Thursday, August 30th 2018

An Expats Guide to Living and Retiring in Mexico

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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Expats Guide to Living in Mexico


What is it like to live in Mexico?

Mexico is a warm and friendly country filled with a vibrant culture and excellent service. The food is spectacular—if a bit spicy at times—and the music is filled with exotic rhythms that naturally make hips sway. Your quality of life immediately improves because your finances go so much further, and the relaxed pace of life offers you the time to enjoy the precious moments. No longer are you caught in the rat race of living to work—in Mexico, you can begin to live each day with a freedom and gusto that can only be found in Latin America, without the major issues in infrastructure that would be common in a country in South America. Mexico is just close enough to offer a very North American lifestyle, but just foreign enough to feel like you’re on vacation.

Is Living in Mexico Safe?

We get this question a lot. What if we flipped the question around and asked, “Is it safe to live in the United States?” You would likely answer something like, “Oh, well it depends on where.” This is no different in Mexico.

-Cartel Violence-

Cartel violence makes up a big portion of expat’s worries. They see horrendous headlines on the news, however this form of violence typically occurs only in a few Mexican states. You could find a lovely expat community in the Riviera Maya, for example, which is 1,000 miles from the hubs of cartel violence.

-The American Media Bias-

It is wise to remember that the American media uses buzzwords like “cartel” to sensationalize Mexican violence in order to get your attention. In reality, Mexico is a massive country with populations in cities comparable to the United States. Cancún has a population of 722,000 people, which is more than: Detroit, Washington DC, Seattle, and Memphis to list a few. If you saw an article on Facebook saying that two men were killed related to gang violence in Washington DC, would that stop you from visiting the Lincoln Memorial? It’s the fact that all you hear about in the United States is Mexican violence, which deters Americans from moving to Mexico.

-Sensationalized Statistics-

In reality, a state like Quintana Roo (which is a massive state that takes 5 hours to cross) has roughly the same murder rate as Central Florida—though many of these are arguments between people or domestic disputes. They are not all a result of gang violence. However, these deaths in Central Florida are mostly a result from gun violence, which is not the case in Cancún. Click here to learn more.

How Dangerous is Living in Mexico?

-How to Find Out if One Particular Area is Safe-

The question is not so much, how dangerous is living in Mexico, but more so, “How dangerous is one particular area or city?” There is a fantastic online resource called Semáforo Delictivo. This website compiles independent statistical data (i.e. it has nothing to do with the government) gathered from a variety of sources (including surveys which go right to the people). It then puts the information in an easy-to-understand graphic interface particular to the city that you are interested in living in and then with the types of crime you might encounter. There is a guide for English-speakers as to how to use this simple application, see this link here.

-Helpful Tips to Stay Safe in Mexico-

It is also wise to remember that there are dangerous zones and touristic/posh zones in all cities. This is true of New York, London, Los Angeles, and any other major city in the world. If you stick to the nicest areas, then you will most likely be fine. WeExpats has put together some helpful tips to stay safe in Mexico, click here to learn more.

How Are the Living Conditions in Mexico?

-The Necessities-

When you think of the living conditions in Mexico, you might conjure up images of tap water making you sick. However, the truth is that the living conditions are largely comparable to the United States. If the electricity goes out, it is usually up and running again in an hour or two. We have encountered areas with excellent, high-speed internet, and other areas with spotty internet that seems to cut out often. In our office, we have a nice water filter that attaches straight to the tap, and we save thousands of pesos a year not having to purchase the jugs of water at the store. And the grocery store carries a fair amount of goods that Americans can rely upon (to learn more about what grocery stores are like in Mexico, click here).

-The Infrastructure-

Infrastructure can occasionally be poor in the outskirts of town, however no less so than any crumbling town in rural America. Transportation is generally by bus, taxi, or ride apps like Uber or Lyft—same as in the United States. Larger cities will have decent public transit such as subways and light-rails. You might encounter bureaucratic dogma when dealing with government institutions, however that’s also to be expected in the United States. Overall, the living conditions are very similar.

-The Financial Situation in Mexico-

If you are an American or Canadian expat, then coming to Mexico will provide a high-quality of life on a small portion of the income that you would normally need in the US or Canada. You can go out to eat often, and travel around, and still have some money to put into your savings account. Health care and medical insurance are affordable, and overall your American or Canadian dollar will be a powerful commodity in Mexico. People are able to retire earlier, generally in their 50’s—if not younger.

