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Retirement Outside the U.S. - Make Your Retirement Dollars Last!

Updated on December 2, 2016
 Nightlife in Hermosillo, Mexico
Nightlife in Hermosillo, Mexico

Make the most of your retirement income and consider living outside the United States.

What would be the a way to increase the purchasing power of your retirement income?

Consider moving to Mexico or Central America. It's not a groundbreaking move. There are close to 1 million retirees in Mexico. The Central America countries have over 240,000 retirees or ex-patriots. (An ex-patriot is someone that's moved from their home country, to a different country. Henceforth, I'll use the term expat)

Why have I chosen Mexico and Central America? For 3 reasons:

1. I have visited all the countries and have first hand knowledge that I can share.

2. Mexico and Central America are destinations that you can drive to.

3. All the countries have retirement communities or active expat communities

Central America consists of 7 countries. Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Costa Rica and Panama are well known retirement destinations. But, the others do have a unique charm of their own. Depending on what your retirement goals are, each county has something to offer.

What I will share are my personal experiences within the countries. I've traveled to Mexico and Central America twice. This trip, I've been traveling for over 2 years. So, I have some unique insights to offer you.

Mexico has the largest contingent of retirees south of the U.S. border. Some of the reasons for this are:

1. Mexico is the closest country to the U.S.. Thousands of people cross the borders each day.

2. Mexico is a diverse country. You'll find canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. Surfing areas along the coasts. Desert areas in the northern part of the country. Jungles in the southern parts. Mountain towns with cool summers and temperate winters. Mayan Ruins are abundant.

3. Mexico has 100's of businesses that have moved from the U.S. into Mexico. The economic growth is running at 3%, nearly 3 times better than the U.S.

Belize has the highest percentage of U.S. retirees compared to the local population. El Salvador has the lowest percentage of U.S. retirees.

The reason I've chosen to talk about Mexico and Central America - you can drive your car to all the countries. So, when you retire, or if you're retired, any of these countries would make for a great road trip!

 Photo of me and my '98 Ford Explorer in Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello, Mexico
Photo of me and my '98 Ford Explorer in Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello, Mexico | Source

Keep these things in mind when considering moving south of the U.S. border

Keep these things in mind when contemplating moving to Mexico or Central America

1. Knowing Spanish is a big plus. (I've used to learn Spanish)

There will be schools that teach Spanish in the towns you move to of visit. Books and online courses are available that will help you learn Spanish. After all, it is the second most spoken language in the world!

2. It's much less "clean" in most parts of Mexico and Central America.

Trash pickup is not the biggest priority in cities south of the border. Tossing trash to the roadside is common. Dropping trash as one is walking down the sidewalk is "normal".

3. Cleanliness in restaurants are not up to U.S. standards.

Dogs wandering outside and inside the restaurants is common. Chickens pecking at the ground while you eat is "normal". What I've found in my travels - if the locals are eating there, it's probably safe. The one's to avoid are the restaurants that have no customers.

4. If you decide to rent, what the locals think is a "normal" place to live does not mean that it's the "American" normal.

All major towns have expats that rent houses and apartments. These are close to what you would expect in the states. It's safer to rent from them. Popular destinations will have listings on Craig's List, Airbnb and other online rental sites.

5. Power outages are normal throughout Mexico and Central America

6. The roads are not well maintained.

In the big cities, many roads will be under repair or dirt roads. Particularly if you are outside the main section of town

7. If you want work done, it will be done slowly.

Speed, other than driving a car, truck or bus, is not a priority when it concerns work. MaƱana means in the future, not necessarily tomorrow.

8. Bribes - well, it is not uncommon south of the border.

It's easier for a bribe to be given than to try and go through the court system. For example, $10 to $20 will get you out of a speeding ticket. Or a getting pulled over for a minor traffic violation. The court system could take months and they could extract a higher fine!

Have your cake and eat it too!

 A piece of chocolate cake. Eating the delightful slice in Oaxaca, Mexico!
A piece of chocolate cake. Eating the delightful slice in Oaxaca, Mexico! | Source

Mexico and Central America offer unique living spots for retirees.

Mexico and Central America offer unique areas to retire to.

Mexico has:

1. An area called the Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre). A canyon area deeper than the Grand Canyon, made by six rivers in the state of Chihuahau.

