Retiring to a foreign country is a hot trend. Nearly 400,000 Americans have, in recent years, accepted their gold watches and promptly moved overseas.
But what about retiring on the seas?
Turns out that’s a real thing, too. Spending one’s golden years with a home address aboard a cruise ship is appealing enough that an entire industry has grown up over the past twenty years to meet the demand.
Let me guess. The idea of spending your retirement as a full-time cruiser is intriguing, but doing so seems financially out of reach. Maybe. Maybe not. Indeed, your retirement lifestyle desires might well be a bigger factor than the size of your nest egg as you contemplate taking up residence afloat.
How does the cost of a cruise ship retirement compare to a landlubber’s expenses? Average household spending for American retirees is about $46,000 per year. If you’re retired for 18 years, that works out to $828,000 in retirement living costs.
By way of comparison, the average cruise ship passenger spends $213 per day, which works out to $77,745 for an 18-year retirement journey. Of course, there are cheaper options (below-the waterline cabins) and more expensive choices (upper deck accommodations with a balcony). It is even possible to buy a cruise ship condo. The World, which is marketed as a “residential yacht,” offers condo cabins ranging in price $825,000 to $7.3 million.
If ownership is too rich for your seafaring blood, but you don’t want to live your life in steerage, like Jack on the Titanic, you can split the difference by negotiating for a discount on a nice cabin by agreeing to stay for several months. When it comes to finding a deal on a cruise, you may be able to negotiate a discount by booking an extended trip that lasts several months, versus one that’s just a few days. Or go a step further: some cruise lines allow passengers to book a cabin permanently and enjoy a discount when paying annually.
See? Money might not be the key driver in your decision. I advise all of my financial planning clients to think first about what they want from retirement and then figure out how to fund that vision. That advice is especially important in deciding whether to retire at sea. You must think very carefully about what you want (and don’t want) from post-career life.
Cruise ship life offers many wonderful enticements. You will see new places, meet interesting people and enjoy endless leisure time to pursue your more low-key passions, such as reading or working out in the gym. If this sounds like your dream vacation, welcome aboard. But think carefully about you won’t have on that ship; things like regular contact with your family, trips to ball games or the theatre, weekend jaunts to the mountains or room to display a lifetime’s worth of precious possessions. You can do most those things, of course, but they aren’t cheap or easy when your home address is currently streaming across the Caribbean at 21 knots.
Oh, and no pets allowed, matey.
Given all the pros and cons of cruising, the best time to retire at sea might be when you are considering a move to assisted living. This is a point when you are likely slowing down and perhaps looking for help with everyday tasks. As a traditional cruiser, you would get most of that help, including your meals, room service, and laundry.
An individual stay at an assisted living facility cost $48,000 an average in 2018, according to Genworth Financial. With some planning and bargaining, you could cruise for a comparable amount.
If you’re looking for more support, consider a program like Senior Living at Sea, a cruise program designed for retirees. Its shipboard amenities include social events for passengers, onboard medical care and wheelchair accessibility.
If you see the ocean in your retirement vision spyglass, start thinking and planning now. Among the issues to address:
- Is this the lifestyle you want? For how long?
- What is the realistic cost of living on a cruise ship, factoring in the increases that will no doubt happen between now and when you retire?
- What will you do with your house? Sell it? Rent it to create retirement revenue stream?
- How will you handle your possessions? Yard sale? Storage? (What will that cost?)
- Will your health insurance cover you while outside the US?
- How will you stay in touch with family and friends?
- What will become of Fido and Fluffy when you sail off to new horizons?
Answer these (and many other) questions honestly, and you may be ready to weigh anchor and sail into the greatest adventure of your life.