BANKING, MONEY AND TAXES

By: ExpatArrivals.com

Banking in Mexico is fairly easy and straightforward for expats, as there are many modern financial institutions throughout the country. Nevertheless, large stacks of paperwork often need to be completed to satisfy the ever-thickening Mexican bureaucracy.

While being able to speak Spanish will make things considerably easier, even expats who aren’t fluent should find it is possible to effectively manage their finances in Mexico.

Currency in Mexico

The official currency in Mexico is the Mexican Peso, commonly referred to simply as the peso. The ISO code for the peso is MXN.

One peso can be divided into 100 centavos.

Notes: MXN 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000
Coins: MXN 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 and 50, 20, 10 and 5 centavos

Opening a bank account in Mexico

Expats must open a bank account at a local branch office and are unable to prearrange accounts from abroad. To initially open the account, expats need to present a FM2 or FM3 visa, identification and proof of a Mexican address, along with an initial deposit. Additionally, banks require that expats provide two references from referees who can vouch for them financially.

The largest banks in Mexico are BBVA Bancomer, Banamex, Banco Santander and Banco Azteca. Some international banks, such as HSBC, have branches in Mexico and are popular with expats, but do not necessarily provide better service than Mexican banks.

Expat citizens of the US or Canada can open an account using US dollars. Other nationalities cannot, although overseas accounts can be accessed via Mexican ATMs.

Expats needing an account for daily transactions will want a chequing account that uses only pesos, as levies from ATM withdrawal fees can add up if used frequently over an extended period of time.
Many bank tellers in Mexico can speak English, but expats should nevertheless make sure to have any Spanish paperwork translated.

Internet banking in Mexico
Expats should also take advantage of Internet banking when possible, which is offered by most major banks, to save time queuing in long bank lines.

However, most bills need to be paid in cash and cheques are often not accepted

ATMs in Mexico

There is a universal ATM network spread out across Mexico and expats will rarely have to search far to find one.

ATMs are available throughout most cities, but expats should be mindful of ATM fraud and robbery in the large cities.

Credit in Mexico

All major international credit cards are accepted at large stores in Mexico. Small grocery stores (tiendas) usually only accept cash.

Interest on Mexican credit cards tends to be very high (around 30 or 40 percent). To apply for a Mexican credit card, expats will need to have already set up a Mexican bank account. They will also need to provide proof of a good credit history. If this is not possible, then a deposit can be paid to secure credit card payments.

Taxes in Mexico

Taxes for expats in Mexico depend largely on whether they qualify as residents or non-residents. Residents are taxed on their worldwide income, whereas non-residents are only taxed on income earned in Mexico.

For tax purposes, expats are considered residents if they have their primary home in Mexico. This does not exclude expats from filing taxes in their home countries, although many countries (including the US and Canada) have tax agreements that protect expats from paying income tax in both countries.

Expatriate taxes, including tax rules for retired expats and home owners, can be confusing, and expats are advised to hire professional help from experienced expat tax advisers.

Advertisements

AN ETF IDEA CATCHING ON IN THE SEARCH FOR RETIREMENT INCOME

By: Constance Gustke |  cnbc.com

Fine-tuning a near-retirement investment portfolio can be tricky. Yields—even amid a recent rally and expectations for an eventual Fed hike—remain at historically low levels, and growth stocks can be fickle.

Enter multi-asset exchange-traded funds (ETFs). The advantage of ETFs, say experts, is a structure that allows the manager to diversify among more asset classes, including high-yield areas such as master limited partnerships and real estate investment trusts.

By customizing portfolios to balance income and growth, multi-asset ETFs can offer investors allocations that fit more snugly as retirement looms. Some multi-asset ETFs offer 5 percent-plus yields.

“Most investors are better off choosing multi-asset ETFs over individual stocks,” said David Blanchett, head of retirement research at Morningstar. “It’s very hard to build a portfolio without investment knowledge. So professionally managed funds that are diversified are better places to be.”

Some multi-asset ETFs also include commodities, like gold. “And they’re becoming increasingly diversified,” Blanchett said. “So they can do many different things, including offering income.”

