Recent Developments in Retirement Migration

The percentage of United States retirees who migrate abroad is very small, but given the very large population and the recent surge of international travel and communications, the absolute number is growing. The phenomenon has recently attracted a major study by the Migration Policy Institute in 2006 in Washington DC. This found that ''the US born senior population (aged 55 or more years) grew substantially in both Mexico and Panama between 1990 and 2000, and continues to increase rapidly. Mexico saw the number of US born senior residents increase by 17 per cent during the 1990s, while the number in Panama increased by 136 per cent. Some municipalities in Mexico have seen much faster growth, such as Chapala (581%) and Los Cabos (308%). The number of US citizens obtaining pensioner visas in Panama more than tripled between 2003 and 2005.'' (Migration Policy Institute 2006: 2–3)

A recent survey of US retirees in the Lake Chapala region of central Mexico found, ''important differences between the European and north American cases: in the former, the retirees move from a developed nation to another developed nation, which reduces the cost ofliving or financial advantage, and raises the relative importance of the environmental attractions. By comparison, the US retirees with their fixed incomes are mainly looking for affordable retirement locations. The sense of community and friendship at the retirement destination was also found to be a strong attraction. Many of the respondents had visited several possible retirement locations, primarily as tourists, but it was the areas at which they had developed social networks that became the most likely places for retirement. The local expatriate associations organize social and cultural activities and help the retirees, particularly the newcomers, during their transition to the new community. These new social networks give the migrants a sense of community and for many become more active components of their social life than kinship ties and relationships in the United States.'' (Sunil, Rojas, and Bradley 2007: 505)

In 2006, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office commissioned a wide ranging study of the circumstances of 'Britons Abroad' (Institute for Public Policy Research 2006). This was partly stimulated by the increasing load on consular staff as more and more nationals traveled and resided in foreign countries, and partly by moves in Brussels to increase the portability of healthcare entitlements among the member states of the European Union. From the inception of the EU, among its key principles have been a 'common market' and the 'free movement of labor'. The result has been millions of cross border moves, which at first were conceived as temporary labor placements but of course have led to cross national marriages and permanent settlement. Soon large numbers of workers and their families had complex multinational biographies and histories of payments to more than one country's social security system. This in turn has required binational policy assessments of the respective responsi bilities of the social security administrations in the two countries for paying unemployment, sickness, and retirement benefits in individual cases, and bilateral policy agreements about how these estimates are made. These arrangements have raised the 'social protection' of millions of workers, but inevitably some complex biographies, many involving the breakup of the migrant family through estrangement or bereavement, mean that some individuals fall through the welfare 'safety net'.

There have also been studies of the migration of Western country retired men to Thailand. The major reported motives were low living costs, a warm climate, to escape a disliked home nation, like of the Thai lifestyle and culture, and the availability of attractive sexual partners. Most retirees took a Thai spouse or live in partner. The move apparently works out well for most, at least initially. They report positive wellbeing and feel assimilated, but most live with visa insecurity and socialize mainly with other foreigners. The major longterm concerns of Western retired men in Thailand are their healthcare and welfare needs, income problems, the rise of negative local reactions to the influx of Westerners, and the possibility of visa cancellation that would enforce a move elsewhere.