It may surprise you to learn that there are no precise numbers to tell us how many American retirees are living outside the U.S. Every source you investigate seems to offer a different set of statistics, and few of them appear current. But according to an article published by the Associated Press last year, deciding to spend retirement in someplace outside the U.S. seems to be a growing trend. The AP reported last year that the number of overseas American retirees (according to the Social Security Administration) is now approaching 400,000, a number that grew 17 percent between 2010 and 2015, and the trajectory is heading upward as the baby boomers begin retiring in greater numbers.
You can click here to read the Associated Press piece. It just might start you dreaming of relaxing beaches and warm sunshine, especially since we’re reading about this trend in the waning days (or should we say “raining days”) of winter here in the Pacific Northwest!
Sunshine and warm weather may seem like the big draw for retirees with wanderlust, but cost of living usually plays the biggest role in the decision to leave the USA to retire. When you look at some of the most popular retirement destinations, they include places such as Canada and the United Kingdom that are certainly not known as tropical destinations. But one of the most perennially popular countries on the list of places to find retirement paradise is Mexico, where both sunshine and lower costs are big draws, not to mention a large and growing community of American expatriates to make newcomers feel more welcome.
“I wanted to find a place where I could afford to live off my Social Security,” said one American widow who quit her job and moved to Mexico after her husband died in 2012. “The weather here is so perfect, and it’s a beautiful place.” She lives in a community outside Guadalajara where her rent is half what it was in Texas – and because weather is mild, utility bills are relatively low. It’s also inexpensive to hire domestic help, something many American retirees choose to do, adding to the luster of the lifestyle.
As wonderful as all this may sound, however, there are hurdles. Even with fellow Americans nearby, experts say not everyone adjusts readily to life in a different country. One professor from the University of Texas at San Antonio, Viviana Rojas, interviewed a group of retirees for a book project and found that the biggest obstacle to feeling at home overseas is not speaking the language or knowing the culture. “Many of the people we interviewed said they spoke Spanish, but they actually spoke very little Spanish,” said Rojas. “They didn’t have the capacity of speaking enough Spanish to meet their basic needs like going to the doctor or to the store.” Another potential obstacle to retiring overseas is access to health care, which can also be a challenge. “While retirees still can receive Social Security benefits, Medicare is not available to those living abroad,” says the AP article. Availability and quality of care can vary widely.
As we looked further into this enticing topic of retirement overseas, we also found this very helpful article in the Washington Post. It’s called “A Financial Guide to Retiring Abroad,” and while the article is a few years old and some of the specific data may have changed, the basic info is still sound. As food for thought, the article definitely gives someone considering foreign living in retirement some reasons to pause. “When you just begin thinking about it at a superficial infatuation level, it’s a very exotic, romantic, sexy idea,” says Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of “Live and Invest Overseas,” which publishes an annual ranking of the best places to retire overseas. “But the truth is that once you get into it, it’s not easy.”
The Washington Post article explains that “not all of the lifestyle changes that come with moving overseas will be ideal. Retirees will want to research how the move could affect their cost of living, tax bill and health.” So “before you sell your belongings and buy a one-way plane ticket,” there are some big considerations that will demand careful planning and attention. For example, some countries welcome American retirees while others have fairly restrictive residency requirements, including requiring expat retirees to keep a certain amount of savings on hand to avoid becoming a burden on the host country. How about that lower cost of living? It may come with a downside, including inconsistent electricity service, occasional plumbing disruptions and appliances you can’t get in your new country of residence. Health care and reliable banking services can be a decidedly mixed bag. Buying and owning property may or may not be an option depending on where you choose to live. And no matter where you move to, odds are the IRS won’t forget about you – especially each year when April 15th rolls around. You’ll no doubt still be liable to Uncle Sam for any income tax liability you’ve incurred.
We think this quote from the Washington Post best sums up the bottom line. “Retiring overseas can be both more enticing and more affordable — depending on the locale — than retiring in the United States. But a smooth transition requires careful planning.” We would go farther and assert that a smooth transition to any type of retirement requires careful planning, and that is why we’re here. At AgingOptions our goal is to be your guide in the comprehensive process we call LifePlanning, so that your retirement future will be every bit as fruitful and secure as you’ve always hoped it would be, no matter where you choose to live. Can you protect your assets in retirement? Can you live where and how you want without being forced into unplanned institutional care? Can you avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones? With a LifePlan in place, the answer to those critical questions is a confident “yes.”
We invite you find out more about the LifePlanning process by joining Rajiv Nagaich at a free, information-packed LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. Just a few hours invested in this exciting event will open your eyes to the power of LifePlanning. New seminars are being scheduled frequently, so plan to attend and bring your spouse, parent or friend. For dates, times, locations and registration, click here, or call us during the week. We’ll be glad to assist you. Then whether you retire in Tacoma, Tehran or Timbuktu, you’ll be prepared. Age on!
(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com and www.bigstory.ap.org)