Forty years ago, retirement abroad looked much the same as retirement at home—but today, retirees are living longer, staying healthier, and remaining more active into old age. That’s brought change to the way people retire, according to a new report from the editors at InternationalLiving.com, who have identified five retirement trends to watch.
“At International Living, we’ve been tracking trends in retirement for four decades—and we’ve spotted some new developments today,” says Dan Prescher, International Living Senior Editor. “It used to be that retirement meant winding down after a working life took a toll on body and spirit. But that’s changing. It’s easier than ever to retire overseas, and we’re seeing people embrace the possibilities in all sorts of new ways.”
These days, according to the report, the outlook for retirement is much more life-affirming. Retirees are living longer, staying healthier, and remaining more active into old age than their parents’ generation could ever have hoped for. They’re pursuing new goals, developing existing skills, and making retirement a time to flourish.
For some, that simply means seeking out a tranquil spot in which to relax and recharge. For others, it involves re-inventing themselves in thriving cities, or re-tooling their life skills as a way to fund a life spent exploring the globe.
This change has resulted in five new, important retirement trends. The stories below illustrate each trend from the perspective of real-life retirees living abroad.
Trend 1: Multi-Generational Expat Living
In June of 2018 Linda, 65, and John Norman, 72, moved from Athens, Georgia, to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Soon after, their daughter Corrinne Gilbertson, 40, and her family came to visit. Scott Gilbertson, 44, is a freelance writer for technology publications, and Corrinne teaches English online to children in China. Having online careers enables them to live and work wherever there’s a decent internet connection.
“We came to visit my parents for six months,” says Corrinne. “We enjoyed it so much that we decided to stay. We returned to Athens to sell our house and belongings.”
Both families soon found a comfortable balance, and Linda relishes seeing her grandkids absorb Mexican culture. “They were a bit intimidated at first. But now they’re confident walking around town. We love going with them to the many cultural parades and events that San Miguel has to offer. Together, we are observing and experiencing the beautiful rituals of the Mexican people.”
Now that Corrinne’s family has comfortably transitioned, the Normans have the best of both worlds. “John and I were both so busy before we retired. Now we can spend plenty of quality time together. We explore the city and places close by. We volunteer at church. I take yoga classes. John enjoys his photography. We have a fulfilling family life, and social life.”
Trend 2: Roving Retirement
When Todd Hilton and his husband, Damon, started their roving retiree lifestyle, their friends and family thought they’d had lost our minds.
“We sold everything we owned: the cars, the house, even the silverware. We packed two backpacks each, bought one-way tickets to Costa Rica, and didn’t look back. That was February of 2016, and we haven’t stopped yet,” says Todd.
“For us, being roving retirees is definitely a lifestyle choice. We enjoy being in different locations for one to three months at a time. We started in Central America, moved through South America, and we’re currently traveling through Indonesia and Southeast Asia. We usually plan our next location a couple of months in advance, which helps bring the cost down when you’re purchasing airline tickets.
Todd says they base their locations on a few necessities, primarily: Are there cultural activities nearby? Are there shops, restaurants, and coffee shops within walking distance? Is the WiFi decent? Are the neighborhoods safe? Is there an established expat community already?
“While we travel, we always keep our eyes and minds open to possible retirement locations,” says Todd. “Eventually we will need to put down roots once again. And we have decided that living somewhere abroad will be our best choice, financially. Our retirement incomes go so much further than they do back home in the U.S.”
Trend 3: The New Urbanites
When Chele Cassebohm and her husband, David, moved to Penang, Malaysia, they went from owning a large home with a yard to a condo right beside the city.
“Before, we had to plan for everything. We couldn’t just lock up the home and travel; who would take care of the dog, get the mail, water the garden? Having a condo gives us the freedom to get up and go.”
“We live right in the center of downtown Kuala Lumpur, and we walk everywhere. We’re healthier for it. In Houston, we had to get in a car to do anything,” says Sharla Thomason of her Malaysian retirement with her husband, Jim. “And we don’t cook as much, because living in the thick of it all means you can walk out your door and be at a dizzying array of restaurants. Eating out is so much cheaper here.
“Bars, restaurants, concerts, theater, galleries, parties. They were always there, right in the city. But for most of us, life got in the way. In the sophisticated, low-cost urban retirement hubs International Living covers every month (think Cuenca, Ecuador; or Phnom Penh, Cambodia; or Lisbon, Portugal…and more) you don’t have to drive into the city for a night on the town…you just walk out your door.”
Trend 4: A Solo Retirement
Bonnie Hayman says, “On the last night of the best vacation I’d ever had, watching a glorious sunset with an ice-cold beer in hand, something snapped. I bought a house in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, the next day, went back to the States, closed my technical writing business, got my San Diego house ready to rent, and was back living full-time in Nicaragua 90 days later.
“Now, almost 12 years later, I can say it was the best decision of my life.
“Personally, I think it is easier for singles to make friends than couples when you live abroad. Mostly because two people must both like the friends they are making. When you are alone, it’s just your decision. There are expat hangouts everywhere. Just walk right in and ask someone a question to start a conversation.
“Another crazy thing when you move abroad solo: you don’t feel lonely,” Bonnie contends. “It’s hard to explain. In San Diego, if I didn’t have plans on the weekend and I had to sit home on a Friday or Saturday night alone, I did feel lonely. But not here. Often, I’m happy just to be in my cute little oceanview cottage by myself. I can paint, watch four episodes of a Netflix show straight through, settle down with a glass of wine and a good book, etc. I never feel obligated to do anything here.
“Don’t be scared about how you will manage, how you will accomplish things. Especially if you are a woman alone, people will bend over backward to help you. If you learn the language, you will also have local friends and usually they help you the most. If you want to move to another country solo, I can’t think of one reason why you shouldn’t. In fact, if it’s anything like my experience, it will probably be the most exciting and happiest time of your life.”
Trend 5: Best of Both Worlds With Part-Time Living
Louisa Rogers and her husband, Barry, share two very different lives: one in an apartment in Eureka, on California’s North Coast, and the other in a home in the colonial city of Guanajuato, in central Mexico.
“Probably the biggest advantage is the variety and stimulation each environment offers,” says Louisa. “For example, I enjoy living by a bay in California, where I paddleboard. But we also love hiking right from our front door in Guanajuato, which we certainly can’t do from our apartment in Eureka.
“Expenses can add up when you maintain two homes, like the flights back and forth. But we offset the cost by renting our Guanajuato home when we’re away.
“Another advantage of being part-time is that when we’re not in Mexico, we make our house available on a home-exchange website. I’m typing this article in Medellín, Colombia, where we’re staying.
“The mental shifts required are trickier than the logistics. I’ve learned that I’m the one who has to take the initiative with friends; I can’t expect them to keep up with my crazy schedule. But I haven’t lost any friends due to my itinerant lifestyle. In both towns, our friends (and even the clients of my communications training business) seem to accept our rhythms.