Why Are One Million Americans Moving to Mexico?
In many ways, Mexico today is like the U.S. was 50 years ago…before big government, big business, and special interests whittled away the lifestyle our parents took for granted. It is full of overlooked retirement havens where you can retire in luxury without spending a fortune.
Mexico’s lower cost of living—and of just about everything else—means a comfortable, fulfilling life here will likely cost you a fraction of what you pay “back home.” From real estate to groceries, and from entertainment to healthcare, life in Mexico simply costs less. Here you can still find comfortable homes for under $150,000 and pay pennies on the dollar for fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. As for healthcare…across the board, healthcare in Mexico costs a quarter to a half of what you’d pay in the U.S.—for treatment by well-trained medical professionals in first-class hospitals and clinics. (In fact, there are few places in Mexico where you’re more than a few hours from a good private hospital.)
Today’s Mexico is largely First-World, with excellent highways, sleek airports, and high-speed telecommunications, as well as first-run films (in English, with Spanish subtitles) and television shows. You’ll find shopping malls and supermarkets, all carrying many familiar products from home.
But you’ll also enjoy a slower, more relaxed pace of life here, where children still play in the streets and neighbors know each other. You’ll find a rich, strong local culture, too, with traditional markets; colorful, indigenous dress; ancient ruins of great civilizations; and regional music, dance, and customs. You’ll find plenty to do and see in Mexico—and the Mexican people, some of the friendliest folks around, will be happy to share it with you.
And thanks to Mexico’s large size and varied geography, you can find whatever climate and lifestyle you want. Like the beach? Mexico has nearly 6,000 miles of coastline, much of it white-sand beach. Choose a totally First-World beach resort like Puerto Vallarta, Cancún, or Los Cabos, where you can enjoy all amenities; small, local beach towns in places like the Yucatán Coast or parts of the Pacific coast; or get totally off the grid along the Costa Maya’s beautiful Caribbean waters.
Prefer mountain vistas and temperate weather? Mexico’s Colonial Highlands could be for you. Charming Spanish-colonial cities like San Miguel de Allende, Querétaro, and a host of others offer sophisticated living amidst centuries-old architecture. Or head south to colonial gems like Oaxaca, with its superb traditional cooking, and to San Cristóbal de las Casas, a temperate-weather city high above the jungles of Chiapas.
So whatever lifestyle you seek, you’ll likely find it in Mexico. No wonder more U.S. expats live in Mexico than in any other country in the world…
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- Population: 116,220,947
- Capital City: Mexico City
- Climate: Varies from arid to tropical
- Time Zone: GMT-8 to -6
- Language: Language
- Country Code: 52
- Location: Mexico borders the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and the North Pacific Ocean
The sun glistens down the six-mile stretch of white-sand beach. This is the heart of my hometown of La Misión, on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.Sitting just 90 minutes south of San Diego, La Misión is a beautiful and quaint village (it has a population of just under 1,000) that has yet to be discovered by the masses of tourists who visit the better-known destinations of Rosarito and Ensenada.
While the notion of getting away from it all on a tropical island has near universal appeal, coconut phones and signal fires won’t cut it with today’s savvy expats. Let’s face it. You want to have your solitude, but also remain connected to the outside world through high-speed internet service and modern transportation options. Particularly […]
You sit in your courtyard at a sturdy hardwood table, enjoying the first cup of coffee of the day. The sounds of the city waking up are muffled by thick stone walls, as the tinkling fountain next to you provides a soothing soundtrack. A small pool to the side is the perfect antidote to hot days. You’re surrounded by heliconia, ginger, and bougainvillea vines. As you head inside through a tall, arched doorway for a second cup, your eyes pass over the intricately patterned tile floors, the vaulted ceilings with heavy timber beams standing out against the bright-white ceiling, and the dark wood doorframes perfectly complementing the yellow walls.
One moment that has stuck with me over the years is a dinner I had with a friend in New York. It was around the time that I put my apartment up for sale and was getting ready to move my life to Mexico. We met in the Meatpacking District, at a small Italian restaurant. It was a warm, late-summer night, perfect for lingering over our wine in a corner of Manhattan that felt like Europe, where we both had lived in the past.
