After you’ve worked more years than you can count, raised your own children, worked even more years to see them through college and into independence, then held your grandchildren, it finally becomes time to take a break. The ‘Golden Era’, as it is often called, is perhaps the sweetest stage in life; your major financial and social responsibilities have been fulfilled, and you finally have the means to set your own pace. Many retirees look forward to this time so they can fall into a safe routine, surrounded by their loved ones in the home they’ve always known. Some look to that time with a sense of adventure, willing to see and experience things they never had the chance to before. Bolder seniors just might contemplate retiring abroad.
The thought may be somewhat daunting at first, but in reality, retiring in a foreign country has many benefits, especially if your intention is to do so for the sake of Allah (SWT). In that case, you will experience both the worldly rewards as well as the spiritual; not only will you enjoy living at the same (or even better) standard, or soaking in the perfect climate all year round, but you will also receive Allah’s (SWT) reward in the Hereafter.
Making hijrah for the sake of Allah (SWT) can take many forms. You may choose to move to a Muslim majority country, where resources for increasing knowledge about your deen (Islam-based way of life) are abundant and mosques are a dozen per neighbourhood. Or you may choose a non-Muslim country where you can help spread the message of Islam. Yet another option is moving to a less prosperous country where you can use your expertise to help ameliorate the state of poorer societies by providing health care, education, or even agricultural guidance.
Whatever your purpose, here are some factors to examine when considering retiring abroad:
• Cost of living. Compare the cost of living in your intended destination to your home. Take into account housing, utilities, food, and transportation.
• Standard of living. If you’re used to eating out often, going to the movies, and/or shopping, there’s no reason to give up these privileges. Just check that the country you’re interested in can provide similar benefits; you may find that they provide certain benefits that had never before been in your reach.
• Health care. You may assume that if cost of living is less than what you’re accustomed to, you may expect a lower level of health care, but this is simply not true. Many inexpensive countries can offer great health care.
• Climate. You may be sick of dealing with slippery, wet winters. Finding a place with less extreme weather may be great for you physically and give you a refreshing break from seasonal gloominess.
• Language barrier. Some seniors may be open to learning a new language while others may not. Whichever group you fall into, check out the dominant language in your intended destination. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover, for example, that English is commonly spoken throughout the country.
• Local friendliness and safety. Unless you plan to move to a secluded island, you will ultimately interact with the locals. While the societies of most countries are welcoming, there are surely those that may eye foreigners with some degree of suspicion. This may be especially true if you are a muhajjabah (wearing hijab), so researching how well you will be received is essential. Also, becoming aware of the nation’s crime level will likely put your mind at ease.
• Proximity to home. Making sure you can get back to your loved ones relatively easily and quickly may be your first priority.
Depending on your personal requirements, each of these factors will have a different rank. A couple with kids and grandkids may find the idea of moving away impossible, unless they can find a comfortable place not too far from home. A different couple, knowing their health limitations, may decide that the quality of health care must take precedence. Yet another couple may be so tired of slippery walkways that they scout for countries that have no winter. Rest assured that no matter what you’re looking for, you are bound to find it. Here is a snapshot of what’s out there:
The Latin American countries of Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Ecuador all receive great reviews from expats residing there. If your purpose is to help redistribute economic disparities or to spread the word of Islam, these are great considerations. Some of these countries have small, established Muslim communities that can profit from expat support.
Moving to Latin American countries to attain Allah’s (SWT) pleasure brings with it many worldly advantages. Expat communities in these locations enjoy low cost of living while maintaining a sustainable to high standard of living. In some of these countries, the monthly expenses of expats are not only less than what they would be in the US, but those expenses include luxuries out of their reach at home. Employing full time housekeepers or gardeners, for example, is not uncommon. Many of these countries display both the warm sun at the beaches and somewhat cooler climates by the mountains. City life is rich with restaurants and shopping. Many of these countries offer pensioners significant discounts on entertainment, transportation, hotel stays, and more. Health care costs are only fractions of those in the US, and the quality is in no way sacrificed. Many of the local doctors studied abroad, and the major hospitals in these countries have affiliations with hospitals in the US. Although health plans are available for expats, the cost of health care is so low that people often choose to pay out of pocket. Medications are not only less expensive, but most are available without prescription.
Some 20,000 kilometres away from Latin America, Malaysia is another retiree hotspot, but with the added advantage of being a Muslim-majority country. It is a highly multicultural nation, but with English as the unofficial first language, the transition for expats is made much easier. Malaysia is known for its medical tourism, so you are guaranteed excellent care. And, like the Latin American countries, the cost is so low that some expats decide against any health insurance and simply pay cash. Malaysia’s beautiful jungles and abundance of wildlife command visitors to praise, hallow, and venerate Allah (SWT).
If you call Europe home and prefer not to move as far away as the Americas or Malaysia, you may consider Turkey. This Eurasian country is 98% Muslim, boasts a low cost of living, high standard of living, and affordable health care. The country is steeped in history and saturated with splendid landscapes and sea views. As it is surrounded by four different seas, climate throughout the country varies. Some coasts have high precipitation, others have a more moderate climate, and further inland you may experience more severe changes in seasons.
Making the decision to move away at any stage in life is never easy. Those who take that bold step for the sake of Allah (SWT) will surely receive their reward, both in this world as well as in Paradise. They may find themselves in serene environments where they are immersed in remembrance and worship of Allah (SWT) or learning from other cultures as they spread the word and spirit of Islam. In any case, the vastness of Allah’s I Earth contains all the options you could want. And although the idea of moving away permanently may be intimidating, the Golden Hijrah doesn’t have to be all or nothing; some seniors spend three to six months away, and the remainder of the year at home. Splitting their time this way gives them the opportunity to make hijrah for the sake of Allah (SWT) while enjoying the best weather all year round and spending plenty of time with family.
Hend is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in both print and online magazines. She graduated from Smith College (USA) with a degree in biology, and currently resides with her husband and four kids in Alexandria, Egypt.