Over the border

Safety concerns should trump cost-of-living, climate preferences

Sep 8, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Mary Beth Franklin

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It seems that interest in retiring overseas is growing as some aging baby boomers review their often-inadequate nest eggs and contemplate creative alternatives to live the good life.

Ironic, isn't it? For some people, the only way to live out their American dream is to escape from America.

It is probably not a common issue for most financial planners, but when clients are faced with unsavory choice of working forever or substantially reducing their lifestyle in order to retire, they may be open to an offbeat alternative.

(Dont' miss: 10 best places to retire outside the U.S.)

The Employee Benefits Research Institute's most recent Retirement Confidence Survey, released in March, showed that more than half of American workers have less than $25,000 in total household savings, excluding their homes, and 28% have no confidence that they have enough money to retire comfortably — the highest level in the study's 23-year history.

Not coincidently, curi- osity about retiring abroad is on the rise.

Registrations for the Retire Overseas Conference in San Antonio last week nearly doubled from last year, according to Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of the website Live and Invest Overseas. And International Living's Fast Track Your Retirement Overseas conference in Las Vegas this month is already sold out.

The typical motivation for investigating a retirement destination south of the border tends to be a lower cost of living and year-round warmth and sunshine. Popular destinations include Belize, Ecuador, Mexico and Panama.

Health care

Many expatriates also hail the high-quality health care that is available at a fraction of the cost of similar procedures in the United States.

What most people don't talk about is crime. But maybe they should.

I met Kimberly Monroe while I was zip-lining in West Virginia a few weeks ago.

Ms. Monroe, 51, told me that she had gone zip-lining, which entails gliding through the treetops on a metal cable, many times before in Mexico, where she recently built a home.

I was intrigued and asked for details.

Ms. Monroe, a divorcee, said that she had done extensive research about retiring south of the border.

Virtually blind in one eye as the result of a hereditary vision problem, she said that she is collecting long-term-disability benefits from her job with a defense contractor in the Washington area.

As a result of her disability, Ms. Monroe decided to accelerate her retirement relocation plans.

“The first thing I looked at was the crime rate,” she said.

A former Central Intelligence Agency analyst, Ms. Monroe delved into U.S. and Mexican crime statistics, and discovered that the portion of the Yucatan peninsula where she ultimately decided to build a home hadn't had a violent crime in 50 years. That may surprise those who equate Mexico with the turmoil caused by drug cartels further north, near the U.S. border.

Belize

Other popular retiree destinations, such as Belize, can't boast such a crime-free existence, Ms. Monroe said.

She took several Caribbean cruises so that she could visit potential retirement locations in person. After visiting one home for sale in Belize, she asked the real estate agent why the long driveway of a house that was for sale was in such disrepair.

“To discourage home invasions,” the agent told her.

Ms. Monroe decided to build a three-bedroom, three-bathroom villa with a private pool in Telchac Puerto, a Mexican beach community near Merida, the colonial capital of the Yucatan. She found a builder who was licensed in both Mexico and the United States, and paid $120,000 in cash.

In this uncertain investment climate, foreign real estate represents a more important opportunity than ever before both for investors who want to move a portion of their wealth abroad and the retirees looking for affordable living options, said Ms. Peddicord, author of “How to Buy Real Estate Overseas” (Wiley, 2013).

In the past, many people bought foreign real estate for the potential appreciation, Ms. Peddicord said

Today, real estate investors should focus on income.

Ms. Monroe would agree.

Her home in Telchac has an apartment on the third floor where she lives when she rents the main house, Casa de Kimberly, for $350 per week through TripAdvisor.com. A week of rental income nearly covers her monthly living costs.

The low cost of living, which includes buying fresh fish from fishermen at the dock for a few dollars and household help for $25 per day, extends to elder care.

Ms. Monroe said that she plans to move her elderly parents to live with her in Mexico one day to take advantage of care-giving help that is much more affordable than in the states.

Mary Beth Franklin is a contributing editor at InvestmentNews.

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