Grass Greener? Americans Look Abroad to Retire

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SAN CARLOS, Mexico -- The thought of retiring during this tough economy has many Americans worried whether they can make ends meet.

Consequently, more people are looking outside the United States to places like San Carlos, Mexico for a better cost of living.

The city sits on the coast of the Sea of Cortez, about five hours south of Tucson, Ariz. Although San Carlos is a pretty good drive south of the border, it's easy to forget it is Mexico. Most signs are in English and many residents here could be called "gringos."

Beyond Sun and Surf

San Carlos is one of many retirement communities springing up in Mexico. More than 6,000 Americans and Canadians have made the resort community their home - and it's not just because of the sun and sand.

Americans Bob and Becki Burr first came here 10 years ago on vacation.

"I was a little bit fearful at first because you don't just 'go' to Mexico," Becki told CBN News. "But when we got here we found we loved it. And after spending a couple of winters here we decided to move here full time."

"We truly love the ocean, the beauty of it," she added. "We love the mountains around us. But what really makes this special is the people here - the culture, not just the Mexicans but the Americans and Canadians that have come."

Economic Oasis?

In addition to the friendships and slower pace, the move made sense for economic reasons.

"I can't begin to tell you how much cheaper it is for us here over what it was in the States," Bob said. "You can have a much nicer home for much less money. When it comes to paying taxes on it - the taxes, by American standards - are nil."

Retirees have also made note of the city's quality medical care.

"We have very, very good doctors here - right here in San Carlos," Bob said. "If you saw it, you wouldn't have any qualms about going to the doctor or going to the hospital here."

"And likewise again, it's a whole lot cheaper to have your medical or your dental work done here than it is in the States," he added.

The current sluggish American economy and a lower cost of living elsewhere is more enticing than ever. According to some estimates, as many as 3 million Americans have moved abroad. That doesn't count those who are considering doing so.

One big draw is possible tax savings. Americans living overseas may qualify for a foreign earned income credit, which means up to $91,000 a year in earnings could be tax exempt, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Peace and Safety

Currently, the largest destination for Americans outside of the United States is Mexico. As many as 2 million now make their homes there. The Burrs say they feel safe despite the recent drug violence.

"I feel safer here than I did in Council Grove, Kansas - a town of 2,000 people," Bob said.

"All these drug wars you read about -- there's no doubt there's some killings at the border -- but every major city in the States has got killings," he added.

No Nanny State Here

There is one other thing Americans say they find when they move overseas - freedom.

"Nanny states coddling us every step of the way, government agencies taxing everything that moves - it's a breath of fresh air to get out from under all that," Bob said.

"It's easier to do things here, and you don't have all of the red tape to cut through to get something done," he explained.

In a recent ranking by the World Freedom Project, U.S. taxes and regulations dropped the United States to eighth among the freest countries in the world.

"There's a saying here: Some people call this paradise - the smart ones call it home," Bob said.

With the drug wars and the global recession still in the news every day, real estate in San Carlos is definitely a buyer's market.

But sellers are hoping that as more people get ready to retire, all it will take is a few intrepid investors to turn that around.

--Originally aired March 24, 2011. 

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Chuck Holton

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Chuck Holton has been producing high-octane features and news for CBN since 2003. He has freelance reported from nearly all of the world's hot spots, including Afghanistan, Burma, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.