Though the phenomenon of Americans retiring in Latin America began 25 years ago, it has accelerated in the past five to 10 years. Call the region America's new "Sun Belt."
"Thirty five years ago, this idea was truly on the far fringe – that if you thought about retiring out of the US, you were labeled 'renegade' or 'strange' or 'weird,' or 'over-adventurous,' " says Jennifer Stevens, editor of International Living magazine. "Now it is much more acceptable, desirable, and even normal to do this. It's a huge trend."
The exodus south is being driven by a confluence of factors. The baby boom generation – the largest in history – is reaching retirement age, and millions are looking for places to spend the next phase of their lives. As the most educated, well-traveled, and adventurous generation in history, many of these boomers are deciding to retire outside the country – including in Latin America.
They're also looking for places that will allow them to stretch their 401(k)s after they lost a lot of money in the last stock market collapse. With the US economy remaining so tentative, and health-care costs so aggressive, retirees want to live where they can afford greens fees and where a trip to the emergency room won't bankrupt them.
"A lot of people are saying, 'I'm tired of worrying about my retirement years,' so they are beginning to ask questions and go in search of great deals ... and they are finding them," says Kathleen Peddicord, founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group and author of "How To Retire Overseas: Everything You Need to Know to Live Well (for Less) Abroad."
She says that many are taking advantage of what she calls the "perception gap" – the idea that countries such as Colombia and Nicaragua are still thought of as countries with huge problems of drug violence even though the violence has largely been erased.
One other factor: In the age of Skype and FaceTime, meaningful contact with children and friends, no matter where one retires, is now only a finger tap away.
While living in Latin America isn't for everyone – crime, cultural differences, and even phone connections can be problematic – is it any wonder that Naples, Fla., and Flagstaff, Ariz., are no longer America's only leisure-years Shangri-Las?
What makes Guatemala attractive to retirees, for instance, is not only its enviable views but its cheap costs, even relative to other Central American countries.
A house that would go for half a million dollars in Costa Rica or Panama can be found or built in Guatemala for $250,000, according to Armand Boissy, a real estate agent and developer who has lived in the Lake Atitlán area for the past 25 years.