2. Mayan ruins that are found throughout Mexico.

3. White, sandy beaches in the Yucatan, with Cozumel being the best known city for beaches.

4. Mexico has the highest number of Unesco World Heritage sites in the America's. 34 sites in total.

5) Deserts near the U.S. border in the north. Jungles border Guatemala in the south.

Belize has:

1. Jungles

2. White sandy beaches

3. Great diving areas

Guatemala has:

1. A rich colonial Spanish history

2. Mayan ruins. My opinion, Tikal, in the northeast section of the country, is one of the best Mayan ruins to visit!

3. 5 Active or semi active volcanoes

4. 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Honduras has:

1. Jungles

2. A constitution that's similar to that of the U.S.

3. Beaches on the eastern side of the country

4. No military

5. It shares a portion of the largest rain forest north of the Amazon with Nicaragua, called Bosawas. It is one of the most remote spots in the world. Over 60% of the area has not been investigated by scientists

6. Home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites - one being Bosawas.

7. One of the poorest countries in Central America. "Poorest" seems to be a toss up between Honduras and Nicaragua.


1. Beaches and surfing

2. 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites or pending sites

3. According to Spanish records, Granada is the oldest city in Central America

4. Shares the Bosawas rain forest with Honduras

5. One of the poorest countries in Central America

El Salvador:

1. Active volcanoes

2. Jungles

3. Surfing and beaches

4. The U.S. Dollar is the currency

Costa Rica

1. Jungles

2. Surfing and beaches - on both the east and west coasts

3. Active volcanoes

4. Costa Rica doesn't have a military per se. It does have a small "Special Intervention Unit" consisting of 70 men.


1. Home of the Panama Canal

2. Some of the best surfing in the world is found in Panama. Beaches on both the west and east coasts

3. Jungles

4. Currency is the U.S. Dollar

5. The Pan-American Highway ends in the southern part of Panama and picks up again in Columbia.

In your retirement search for the perfect place, look south! Mountain living, beach living or being a part of history. The choices are abundant, south of the border

Retirement overseas

The International Living Guide to Retiring Overseas on a Budget: How to Live Well on $25,000 a Year
The International Living Guide to Retiring Overseas on a Budget: How to Live Well on $25,000 a Year

Enjoy a happier, healthier, more fulfilling retirement than you could possibly afford in the U.S. or Canada by finding the right overseas retirement haven.



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    • claptona profile image

      John D Wilson 17 months ago from Earth

      Hi Paul Kuehn,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      I've heard some good things about Thailand.

      Medical care in Mexico is on par with the states - in the big cities of course. Mexico has the largest amount of American retirees in the world.

      Medical stuff is about 1/2 of what it is in the U.S.

      I got some dental work done in Mexico, and it was easily half of what I would have paid in the states.

      Again, thanks for the comment and I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub.



    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 17 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I have been retired and living in Thailand for the past nine years. What you say about life in Mexico also applies to life in Thailand. How do you find the medical care in Mexican clinics and hospitals? One big disadvantage of retiring outside of the States, is that you can't use Medicare and VA benefits there. If you are covered by good stateside insurance, I guess it doesn't matter. Thanks for sharing an interesting article.

    • claptona profile image

      John D Wilson 17 months ago from Earth


      Thanks for your comment. It's nice to hear that I've resonated a chord in someone LOL

      My next part of the series will be on Mexico, which has close to 1 million Americans who've retired there.

      I'll also cover the rest of Central America, and hope you find them just as informative.


      Thanks for your comment, also.

      It gives me more motivation to do the next piece on Mexico.

      Thank you both for coming along for the "ride"!





    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 17 months ago from Queensland Australia

      This was an interesting hub and I look forward to reading more about your adventures south of the border.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 17 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      For the first time in my life I've actually played with the idea of moving to another country. So this journey you are taking us on is timely. I so enjoyed this informative hub and look forward to the next one.

      Thank you John.


    • claptona profile image

      John D Wilson 17 months ago from Earth

      Thanks junko.

      After traveling around Mexico and Central America for over 2 years now, it has been quite the adventure.

      There's no way I could have had this much fun, with the limited funds I have, in the U.S. Prices are just too high.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

      It's good to hear from you.


    • profile image

      junko 17 months ago

      I was told the US Dollar is worth more south of the border and a thousand dollars a month can buy a better quality of live there than here in the US. I wondered what happened to you John. I am glad to hear you have been experiencing a good life.