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The Reality of International Retirement Migration

The Reality of International Retirement Migration
Author: Remi Buckle
1 Commentries

This paper examines the lifestyle mobility trend “International Retirement Migration” focusing specifically on Brits moving to Spain. The motivational factors for migrating to Spain and the reasons why retiree migrants are returning to the UK will be discussed.


Retirement, Migration, Spain, Healthcare, Mobility, Lifestyle

International Retirement Migration is considered to be one of the residential strategies that many elderly people adopt when they retire and social and family conditions change (King et al, 2000). With Spain being a leading destination for international mass tourism (Bramwell, 2004) it comes as no surprise that it is one of the most popular retirement destinations. Williams et al (1997) explain International Retirement Migration as retired individuals migrating internationally to another country, taking with them their concomitant earnings, expenses and healthcare requirements. Usually, retiree migrants have neither dependent children nor parents thus facilitating the migration process (Casado-Diaz et al, 2004).

Changes in lifetime mobility patterns have offered an enhanced understanding of, and experience of visiting international destinations (Gustafson, 2001) thus encouraging migration. Retirees’ decision to migrate to Spain is conditioned by the possibility of living longer during retirement, being in a stable financial position and seeking a “Leisure orientated lifestyle in pleasant surroundings that are well endowed with both recreational and service resources” (Rowles and Watkins, 1993, 511). Moreover, studies show that the climate is the main pull factor for retirement migration to Spain, especially as the warmer weather can help relieve health conditions such as arthritis. While retiring to Spain has its many benefits, in recent years there has been a significant increase in retirees returning back to their home countries.

While retiring to Spain may appear luxurious, the process is not entirely worthwhile, as many migrants have made the decision to return back to the UK. Casado-Diaz et al (2004) explain the main reasons for return migration include family, health or financial issues. In particular, deterioration in health is the most principal reason for leaving Spain (Longino et al, 1991). There are significant cultural differences in the delivery and quality of Spanish healthcare and this is making retirees return back to the UK due to inadequate services. For example, in Spanish hospitals it is expected that a patients’ family provides basic nursing care, i.e. feeding and cleaning the patient, whereas in the UK these duties would be completed by nurses. Moreover, aftercare in Spain is unsatisfactory with insufficient community health services being provided to retired migrants (Hall, 2011).

Another reason for retirees returning home is due to the language barrier; while some practices offer translators, a significant number do not and this puts a huge strain on retirees as they are unable to communicate with healthcare staff (O’Reilly, 2000). In addition, the majority of retiree migrants’ families live in their country of origin therefore the separation can be difficult and this is especially relevant when retirees have grandchildren. O’Reilly (2000) explains that grandchildren signify ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ and therefore retirees find it hard being absent from their grandchildren for long periods of time and this becomes a dominant motive for return migration.

An interview was conducted with an elderly couple that retired to Spain over 15 years ago but later returned to England 8 years ago. The objective of this research was to examine a personal experience of retirement migration to Spain, focusing specifically on the main factors influencing the move, the negatives of living in Spain and most importantly, the reasons for returning to England.

The participants explained that the climate, cost of living and the Spanish lifestyle were the key motives for retiring to Spain, thus supporting academic literature. Longino et al (1991) explained that deterioration in health was the primary reason for return migration therefore the researcher was eager to find out the participants’ views on the Spanish healthcare system. The participants stated, “The language barrier is difficult” and “I dislike how they provide no aftercare and it is strange how they don’t have nurses to clean you up and feed you”. When the participants were asked if there were any negatives of living in Spain, significant emphasis was made about missing family, especially grandchildren. When the researcher asked the participants to explain why they returned back to the UK, the responses indicated that family and healthcare were the predominant motives. Participant 1 explained “Most definitely family” and participant 2 explained, “At our age we need aftercare and extra support and Spain cannot provide us with that”.

In conclusion, the literature and research findings represent that there are many benefits of retiring to Spain however the need for improved healthcare and family is very apparent thus emphasising its significance in return migration. It is inevitable that as retirees age more they will require enhanced healthcare and will want to be close to family for emotional and support purposes. It can be argued that improving the Spanish healthcare system may decrease return migration however the absence of family will remain insoluble thus making return migration inevitable for some.


Casado-Diaz, M., A., Kaiser, C. and Warnes, A., M. (2004) Northern European Retired Residents in Nine Southern European Areas: Characteristics, Motivations and Adjustment. Ageing and Society, 24 (3) 353-381.

O'Reilly, K. (2000) The British on the Costa del Sol: Transnational Identities and Local Communities. London: Routledge.

King, R., Warnes, T. and Williams, A. (2000) Sunset lives: British retirement migration to the Mediterranean. Oxford: Berg.

International retirement migration reality
Author: Elleanor Staley
I have chosen to comment on this paper due to its link with my own research and interests on the relationship that older people have with the tourism industry. I found it very interesting to explore a different section of the treatment of older travellers in tourism, in the form of retirement mitigation.

Retirees play a significant part in this sector with their share in the population being expected to increase to 21.1% by 2050 (United Nations, 2013) and with substantial growth in international retirement migration, (Hall, 2011) “British population abroad is growing fast” (Parra and Mateo, 2005). Therefore, the authors decision to research this area is of great importance as they can be seen to be a vulnerable group (Hall, 2011).

The paper aims are clear in noticing the appeal of migrating abroad; with motivations of improving the quality of their lives (Parra and Mateo, 2005), but more predominantly underlining the issues in why retirees are deciding to return to the UK due to issues such the exposure to “loneliness, unhealthy lifestyles, financial strain and the cultural or administrative barriers to reduce access to health care” (Parra and Mateo, 2005). There are considerable differences in the welfare and social care provisions of Spain and the UK (Hall, 2011) and thus the lack of support is cause for returning home (Gustafson, 2011).

From the research conducted the author concluded that the participant’s main motivation to returning home was most predominantly missing family and so it is interesting to see how this can be fixed. Isolation and the lack of belonging for retired British migrants is a theme picked up in research by Ahmed (2011) and therefore is there any way in which this can be solved or is the author right in suggesting this will remain a factor in retirees return to the UK.

The author has produced clear ideas for future development in this area such as improved health care for retirees, which is enviable as in our ever developing technological society. Medical care is becoming more advanced each year and thus the author makes a good argument in suggesting this will be a prevention of retirees returning to the UK. However, it would be more beneficial for further research, as they only interviewed 2 people, which is a small sample so it would be interesting to see the bigger picture and if statistics agree with this theory. Altogether, it is a well written and very interesting paper which has been researched significantly to highlight the key issues in the negative feelings of retirees abroad.

Ahmed, A. (2011) Belonging out of context: the intersection of place, networks and ethnic identity among retired British migrants living in the Costa Blanca. Journal of identity and Migration studies, 5(2).

Hall, K. (2008) The challenges of retiring abroad: a case of older British migrants. Regions Magazine, 271(1)29-32.

Parra, D. and Mateo, M. (2008) Health status and access to health care of British nationals living on the Costa Blanca, Spain. Ageing & Society, 28(1)85-102.