Discover the possibilities of full-timing in Mexico and other countries closer to the equator.
By Janet Groene, F47166
April 2009, FMC magazine
Many good things can be said about full-time motorhome living in Mexico and other Latin countries. There’s the low cost of living, great weather, and friendly people. There are also minuses about living in any country other than your own, but by retiring to Latin living in your motorhome, you have wheels to take you away when and if you want to leave.
Each country is different, so it could take hours of research to get a true picture of what retirement south of the border is like, and whether it’s for you. Your friends already there may be flushed with enthusiasm, but are they telling you the entire story? It’s best to gather as much information as possible, both good and bad, before you take the plunge yourself.
Here are some references to get you started in researching life in Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, and other dream locations.
Mexico Alive (http://www.mexicoalive.net/), a real estate development company based in Puerto Vallerta, has compiled a list titled “Things You Didn’t Know About Mexican Real Estate.” Their claims, of course, need to be verified, because things change. But the list includes the following information:
Property in Mexico can be part of your self-directed IRA investment. It must, however, be treated as an investment. Check with your tax adviser.
According to Mexico Alive, property values in some Mexican markets have doubled in the past five years.
Of the 4.1 million Americans who reside in other countries, about 1 million live in Mexico.
Popular spots for Americans and Canadians include Mazatlan, San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, and the Guadalajara-Lake Chapala region.
The top fly-in destinations in Mexico are La Paz, Mazatlan, Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo, Cancun, Acapulco, Mexico City, Los Cabos, and Puerto Vallarta. Even though you’re in your motorhome, good airline service may be a factor in choosing a retirement spot.
Some American banks offer fixed-rate mortgages in Mexico according to Mexico Live, which claims you also can buy property there with U.S. title insurance and with a reverse mortgage. The company offers free “get acquainted” weekends. See http://www.getintomexico.com/ for more details.
The above information applies to just Mexico, but a new book by Barry Golson titled Retirement Without Borders ($19.95, Scribner) is a gold mine of information about foreign retirement in general. Mr. Golson has lived in four countries, has built a home in Mexico, and is a seasoned writer with credits including an award-winning article for AARP on retiring in Mexico.
He begins with the surprising statement that seven out of 10 baby boomers won’t have enough money to live comfortably in the United States. He points the way to more affordable places where Americans are settling.
The book suggests readers interested in relocating to a foreign country look carefully at the following:
The competency and affordability of public and private medical care.
The availability of direct flights to major U.S. and Canadian cities.
How much red tape is involved in getting a residence visa, working papers, or a mortgage.
The basic living expenses, from food to utilities.
He lists good and bad things about the cultures, based on interviews with retired doctors, teachers, engineers, postal workers, and others in affluent and middle classes. He also provides case histories that include experiences of epatriots who have had second thoughts about living abroad.
Other references that can help with your research include:
http://www.movetopanama.com/, which specializes in relocation for businesspeople, but also has helpful advice for retirees
http://www.retiredexpat.com/, a site with information on overseas retirement
Keep in mind that most of the sites have a point of view, usually aimed at selling real estate. Make sure, too, that the information is current according to U.S. tax laws and the laws of the nation described. A call to your tax adviser or a visit to http://www.irs.gov/ would be advisable.
Another source for information is to visit a bookstore or online bookseller and search for books about RVing or settling abroad. These types of books also may be available at a public library. When considering the information in books, check the publication date to assure that the information is not outdated.
A Full-Timer’s Forum question about money management brought a reply from Ernest Fuller, who has been full-timing for five years. “I have a Chase Visa card that pays back 1 percent in cash for all purchases. Everything we spend is put on that card.” When the bill comes due, Chase deducts it from the Fullers’ checking account, which is set up for automatic deposit of Social Security payments, investment dividends, and so on. “This eliminates the possibility of forgetting to pay the Visa bill on time,” he remarked. Many bills, including their cell phone, campground membership, satellite TV, and wireless Internet, go on their Visa card automatically. And the credit card records make year-end recordkeeping and taxes easier, Mr. Fuller noted.
After trying several carriers, he also recommends using Verizon for wireless Internet service. He says he has found the service to be fast, with connection available nearly everywhere, and a good buy at $61 monthly.
Mike and Deb D. began to answer a question about how the economy is impacting them, but they ended up simply enthusing about their life “” Colorado in summer, Texas in winter, enough work-camping jobs to pay the bills, and a never-ending list of new friends they meet along the way. Economy aside, they count their blessings.
In answer to the couple whose RV is worth less than what they owe on it, and who are thinking of defaulting and walking away, Sandy Nickerson said, “The first thing is to contact the bank and honestly tell the banker about the engine problems and the cost of repairs. Perhaps the bank would refinance at a lower interest rate with funds built into the new loan to fix the engine. Or perhaps the bank could offer other suggestions. If this doesn’t work, ask the bank if they would take a short sale. Banks do this on houses, so maybe they would do the same for an RV.”
Barb Kruger travels solo in her 30-foot Type C motorhome without a towed vehicle, and said, “If I need a car, I rent one. It was one of the best decisions of my life.” Barb has found many great places to sight-see for free or little cost. She travels slowly, enjoying campgrounds for which she has a discount, or freebies, such as on property owned by one of her children. When she finds a place she likes, she stays extra days to hike or read. “No gas is used and I am eating from my cabinets,” she reported.
Jack Tobey chimed in after we asked whether it’s better to leave the blinds open (revealing what you have and do not have) or closed (leaving potential thieves to wonder what’s inside). “We are full-timers and always use our dead bolt when leaving the motorhome. We have day-night blinds and normally leave them half and half. Anyone watching us will [know we’re home or not] based on whether the car is parked nearby.”
“Having a dog is a big [theft] deterrent, we think,” Mr. Tobey added. “She loves everybody, but barks at unknown people at the door. We choose our overnight spots with care. We have driven in and out of numerous campgrounds that didn’t look as safe as we’d like.”
To participate in Full-Timer’s Forum, send your comments to email@example.com. Put “FMCA” in the subject line, provide your name and FMCA family membership number, and let us know if you prefer to remain anonymous. Results will appear in subsequent issues of the magazine.