Though many retirees dream of warm beaches in far-flung locales, the reality is often much colder.
It’s humble Canada that takes the No. 1 spot on the list of the foreign countries where the most retired workers are collecting Social Security checks. That’s followed by Japan, Mexico, Germany and the U.K., according to government data.
To be sure, this is far from a perfect estimate of how many people are retired abroad in each country: Some Americans may be retired abroad and not collecting Social Security; others may have their Social Security checks deposited in the U.S. but live abroad; others may live abroad just part time. By comparison, 43.7 million retired workers received Social Security benefits in the U.S. as of Dec. 2018.
Still, it’s interesting to note the trends here. Labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci, an expert in retirement security and a professor of economics at The New School for Social Research says that people often retire where they have family ties, so the dominance of Canada and Mexico, for example, on the list make sense, as many Americans have family in both countries. (It also helps that both countries are close by, which makes returning to the states easier.) Family ties may also help explain countries like Poland and Italy on the list, she adds.
“The numbers lean toward places where the U.S. has a strong military presence,” says Jennifer Stevens, executive editor at International Living, which helps explain why Japan and Germany are so high on the list.
Whatever the reasons, Ghilarducci notes that few Americans end up retiring abroad — government data shows a total of roughly 413,000 retired workers getting their Social Security benefits abroad out of the tens of millions who receive these benefits — likely for a few big reasons, including inertia, family ties in the U.S., and Medicare, she adds. Indeed, Medicare mostly only covers health services you get in the U.S.; move to another country and you’ll likely have to pay for health insurance there.
Still, many dream of retiring abroad. If you’re in that boat, there are a number of factors to consider, says Cynthia Staton, who with her husband Edd, runs a website that helps people retire abroad. (The couple are themselves retired in Ecuador.)
“While the desire for a lower cost of living is a top priority for many people considering retirement abroad, it is important to think about everything you desire in your new home abroad,” she says. Among the questions he suggests you ask yourself:
- What is your ideal weather?
- How close do you want to be to your family?
- What level of health care do you require?
- Do you want to live in a city, a town, or off the grid? In the mountains, at the beach, or by a lake?
- Conversely, what are your deal breakers? Do you need a specific medication? Are there mobility issues?
It’s also important to visit the place you want to move often, or even temporarily live there to test it out. “Don’t make the mistake of superficially choosing a place that reminds you of where you like to vacation. You go on vacation to get away from daily life, not for it to become your 24/7/365,” she concludes.
Here’s a more comprehensive list of countries where American retirees collect Social Security checks:
|Dominican Republic: 4,986|
|South Korea: 3,762|
|Costa Rica: 2,203|
|Chile and Easter Island: 1,839|
|Hong Kong: 1,829|
|New Zealand: 1,739|
|El Salvador: 1,658|
|Czech Republic: 955|
|Serbia and Montenegro: 934|
|Trinidad and Tobago: 925|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina: 339|
|SOURCES: Social Security Administration, Master Beneficiary Record, 100 percent data; and U.S. Postal Service geographic data.|