Mexico is an enchanting country, offering retirement options ranging from locations along two expansive coastlines, colonial cities, mountain ranges, to deserts or rain forests. The choice of places to snowbird in Mexico, or even fully retire in Mexico, are effectively endless.
Population: 125,959,205 (July 2018 est.)
Capital City: Mexico City (Ciudad de México)
Climate: varies from tropical to desert
Language: Spanish only 92.7%, Spanish and indigenous languages 5.7%, indigenous only 0.8%, unspecified 0.8% (2005)
Total Area: 1,964,375 sq km or 758,449 sq mi (slightly less than 3 times the size of Texas)
Coastline: 9,330 km or 5,797 mi
Residency Requirement for Naturalization: 5 years
GDP per Capita (PPP): $19,900 (2017 est.)
Snowbird in Mexico
I’ve talked to people who have lived in Mexico, and asked what it was like. The general response: it was fantastic, if you have a sense of adventure. Based on my research, Mexico sounds like a top choice for the international snowbird lifestyle (along with Costa Rica, Panama, and Belize), even if it does result in a few compromises.
Continue reading to find out more about opportunities to live or retire in Mexico.
The proximity to the United States and Canada make Mexico appealing as a snowbird location, because it is relatively easy for retirees to return home often to see their children and grandchildren. Additionally, opportunities exist to live in locations with excellent infrastructure and where real estate and the overall cost of living are below the cost of living in the U.S.
Life in Mexico can be familiar to Americans and Canadians. Depending on where you choose to live, you’ll be able to find a Starbucks, Cheesecake Factory, IHOP, Walmart, or Home Depot. Obviously, the more remote your location of choice, the further you may have to travel to one of your hometown favorites. But that’s how it is here in the United States, too.
Retirement in Mexico can also be unfamiliar at times, however. Although you’ll hear English spoken in larger cities or tourist areas, a working knowledge of Spanish will help make your snowbird experience easier. And life tends to move at a slower pace in Mexico, which may prove difficult to adjust to at first – although it may force you to finally slow down and enjoy retirement!
The sheer size of Mexico, compared to other countries in Central America, results is a wide variety of climate choices from tropical to desert.
The country is generally sunny throughout, however, so don’t forget your sunscreen! The further south you get, the more quickly the sun can turn you into a lobster – even in the winter snowbird season.
Along the coasts you can find warm tropical air, and its resulting humidity. Inland, at higher elevations, the temperatures cool down and snow can even be seen in the Sierra Madre.
There are hurricanes that can hit either coast, but shouldn’t bother you during snowbird season. Although you may need someone to check up on your place after the storm rolls through if you’re spending the summer up north.
Cost of Living
Like any country in Central America, the U.S. or Canadian dollar will go a long way. Earning dollars and spending pesos is the secret to a happy snowbird life. And it is why many people choose to be a snowbird in Mexico rather than snowbird in Florida, Texas, or another southern U.S. state.
Whether it’s real estate, healthcare, food, or some utilities, the cost of living in Mexico is probably going to be lower than you’re currently paying. Expect to pay about one-third of what you’re paying for medical and dental care. Electricity in a beachfront condo can be lower than $50 per month, but can also be very expensive in some areas (so check ahead for the location you’re thinking of so you’re not caught off guard). And although total living expenses will vary depending on where you choose, you can typically retire in Mexico and live well for under $2,000 per month.
One tip: be sure to ask if credit or debit cards are accepted when you are shopping, because some places are cash-only. Therefore, you may want to always have some pesos on you when you’re out for the day.
I’ve already mentioned that healthcare can be found at about one-third of the price you’ll pay in the United States. But what do you get for that money?
The quality of care is exceptional in major cities. You’ll find highly trained staff and state-of-the art technology in urban areas. Even more rural areas will have medical facilities, but you may find yourself wanting to travel to the city for any major illness or surgery.
Proximity to the U.S.
Much of the United States can be reached in under two hours via on-stop flights from major airports throughout Mexico. And if an RV is more your style, you can always drive across the border. This close proximity is wonderful for quick trips to visit family, and also makes it an attractive option for them to visit you in Mexico.
Activities & Recreation
Once again, the size and variety of the country offer opportunities to do nearly any activity you can imagine. It’s all going to depend on the area you choose to snowbird in.
You could go ruin-hopping, but there are so many Mayan ruins you’d need a lot of time to see them all. Chichén Itzá is world-famous, so definitely go early before the tour buses arrive.
Nature lovers will love exploring the outdoors in Mexico. You can go swimming with whale sharks, snorkel some of the world’s best coral reefs, or swim in the clear waters of ancient cenotes.
Snowbirds will have plenty of opportunities to spend evenings gather with friends over delicious food. Explore the culinary sensations of the Yucatán, where you can enjoy cochinita pibil, sopa de lima, or papadzules.
Additionally, Mexico is home to 35 UNESCO World Heritage sites. I mention a few of them below.