After living here in Cancún over a year, I’ve come to the conclusion that Cancún is not so much a traditional Mexican city as it is an international city with strong Mexican overtones. Though it retains its Mexican flavor, the influx of tourists and the city’s young age have seen it develop into a vibrant, modern, and sophisticated city with a lively nightlife.
“The weather is wonderful—very warm, can be hot, with a sprinkling of showers every once in a while. Coming from our cold temperatures in Canada we appreciate not having to bundle up for five months,” says Colleen Tannahill who along with her husband Blake owns a condo on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. “We are very happy with our rental occupancy and we’ve had a strong return so far. We have a rental manager who has our property posted online and we also spread the word ourselves.”
Your voice could be your passport to an income overseas…and we’re not just talking about singing. Sure, if you can carry a tune, you can take that talent with you. Many expats make their money, or at least a supplementary income, from singing. Some even discover that carving out a singing career is easier overseas.
Mexico may be famous for its luxurious beaches with white sand and crystal blue waters, but if you prefer to recharge your batteries with urban buzz and a shot of culture, Mexico also has some great festivals that’ll do just that. These three festivals in particular are not to be missed and are packed with dance, music, theater, film, and local culture. To top it off, the host cities are things of beauty in their own right. All three are Spanish-colonial gems, with grand buildings, romantic streets and plazas, and plenty of outdoor cafés. It’s no wonder these cities are favorites with expats.
“It’s easy to get your Social Security benefits abroad if you wish,” says IL Mexico Editor Glynna Prentice. “Arguably the easiest way to get them abroad is by electronic transfer to your local foreign bank account in the foreign country. However, “not all foreign banks will accept direct deposits of U.S. Social Security checks, so if you want your Social Security delivered to a local bank, make sure to choose one that does,” says Dan Prescher.
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Social Security Administration, U.S. retirees overseas received more than $3 billion in Social Security benefit payments in 2013—an increase of $160 million year-on-year, when compared to 2012. American retirees can receive Social Security benefit checks in almost every country in the world. Statistics reveal that Europe is home to the most U.S. retirees drawing their benefits abroad (154,238), followed by Canada and Mexico (95,767), and Asia (70,586).
Every year in the charming colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico’s colonial highlands region, thousands of people arrive to celebrate the birthday of Saint Michael Archangel, its patron saint. The feast day is Sept. 29. But the biggest celebrations take place the following weekend.
Mérida is the colonial gem of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It’s a city of 1 million with a thriving colonial district of historic buildings renovated as private homes, museums, shops, restaurants, boutiques, and more. The centro is safe, full of friendly people…and things to do. This cultural mecca offers a symphony orchestra, opera, cinema, and regular folkloric performances.
“Do you need an assistant?” I get this question all the time, once people learn I am a travel photographer who regularly visits exotic locations and earns an income doing it. But why be an assistant when you can travel the world and take pictures yourself? Getting paid for your photos is easy if you know how.
A while back I ran into an expat friend here in Mexico who was in a quandary. He’d just been offered a commercial space in a popular neighborhood to open a coffee shop, an extension of his original café. The thing is, my friend already had some other projects in the works, so he was feeling stretched a bit thin. But the offer was very appealing…not to mention flattering. After all, it was a vote of confidence from another business in the area.
I ’m enjoying a cappuccino at a sidewalk café. The tree providing shade is a century old, the church across the way much older. The neighborhood is historic, with restored buildings lining narrow streets for a dozen blocks in any direction. I’m in Mérida, Mexico, in the downtown centro of centuries-old colonial homes, churches, and grand buildings. It’s the third-largest Spanish colonial district in the world, after Havana and Mexico City.
“I wanted to run away from the cold weather and perfectly manicured lawns,” says Kiona Hartle of her decision to start snowbirding with her son. “I needed to ﬁnd a simpler, more authentic, and warmer life in a picture-perfect beach town. I researched places online and Playa won by a large margin!” Kiona, 41, and her seven-year-old son, Luke, ﬁrst came to Playa del Carmen, on Mexico’s Caribbean coast, in 2010.
