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Old 06-01-2011, 06:59 AM   #41
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IMHO most expat retirees don't really grasp that they will be living in a foreign country. They see it as an extended vacation. Actually LIVING abroad takes a change in psychology that few make and it causes many to return after a few years or when health issues start.
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Old 06-01-2011, 09:37 AM   #42
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Having actually lived as an expat for two years and facing the prospect of likely doing so again I disagree Nun.

Yes plenty of folks do end up returning for the reasons you mention, but plenty more are making the transition from visitors/snowbirds to full-time as the U.S. economy tanks and the health care and insurance debacle unwinds. I know a half-dozen couples at Lake Chapala in Mexico in their late 50's or early 60's whose spending on rent and food combined (in one of the most expensive parts of Mexico) are less than the health insurance or Medicare premiums they paid back home.

Insurance aside, as we get older many of us want or need to be in group living situations where varying levels of care and assistance are available. Unless you're wealthy, assisted living or nursing home care in the U.S. will wipe out your assets in short order, and I don't think we need to discuss the level of care or atmosphere of most such places. Meanwhile there are probably about a dozen such facilities at Lake Chapala alone offering 2-3 meals a day and access to skilled care for $1100-1400 a month inclusive, with a lake view, year-round highs in the high 70's to low 80's, lows in the 50's and bird song, orchids and bougainvillea all year.

Americans in general are incredibly phobic (and uninformed) about life in other countries and our media does a great job of fueling this with fear-mongering and misinformation. Of course 95% of us will stay put at home close to friends and family, but for those with financial limitations, a spirit of adventure or both, there are other options out there well worth looking at.

I really appreciate Pete and It Don't Mean a Thing sharing their adventures as I think more than a few of us Boomers are going to want to or need to explore the option of low-cost retirement outside the U.S. given what's happening at home.
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Old 06-01-2011, 09:51 AM   #43
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Having actually lived as an expat for two years and facing the prospect of likely doing so again I disagree Nun.

Yes plenty of folks do end up returning for the reasons you mention, but plenty more are making the transition from visitors/snowbirds to full-time as the U.S. economy tanks and the health care and insurance debacle unwinds.
I agree that some people make the transition well, but even amongst those that stay abroad there is often a feeling of "us and them" that prevents the expat from integrating into the local society and having a really fulfilling retirement. Getting involved with the local community makes life so much richer, I wonder how many US expats support their local Mexican soccer team.

I have been an expat for 25 years. I did it when I was young so I had an easier time integrating into US society and making friends, but that's the key.....you actually have to live in a society to be truly happy rather than just using it for inexpensive services.
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Old 06-01-2011, 11:34 AM   #44
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I have a contrarian view on this issue based on our extensive travel and on talking with as many expats as possible. Rule number one for whether a retirement locale is going to be deeply fulfilling, it seems to me, is whether you (or both of you if a couple) have at least a few truly close friendships and a sense of community. That applies whether retired here or overseas.

Very few who ER overseas or move there at a more normal retirement age "go native." Exceptions are typically folks who were posted overseas on business and became fluent in the host country's language and culture, or who marry into it (the only Americans I know who speak Thai are married to Thai women!).

For the other 95% even if they learn the language (and very few do, even in Mexico which has an easy language to master and is very forgiving about mistakes) their common history and interests are with their fellow expats, and that's who they spend 80% of their time interacting with. That's why it makes all kinds of sense to move to a place with a large enough expat community that you have a good chance of finding a sub-community with deep common interests. Hopefully you learn enough of the host country's language to speak respectfully to vendors, negotiate the transit system and local bureaucracy but you're not likely to be discussing the book you just read or joking about what you just watched on English-language cable TV with you newly-made Thai (or Mexican) friends. The history is not there and they have far more complex and deep social obligations of their own to deal with.

This is even truer in cultures you might think less foreign. I've seen several people with the means to do it move to villages in Tuscany or the south of France and even with fluent language skills they have no chance of penetrating those cultures. Great places to visit, tough places to live. Mexico by comparison is easy, Thailand much harder but at least there you know from the outset that your skin color alone guarantees you'll never be anything but an outsider.
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Old 06-01-2011, 11:49 AM   #45
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I have a contrarian view on this issue based on our extensive travel and on talking with as many expats as possible. Rule number one for whether a retirement locale is going to be deeply fulfilling, it seems to me, is whether you (or both of you if a couple) have at least a few truly close friendships and a sense of community. That applies whether retired here or overseas.

Very few who ER overseas or move there at a more normal retirement age "go native." Exceptions are typically folks who were posted overseas on business and became fluent in the host country's language and culture, or who marry into it (the only Americans I know who speak Thai are married to Thai women!).

