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How to Make Sure Your Retirement Location Is Right for You

Don’t make the mistake of choosing a disappointing ‘paradise’

By Debbie Reslock

You thought you found the perfect place to move after retirement. The weather seemed ideal and right out your front door would be the ocean, a hiking trail or a quiet space to relax and read a book.

So what went wrong?

After a few months, maybe you found out that the beach was where the bugs lived. Or that the off-season meant rain every day. And all that quiet time? It just made you miss your grandkids more.

No one told you the dream could become a nightmare. But if you had another chance, what would you do differently? Consider these tips on finding the ideal retirement location:

1. Understand the life you’re leaving behind.

Sometimes we’re not clear on what we really want. Roger Whitney, a Certified Financial Planner in Fort Worth, Texas, related a story about two retirees who left their beloved ranch for a golf course community in a Dallas suburb. But golf didn’t compare to their old life so they ended up moving back and buying another ranch.

Another couple Whitney worked with saw their retirement dream come true when they moved to Hawaii from a town in west Texas. But in a couple of years, they moved back to that same west Texas town. Why? Because being so far away from family made them feel like they were trapped in paradise, Whitney says.

2. Know there will be interruptions to the best-laid plans.

No matter how perfect the new location may be, when health issues arise, intentions can quickly change.

Scenic Victoria, British Columbia, was where the parents of caregiving author Rick Lauber chose for their ideal retirement. But when his mother was diagnosed with leukemia, they returned home to Edmonton for a second opinion. Lauber says he and his sisters were somewhat surprised but relieved when their parents agreed to move back so they could support them through this health crisis.

“Sometimes we just don’t get it right the first time,” International Living magazine’s senior editor Dan Prescher says. One couple he knew moved to Ecuador and loved it. But the husband had a heart problem and they discovered that moving to Mexico allowed them a similar lifestyle that was only 90 minutes away from available VA medical care in Florida.

3. Plan for all the stages of aging.

Don’t base your relocating decision only on the short term. Remember, the level of independence you maintain in your 60s and 70s may not be there in your 80s or 90s. Find out now if there are at-home care agencies or good medical centers nearby. And if mobility becomes a problem down the road, are there transportation options available besides driving?

But we also need to remind ourselves that we can’t predict the future, and Prescher says that’s OK. In fact, he says moving only once after retirement doesn’t always hold true anymore.

“You can retire and still have two or three more life phases that will affect where you want to live,” he says. “At 65, you may move abroad but if things change, in five years you might want to move again.” Prescher, who has lived in Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Ecuador, recommends staying light on your feet.

4. Do more than look before you leap.

What can we do to increase the odds that we’re making the right move to start with? “First, we need to understand why we move, before we start packing the boxes,” Prescher says.

“People need to think through what they really want. And if you’re considering an international move, remember that all countries are different, including their cultures and economies.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking it will be just like home, except cheaper, so they just pick a country and move,” says Prescher.

And don’t overlook all the possible consequences of a new life.

Choosing a location near children and grandchildren is a common reason for relocating, says Annette Fuller, editor at Where to Retire magazine. “But it’s important that the move is right for you regardless of your family, because sometimes careers require adult children to move again.”


Fuller also recommends deciding on the type of housing you want, not just where. Do you want to live in a more traditional neighborhood or a master planned community? Along with all of the amenities, these communities can be like an instant support system, she adds.

“It’s hard to leave everything behind when you’re picking up roots to move,” says Fuller. “So it’s nice to know you’ll be able to make new friends when you land.”

5. See your new life through a realistic lens.

Finding the life you imagined after retirement requires an honest look, getting past the fairy tale part, Whitney suggests.

“We get images of where we’ll move and it’s an emotional picture but often it isn’t one of what it will be like in normal life,” he says.

Spend as much time as you can in the new place. “It’s important not to be a visitor but see yourself as someone who actually lives there,” Fuller says.

“Profile yourself ruthlessly,” Prescher advises, “and ask yourself what you really want. Vacationing at the beach and living there aren’t the same thing.”

And for international relocations, Prescher warns not to underfund the move. Although you can often cut your expenses, you still need money when starting out.

Also, you have to love the culture and have a taste for adventure. “If the only reason you move is because you can’t afford to retire at home, you’re going to be disappointed. Move for your heart — not your pocketbook,” says Prescher.

6. Take your time.

The reasons people choose to relocate in retirement can range from wanting a milder climate to looking for lower taxes. But maybe the best advice when considering a move is to take it slow. Whitney reminds us that when we retire, we’re going through many changes, maybe even more than we realize.

“You need to understand that there’s a lot in flux at this time in your life, so don’t rush into the big decisions,” he says.

“Life doesn’t come with an on-off switch. You need to appreciate all that happens when you end a career, including leaving work and friends behind, but also the changes in the pace of your own life,” says Whitney.



Debbie Reslock
Debbie Reslock is a freelance writer who specializes in aging issues and the 55+ market. She is also the author of The Third Act blog - A Guide to Aging Well. As a former caregiver, she's an advocate for aging-in-place whenever possible and person-directed care when it isn't. She lives in Evergreen, Colo. Read More
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