of, to have the space to work on your mental health, to get after your physical fitness, and to get closer to God or nature or whatever you want. Or if you want to party on the beach in Brazil with beautiful people then I want that for you as well.

I see FIRE as being effective for veterans because we have our benefits, we have a boost up on civilians and need to take better advantage of it. FIRE is more of a lifestyle and philosophy than an investment strategy. Think of it like living back in the barracks while you get your finances straight to move abroad. My favorite book on the FIRE concept is Playing With Fire by Scott Rieckens who also did a documentary: Here’s a short YouTube Trailer on it.

Many vets abroad are using their VA benefits, and military retirements to live cheaply and then make some extra money doing things they enjoy or works for them. One of my best friends is a DJ here in the Dominican Republic and helps vets with VA ratings and healthcare in his free time. I’ve got another friend who works with at risk kids in Mexico and there’s a female vet in Costa Rica who does OnlyFans to fund her surfing, scuba diving, and traveling lifestyle. What do you want to do if you had the freedom to do it?

Latte Factor: This is an exercise to look up how much small periodic spending can cost you in the long run. It’s popularized by thinking about how much you spend every day at Starbucks, compounded over time. Basically the math is that if you spend 100 bucks a month at Starbucks, yearly that’s $1,200 and over thirty years it’ll run you $36,000. If you were to invest that money assuming a 5% return and compounding interest you’d end around $80,000 in the same 30 years.

The military does a poor job of setting us up for financial success on our way out the door. There’s a ton of free resources out there on the internet about financial education and here’s the VA’s website with money resources including information about financial hardships, money management and FINVET (National Veterans Financial Resource Center). Every veteran moving abroad should pursue a greater financial education when it comes to bringing spending down and income up. FIRE isn’t easy, but it’s worth looking into if moving abroad is your dream.


5: Analyze: Calculate Your Minimal Living Costs Abroad

This is something everyone should calculate and put thought into but especially before moving abroad and once again when you get abroad. Minimal Living Cost lays out the bare essentials of the dollar amount you’ll need to live. When you do this accurately you’ll be amazed at the unnecessary things we spend money on from pricey cars to new clothes. When you figure out your minimal living costs in your new country you’ll discover you can live far cheaper than you imagine. If you’re willing to give up some American comforts, eat locally, and live a little frugally.

  • Rent
  • Groceries
  • Bills (cell phone, electricity, internet, etc.)
  • Transportation
  • Loans, Child Support, etc
  • Anything else you’d place in the absolute NEED category of your life

When you arrive at your calculation at home and abroad, check to see how much you’re spending to compare. I’m not saying those numbers should be the same, we should enjoy ourselves. Aim initially to be frugal and wise with your money then let your spending creep up. You’ll automatically spend more the first few months abroad until you figure out the ropes on where to shop, how to use transportation and ways to cut costs.

Connect with other Expats and don’t be afraid to talk about finances or how to live more affordably because there’s tips and tricks to every area. It’s best to start on the cheaper side, hunt for deals, and cut down initially on the 3 biggest things we overspend on: Housing, Transportation, and Food. For example in the Dominican my rent is $500, I don’t own a car, and I eat at local spots or cook at home. I have friends that pay double what I pay in rent, drive cars which comes with lots of expenses, and want to eat at nice restaurants every night. You have to find what lifestyle suits you.

TIPS For Finding A Cheap Apartment

  • Facebook Expat Groups and Facebook Marketplace: Like this group of Punta Cana Expats in the Dominican Republic or this group of Expats in Portugal
  • You can always find a cheaper place when you’re visiting there than on the internet, go visit for your house hunting. People still put up FOR RENT signs in other countries, go where you think you’d like to live and walk around until you see one.
  • Rent is more negotiable abroad. Don’t be afraid to do things like ask AirBnB hosts how much for a 6 month or 1 year rental.

I find it easier to live more simply abroad. I feel more in control of my time than I do in the United States. It feels like every time you leave the house in America it costs you like a hundred bucks. I’ve had days abroad that just feel perfect from beginning to end where I enjoy my coffee without rushing, swim in the ocean, write, read, get a massage, and have a nice dinner with close friends.


On Taxes

If you think moving abroad means you don’t have to pay taxes back home, think again. America is one of two countries in the world with a citizenship based tax system. Which means unless you’re willing to renounce your citizenship, you’ll be dealing with the IRS for the rest of your life. I wouldn’t renounce my citizenship, or advise anyone to do that. Despite the perhaps contradictory theme of this article, I love America and am intensely patriotic. Renouncing your citizenship is the ONLY way you can end your relationship with the IRS.

According to the IRS “Your worldwide income is subject to U.S. income tax, regardless of where you reside.” I really hope some pencil pusher at the IRS doesn’t read this and try to audit me but some expats are double taxed and it sucks. You’re taxed by the country you’re working in and then turn around and get taxed by the United States as well. Your VA Disability is not taxable, you need not report it and you can deposit in foreign banks. I would personally advise you to keep it in a U.S. Bank and use a credit card with no foreign fees or at least maintain a U.S. bank account even if you want to live abroad.

Here’s Forbes list of Best Credit Cards for international use. I use a Capital One Venture card for most purchases overseas. Most expats will tell you the Charles Schwab debit card is the best card for international use because they reimburse all ATM fees. Whatever works for you but getting to your cash abroad can be the bane of expats and there’s no perfect way to go about it. I got banned from MoneyGram on my first transaction because I tried to send too much money to myself in a foreign country and they deemed it suspicious.

There are things you can claim to help alleviate your tax burden if you’re working abroad or for a foreign company such as the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and Foreign Tax Credits but I don’t know shit about taxes so I don’t want to get into it. I quite literally have a Masters Degree from Harvard and don’t understand my own taxes. I think the U.S. system is overly complicated to benefit the elite.

There are expat focused accountants and H&R Block has an Expat Tax Filing system. The United States government is the only government in the world that chases and pursues it’s citizens abroad with persistence to hunt down their money. For example, the guy who ran up across the border from Guatemala is not being sought after by the Guatemalan government to send money back for tax purposes.


Thank you for reading and good luck in your planning. Contact me if any questions pop up, check me out on Instagram and TikTok and if you have longer format questions shoot me an email. But it bears repeating that I’m not a financial advisor and have no certifications or financial education. This is just meant to get veterans started on their financial planning for moving abroad with some ideas and to give you some motivation. Let me know if there’s any other specific living abroad content you’d like to see, I’m figuring this out as I go.

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. 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. Read and download my Free Veterans Guide to Moving Abroad. If you’re struggling with your mental health, I’m here for you if you want to talk. Check out my most recent book 365 Days of Veteran Affirmations and my AUSA book Combat To College for Student Veterans.

I respond to all my social media messages and emails as long as it’s not weird. Sometimes it just takes me a few days. You can also contact a veteran organization or chat with the Veterans Crisis Line. Thank you for your service and God Bless You.

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