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
Every day, I take a break from work around 1 p.m. I grab the leash, shoo the dogs out the door, pop in my headphones, and spend 45 minutes listening to NPR as I walk through the park. Some days I stop for a taco on the way home. I often pause to chat with my neighbors. I live in Mexico City, famed for its chaotic sidewalks, ruthless traffic, and millions of inhabitants. But as a freelancer in a cozy neighborhood just outside of the Centro Historico, I barely notice the hustle and bustle as I take my time.
Playing with language should be enjoyable. After all, it’s a hobby not a chore. And that’s exactly how I approach teaching Spanish. You can dabble in it or get serious about it but you should always be enjoying yourself. For instance, I paint pictures in my spare time, but I don’t want to go to art school and become a renowned artist. I just want to dabble with my paints for the pleasure of it.
Swimming with endangered green sea turtles in Akumal, strolling the cobblestone shopping district in Playa del Carmen, exploring cenotes or ancient Maya ruins or just lazing in a hammock…this is my life today. But it’s a far cry from where my husband Don and I were back in 2008. In the wake of the financial collapse and the deep recession that followed, our comfortable existence was completely upended. At an age when we expected we could begin to slow down, we found ourselves starting over in a very inhospitable economy. Add to that Don’s second heart attack and the loss of his health insurance when his job disappeared, and you have a recipe for real desperation.
If you’re looking for a life filled with stunning beaches, rich culture, excellent food, and a laidback lifestyle, we have the ideal place for you—and you don’t have to look far. Within close proximity to the U.S., visits from loved ones or popping back home is simple and affordable from Mexico. You can even drive here.
The narrow lane spills onto a magnificent square. A group of young musicians fills the twilight with melodies. All around you are stunning buildings dating back centuries. And yet the people relaxing here and walking through these ancient streets are very much 21st century: students with books and laptops in hand. Folks from all over are enjoying evening drinks or dining on café terraces. Talk is of the art expo the town is putting on…an upcoming concert…or the latest news or trends…
It wasn’t until Tina Frewer suffered a serious health issue that she discovered how good the medical care was in Mérida, a city of nearly one million people on the western side of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. After receiving excellent care at Star Médica, one of two top-rated hospitals in Mérida, and attention from the area’s top specialists, Tina was inspired. Why not help medical tourists who come to Mexico for low-cost, high-quality surgeries and dental care navigate the city and the system? As a patient advocate/medical tourism concierge, Tina now connects expat patients with doctors and healthcare facilities through her business, HealthItinerary.
We enjoy the beach when we have time,” says Joseph Ader of his new life on Mexico’s Riviera Maya. “I love what I do. And I love the climate here. It’s very similar to Florida, which is one of the biggest producers of ﬁsh for food and the hobby trade. That’s one of the reasons it’s such a good business here.” As a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, Joseph helped his grandmother with her tropical ﬁsh aquariums, not realizing he was setting himself up for his future career.
I enjoyed my 18 years working as a veterinarian. It was a stressful, demanding, but very rewarding career helping animals and their humans. The down side was that I had to be at a certain place, at a certain time, on a very regular schedule. Now, I live in Mexico and work on my own time. Over the past year I have lived in two different cities in Mexico…one in Guatemala…and visited every country in Central America. I was able to spend as long as I wanted getting to know the places that I had become interested in over the years.
I lost my job due to the recession. I worked for a bank, and when they decided to “right size” the organization, my job was eliminated. Fortunately my husband, Ron, and I had been researching ways to work from home so we could one day realize our dream of traveling the world. I had familiarized myself with my freelance options and we had already taken an exploratory trip to Ecuador.
Neither Yvonne nor Michael Bauche qualiﬁed for a pension in Canada. And so the adventurous duo decided to embark on a round-the-world trip that has seen them visit Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Portugal, Italy, France, and the Caribbean. “We cut our expenses in half,” says Yvonne of their new life on the road. “Running two cars, paying for electricity, gas, phone, cell phone, internet, food, and eating out used to cost us almost $4,000 a month. Our average expenditure is now about $2,000, and we live and play very well on that.”
