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The last holiday in paradise

Manasi GopalakrishnanAugust 18, 2015

German pensioners are settling abroad to turn their retired lives into an extended holiday. An impersonal society and low pensions have forced them to leave, they say, but is moving out of the country such a good option?

An elderly married couple(Symbolbild)
Image: Colourbox

Her homeland was a place where Ute Schulz did not feel so good anymore.

"At some point in time, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t live in Germany anymore. The climate doesn't suit me, I don't understand the mentality that's developing among people and Asia is a place where you can still live well with some money," the pensioner said in a 2010 documentary film called "Grandma wants to go to Thailand."

Like Schulz, German citizens who have their working years behind them are increasingly moving to foreign countries.

According to the latest data from Germany's pension insurance scheme, 225,568 pension payments were transferred from Germany to foreign countries in 2014, an increase of 1.7 percent from 2013. German-speaking countries like Switzerland and Austria are the most preferred locations for senior expats, with about 48,000 pension transfers going to these places. The Spanish island of Mallorca houses about 20,000 pensioners whereas the USA has about 25,000 Germans settling there after retirement.

Locals welcome foreign settlers

Alessandro Arcaro, a native of Rimini in Italy, where German expats have been settling since the 1980s, told DW many hotels and villages have based their offers on the needs of German tourists and pensioners.

"These German people just go to the seaside, relax, go out dining and so on, so locals are happy to welcome them and satisfy their requests," he said, adding that locals have meanwhile brushed up on their German skills and are known for their welcoming nature and the ability to make guests feel at home.

Asian countries like Thailand and Cambodia attract the senior migrants due to their relatively inexpensive lifestyle. Turkey is also seen as a natural option for many pensioners, especially after the influx of Turkish guest workers into Germany in the 1950s exposed Germans to its lifestyle and customs. For retired people looking for cheaper pastures, the country home to Germany's largest immigrant population is also a chosen paradise.

A cruise ship on the ocean, with a Palm tree in the foreground
Can an extended holiday be an alternative to an old age home?Image: picture-alliance/zb/Gammert

Serdar Özalp, a teacher who lives the city of Edremit in Turkey's west, said people in his area had no problems welcoming German pensioners. "This place is safe. Fruits and vegetables are much cheaper than in Germany and rent for houses is also much less," he told DW.

Is cheaper better?

Migrating to a different country after retirement is a difficult decision to take, but the financial reality for many 65-year-olds in Germany has often been quoted as a key reason by those wanting to move abroad.

The average pension in Germany is about 766 euros (about $845) a month, according to Germany's pension insurer Deutsche Rentenversicherung. "The state pension on an average for men is about 1000-1200 euros ($1100-$1400). For women, this amount is anywhere between 400 and 600 euros ($440-$660). This money is hardly enough to lead a decent life," Jürgen Wuttke, head of the German pensioners' union Rentnergewerkschaft Deutschland told DW.

Retired people who have worked in government jobs receive relatively high pensions, Wuttke said. In such cases, a 2000 euro ($2200) payment every month and a house in Spain's Mallorca could give an impression of the pensioners' great life.

However, "The so-called 'Mallorca pensioners' are coming back," Wuttke said. "Because as you grow older, you need more health care and in a foreign country, you realize that health services aren't as good as they are in Germany, especially when it comes to the financial aspects and the high-end medical technology," he added.

Migrating from Germany may be a good option for the short term, but for pensioner-activist Wuttke, Germany's elderly people need a social system that takes better care of them.