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Growing number of Americans retire to outside USA

In this photo by Joseph Roginski, taken on May 13, 2011, Joseph Roginski, right, in the possession of a package in a storage area of the Misawa City Hall in Japan, where the donations of clothing and supplies were kept for the earthquake relief efforts. He says that, while the cost of living is higher in Japan, access to health care is not. Things are very expensive here. It is impossible to live off Social Security only, said Roginski, who was stationed in Japan in 1968. But the health insurance is an important factor in a stay here.€ The former military language and intelligence specialist, said he pays $350 every year a part of Japan€™s of the national health insurance. His policy covers 70 percent of its costs. The rest is covered by a secondary insurance program for retired military.

(Joseph Roginski via AP)

Recently widowed, Kay McCowen quit her job, sold her house, applied for Social Security and retired to Mexico. It was a move she and her husband, Mel, had discussed before he passed away in 2012.

“I wanted to find a place where I could afford to live on my Social Security,” she said. “The weather here is so perfect, and it is a beautiful place.”

She is among a growing number of Americans retiring outside of the United States. The number grew by 17 percent between 2010 and 2015 and is expected to increase in the next 10 years, more baby boomers retire.

Only than 400,000 American retirees now live abroad, according to the Social Security Administration. The countries that they have chosen the most often are: Canada, Japan, Mexico, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Retirees most often cite the cost of living as the reason for the move elsewhere, said Olivia S. Mitchell, executive director of the Pension Research Council at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“I think a lot of people retire when they are in good health and they are interested in stretching their dollars and seeing the world,” Mitchell said.

McCowen rent in Ajijic, a community outside of Guadalajara, near Mexico’s Lake Chapala, is the half of what she was paying in Texas. And because the weather is moderate, utilities are cheap.

In some countries, Mitchell said, retirees also might find it cheaper to hire someone to do their laundry, cleaning, cooking and even long-term care than in the United States.

McCowen has a community of other American retirees in the area and has adapted.

But for others, there are obstacles to overcome to adapt to life in another country.

Viviana Rojas, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, says the biggest obstacle is not speaking the language or knowing the culture.

“Many of the people we interviewed said that they spoke Spanish, but actually she spoke very little Spanish,” said Rojas, who is writing a book about the retirees in Mexico. “They have not the capacity to speak enough Spanish to meet their basic needs, such as going to the doctor or to the store.”

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Access to health care can also be a challenge. While retirees can still receive Social Security benefits, Medicare is not available to those who live abroad, Mitchell said.

Joseph Roginski, 71, says that, while the cost of living is higher in Japan, access to health care is not. “Things are very expensive here. It is impossible to live off Social Security alone,” said Roginski, who was stationed in Japan in 1968. “But the health insurance is an important factor to stay here.”

The former military language and intelligence specialist, said he pays $350 every year a part of the japanese national health insurance. His policy covers 70 percent of its costs. The rest is covered by a secondary insurance program for retired military.

Japan experienced the greatest growth, of 42 percent, of the American pensioners than in any other country between 2010 and 2014, according to data from the Social Security Administration. The large AMERICAN military presence in the country may be a factor.

There are more than 50,000 AMERICAN military servicemen and -women stationed in Japan. The presence is so great, that in the island of Okinawa, the U.S. military occupies approximately 19 percent of the area, according to Ellis S. Krauss, emeritus professor of Japanese politics and policy at the University of California, San Diego.

Roginski, who volunteers for the Misawa Air Base Retiree Activities Office, said he helps more than 450 retirees and their families in the North of Japan with resources. He said that he would never go back to the United States.

“We have a strong sense of security here,” he said. “I leave my door unlocked, and no one will take anything. When I go to another country, I feel nervous, but when I come back I have the feeling that I’m home.”

Mexico has become home for retired firefighter, Williams, 72, and his wife, Donna, 68. The couple lives in the neighborhood of the same retirement community in Lake Chapala for 14 years.

“The climate and the medical facilities are very good,” Williams said.

Williams teaches painting to adults and children, and puts together a monthly magazine for the local American Legion. He is also a member of the Lake Chapala Society, where daily activities for the American pensioners.

It was providing the same services that attracted McCowen the region.

“Before I find out how many widowed and divorced women lived here,” she said. “There is comfort in the numbers.”

She says that she loves being in a vibrant community.

“I see older people running throughout the year. I see them everywhere, even in their wheelchairs. If they are in the US, they would probably be in a nursing home,” she said. “I don’t think I could go back.”

Editor’S NOTE – Maria Ines Zamudio is the study of the aging of the workforce, such problems as part of a 10-month fellowship at The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at NORC’s independent research and AP journalism. The community is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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