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Growing number of Americans are retiring outside the U.S.

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    In this photo provided by Joseph Roginski, taken in May 2011, 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.

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.

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 U.S. military presence in the country may be a factor.

There are more than 50,000 U.S. military servicemen and -women stationed in Japan. The presence is so large that in the island of Okinawa, the U.S. military occupies about 19 percent of the area, according to Ellis S. Krauss, professor emeritus of Japanese politics and policy-making 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 U.S., they would probably be in a nursing home,” she said. “I don’t think I could move back.”

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  • My friend was born in Hawaii but has been living in Los Angeles for a couple pf decades. He just bought a place in Costa Rica which is another hot spot for American retirees. There is a growing American community down there and he said the housing costs are cheap. He said with his retirement and social security he will be able to live comfortably down there and even afford maid service! I guess for some people retiring abroad is the thing to do.

    • You can just move to a ton of rural places on the mainland and it’ll be way cheaper than half of those countries listed.

      You won’t even half to learn a new language!

        • NanakuliBoss: “With gun toting whites. No thanks.”

          Haven’t traveled outside of Nanakuli much have you? LOL
          Learn how to Google demographics, you’ll just be very surprised who doesn’t live in the rural areas of the mainland you dummy!

        • NanakuliBoss – Is it the guns or the whites that you don’t like? Or maybe both? What other groups don’t you like, Asians, Blacks?

      • I asked my friend the same thing like why wouldn’t you move to a someplace like the central valley of California. His response was priceless “Have you been to Fresno or Bakersfield recently?” He said that many people in Costa Rica speak English, there are hospitals that cater to foreigners (they even take blue cross), The people are friendly, the climate is tropical, and the earth doesn’t move so much like it does in LA. I reminded him of the volcanoes. He didn’t seem too worried.

        • hahahaha, good one! soo true too! California has less English speaking people than in Mexico! LOL

  • We can’t afford to live in Hawaii or for that matter in America because things like Social Security, my pension, and savings whch earn no interest are driving us out. All kinds of immigrants are being welcomed. legally and illegally to replace us. Thanks you polticians who care only about yourselves.

    • The legal immigrants are mainly a net gain as the requirements are pretty stringent to get a green card. It’s the illegal ones that are sucking the life out of everything.

  • Wow, in Japan you can still leave your front door unlocked without worry? Here, my neighborhood watch group is thinking about pooling our resources so we can buy a drone.

    • You can tank your politicians for all the public issues. He’re they play catch-and-release with criminals like it’s some sort of fishing game. In Japan they catch you with drugs or do any violent crime you can pretty much be assured you’ll be given a fair trial then swiftly executed.

        • The Japanese still live by a code of honor, Bushido however subtle it may be. Never, ever be caught and/or labeled a thief in the local communities. It would be a dishonor for the families for generations to come. I loved Japan but it is not the cheapest place to retire but what a quality of life compared to the US.

        • If you want to make a general statement comparing Japan and the U.S., look at the representative prison systems. In a Japanese prison, your guards are apt to be some kind of college graduate, and at some prisons there, the inmates are required to form ranks and stand at attention in the morning. And no, typical Japanese guards don’t take much guff from inmates who feel unhappy or disrespected. Guards there also apply a lot of silence and introspection to curb unruly behavior.

          Do inmates in Japanese prisons happily benefit from a U.S.-style Bill of Rights mantle of protection? Well, no. But they don’t worry a lot about homosexual rape and rampant amounts of drugs and weapons behind bars either.

    • This article fails to mention that a vast majority of those who retire in Japan are retired military. Their life is simplified by having access to military commissaries, PX and base privileges. If not for the U.S. bases, I doubt if many would retire in Japan since it is too costly. Mr. Roginski, no relation, may not love Japan so much if not for Misawa AB close by. Let’s be honest.

  • I go to Japan regularly, in fact I leave tomorrow. It’s the safest place that I visit regularly, including anywhere in the U.S. My wife once forgot a bag in a taxi in Tokyo and somehow about six weeks later it was delivered to our home here. Who would even imagine that would happen in any other large city in the world.

    • Some years back I found myself chasing views of a comet during a two-week stay in Japan. I’d lug a big tripod and a heavy camera gear bag all over the place wherever I happened to end up for the night. To get away from light pollution I’d find myself setting up in nearly deserted parks or little-used streets. At no time was I hassled by anyone, even when some of these locations had homeless people about. I don’t recall seeing any cops or police vehicles during my nightly jaunts either.

      Would I do the same now on Oahu or on the Mainland? Maybe, but not completely alone as I did in Japan. And no, I’m not at all fluent in Japanese – which should tell you something.

    • um, that also happens with lost and found in Germany. Not unusual. I even got personal belongings returned to me in Tacoma.

