Reports are that approximately one million Americans live in Mexico. While it’s hard to verify that number, it’s not hard to imagine that it’s true. Some are working, of course, for U.S., Mexican, or other foreign corporations. You’ll find them in cities like Mexico City, Queretaro, and Monterrey.

And some live in Mexico just part-time…spending winter months in vacation homes where the weather is always warm and the cervezas are always cold.

Many Americans in Mexico, however, have moved there to enjoy their retirement years. They live in Mexico full-time and enjoy better weather, a more relaxed lifestyle, and a host of other benefits—including affordable top-quality health care and a much lower overall cost of living.

The most popular retirement destinations for Americans in Mexico

First, let’s get something straight. People from around the globe are retiring to Mexico…and not just folks from the U.S. It just happens to be a close destination for those from the U.S. and Canada. From Canada or the U.S. you can easily drive to Mexico.

Several locations in Mexico stand out, of course, as retirement destinations for foreign expats. Some of the most popular are:

Lake Chapala: In the little towns along the north shore of Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, you’ll find the largest community of U.S. retirees outside the U.S. This lakeside area in the country’s central highlands, just 45 minutes south of Guadalajara, is already home to about 10,000 full-time expatriates from the U.S. and Canada (and nearly twice that many during winter months). The towns on the lake—particularly those along the north shore—are comfortable enclaves with cobblestone streets, Spanish-colonial architecture, and some of the world’s best weather. The average year-round temperature is a spring-like 68° F, and a tight-knit expatriate community provides all manner of comfortable amenities and support to retirees—from garden restaurants, to dog-training services, to bridge clubs and yoga classes.

San Miguel de Allende: With its high-towered church and its cobbled streets, tidy shops selling carefully embroidered linens and hand-painted plates homes that belong in the pages of Architectural Digest, and lush courtyard gardens in bloom year-round, this city is like something out of a children’s fairytale book. San Miguel has other benefits, too—proximity to the U.S., an excellent climate, an affordable cost of living, an established expatriate community, local golf courses, and the kind of shopping (for everything from food to office supplies) that you’re used to back home.

Puerto Vallarta: When Liz Taylor and Richard Burton famously came here in the early 1960s, Puerto Vallarta wasn’t much more than a sleepy fishing village. A place where misty tropical mountains wrap arms around the crescent moon-shaped Banderas Bay.

Today, it is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, with an international airport, pro-tourney golf courses, designer shopping, world-class restaurants and beautiful people from around the world. Vallarta’s expat community is vibrant, too…you’ll find many activities to keep you busy, from outdoor activities to art galleries and charitable events to volunteer options and more.

Baja California Sur. The southern half of the long Baja Peninsula is a nature wonderland: a dry, sparsely-populated desert terrain blessed with two spectacular coasts: the Pacific to the west and the fertile Sea of Cortez, which separates it from mainland Mexico, to the east. Three easy-going destinations favored by expats are Todos Santos, Loreto, and La Paz. Artsy Todos Santos, on the Pacific side of the Peninsula, has a well-established little expat community. Loreto, on the Sea of Cortez, is the gateway to the UNESCO-designated and –protected marine park just offshore. With world-class kayaking, snorkeling, diving, fishing, and dolphin- and whale-watching available, Loreto attracts nature- and sports-lovers. Laid-back La Paz, four hours south of Loreto on the Sea of Cortez, is the capital of Baja California Sur and a low-key favorite that feels much like Southern California 60 or 70 years ago.

Mazatlan: One of Mexico’s oldest and most famous vacation and retirement destinations, Mazatlan is built on the reputation of the world-class deep-sea fishing to be found along the coast, and the 16 miles of beaches running north from town. Other fancier Mexican beach resorts may have stolen a bit of its thunder, but make no mistake…Mazatlan still has what it takes to charm the visitor’s heart and pique the interest of the potential part- or full-time resident. It’s a wonderful blend of resort beach town with a distinctly Mexican flavor…something the mega resorts have largely lost. And reasonably priced real estate is still available.

Huatulco: A resort community planned by Fonatur, the Mexican government’s national trust fund for tourism development, Huatulco is spacious, green, and well-maintained. You’ll find fabulous homes tucked away on high cliffs overlooking the picture-perfect bays. (There are nine gorgeous secluded bays to choose from here.) And even though Huatulco is a resort destination, it doesn’t feel like one. It’s quiet, laid-back and waiting to be discovered…the “Cinderella” of Mexico’s Pacific resort towns.

