Friday, August 17, 2007

Can I get my social security converted into pesos?

I'm a grandmother now, so I need to start thinking about my - gulp - old age. Will my money last as long as I do? What happens if I get sick and need to go to a nursing home? If you're like me, then you've probably worried about these things too, but don't despair, we might make it to the end before our nest egg does after all. USA Today has the scoop:

Seniors head south to Mexican nursing homes
After Jean Douglas turned 70, she realized she couldn't take care of herself anymore. Her knees were giving out, and winters in Bandon, Ore., were getting harder to bear alone.

[...] After searching the Internet for other options, she joined a small but steadily growing number of Americans who are moving across the border to nursing homes in Mexico, where the sun is bright and the living is cheap.

For $1,300 a month — a quarter of what an average nursing home costs in Oregon — Douglas gets a studio apartment, three meals a day, laundry and cleaning service, and 24-hour care from an attentive staff, many of whom speak English. She wakes up every morning next to a glimmering mountain lake, and the average annual high temperature is a toasty 79 degrees.
According to USA Today, retirement homes are relatively new in Mexico and there's little government regulation, but the U.S. Embassy doesn't report any complaints against Mexican nursing homes. That doesn't mean residents haven't complained though. One woman reported her home was staffed by "gossips and thieves" and another claimed "It was filthy, and the food was very bad. It was all made in the microwave."

Those are legitimate complaints, but they're also similar to ones lodged against nursing homes here in the U.S. My mother is in a nursing home and she often complains about people stealing from her, but 90% of the time the missing item ends up being found in her wastebasket or pocket. Gossip is one of her complaints too, yet she's guilty of the same behavior. I think some old people just like to complain. That's not the case for this gentleman:
Residents such as Richard Slater say they are happy in Mexico. Slater came to Lake Chapala four years ago and now lives in his own cottage at the Casa de Ancianos, surrounded by purple bougainvillea and pomegranate trees.

He has plenty of room for his two dogs and has a little patio that he shares with three other American residents. He gets 24-hour nursing care and three meals a day, cooked in a homey kitchen and served in a sun-washed dining room. His cottage has a living room, bedroom, kitchenette, bathroom and a walk-in closet.

For this Slater pays $550 a month, less than one-tenth of the going rate back home in Las Vegas. For another $140 a year, he gets full medical coverage from the Mexican government, including all his medicine and insulin for diabetes.
Hmmm...the health care issue could be a problem. I haven't really heard much about the quality of health care in Mexico. Slater relies on the Mexican SSI, which runs clinics and hospitals nationwide and allows foreigners to enroll in its program even if they never worked in Mexico or paid taxes to support the system, because Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs and most U.S. insurance companies will not cover care or medicine as long as patients are outside the United States. Slater has firsthand experience with their medical care though. He recently had gallbladder surgery and reports he paid nothing.

Any doubts Americans may have about retiring to Mexico haven't gone unnoticed by developers and officials, who see an opportunity to fill a need and make a lot of money.
Developers of "independent living" facilities for seniors are also beginning to look to Mexico. A Spanish-U.S. venture is building Sensara Vallarta, a 250-unit condominium complex aimed at Americans 50 and older in the Pacific Coast resort of Puerto Vallarta. And in the northern city of Monterrey, El Legado is marketing itself as a "home resort" for seniors.

Academics and government officials are beginning to take notice. In March, the University of Texas at Austin held a forum for developers, hospital officials, insurance companies and policymakers to discuss health care for retirees in Mexico.

"With the right facilities in place, Mexico could give (American retirees) a better quality of life at a better price than they could find in the United States," says Flavio Olivieri, a member of Tijuana's Economic Development Council, which is seeking funding from Mexico's federal government to build more retirement homes. "We think this could be a very good business as these baby boomers reach retirement age," he says.
Mexico could give American retirees a better quality of life at a better price than they could find in the United States? That's disturbing to even read those words. I think we should be taking care of one another here at home. If a person makes the choice to move to Mexico because they like the climate, culture or country, that's their choice. However, if a person moves to Mexico because they can't afford to maintain their same quality of life here, that's just wrong and we should be ashamed.

It's great to know Mexico is an option for retirees, and we all like to have options, but our golden years should not be at the whim of dollars and cents - or pesos.


Lew Scannon said...

That sounds like a deal. First we send them our jobs, now we send them our retirees. Who needs America?

Larry said...

I also think this and the ability for seniors to get cheaper prescription drugs, are the reason Bush has forced visitors to Mexico to need a passport!

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CEW said...

Are you suggesting Mexico open up its borders to hordes of elderly U.S. citizens? I wonder if they would complain about an elderly immigrant problem...In any case, golden years in Mexico sound a whole lot better than sunset years in a low budget, locked down, cinder block warehouse with canned food.

Kathy said...

Lew, the rich still need America. Did you notice that a US developer is helping to build condos in Mexico? It's always about the buck instead of working to improve conditions for people here.

Larry, I don't have a problem with people needing passports to travel to neighboring countries and vice-versa. I just wish the process was quicker than it is, and I wish the fees were adjusted for low income people.

CEW, I'm not advocating Mexico open their borders to our elderly. It's already happening. And I do agree that Mexico sounds a whole lot better than sunset years in a low budget, locked down, cinder block warehouse with canned food, but its a shame that the scenario you described even exists in our country. We should treat our elderly population better than that, regardless of their income.

expatbrian said...

There are many inexpensive places that Americans can retire outside of the US. I think because of family ties and just habit most won't even consider it but it is a good option. I encourage Americans to travel to some of these places before retirement age just to get a feel for it. Examples: there is a great US community on the crystal clear beaches of Cebu, Philippines where one can live in a lovely home, gated community, maid etc for less than 2k per month. Also Costa Rica is a popular spot. Mexico is near so family can still travel for visits.
I am eyeing Penang Island and also the east coast of Malaysia as possibilities.

Anonymous said...

However, if a person moves to Mexico because they can't afford to maintain their same quality of life here, that's just wrong and we should be ashamed.

The context of this post is seniors, but as you pointed out a few posts back, the issue is one of genuine concern. As the United States begins to resemble a Corporate Kleptocracy more and more, the only option for those below the 95% income level is to leave.

Kathy said...

Expat, I'd like to try some of the places you mentioned someday, but just to visit. I wouldn't want to leave my family to move that far away. Thanks for pointing them out though. It's good for us to learn we have options just in case.

Kvatch, that was my point too - genuine concern - and not just for seniors like I've mentioned here, but also for the uninsured, underpaid, etc...