Retirement Overseas: Are We All Just Waiting for the Grim Reaper?

A few weeks ago, we spent some time with some good friends of ours, Warren and Tuli Hardy, who live in San Miguel de Allende.

San Miguel is one of the most colorful, beautiful and vibrant communities in Mexico, recently ranked by none other than Conde Nast as the "world's best city" in its Reader's Choice Awards. That's no small feat when you consider that other cities on the list include places like Rome, Paris, Venice, and Vancouver.

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Still, it's remarkable that the top 10 are cities like San Miguel that are mostly smaller and less known than the Romes and Parises of the world. Think Budapest, Salzburg, and San Sebastián, Spain. (Charleston, South Carolina ranks #5 and the only other U.S. city to rank in the top 25 is Santa Fe, New Mexico, coming in at #17. Quebec City makes a good show at #10.)

When it comes to "best," people seem to have a thing for manageable cities with cultural and historic flair. And that, of course, describes San Miguel perfectly. As Conde Nast writes, "The lack of street lights and billboards makes the region romantically and historically beautiful, and the city itself offers a traditional feeling of a small town in the heart of Mexico."

And we don't care what media-inspired preconceptions you may have of Mexico, San Miguel feels a blessed world away from border issues and drug violence.

In some ways, San Miguel de Allende is comparable to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Both are located in high-elevation, high-desert types of terrain. And both were settled by Spanish colonialists, lending a magical look in terms of architecture and infrastructure. And both cities attract their share of artistic types and Baby Boomer retirees. Sometimes these groups are one and the same.

But San Miguel is a more affordable place to live than is Santa Fe. And for many years now, San Miguel has been one of the top destinations on the "retire overseas circuit." We lived there ourselves for a few years and we'd happily return to this enchanted place where life is slow and easy, and filled with art, music, literature, and like-minded company.

So it's also no wonder that San Miguel is also attracting younger people... those in their 30s and 40s who also want to wrap themselves in the alluring arms of San Miguel and all it offers.

As our friend Warren Hardy tells us, he had a conversation recently with one of these younger newcomers to San Miguel who said this:

"You boomers are coming here to die. We're coming here to live."

To which Warren responded, "No, you're coming here to work. We're coming here to play."

But here's the thing: Warren and Tuli moved to San Miguel in 1990, when they were young romantics themselves, looking for a way to make a living... yes, to "live" in paradise. And live they have. (They're still romantics, and although 24 years older, they are definitely young at heart.)

They have a beautiful home with a breathtaking view of the village where they entertain often. They travel frequently in Mexico and elsewhere. And they founded the Warren Hardy Spanish School in San Miguel--one of the best language schools on the planet and offering, for our money, one of the best and easiest systems for learning Spanish.

So the idea that Warren and Tuli moved to Mexico to await the grim reaper is, frankly, laughable. But what about the rest of us baby boomers? Those who are moving now to expat retirement communities in far-flung corners of the world? Are we doing this to prepare for our departure from said world? We think not.

This is something we know a little bit about. We've talked face to face with hundreds, if not thousands, of people facing retirement. And some who have been retired for decades. You'd be surprised, in fact, by the number of 80-year-olds we've met... older than our own parents... who are eagerly on the trail of new adventures and experiences.

They're all exploring the endless opportunities ahead of them and deciding what to do with themselves in this glorious "final chapter." But not a single one of them is ready to close the book on living.

They're certainly not off to places like Thailand, France or Panama in search of a place to die. If that's what they wanted, it would be far easier and more comfortable to just stay at home in the easy chair, remote control in hand and a pot pie in the oven.

Instead, the adventuresome boomers we know are teaching English in Nicaragua or growing organic vegetables in Ecuador. They're going fishing in Costa Rica or mushroom hunting (yes, that kind) in Mexico or on spiritual quests in Peru. They're piloting small barges through the waterways of Europe or living in small riverside villages in Cambodia. This is the new normal. Even if all we do on an afternoon is snuggle in a hammock or sip an espresso at a sidewalk café with a neighbor, it's routine daily life for those of us who live overseas.

And it has nothing at all to do with waiting for the Grim Reaper. If he wants us, he'll have to find us first, and we're at least one step ahead.

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