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
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.
In 2008, when my husband Paul and I first started talking about the possibility of retiring overseas, we really only considered two countries: Mexico and Costa Rica. I often wonder why we didn’t consider more countries at the time; there are so many great options. At the time, though, we only thought of countries where we’d had some personal experience. First up was Mexico. Paul lived and went to college there in the ’70s and has always had a love for both the country and its culture, so it was natural that Mexico was on our short list. I had visited Costa Rica on a business trip in the ’90s and remembered it as a beautiful country that I always wanted to visit again.
When Bob and Irma Caragol started looking for their new retirement home, they knew what they wanted. “We were looking for a warm climate at a high elevation, enough land for a garden with a good water source, a safe way to diversify our assets, and an affordable cost of living,” recalls Bob. They found all this and more in Santa Fe, Panama. “We are so impressed by the people of Santa Fe,” Bob says. “They are so friendly and helpful and we feel welcome here. There’s no sense of class distinction as in other places, and almost no crime. The environment is unspoiled, with clean rivers and no pollution.”
Mexico’s chic beach resort of Puerto Vallarta has been attracting expats for decades, thanks to its warm climate and sophisticated but affordable First-World living. But while many come to lounge by the sea or stroll the cobblestone streets of the city’s Romantic Zone, Canadian Pat Light has found in Puerto Vallarta a moneymaking opportunity. The former hospital administrator has turned her love for exotic handmade soaps into a thriving business. In addition to colorful soaps, Pat also sells shampoos and body creams scented with the coconut, lime, and mango of her new home. Like many businesses, hers grew out of a hobby. A longtime admirer of handmade soap, Pat ran out of supplies after moving to Mexico in 2007. This led her to try to create her own.
Every year, more and more North Americans are waking up to the immense opportunities that an overseas retirement presents. Some move abroad to embrace new experiences, a different lifestyle—even an exciting new career—unavailable to them at home. Others—worried that a depleted nest egg and spiraling healthcare costs may leave them too little to retire on in North America—discover that many lower-cost countries let them stretch their savings and enjoy a comfortable, even luxurious, retirement.
Recently I spent a month in the U.S. visiting family and friends. It was my longest continuous stint “back home” since I moved to Mexico eight years ago. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with loved ones and enjoy the U.S., and I did. There’s a lot that I love about my home country, including its beauty, the sheer convenience of life there, and, of course, its familiarity. I don’t include the high—indeed, exorbitant—cost of U.S. healthcare on that list of things I love. Those who live in the U.S. don’t have any choice—that expensive healthcare is all they have. But in moving abroad I gained a choice in the matter, and it’s been one of the best things about my move.
We came to Cancun after beginning our expat retirement adventures in Ecuador. Our retirement plans were in serious trouble in the U.S. I had suffered my second heart attack in 2009…and soon after I lost a good job and the health insurance that came with it. I was unemployed, uninsured, and the medical expenses were stacking up. So, we decided to take a chance and live overseas, a decision that first brought us to the small fishing and farming community of San Vicente on Ecuador’s coast, just a short distance from the equator. We spent two great years there, but with my heart issues, we decided it would be wise to live closer to top-notch emergency medical care.
In the 2014 Fast-Track Your Retirement Overseas Package we’ll introduce you to more than a dozen beautiful places in the world where you can live a caviar lifestyle on a hot dog budget.
Perhaps you long for your own cottage on a quiet beach… a grand apartment in a city vibrant with concerts and cafes… a mountain villa where the air is crisp… or even your own vineyard amid gently rolling hills…
For their 2015 Annual Global Retirement Index, InternationalLiving.com’s editors and correspondents spent months researching, surveying, and collating the data on the best places to live in the world…a task that included identifying the best climates worldwide. The Climate category in the Index assessed the hard data of temperatures, rainfall and humidity, and also the comfort level of each destination’s climate. “It’s difficult to quantify and qualify a ‘perfect’ climate,” says Suzan Haskins, senior editor at InternationalLiving.com.
Gray skies…dark mornings and evenings…and inches of snow covering your driveway… Those don’t need to be a fact of life. For the 2015 Annual Global Retirement Index, our editors and correspondents spent months researching, surveying, and collating the data on the best places to live in the world…a task that included identifying where you can find the best climate in the world. The “Climate” category assesses the hard data of temperatures, rainfall and humidity, and also the comfort level of each destination’s climate.
Hip, trendy, vibrant… Those three words sum up Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This is a boomtown, plain and simple. Over the past 20 years, the population has exploded. Fifth Avenue, the main shopping and entertainment drag, is described locally as the longest pedestrianized street in the Americas. Each time I visit—that’s every month for the last three months now—it feels like new blocks have sprung up and fashionable restaurants and boutiques have opened their doors.
