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Tip: Seniors retiring south of the border

Some Long Islanders want to pack up and go. A recent Marist poll found that 29 percent of New Yorkers ages 47-65 "plan to move someplace else" within five years. For those living in the suburbs, including Long Island, the number was even higher -- 33 percent. Of those who want to leave, 62 percent cited "economic reasons" as their main motivation.

While many New Yorkers retire in the South, there are options south of the South. A new report in International Living magazine (international, "Seven Easy, Affordable Retirement Spots," analyzes the costs and benefits of living in select cities in Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Ecuador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The magazine has been rating offshore locations for current and potential expatriates since 1979, and publishes a Global Retirement index every year.

"Latin America touches so many bases for people who want a happier, healthier more affordable lifestyle and still be close to the U.S.," says Daniel Prescher, the magazine's special projects editor. Prescher knows firsthand about living south of the border: He and his wife, Susan, have lived in various Latin American locations since 2001. The couple currently lives in Cotacachi, Ecuador.

Latin America's main attraction for retirees is the lower cost of living. In Cotacachi, Prescher says, "You can live a startling good life on about $20,000 a year." It's relatively easy to get a residency visa in most Latin American countries, Prescher says. For the most part, governments want to see that you have a minimum monthly income, which can be derived from annuities, Social Security or savings.

Many people worry about the safety and security of living outside the United States, but Prescher says the fears are overblown. "Many of the places where expats have been settling for the last 20 or 30 years are very safe and stable." As for the language barrier, there's a support system to help newcomers find English-speaking resources because many American and Canadian expatriates are living in these places, Prescher says. In the case of Belize, English is the official language.

However, while your Social Security check will follow you to Latin America (with the exception of Cuba), Medicare will not. But Prescher says the costs of health insurance are about half of what they are in the United States, and in his experience, the medical care is good.

Certainly, it takes more planning and pioneer spirit to move to, say, Panama City, Panama, than Panama City, Fla., but Prescher says the hurdles are not as big as people think because the trail has been blazed. "People have done it before," he says. "Just start to think outside the borders."

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