January 16, 2021 – Living the expatriate life in retirement can be great… or not so wonderful. So much depends on where you retire to, your preparation, and what you bring to the party. Almost 10 years ago we published an interview with Steven Anderson, who wrote a book about his bad experiences in retiring to Mexico: “Mexican Retirement Gone Bad: Can’t Wait to Get Back to the USA“. The article sparked over 160 Member Comments, and those actively continue to this day.
A minority of commentators agreed with Stephen’s negative experiences, while a significant majority talked about their wonderful Mexican and other expatriate retirements. The Comments make for interesting and informative reading, and even though some of them are a few years old, they should be required for anyone contemplating an expat retirement. Here in this article we take a sampling of both sides of the argument, but since more people responded with positive stories of their expat retirements we have included more of those. We hope you will agree that these Comments from actual people who have lived in Mexico are very useful.
On the positive side of a Mexican retirement
I haven’t read this book, but it sounds as if some of it is true. I have lived in Mexico intermittently over the last 21 years and find that there is tremendous cultural difference here, particularly with respect to noise,attitude, laws, etc. However, I do have a nicer house here than I could afford in the US. Since I am disabled, I have to have a maid and a gardener and they are far less expensive here. I paid $2500 pesos (about $200 USD) for a complete cardiac exam, including the EKG, echocardiogram, stress test and the doctor’s follow-up history and physical examination with a cardiologist I had seen before. I do not know where Mr. Anderson got his exam for the price quoted. Despite the problems we have here, I do not know where else I could live for what I spend here on housing, food, household expenses, medical care, car expenses, etc. — Petter A
Wow, sounds like they had some bad connections in the home buying experience. Our Realtor in the Chapala area is local, she guided us to areas that she thought would appeal to us based on our wants and needs. The home we bought was new, we had it inspected by a local inspector who gave us a written and photo account of all the potential issues. Based on this the builder took care of all our issues. They we all minor anyway. The real estate transaction was seamless, the process was friendly and we remain friends with the builder who is a local Mexican man.
Our Realtor steered us to a local contractor she has used in the past. I also got bids from two other contractors on the work I wanted done, the Realtors person was a Mexican local and his bid was the best priced and his bid was detailed to include drawings, photos and specs as needed. All his work was done in a timely manner and on or under budget, his craftsmanship was excellent. He has done a lot of add on work for us and I can’t stop singing his praises.
I enjoy the casual lifestyle, the traditions of the people, the warmth of the culture. I avoid putting myself in precarious situations. I am aware of my surroundings. I have had medical and dental work done there and have found the doctors and dentists to be competent and pleasant. The costs are far below what I could have had done in the States with my insurance.
My experiences have been excellent. The only people I have found to be rude or abusive have been fellow expats. I try to just blend into the life in my non-gated local neighborhood where there is no HOA or people telling what I can or can’t do. To each his own. — Mike
Sorry, but this is one person’s take on life down here and it just isn’t what we are experiencing. Our home is well-built and without problems. We pay a ridiculously low bill for electricity less than $65 US for two months of electricity. We have fans, washer/dryer, refrigerator, lights, etc. All the comforts of home. The Mexicans we meet are kind, helpful, and gracious.
Yes, there are some scams going on. Mostly driven by the poverty of the area. You might be told your windshield wipers are damaged and you need to buy new ones from the man selling them. But we have a great network to warn us of things like this. Certainly there are scams in the US — Bernie Madoff, anyone?
The crime is an issue and most of us realize that the US policies are partially to blame. We are working with the local Mexican government and police to improve the situation in the Lake Chapala area.
As for “kick backs”, we hear about them, so we know that there is truth to these. You might be able to reduce or eliminate a traffic ticket if you pay the traffic officer, for instance. Again, not something that you didn’t hear about in the US before.
