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Can Remote Work Get You a Head Start on Retirement?

If you have a dream destination in mind, careful planning and a willing boss could help you make the move ahead of schedule

spinner image Linda (left) and Rob Nehrbas walk along a path at a park nearby their home at Four Seasons at Cane Bay Tuesday Feb. 21, 2023, in Summerville, S.C.
Linda and Rob Nehrbas walk through a park near their home at Four Seasons at Lakes of Cane Bay, a 55-plus community in Summerville, S.C.
Gavin McIntyre

Rob Nehrbas was winding up his career as an executive at an Arizona-based laser device company he’d sold to a bigger competitor when he realized that he wanted to live somewhere else in retirement. 

“I’ve got to get back to the ocean,” the Long Island native, who’d grown up racing sailboats, recalls telling his wife while they were out paddleboarding on a lake one day. Linda Nehrbas was taken by surprise, since they’d just done some renovations on their home, but she was OK with moving, provided it was to another warm climate.

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After looking at several possible locales, they found a spot that seemed ideal — an active adult community near Charleston, South Carolina, where they would be a 35-minute drive from the beach. “It’s a much calmer lifestyle, a lot slower pace,” says Nehrbas, 67.

The couple were so enthralled by the place that they wanted to make the 2,000-plus-mile move right away, even though Rob wasn’t quite ready to leave his job. Fortunately, there was a solution: Rob proposed doing his job remotely from the couple’s retirement home. 

His employer agreed, and Rob worked in South Carolina for his Arizona company for a year and a half before retiring. 

The couple made their move before COVID-19 hit, but the growing acceptance of remote and flexible work arrangements in the pandemic’s wake makes following their example considerably more feasible than in the past. Nearly 3 in 10 U.S. workers ages 55 to 64 have been offered the option of working from home full-time, according to a June 2022 survey by business services firm McKinsey & Company.

“The shift to remote work options by some employers can facilitate a preretirement relocation,” says Barbara O’Neill, a retired Rutgers University professor and author of Flipping a Switch: Your Guide to Happiness and Financial Security in Later Life. “People don’t have to wait until they retire to live in their happy place, end the stress and cost of commuting, or keep living in a high-cost state.”

Early move can pay off

Relocating before retirement can have a positive impact on your cost of living as well as your quality of life, financial planners say. 

O’Neill moved from New Jersey to a 55-plus community in Florida after leaving Rutgers in 2019, but she continues to work as the CEO of Money Talk, a company that offers financial planning seminars. She says Florida’s lower property taxes and lack of state income tax save her more than $10,000 a year. 

Preretirees who relocate to lower-cost states may find substantially cheaper housing “and then take that money and put it into their portfolio,” stretching their retirement dollars, says Jeremy Kisner, a Phoenix-based financial planner whose clients include Rob and Linda Nehrbas.

Older remote workers may even be able to move outside the U.S., where living costs could be lower still. 

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Michael Cobb, CEO of Belize-based real estate firm ECI Development, envisions Latin America becoming an attractive spot for Americans in their 50s who want to get an early start on their chosen retirement lifestyle. He factors the need for Zoom-friendly spaces and fiber optics for fast internet connections into the designs of his company’s homes.

“Why wait to retire when you can move somewhere phenomenal right now?” Cobb says. “As long as you have high-speed internet and the type of work that allows you to work remotely, many of the benefits of retirement can start immediately.”

How to make a preretirement relocation work

Ensuring your dream locale has the amenities that enable you to keep working, including fast, reliable broadband access, is just one part of the careful advance planning such a move requires. Another is closely comparing costs to make sure savings in one area, such as lower property taxes, aren’t eaten up by, say, higher homeowners insurance

And, of course, your employer must agree to let you telecommute full-time. Some may balk. Linda Nehrbas, 62, worked in supply chain management when she and her husband were planning their move. Her supervisor agreed she could do her job remotely in South Carolina, but the company’s human resources department vetoed the arrangement.

spinner image Linda (left) and Rob Nehrbas looks out from a bridge at a park nearby their home at Four Seasons at Cane Bay Tuesday Feb. 21, 2023, in Summerville, S.C.
Linda and Rob Nehrbas look out from a bridge at a park near their home. Rob continued working for an Arizona-based company for more than a year after the couple moved east.
Gavin McIntyre

“I had a really good job, and it was a little hard to walk away from,” she says. “But quality of life won over that.” 

Getting an employer to let you work remotely across state lines may take some persuading. It helps if you can demonstrate that you’ve been productive working from home, O’Neill says. She recommends proposing a fixed work schedule in which you’ll always be available for meetings or calls during certain hours, to ease concerns that collaboration could suffer if you’re not on-site.

Talk to your boss about the business or tax implications of you working elsewhere. For example, Rob Nehrbas’ employer had to set up a business entity in South Carolina, so his new home state could withhold taxes from his paycheck. 

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Even if you get a green light from your employer, think about how your coworkers will react to your move and whether it will make working relationships too difficult, O’Neill says.

“You could be perceived as being less dedicated to the job, and it’s a potential source of jealousy,” particularly if your colleagues are dealing with harsh winters while you’re working from a warm, sunny clime, she cautions.

Keep connected — but know when to quit

If the move is long-distance, that can create additional hurdles, notes Scott Fuller, a real estate agent and relocation consultant who specializes in helping people and businesses move from California.  

“If you’re working remotely in Florida but you’re on California hours and having to work until 8:30 or 9 p.m., is that conducive to your lifestyle?” he says. 

Similarly, if your position requires you to periodically return to company headquarters for meetings, take travel time into account. “If you have to be back monthly or more often, you probably want to look at being within an hour-and-a-half direct flight,” Fuller says.

Maintaining a good work-life balance is important, so you don’t miss out on the benefits of getting a head start on life in your retirement location. “You’re constantly connected to your devices, and you can’t help but see an email come in,” Rob Nehrbas says.

For him and his wife, early relocation helped them solve that puzzle sooner by speeding up their transition to retired life. With the money they saved by moving to South Carolina, Rob was able to end his career earlier than planned (Linda still works part-time as treasurer of an Elks lodge to which the couple belong). 

“After five years of living here, and three-and-a-half of those years being retired, we could not be happier,” he says. “We feel like we chose the right spot, and we just love our lives.”

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