With glorious warm weather, picture-perfect beaches, proximity to the United States, and a much lower cost of living than its neighbors to the north, it’s no wonder Mexico is such a popular country for North American retirees. In fact, Mexico ranked as the world’s third best place to retire in 2021, according to International Living’s 2021 Annual Global Retirement Index.
The U.S. State Department says more than 1.5 million U.S. citizens live in Mexico today. That number includes plenty of folks, young and old, who have relocated south of the border and continue to work remotely. Or maybe they’ve picked up local jobs or continued careers in their new country. And let’s not forget the number of Canadians who have moved to Mexico, as well.
But it’s safe to say hundreds of thousands of people are living out their dream of full retirement in Mexico, with plenty of free time to enjoy the weather, culture, food, and new friends in this popular North American country.
Here’s a deeper look at some of the reasons why expats love spending their retirement years in Mexico.
1. Proximity To The United States
When Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price, started researching cheaper places he and his family might move to from their home in Nashville, he considered Guatemala, Nicaragua, and even Argentina. But he ultimately landed on Mexico 11 years ago because of its closeness to the United States. “We still have family in the U.S., and knowing we could get back quickly if we needed to for any reason gave us peace of mind,” he says.
Leffel points out that flights to and from the United States are plentiful and relatively inexpensive. A flight from Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, or Mexico City to many major U.S. cities doesn’t take much more than a few hours.
In addition, people who plan on relocating permanently may want to drive down across the border to Mexico with key belongings -- or pets! -- and that’s just not as convenient for many popular retiree destinations further afield.
2. Variety Of Places To Live
This is where Mexico really shines: There are so many different areas of the country that appeal to expats depending on their preferences -- and their budgets. The most expensive places to settle down are big-city touristy areas on the beach, whether that’s Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen, Mazatlan, or Cabo San Lucas. If you go inland, you’ll be more apt to find cheaper living expenses.
Leffel, who also pens the Cheapest Destinations Blog, ended up relocating to the central Mexico city of Guanajuato, where the sunny, temperate weather brings temperatures in the 70s and 80s all year long. Mexico City is popular among expats who want an urban, cultural vibe with plenty of good food. Laid-back beach areas like Sayulita and San Pancho, north of Puerto Vallarta, attract folks who want to be close to the water but don’t need much city life.
Editor’s Note: TravelAwaits writer Louisa Rogers also calls Guanajuato home. Read her take on this special place in Retired In Guanajuato, Mexico: My 9 Favorite Unique Experiences.
Then there’s San Miguel de Allende, which sits at 6,200 feet in elevation in north-central Mexico. The charming small city with cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial architecture is wildly popular with expat retirees, so much so that Leffel says it can feel like “a giant, open-air retirement community.” This can be a draw or a drawback, depending on how much you want to immerse yourself in local culture or how much you’d like the comfort of meeting others like you who speak the same language.
3. Low Cost Of Living
Dale McFann retired early and moved to Puerto Escondido on Mexico’s Pacific Coast eight years ago. “My wife and I live like kings on $1,500 USD a month, a fraction of what it takes for basic living in the States.”
Indeed, the cost of housing, basic living expenses, food, as well as hired help such as housekeepers and gardeners, is much less expensive than the cost of living in either the United States or Canada. Leffel reports that most local goods and services are at least 50 percent cheaper than what he’d pay back in the States.
McFann says he and his wife pay just $600 USD for a two-bedroom apartment in a gated compound with two pools, a tennis court, an ocean view, Wi-Fi, and cable TV. “We live in paradise and couldn’t be happier,” he says.
4. Ease Of Residency (Or A Lengthy Tourist Visa)
Most visitors to Mexico can stay in the country as tourists for 180 days, which makes Mexico incredibly popular among snowbirds from North America who just want to spend the winter months in the warmer country. If visitors choose to stay in the country longer, they simply need to leave Mexico a few days prior to that 180-day time limit, enter another country, then return to Mexico to start the 180-day timer all over again (also known as “making a border run”).
That said, expats can achieve temporary or permanent residency simply by showing a sufficient amount of monthly income (including Social Security or pension) or savings. The residency application process begins in your home country and is completed in Mexico. International Living does a good job explaining some of the details for visa requirements here.
