America's Emigrants: U.S. Retirement Migration to Mexico and Panama
This report investigates the demographic characteristics and experiences of American retirees abroad through a focused study of two countries—Mexico and Panama—that have exhibited dramatic growth in the population of United States-born seniors in recent years. Findings on the decision-making process of emigrant retirees, their integration experiences, and their impact on local communities are drawn from an analysis of 17 interviews and nine focus group discussions.
According to the report, the size of the U.S.-born senior population, which includes American emigrants aged 55 or older, grew substantially in both Mexico and Panama between 1990 and 2000, and continues to increase rapidly. Findings suggest that economic factors—such as the lower cost of living in the country of settlement and the high costs of health care in the United States—play a key role in retirees’ decision to move abroad. The report also finds that visa, tax, and property policies of destination countries influence where American seniors choose to retire. In both Mexico and Panama, the national government takes a proactive policy approach to encourage retirement migration.
The report’s analysis of census data indicates that American retirees bring a substantial amount of human and financial capital to their new communities. American retirees seem to create jobs and opportunities for natives. However, focus group findings also suggest that retiree flows significantly increase local real estate prices, which can push natives out of areas in which retirees settle. While many retirees take on volunteer or philanthropic roles in host communities, they frequently cite language as the primary barrier to integration. By and large, focus group respondents did not speak Spanish very well.