Paul Britt, senior analyst with FactSet Research Systems, said these ETFs make sense as a way to diversify for investors looking for yield. More yield often means more risk, and the appeal of these ETFs is to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket, such as junk bonds, REITs or MLPs. “All dividend-payers will still have some rate sensitivity, but you might get less sector risk, for example, as opposed to getting yield via all MLPs.”

Rising rates can be a headwind for MLPs and REITs, which rely on borrowing funds—higher rates mean they will have higher expenses and increases the hurdle rate for taking on new projects. Higher interest rates also mean that the yields on these investments are less attractive relative to bonds.

Fine-tuning a near-retirement investment portfolio can be tricky. Yields—even amid a recent rally and expectations for an eventual Fed hike—remain at historically low levels, and growth stocks can be fickle.

Enter multi-asset exchange-traded funds (ETFs). The advantage of ETFs, say experts, is a structure that allows the manager to diversify among more asset classes, including high-yield areas such as master limited partnerships and real estate investment trusts.

By customizing portfolios to balance income and growth, multi-asset ETFs can offer investors allocations that fit more snugly as retirement looms. Some multi-asset ETFs offer 5 percent-plus yields.
“Most investors are better off choosing multi-asset ETFs over individual stocks,” said David Blanchett, head of retirement research at Morningstar. “It’s very hard to build a portfolio without investment knowledge. So professionally managed funds that are diversified are better places to be.”

Some multi-asset ETFs also include commodities, like gold. “And they’re becoming increasingly diversified,” Blanchett said. “So they can do many different things, including offering income.”

Paul Britt, senior analyst with FactSet Research Systems, said these ETFs make sense as a way to diversify for investors looking for yield. More yield often means more risk, and the appeal of these ETFs is to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket, such as junk bonds, REITs or MLPs. “All dividend-payers will still have some rate sensitivity, but you might get less sector risk, for example, as opposed to getting yield via all MLPs.

Rising rates can be a headwind for MLPs and REITs, which rely on borrowing funds—higher rates mean they will have higher expenses and increases the hurdle rate for taking on new projects. Higher interest rates also mean that the yields on these investments are less attractive relative to bonds.

“Is this too risky for near-term folks who need a steady income stream and capital protection? Maybe, but show me the alternative that provides that right now.”
-Paul Britt, Senior analyst at FactSet Research Systems

In a sense, the multi-asset ETFs are the latest attempt by ETF sponsors to appeal to investors who, nearing retirement, have flocked to target-date funds in order to shift their asset allocation to higher-income, lower-risk investments. The same logic in favor of target-date portfolios—that investors are not good at asset allocation or trying to time the market—applies to multi-asset ETFs.

The difference is that the ETF industry took a crack at target-date ETFs in recent years, but most of them flopped. “There was little adoption,” Blanchett said, so several of the target-date ETFs have been closed.

Multi-asset ETFs, on the other hand, now number in the dozens and keep multiplying. Assets in these ETFs have grown from less than $500 million in 2010 to more than $6 billion today. Net flows into these ETFs on an annual basis hit their highest level in 2014, at over $1.8 billion. Flows remained positive in the first quarter this year, near $500 million, according to FactSet Research Systems.

Why the divergent fortunes between target date ETFs and multi-asset ETFs?

Britt said these ETFs could be construed as the “in-target” fund or the far right part of the glide path—that’s the term used for target-date funds as they move from higher risk to lower risk as an individual ages. But Britt said the real appeal is simply off-the-shelf diversified yield.

Robert Leahy, a certified financial planner in New York, said he uses multi-asset ETFs because they are diversified and very simple and easy to monitor.

David Fabian, a managing partner at FMD Capital Management, uses the First Trust Multi-Asset Diversified Income ETF. It’s the biggest among the new breed of multi-asset ETFs, with more than $1 billion in assets. Its 126 holdings are spread out among five different investments, including high-yield corporate bond ETFs and MLPs. And it has an enticing 6.26 percent yield. It has a net expense ratio of 67 basis points.

