At 76, Margie Hill and her husband, Homer, weren't quite ready for a nursing home. But they needed help around the house. So, three months ago, they moved from their home in Albuquerque, N.M., to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to be near their daughter.
What they quickly discovered is that Mexico affords them the kind of retirement that would have been beyond their means in the United States.
"Never, ever in my life did I ever think that I would retire in Mexico," Homer Hill said. "One of the factors we liked, too, is having the assistance you need at a price we could afford."
When Hill retired, he never imagined he'd be able to afford a housekeeper who cooks and cleans, six days a week. The Hills' full-time retirement help costs less than a $100 a week.
"In Albuquerque, we could not afford that permanently like we do here," Hill said.
The Hills have a better lifestyle in Mexico than they'd have anywhere in the United States. Less expense for everything from groceries to labor has allowed the Hills to hire their housekeeper, Gaby, full-time and someone to do heavy-lifting and tend to the yard.
With millions of baby boomers facing retirement just as their funds are getting hammered by the economic turmoil, many are facing the prospect of not being able to retire in the manner they had hoped, especially if they need assistance in their later years. Mexico believes it has a solution.
"We know that there's a big group of baby boomers who need to be someplace, and because we know we can offer much better prices, and very good service, we're trying to do this business," said Sergio Chazaro, a developer preparing to open one of Mexico's first assisted-living communities.
Chazaro is part of this emerging industry in Mexico, designed to cater specifically to aging U.S. retirees. In a few weeks, he will welcome his first patient at Cielito Lindo, an assisted-living facility in San Miguel de Allende that offers accommodations, food and nursing care for about $1,400 a month. That level of service would cost $6,000 a month or more in the United States.
Assisted-Living Facilities Break Ground in Mexico
"We have thought that being so close to the United States, it can be a very interesting thing to happen, that many of them would move here for a better price, a better climate and marvelous attention," Chazaro said.
On top of low prices, retirees get a stunning location in the mountains a half-hour outside the picturesque colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, a popular retirement spot for Americans, where music festivals, cinema and cultural events are a big part of the attraction for the 8,000 Americans and Canadians who call San Miguel home.
Chazaro has built the development to cater to retirees like the Hills, who plan on transitioning from retirement to assisted living in the coming years. When it opens in the spring, Cielito Lindo will provide the option of partial-assisted living with meals or full-assisted living with private nursing care. Retired residents also have access to the facility's doctor, who will make house calls.
"If there's anything that we don't have out here and we want it, all you have to do is call the office up here and ... they're going to get you what you need," said Margie Hill, who lives in a private home next door to the Cielito development where she and her husband are prepared to move if need be.
Nadine Ruskin, an 83-year-old Alzheimer's patient, lives in San Miguel with her daughter. She doesn't have to go to a facility because she receives 24-hour private nursing care at home. It costs $1,000 a month, including weekly visits from a doctor.
But this retirement option needs to be approached with caution. Assisted living is such a new concept in Mexico that it is not yet regulated. For now, the standards of care are set by the development owners. The newly formed Mexican Association of Retirement Communities is working to set industry standards that would be recognized in the United States.
But it's a growth industry. There are 10 assisted-living facilities catering to Americans open or under construction in Mexico and another 10 are being planned.
"Maybe we won't be like Miami or Tucson in five years, but in 10 years, believe me," said Javier Godinez, director of the Mexican Association of Retirement Communities. "More than 4 million people will come to live in Mexico."
Margie and Homer Hill love their life in Mexico. And they know that if they need more help as they get older, all they have to do is move next door.