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Retiring is good as a foreign concept

Marketplace Staff Aug 17, 2007

Retiring is good as a foreign concept

Marketplace Staff Aug 17, 2007

TESS VIGELAND: To illustrate this next story, we thought we’d lighten up a little with some help from Seinfeld. The one where George’s folks want to move to Florida, to the same complex where Jerry’s folks live — ’cause they know the Seinfelds don’t want ’em there.


FRANK COSTANZA: This is Frank Costanza.

SEINFELD: What do you want?

COSTANZA: You think you can keep us out of Florida? We’re moving in lock, stock and barrel. We’re gonna be in the pool. We’re gonna be in the clubhouse. We’re gonna be all over that shuffleboard court. And I dare you to keep me out!

In the end, of course, the Costanzas change their minds. But with all those baby boomers about to retire, we could be seeing more situations like that one. I mean, they can’t all go to Florida.

So here’s an option: Retire in another country. Sounds divine, but Jeremy Hobson tells us it brings up all kinds of other Seinfeldian buffer-zone issues.

JEREMY HOBSON: Rosanne Knorr has written a book called “The Grown-ups Guide to Retiring Abroad.” It lays out the ups and downs of countries around the world.

But wherever you go, she says, simplify your finances.

ROSANNE KNORR: You don’t want to be enjoying yourself on a sunny day in a cafe and suddenly worried that your stocks are going to tank and you have to reach your broker.

So you don’t want several bank accounts to check, or a complicated stock portfolio. Just streamline. And to save money, be prepared to live like a local — not like a tourist.

KNORR: Go native. ‘Cause that’s the way to meet the people. So the less money you have, the more fun you can have.

Knorr says you’ve also got to weigh the quality and cost of health care, transportation back home, and of course, the exchange rate.

Now, there are no reliable numbers on how many Americans are retiring abroad.
But it’s clear many are going to Mexico, which ranked number one on International Living magazine’s list of the best places to retire.

Here’s the magazine’s editor, Kathleen Petticord:

KATHLEEN PETTICORD: Very affordable cost of living, it’s very accessible for an American, you can drive there. Great weather, it’s a very big diverse country. It’s beautiful.

Some go farther. In the southern hemisphere, New Zealand is king. And in mainland Europe, it’s France.

TRAIN ANNOUNCEMENT: Madames et Monsieurs, bienvenue . . . Paris Gare du Nord.

So I went in search of an American retiree living in Paris. And in no time, I wound up at the apartment door of 76-year-old Peter Haidu.


HOBSON: Hello!

HAIDU: Come on in.

It’s a fourth-floor walk-up, which he, apparently, is used to by now. He’s been living here since 2003. Haidu spent much of his career as a professor of Medieval French Literature at UCLA. Hundreds of books line a living room with high ceilings and big windows.

HAIDU: I feel a little bit guilty because I have this magnificent amount of light, northern exposure, the space, and I’m not an artist. What do you want? I’ll feel guilty.

Well as everyone knows, the best way to deal with guilt is to eat, so we head out for lunch.

The restaurant is a boisterous brasserie near the Place de la Bastille. The entrees are between 20 and 30 euros. So it’s not an everyday thing for Peter Haidu. Most of the time, he goes to the local markets and cooks at home.

The weakening of the dollar has been felt, he says. The value in Euros of his $6,000 monthly retirement salary has dropped by about 10 percent since he arrived in Paris.

HAIDU: It makes a dent, no question about it. But it’s a dent, and I can drive a car with a dent in it.

HOBSON: What does that mean, cheaper cheese? Not as good wine sometimes?

HAIDU: When I buy cheese, I never think of the price.

There are hiccups, as he puts it, in dealing with living abroad. That free French health system doesn’t apply to him, and he’s had trouble getting reimbursed by his American health insurance companies. But on the whole, Peter Haidu says, it’s worth it.

HAIDU: I could live in a much larger space. But it’s important to me to be in Paris. It’s important to me to have available to me the culture of Paris. And I wouldn’t get all that in the countryside. I wouldn’t get all that in Florida, either.

Now, if you’re still thinking this may be out of your league, consider this.
Many people don’t retire abroad for the rest of their lives. It can be more of a multi-year sabbatical.

In fact, even Peter Haidu plans to return to the U.S. He says he’ll move to New York in two years when his French lease runs out to be closer to his kids. In Paris, I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace Money.

TESS VIGELAND: And this is Marketplace Money from American Public Media.

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