By Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
If you are looking for a retirement destination abroad that is easy on the wallet, and still reasonably close to the U.S. or Canada, then Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico is worth considering. The largest North American retirement community in the world, Lake Chapala is a thousand miles due south of Phoenix, Arizona, and would be a great starting point for learning about retiring in a foreign country.
A quick twenty five minute taxi ride from the international airport of the capital city of Guadalajara, Chapala also serves as a convenient hub for further travel destinations throughout Mexico, Central America, or South America. A major plus is that the flight time to the States and Canada to visit family is only a few hours and the airport is serviced by major carriers.
Not all gangsta land
Before you reject Mexico out-of-hand as a location for your relaxation years due to what you hear on the news about drug cartels, you can rest assured that not every city or town in this country is firmly in the grip of gangsters. Just the same as certain cities in the States or Canada have high crime rates, but are populated by long term residents and are considered to be top tourist destinations, there is too much good and attractive about Mexico to simply discard it as a retirement option.
Eternal spring climate
Take the climate for instance. Chapala is nestled in the mountains at about 5000 feet above sea level, on the north shore of a sparkling gem-of-a-lake. Lake Chapala, which is 50 miles long and 22 miles wide, is the largest natural lake in Mexico. Due to the fact that Chapala is located below the Tropic of Cancer and has this mile-high elevation, the climate here is described as “Eternal Spring”, with daytime temperatures averaging in the mid 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
The general beauty of the area is a notable draw. The city of Chapala spent hundreds of thousands of Pesos to fix up the walking street area around the lake known to the locals as the malecon. On weekends the malecon fills with families and wealthy tourists from Guadalajara who make the short drive out of the city to come to the nearby paradise of Chapala. During weekdays, it is peaceful and calm, perfect for morning walks or for a quick jog.
Café society and social activities
A result of this ever-pleasant weather there is an enjoyable café society. Restaurants offering international cuisine and gourmet coffee houses alike are places where folks gather to sit and people-watch as well as catch up on each other’s lives. Golf courses are available, there are fine tennis courts both public and private, garden clubs, bridge clubs, theater groups, volunteer organizations and art groups all conveniently accessible for those who want to take part.
Foreigners have been coming to this area to retire since the early 1950’s. To accommodate the needs of Expats, there is an American Legion and a Lake Chapala Society. Both of these organizations help Expats with their residency issues, tax problems, visa needs and informing residents about social activities in the area.
Cost of living
Housing will run the gamut in pricing, depending on if you choose to purchase or rent. While prices have dipped a bit with the recent financial problems in the States, you will still find that housing runs from the mid 100k up to a million dollars.
Housing, as anywhere, will be your biggest monthly expense, but general cost of living in Chapala is reasonable. A couple can live quite comfortably on less than $2000 U.S. Dollars per month and that includes rent, utilities, dining out, movies and entertainment on a regular basis as well as a maid to clean your home. This amount would accurately reflect our expenses and we rent a 1000 sq. ft. one bedroom new apartment, completely furnished and with all new appliances for $325USD a month. For approximately $600 a month you can find a two bedroom separate casita fully furnished, in a respectable well-kept neighborhood. For $1,000 monthly this will get you a fully furnished two bedroom, two bath home in a private community with a private swimming pool and tennis courts.
Internet is also affordable and for about $30 a month you can receive telephone services and a DSL internet line.
Depending on the extent that you want to import your same NOB (North of the Border) lifestyle to Mexico, your expenses will rise per month accordingly.
Convenient on many levels
Chapala and the surrounding towns on the lake all offer a reasonable convenience of lifestyle standard. One does not need a car if you choose to walk or bicycle for most of your needs. There is public transportation easily available and taxis are cheap, about $3 from Chapala to the next town. Of course many choose to own a vehicle with all the convenience and expense that it brings along with it. However, we have been car free in Chapala since we began living there in 1993 and have found no hardship.
Both Expats and the locals who live here are friendly and eager to engage in conversation. Daily goods are easy to find as there are several well-stocked grocery stores, weekly farmer’s markets and even a Wal-Mart all located within a few miles on the one road that surrounds the lake. For more serious shopping, stores such as The Office Depot and Sam’s Club are located in Guadalajara. There is very little that one might need that you couldn’t already find here.
What about healthcare?
Healthcare is affordable as well. There are plenty of doctors, dentists and clinics in Chapala as well as in the various towns surrounding the lake. If you have need of a specialist, you are only an hour from the capital city of Guadalajara where there are several famous and well-regarded hospitals. Del Carmen, Hospital Bernadette and Avendida Americas Hospital are just a few by name.
If you are concerned about not knowing the language and needing to deal with a health issue in a foreign country, your mind will be put at ease knowing that most doctors speak English. Organizations such as Surgery Host are springing up continuously who offer transportation and translation services expressly for this purpose.
Not without challenges
Many people seeking to live overseas want a place that is “just like home only cheaper.” That would be attractive if it were only true. Living abroad will have its innate challenges even in the best of circumstances. The language is different, for one thing. While lots of people get by in Chapala without speaking Spanish, why limit yourself? One’s world opens up in countless ways when you can relate to the locals. But if you find yourself resisting learning a new language, this could pose a consideration for you.
Cultural expectations are different also. Mexico is the land of mañanas, so if a repair man says he’ll be there on Tuesday, be sure you ask him which week. Getting upset over distinct cultural approaches is a losing battle and there’s no winning if you try to change an entire country to suit your personal time schedule. Better to work with them on theirs and save yourself some antacids!
Unless you choose to live in a gated community where there are similar homes and no businesses in your neighborhood, zoning is almost unheard of. The culture is a loud one, with music sometimes blaring from the party down the street, dogs barking and car alarms that attract no one’s attention.
If you are one who enjoys a more homogenous way of living, Mexico might not be for you with its rambunctious approach to life. Even the color choices for housing are boisterous. But if you are flexible and open hearted, you may find that you have slipped into an accessible culture that will bring you many personal rewards.
Opportunities to give back
If you don’t want to be bored in retirement or would like to do something more substantial with your time, Chapala offers endless occasions for volunteer projects. There is the school for the deaf, orphanages and a brand new hospice organization all of whom are looking for dedicated people with expertise.
So the best way to see if Chapala is a fit for you is to come down and take a look for yourself. You won’t regret it. The first time we came to this fair city was for two months and we stayed four years!
About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991.
Comments and Further Reference: If you have some experience or a question about Mexican retirement, please use the Comments section below. To see a more negative outlook on expatriate life in Chapala, see “This Gringo Can’t Wait to Get Back to the USA” from author and Mexican resident Stephen Anderson.. See also: Retire Abroad on Social Security