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Canadian Joanne Stuart, now based in Mexico, with husband Jim Stuart, at Blarney Castle, Ireland, in September 2022.Handout

Joanne Stuart, 70, Ajijic, Mexico

I retired at 59 after working as a career development professional in the Barrie, Ont., area. A few years before that, I took a month off work so my husband Jim and I could spend time in Mexico. We were considering moving there in retirement and wanted to see if it would be a good fit. A year later, I asked for two months off to go back again, and my employer asked me if I was interested in retiring. I saw myself working for at least three or four more years, but then Jim and I thought about it more and decided it was time. He had retired a few years earlier from a career in real estate.

I remember the first day of retirement very clearly. It was a Monday, and I was walking down the road near our former home in Penetanguishene, Ont., with this tickle in my stomach. I felt free. I felt childlike, realizing that I could do whatever I wanted all day for the rest of my life.

Jim had been considering our retirement abroad for many years. He was a subscriber to International Living magazine and often read stories to me of others who had made the leap. We explored Panama, which was considered a good place to retire at the time, but it was too hot for us. Then we returned to Mexico. It didn’t take long for us to realize how much it had to offer; this incredible infrastructure of just about anything that you ever wanted to do when you were a child or a teenager but abandoned because life got in the way.

For example, I wanted to be a ballet dancer when I was a little girl. I put my first ballet slippers on when I was 64, and now I perform with a dance group. I’ve also started acting in the local theatre, something I haven’t done since high school. I got a small role in a Mexican soap opera as the mother of an ingenue whose sister had been murdered. These are things that I wouldn’t have done had I still been in Canada.

Moving to a new country in retirement does have its difficulties. We arrived in Mexico with three suitcases. It meant giving up a lifetime of possessions, including some sentimental items. It also meant moving away from friends and family. They come to visit, which is nice, but the pandemic meant they couldn’t come for a couple of years. Some people are also afraid to travel to Mexico. However, I have never felt unsafe here.

Jim and I love living here. There’s a great community of locals and expats. It’s also a lot less expensive than Canada, and the health care system is very good. I advise anyone considering moving to a new country in retirement to spend some time there first to ensure it’s a good fit. Also, you need to be social and open to new cultures and experiences. Be brave. If you put yourself out there, you’ll get so much back.

Every morning when I get up, I can’t believe how lucky I am to have this life.

As told to Brenda Bouw

This interview has been edited and condensed.