5. Quality, Affordable Medical Care
Temporary and permanent residents of Mexico can participate in Mexico’s national healthcare program. But paying out-of-pocket for medical care is typical for expat retirees (no matter their visa status) since prices are so low for private healthcare -- and the medical care is quite good. International Living points out that many Mexican doctors and dentists have trained, at least in part, in the United States and return to the U.S. regularly for ongoing education.
If you’re keen to pay, say, $15 for a doctor’s visit and $25 for an X-ray, as well as a fraction of what you might pay for prescription drugs in the U.S. (without a prescription!), a move to Mexico may certainly appeal.
6. Glorious Weather
Being able to recreate outdoors year-round in sunshine and warmth is a huge draw of living in Mexico. That said, all weather in Mexico isn’t created equal. You’ll find cooler (relatively speaking) weather in the central part of the country, especially at high elevations, as well as in Baja California, where Los Cabos is. More sultry, humid weather is found on the Yucatan (Cancun) and Pacific (Puerto Vallarta) coasts.
You’ll want to do your research (more on this below) and experience the weather firsthand in your potential new home to make sure it’s a good match. But if your priority is avoiding the cold and snow found in many U.S. cities in the winter months, rest assured Mexico has you covered.
7. Food, Culture, And Fun
Mexico draws worldwide vacationers because of its endless opportunities for fun -- whether fun to you is sampling local delicacies, visiting historic churches, or learning how to kitesurf.
Delving into Mexican culture, outdoor adventures, and gastronomic delights is easy to do when you’re living in the country permanently -- simply strolling to your neighborhood’s Saturday market, ordering from a taco truck, dipping into a museum, striking up a conversation with a local, or investigating a new-to-you watersport can introduce you to some of the cultural and outdoor activities that make Mexico so special.
In other words, if you’re retired and living in Mexico, you won’t be bored!
Drawbacks Of Living In Mexico
In A Better Life for Half the Price, Leffel says, “Half my relatives probably expected me to be dead by now from moving to Mexico.” Indeed, many people worry about rampant crime -- and wouldn’t dream of vacationing in Mexico, let alone move there.
But Leffel points out that there is crime in Mexico the same way there is crime in the United States. You probably know which neighborhoods to avoid at night in your home city, and which are safe -- similarly, you wouldn’t want to venture into unsafe neighborhoods in big cities in Mexico, nor would you want to move to certain Mexican border towns or areas of the country known for their drug cartel activity.
Bottom line: The same way you operate to keep yourself safe in North America -- being aware of your surroundings, keeping valuables locked up, not venturing out alone late at night -- will help you stay safe in Mexico.
Expats may more often complain about “Mexico time” -- that is, when you’re told a handyman will come fix your plumbing in an hour and he shows up in two hours. Or a concert that’s scheduled to start at 7 p.m. begins 30 minutes later. Patience is a virtue in laid-back Mexico, for sure.
Considering A Move? Visit First!
Once you’ve narrowed down some parameters of where you may want to relocate in Mexico -- coast or inland, city or town -- you’ll want to spend some time checking out your new potential home. Leffel suggests spending a couple weeks, if not a month, in your intended area to confirm it’s a good fit.
There’s something called the “margarita effect” that may factor in if you decided to move to a spot in Mexico after one short trip there. Being on vacation in a tropical location definitely isn’t the same as living there full time.
Book a vacation rental in a neighborhood you might actually live in to see if you like the local markets, if you don’t mind the walk to the beach, or if you can handle the loud live music on the town plaza that goes on well into the wee hours. It’s all important!
McFann says he started visiting Baja California in the 1970s and vacationed regularly in Puerto Vallarta for 30 years. After still more research, he settled in Puerto Escondido. “Hard work, family values, and spirituality are all mainstays here, and I like being part of that.”
McFann also landed upon a new career after retiring early from jobs in printing and real estate in the U.S., re-inventing himself in Mexico as a beach bar owner and musician. “These are things I always wanted to be in the States. Mexico has allowed me to be the person I’ve always dreamed of. It has been the land of opportunity for me.”