Yield to common sense

Some multi-asset ETFs focus more sharply on income than others. The Guggenheim Multi-Asset Income ETF, the second-biggest multi-asset ETF, with $838 million in assets, is spread among 149 securities that include exposure to preferred stocks, MLPs and closed-end funds. It has a 6.18 percent yield. It has a net expense ratio of 84 basis points.

Multi-asset ETFS can pump up yields, but holdings such as MLPs and mortgage REITs are more risky than typical yield instruments, said Mitch Tuchman, a money manager at Rebalance IRA. But he said the lack of asset-allocation knowledge among investors makes the multi-asset ETFs worth considering.

Fabian said higher yields doesn’t just mean higher risk but greater volatility. Holding lots of bonds also means that a fund may underperform in a bull market, Fabian added. He advises investors to build a portfolio beyond just one ETF—even one multi-asset fund.

The Guggenheim Multi-Asset Income ETF, for example, has 36 percent of its holdings in financials and 22 percent in energy. The First Trust Multi-Asset Diversified Income Fund has its portfolio split into five buckets of roughly 20 percent each: high-yield corporate issues, MLPs, REITS, dividend-paying equities and preferred securities.

Britt agreed that there is plenty of risk in these ETFs and still less diversification versus a typical equity portfolio, but that’s typically going to be the case when the primary focus is yield. He summed it up this way: “Is this too risky for near-term folks who need a steady income stream and capital protection? Maybe, but show me the alternative that provides that right now.”
Most of the multi-asset ETFs are relatively new, so they don’t have long performance histories, said Ron Delegge, founder of ETFguide. However, DeLegge agreed that since a portfolio can’t be fully diversified without owing real estate and commodities, these ETFs raise awareness about a key asset-allocation issue.

As multi-asset ETFs keep gaining traction, understanding what you’re buying will become even more important, Blanchett said. Some multi-asset ETFs, for example, have fewer than $100 million in assets and may not be as liquid as bigger ones. Others may own aggressive holdings that don’t fit more conservative income needs near retirement.

“Spend some time looking,” Blanchett said. “And don’t just look at the highest performers.”

“These products are far from homogeneous,” Britt said.

Multi-asset ETFs

Fund Name Expense Ratio
AdvisorShares Pring Turner Business Cycle 1.68%
AdvisorShares YieldPro 1.51%
Arrow Dow Jones Global Yield 0.75%
Arrow DWA Tactical 1.52%
Cambria Global Momentum 0.94%
Claymore CEF -Linked GS Connect ETN 0.95%
ETRACS Diversified High Income ETN 0.84%
ETRACS S&P 500 Gold Hedged ETN 0.85%
First Trust International Multi-Asset Diversified Income 0.79%
First Trust Multi-Asset Diversified Income 0.67%
First Trust Strategic Income 0.90%
Global X | JPMorgan Efficiente 0.90%
Global X Permanent 0.49%
Guggenheim International Multi-Asset Income 0.81%
Guggenheim Multi-Asset Income 0.84%
iShares Aggressive Allocation 0.23%
iShares Commodities Select Strategy 0.48%
iShares Conservative Allocation 0.25%
iShares Growth Allocation 0.24%
iShares Moderate Allocation 0.24%
iShares Morningstar Multi-Asset Income 0.60%
Master Income 0.87%
PowerShares CEF Income Composite 1.88%
SPDR SSgA Global Allocation 0.35%
SPDR SSgA Income Allocation 0.70%
Tuttle Tactical Management U.S. Core 1.34%
WBI Tactical High Income Shares 1.08%
WBI Tactical Income Shares 1.05%
YieldShares High Income 1.66%

RETIRING IN MEXICO´S PUERTO ESCONDIDO

By: Erin | neverendingvoyage.com

Puerto Escondido, on the Oaxacan coast, is the third Mexican beach town we’ve lived in. We loved Playa del Carmen and San Pancho and were tempted to return, but we decided to explore a new part of the coast. Puerto Escondido is a relaxed, medium sized beach town known for its excellent surfing. It has grown in size over the years and is popular with expats and surfers, but has managed to avoid huge development and all inclusive resorts.

