Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cash-Strapped Seniors Turn To Assisted Living Centers In Mexico


People are living longer, which means they need their retirement savings to stretch further than before. Some retirees are choosing an unusual option to make their money last longer. They are moving to assisted living centers in Mexico. From member station KPBS in San Diego, reporter Claire Trageser here has the story.

CLAIRE TRAGESER, BYLINE: A visit to Serena Senior Care isn't your typical over the river and through the woods.


TRAGESER: To get there, you have to cross the U.S.-Mexico border and wind your way through Tijuana traffic. Eventually, you'll find a long dirt road in the small beach town of Rosarito. When you arrive, you'll find a typical senior assisted living residence - private rooms, a small gym and a garden.

PETER FOWLER: That's sugarcane or pineapple.

TRAGESER: Peter Fowler, a 93-year-old World War II veteran is strolling among the plants.

FOWLER: I'm very lucky 'cause they - not only in one piece, but I think my marbles are all OK.

TRAGESER: He's from the U.S. but has been at Serena since it opened 10 years ago. He says the decision came down to lower costs.

FOWLER: I was running out of money before I ran out of month.

TRAGESER: That was before Fowler moved to Mexico.

FOWLER: Here, the cost of living is so good, I now run out of month before I run out of money.

TRAGESER: This retirement center caters to Americans looking for cheaper options. About half of its residents are from the U.S. It costs about $1,500 a month for full-time care. In California, the average cost is $5,000 a month.

SUSAN CUZIC: I started looking around, and the price was undoable.

TRAGESER: Susan Cuzic decided to move her mother, who has Alzheimer's, here two years ago. It was a difficult decision because visiting from San Diego now takes more effort.

CUZIC: It is a bit, you know, more to drive. And this isn't going to be an option for people living in like the New York or Wisconsin or something like that.

TRAGESER: But Cuzic says the care her mother receives south of the border is excellent.

CUZIC: The Mexican culture really reveres older people. They are treated with a lot of respect.

BRENDA SHORKEND: I've heard of people who've been very, very satisfied with the care there, and they think it's possibly better than in some places in the States. And I've heard of people where it's been a disaster.

TRAGESER: Brenda Shorkend is an elder care consultant outside Los Angeles. She cautions assisted living centers are regulated differently in Mexico, and the transition to another country can be a huge challenge.

SHORKEND: The language is different. The food is different. It's hard enough moving from home to an assisted living. So to do that to another country, it can be very, very confusing for people.

TRAGESER: Shorkend says the biggest hurdle is that most U.S. seniors have Medicare and that doesn't pay healthcare providers in Mexico. That turned out to be a problem for Peter Fowler, the World War II veteran.

FOWLER: Because I had a burst appendix.

TRAGESER: When that happened, he had to cross the border in a special lane for medical emergencies. He also travels an hour each way every month to pick up his prescriptions, but Fowler says he enjoys those outings.

FOWLER: And on the way, I stop off at a place called El Yogurt Place in Tijuana. Beautiful eggs benedict, oh, my goodness. I look forward to that every month.

TRAGESER: For Fowler, a longer life doesn't mean an independent life, but living in Mexico means he can afford to spend the rest of his days in comfort and dignity. For NPR News, I'm Claire Trageser in Rosarito, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELLIOTT BROOD'S "VALLEY TOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claire Trageser