International Living recently released its list of the five cheapest places to retire overseas. Huff/Post50 spoke with International Living Executive Editor Jen Stevens about why more post 50s are flocking overseas post retirement.
What percentage of Americans actually retire overseas?
The Social Security Administration [sent] checks to about half a million people overseas a year [in 2010]. You have to keep in mind that some of those may be people with U.S. citizenships. It’s not a perfect number -- it may not be people who lived in U.S. all their lives. Sometimes people retire overseas part-time and get their Social Security check at home; [they] bank in U.S., but rent or own a home and live overseas. This wouldn’t show up on the Social Security radar screens. It’s a hard figure to accurately track. That said, I can say from our experience that we’ve definitely seen an increase in interest over the last few years.
Is this something primarily for early retirees or for anyone who wants to save money?
It’s really for anybody who wants to save money. We’ve been writing about retiring overseas for over 30 years and we’ve been seeing our readership get a little younger, in part because people have more flexible jobs. These days, people telecommute in much greater numbers. People with young kids, or freelance writers are looking to go overseas. People are feeling very pinched at home today -- even folks who were responsible and saved for retirement. People have found the values of their 401(k)s have plunged, their investment portfolios were a lot lower than in 2008. They’re saying, ‘I don’t think I have enough time to get that money back. How will I recoup that savings?’ Home values are down and people are feeling squeezed. Overseas, they could live very comfortably on what is essentially a Social Security check or less, which is hard to do in the states. They’ll find that their money really stretches, and they’re living more simply. People are looking to do that in retirement.
What are the primary areas of savings?
With the places we recommend, you’re going to spend less on pretty much everything. Some things such as Cheerios -- if you want the brand -- that might cost you more someplace else. If you’re somebody who cooks, you’re going to love the places because all of the produce is like a farmer’s market every day, and it’s cheaper. Health insurance and health care are going to be a lot less. Day-to-day costs are less expensive, housing is less expensive.
Some people are hard pressed to rent a place on the beach in the U.S. Where would you do that for $500 a month? There are places outside of the states where you can do that. People say there are places in the U.S. where you will spend the same in the U.S. but you have to compare apples to apples. You can find places, but they won’t be on the beach and you won’t be living the same kind of life.
What are the biggest disadvantages?
One of the things people hesitate about most is language -- ‘Am I too old to learn another language?’ There are a lot of places where language isn’t an issue. There are communities where you can get by speaking a little Spanish and there are so many folks who speak English. In most places people are friendly, and if you give it a go, they’ll help. People are also worried about leaving their grandkids. They don’t want to be so far away.
What should someone think about before they make the leap -- what questions should you ask yourself?
When trying to decide where to go, you should consider what’s most important to you: weather, language, ease of access back home, or is it cost? Are you willing to try something new? Are you looking for an adventure? A lot of people say their one regret is that they didn’t do it sooner. When people think about retirement they think: ‘I can downsize, work longer, or scrimp and save.’ Once you open yourself up to possibilities, things go from difficult to being pleasant and you’re opened up a world of positive options as opposed to negative ones.
Let's say you like one of these towns -- what's your first step after that? How do you find housing? A safe community?
The best first step is to go and visit. We don’t recommend someone just sell everything and move if they haven’t been there. Go somewhere with at least a small expatriate community. Go visit, research and try it out. Rent for a month or two or three to check it out.
One important thing to remember is that there are so many diverse options out there: warm weather you can live comfortably in. For people who are looking for a lot to do, culture -- people who are used to the city and want to go to the opera, concerts, or volunteer in a school, university towns and cities are vibrant, educated, and full of music and ideas. You can go and live there very affordably.
What should people know before they retire overseas?
You can be close to home. There are great-value destinations an easy, direct flight from the U.S. You don’t have to be fluent in Spanish or whatever the local language is to be comfortable. Yes, it’s important to make an effort. But there are many communities where a large expat population can help ease your transition. In lots of places overseas the medical care is absolutely first rate –- expats on the ground report they often feel it’s better than what they received at home. Physicians often train in the U.S. and speak English. Plus, it’s so much more affordable than in the States.
(Check out the slideshow below for International Living's top five affordable retirement spots.)
Fill your lungs with fresh, clean air and bask in the warm sunshine of Vilcabamba, Ecuador. Vilcabamba is also known to have plenty of affordable organic food, according to <a href="http://internationalliving.com/2012/04/the-cheapest-places-to-retire/" target="_hplink">International Living</a>. Here, it's easy to stretch a dollar: The site <a href="http://internationalliving.com/2012/04/the-cheapest-places-to-retire/" target="_hplink">interviewed one ex-pat couple who live on $600 a month</a>. Monthly bills include $1.25 for gas for cooking and hot water; $1.70 for water and $30 for electricity. Gasoline in Ecuador costs less than $1.50 a gallon. Most home rentals are less than $400 a month. A healthy, stress-free lifestyle goes hand-in-hand with longevity: Many Vilcabamba residents live to be 100 years old, the site reports.
Just 200 miles west of Panama City, lies Santa Fe, Panama, known for its rugged terrain, lush rainforest and hiking trails. <a href="http://internationalliving.com/2012/04/the-cheapest-places-to-retire/" target="_hplink">International Living interviewed an ex-pat</a> who called the health care "excellent," and was able to take care of a dental problem that would have cost $1,000 in the States for just $180.
Penang, Malaysia is a town that offers a rich historic architecture, lively street culture and sandy beaches, according to <a href="http://internationalliving.com/2012/04/the-cheapest-places-to-retire/" target="_hplink">International Living</a>. Aside from the scenery and recently opened performing arts center, Penang offers affordable healthcare: An annual check-up goes for just $12.
If you're looking to retire in the cobblestone streets of Granada, Nicaragua, you can expect to find some 1,000 expatriates there with you. Granada is thriving with residents engaged in cultural events, outdoor activities and volunteering, according to <a href="http://internationalliving.com/2012/04/the-cheapest-places-to-retire/" target="_hplink">International Living</a>. As one ex-pat told the site: "I can get up in the morning, take a yoga class, get a manicure and pedicure, have a massage, meet my friends for happy hour, and do it all for less than $30!"
On the Gulf of Mexico, 100 miles south of Mérida on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula is Campeche, Mexico. A boardwalk stretches for three miles along the gulf, with paths for runners and cyclers. Living expenses for Campeche are relatively low: A week's worth of fruits and vegetables at the market will set you back less than $10, according to <a href="http://internationalliving.com/2012/04/the-cheapest-places-to-retire/" target="_hplink">International Living</a>. Although the town is beginning to build itself up a bit, with upcoming shopping malls and a wider highway, most residents can get by living in Campeche's historic neighborhoods without a car.