Puerto Escondido is very spread out with a series of beaches stretched along the coastline. The surf beach Zicatela is the longest, and there are a number of smaller beaches closer to the centre of town. The beaches are beautiful and we enjoyed our stay but it wasn’t our favourite Mexican beach town. Playa del Carmen was more walkable and had better infrastructure like faster WiFi and a cinema, and San Pancho is much smaller with a magical charm. Comparisons really affect your experience and the more we travel the more spoilt we become, so I’m sure we would have loved it if we hadn’t been comparing it to other towns.

We spent a month in Puerto Escondido from the end of January 2015. These were our monthly expenses in USD for two people:

Monthly Expenses in Puerto Escondido
Accommodation $753
Eating Out $137
Food Shopping $326
Transport $71
Entertainment $94
Miscellaneous $136
Total Monthly Expenses $1518 (£1029) for 2 people
As always we tracked our expenses in our travel budgeting app Trail Wallet. Here are the total costs for the month in the three currencies we used: British pounds, US dollars, and Mexican pesos.

We budgeted £30 ($44) a day but, as often happens, we were over budget. For the daily average of each category see the Trail Wallet screenshots below.

Here’s what $759 (£515) per person a month got us in Puerto Escondido:

Accommodation
Accommodation was our biggest problem in Puerto Escondido. Apartment rentals in Mexico are cheaper if you turn up and look around rather than booking online. But we made the mistake of arriving in January which is peak season—everything was booked up and prices were much higher than we expected. A few days before we arrived I contacted all the real estate agents listed in this Puerto Escondido guide to see what was available and arrange viewings for our first day in town. Pickings were slim and the only decent option we found was double our budget at US $1550 a month. Luckily our friends Tom and Jenny were also looking for a place so we were able to share the two bedroom house.

I would not recommend trying to find a rental in Mexican beach towns from December to February. It’s best to arrive before (or even better after) the peak season to find an affordable place, or book online but prices will be higher.

Despite the problems we ended up with a lovely house in the Don Goyo complex with two shared pools, a comfortable rooftop palapa with sea views, a large living/dining area and a well equipped kitchen. It was a very quiet area but felt a bit isolated as we were a 15 minute walk down a steep hill to La Punta beach and around an hour walk to the centre. We liked La Punta neighbourhood with its sandy streets and laid-back vibe, much quieter than the main Zicatela strip (La Punta is at the far end of Zicatela, furthest from the town centre).

The WiFi was only OK (around 1 mbps download speeds) but this is fairly typical in Puerto Escondido.

All bills were included in our rent except the mandatory once a week cleaning fee which I’ve included in Miscellaneous.

Eating Out
We didn’t eat out often as we were far away from everything and the walk to La Punta was unpaved and dark at night. In total we ate out 11 times in the month, usually for lunch. Our meals ranged from 50 pesos ($3) for two quesadillas and a huge green juice at the market to 400 pesos ($26) for a meal for two at an Italian restaurant, with most costing around 150 pesos ($10).

Food Shopping
We did most of our shopping at the excellent Benito Juarez market— it’s inexpensive, not too crowded, and has a good range of quality produce. We bought our fruit, vegetables, beans, spices, nuts, and seeds here.

There are number of food shops near the market including tortillerias for freshly made corn tortillas, La Casita where freshly ground coffee costs 120 pesos ($7.75) a kilo, and Mayordomo chocolate shop where freshly ground pure cacao costs 67 pesos ($4.32) for half a kilo—it smells heavenly in there!

Occasionally we’d shop at the large supermarket Super Che for things like toilet paper and cheese. It’s a 15 minute walk from the market so it wasn’t convenient to combine the shopping trips.

We bought wholemeal bread, cheese, nuts, brown rice, and vegan bliss balls from Moringa, a surprisingly good health food shop attached to the Frutas y Verduras hostel in La Punta.