You’ll enjoy some of Mexico’s ﬁnest quality of living for a fraction of what you’d pay in the U.S. or Canada. All told, a couple can comfortably call this paradise home for around $2,500 to $3,000 a month. Simple meals in local restaurants will run you $5 or less. One of my favorites, ﬁsh tacos, can be had for $1.50 each in the no-frills beach restaurants. And in stores, you can expect to pay prices similar to those in the U.S. for imported foods, but fresh produce is a bargain…try a pound of tomatoes for 65 cents or two pounds of fresh fruit like mango for $1. There are big savings on property taxes and healthcare, too. And where else can you enjoy life in a two-bedroom condo a stone’s-throw from the beach, in a premier beach town, for under $700 a month rent?
Narrowing down the best beaches in Mexico is no easy task. With nearly 6,000 miles of coastline, Mexico is home to many gorgeous beaches. But if you ask Mexicophiles which are the best beaches in Mexico, opinions will differ. Beauty, ambience, affordability, and wave quality are all taken into consideration when deciding which beaches in Mexico can be called the best. It all depends what you’re looking for… Here are four very personal choices, in no particular order, and why they make the grade.
On the southern end of Mexico’s Riviera Maya is the up-and-coming expat destination of Tulúm. This small but lively beach community offers a warm tropical climate year-round, as well as white-sand beaches and vibrant turquoise Caribbean waters. Good value condos and homes means retirees and other expats live by the beach for less. And an active expat community, great restaurants, and plenty of modern amenities and services make for a great lifestyle.
Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula has a lot more to offer visitors than just sun and sand. As well as miles of pristine beaches and Cancún’s modern conveniences, the region is dotted with cenotes (underground lakes formed from limestone sinkholes): portals into the mysterious Maya underworld. This part of Mexico is also home to some of the last remnants of Maya culture in the country. And with the Mayan Nature Experience Cenote Tour, from the Layla Guesthouse in the beach town of Puerto Morelos, you can now experience all of this. This intimate tour yielded memories worth far more than the 900 pesos (about $60 dollars) I paid for it.
You can travel in style and stay in amazing places (like Tuscany, pictured) when you have the secrets of the roving retirees. © Kre_geg-Istock Traveling the world in retirement was once the sole purview of the rich and famous…but no more. These days, the world is more accessible than ever to everyday people—if you know […]
I used to dream of the benefits of traveling or living abroad. So I looked hard until I discovered a way to make it happen. A way that I know can work for anyone. It’s certainly worked for me. Just last week I was on Mexico’s Riviera Maya savoring the iridescent, blue waters, and endless sandy beaches. I often travel to immaculate colonial towns like San Miguel de Allende where festivals, holidays and celebrations seem a daily occurrence and the summers are cool and fresh. The sooner you start earning a portable income, the sooner you can realize whatever your own dream is and benefit from the lower cost of living, lower stress, and wonder of immersing yourself in a new culture.
I grew up on a ranch in Winslow, Arizona, with Spanish all around me. I absorbed it by osmosis and used it on my first South American adventure…to Argentina. I loved Spanish but it was only when I traveled to Argentina that I discovered I loved teaching. A doctor friend there asked me to help him with his English. We made so much progress that I was soon teaching his friends. And that was the start of my language-teaching career.
At home, prices are rising. It costs more to put gas in the car, buy groceries, and pay for health insurance. At the same time, retirement savings eroded in the market downturn. If you’re looking overseas for a low-cost alternative to an uncertain retirement at home, there’s good news. You can ﬁnd it in places that offer not just “cheap” living, but a whole basketful of beneﬁts, too—places where a mild spring-like climate is yours all year round…beaches are of powder-white sand…snow-capped mountains soar above colonial towns…and your costs could be as low as $1,000 a month.
On the western side of the Yucatán Peninsula is Mérida. This Mexican town of 1 million hosts the third largest Spanish colonial quarter in the world. And the historic centro is full of centuries-old homes, churches, and public buildings, as well as charming plazas, parks, and squares. Retirees and other expats “discovered” Mérida in the late 1980s and every year more and more North Americans and Europeans make the move, many of them renovating colonial buildings, turning them into private homes, B&Bs, restaurants, art galleries, and boutiques.
After a long and grueling career in the restaurant industry in New York and New Jersey, Anthony Chalas was ready for a change. He wanted his own place, where he could fulfill his vision of a seaside restaurant serving Greek food. And he found it on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, in the sleepy fishing village and expat haven of Puerto Morelos.
