In the summer of 2012, Brad Johnson and his wife joined the thousands of Americans who each year decide to spend their retirement years living overseas.
They rented out their house in Phoenix, Ariz., got a six-month tourist visa that they anticipated renewing indefinitely, packed up their two cars, and set off southward, to the first of a series of rental homes in and around Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. “It was absolutely wonderful,” says Johnson, now 70 years old.
The Johnsons had travelled in Mexico before and welcomed the chance to put down roots in a place they enjoyed, with a lower cost of living that would help them stretch their savings. They had plenty of company: as of August, some 680,000 beneficiaries received Social Security payments at foreign addresses, the best way to gauge the trend of retiring overseas.
What’s tougher to determine is how many of those overseas adventurers become boomerang expatriates, as happened to the Johnsons. Less than two and a half years after making their move to Mexico, they were back in the United States, dividing their time between Phoenix and Stockton, Calif., where Johnson’s mother-in-law, in her 90s, needed their help. Four years after their return, there are more ties keeping them in the United States: two grandchildren, ages two years and two months. It has changed Johnson’s idea of retirement. “We planned for a lot of stuff, but not for my wife realizing that her mother needed her eldest daughter back in Stockton,” Johnson says.