This category also includes drinking water—20 litre garrafones were delivered to our house and cost 12 pesos ($0.80).

Transport
As we were so far from the centre we had to use transport to get to most places. A colectivo (shared pickup truck) cost 8 pesos ($0.50) to the market or 5 pesos ($0.32) for shorter trips. We got a taxi back from the market with our shopping for 50 pesos ($3). Often we’d share taxi costs with our friends.

This category includes the cost of the 10 hour OCC bus trip to Oaxaca when we left Puerto Escondido—it was 652 pesos ($42) for us both. If you don’t fancy the long trip you can fly on a tiny plane instead which takes just 30 minutes.

Entertainment

Our main forms of entertainment were relaxing in our pool and watching the sunset from our roof, which cost nothing.

We did do a few activities:

A yoga class at Casamar hotel cost just 40 pesos ($2.60) but it wasn’t very good so I only went once.
A 1.5 hour rental of a stand up paddle board at Playa Carrizalillo cost 200 pesos ($13).
A half day boat trip to see whales and dolphins (we ended up seeing flying manta rays instead) cost 450 pesos ($29) each.
Releasing baby turtles into the sea cost 600 pesos ($39) for a group of four including taxi and tip to the turtle centre, of which we paid half.

There was a 150 peso ($10) minimum spend to use two sunbeds and an umbrella at a restaurant on our favourite beach Playa Carrizalillo, but this is included in our eating out budget.

Miscellaneous

This included:

Telcel phone data—A 3GB data plan cost 399 pesos ($26) valid for 30 days. We had to buy two data plans during our stay as our internet went down for a few days and we used our phone as a wireless hotspot.
A cleaner once a week who charged 200 pesos ($13), of which we paid half.
A pair of sunglasses for 110 pesos ($7).
Various toiletries, medications, and suncream.

Simon also has a category for apps and games that he buys online. He spent £24 ($36) on these and I added them to the Miscellaneous total.

HOW TO BEST MINIMIZE TAXES DURING RETIREMENT

By:  Mary Beth Franklin │ investmentnews.com

Maximizing Social Security benefits through appropriate claiming strategies is just the first step in improving your clients’ retirement success. The second, more complicated step is to minimize their taxes by locating assets in the proper type of accounts and tapping those assets in the optimum order.

The combination of higher Social Security benefits and lower marginal tax rates results in more spendable retirement income in the long run and can extend the life of your clients’ portfolio, reducing the chance they will run out of money.

Conventional wisdom dictates that retirees tap their taxable accounts first, followed by tax-deferred retirement accounts, and finally tax-exempt Roth individual retirement accounts. But this withdrawal hierarchy could unintentionally increase a client’s overall tax burden, including boosting the portion of Social Security benefits subject to income taxes and triggering higher Medicare premiums when income rises above certain thresholds.

Consider a retiree who is not yet age 70½, and therefore is not subject to required minimum distributions from his IRA or other retirement accounts. A large percentage of withdrawals from taxable accounts may represent a return of principal, which is not taxed, or long-term capital gains and qualified dividends, which are treated more favorably than ordinary income.

This retiree could easily be in the 15% federal income tax bracket and consequently could pay no tax on long-term gains and dividends. In 2015, a single retiree claiming one personal exemption ($4,000), the standard deduction ($6,300) plus the additional standard deduction for individuals who are age 65 and older ($1,550) could have up to $49,300 of income and still be in the 15% bracket. A married couple could have twice that amount of income — $98,000 — and remain in the 15% bracket. But once RMDs begin, they could be catapulted into the 25% bracket.

It may be more tax efficient early in retirement to withdraw funds from his tax-deferred account first to take full advantage of the 15% tax bracket, and only then tap his taxable account if he needs additional income. In future years, after the taxable account is exhausted, the retiree can take tax-deferred income first for up to the top of the 15% bracket and then withdraw any additional funds from a tax-exempt Roth account.

By tapping tax-deferred retirement accounts early, it will reduce the size of RMDs in later years, boosting an adviser’s ability to manage the client’s taxable income. It can also provide an income cushion enabling a retiree to delay claiming Social Security.