Puerto Escondido: Puerto Escondido is a little fishing village and a world-class surf zone—a longstanding favorite with surfers worldwide. The downtown area is small, colorful, and crowded, and the front beach is like a picture postcard, truly gorgeous. This is still a fishing village at heart, and its front beach is one of the cleanest and prettiest we’ve seen on any coast. You can still buy a whole, fresh tuna or dorado from fishermen’s children on the main street if you get there before 10 a.m. But the little town is growing, so get there quickly while you can still find the bargains.

Merida: Sidewalk cafés, tree-lined streets, and fresh paint…Yucatan’s best-kept secret is cosmopolitan Mérida. Just a half-hour from the Gulf-coast beaches, this city of 970,000 is a center of commerce and home to universities, hospitals, friendly locals, and beautiful colonial homes that would cost you twice as much in central Mexico’s discovered enclaves. The expatriate community maintains a well-equipped English-language library and hosts monthly get-togethers. The kinds of goods and services you’d expect to find in a comparably-sized city back home are available here, too–from Office Depot to Sam’s Club, Costco, Sears, all the familiar fast-food chains, and several high-end shopping malls.

The Riviera Maya: The stretch of Caribbean coastline that runs from Cancún to Tulum is known as the Riviera Maya. Arguably, this area is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. There are several intriguing towns along this coast, including Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, and Tulum. Playa del Carmen is one of the fastest-growing cities in Mexico. Cruise ships dock here regularly and the beachfront is wall-to-wall hotels and restaurants. Fifth Avenue is just a block or so off the beach. This pedestrian walkway is flanked by sidewalk restaurants and small boutiques selling a myriad of exotic items. This is a fun place with a relaxed, bohemian ambience. If Playa is too “busy” for you, check out laid-back Tulum, an up-and-coming destination that attracts fashionistas and movers-and-shakers while still paying homage to its backpacker roots. And Tulum’s beach regularly figures among the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world.

Which one is for you?

There are many other locations in Mexico, of course, where you will find U.S., Canadian, and other foreign residents–from small towns like Pozos de Mineral in the central highlands to large cities like Cuernavaca, near Mexico City, and the Pacific Coast resorts of Manzanillo and Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo.



The weather is warm and mild in Mexico during the Christmas season. Families shop for gifts, ornaments, and good things to eat in the market stalls, called puestos. They decorate their homes with lilies and evergreens. Family members cut intricate designs in brown paper bags to make lanterns called farolitos. They place a candle inside and then set the farolitos along sidewalks, on windowsills, and on rooftops and outdoor walls to illuminate the community with the spirit of Christmas.

The Mexican celebration of Christmas is called las posadas and begins on December 16. The ninth evening of las posadas is Buena Noche, Christmas Eve. The children lead a procession to the church and place a figure of the Christ Child in the nacimiento or nativity scene there. Then everyone attends midnight mass.

After mass, the church bells ring out and fireworks light up the skies. Many Mexican children receive gifts from Santa Claus on this night. The children help to set up the family’s nacimiento in the best room in the house. The scene includes a little hillside, the stable, and painted clay figures of the Holy Family, shepherds, the Three Kings, and animals. The children bring moss, rocks, and flowers to complete the scene.

Families begin the nine-day observance of las posadas by reenacting the Holy Family’s nine-day journey to Bethlehem and their search for shelter in a posada, or inn. In some parts of Mexico, for the first eight evenings of las posadas two costumed children carry small statues of Mary and Joseph as they lead a candlelight procession of friends and neighbors from house to house. They sing a song asking for shelter for the weary travelers. When at last they find a family that will give shelter, the children say a prayer of thanks and place the figures of Mary and Joseph in the family’s nacimiento. Then everyone enjoys a feast at the home of one of the participants.

For the children, the pinata party on the first eight evenings is the best part of las posadas. The pinata is a large clay or papier-mache figure shaped like a star, an animal, or some other object and covered with colorful paper streamers. The pinata is filled with candy or small gifts and hung from the ceiling. The blindfolded children are spun around and given a big stick.

They take turns trying to break open the pinata with the stick while the pinata is raised and lowered. Everybody scrambles for the gifts and treats when the pinata shatters and spills its treasure.
Christmas Day is a time for church and family. After church services, Christmas dinner begins with oxtail soup with beans and hot chili, followed by roasted turkey and a special salad of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Many children receive gifts on the eve of Twelfth Night, January 5, from the Reyes Magos, the Three Kings who pass through on their way to Bethlehem. Children leave their shoes on the windowsill and find them filled with gifts the next morning. At a special Twelfth Night supper on January 6, families and friends enjoy hot chocolate flavored with vanilla and cinnamon, and a ring-shaped cake. Whoever gets the slice of cake containing a tiny figure of a baby will give a tamale party on February 2, Candlemas Day.