-Social Life in Mexico-

Many expats live in communities with other expats. These are close-knit communities that often have social get-togethers and parties. As one expat puts it, “I feel like I went away to college, joined a fraternity, and I never went to class.”

When you are at a social gathering with Mexican locals, there can be some cultural differences, but largely it is the same experience. If you watch a sports match, it’s more likely to be football-soccer than American football, and you might be sipping tequila instead of bourbon, however the experience is pretty similar. Families are very close-knit unions and you can expect a barbecue to have children playing while the adults sit around and talk.


Some Advice for Working in Mexico?

WeExpats often gets asked about what’s it’s like to work as an expat in Mexico. Is it easy to find work? Can someone live while working in Mexico? Many of us, who are not yet ready to retire, have been drawn to the expat life. We are ready to go on the adventure and see the world, discovering new cultures along the way. However, finding work is a necessity. If you are considering working in Mexico, there are some options available to you.

-Jobs That You Cannot Hold Unless You Are Mexican-

The Mexican government has taken measures to ensure that—by law—the following jobs cannot be held by an expat. This does not even mean a Mexican citizen—but only a Mexican by birth can hold the following positions:

Ship Workers

Flight Attendant

Commercial Pilot

Air Traffic Controller

Airplane Mechanic

*Railroad Workers must be Mexican citizens, but they do not have to be natural-born Mexican citizens.

-Laws That Affect Expats Seeking Work-

Federal Labor Law Article 7 – Every business or establishment must have at least 90% of their workers be Mexican citizens. If there are not enough Mexican citizens available, special dispensation can be granted for a company to hire more foreigners—however this is only a temporary grant and the business has a legal obligation to train Mexican workers until these Mexican citizens can be hired to replace the foreigners.

Federal Labor Law Article 154 – Employers are obligated to prefer, in equal circumstances, Mexican workers over foreigners.

*To learn more about these laws, click here.

-Working Remotely Is The Key to Living Abroad-

The real benefit of being an American or Canadian expat residing in Mexico is the opportunity to work remotely and live abroad. When you have the opportunity to earn dollars and spend pesos, it affords you the lifestyle that would cost thrice as much in the United States. These jobs are often telework, online, virtual, telecommuting, or other work-from-home jobs done through the internet or telephone. When you work online, you immediately have the benefit that:

  • You are earning more money in the United States than in Mexico

  • Generally you set your own hours

  • You can work from anywhere—literally, even under palapa on a tropical island

  • There is no work visa required

Here are a few websites that can help you in your search for remote work. Make sure that the job is 100% online. Some are free, others require a subscription:

Can Y****ou M****ake a L****iving in Mexico?

-Your Skill or Trade in Mexico-

If you work in Mexico under your trade or skill, you will be inside the Mexican economy. This means that you will struggle just like the Mexican citizen trapped inside a developing nation’s economy. If you have a particular skill that you think might provide a comfortable living in Mexico, you can look up a solid salary range—just click here. This website provides the salary range, and typical median salary for almost every job in Mexico. Mexico is a large country and salaries can fluctuate—as does the cost of living.

-Teaching English-

One thing many expats do in Mexico—and throughout the world—is they teach English. Teaching English is a great way to experience new cultures, however it is no different than any skill or trade in Mexico (as listed above). You will make less because you will be earning pesos—not dollars. Still, it’s a great way to get your feet wet in the culture, meet new people, and hit the ground with a bit of work. To find a job at a language school or university, the criteria changes a bit. However, most jobs will take a bachelor’s degree and a TESOL certification. Some universities require a master’s degree, others might only require the TESOL certification (we’ve even heard of some rural schools who are happy with just a native speaker), but for most jobs, a bachelor’s degree and a TESOL certification will do. TESOL certification is an intensive one-month program that teaches basic introduction to language teaching methodologies. You are also required to observe a handful of hours of practice teaching. In the end, this one-month certificate could provide a plan to fall back on and interim employment while you look for more consistent work. To learn more, click here.

Is the Expat Life Right for Raising a Family in Mexico?

-Successful Expat Stories-

One mother, Katle O’Grady, writes that in 2012, she and her family moved from Southern California to the Riviera Nayarit. She couldn’t be happier with her decision. At the time her children were 8 years old, and her husband was a retiring firefighter. Now her children are bilingual and multicultural. They see a world without borders. She doesn’t spend her days trying to scratch out a living while fighting to spend time with her family through Southern California traffic. Instead, they spend more quality time together, surfing, horseback riding, swimming in pools, and climbing pyramids. To read her whole story, click here or here.