For the other 95% even if they learn the language (and very few do, even in Mexico which has an easy language to master and is very forgiving about mistakes) their common history and interests are with their fellow expats, and that's who they spend 80% of their time interacting with. That's why it makes all kinds of sense to move to a place with a large enough expat community that you have a good chance of finding a sub-community with deep common interests. Hopefully you learn enough of the host country's language to speak respectfully to vendors, negotiate the transit system and local bureaucracy but you're not likely to be discussing the book you just read or joking about what you just watched on English-language cable TV with you newly-made Thai (or Mexican) friends. The history is not there and they have far more complex and deep social obligations of their own to deal with.

This is even truer in cultures you might think less foreign. I've seen several people with the means to do it move to villages in Tuscany or the south of France and even with fluent language skills they have no chance of penetrating those cultures. Great places to visit, tough places to live. Mexico by comparison is easy, Thailand much harder but at least there you know from the outset that your skin color alone guarantees you'll never be anything but an outsider.
I have never tried to be an retired expat, but I have lived and worked in Latin America, and I think that you are largely correct. Men who understand the local customs and who are willing to get married may in a sense buy a family and in most places other than the US, the family is the axis around which other social connections revolve. In Latin America though, one reason you might have been attractive to a prospective marriage partner is that you can get her and perhaps over time her family into the US.

Less formal sexual relationships may suffice, I don't know because my time down there was too long ago, and things have changed greatly. One thing I do believe is still true, Americans are likely not to fully understand social and class and perhaps color distinctions of other cultures. And of course, American men are likely to be dismissive of such things, even if we did have a clue what they were.

This is not to say that becoming part of an expat community where these are large enough might not work fine for many. After all, that is what is going on in the US right now. We have Mexican communities, Cuban communities, Russian communities, Ukrainian communities, Chinese communities, Korean communities etc. Want to feel left out? Just be an unhyphenated American and move into one of these.

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Old 06-01-2011, 12:00 PM   #46
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I have a contrarian view on this issue based on our extensive travel and on talking with as many expats as possible. Rule number one for whether a retirement locale is going to be deeply fulfilling, it seems to me, is whether you (or both of you if a couple) have at least a few truly close friendships and a sense of community. That applies whether retired here or overseas.

Very few who ER overseas or move there at a more normal retirement age "go native." Exceptions are typically folks who were posted overseas on business and became fluent in the host country's language and culture, or who marry into it (the only Americans I know who speak Thai are married to Thai women!).

For the other 95% even if they learn the language (and very few do, even in Mexico which has an easy language to master and is very forgiving about mistakes) their common history and interests are with their fellow expats, and that's who they spend 80% of their time interacting with. That's why it makes all kinds of sense to move to a place with a large enough expat community that you have a good chance of finding a sub-community with deep common interests. Hopefully you learn enough of the host country's language to speak respectfully to vendors, negotiate the transit system and local bureaucracy but you're not likely to be discussing the book you just read or joking about what you just watched on English-language cable TV with you newly-made Thai (or Mexican) friends. The history is not there and they have far more complex and deep social obligations of their own to deal with.

This is even truer in cultures you might think less foreign. I've seen several people with the means to do it move to villages in Tuscany or the south of France and even with fluent language skills they have no chance of penetrating those cultures. Great places to visit, tough places to live. Mexico by comparison is easy, Thailand much harder but at least there you know from the outset that your skin color alone guarantees you'll never be anything but an outsider.
I think we can agree to disagree. The idea of living in a little expat ghetto strikes me as terrible.....and being forced to live with other retirees also gives me the creeps. I want my retirement to be spent living in a community that is diverse and not self selecting for nationality and time of life. Others will disagree. I will be leaving the US when I retire for many of the reasons you mention, healthcare being at the top of the list. But I'll be returning to the UK where I have friends and family and obviously a knowledge and affinity for the culture. However, I don't minimize the difficulty of adjusting. After 25 years in the States and becoming a US citizen I am neither wholly British or American.
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Old 06-01-2011, 12:16 PM   #47
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I have a contrarian view on this issue based on our extensive travel and on talking with as many expats as possible. Rule number one for whether a retirement locale is going to be deeply fulfilling, it seems to me, is whether you (or both of you if a couple) have at least a few truly close friendships and a sense of community. That applies whether retired here or overseas.
This is even truer in cultures you might think less foreign. I've seen several people with the means to do it move to villages in Tuscany or the south of France and even with fluent language skills they have no chance of penetrating those cultures. Great places to visit, tough places to live. Mexico by comparison is easy, Thailand much harder but at least there you know from the outset that your skin color alone guarantees you'll never be anything but an outsider.
It might be appropriate to give the expats a bit of a break. Part of the issue with "going native" is that your new neighbors will always be a tad suspicious of your short-timer's carpet-bagger attitude and your possible lack of commitment. They have lots of family and local ties, while all of yours may be elsewhere. What's keeping you in their community? What if you have to care for your aging mother, or help out with your sister's kids?

