The Mexico peso has reached historic lows in recent weeks, only underscoring the benefits that expats enjoy when they move to Mexico. There are more US and Canadian expats in Mexico than anywhere else in the world. In many cineplexes, films are shown in English with subtitles, and many of America’s big box stores have gone down to Mexico to open up for business.
There are many reasons Canadians and Americans move to Mexico to live and retire: cheaper medical procedures, dental work and prescription drugs. Money talks, and when it comes to saving money for North Americans, no place is better than Mexico. There are other reasons: many people feel they enjoy more personal freedom south of the border, and thus a higher quality of life. The sunny, warmer weather doesn’t hurt either.
The US State department’s recent estimates place the total number of US expats in Mexico at nearly 1 million, up from 200,000 just ten years ago. This number, to boot, might be low. Data shows that the lion’s share of the expats are living in 20 cities and registered as US citizens. These locations account for 46.*% of all US expats over the age of 50.
North American expatriates inhabit the whole of Mexico, from cosmopolitan cities and tiny villages to beaches and mountains. Many US citizens stay close to the border, with Tijuana, Mexicali and Juarez registering quite a few US citizens in particularly. Here is a closer look at some of the favorite spots of US expatriates.
In Baja Norte, home to the Valle de Guadalupe, expatriates are common to see. Stretching from Tijuana to Ensenada, you can reach this popular destination from the busiest border in the world, the San Ysidro Border between Tijuana and San Diego. I’ve even sometimes seen American born panhandlers who seem to be on some weird bum-like vacation.
An estimated 200,000 expatriates live in Baja California, staying close to the coast in cities like Ensenada, San Felipe, Rosarito and Tijuana. Often times signs are in English in this area, namely due to its proximity with the border, and, as well, US dollars are accepted. Baja Sur’s preferred destinations include the Los Cabos area, the resort town for Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, Todos Santos, Loreto and more. Its close proximity to the US makes La Paz another destination for North American expatriates. As the capital city of Mexican State of Baja California Sur, the city proper is home to approximately 215,178 people as of the 2010 census, though towns surrounding the city bring this total up.
The twin cities of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo make up Los Cabos. The economy here is a tourism one, with sports fishing a considerable draw. It is also a top spot in the world for whale watching.
1.8% of the US expatriates living in Mexico move to Los Cabos to enjoy the laid back atmosphere of former fishing village. The flight to the US from here only lasts a couple hours and, what’s more, the northern region of the state is potentially some of the most Americanized urban areas in Mexico.
[Editor’s Note: For more on Los Cabos, click here.]
World Heritage city and Guanajuato, as a University city, has a youthful feel to it and is known for its sophisticated cultural options. The city is located in a narrow valley, and its layout is thus very narrow as well. Still there is a historic downtown with small plazas and colonial mansions, churches and civil buildings in pink and green sandstone.
The city is colorful as the fuchsia pink decorates the mountainside alongside red, saffron, yellow, baby blue and lime green.
The picture do not do this city justice, as its youthful energy is brought out via the colorful alleys and narrow streets. This is not a big tourist destination, just a bit of the real Mexico.
Lake Chapala, Mexico
Lake Chapala is home to a large expat community of approximately 15,000, which can increase to 30,000 in winter as snowbirds go south. The freshwater lake there is 30-miles long, the largest in Mexico.
The lake is just one hour south of Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara, a health care epicenter of Latin America. The lake also offers top-notch independent living for retirees. In the US such a service costs $2,500 a month. In Lake Chapala, the same goes for $1,500. A hospital recently opened up on the lake continuing Chapala’s tradition of being an expat safe haven for retirees.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Just north of Puerto Vallarta, the small town of Sayulita, and its coast, Costa Nayarit, is home to many expats. Puerto Vallarta was named the top 2012 destination in Mexico by Tripadvisor. Puerto Vallarta is home to beautiful Pacific Ocean beaches and a twenty-two mile long bay. Semi-private beaches like Conchas Chinas or the more social and lively Los Muertos beach.
The natural beauty of Puerto Vallarta leads many US expatriates into doing something they never thought they would: moving to a major tourist resort. The entire Banderas Bay region features fine dining, art galleries, upscale shopping, internet cafes and nightclubs. As any traditional Mexican city, taco stands, street-side vendors and outdoor markets feature handcrafts. Vallartenses are known as friendly people who welcome residents and tourists in a climate of tolerance. Puerto Vallarta is also known as a “gay travel” friendly destination.
The Riviera Maya
The Riviera Maya, along Mexico’s Caribbean Coast, features the beautiful coastal cities and towns of Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. Expats enjoy Cancun and Playa del Carmen for its shopping, cinemas, major hospitals and other amenities. Cancun has the airport for the region, and Tulum is located on the Caribbean coast of the state near the archaeological ruins of Tulum.
Tulum was once the site of a Mayan port, as well. The historic presence in this region gives it a unique sense of depth and history that some other places in Mexico simply don’t offer.
If you want to see a piece of ancient Mexico, the Riviera Maya offers the high end lodging, dining one needs to make this the perfect vacation amid breathtaking scenery.
San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is a 500-year-old town of 140,00 people at 6,000 feet in the Sierra Madre mountains in the heart of Mexico. 6,000 some odd expatriates live in San Miguel de Allende.
San Miguel de Allende is off the beaten path, and not easy to get to. Nearly 20% of people in San Miguel de Allende are expatriates. The city was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city’s history dates back to the 16th century as a silver hub.
A perennial favorite of expats, certainly visiting San Miguel de Allende should be on any world travelers list.
Time Magazine recently highlighted the story of one Elle Cosimano who quit her job to start a new life. What did she learn in this pursuit? Six things. Here they are: Less really is more; It’s OK to be selfish; It isn’t a race; you don’t have to follow the herd; there’s a great big world out there. As she writes in her Time piece:
When we moved to Mexico, I received letters from friends and family back home suggesting that it was all well and good to need a break, but everyone has to come back to reality at some point. After all, we can’t live in a grass hut forever. To this, I ask: Why not? Why is this life any less imaginable than one lived someplace else? There’s a great big world out there. And there’s plenty of time to live it—really live it.