Sunday morning, San Miguel de Allende. From a dead sleep, the cacophony of clapping, singing, and unusual musical instruments wakes me out of a deep sleep… “It’s really close!” I think to myself. I amble down the stairs in the direction of the sounds, they get louder, in fact they seem to be just outside my front door. I had arrived home the night before, after a long week of both business and fun, into a thunderstorm-ish airport.
For too many of us, daily life means paying mounting bills, commuting to work, staying there far longer than is healthy, and worrying about…well…everything. It’s what folks call the rat race. The futile grind. It’s stressful, it’s bad for your health, and it feels like it will never end. But freeing yourself from it is easier than you think. In this issue of International Living we hear from expats who have already escaped and taken advantage of low costs overseas to free themselves. They are living in beautiful locations around the world, enjoying lives that are a far cry from their experiences back in the States.
Sinking my toes into the warm white sand, I lean back in a plastic chair warped by the sun to give it a reclining effect. Homemade tortilla chips heaped on the plate in front of me are perfect for dipping into the ceviche of fresh ﬁsh caught just off the coast. And the $2 chelada, a lager beer on the rocks—Pacíﬁco is my favorite—with a liberal dose of lime juice and salt on the rim, hits the spot.
The Lord of the Rings’ soaring mountains… Roman Holiday’s famous monuments and historic sites… and the tropical locales of Pirates of the Caribbean…it’s doubtful these blockbuster films would have had such an impact without those dramatic backdrops to the action. Even as CGI and green screens become more widespread, there is something about a real, physical landscape that can’t be replicated by bits and bytes.
Tim Leffel and his family live among the cobblestone avenues, pastel-colored colonial buildings, and leafy plazas of Guanajuato, one of Mexico’s prettiest towns. “I really love the pace of life, the emphasis on family and fun rather than wearing ‘busy-ness’ as a badge of honor,” he says. “Since Mexican cities are geared to pedestrians and people are always out and about on foot, we don’t need a car and all the related expenses. Since healthcare costs are reasonable, there’s no fear of a doctor’s visit costing more than a car payment either.”
In 2006, even though the U.S. economy was still going strong, I looked around at my life and said, “It’s time to go.” So I quit my job, sold my apartment in New York, and moved abroad. It sounds abrupt, but it actually wasn’t. I’d been thinking about it for years. I’m no financial genius, but I can add as well as anyone, and I can certainly read writing on the wall. And, having hit a milestone birthday, calculated my net assets, and estimated remaining work years, they didn’t add up to a retirement I’d enjoy. I saw absolutely no way to save as much money as financial wonks said I’d need to retire comfortably in the U.S.
I get a couple of emails a month like this from International Living readers: “I’ve been doing my research as you suggest. I know I want to make my move abroad, but no matter how many likely destinations I cross off my list, I still have too many to choose from. Where should I go?”
Just north of Tulum on Mexico’s Riviera Maya is the small beach community of Akumal. The beach curves gently around a small cove, which is home to endangered sea turtles who munch on the abundant sea grass.
Just south of Cancún, on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, sits the small fishing village of Puerto Morelos. While still a working-class traditional Mexican town, Puerto Morelos has also drawn retirees in increasing numbers who come to live full-time or part-time as “snowbirds” escaping the cold North American winters.
Playa del Carmen lies about midway between the all-inclusive resort hub of Cancún and the up-and-coming, low-key and still somewhat bohemian destination of Tulúm. It’s a happy medium between those two extremes and a favorite for those seeking to live an active retirement in an atmosphere that is sophisticated, yet laidback at the same time. Casual dress and relaxed attitudes are the keys to living in Playa del Carmen. The region is the Riviera Maya, a focal point for tourist activity and site of investment by the Mexican government, which started with Cancún in the 1970s and spread down the coast. The feel is First World, with services, infrastructure, and amenities to match.
When my husband, Mike, and I celebrated New Year’s Day 2008 and our 7th wedding anniversary in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we were feeling good about where we were in our world. As with so many other people, that came to a crashing halt quickly—on February 1, 2008, we had to close our real estate business.