This is a wonderful, emerging country that is trying to face its problems and change. It’s sad when one person’s feelings get produced as a reality of an entire community of expats. If you’re really interested in knowing what it’s like to live here, be sure to ask a broader audience than one. – Carol
Been in Chapala eight years now and couldn’t be happier. I can verify all of the positive comments above and can equally disprove most of the negative ones. One of the things you just have to learn to put up with here is people who came down totally unprepared and now have nothing better to do than whine when things don’t meet their (delusional) expectations. They’re not going to be happy anywhere. – Ryan
We have had a totally different experience. We are in our 60’s and building a snowbird home in Tulum as we speak. We did find a retirement community that is gated and has 24 hour control. There are many people building homes now. There is strict restrictions on how much land you clear. Everyone has a 5 acre lot and there are 220 lots. It is off the grid and now about 5 builders that are building. They are well respected honest yucatans that create works of art in their homes. Stuctural sound and all the modern conveniences including compost flush toilets that take paper.We plan to live there for 6 winter months and have connected with many neighbours that are from all over the world. This area is growing in value and in 5-10years we will have doubled our value. Very concerned about health care but see it is first class and so many hospitals and clinics to choose from. My husband had a bad spider bite and he was in the hospital, no waiting and all the meds and visit was only $100.00. Here in Canada he would wait 12 hours in ER.
We are careful and don’t show wealth. We respect the culture, love the people and in the coming years will learn Spanish. In this area it is quite safe and we love love the temperature, food, wildlife and birds and gardens. It is a paradise. Our home is being built for the amount we paid 12 years ago in Canada. Yes there are big bugs and lots of changes but still we could not retire here in Canada for what we have in the Yucatan. – April
I have lived in Alamos, Sonora. I am surrounded by total beauty, a charming town and just no hassles except for loud music sometimes. Its not a trendy gringo destination and has no beaches. There are lots of small towns like Alamos in cartel free Mexico. If you can just live quietly with nature and really nice people there are options with living in Mexico. Do not let the flashy tourist websites form your opinion as to where and how to live. – Tom
I’ve lived in Mexico for 9 years now–7.5 in San Miguel de Allende and the last1.5 years in coastal Nayarit, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta. If you do your research and pick the right architect/builder, building a home is going to be an absolute joy here. Our guy in San Miguel was bilingual, honest and had a great reputation among my good friends based on work he’d done for them. The house (and the attached recording studio) was spectacular, finished almost exactly on time–extended a couple of weeks because of changes we made during the building process–and stands as a testament to Mexican craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Even more importantly…it was a pleasure from start to finish. The workers (between 5 and 30 a day, depending on what was being done) were happy to be working for a year. Most of the surprises were pleasant, the exception being when the US economy crashed in ’08 and we had to reduce the square footage of the new place so that it fit our new net worth better. But even that process was fairly painless.
Beyond all that, the people here are generally friendly and warm, especially if you make an attempt to speak their language–think about it. Don’t you get a little frustrated when you meet a Mexican resident in the US and he or she can’t speak a word of English? if you come to live in Mexico, make the investment and you will see how far it takes you. – Doug
It is unfortunate that some have a negative experience, have retired three years ago and have owned property in the Manzanillo area since 2006. Have had nothing but a wonderful experience, purchasing, building and fitting intro the community in an area that is very Mexican and a few Expats around. Very positive experience. It is very important to remember that we are a guest in their country. Rule number one; attempt to speak spanish, learn the language, Rule Number two: do not exude affluence, Be aware of the cultural differences, Find a worthy charity to support. In all transactions work with a trusted Notary and or lawyer. Do not make emotional decisions quick decisions based on the beauty of the area, but make your decisions based on long obeservation, recognize that a real estate deal is a long haul. 5 Million expats from Canada and the US cannot all be wrong. Stephen’s information is good, but do not judge his experience as they way it is. We have thoroughly enjoyed our home, our neighbours and our community and never lose site of the fact that we are guest in a foreign country. – Peter D
