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This Old House - Do-it-Yourself

Canadians Face Many Choices in Retirement

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 18 March 2003 00:00

When you retire, how different will your life be?

Ted Richardson, who retired after 21 years in manufacturing, was certain he and his wife would be happy with status quo  a house in Toronto and a summer home out east -- and not having to make too many changes. They were sure they'd stay in Canada even though their closest friends had opted for a Mexican retirement.

John Miller, their friend and ex-neighbour, had moved to Mexico with his wife, Janice, about three years ago.

When Miller retired after 41 years as a salesman with a national business supply company, he and his wife cashed in their Toronto home of 28 years to finance a life in warmer climes. Once the house was sold, they loaded up their new van, gave everything else away and headed off to Mexico.

Their attraction to Mexico began when they attended a seminar hosted by a Canadian construction firm which was building in Lake Chapala, a naturally-occurring retirement community south of Guadalajara, Mexico.

"They put on a good show and we liked what we heard about Lake Chapala," said Miller, explaining that this community has long been a haven for Canadians. "We got all kinds of books on retiring in Mexico. Then we got hold of the American-Canadian Society and they arranged for us to stay for a couple of weeks in a place very near Lake Chapala. We loved it and stayed for an extra two months. Then, back to Canada with no other idea but to get back here."

His employer's profit-share program had enabled him to build a substantial RRSP which he converted into a RRIF to supplement their Canada Pension and Old Age Pension income.

"A lot of the residents here have become 15 per centers," said Miller, describing how they have reduced their tax bill. "We have registered [with the Canadian government] as non-resident Canadians so we pay tax at 15 per cent. Once a year, we also pay a sort of tax to the Mexican government for being here that is less than US$100."

The Millers were well aware that by declaring themselves non-residents they lost their Canadian healthcare benefits.

"I live in a third world country and people think the health benefits in Mexico are third world, but the health benefits are fabulous," said Miller, who receives continued medical and dental coverage from his previous employer.

The Millers rented a modern 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom furnished house, located in a gated community near Lake Chapala, for about US $400 a month. The climate is so moderate that neither heating nor air conditioning are necessary. Electricity, maintenance and security costs amount to about US$30 per month. However, Miller is quick to point out that rents of less than US$200 a month are not unusual and the low cost of land makes buying practical for some people.

"I go into my computer and read the Toronto news every day -- robbery and violence. If you had a heart attack or broke a leg in Toronto, you are out of luck. We are better off here. If a person had even C$25,000 a year all told, they would do very well living here."

Meanwhile, back in Toronto, the Richardsons are in the process of selling their house and moving to Mexico to escape the Canadian cold and our rising cost of living.

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