Gene and Patricia have been escaping harsh Canadian winters in Cancún for about 15 years now. They are among a large number of couples who have chosen the life of a “half-pat,” preferring to spend four to six months a year in their second, much warmer, home here on the Caribbean, without committing entirely to the life of full-time expats. The Rousseaus usually leave their Canadian home in early January, enjoying about five months in Cancún before returning in late April or May, depending on the Canadian weather.
Right now, in a quiet, laidback beach town steps from the blue Pacific, you’ll find a welcoming international community, cute restaurants and stores, and a remarkably low cost of living. On a budget of just $1,600 a month, a couple could live comfortably here, right near the ocean where you can fish, swim, kayak, sail, or just read a book on the sand… In an historic city we recommend, you could enjoy the cosmopolitan culture—live music and choral concerts, art galleries, independent restaurants, chic boutiques—and live comfortably for as little as $1,300 a month (less if you own your home outright).
Imagine a place of rich, earthy smells, dappled light, soaring tropical hardwoods, and thick underbrush…the dawn calls of birds and the nighttime chirps and whistles of insects. From your terrace it’s as though you have Eden on the doorstep—a thousand shades of green and nature’s bounty. These days, living in a jungle home, you can have the best of both worlds: the feeling of being set apart, while enjoying conveniences like high-speed internet and air conditioning in your own paradise.
Guanajuato, Mexico, loves its food. And as Mexico considers its homegrown cuisine part of its cultural heritage, what better way to celebrate it than a public feast? The three-day Enchilada Festival culminated this year in an enchilada cookout that filled three long tables—over 900 feet—with enchiladas. It’s thought to be the longest enchilada in the world!
Financial struggles weren’t the only thing motivating our retirement abroad, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that’s what got us looking for an out-of-the-box solution to begin with. Like a lot of people during the financial crisis, my husband, Donald, and I took a big hit. Here we were nearing the end of our working years, and our financial security had evaporated in a seeming instant. My husband had his second heart attack in three years, and then lost his job—along with his medical insurance. We were tired, vulnerable, and drowning in stress. I remember my husband declaring that he felt as if he’d, “been running a marathon for 60 years.” We both worked regular jobs, and even started a couple of small businesses on the side to claw our way back. But it would be years before we could hope to retire, and we were spending all our time and energy just to hold on.
One of my absolute favorite destinations in the world is Guanajuato, a city in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands. It’s a place where every interest is catered for: Every time I return I throw myself into the wealth of cultural activities it offers: concerts, exhibitions, theater, food festivals, book fairs… Even Guanajuato’s street scene is lively. Walk down to the Jardin (Garden) area any given night, and you’ll see strolling locals and expats, bustling outdoor cafes, student troubadours, and mariachi groups making music, and more.
Beverly Nelson has a passion for holistic health…and for Mexico. That’s why she opened a retreat center in San Miguel de Allende, in the country’s Colonial Highlands. Today, she enjoys a life that is fulfilling both personally and professionally. She welcomes clients from around the world who come for workshops and lectures, individual and group retreats, and healing modalities like acupuncture and various types of massage, including Ayurvedic. During her free time, she and friends enjoy San Miguel, going to concerts, films, gallery openings, the theater, or dinner at someone’s home or in a local restaurant. “There is so much to do here in San Miguel, there is never a lack of choice,” she says.
Mexico’s Riviera Maya runs south of Cancun to Tulúm. The sand is white…and the water, turquoise. In the jungle, you’ll find Maya ruins. Offshore, the world’s second-longest coral reef is home to brightly colored fish. The biosphere at Sian Ka’an is a great place to hike, kayak, and study nature. The coral reef offshore attracts divers and snorkelers. Golf, hiking, spelunking in ancient caves…it’s all here. Tulúm is, and will stay, boutique. The Sian Ka’an biosphere means that much of the land is protected. Development will be low rise and low density—that’s if and where it’s permitted. Yet, amazingly, you’re just a 90-minute drive to the airport and two hours in the air to the U.S.
Bella Sirena is a secluded oasis on a strip of land that joins the peninsula of Baja California with the rest of Mexico. It’s right where the sand meets crystal blue waters and the beach goes on for miles. The 20-foot tidal changes uncover delicate creatures like starfish, tiny crabs, and other sea urchins that hide in all the nooks and crannies. Beyond the gates of this upscale resort, lush tropical foliage surrounds the infinity pools and you step into Old-World architecture inspired by Mexican and Tuscan villas.