Would you be Happy Retiring Abroad?

I often find myself imagining the tempting possibilities of retiring outside of the US. The promise of incredibly affordable accommodations tucked away in friendly neighborhoods near natural wonders galore can cause even the most reticent to think twice. Contemplating a lifestyle change of such magnitude is no trifling matter. After all, leaving behind what you have known all your life and venturing out into the virtual unknown at a time when you are expected to be chilling on the couch takes guts. Retiring abroad is definitely not for everyone. But could it be right for you?

We recently spent a week in San Miguel Allende (SMA) Mexico, one of those magical places frequently touted as the perfect Shangri La for retirees to be. Obviously a week is not enough time to get a true feeling for an area where you may spend the rest of your life. But combined with the research we did and people we talked with, it was a good starting point.

Located in south-central Mexico about four hours north of Mexico City, the town is a combination of artists, ex-pats who have migrated there since the 1950’s, restaurateurs with diverse backgrounds and tasty specialties, and a population of family oriented locals. The vibe is wonderful. On a daily basis most residents gravitate toward the town center, the definitive place to be and be seen. Families come together to go to church and play in the plaza, spending many weekend hours enjoying being together. The whole area is SMALL Picture through windowincredibly neat and clean with shop owners taking pride in maintaining their individual storefronts and sidewalks. Combining so many of the right ingredients San Miguel is understandably an attractive retirement destination.

My wife and I began our search for retirement spots quite a few years ago. We both feel the attraction of the Bay Area had run its course and the traffic and congestion are just going to get worse. As we began looking at possibilities, we created a set of criteria to better rank the various options. There were certain requirements we did not want to do without including walking distance to a downtown and a friendly climate. This list was our guiding light whether considering a move within or outside of the US.

Using our list to rate potential candidates and compare the alternatives, here is how San Miguel stacked up

(1) Weather

Since San Miguel is at 6200 feet altitude, the mornings and nights can be rather brisk. But most days are sunny – a must have for my wife. Temperature ranges are relatively mild with winter lows of 45 degrees and summer highs in the low eighties and any snow will have to be seen in postcards of faraway places. The weather here is a definite keeper.

(2) Walking distance to a local downtown

This requirement is high on our list of must-haves. We hope to stay healthy enough to walk every day and heading to the neighborhood grocery store for supplies is a routine we look forward to. SMA definitely meets this requirement. Our B&B was located on a hill that required about a 10 minute walk to get to the central plaza. Not a problem walking down hill but getting up was a different story. Although we have no problem navigating this today, adding another 10 years could make this less than desirable. Still, we could live closer to the ground level. Once you are in the town you can basically walk in any direction to find stores, restaurants and local attractions. Taxis are floating around but we never took one except to get back to the airport

(3) Cost of living

Prices were reasonable as far as food and meals, a big change from what we are used to at touristy spots like Baja. We did not look too closely at real estate prices but the fact that SMA is generating so much interest in American and Canadian ex pats suggests you will pay a bit more now than in the old days. Still compared to the Bay Area, the prices are quite attractive.

(4) Safety

Of course a few weeks before we took our trip we read about a major drug cartel boss being arrested while dining in downtown SMA. Already slightly paranoid when departing the security of the homeland I was a bit uneasy. However once there we found no reason to fear our surroundings. People were friendly and there were plenty of police watching the streets. Locals stressed the fact that the area was safe and we ended up agreeing. Still it is difficult and perhaps foolish to ignore stories about the corrupt government and the wide spread influence of various cartels – definitely something to consider in a retirement move.

(5) Proximity to friends and family

This is one area where SMA failed us. Our children are scattered around the Bay Area with three of four living within 15 minutes and the fourth a three hour drive down south. Moving to Mexico would prevent quick visits and impromptu get togethers. And if one of us needed help, the best we could do would be talk on the phone. It is reasonable to assume we would make new friends in SMA but the separation from family is a big negative.

(6) Hospitals and healthcare

Fortunately we did not have the need for these services while on our trip. However before making any major decisions we would have to dig into the realities of healthcare in the area. As we get older we want to be near quality medical services and feel confident in the level of treatment we may receive.

(7) Local attractions

SMA has a unique history going back to 1542 when it was an important hub in the silver trade. Local architecture includes Colonial and Spanish influences and impressive SMALL woman by churchstructures are scattered throughout the area. And if you like exploring churches there are about 50 in the vicinity. The combination of local culture along with artists, writers and foreign retirees makes for plenty fun discoveries as you wander the streets.

(8) Public Transportation

Since SMA is relatively compact, we did not need public transportation on our trip. You can always find a taxi and local buses make regular trips to more distant neighborhoods. As long as our knees hold up we should be able to get where we need on foot.

(9) Community

We hope to retire where we know our neighbors and feel a part of the local community. SMA met this requirement. Despite the fact I do not speak the language people we met got their message across typically with a smile on their face. Ex pats make up approximately 15% of the town so you can usually run into someone who understands your wishes. Floating among the many families that filled the town plaza sharing in their happiness just by being there was a wonderful feeling.

After careful consideration we decided San Miguel Allende will remain on our list of favorite places to visit but will not become our new home. There are a lot of pluses but for us some of the negatives were most significant. It is a bit too far away from friends and family but we are already planning our return.

