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Retiring abroad, and working there too

Patrice Wynne, a retired bookstore owner, now owns Abrazos, a retail shop in Mexico. Attracted by lower costs, more retirees seem to be setting up shop in Latin America.

New York Times

Patrice Wynne, a retired bookstore owner, now owns Abrazos, a retail shop in Mexico. Attracted by lower costs, more retirees seem to be setting up shop in Latin America.

When Patrice Wynne shuttered her independent bookstore in Berkeley, Calif., she wanted to retire to a place where she could slow down the tempo of her life, and it was cheaper to live, but where she could continue to work in some fashion.

"I promised myself — I'm not going to slip into going to cocktail parties and playing tennis," Wynne, 61, said. "I wanted engagement."

And that's what she got. Three years ago, in the center of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, she opened Abrazos, a 650-square-foot retail shop selling colorful Mexican-themed fabric aprons, kitchen and cooking accessories, handbags and clothing.

Simply retiring abroad has become old news, as people seek cheaper places to live and to slash health care costs while enjoying more temperate climes. But now enjoying a "working retirement," like Wynne's, appears to be gaining traction with expats, as it has in the United States.

There's a wide range of jobs that globe-trotters may consider. Of course, there's the possibility of accepting contract assignments from former employers. And there are often positions available to teach English, work as a translator, lead English-speaking tours or work at hotels that cater to English-speaking travelers, according to Betsy Burlingame, founder of, a leading website on international living.

In many countries, though, you are required to have a work permit for certain jobs and prove there are not citizens there who could fill the position, she added.

For those with an entrepreneurial bent, International Living, a magazine and website specializing in retirement abroad, has published an index of the countries with the best conditions for starting a business. In the most recent survey, Panama was the winner, followed by Belize, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

For Wynne, Mexico appealed for several reasons. It was a country she had visited frequently over the years and where she spoke the language. There were also plenty of expats, the weather was appealing, and it was affordable.

For $105,000, Wynne bought a single-family home with vistas of the entire city of San Miguel de Allende, a cultural hub in central Mexico. She spent about $35,000 to modernize it and found happy surprises along the way. "Everything from food to flowers to medical care were considerably less than anything I had known for the last 25 years in California," she said.

But her ability to inexpensively start a small business, initially in her home, was critical.

Wynne's startup costs for Abrazos totaled about $12,400 for the basics, including inventory, lighting, advertising and computers. And since opening the shop in January 2010, her monthly rent of $600 is a fraction of the $8,000 she was paying for her bookshop space in Berkeley.

Steady retail sales provide enough income to allow Wynne to live a comfortable lifestyle.

"When you make a decision to live abroad, there's never a singular reason," Wynne said. "There's always a complexity of reasons. Yes, it has to do with affordability and having your retirement income be expanded. But like other expats working here, I wanted to be adventurous and have new learning opportunities."

Still, for many who work in the Internet age, it does not matter much where you live these days, and this can be especially true for retirees abroad.

Dan Prescher, International Living's special projects editor, and his wife, Suzan Haskins, are both writers living in Cotacachi, a tiny town in Ecuador, since closing their marketing and public relations firm in Omaha, Neb.

If you have a job that you can do online, "you can do it from anywhere on the planet," Prescher said.

Working can be complicated. For example, making mistakes on taxes is common.

"If you're going to work overseas and earn even a modest salary, you must find a tax adviser expert in international tax issues," said Olivia S. Mitchell, a risk management professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Hiring a bilingual person who can help you navigate the operational challenges you're likely to face is crucial for many expat small-business operators. "Independence is hubris in a foreign country," Wynne said.

And even if you are fluent in the language, to understand even the first paragraph of a business contract, it's essential to have a legal adviser or skilled translator.

Retiring abroad, and working there too 06/23/13 [Last modified: Sunday, June 23, 2013 6:36pm]
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