Residency & Visas
If you are from the United States or Canada and will be visiting Mexico for less than 180 days, the only type of permit/visa you’ll need to worry about is the Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM). This is typically handed out on flights inbound to Mexico, so with that and your passport you’ll be good for up to six months. For any stay longer than that, you’ll need to apply for a non-immigrant visa (FM3 long term, immigrant visa if you plan on becoming a permanent resident), or will have to do a quick visa run.
Guadalajara – The capital of the state of Jalisco, Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico. Although it can be considered a colonial city, most of its architecture is from the independence period. Known as one of the safest cities in Mexico, it is also close to Lake Chapala, home of the picturesque snowbird towns of Ajijic and Chapala.
Hermosillo – Home to nearly a million people, Hermosillo is the capital of the state of Sonora. The city is one of the only in Mexico that purifies all drinking water before it is distributed to homes and restaurants. Its location in northern Mexico also means that many people within the city also speak English.
Mexico City – Besides being the capital of Mexico, Mexico City is also the most populated city in North America. You’ll find anything you could want here, but you may have to share it with the other 26 million people living in the region. The city is considered one of the more expensive in Mexico, but the cost of living is still well below major cities in the U.S.
Monterrey – The capital of the state of Nuevo León, Monterrey is the third largest city in Mexico. Although there are some colonial era sights, the Monterrey is an aggressively modern city. It’s citizens are educated and cultured, and enjoy one of Mexico’s highest standards of living.
Ajijic – Around 1,000 American and Canadian retirees make up the population of over 10,000 people. Another 700 or so snowbirds come down seasonally. This has led to Ajijic having shops, art galleries, and restaurants that appeal to these foreigners and visitors.
Álamos – Founded in the 1600’s after silver was located in the area, the town of just under 25,000 people is situated in a valley in the state of Sonora. It has been said that Álamos contains some of the best examples of Spanish colonial architecture in Mexico.
Campeche – Founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1540, this city of around 250,000 was a leading port in the colonial area. It has maintained its city walls and fortifications, and can still offer a laid-back feel once you’re outside of the city center.
Cuernavaca – Located about a 90 minute drive from Mexico City, Cuernavaca is known as a favorite escape for snowbirds partially due to its stable, warm climate and abundant vegetation. Many foreigners go there to learn Spanish, so you’ll be able to find English speakers as a result.
Guanajuato – Guanajuato is a mountain colonial town located in central Mexico. Famous for its hilly cobblestone allies, narrow streets, and underground tunnels, the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.
Mérida – The colonial history and the tropical climate of this city located about 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico make Mérida an interesting place to snowbird in Mexico. Additionally, about 60% of the population are of Mayan ethnicity, making Mérida a cultural gem.
Morelia – Morelia is located about half way between Mexico’s two largest metropolitan areas (Mexico City and Guadalajara), making it a popular getaway for the urban population. Its city center is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, due to its outstanding example of early city planning and over 200 historic buildings made from the region’s characteristic pink stone.
Oaxaca – Another World Heritage site, Oaxaca is a tourist favorite due to a large number of colonial-era structures and native archaeological sites. Monte Albán, located about five miles from downtown, is a must-visit location.
Patzcuaro – Located on Lake Patzcuaro, this lovely mountain town is becoming popular with snowbirds and European tourists. The town of 80,000 doesn’t have the large nightlife you would find in larger cities, but the day trips to local villages will keep you entertained. Although it occurs before the traditional snowbird season, el Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on Nov 1st is especially important and intensely celebrated in the area.
Puebla – The fourth largest city in Mexico, with a metropolitan area of over three million people, Puebla was the first city founded by Spanish conquistadors that was not built upon ruins of conquered people. Today, the city celebrates the May 5, 1862 defeat of the French army with Cinco de Mayo, and claims to be where mole was invented. And, of course, the city center is a World Heritage site.
Querétaro – Known for its well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture, including a stunning pink stone aqueduct and other World Heritage monuments, Querétaro is located in central Mexico about 130 miles north of Mexico City. Wine production is large in the region, and is second most behind only the Baja California region.
San Cristóbal de las Casas – Located in the central highlands of state of Chiapas, San Cristóbal de las Casas is known for its colonial architecture or red tile roofs, cobblestone streets, and wrought iron balconies. The town of just over 180,000 people is located in southern Mexico, about 100 miles from the Guatemala border. When visiting, you’ll enjoy the high elevation, foreign influence of the cuisine, and traditional textiles from the region.
San Miguel de Allende – This city has been famous to Americans since the end of World War II, when many veterans and their families relocated to study from local artists on the G.I. Bill. Today, this small colonial town and World Heritage site remains popular for snowbirds due to its climate, close-knit expat community, arts and culture, and beautiful surroundings.
Veracruz – This port city was one of the first Spanish settlements on the mainland of the Americas. Although much of the original colonial buildings were destroyed by invasions, there is still significant historical architecture to see. And the malecón is a popular destination at night.
Acapulco – Popular with the rich and famous in the 1950s, Acapulco is still a draw for snowbirds, tourists, and cruise ships. Located on the Pacific coast, this city with a metro population of about 1 million people is known for its nightlife and beaches.