Advisers should also look beyond asset allocation and pay attention to the location of their clients’ assets. Bonds and other interest-bearing assets, which are taxed as ordinary income, are best suited for tax-deferred retirement accounts. Investments such as stocks and mutual funds that produce long-term gains and qualified dividends are better held in a taxable brokerage account to take advantage of favorable capital gains tax rates.

Of course, keeping up with ever-changing tax rules and rates and how they apply to various pots of clients’ money can be a challenge. But software can take the headache out of figuring out which account to tap when.

Imagine if you could show your clients a simple bar chart that clearly displays their beginning portfolio balance, plus the cumulative value of maximizing their lifetime Social Security benefits and the projected value of tax-efficient management of their assets. Then you could distill that 1-2-3 strategy into a single number — which represents their additional assets thanks to your savvy advice. Put another way, advisers could use that single number — which could easily total six digits — to dramatically quantify the value of their advice.

That function is now available for free to advisers who use SSanalyzer.com, a Social Security claiming software program. Just click the “coordinate” tab to see how it integrates a client’s spending needs, savings and income.

SSAnalyzer Chief Executive William Meyer, a pioneer in Social Security research, has demonstrated that tapping retirement assets early as a way of deferring Social Security benefits until they are worth more later can extend the life of a portfolio by an additional two to 10 years.

It may not be as simple as 1-2-3, but technology can put these powerful tools and concepts within the reach of any adviser willing to take the next step to coordinate their clients’ retirement income planning.

RETIREMENT: FIND LATIN AMERICA’S SAFEST, CHEAPEST COUNTRIES

By: Jean Folger │ investopedia.com

Latin America is the part of the North and South American continents south of the United States where the official language is Spanish, Portuguese or French. Each year, millions of tourists flock to Latin America to enjoy its beaches, rain forests, mountains, biodiversity, history and culture. In 2013, Latin American’s travel and tourism industry contributed more than USD $387 billion to the region’s GDP. Over the next decade, this figure is expected to rise to nearly $600 billion.

Mexico – by far – is the most-visited Latin American country, having hosted 23.73 million international tourists during 2013. Following Mexico are Brazil (5.68 million), Argentina (5.57 million), Dominican Republic (4.69 million), Chile (3.58 million) and (the U.S. territory of) Puerto Rico (3.2 million).

Many Latin American countries received favorable scores on the Global Peace Index, a measure of the relative peacefulness of 162 nations worldwide (representing 99% of the world’s population) compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace. The Index measures peace based on 22 qualitative and quantitative indicators, including ongoing domestic and international conflict; societal safety and security (including crime rates); and militarization.

Thinking of traveling to Latin America, but concerned about safety? Here are the four Latin American countries that earned the best scores on the Global Peace Index. By comparison, the United States ranked 101/162, less peaceful than any of the countries listed below; Canada’s rank was 7.

Each country has a lower cost of living than the U.S. [Note: the Cost of Living values reflect what a bundle of goods and services that costs $1 in the United States would cost in each country.]

Uruguay

Global Peace Index Rank: 29/162
International Tourists in 2013: 2.68 million
Cost of Living: $0.95

Sometimes called the Switzerland of South America, Uruguay sits on the southeastern Atlantic coast of South American between Argentina to the west and south, and Brazil to the north. Uruguay is known for its wide-open beaches; coastal fishing villages that attract abundant wildlife including sea lions, seals, penguins and offshore whales; natural thermal baths (such as the Termas de Daymán in northwestern Uruguay); a love of fútbol (soccer); cobblestone streets; and the gaucho culture, with cattle ranches, big skies and skilled horsemen.

Chile

Global Peace Index Rank: 30/162
International Tourists in 2013: 3.58 million
Cost of Living: $0.86

Chile is a geographically diverse country along South America’s western coast that stretches from the tropics in the northern part of the country to close to Antarctica in the south. The Atacama Desert in the north is the world’s driest non-polar desert, and Chile’s southern region is lush with forests and grazing land, volcanoes, lakes and a maze of fjords, inlets and islands.