Another mother, Christine Gilbert, took her husband and son to Oaxaca City when she was seven months pregnant. In many ways, she says the care offered to her during both births were comparable. She remarks that the culture is very family-oriented and she doesn’t feel the same social pressure when her children are with her in Mexico as she did in the United States, because in Mexico everyone carries their children with them. She was surprised how immediately she was welcomed by groups of mothers at her son’s school, and she found herself submerged in the culture within months. She absolutely loves it. Read her full story here.

-More About Raising Families in Mexico-

A recent survey conducted by InterNations—an international network of expats—reviewed 43 life aspects that make an impact on whether or not you should move abroad, Mexico ranked in the top 20 countries in the world when it came to family connectedness (the only country in the Americas to do so). With such a rich, family-friendly culture, Mexico is an ideal place to raise your children.

-Raising Families in Touristic Mexico-

When you work remotely, living in touristic locations such as the Riviera Maya or the Riviera Nayarit may be desirable. These areas not only have exciting attractions, but also rich expat communities which that help to make transition easier.

-Urban Lifestyle for Expat Families-

Many expats are drawn to urban environments for work, places such as: Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Mexico City. These cities have top-tier options for education, as well as all the strengths and drawbacks of life in an urban American city.

-Quaint and Rural Life for Expat Families-

Some people are ditching the urban sprawl for the charming life in Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos. Many of these offer nothing but a dusty, rural lifestyle. However a few Mexican pueblos—such as San Cristobal de las Casas and San Miguel de Allende—offer a very international experience with all the amenities of the developed nations, yet they still have that idyllic, relaxed, and culturally-rich Mexican feel.


How D****o Y****ou B****ecome a Mexican R****esident?

Before becoming a Mexican resident, it is important to review the options and decide which option works best to meet your needs:

-Tourist Card-

The tourist card (FFM) is the small paper card that you are given when you arrive at the airport. It offers you less than 180 days in the country. It is an inexpensive opportunity to get to know the country and culture, without having to hire a lawyer and file paperwork. Also you are free to leave the country whenever you wish.

However, you cannot open a bank account or get a Mexican driver’s license in most states. There may also be fees incurred. Also, importing your vehicle will require you to renew your permit during each of your 180-day stays. . Lastly, booking a one-way ticket can lead to hassles by airline or immigration personnel.

-Temporary Resident Card-

This resident card is valid for up to four years. First you get a resident card that is valid for one year, and subsequently, you can choose to renew it for another three years. After that, you have to move on to either the tourist card or apply for a permanent resident visa.

With this card you can buy and register a Mexican car, as well as get a Mexican driver’s license, and import your car into the country. You can open a bank account, and enter and leave the country on a whim. You have full right to the public healthcare system (Seguro Popular and IMSS). Some local businesses might even give you a local’s discount upon showing your resident card.

Unfortunately, you have to meet the requirements to be granted this temporary residency. For the requirements, click here. The process begins at the Mexican consulate in your home country, which requires a trip back home.

-Permanent Resident Card-

This visa is just like the temporary resident card, however it remains valid during your whole life. The only major difference is that if you have a foreign car, you will eventually have to either nationalize it or remove it from the country.

With this card, you can get a Mexican driver’s license and purchase and register a car in Mexico. You might get a local’s discount, and you can enter and leave the country as much as you would like. You can participate in the public healthcare system (Seguro Popular and IMSS). In addition, you can import your furniture and other household items without incurring extra fees in Mexico.

However, you have to pay fees, and you will likely need the help of an attorney—which costs more fees. You have to meet the requirements, for more information, click here. Lastly, this process begins at the Mexican consulate in your home country, which means you have to go back home.

-How Much Are the Fees?-

These are the fees as of 2018 from the Instituto Nacional de Migraci__ó__n (From lowest to highest):

  • Visitor for the Purpose of Adoption – $2,886 MXN

  • Authorization to Work for Temporary Residents – $2,974 MXN

  • Authorization to Work for Temporary Students – $2,974 MXN

  • Visitor with Permission to Work – $2,974 MXN

  • Temporary Resident for 1 Year – $3,961 MXN

  • Permanent Resident – $4,828 MXN

  • Temporary Resident for 2 Years – $5,936 MXN

  • Temporary Resident for 3 Years – $7,518 MXN

  • Temporary Resident for 4Years – $8,910 MXN

*For more information, click here.