The whole family helps to prepare the tamales, which are a meat or chicken filling wrapped in corn dough. The tamale is then wrapped in corn husks and steamed. A religious service held on Candlemas marks the end of the Christmas season in Mexico.


By: Kathleen Peddicord |

Mexico was perhaps the original retire overseas destination for Americans, who have been relocating south of the border in retirement for decades. More than a million American expats and retirees call Mexico home.

In recent years, Mexico has been overshadowed by countries in Central and South America. These other destinations also offer appealing options for a sunny, coastal retirement on a small budget. Mexico has recently suffered some bad press, including the swine flu epidemic of 2009 that fizzled after a few cases and the drug violence in some border cities and beyond that has affected the perception of the entire country.

It’s true that some parts of Mexico don’t belong on any retire overseas shopping list. However, it’s time to take a fresh look at this old favorite. Housing markets in many areas of Mexico are depressed. The great recession took its toll in this country, especially in areas popular as second home markets, many of which still have not recovered. Mexico is not the uber-cheap destination it was in the 1950s and 1960s, but it’s still a very affordable lifestyle option, especially at the current rate of exchange between the Mexican peso and the U.S. dollar. Today’s dollar buys 15.38 pesos, making the cost of living in Mexico cheaper than it’s been in a long time for anyone with dollars in his wallet.

In addition, Mexico is a culturally familiar neighbor and accessible. Americans can drive back and forth or take a short flight

Mexico is also a big country, offering many diverse retirement lifestyle choices. One particularly appealing coastal retirement option is Mazatlán. This city opened its first tourist hotel and restaurant in 1850 and has been a major international tourist destination since the 1940s. But in the 1970s, Mazatlán began to fall out of favor, as more travelers to Mexico’s Pacific coast opted for its cousin city, Puerto Vallarta, some 270 miles to the south.

Mazatlán has undergone a mostly unnoticed resurgence over the past few years. The renaissance has been focused around the city’s historic center, a compact, attractive and walkable peninsula. At the heart of this old town is Plaza Machado, which, thanks to the city’s ongoing rebirth, is now surrounded by pleasant outdoor cafes and international restaurants. Just off the plaza is Teatro Ángela Peralta, a beautifully restored theater dating to 1874 and open today for concerts and other performances and live events.

Mazatlán is one long day’s drive from the U.S. border. The main attraction is its almost 20 miles of beautiful beaches bordering the deep blue Pacific. These beaches are lined with developed resort infrastructure, including shopping, restaurants and cafes, as well as banks and other commercial establishments necessary for full-time living.

One reason Mazatlán is popular among North Americans is its excellent winter weather. From December through March, daytime temperatures hover in the high 70s, with lows in the low 60s and little to no rain. Between July and October, temperatures average around 90, with most rain falling between July and September.

Mazatlán’s got everything a retiree dreaming of a new life on the Pacific coast could hope for. Furthermore, real estate in Mazatlán is a buyer’s market, both on the coast and in the historic center of the city.

The closest beach to the Centro Histórico is called Olas Altas, which means “high waves,” a misnomer as the water here is sheltered and tame. The beach itself is a crescent-shaped, sandy cove about a quarter mile in length. This is lined with cafes, restaurants and a couple of hotels. Bright and early each morning, the tables at these seaside venues fill up with locals and expats who come down for a good cup of coffee and breakfast.

Centro Histórico is the real Mexico. The areas around Plaza Machado and Olas Altas beach see their share of tourists, but the rest of Centro Histórico is old fashioned and authentic. If a non-touristy Mexican lifestyle appeals to you, this charming neighborhood is worth a look. It’s also an interesting choice if you’re interested in the idea of buying and restoring a vintage piece of real estate.

At home here, you’d have the best of both old-fashioned coastal Mexico and modern amenities, with an attractive beach nearby. The weather is brilliant, sunny and comfortable during the North American winter, but the city’s rental market is active year-round. Invest in a home of your own here, and you could earn cash flow to supplement your retirement income by renting out your place when you’re not using it yourself.

At today’s exchange rate, you could buy a modern apartment in Centro Histórico in a building with a pool and other amenities that’s located on the waterfront road with unobstructed views for as little as $220,000.