This entry was posted in Aging, Family, Healthy Living, Senior Lifestyle, Senior Travel and tagged , by LoveBeingRetired. Bookmark the permalink.

About LoveBeingRetired

Dave Bernard is a California born and raised author and blogger with an extensive 30 year career in Silicon Valley. He has written more than 300 blogs for US News & World On Retirement and his personal blog Retirement – Only the Beginning. He has authored three books: "Are you just existing and calling it a life?"; "I want to retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be"; and " Navigating the Retirement Jungle". Dave was also a contributing writer for the books 65 Things to do when you Retire (“Positive Aging – Old is the New Young”) as well as 65 Things to do when you Retire – TRAVEL (“Travel to Discover your Family Heritage”). He lives in sunny California with his wife, his Boston Terrier "Frank" and a passion for the San Jose Sharks.

12 thoughts on “Would you be Happy Retiring Abroad?

  1. Hi Dave! This is really a big question that comes up a lot. I love to travel and Thom and I consider this often. You bring up some VERY IMPORTANT questions that anyone contemplating retirement relocation should ask themselves–and actually, considering these in advance just might motivate a person to move somewhere that they can fit these into even when they are working. I haven’t been to SMA but it is definitely on the travel list. I’m with your wife on the fact that anywhere I go there have to have sunny skies.

    But for right now with both of us being “semi-retired” we are REALLY happy with our right-sized life right where we live. We have every one of your “list items” except for public transportation. But we can ride our bikes and all services are relatively close so we don’t drive that much. It is possible to do it in the states and then just travel occasionally. On our travel list we are planning to eventually “live” for a period of 3 to 6 months in an exotic location and rent out our home while we are gone to help offset the cost. I’ll let you know how that goes.

    FYI…if you ever come to the Palm Springs area to check it out for possible retirement let me know. Thom and I would love to meet you and your wife. ~Kathy

    • Thanks Kathy – my wife and I have decided we will retire to Carmel Valley. It nails the requirements I list above and then some. My wife is still “on the job” but when that runs it’s course we will pack up and head south. Still fun to see what other options may be out there – you never know what the future holds. And thank you for your invitation – if we get to Palm Springs we will look you up. Take care ~ DAve

  2. I like the list of requirements that you have developed; I think it will make for much better decision making and give me some things to think about as I approach retirement. Thank you for your weekly posts; I quite enjoy them.

    • Thanks Jim and good luck in your evaluation process. There are a lot of variables to consider but once you nail down what is most important to you it helps. Enjoy! 🙂

  3. Although my husband and I aren’t currently looking at alternative locations to move to post-retirement (we both retired in the last few years), I imagine that we would have many of the same criteria that were on your list. Health care and elder-care (when we might need it in the future) would probably be close to the top. Another must have is the ability to connect to the world via the internet. It’s not something we thing too much about in the US, but I wonder if that’s the case in SMA? Regardless, it sounds delightful and I think I’ll put it on our “to visit” list.

  4. Good point regarding internet connectivity. The connection where we stayed was excellent – never a hiccup. Plus they had Vonage which allowed for free unlimited phone calls to the US! And I read yesterday about Google’s progress with creating a translation app to tell you real time what is being said in one of 16 different languages. It even lets you scan a sign and get a translation without the need of internet connectivity. With that in hand any language challenge will become a thing of the past. Happy trails! 🙂

  5. I thought your list was a great starting place. You neglected one critical topic. How are you going to spend your time? We had friends who were considering to move to Costa Rica and looked at it through that lens when we traveled there. While I loved visiting there, I knew I couldn’t live there. When we visited Domonican Rebublic, we talked to a lady extensively about retiring there. She was Canadian and lived there for 6 months a year. She was involved in volunteer work, but explained that many expats drink all day in the bars on the beach, because they are bored and don’t have anything to do. While services are important, finding compatible activities can not be underestimated.

    • Thanks Kathy – wherever you retire or if you stay right where you are you will have to figure out meaningful activities and undertakings to fill your day. The freedom to do as you choose is wonderful but a double edged sword as you are responsible for how you spend your time. But if you prepare ahead of time and don’t go into retirement blindly hoping for the best and get creative, wherever you live can be the right place for you. 🙂

  6. This is the first winter of retirement for my husband and I so I decided we needed a little adventure and better weather. We are currently in Melaque, Mexico and could not be happier. Melaque is a small village on the Pacific. No big name hotels or shopping. We are staying for approximately three months and only arrived last Thursday. We spend our days walking the town, swimming, and relaxing on the palapa. Most of the other retirees we meet are Canadians. I could see us coming back here every winter but would not relocate permanently.

    Web site above has pictures.

    • I checked out the location on Google – nice! We have similar feelings about Baja – we love visiting for a week each year to suck up the sun and get spoiled. But living there…not enough to keep us engaged for the next 20 years. And there is only so much sunscreen our bodies can tolerate! 🙂

  7. Well, you certainly picked up a lot of info in just a week. For those of your readers looking for more depth and detail on San Miguel, I have the answer here. Thinking about living in San Miguel? What if you knew the answers to the questions you have to ask? What about crime, health care, housing? What about cost of living and nearly 20 other issues? My new book shines a light on the subject. It’s called Living in San Miguel: The Heart of the Matter, and there’s a sample on my website or on Amazon.


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