By Joel Baglole
When it comes to choosing a retirement destination, Americans may want to look north of the border to Canada. While not a sun-and-surf destination, Canada has many things to recommend it when it comes to living out a comfortable retirement, including affordable housing, low crime rates and close proximity to the U.S. border. Here are five top reasons to consider a move.
1. Universal Healthcare
One of the biggest issues facing retirees in the U.S. is the high cost of healthcare services. It’s no secret that the U.S. has the most expensive healthcare in the world. In fact, medical bills are the primary cause for bankruptcies in the U.S., according to price-comparison website NerdWallet Health. Unpaid medical bills lead to more bankruptcies in the U.S. than debt from student loans, credit cards or mortgages. And more than two-thirds of American seniors who file for bankruptcy cite health problems as the reason.
While Canada’s healthcare system is far from perfect (long wait times for diagnostic tests is one of the main complaints up north), the taxpayer-funded system places far less of a financial burden on individuals. Americans who immigrate to Canada become eligible to use the country’s universal healthcare system once they apply for, and receive, permanent resident status. (Permanent residents are citizens of other countries who reside most of the year in Canada.) That means that as an American, you don’t have to become a Canadian citizen to access Canada’s healthcare benefits.
2. Cultural Similarities
One of the biggest issues when retiring in a foreign country is culture shock. Taking your nest egg and retiring in an exotic and more affordable place, such as Thailand or Brazil, comes with its share of headaches. From foreign language barriers and cultural differences to lax banking systems and substandard technology infrastructure, adjustment can be very difficult for those used to living in the United States. Even in advanced countries such as England, where people speak the same language, Americans have to contend with the fact that motorists drive on the other side of the road.
Not so in Canada. An estimated 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border. This proximity means that most Canadians watch American television shows, may even cheer for American sports teams and definitely follow American politics. They also eat at American restaurants, such as McDonald’s and Applebees, and shop at American chain stores – from Wal-Mart to Costco. Outside of the province of Quebec (and a few other areas), where French is the dominant language, everyone speaks English. Culturally speaking, Canadians are similar enough to their American neighbors that living there will be a reasonable fit for most people. Even if you will have to get comfortable with the metric system.
3. Cheaper Prescription Drugs
Another issue bedeviling American seniors is the high cost of prescription drugs. A 2015 study by Bloomberg News found that Americans paid more for prescription drugs to treat everything from high cholesterol and asthma to diabetes and cancer than any other country in the world. The International Federation of Health Plans came up with similar findings in its 2015 Comparative Price Report, as U.S. Healthcare Costs Compared to Other Countries explains.
The reasons why we in the U.S. pay so much for prescription medicine are many. However, in each of its provinces and territories, Canada has established pharmacare programs that are designed to ensure prescription medication remains affordable and accessible.
In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, people age 65 and over qualify for the Ontario Drug Benefit Program. Under its auspices, seniors pay the first $100 of their prescription medication each year (known as a deductible). After that, they pay no more than $6.11 to have a prescription filled (known as a co-payment). Seniors who are considered “low income” typically have the costs of prescription drugs waived entirely. As with universal healthcare, permanent residents of Canada are eligible to participate in Canada’s pharmacare programs.
4. Affordable Housing
Major urban centers in Canada, such as Vancouver and Toronto, have high housing prices just like big U.S. cities, such as Chicago and New York City. But throughout the rest of the country, real estate is quite reasonable and affordable. Some of the most picturesque parts of Canada, such as Prince Edward Island and Vancouver Island, have among the most affordable house costs in the country.
Oceanfront homes in Prince Edward Island, for example, can be purchased for Cdn $150,000 and Cdn $300,000. That is equivalent to between U.S. $115,000 and $230,000 at the current exchange rate. And while the Canadian and U.S. dollar exchange rate does fluctuate, it is worth noting that the rate has historically favored the American currency. Also, the process to purchase property in Canada is relatively straightforward and the country has a stable banking system.
5. Close Proximity to the U.S.
As previously mentioned, three-quarters of Canada’s population resides within 100 miles of the U.S. border. Look at a map of Canada, and you’ll see that most major centers hug the U.S. border. Residents of cities from Vancouver on the West coast to Ottawa (the capital) can drive to the U.S. border in an hour or less. On the East coast, ferry boats take people from Nova Scotia to Maine, though it’s a five-hour-plus ride.
This proximity helps to explain why many Canadians hop over the border to go shopping or fill their cars up with gas (depending on the fluctuating exchange rate, of course). The close proximity means that U.S. retirees who choose to settle in Canada can visit their loved ones quickly, and often without having to endure a long flight or pay high air fares. In an emergency, people can cross the world’s longest undefended border speedily to reach their family members.
The Bottom Line
Americans who are looking for a comfortable retirement, and to save money on some of the biggest expenses seniors face, should consider Canada as an option. From affordable healthcare to inexpensive housing, Canada has much to recommend it. While it is true that winters can be harsh north of the border, U.S. seniors can always follow the example of older Canadians and spend December through April in Florida, Arizona or Mexico.