Travelers enjoy Chile for its numerous coastal beach towns (some with world-class surf breaks), an extensive national park system, wine tours and exquisite natural beauty.

Costa Rica

Global Peace Index Rank: 42/162
International Tourists in 2013: 2.43 million
Cost of Living: $0.73

Costa Rica is a Central American country bordered by Nicaragua in the north and Panama in the south, and situated between the Pacific Ocean on its west coast and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Because of its proximity to the equator, Costa Rica enjoys a tropical climate year-round. Parks and protected areas – which include about 25% of Costa Rica’s land area – help protect the country’s extensive biodiversity.

In addition to enjoying its numerous beach towns, rainforests, volcanoes and friendly ticos (the locals), Costa Rica is a well-known adventure-tourism destination where travelers can experience whitewater rafting, canopy tours, zip-lines, night-hikes through the rain forest and horseback rides on lonely stretches of beach.

Argentina

Global Peace Index: 59/162
International Tourists in 2013: 5.57 million
Cost of Living: $0.61

Argentina is South America’s second-largest country, sharing its borders with Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay, with the South Atlantic Ocean on its east coast. Argentina is known for its cultural offerings and natural beauty. Popular tourist destinations include Buenos Aries, the nation’s capital city; numerous national parks that are home to waterfalls, rain forests, glaciers, and abundant plant and animal life; Bariloche, located in the foothills of the Andes in the Nahuel Huapi National Park, which serves as a ski, trekking and mountaineering hub; and historic Inca and colonial sites.

The Bottom Line

There are many safe destinations in Latin America. But what of Mexico, still Latin America’s most-visited country? It ranked towards the bottom of the Global Peace Index, with a score of 135/162.

According to the Index, some states within Mexico are far more peaceful than others. Out of Mexico’s 32 states, for example, the states of Campeche, Querétaro, Hidalgo, Yucatán and Baja California Sur scored well compared with Guerrero and Morelos. In Mexico, like any other country, there are cities or areas that tend to be less safe than others.

AGING OUT OF PLACE IN SAN MIGUEL, MEXICO

Welcome to our new series, Aging Out of Place. We’ll be talking to seniors who’ve said no to aging in place and yes to digging up roots and replanting themselves someplace cheaper, warmer or easier. Or all three.

Carol Merchasin and her husband Robert are planning on living a long time… a really long time. Now 68 and 69, they’re banking on being blessed with their mothers’ longevity genes; her mother is 93 and his is 102. That’s why, when the Merchasin’s turned 60, they started wondering how they could avoid touching their nest egg for at least another decade.

The answer: move to Mexico. It was close enough for Carol to easily travel to the U.S. for occasional consulting jobs (she’s a former lawyer who does workplace trainings), and the lower cost of living would allow them to support themselves into their 70’s by working only part time.

After closing their home near Boston, the Merchasin’s made the move and now spend the greater part of the year in the colonial mountain town of San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico.
San Miguel is a sprawling city in the central highlands that about 5,000 expats call home. It’s said to be one of the prettiest towns in Mexico, and in 2008 was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cobblestone streets, Mexican Baroque architecture and town square make the historic district a center for art galleries, markets, restaurants, shops and festivals. (Tip: According to Carol, another colonial mountain town being “discovered” by expats and a good place to check out is Patzcuaro Michoacan.)
Since resettling, Carol has discovered a new career—writing essays. Her first collection, “How it goes in Mexico: Essays from an Expatriate,” published in February by SheBooks. (A small collection of the essays is now available on Amazon.)

We spoke with Carol about life as a senior expat in San Miguel.

What is the best thing about living in San Miguel?
I love the people, the culture, and the pace of life. There is a civility and a kindness among the Mexican people that is extraordinary. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that the weather is wonderful, the town in completely walkable and the architecture is stunningly beautiful. It leads to a very satisfying pace of life.
When we got here, we fell in love. We had planned to visit different colonial towns, but we were in San Miguel maybe eight days when we bought the house we still live in. Ours is a very San Miguel story. People come and they either never leave or they go home just to pack up their entire lives and come back.