Cozumel – Cozumel is an island in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Playa del Carmen on the Yucitán peninsula. As another cruise ship destination, you’ll definitely see your share of tourists. But you’ll also have an opportunity for an island lifestyle and world class scuba and snorkeling.
Isla Mujeres – An island off the coast of Cancún, Isla Mujeres is easy to get to via ferry from the mainland. Although popular with daytrippers, the island calms down a bit after dark. If you like the idea of commuting via golf cart or scooter, this may be a great option for you.
Ixtapa – Ixtapa is a government-planned tourist city on the Pacific coast of Mexico, constructed on a former coconut plantation. Today, the town of less than 10,000 people is a lovely getaway destination for families and young people. This popularity may help you rent out your home during the offseason to offset some of your living expenses.
Barra de Navidad – This is a small beachtown of around 7,000 people on the Pacific coast. You can walk the length of the town in a couple of minutes, try your hand at surfing, or watch the small fishing boats go in and out of the lagoon. Hurricane Jova damaged the area in 2012. Since then, businesses have rebuilt but the amount of tourists have dropped, making this a potential nice opportunity for snowbirds.
La Paz – Located in Baja California Sur, La Paz is often overlooked by those travelers and snowbirds attracted to Los Cabos. The city itself has about 250,000 people, and boasts a wonderful waterfront and beaches. It is also known for having one of the highest standards of living and quality of life in Mexico.
Loreto – Also located in Baja California Sur, Loreto is a popular tourist destination for Americans. Many come to try their hand at fishing for dorado, and bring their catch back to the local restaurants who will cook up the fresh seafood.
Los Cabos – Los Cabos is an area at the southern tip of Baja made up of the towns of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo. Tourism drives things here, but that allows you to easily find opportunities to sport fish, golf on championship courses, or enjoy Cabo’s world-famous nightlife.
Mazatlán – A city in the state of Sinaloa, Mazaltlán is located on the Pacific coast directly across from Los Cabos. The city has 400,000 people, and is a popular vacation and retirement destination for Canadians, Americans, and Europeans. German settlers in the early 1900s founded the Pacifico Brewery, and had an influence on the local music, banda.
Playa del Carmen – Playa is a coastal resort town about 45 minutes south of Cancún. The number of tourists in the area means there is always something to do, or a business to spend your money at. This popularity has also caused the city to be one of the fastest growing in Mexico. But the entire area from Cancún to Puerto Morelos to Playa del Carmen to Akumal to Tulum offers ample choices for snowbird locations.
Puerto Escondido – A small port and tourist center of around 45,000 people, Puerto Escondido is known for its big waves and surfing. While the main attraction is the beaches, the town caters to a more downscale and eclectic clientele than neighboring Huatulco.
Puerto Peñasco – Puerto Peñasco is sometimes called “Arizona’s beach” due to its location as the closest beach to cities in that state. A strong snowbird and expat culture can be found among the 60,000 plus people living there.
Sayulita – Sayulita is a village on the Pacific coast, about 20 miles north of Puerto Vallarta, and is known for its surfing. Development of the area occurred thanks to the collection of coconuts for coconut oil and productions. Surfers took notice in the 1960s due to its consistent surf break. Today the town of 5,000 people is an off-the-beaten-path location with art galleries and casual cafes and restaurants.
Todos Santos – Another surfing destination, Todos Santos is located in Baja about an hour north of Cabo San Lucas and an hour southwest of La Paz. Visit Playa Las Palmas or Playa Los Cerritos while in town.
Tulum – A region of less than 30,000 people but growing rapidly, Tulum is located about 2 hours south of Cancun. Famous for its Mayan ruins near the ocean, the area offers fantastic scenery and outdoor activities, but you’ll have to deal with bus loads of tourists.
Zihuatanejo – Located on the Costa Grande area of the Pacific Coast about 150 miles northwest of Acopulco, Zihuatanejo is a town of about 100,000 people. Although no longer a sleepy fishing village due to resorts and tourism, the town tries to maintain its traditional feel.
GDP (PPP): This entry gives the gross domestic product (GDP) or value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year. A nation’s GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates is the sum value of all goods and services produced in the country valued at prices prevailing in the United States in the year noted.
This is the measure most economists prefer when looking at per-capita welfare and when comparing living conditions or use of resources across countries. The measure is difficult to compute, as a US dollar value has to be assigned to all goods and services in the country regardless of whether these goods and services have a direct equivalent in the United States (for example, the value of an ox-cart or non-US military equipment); as a result, PPP estimates for some countries are based on a small and sometimes different set of goods and services.
In addition, many countries do not formally participate in the World Bank’s PPP project that calculates these measures, so the resulting GDP estimates for these countries may lack precision. For many developing countries, PPP-based GDP measures are multiples of the official exchange rate (OER) measure. The differences between the OER- and PPP-denominated GDP values for most of the wealthy industrialized countries are generally much smaller.
GDP per Capita: This entry shows GDP on a purchasing power parity basis divided by population as of 1 July for the same year.