This sounds like so many people i have known that move to foreign countries only to turn them into the countries they have left behind. expat community? i can envision that very clearly: gated, secured, landscaped, big new houses with all the modern conveniences of home…all kinds of alarm systems, all new heavily loaded wiring, the works. have you even bothered to learn the language? have you made any effort to meet the locals, learn their culture, eat their food, shop their businesses or the mercado? probably not. you’re too busy reaping the benefits of cheap taxes and medical care while expecting all of the locals to jump and snap like american help. we get it on this side of the boarder too. mexicans that come here and want to live like they did in mexico. they don’t learn the “lay of the land”, the culture or the language and are just as resented by US citizens as expats are resented by mexicans that act the same way in THEIR country. you are what the mexican locals refer to as an ugly american. you get what you give. – IloveMexico
Ajijic is not for a type A person. It is beautiful to me, with the flowering vines, colorful paint…etc. The small village feel,the friendly people. Compared to New England it is heaven, because of the relaxed atmosphere. As in the USA one has to beware of scams, be careful who you hire, etc. You have to ask around, be connected with the neighborhood where you live and get services word of mouth, if you need a plumber, use the same plumber the rest of the neighborhood uses, etc. Do not call the Police in Ajijic, unless it is a major crime like murder; you must find the person in the neighborhood who will take care of it if you cannot do it yourself, that is how it works. If you need a lot of government regulation, and taxes, stay in the USA and good luck to ya. – Sara
Comments about negative experiences
I have been to Lake Chapala, the weather is the only thing it has going for it, but it is not spring like weather all year long as they would have you believe. The lake is polluted, mostly a bunch of old people claiming they can’t afford to live in the U.S. while paying 3 times the cost for a house that a local would be charged, complaining about the lack of service, security & just about everything else.
Walk around and you will see as many scroungy old gringos & gringas as you will see in a big city Wal Mart. Few people are there because they actually enjoy the culture, They are either cheap, poor, or both. – Jim H
I have been royally screwed by several contractors, many of whom aren’t even contractors; there is no licensing or regulation in any industry, including real estate, so anyone can claim to be whatever they like. If you get taken, there is no recourse. The law favors nationals, not foreigners. I have been the victim of theft several times, had my vehicle vandalized as well as had my wipers torn apart by that nice man selling wipers- that is his trademark in case you aren’t aware. Naivety may be charming, but they see you coming.
The constant barrage of noise is like living in a war zone, I and many friends spend many nights awake listening to the rockets meant to scare the bad spirits. Yup, worked for me! I feel like a zombie. This is living? If you have a problem with someone you had best keep it to yourself, they have a way of dealing with those who insult them. A neighbors gardener who routinely harrased me with vulgar, sexist comments & was warned off by a 3rd party, has tried to poison my dogs by throwing several bags of tainted food over my wall into my dog run. Thankfully they survived.
My time here has been one long saga of endless frustration, stress and yes, disappointment. You can do all the homework possible before you come but the only way to know for sure is by living here. I find that the constant scams and ripoffs are tiring at best, and don’t wish to spend my life with ‘sucker’ branded across my forehead. As soon as I can get my property sold, I am out of here. – Expat Canuck
I noticed that one person mentioned International Living Magazine. My complaint with IL is that they paint a smiley face on every place they recommend and it just ain’t so. Driving here can be frustrating but I do it-in my car and on my motorcycle but one needs an accute awareness of what is going on around him, just expect the guy in front to turn in front of you and cross two lane of traffic to get where he wants and you will do OK.
The culture was more or less what I expected , I like it in general but as mentioned above the Mexicans have a different noise level acceptance and paties going on alnight with a band blaring is not unusual and no one seems to expect anything else as no one here starts to arrive at a party until after 10 PM. I got use to the noise but it was a pain at first.
So this is my ‘good, bad and ugly’ I hope it helps those who are thinking about moving to Mexico, it can be fun and it can be frustrating. – Drex
As you can see, there are many different experiences to be had for those retiring in Mexico. Hopefully you can learn from those to help in any decision you make. As more than one person commented, the best policy is to go there and live for a while and see for yourself if it is something you are interested in.
Comments? Are you contemplating a Mexican or expatriate retirement? Please share your thoughts and concerns. And if you have retired there, please update us with how it is going in the Comments section below.