What’s the worst thing?
Dealing with the bureaucracy. It’s not efficient and also a bit abusive. It took me seven trips to get my visa. I misplaced one of the papers I needed and found there was no easy solution. Robert had to go to several different agencies to register to pay our taxes. That’s partly because the right hand of the bureaucracy often doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

San Miguel is a popular tourist destination, but what do expats do who live there full time?
We live our lives in San Miguel very much like we would anywhere – quietly and slowly. Robert and I work in the mornings, and in the afternoons and evenings, we might go to the library, sit in the Jardin [the town square] and people watch, have a coffee with friends, go to the movies or out to eat.
For those who are more social, the presence of a large expat community means there’s is much to do, from yoga to Zumba, golf, tennis, art classes, bridge groups, meditation centers and a wonderful Lifelong Learning program with interesting courses. There are also 82 non-governmental organizations in San Miguel, so there are many volunteer opportunities for those who want to help the community. The extraordinary number of activities makes it good for single seniors, too.

How is the health care?
We still have our Medicare to use in the U.S. but we both have been in hospitals in Mexico. My husband had retinal surgery, and I had an angioplasty here. The hospitals are very modern, and the doctors never seem rushed. We had to pay for the operations, but the cost is about 80 percent less than in the U.S.
We also have Medevac insurance [medical evacuation insurance] for emergency evacuation to the U.S.
What has “aging out of place” meant to you?
In San Miguel we found a life that was not available in the U.S. at any price. I have more time, more autonomy, a year-round good climate and the Internet. And Mexico’s proximity to the U.S. allows us to return to visit our family.

How often do you go back?
We go for five weeks over the Christmas holidays to visit our son and my mother. Robert goes back several times a year to visit his mother.
When we first moved, I went back to work about 10 times a year for two or three days. Now that I’m writing, I’ve taken on only one consulting project.

What does aging with attitude mean to you?
It means living with some kind of purpose, something that wakes you up in the morning and carries you through the days, months and years. I want to be as engaged in my life in my 70s, 80s and beyond as I was in my 20s and 30s. I want to have some intention about this last wonderful part of my life.
Every day, I read Mary Oliver’s quote, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

The Basics

Cost of housing: Pricey San Miguel is more expensive than other places in Mexico, and houses in the historic district are pricier than those further out of town. “It is possible to rent a house in San Miguel for $500 a month,” Carol says, “but it’s not going to be renovated and not in the town center.” Prices go up from there to several thousand a month.

Crime scene: No worries I’ve never been robbed or mugged or been the victim of any crime here,” Carol says.

Expat community: Emerging-plus It’s beyond ‘emerging’ but expats are not taking over. Because of the large number of expats and tourists, many people speak some English. An English language newspaper, Attención, provides a calendar of events, and a website, SanMiguelEvents, lists the week’s art openings, concerts, workshops, lectures, and festivals.

Taxes According to this site, an expat doing business online/by phone with a foreign company and paid in non-Mexican currency is not taxed on that income. American Social Security benefits and pensions are not taxable in Mexico.

Discounts INAPAM, Mexico’s discount card for seniors 60-plus (must be resident of Mexico) is honored by many establishments – retail, travel, dining, cultural – and also by some municipal water and gas authorities. Discounts range from 10 to 50 percent.

Climate Temperate: The lows seldom fall much below 60 F, and the highs are in the 70s and 80s. July and August can be rainy.

Civil rights There’s a history of serious abuses – killings, disappearances and torture – by security forces fighting organized crime and drug trafficking (primarily in the north). Corruption is rampant in the police force. Sexual crimes, and hate crimes against LGBT people, often are not prosecuted.
Best places to stay If you want to check out San Miguel, Carol suggests these B&Bs: Casaluna, Posada Corazon, Antigua Capilla, and La Mansion del Bosque. VRBO has a number of apartments and houses for rent, too, including the Merchasin’s Cinco Flores.

BY: Dianne Lange, Senior planet