Grow­ing num­ber of Amer­i­cans re­tir­ing

The cost of liv­ing one of the main rea­sons

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Newly wid­owed, Kay McCowen quit her job, sold her house, ap­plied for So­cial Se­cu­rity and re­tired to Mex­ico. It was a move she and her hus­band, Mel, had dis­cussed be­fore he passed away in 2012. “I wanted to find a place where I could af­ford to live off my So­cial Se­cu­rity,” she said. “The weather here is so per­fect, and it’s a beau­ti­ful place.”

She is among a grow­ing num­ber of Amer­i­cans who are re­tir­ing out­side the United States. The num­ber grew 17 per­cent be­tween 2010 and 2015 and is ex­pected to in­crease over the next 10 years as more baby boomers re­tire. Just un­der 400,000 Amer­i­can re­tirees are now liv­ing abroad, ac­cord­ing to the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The coun­tries they have cho­sen most of­ten: Canada, Ja­pan, Mex­ico, Ger­many and the United King­dom.

Stretch­ing their dol­lars

Re­tirees most of­ten cite the cost of liv­ing as the rea­son for mov­ing else­where, said Olivia S Mitchell, di­rec­tor of the Pen­sion Re­search Coun­cil at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia’s Whar­ton School. “I think that many peo­ple re­tire when they are in good health and they are in­ter­ested in stretch­ing their dol­lars and see­ing the world,” Mitchell said.

McCowen’s rent in Aji­jic, a com­mu­nity out­side Guadala­jara near Mex­ico’s Lake Cha­pala, is half of what she was pay­ing in Texas. And since the weather is mod­er­ate, util­ity bills are in­ex­pen­sive. In some coun­tries, Mitchell said, re­tirees also may find it less ex­pen­sive to hire some­one to do their laun­dry, clean, cook and even pro­vide long-term care than in the United States.

McCowen has a com­mu­nity of other Amer­i­can re­tirees nearby and has ad­justed well. But for oth­ers there are hur­dles to over­come to ad­just to life in a dif­fer­ent coun­try. Vi­viana Ro­jas, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Texas at San An­to­nio, says the big­gest ob­sta­cle 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, who is writ­ing a book about re­tirees in Mex­ico. “They didn’t have the ca­pac­ity of speak­ing enough Span­ish to meet their ba­sic needs like go­ing to the doc­tor or to the store.” Ac­cess to health care also can be a chal­lenge. While re­tirees still can re­ceive So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits, Medi­care is not avail­able to those liv­ing abroad, Mitchell said.

Joseph Ro­gin­ski, 71, says that while the cost of liv­ing is higher in Ja­pan, ac­cess to health care is not. “Things are very ex­pen­sive here. It is im­pos­si­ble to live off So­cial Se­cu­rity alone,” said Ro­gin­ski, who was sta­tioned in Ja­pan in 1968. “But health in­sur­ance is a ma­jor fac­tor in stay­ing here.” The for­mer mil­i­tary lan­guage and in­tel­li­gence spe­cial­ist said he pays $350 an­nu­ally to be part of Ja­pan’s na­tional health in­sur­ance. His pol­icy cov­ers 70 per­cent of his costs. The rest is cov­ered by a sec­ondary in­sur­ance pro­gram for re­tired mil­i­tary per­son­nel. Ja­pan ex­pe­ri­enced the big­gest growth of Amer­i­can re­tirees - at 42 per­cent - and more than any other coun­try be­tween 2010 and 2014, ac­cord­ing to data from the So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The large US mil­i­tary pres­ence in the coun­try may be a fac­tor.

‘Strong sense of se­cu­rity’

There are more than 50,000 US mil­i­tary ser­vice­men and -women sta­tioned in Ja­pan. The pres­ence is so large that in the is­land of Ok­i­nawa, the US mil­i­tary oc­cu­pies about 19 per­cent of the area, ac­cord­ing to El­lis S Krauss, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Ja­panese pol­i­tics and pol­i­cy­mak­ing at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego.

Ro­gin­ski, who vol­un­teers for the Mi­sawa Air Base Re­tiree Ac­tiv­i­ties Of­fice, said he helps con­nect more than 450 re­tirees and their fam­i­lies liv­ing in North­ern Ja­pan with re­sources. He said he would never move back to the United States. “We have a real strong sense of se­cu­rity here,” he said. “I can leave my door un­locked and no one will take any­thing. When I go to another coun­try I feel ner­vous, but when I come back I feel like I’m home.”

Mex­ico has be­come home for re­tired fire­fighter, Dan Wil­liams, 72, and his wife, Donna, 68. The cou­ple has been liv­ing near the same re­tire­ment com­mu­nity in Lake Cha­pala for 14 years. “The cli­mate and the med­i­cal ser­vices are very good,” Wil­liams said. Wil­liams teaches paint­ing to adults and chil­dren and puts to­gether a monthly mag­a­zine for the lo­cal Amer­i­can Le­gion. He is also a mem­ber of the Lake Cha­pala So­ci­ety, which of­fers daily ac­tiv­i­ties for Amer­i­can re­tirees.

It was those same ser­vices that at­tracted McCowen to the re­gion. “Be­fore mov­ing, I found out how many wid­owed and di­vorced women lived here,” she said. “There is com­fort in num­bers.” She says she loves be­ing in a lively com­mu­nity. “I see older peo­ple walk­ing year round. I see them all over the place, even in their wheel­chairs. If they were in the US, they would prob­a­bly be in a nurs­ing home,” she said. “I don’t think I could move back.”

MI­SAWA: In this photo pro­vided by Joseph Ro­gin­ski, taken May 13, 2011, Joseph Ro­gin­ski, right, holds a pack­age in a store­room of the Mi­sawa City Hall in Ja­pan, where do­na­tions of cloth­ing and sup­plies were be­ing kept for earthquake re­lief ef­forts. He says that while the cost of liv­ing is higher in Ja­pan, ac­cess to health care is not. “Things are very ex­pen­sive here. It is im­pos­si­ble to live off So­cial Se­cu­rity alone,” said Ro­gin­ski, who was sta­tioned in Ja­pan in 1968.

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