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International Retirement Migration
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Retirement, which marks the end of one’s working career, is an important phase in an individual’s life.

  • retiring abroad
  • international retirement migration
  • climate migration
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Update Time: 30 Nov 2021

1. Introduction

Retirement, which marks the end of one’s working career, is an important phase in an individual’s life. In the last few decades, more Americans have lived longer and healthier lives as a result of medical advances. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 National Population Projections, by 2035, there will be more people 65 years and older than people under the age of 18; roughly 1 in every 5 residents will be of retirement age [1]. Based on research conducted by the Pew Research Center, it is estimated that 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day for the next 20 years [2]. While more Americans are heading into retirement age, an emerging trend of retirees moving to lower-cost countries for a higher standard of living has been gaining increased media attention. Research has found that the Baby Boomer generation—individuals born between 1946 and 1964—are better educated and show more vitality and longevity than their predecessors [3]. They perceive retirement as a life phase giving them the opportunity to explore new ground, rather than as a period of rest and relaxation, as the previous generation viewed retirement [4]. According to ethnographic research among diverse retirees in North America and Europe, for decades Baby Boomers in North America and Europe have prized personal freedom and independence, and they are now carrying those values into retirement [5]. Some Baby Boomer retirees have chosen to retire abroad in response to insufficient retirement savings, a fear of rising medical costs, and a lack of faith in how adequately the government and state services would take care of them [5].

2. Factors Associated with Retiring Abroad

With the increase in longevity, global population aging has become one of the most critical demographic features in the 21st century. Aging successfully is associated with several aspects (e.g., social connections, physical health, cognitive capacity, etc.), but these aspects can often be stifled by financial constraints [6]. As a result, many retirees have chosen to retire abroad in response to inadequate retirement savings, rising medical costs and cost of living, social security uncertainty, and a shortage of skilled eldercare health workers [5][7][8]. Additionally, this cohort of generational retirees are distinguished from earlier generations by the relationship with technology (e.g., more adapt to new technology), education attainment (e.g., more educated), and attitude toward career and organizations (e.g., choose early retirement) [5][6][8][9]. That said, these retirees also have shown more vitality and longevity than their predecessors [4][10]. For decades, this generation have prized personal freedom and independence, and they have taken responsibility for their own wellbeing [5]. Unsurprisingly, as they have transitioned out of the labor force, they have carried those values into retirement [5]. Many of them have embraced the idea of successful aging and have carefully crafted where and how they planned to age [5][11]. With the invention and innovation of communication and transportation technologies, many individuals have already traveled abroad and even have had prior experiences living abroad. The Internet has made it easy to network with other expatriates who currently were living abroad, and to access mass media which promoted international living (e.g., International Living Magazine and website).
Marrow and von Koppenfels [12] discovered facilitators that aspire individuals to migrate; these factors include the motivation to minimize one’s personal financial risk, the degree of one’s political ideology and a sense of belonging to the U.S, the level of one’s cultural capital such as linguistic ability (ability to speak at least one foreign language), and whether a retiree had prior travel/tourism experience, social networks with prior migrants, and Internet access to websites which advertised retirement abroad. Using Pickering and colleagues’ [13] categorization scheme, the pull factors by which the positive aspects of a foreign country have attracted international migrants to move and retire there (Table 1 and Table 2).
Table 1. Migration flow and article topic.
Source Migration Flow Article Type Topic
From To
Rojas et al., 2014 U.S. Mexico Qualitative Interview 375 participants (51.8 % of the subjects were male and 48.2% were female), averaged age was 68.05 years
Schafran and Monkkonen, 2011 U.S. Mexico Theoretical Impact of IRM to the receiving countries
Toyota and Xiang, 2012 Japan Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia Theoretical Interview 50 participants in Chiang Mai (Thailand), Penang (Malaysia), Cebu (the Philippines) and Bali (Indonesia)
Vega, 2015 Latin American Retirees return to their birth countries from the U.S. Quantitative Quantitative method using a 1% sample of the Social Security Administration’s Master Beneficiary Record (MBR) and the Numerical Identification System database (NUMIDENT)
Wong, Musa, and Taha, 2017 European, American, Asian Malaysia Quantitative Survey 504 participants (quantitative method, 64.3% of them aged 60 years and above)
Table 2. Pull Factors.
Source Pull Factors Associated with International Migration
Economic Lower cost of living
Affordability of health care
Affordability of housing
Tax benefits
Cheaper labor (domestic helping staff: maid, gardener, etc.)
Investment opportunity (real estate, farming, retail business, etc.)
Destination Pleasant climate, beautiful natural and cultural environment
Urban amenities, such as advanced transportation infrastructures
Easy access to recreation facilities for leisure, such as museums and parks
Low crime rate
Informal or relaxed lifestyle
Same language spoken as the retired migrants’ country of origin
Proximity to the retired migrants’ children and grandchildren, in order to be closer to family who may have already moved abroad
People Well-established expatriate communities with like-minded retirees
Friendly local residents
Greater supply of skilled long-term care workers (e.g., Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines)
Movement Easy travel within the region (e.g., within EU countries, or between U.S. and Mexico)
Easy accessibility to friends and families in their country of origin, due to increased global mobility in the transportation sector
Simple-to-obtain visa and residency status