Looking to move to Mexico? If so, here’s some good news: Mexico has recently reduced the amount of income and assets you need to qualify for a residence visa. Combined with the already-streamlined visa application process, it means that getting legal residence in Mexico is cheaper and easier than it’s been in years. For temporary residence visas you now must show monthly income of only about $1,553 for the last six months or average financial assets of about $25,880 for the last year. For a permanent residence visa you must show monthly income of about $2,588 or average assets of about $103,523. Expats have a choice of two main categories of visa: a temporary residence visa or a permanent residence visa. Within these categories there are several ways to qualify. For instance, you can qualify if you’ve been hired by a Mexican company.
These days I’m pain free. I have all my flexibility back, I can enjoy the things I love doing, and it’s all thanks to a trip to Mexico. I’m one of many people who have traveled to Mexico for medical care. I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my hips four years ago, and it came upon me quickly. I was at the height of my career but was forced to stop working due to pain and difficulty walking. I had been an athletic person all my life and an enthusiastic golfer…no more.
Encompassing Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of El Salvador and Honduras, La Ruta Maya (the “Maya Route”) covers the territory of the Maya civilization, which reached its height from 250 to 900 A.D. One of the New World’s most advanced cultures, the Maya had written language, mathematics, a sophisticated calendar, and architectural skills that saw them construct massive temples and spectacular cities, many of which still stand. However, the Maya were never a single empire; rather, kings ruled over small territories surrounding a city.
From the quaint town of Cotacachi to the vibrant capital, Quito, from Salinas by the sea to the peaks of the Andes, Ecuador’s diversity is a key part of the massive appeal that sees it regain the coveted top spot on this year’s retirement index. Although prices have risen slightly in recent years, Ecuador’s real estate is still the best value you’ll find anywhere. This is bolstered by the generous array of benefits the government has afforded to retirees. Over-65s get discounts on flights originating in Ecuador, as well as up to 50% off entry to movies and sporting events. Discounts are also available on public transport (50%) and utilities, with the option of a free landline if you purchase a property.
If you dream about a different life… one lived on a sun-dappled beach… or in a colonial, history-rich town… or some exotic big city abroad… but you need an income to make it happen, sooner rather than later… Then you should know: There are proven, flexible ways you can fund your life overseas… and get paid to do something you genuinely enjoy… So you gain the freedom to pick up and go… travel when you feel like it… live in a place you love… and all the while earn $12,000… $25,000… $40,000… even $85,000 a year or more…
In a handful of noteworthy places on the planet right now, you could own a world-class property for $150,000 and have it throw off $1,000 a month, right from the start. These are what I call “exceptional markets.” Places where you’re looking at as much as an 8% yield… more than double the norm. But you don’t need mounds of cash on hand to get in – often less than $20,000. And these are gains you can pocket with little-to-no effort.
With spiraling costs compelling more and more North Americans to retire overseas, retiring abroad has never been more attractive. But finding the right location among the myriad options available can be daunting. That’s what our Annual Global Retirement Index does. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. Keep in mind that, even though only 25 countries feature on our list, all of them are worth your attention. We selected them from among all the countries in the world for their qualities as retirement hot-spots, so even the lowest-ranked nation on our index is still very much an option worth considering.
The original Riviera (from the Italian word for “seashore”) sprang up in southern France and the bordering region of Italy. Upper-crust Brits, northern Europeans, and—later—well-heeled Americans flocked here for the beach resorts, casinos, and parties. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald had a villa here in the Jazz Age, although it’s said he was a horrible party guest. The term riviera has been adopted by regions all over the world, in places where the sun, surf, and vacation vibe live on. And when we hit the new-school rivieras in the developing world, expect to get a real bang for your real estate buck.
Carlos stares into the afternoon sky, scans the horizon, and glances at his cell phone to check for messages. Then, using his machete and with a few deft flicks of his wrist, he slices through the scrub. Brightly colored butterflies float on the breeze. Whenever they come close, Carlos gently brushes them away from us and away from any danger to them. Carlos, though hardly five feet tall, wears the wide smile common among Mayans. It’s contagious. He’s one of the most successful developers on the Riviera Maya but here in the scrub, he’s a world away from bustling Mexico City where he spends a lot of his time. In the Riviera Maya is where he’s at his happiest—not in any boardroom or first class airline seat.
Our tumble from a very nice, safe, and secure middle-class life began when my second heart attack struck in 2009—right in the middle of a global financial crisis. I lost my upper-level management position and the health insurance that came with it. Try as I might, I was unable to find a good job for the first time in my life. I was unemployed, uninsured, and recovering from a serious heart attack with ongoing medical expenses every week. I did what work I could find, but my earnings combined with those from my wife Diane’s job barely managed to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.