Americans have been retiring to Mexico for decades, attracted to the country's proximity to the United States, affordability, rich cultural traditions, beautiful areas, temperate climate and hospitality to foreigners. For those considering making the big move to Mexico, you are walking a well-trodden path. A wealth of information is available to you about how to enjoy your retirement in Mexico.
From the major cities and beach resorts to small fishing villages and colonial towns, Mexico has Americans living in almost every region. However, certain areas attract more expatriates. Guadalajara and Lake Chapala have huge North American retirement communities, and the services and amenities---in English---to support them. Cuernavaca, known as "the land of eternal spring," and Mexico City are other major enclaves. Many Americans retire to the colonial city San Miguel de Allende, called "the San Francisco of Mexico" for its arty atmosphere. Merida and Oaxaca are further off the beaten track, but have their share of expatriates.
Americans retiring to Mexico can choose many types of retirement. Snowbirds hit the warmer climes south of the border during the bitter winter months. Others come on tourist visas for six months out of every year. Still others apply for working papers, typically for teaching English, which must be renewed annually. Finally, some expatriates retire to Mexico year-round, applying for a "rentista" permit and proving they meet minimum income requirements. An entertaining book that will teach you how to find what you need in Mexico is "The People's Guide to Mexico," by Carl Franz.
The benefits for Americans retiring to Mexico are many. Proximity to the United States means that friends and family are never far away. Americans can also legally receive social security retirement benefits while living in Mexico. Banking in the age of the Internet is as simple as a few clicks of the mouse. Buying a house is relatively simple, and it is legal for Americans to own property in Mexico, although special requirements apply to coastal property and communal lands. Food is fresh, simple, delicious and affordable. Health care is cheap, although Medicare coverage does not extend to Mexico. Household help is affordable. Public transportation is cheap and plentiful.
A move to Mexico is a big change. Use the Internet forums and websites such as Mexico Connect and Lake Chapala & Mexico Living to research your Mexican destination and pose questions to members (see Resources below). Armchair travel at bookstores and libraries to learn more about Mexico. One favorite books about the practicalities of retiring to Mexico is "Choose Mexico for Retirement: Retirement Discoveries for Every Budget," by John Howells and Don Merwin. Another classic of the genre is "Live Better South of the Border: A Practical Guide for Living and Working," by Mexico Mike Nelson. In "Midlife Mavericks: Women Reinventing Their Lives in Mexico," author Karen Blue interviewed American women living on their own in Mexico. A reconnaissance trip is ideal, targeting three or four major places of interest for comparison. Study maps of the region and learn some basic Spanish.
The U.S. State Department has issued warnings for people traveling or retiring to various parts of Mexico. While these warnings can be overly harsh, it pays to exercise common sense. The areas near the United States and Mexico border have experienced heightened levels of violent crime due to drug trafficking. The major urban centers of Mexico also tend to have more crime, though their crime rates don't differ significantly from those in urban centers in the United States.