3. Retirees’ Experiences with Retiring Abroad

The common factors that have influenced individuals’ decisions to retire abroad included the opportunity to enjoy a warm, pleasant climate which permitted outdoor activities, to explore the cultural and natural attractions which the country offered, and to take advantage of the relatively inexpensive cost of living. These factors have often been associated with improved health, a slower pace of life, and an active social involvement [5][14][15][16]. Many of the international retired migrants became landowners or business owners (e.g., restaurant, tourism, retirement home, etc.) and participated in the community by volunteering in local charities, teaching English, or holding positions of responsibility in community groups and activities [5][7][14][17][18][19][20]. However, there have been several obstacles and disadvantages that retired migrants experienced after settling in new home countries. The language barrier has been the greatest difficulty for retirees who are unable to communicate using the local language in new home countries [17][21][22]. The ability to speak the local language is essential to communicate an individual’s basic needs and desires. When migrants are unable to speak the local language in host countries, the language barrier limits migrants’ abilities to interact with locals in any meaningful way, and therefore negatively affects social and cultural adaptation and integration in host countries [15][19]. Furthermore, the language barrier impeded migrants’ access to healthcare and services, which can result in retiree’s decision to repatriate to their country of origin to receive medical care [21][22]. Additionally, cultural differences between the retired migrants and caregivers from a host country were also viewed as challenging in determining how care needs were assessed and how medical conditions were diagnosed as well as how the subsequent decision-making and treatment approach were made and delivered [7]. Finally, dissatisfaction, loneliness, and frustration often emerged as acculturative stress that negatively affected the retirees’ quality of life when the retired migrants were unable to adjust themselves to host countries’ culture or were disappointed that host countries did not uphold expectations. There were many push factors for unfavorable or detrimental features of the foreign destination that compelled the international retired migrants to leave (Table 3).
Table 3. Push Factors.
Source Push Factors Associated with International Migration
Socio/Cultural Adjustment Inability to adapt to the different culture and inability to integrate into the local community
Different cultural expectations, and differences in understanding and mentality in care practice
Lack of social support
Host country was not what the retiree had expected it to be.
Financial Factors Global economic downturn, unavailable retirement benefits
Healthcare Benefit Medicare and SSI coverage
Political Risk Unexpected or uncertain political changes, such as Brexit
Healthcare Approaches Differences in medical systems and healthcare services between retiree’s country of origin and the host country. For example, the medical systems and healthcare services in Malaysia differ from those in Japan.

4. Effects of International Retirement Migration

Population aging has generated significant challenges in today’s societies. Many individuals in high-income countries on fixed incomes with inadequate retirement savings have sought an alternative retirement life in low-income countries, wherein more of a middle-class lifestyle can be afforded and achieved. The considerable differentials in cost of living and wages between the sending and receiving countries have been the most essential contextual factors that have propelled retirees’ transnational mobility and the development of the transnational retirement industry [7][8]. Transnational retirement has become desirable to many retirees in low-income countries because of the existence of global imbalances in wealth and privilege between the developing countries and the developed countries [8][23][24][25].
Had there been no wealth differentials, transnational retirement industry may not exist at all. This type of movement not only affects the person migrating, but the host country as well. The extensive and most direct impact of IRM on the receiving countries has likely been the economic capital which the retired migrants have brought with them as they have bought or rented homes, provided employment for local workers, consumed goods and services, and attracted greater investments to the areas in which the retirees have resided [19][24][26]. The significant amount of revenue generated, particularly for some poorer areas, has likely had significant effects on receiving countries. For example, according to the Philippines Retirement Authorities’ estimation, the cross-border retirement industry yielded revenue of USD 2.4 billion in 2011 and was expected to increase yearly [8]. The influx of retired retirees has likely generated much needed jobs and promoted economic growth in the receiving countries; however, the drawbacks or negative effects on the receiving population would be rising real estate values and rental prices [24][25]. The inequality of spending power and wealth between the retired migrants and the locals resulted in some of the locals have been at risk of being displaced by higher prices [19][24][25][26]. Furthermore, the booming real estate business and land markets catered to the needs of the retired migrants have caused concern about ruining cultural authenticity of receiving countries, not to mention the demographic (e.g., the demographic trend would be toward an aging population), social-cultural (e.g., social-cultural integration of retired migrants and the local residents’ adaptation to this emerging trend of human mobility) and environmental implications (e.g., environmental damages and increased pollution) resulting from the trend of IRM [19][24][25][27]. Alternatively, IRM effects on sending countries, as more individuals have moved across national boundaries and have retired abroad, may have generated savings in the sending countries’ old-age support programs and had other consequential effects (Table 4) [28].
Table 4. Impact of International Retirement Migration on the Receiving Countries.
Economic Even though the migrants helped job creation and promoted economic growth in the receiving countries, the rising real estate prices due to the influx of migrants may have placed some locals at risk of being displaced due to lack of affordability.
Social Migrants’ purchasing power gave them the opportunities to be landowners, business owners, or employers. The locals became the employees of the migrants. Therefore, social classes were created, based on social and economic status, which widened the inequality between the migrants and the locals.
Spatial Migrants resided in gated communities or apartment condos while many locals who were employed by the migrants resided in the impoverished area, which was segregated from where the migrants resided.
Legal The receiving countries facilitated visas application, provided tax advantages, and relaxed rules for owning land and establishing business for the migrants, while the locals may not have had the same tax advantages as the migrants; therefore, the locals may have been put at a disadvantage in business competition.
Environmental Environmental degradation caused by the new real estate development resulted in pollution, especially near the coastal area.
Cultural Migration ruined the authenticity of the destination locations, including some UNESCO World Heritage sites.


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View Times: 42
Revisions: 2 times (View History)
Update Time: 30 Nov 2021
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    Zolnikov, T. International Retirement Migration. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 04 July 2022).
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