By: Donald Murray | InternationalLiving.com
Mexico’s Riviera Maya is the Grand Prize Winner for most popular vacation destination on the Caribbean. The same motivations that cause more than five million vacationers from across the globe to flock to this area annually, are also attracting a growing expat population eager to turn their best beach vacation into a full-time retirement lifestyle. Here are five reasons why they are moving.
- Convenience and Activities
A bit more than an hour flight from Miami, Cancún’s international airport is the gateway to an 80-mile stretch of pristine white-sand beaches bathed in sunshine and lined with warm, turquoise waters. Known as the Riviera Maya, Mexico’s Caribbean coast from Cancún south to Tulum is, in a word, stunning! For beach lovers, it’s the perfect place to park under a coconut palm, wiggle your toes in the warm sand and reflect on your good fortune.
Situated on the historic Yucatán Peninsula, this stretch of Caribbean shoreline is infused with rich Maya influences and numerous, accessible ruins dating back thousands of years. Close proximity to the U.S. and Canada permit frequent and inexpensive travel to visit friends and family north of the border…and those same family members and friends are often eager to travel here, too. No need to miss the grandkids for long, as round-trip airfare between Cancún and major hubs can often be found for about $300.
The world’s second-largest reef system is just offshore providing almost unlimited recreational opportunities, including snorkeling, fishing, diving, swimming, and boating. There are even a handful of islands a few miles offshore. Cozumel and Isla de Mujeres are two wonderful examples. Cozumel offers a bit of glitz and glamour with a steady stream of cruise ships providing the essential economic engine…while Isla de Mujeres is more rustic and laidback.
If you tire of lazing on pristine beaches or shopping in the numbers of large, modern malls or the local open markets where fresh fruits and vegetables are on display alongside live chickens, you can visit a local cenote (say-note’-tay). These underground lakes and caverns are over a 1,000 years old and encourage a swim in crystal-clear fresh water among ancient stalactites and stalagmites. Ancient Maya ruins dot the area, some with pyramids and temples available for exploration and all providing amazing photo opportunities.
Or you might want to catch a movie (many in English) at one of the many modern theaters. From Cancún, south through the picturesque fishing village of Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen and on to Tulum, you can choose from over 1,000 restaurants, dozens of nightclubs and a host of golf courses, tennis courts, hiking and biking trails, zip lines, jungle tours, reef excursions, and adventure tours. There is more than enough to keep retired folks active and entertained.
- 240 Days of Sun
With more than 240 days of annual sunshine, year-round temperatures averaging in the 80s, gentle tropical trade winds and absolutely no chance of snow, the Riviera Maya exemplifies all you may imagine when thinking of a tropical paradise. While mid-day temperatures in July and August are best spent lazing in a hammock or soaking in the cool water of a pool, the climate year-round is quite pleasant. Evenings cool down with gentle breezes blowing off the sea, the sound of the surf providing the perfect soundtrack to drift off to sleep if you’re close enough to enjoy it.
- You’ll Get Value for Your Money
While the Riviera Maya is not the least expensive place in Mexico to retire, it certainly offers huge value for money. As with most locations in the world, beachfront property simply costs more to rent and purchase than locations a bit inland. Small, one-bedroom condos located in complexes with direct beach access can be found for as little as $90,000, while multi-level penthouse units with two master suites and stunning views in all directions begin at around $175,000 and move upward to over $500,000 for large, luxurious units.
Move your search a bit inland and prices drop significantly, sometimes as much as 30% to 40% less than beachfront. Rentals of beachfront condos can be found for as little as $750 a month for smaller units. I rent a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo on the beach, with stunning views and full amenities for $1,050 per month. Prices will vary according to amenities, views, furnishings, etc. Gorgeous million-dollar-plus penthouse units and waterfront villas are easily found if that is what you desire.
Mexico offers excellent and affordable medical and dental care. Expat residents qualify for the national medical plan through an application process (which has many exclusions for pre-existing conditions) or you can choose to buy any number of private insurance plans. Many expats opt to self-insure, paying out-of-pocket for incredibly affordable routine care and low cost medications. By the way, prescriptions are not required to buy medications and a few antibiotics. With the close proximity to the U.S., many retirees maintain their Medicare benefits to be used for major hospitalization back in the U.S. if required.
Grocery shopping options are abundant and varied. The best bargains and most authentic Mexican experience are found in local open markets offering a wide array of familiar and exotic produce, bulk spices, and fresh meats, poultry and seafood. Large, fully-modern supermarkets mimic those in the U.S. and Canada in design, variety, and price. Major imported brands cost far more in Mexico than north of the border. You’re best advised to shed their brand alliances when moving anywhere overseas, and develop a taste for local products for the most savings. In fact, most local brands are quite good and cost far less than major U.S. brands.
Public transportation is extremely affordable. A bus ride will cost about a dollar on any of the major routes. Small, privately owned “Colectivo” vans will charge the equivalent of about a nickel for the same route but they are always crowded to the max, small and uncomfortable…
The Mexican government offers discount cards for those over the age of 60. These cards permit discounts on many things from local transportation to meals and even airline travel. Discounts are in the range of 10% to 25% for most things as established by each vendor.
- Great Infrastructure
With well-maintained highways, fast and stable internet connections, a reliable power grid, modern hospitals offering world-class yet inexpensive medical care, shopping malls that rival any back in the States, efficient public transportation, International airports and plenty of Starbucks, the Riviera Maya provides a sense of comfort and familiarity. Toss in the fact that many locals in the area speak at least some English and the affordable cost of living and it’s easy to understand the appeal.
- Easy Visas
Mexico loves retirees and they show that by making Permanent Resident Visas, based on retirement, easy to obtain. All visas, except visitor’s visas (good for 180 days), must be applied for at a Mexican embassy or consulate in your home country before departing. Provided that you can meet the easy requirements, a permanent visa can be issued the same day. You must present a valid passport, proof of financial solvency and sufficient guaranteed retirement income, along with a few other basic documents, and that’s it. My wife and I had our Permanent Visas in about four hours. We met briefly with the consulate officer, presented our documents, answered a few questions and returned in a few hours to claim our visas. That simple! Once arriving in Mexico, however, you must take one more step which is to apply for your residence card within 30 days of arrival or your visa will be invalid.
Those considering retirement abroad should certainly include Mexico’s Riviera Maya in their search.