We see it time & again in Hawaii. The most notorious example is McAfee, who made a big splash on Molokai with his promises to help the local community. A few years later he'd abandoned the island and his real estate was up for auction. (Admittedly his behavior was a bit extreme by anyone's standards.) Murdoch is not exactly making friends on Lanai with his tourism and alternate-energy plans. "Eccentric" Japanese billionaire Kawamoto continues to neglect his Kahala real estate, much to the frustration of his neighbors. Even "good guys" like Pierre Omidyar and Tom Fargo are viewed with caution due to their ability to influence the local politicians, businesses, and non-profits.

A submariner turned realtor who's been here since the 1970s told me that he prefers to hire veterans for his agency. They all swear that they want to spend the rest of their lives here, and some of them even retired from the military to stay here. Yet 10 or 20 years later they're moving to the Mainland to live near their grandkids or to take care of their aging parents.

I'm not sure why, but some musicians tend to blend in here quite well. Exhibits "A", "B", and "C" are Mick Fleetwood, Willie Nelson, and Jimmy Buffett. (True, they're not full-time.) But that doesn't work so well with all musicians. Maybe it's musical style, age, or gender.

Even after 20+ years here I may no longer be malihini but it's a stretch to consider that I'll ever be "local". I've lived in Hawaii longer than I've ever lived anywhere else but I'll never be kama'aina. Even now I have to occasionally think about where I'm going to be that day and what style of clothing I'm wearing so that I fit in. (I'll probably keep my ponytail as long as I can twist a scrunchie into it.) For example it's not a good idea to wear "Oahu" t-shirts on neighbor islands, and many old-timer North Shore surfers don't think there's anything funny about black shorts or "Da Hui". I don't wear military fashions like command t-shirts or Navy ballcaps. I only wear my USNA ring if I'm going to be in a roomful of ring-knockers.

Maybe starting a local business or charity would help expats reassure their new neighbors. Perhaps owning a home (where possible) and considering it their primary residence. I think the only way an expat could be truly accepted in the community would be marrying a local followed by sending their kids to local schools. Even then the local spouse would be viewed with a slightly skeptical attitude for their transgression of marrying an expat...
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Old 06-01-2011, 12:52 PM   #48
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This is even truer in cultures you might think less foreign. I've seen several people with the means to do it move to villages in Tuscany or the south of France and even with fluent language skills they have no chance of penetrating those cultures.
Heck, this is even true if you're born in the US and move to certain US states. Trading war stories with others who have moved to Minnesota, it's hard to forge deep friendships with anyone who was born and raised there. Friendly, but not friends. They have their own social network and family obligations and don't have a need to expand that.

Of course, I'd imagine that to be the case in many areas (although it's certainly less prevalent here in Michigan). If someone was born and raised in an area and all of their friends and family is there, why would the actively spend the energy on an outsider?
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Old 06-01-2011, 03:18 PM   #49
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If someone was born and raised in an area and all of their friends and family is there, why would the actively spend the energy on an outsider?
Absolutely true. As an outsider, what you need is lots of other outsiders, which describes almost any growing US city, especially one with hi-tech industries.

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Old 06-01-2011, 04:20 PM   #50
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Absolutely true. As an outsider, what you need is lots of other outsiders, which describes almost any growing US city, especially one with hi-tech industries.

Ha
I agree. After living in the US south for 15 years, not a single one of my friends is a true southerner. Most of my friends are, as I am, "imports" from other states or other countries. Thankfully, the imports probably outnumber the natives where I live (hi-tech industry center), so I never feel like the odd man out. It's just hard to break into the local social circles. I think the same could be said of many places in Europe.
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Old 06-02-2011, 10:06 AM   #51
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As Ha pointed out the degree of insularity in places like Thailand and Mexico is far greater than anything you'll find in the U.S. There's a great travel book (essential for around-the-world travel IMHO) by Edward Hasbrouck called "The Practical Nomad" where he goes into the reasons for this in some detail. Paraphrasing him, the third world is a place where financial capital is tight but they're rich in human capital. Another way of saying this: many people have almost no money, but as a native you're embedded in a very complex network of family and friendships that goes way beyond anything we have in the U.S., and while it takes knowing someone to get anything done, you pretty much always know someone.

