U.S. retirees find home in coastal Mexico
Jamie Reynolds, a 63-year-old retiree who lives in the El Pescador area, watched the sun set. Reynolds, like four out of five of the retiree-study respondents, owns his home in Mexico.
First of five studies reveals price and proximity to U.S. are big draws
By SANDRA DIBBLE
MARCH 15, 201012:04 AM
Reynolds said that he feels safe in Mexico, and that he could not afford to live like he does if he were in the United States. —
Favorite activity: strolls on the beach. Biggest gripe: litter. Primary reasons for retiring in Mexico: the lower cost of living and proximity to the United States.
A newly released study on U.S. retirement trends in Mexico’s coastal communities takes an updated snapshot of Rosarito Beach, Rocky Point, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and other areas where many Americans go to retire. The study’s authors say their survey marks an important first step in meeting the needs of a group that is likely to grow in size as U.S. baby boomers reach retirement age.
“We felt it was important to understand the dynamics of what is going on,” said Richard Kiy, president and CEO of the International Community Foundation, which conducted the 88-question survey. While research has been done in San Miguel Allende and Ajijic, both well-established expatriate communities in central Mexico, coastal communities “are some of the areas that have been least studied among U.S. retirees,” Kiy said.
The International Community Foundation, based in National City, supports nonprofits and projects in Baja California and other parts of Mexico. Close to half of its donors live in Mexico full time or part time, and that was the initial impetus for conducting the study, Kiy said.
The 17-page report, released last week, is the first in a series of five by the foundation focusing on issues that affect U.S retirees in Mexico. Upcoming reports will discuss health care, real estate, the environment and community involvement. The studies are based on responses from 842 U.S. participants and from focus groups in individual communities.
The survey showed that many retirees are relatively young, with more than half under 65. They are somewhat more likely to be divorced than their contemporaries living in the United States, and about 30 percent are single — widowed, divorced or never married. Almost 70 percent have an annual income higher than $25,000 a year. Of those surveyed, more than four out of five are homeowners, and most paid cash for their homes.
The survey was conducted in five areas where Americans typically retire, including the coastal corridor between Playas de Tijuana and Punta Banda, south of Ensenada. On Thursday night, a group of U.S. retirees gathered south of downtown Rosarito Beach for a ladies’ night happy hour at Ruben’s Palm Grill in Cantamar echoed many of the survey’s findings.
“I think for all of us, the money is a factor,” said Karen Kenrick, 59, who has been living in Mexico for a decade with her husband, Allen, 62, a retired U.S. Border Patrol officer. Kenrick, who grew up in Imperial Beach and crossed frequently to Mexico, feels comfortable: “For us, this is home.”
As the band played a popular Brazilian samba, the Kenricks joined about two dozen American retirees who see each other regularly. Nursing a margarita was Pat Winters, 67, who moved from Oregon to La Mision six years ago with her husband, Al, a retired engineer. Like most in the survey, they bought before the region’s 2005-2006 building boom and subsequent bust, and they paid cash for their home. Pat Winters grew animated as she spoke of her favorite activity — an art class — and described her participation in a scholarship fund to pay the education costs of local students.
The survey reports that more than half of respondents said litter was the most “unattractive part of their coastal lifestyle” and listed walking the beach as their favorite activity; only 14 percent play golf. Most live in one or two-story homes, and most agree that building up the coastline with high-rises “restricts view corridors,” the report said.
Close to half — 46 percent — of the survey’s respondents said safety issues were a concern when they decided to retire to Mexico. Sixty-six percent said drug violence was “an important public policy issue to retirees in Mexico.”
Yet only 7 percent of the respondents “reported that narco-violence and security concerns have reduced the frequency or duration of their trips to Mexico.”
“Furthermore, 60 percent have not changed their attitude in any way about their personal safety since they have been living in Mexico,” the report said.
North of Cantamar, in the community of El Pescador, Jamie Reynolds, 63, is an avid surfer who moved from San Diego six years ago after retiring as an information technology specialist at Scripps Health in La Jolla. Reynolds’ brick house on a cobblestone street includes two casitas that Reynolds has been struggling to rent out, as many tourists have been scared away by reports of violence in Mexico in the U.S. media.
Reynolds said he feels safe in Mexico, enjoys the area’s slower pace and “Mexican people are so kind.” The setting reminds him of the Southern California of his boyhood.
“I couldn’t buy a house like this in San Diego or anywhere else,” said Reynolds, taking in a majestic ocean view from his outdoor terrace. He could have retired in the United States, “but it would have been a little tighter,” he said.