-Complications in Residency-

There are three major causes for delays on getting your Mexican residency card:

  • Your 180-day visa expired. When you are approved for a residency card, you have 6 months to complete this part of the process in Mexico.

  • The immigration official checked the wrong box and you have to return your card to the point of entry to get a new one.

  • The agency in charge of immigration matters (Instituto Nacional de Migración_) is constantly overworked. With the volume of applications they receive, they are often incapable of handling them all in a timely fashion, depending on the office._

*For more information, click here.

Advice for Retiring in Mexico?

-Some Quick Tips for Retiring in Mexico-

  • Start Learning Spanish now. Even a rudimentary understanding of the language will help you in so many ways.

  • Leave behind as many material possessions as possible. Sell your car because the requirements for nationalizing your vehicle are very strict and expensive. You may want to consider leaving behind your furniture, and in general it is a good idea to consider downsizing.

  • Be sure to get a Mexican bank account. Also consider getting healthcare coverage. WeExpats can help you in this regard,  read our Health Insurance Buyers Guide for Latin American Expats.

  • Get a cell phone with a Mexican phone number. Once you do that—or even if you keep your American phone number—download What’s App. The whole country tends to use it.

  • When all else fails, don’t hesitate to hire an expert to help you. You might find it helpful when doing things like putting the electric bill in your name or registering your car. If you find a community of expats, they will likely help you—expats have to stick together.

-Average Expenses and Tips for Retired Expats in Mexico-

One American expat, Qroo Paul, has uploaded his average monthly expenses as well as additional expenses. He offers detailed analysis on exactly what he is spending, and it comes to:

$1,111.72 USD – Monthly

$951.81 USD – Additional Annual Expenses

*To read more about his costs and compare them to your own, click here.

What Are the Best Retirement Communities in Mexico for Expats?

For the best locations for American Expats to find a community of like-minded individuals that can help to make the transition easier for people just arriving, WeExpats compiled a short list of expat-friendly places.

-The Beaches-

The beaches are an excellent place to find communities of expats. You can decide to live in the Mayan Riviera, such as: Cancún, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum for example. Or you can stay on the Pacific Coast, in towns such as: Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, or Puerto Peñasco. Either way, you will find a rich community of American and Canadian expats.

-Central Mexico-

There are also lovely colonial areas in the center of town with warm communities of American expats. Pueblos like San Cristobal de las Casas, San Miguel de Allende, and Álamos offer the quaint town feel that seems to exude culture from every pore, yet still offering the conveniences of home. If not, cities like Guanajuato and Oaxaca offer a larger city that are still hubs of local culture—yet also have vibrant expat communities.

How is the Medical Care in Mexico?

WeExpats has written extensively on the subject of medical care in Mexico. We have personal stories, as well as practical information. We cover what types of insurance are best for your particular needs and price ranges. Click here to read all our material on the subject.

-Private Medical Care in Mexico-

Private hospitals are generally more expensive, however they carry the latest equipment and they offer stellar service. You often have the option for more advanced therapies and cutting-edge treatments for whatever ails you. WeExpats offers several health insurance options for American and Canadian expats that will cover any form of treatment necessary, whether you are in Mexico or in any other country. Private hospitals tend to be a better choice for expats because almost all of the staff speak English. This way you can communicate any pertinent information easily to your doctor and his or her staff.

-Public Medical Care in Mexico-

Public healthcare is fairly cheaper, however they may lack the equipment necessary to treat you—such as an MRI machine. The staff are competent and attentive, and the buildings are generally clean (if a bit worn down). That said, it may still cost you a fair amount if you try and pay for surgeries or other procedures out of pocket at these hospitals. Regardless, it would be a wise decision to consider health insurance from WeExpats—and then if you do, you might as well go to a private hospital.

-Pharmacy Doctors in Mexico-

For something benign like the flu or a dog bite, we recommend a pharmacy doctor. It is cheap and affordable to visit a pharmacy with an in-house doctor that costs roughly $10 – $20 USD—which includes the hospital visit and the medication. They are common throughout Mexico, in fact, any town will likely have more than one with comparable prices.

*WeExpats would like to thank Qroo Paul and his wife for their wealth of resources and knowledge. We drew upon his blog called Two Expats quite a bit during this article. To check out his articles, click here. 

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