If you’re in your 60’s it’s likely you are pondering a ‘What next?’ dilemma, appraising lifestyle choices in the glaring light of America’s medical care and social security train wreck. Adding to the complexity is the likelihood that your parent’s future is part of this life 2.0 decision. Like never in our history, our parents are living longer, staying active, and facing (with their grown-up children) an uncertain future. The question for many: can we afford quality senior care, while not draining a lifetime of assets and savings?
For my family, this quandary is more than philosophical. My wife Jane and I were quite content living in rural Oregon’s high desert. We lived in one of the country’s most desirable recreation and retirement cities (Bend). We had solid and satisfying late-career jobs, work-from-home flexibility, and healthy, fit lifestyles.
Joined by a New Roommate
Then things changed, as we were joined by a new roommate: my 83-year-old Mom. We’ve embraced this change with open arms yet came over time to accept how tenuous our situation had become.
Today millions of Americans are at least considering overseas options, a whim scarcely considered a generation ago. And for many, the reality of taking along aged parents is now squarely part of our ‘what next’ lifestyle decision.
You say, “Hmm, are we ready to look elsewhere, even moving abroad?” Many of us boomers have cozied up to the idea of living overseas. It may have started as a trivial, somewhat voyeuristic form of acceptance: peeking from our US living rooms at media outlets House Hunters International and International Living. A “Wouldn’t it be fun?” form of escapism has seeped into our retirement consciousness.
Migrating at Chapala
For us, the first decision to resolve was: was migrating with Mom the right thing to do? An unsuccessful and expensive go at Mexico assisted living in Oregon (more and more like all-inclusive resorts for active boomers and/or their parents). It also got us seriously talking about options. There had to be a better way. The jaw-dropping cost and insular, institutional memory care experience convinced us to do some exploring. It was also our first of many ‘ah-ha!’ moments.
It went down like this: one of Jane’s childhood friends from Palo Alto CA had adopted Mexico some 35 years ago, married a Mexican, and raised three multi-cultured children. In 2012, her ailing mother, Alice comfortably bedded down for her remaining years in a Lake Chapala care facility.
We visited Alice at an adult-living facility in the community of Riberas del Pilar, Chapala. Subsequent investigation found Chapala home to a half dozen care facilities. While varying in quality, facilities, and price — as do rest homes just about anywhere, we became more confident there were viable options for quality, safe, affordable, 24-7 care.
It was never really a question of what country would top our list. As educators, Jane and I spent the better part of three decades illuminating Mexico to travel agents around the world (www.magicofmexico.com). There’d be no international house hunting in Nicaragua or Thailand for us; we fell hard for Mexico. Frequent travel throughout Latin America only made us more convinced we’d find that perfect spot: ‘foreign yet familiar’ and right next door.
Under the Mexican Sun
It’s not unlike the path many of you have come upon over the last 30 or so years. Go on vacation, find a place that clicks, make the timeshare down payment, and start to wonder why your special place can’t become your year-round home. For some places, like Mexico, the boom began long before the 2007 housing crash and is now at a breathtaking pace. No one really knows the real number, but a commonly cited figure is over one million Americans are now residing full-time under the Mexican sun.
Your first inclination might be to jot down a shortlist of ‘why we CAN’T do this now.’ Be careful. You may find writing down the obvious obstacles becomes a roadmap rather than an off-ramp to a new generational partnership, in a foreign land.
Town and a Lake
“Chapala, huh? Didn’t Americans and Canadians used to go there to retire?” In fact, yes; the villages lining the Lake’s northern shore have been attracting ex-pats for decades. Chapala is both a town and a lake (Mexico’s largest). Tucked between shoreline and sierra is a sting of cobbled and colorful colonial-era villages. At a quite hospitable 5,000 feet altitude, Chapala is a half-hour from Guadalajara’s international airport and under an hour to the nearest Costco and the city’s world-class medical care. We’d be under three hours’ drive to the coast (Manzanillo), be able to get familiar brands at Ajijic’s scenic view Walmart and had found an assortment of home rentals for under $800 a month!
But we weren’t really looking for a gringo bubble of country clubs and expat-led farmers’ markets. What clinched the deal was Chapala’s amalgamation of Mexican village simplicity, spectacular scenery, the world’s best climate, and a better place for Mom.
Yes, there are going to be decisions and tradeoffs – and some hard ones. You will approach your spouse and likely conclude it’s just not practical, it’s not the right time, we won’t see our grandkids, we need to work a few more years before retiring, we don’t speak any foreign languages. Picking up and moving abroad is daunting to even the most seasoned global traveler. And it’s not everyone’s path to a successful, sustainable lifestyle migration.
Demographers tell us an astounding 10,000 Americans reach retirement age every single day, and few are financially equipped nor emotionally prepared to manage their own retirement – and even less so while caring for an aging parent.
For us, fulfilling a dream decades-old became something much more than an escapist TV show. Ironically, it was Mom’s fading memory that helped us decide it was time to start making some of our own.
If you are interested to learn more on how to settle properly in Mexico, click here