Last year, our Expats In Mexico Survey 2019 key finding was the Baby Boomer move to Mexico. Nearly 30 percent of Boomers said retirement was their number one reason for heading south. Further, over 50 percent said they would retire within two years.
Now, a new book by Denver-based author Travis Luther confirms that Boomers are moving to Mexico and unearths the dynamics behind their decisions.
Luther, 42, has been an entrepreneur for most of his career and currently operates Law Father, a marketing company serving the legal industry, and Queen Anne Pillow. He became interested in Baby Boomers retiring in Mexico while studying for his master’s degree in Sociology at the University of Colorado, Denver.
“The Fun Side of the Wall” is his research-based look at why American Boomers are leaving the U.S. for Mexico and making new lives for themselves throughout the country.
“I wanted to know why anyone would want to leave the United States for another country,” Luther said, “and that became the subject of my graduate thesis at the University of Colorado, Denver in 2011. I continued exploring this phenomenon for the next decade and it eventually turned into my new book.”
Luther interviewed over 500 expat Baby Boomers from a variety of cities in Mexico to find out who they were and why they chose Mexico.
“I found, generally, that Boomers get interested in Mexico because they think they can save money by living there,” he said. “But when they get there, they fall in love with their local community and the Mexican people and culture, So, while the idea of retiring a bit early and saving some money attracts them, once they get to Mexico they find it’s the authentic community and authentic culture that keeps them there.”
Money, though, is indeed one of the motivational drivers behind the Boomer move to Mexico. Luther found that the financial crisis of 2008 depleted many Boomer 401Ks. Fewer than 60 percent have retirement accounts and the median balance of those that have accounts is just US$2,000. But, importantly, he also discovered that many of the Mexico-bound Boomers do not make the move because they have less money, but because they can retire earlier, live better and trade the grind of an extended career into a better lifestyle.
Luther said, based on his research, the profile of the typical Boomer expat in Mexico is a married person in their late fifties, highly educated, upper income, liberal leaning, Democratic voting Caucasian who values a slower pace of life, a little adventure and autonomy, while still being a part of a community they can count on and shows them respect. He said Boomers do not believe Americans respect older people, but found the exact reverse in the culture of Mexico.
“The big ‘aha’ moment in my research was when it became clear that Boomers aren’t looking for a less expensive place to live, but rather a better lifestyle,” he said. “The majority of Boomers are in fact upper income earners – 30 percent earn US$100,000 or more – and very well educated, with about 70 percent holding at least a four-year college degree or higher. The truth is they do worry about money, but they’re looking for a place to retire earlier and have a better retirement life.”
His research showed that some Boomers are semi-retired and working in Mexico, most working remotely thanks to Mexico’s generally solid communications infrastructure. But those who have completely retired were able to fulfill their dream five years earlier than those retiring in the U.S.
But the strongest appeal of all was the welcoming people and their culture.
“I think Boomers in Mexico are genuinely interested in participating in Mexico culture,” he said. “Almost everyone I spoke with at least attempted to speak Spanish with locals. Many had developed romantic relationships with Mexicans and some had even formed cross-cultural business partnerships. For highly educated people who crave intellectual stimulation, moving to Mexico creates an instant mental challenge.”
Very importantly, Luther found that almost every Boomer he interviewed agreed that if money was not an issue, they would still live in Mexico over the United States, primarily because they have found communities that share their values and respect them. It may have been financial considerations that led them south of the border, but it was the vibrant and welcoming communities that kept them from returning home.
“Expat retirees in Mexico are explorers looking for new challenges,” he said. “They wish to fill their days with what matters most to them as individuals and live in a place where they are recognized by their community as a person, not a marketing demographic or a source of revenue.”
Luther also examined how personal safety issues impacted retirement in Mexico.
“Most people I interviewed felt it was just as safe as the United State, if not better,” he said. “The number one consensus was they felt safe and protected from terrorism. In fact, over 90 percent said they felt safer from terrorism in Mexico than they did in the United States. They believed they were more likely to be in some kind of terrorist event in the U.S. than in Mexico.”
The most unexpected finding in his research was the rate of single women Baby Boomer retirees moving to Mexico on their own.
“It is double the amount of single men and is larger than married couples,” he said. “There is a real grit in these single women. They’re very adventurous. Some have left their husbands and just wanted a change in their lives and wanted to do something on their own.”
Another big ‘aha,’ Luther found, was that many Boomers in Mexico reported feeling disconnected from contemporary American culture. They had dissatisfaction with not feeling connected to a culture they helped build.
One of the more interesting findings shared by Luther was the lack of Boomer interest in other countries as places to retire.
“I think one of the key reasons why Mexico is so attractive to American Baby Boomers,” he said, “is its proximity to the U.S. It also was fairly easy to enroll in the national healthcare system and get a residency visa. Most did not consider other countries, but those who did looked at Costa Rica, Panama or Belize. The poor infrastructure and quality of living ruled out Belize for many and Costa Rica and Panama were farther away.”