      Its the Aloha State that will take your keys, slippers, and beach towel on waikiki or ala moana beach, while you take a quick dip…and don’t blame the homeless, its often not.

      • Some folks here don’t think you have Aloha Spirit unless you’re willing to share: your car, your clothes, your cash and credit cards, and any food if you happen to have any.

        • hahahaha, a.k.a. “Socialism” here in the majority “D” voting state 😉

          The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.

  • WHAT? You mean to say that the Associated Press is actually publishing a story revealing that during the years of the imperial reign of His Eminence, King Barry Soetoro of the Indo-Kenyan Royal Court, an increasing number of Americans are finding it too expensive to retire here in our own country?

    This is obviously a Trump-inspired hit-piece secretly published by the Russians!

    And this Roginski character, what, with his obscene statements about healthcare being cheaper in Japan than under the royal decree of the infinitely-wise and all-knowing Emperor Soetoro, aka ObamaCare…well, it’s obvious he’s just lying his okole off because he’s a racist white tea-bagger that hates black people!! EVERYONE KNOWS THAT OBAMACARE LOWERED HEALTH COSTS!! IF YOU LIKE YOUR DOCTOR YOU CAN KEEP YOUR DOCTOR!! IF YOU LIKE YOUR PLAN YOU CAN KEEP YOUR PLAN!!

    No doubt, the same mechanism that published this story also rigged the voting machines in the largest electoral vote states. And no doubt, this is proof of a wide-ranging, multi-national right-wing conspiracy between Trump, Fox News, Soviet intelligence assets, the KGB and probably Papa John and Scott Baio.

    NO WAR FOR OIL!!

  • Born in the USA , live in the USA will die in the USA! America the greatest land of all! To each his/her own, Kids, to each his/her own! Good Luck and God bless to every Retiree in all over the world!

    • Do you even possess a passport? This is you.

      Consider: If you go to buy a car, you do your research. After all, if you make a smart choice, you reap the rewards; if you make a bad choice, you suffer the consequences. Over time, most people learn to become better consumers.

      Not so with politics. How all of us vote, collectively, matters a great deal. But how any one of us votes does not. Imagine a college professor told her class of 210 million students, “Three months from now, we’ll have a final exam. You won’t get your own personal grade. Instead, I’ll average all of your grades together, and everyone will receive the same grade.” No one would bother to study, and the average grade would be an F.

      That, in a nutshell, is how democracy works. Most voters are ignorant or misinformed because the costs to them of acquiring political information greatly exceed the potential benefits. They can afford to indulge silly, false, delusional beliefs — precisely because such beliefs cost them nothing. After all, the chances that any individual vote will decide the election is vanishingly small. As a result, individual voters tend to vote expressively, to show their commitment to their worldview and team. Voting is more like doing the wave at a sports game than it is like choosing policy…

      http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/11/10/the-dance-of-the-dunces-trump-clinton-election-republican-democrat/

      • Imagine dropping dead from a heart attack when all your plans and dreams are gone at a snap of a finger! A passport? Possess one and several renewals long before you were born! Get a life, a Kid or enhance it with a some compassion for others!

  • The really sad part is that in other countries, the seniors are kept active, and remain active. We like our older people in semi-vegetative states so they are more compliant when we put them in care homes. Of course, we are Americans and very clever when it comes to making something into a business, and that is what senior health care is..a very BIG business. Take a look at the Filipino run care homes around the state. The owners aren’t driving around Toyotas, the kids have Mercedes and BMWs in the garage, and more power to them. Very few families have the wherewithal to take proper care of their senior family members. We do our best to prolong our lives, but little to improve the quality of it.

  • At age 42 changed jobs after realizing that employer had no retirement program for employees. From then to age 65 worked for the Federal government then retired the 1st of !990. Together with my WW II service accumulated just short of 30 years service. Together with a number of real estate deals augmented with Social Security have ample income to live comfortably in the largest retirement community in Southern California. It helps that the Feds pick-up the majority of my health insurance premiums.

  • I visited Japan when I was in the military. What an adventure trying to navigate around Tokyo with virtually nothing written in English! In the midst of a mega-city, I felt completely safe. People are very friendly and helpful. The thing that blew me away was all of the bicycles and mopeds parked on the sidewalks without a lock to be seen. Try that in the Nei. Probably wouldn’t last 5 minutes. The only drawback was it was obscenely expensive.

  • There was once a time, in old Hawaii, when no one locked their doors, and everyone couldn’t remember, where the keys for the front door were located.

    The Waianae coast, wasn’t that dangerous then, unless you were an outsider.

    There wasn’t that much, vertical concrete buildings.

    People actually knew their neighbors. It is not the case, with the current large vertical apartment buildings.

    Life was simpler, but, a financial struggle.

    Friends could be measured, in decades.

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