More Americans take retirement
Rising number enjoy life south of the border
Oct. 24, 2004
Robert Fulton often traveled to Mexico during his career in manufacturing
and as a contractor but never thought of it as a place to retire.
Nonetheless, he and his wife settled in a little village on the shores of
Lake Chapala called Mirasol, where they found a thriving community of
retirees, many from the United States.
After two years, "it's going wonderfully," said Fulton, a 69-year-old native
of DeKalb, Ill.
Fulton said he chose to spend his retirement in Mexico because life there is
less expensive and less complicated than back home. "I never found another
place where I was as comfortable," he said. advertisement
The Fultons are part of what some demographers believe could be a growing
trend in migration. While the United States is usually seen as a magnet for
young migrants seeking opportunity, Latin American countries could become an
increasingly popular destination for Americans as an attractive place to
Part of the reason is lifestyle - beaches, warm weather - but another part
is economics. Many of the more than 70 million baby boomers approaching
retirement age don't have enough money saved for a comfortable retirement in
the United States but may be able to move south of the border.
Fulton and his wife bought a house with an indoor pool for far less than it
would cost back home, and live less than an hour from good medical care and
other services in Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city. And while some
villagers still get into town on horseback, they can do their shopping at a
But Fulton also acknowledged that moving far away for retirement isn't for
everybody: "It takes a certain kind of person to live outside the United
States, so your personality has to accept certain things. . . . If you're
really going to live here and enjoy it, you're going to have to immerse
yourself somewhat in the country."
The areas around Lake Chapala, along with Baja California and the scenic
town of San Miguel de Allende north of Mexico City, have been popular with
U.S. retirees in the past, as have some areas in Central America like Costa
Rica and Guatemala. But migration experts say this trend may be
accelerating, especially as modern communications and transportation make it
easier to stay in touch and come home for visits.
"This is a different type of migration, and there is not much track of it,"
said Viviana Rojas, an assistant professor of communications at the
University of Texas at San Antonio who is studying the movement of U.S.
retirees to Mexico. "Usually economic migrations come from a less-developed
society in search of social mobility and a better life, but in this case
people go there for the amenities and the weather."
In Ajijic, a town on the shore of Lake Chapala where Rojas collected data on
U.S. retirees, longtime resident Cristina Potters conducts weekly seminars
for people who are considering moving there. Potters, who speaks fluent
Spanish, cautions prospective residents that not having a language ability
can be one of several challenges for a newcomer.
"Most of the retirees who come here have little or no Spanish," Potters
said. "It's an issue because you can't read the road signs, you can't tell
what the clerk is telling you. It has become two communities here, living
side by side with very little interaction."
It's hard to say exactly how many people have moved from the United States
to Mexico and other Latin American countries for retirement, as the U.S.
government does not keep close track of how many people leave the country or
where they go.
But in one indication that more Americans are moving overseas for
retirement, according to figures from the Social Security Administration,
the number of retired workers receiving Social Security benefit checks in
other countries has been rising steadily over the past decade, reaching
242,000 in 2002, up from 188,000 in 1992.
And it's not just Americans doing it. Kevin Kinsella, a demographer at the
Census Bureau who specializes in international population aging, said there
is growing evidence that retirees in Europe, for example, are also moving to
warmer climates and cheaper lifestyles in nearby countries.
"You're also seeing people from Germany retiring to Turkey, and people from
the United Kingdom go to places like Malta," Kinsella said. "It's going to
In addition, many Mexican-born U.S. residents and citizens are likely to
consider retiring in their native country, where they can be closer to
family and live a better lifestyle for less money than they could in the
"These people will continue to migrate because they will want to enjoy the
fruits of the labor in the country they came from, and as they get older and
sick they will seek medical care in their home country," said Alberto
Palloni, a professor of population and health at the University of Wisconsin
As for the sun-seeking Americans, Don Bradley, a sociologist at East
Carolina University, predicts these migrants will have an increasing impact
on the places they move to, just as major U.S. cities are being reshaped by
growing populations of people from Latin America.
"There will be pioneers who go first, who have facility in the language and
continue to work down there. Then, the places will eventually become more
hospitable to newcomers," Bradley said. "Some areas in Mexico have morphed
such that retirees can have all their needs met and can be very comfortable.
. . . The foreignness of Mexico isn't so foreign any more."