Kate Barron isn’t one to sit still. So far, she has lived in Italy, Thailand, and Africa. Now, her home is in Mérida, the sultry and beautiful capital city of Mexico’s Yucatán state, about three hours west of Cancún. And she’s found opportunities to earn throughout her travels. In Thailand she studied yoga, which she now teaches for a living, and in Italy, she taught communication skills to executives of multinational corporations and UN agencies.
With several feet of snow on the ground not uncommon during winters in their native Calgary, Canada, Warren Schoff and Rhoda Parent were looking for an escape south of the border. “In 2002, we visited Playa del Carmen and fell in love with Mexico. We kept coming back twice a year. In 2009 we started scouting properties on the Yucátan Peninsula. We liked the lower cost of living and the inexpensive, more personalized healthcare. And there’s a party every weekend,” says Rhoda, who adds they wanted to have an adventure while they were still young enough to enjoy it.
“We love the weather, the beach, the people. Nobody cares what your last name is or your backstory. It’s very casual,” say Vicki Lyall of her home in Playa del Carmen, on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Vicki and her husband Scot had been visiting this Caribbean paradise for many years. And it was on a trip nine years ago they happened to stroll by a real estate office.
Brittney Borjeson first went to Sayulita on Mexico’s Pacific coast to learn how to surf. That was back in 2012, and as soon as the plane touched down, she felt like she had come home. “I was hooked from my first wave. I remember thinking, I could give everything up for this,” Brittney recalls. Coming from New York, with its hectic pace, Brittney found the slower pace of Sayulita to be a complete contrast.
“I like the way things are now, and with family and a new grandson in Canada, the snowbird lifestyle works great.” When not embracing family life to the full, Kim gets to savor the many joys Playa has to offer. “I absolutely love Playa del Carmen,” Kim says of her winter home. “The beaches are world-class and the water sports are unlimited, with snorkeling, scuba, fishing, paddle boarding, surfing, boating, swimming, and just floating in the gorgeous tropical waters.” And it’s not only sun, sand, and sea that keep her coming back. It’s also the friends she’s built up over many winters here.
When workaholics looking to retire in Mexico wonder aloud how they’ll avoid boredom, I don’t know what they’re talking about. Recently, out of curiosity, I checked my local events calendar here in Guanajuato. And just as I’d suspected, there were interesting activities for every single night of the week. And many nights offered more than one option.
Just south of resort and tourist-packed Cancún, Mexico, lies the small town of Puerto Morelos. Although there are a few small resorts and hotels, it’s still a working fishing village, albeit with a sizable expat population. Anthony Chalas had never even heard of Puerto Morelos until he was online with his brother Nick a few years ago. He was helping plan the annual vacation he took with his family. Someplace affordable. Someplace warm and with a nice beach.
The modern vacation mecca has everything needed for a great life, according to the couple. They haven’t felt the need to learn much Spanish, as many of the locals speak English in this tourism oriented area. They say they also don’t need a car. A continuous stream of buses runs along all main routes, offering clean, convenient, and inexpensive access to all areas of the city. Major chain stores such as Costco, Walmart, and Sam’s Club have outlets in Cancún, so shopping is easy and familiar. These days, there are also tons of major brand restaurant chains, along with some great local eateries.
“At the end of a long day, Daisy and I love to visit one of our favorite restaurants,” says Jim Silver of his new life on the Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres, just eight miles offshore from Cancún. “Obviously, living on an island means great seafood, but that’s not all you’ll find.”
“I guess I was just sick of the corporate stuff. I felt like if I didn’t make a move to get something going…it would never happen,” says John Dykes. John and his wife, Mimi, were doing pretty well. They had a nice home in Texas where John was running a large automotive supply store and Mimi had her own staffing agency.
Being neighbors, the Dutch and the Germans have a natural rivalry—especially when it comes to beer. Each nation claims to brew the better pint. So while Germany’s Oktoberfest is better known, Amsterdam also celebrates its impressive beer heritage this October with the Bokbier Festival, a month-long celebration. Over 12,000 visitors will descend upon the Dutch city to sample more than 50 types of beer on tap.
For Kim Nowak, having two homes on opposite ends of North America is completely normal. “I’m a snowbird and it’s the perfect lifestyle for me,” she says. “I’ve been doing it so long that I can’t imagine my life in any other way.”