"Family" in Mexico means not only your parents, grandparents and kids but all of your aunts and uncles and all of their kids, your godparents and their families and many others, all of whom are almost certain to live in the same village or town that you do. There's a complex web of reciprocal obligations and favors to be attended to at all times, holidays and fiestas virtually every month of the year, on and on. A person enmeshed in all of this and working 6 longs days a week and with 4-5 kids at home may want to be your friend (maybe), but often simply doesn't have the time or energy.

That's a whole different level of isolation than moving from one part of the U.S. to another. We take families living far apart and moving away for jobs for granted, while to people in traditional societies these things are unthinkable.
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Old 06-02-2011, 10:33 AM   #52
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It's easy to spot someone who comes to live off a community rather than in it and, unfortunately, expat retirees can see their new "home" as just a way to live an almost colonial lifestyle inexpensively. No wonder the local population can be standoffish. It's a two way street and if the expat lives in a little ghetto with other expats and doesn't participate in the community they are obviously not going to make friends.

My advice for the expat retiree is to live in the community, go to local bars, learn the language and culture, go to sporting events and actually contribute to the community in a way that goes beyond spending dollars.
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Old 06-02-2011, 10:45 AM   #53
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We have Mexican communities, Cuban communities, Russian communities, Ukrainian communities, Chinese communities, Korean communities etc. Want to feel left out? Just be an unhyphenated American and move into one of these.

+1 Great observation Ha!
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Old 06-02-2011, 11:54 AM   #54
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I think fear of change is the biggest obstacle.

I think you have to have the right mindset going into a move like this. You need enough money. You need to be flexible and be ready to change the way you think about things. Change is difficult at first. BUT, it hasn't really been all that tough. As I think about it now, two years later, it was easy.

I've always been a guy who rolled the dice. Start with a visit.
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Old 06-02-2011, 12:32 PM   #55
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Yep, marry a third-world citizen and expect a steady stream of extended family parading in and out of your home, even living with you.

On the other hand, it's very easy to have kids...instant babysitting, 24/7.
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Old 06-02-2011, 01:29 PM   #56
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Heck, this is even true if you're born in the US and move to certain US states.
Yup. My Aunt moved from New York to Charleston, SC twenty years ago to open a retail business that's been a fixture of the community for the past two decades. To this day she complains that many locals still consider her a Yankee.
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Old 06-02-2011, 01:52 PM   #57
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I moved to Boston 25 years ago. It's my home and I've integrated well, I go to Fenway and the Garden, support several local non-profits, am a regular with my friends at local bar and even speak with a Boston accent. I'd describe myself as a Bostonian, but not as an American.
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Old 06-02-2011, 02:14 PM   #58
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However, I don't minimize the difficulty of adjusting. After 25 years in the States and becoming a US citizen I am neither wholly British or American.
I think you will find integrating to be a challenge especially if you have fully embraced the American culture.

We have friends from Monterey CA who lived in Antequara, and their acquaintences were British. But in 3 years, they did not establish any lasting ties even though language was not a problem.

BTW the expat community does not have to be retired. Many still work.
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Old 06-02-2011, 02:47 PM   #59
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I think you will find integrating to be a challenge especially if you have fully embraced the American culture.
Some people go live in another country because
1) they love the culture, the people, the traditions, etc
2) they love the weather, scenaries, etc
3) there are more oppurtunities (jobs, education, etc)
4) it's cheaper to live there than where you are from

I get the feeling the only people who tend to integrate with the native is #1. It's possible you develop #1 over time, but that takes time and it may never happen. Same thing with the immigrants to the US 2-3 generations back (hanging around with, and marrying immigrants from the same country, same tradition, etc, etc)

I think most people tend to gravitate toward what's familiar to them - familiarity = comfort
Just an example, although it's not about moving to another country - Have you ever worked for a manager from another country/tradition? Rule change. It can get you off kilter.
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Old 06-02-2011, 03:04 PM   #60
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Just an example, although it's not about moving to another country - Have you ever worked for a manager from another country/tradition? Rule change. It can get you off kilter.
I've worked in university, defence and US Govt labs on international programs so there were always different nationalities around. My first job was working for am American (foreign to me at the time) with a group of people from France and Yugoslavia. Then I went to NASA and worked with mostly Amercans, but quite a few British and Japanese. Right now I'm working at a university and we just got a new Spanish grad student who was hired by a prof from Mexico to work with me, British, a New Zealand guy and a Chinese guy.....talk about UN
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