There’s a situation right now worth your attention south of the U.S. in Mexico. Mexico is set to become a developed country in the coming decades. You can benefit most from this economic transformation in the beach city of Playa del Carmen. The strategy? Buy best-in-class real estate, particularly the type of real estate that will appeal to the mobile entrepreneurs and young, new, upper middle-class families that are moving there.
I’m on a terrace, shaded from the bright midday sun by an overhanging palm frond roof. On the plate in front of me: three fish tacos—tortillas filled with fried filets and a coleslaw seasoned with lime and chili. From my perch I can see the tidy town square below where a few locals have claimed patches of shade to stop and chat. School kids in uniform scurry across the plaza in groups. And looking the other way I can just glimpse a sliver of the blue Caribbean between buildings. The sea breeze is light…but enough to cut the tropical heat.
I’m never making chiles rellenos again. Note: I didn’t say I’d never eat chiles rellenos again, because I will. I love them. But they’re messy to make. And ever since I realized that I can buy home-cooked ones in my local market in Mexico for just 10 pesos apiece—that’s about 63 cents—and take them home to eat, my kitchen stays clean.
According to the latest figures from the U.S. Social Security Administration, U.S. retirees overseas received more than $3 billion in social security payments in 2013. That number shows an increase of $160 million since 2012—and has nearly doubled since 2013. In total, 373,224 U.S. retirees received their social security payments as residents of a foreign country in 2013. Europe is home to the most U.S. retirees drawing their social security payments abroad (154,238), followed by Canada and Mexico (95,767), and Asia (70,586).
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“I knew within 24 hours that this was the place for me,” says 45-year-old Mona Primlani, who left Washington, DC, three years ago to settle in Guanajuato, in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands. “When I got here, I saw this place had everything I wanted, and then some.”
Mexico is set to become a developed country in the coming decades. We can benefit most from this economic transformation in the beach city of Playa del Carmen. Playa del Carmen, a veritable boom town today, is already a well-recognized name among tourists. But today it’s becoming something more than just a hot spot for travelers.
Everyone likes to complain about inﬂation, right? But I have news for you: There are big changes afoot that are going to make many of the things you buy not more expensive, but less. Crude oil now threatens to test its price low of 2009. But oil isn’t the only commodity under pressure. Coffee is down more than 40% since its recent peak in October of last year. You know what’s doing nearly as badly as coffee? Copper. Copper has broken not one, but two important lines of support. In July, Goldman Sachs slashed its price target for copper in 2016 by 44%. In fact, all industrial metals are doing poorly. I’m talking copper, aluminum, tin, nickel, iron.
“At the end of a long day, Daisy and I love to visit one of our favorite restaurants,” says Jim Silver of his new life on the Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres, just eight miles offshore from Cancún. “The hard part is selecting which one. Most folks don’t think of Isla Mujeres as a foodie paradise, but it is. Obviously, living on an island means great seafood, but that’s not all you’ll ﬁnd.”
Time has slowed. I’m squinting from the midday sun. The low roar of gentle waves lapping the white-sand shores all along the three mile-long bay mixes with the calls of seabirds. On the horizon, breakers foam over the reef, contrasting with the vivid turquoise sea. It’s hypnotic…a nearly out-of-body experience. Tulúm, a community of around 30,000 people on the south end of Mexico’s Riviera Maya, tends to have that effect on people. It’s the type of place where vacationers fall in love and the next time they return it’s for good.
For millions of folks, golf satisfies something in the soul: hitting that one pure shot…breathing fresh air…and walking an immaculate course…the fast friendships forged on the fairway (and in the clubhouse bar). The game we know today has its origins in Scotland in the 15th century. popularized by British royalty, it soon spread throughout Europe and beyond.
On my first trip to Granada, Nicaragua several years ago, I stopped in a small bookshop in the historic colonial quarter, just a few blocks from the main square. It was evident the owner—an expat from California—was a lover of literature. Classics…science fiction…travelogues…histories…and more lined the shelves. As I chatted to him, it emerged that he got started when he was just passing through Granada and, looking to make a bit of extra travel money…he laid books out on a blanket on the street to sell.