Mexico offers foreign residents plenty of choices in regard to locations for living and retirement
Many factors are likely to influence your decision about where exactly in Mexico you want to retire. This guide highlights some of the questions you might consider as part of that decision-making journey and offers some suggestions about places in Mexico to explore so that you can begin to make a short-list of viable options.
Expatriate Scene or Local Community Scene?
There are two broad choices in terms of choosing where to locate for retirement in Mexico:
you can live in a community where many other foreign residents live—around people who could provide support and company— and live in locations or planned residential enclosures that have been designed for “home away from home” living; or
you may choose to live in a local Mexican community, which means that services and facilities will be those generally available locally (and in many places are excellent) and you will need to make a greater effort in terms of speaking Spanish and integrating into local community life.
The choice is a personal one, and may depend on how well you know Mexico and what your priorities are in terms of lifestyle and activities you intend to take part in.
It’s quite hard to live in Mexico and operate effectively on a day-to-day basis if you don’t speak some Spanish. Living in or near a community of foreign residents will provide you with an immediate support network and there will be people there who can ‘show you the ropes’ and interpret for you if you are new in Mexico and speak little or no Spanish to start. Some people begin by living in or near an established community of foreign residents, and later on move out into a local Mexican community.
You will enjoy Mexico a lot more if you take some time to learn Spanish; you can find excellent language schools in many places across Mexico and you can even begin your learning with an online course. You can find details of both options by reading the Learn Spanish section here on Mexperience.
For those who choose to live within the heart of a Mexican community; the chances are that you will know Mexico already and your choice of community will come about either through knowing the location where you’ve chosen to retire, or perhaps through having rented a home locally for a while, and explored the local options before deciding.
If you need help finding a place in Mexico that suits your needs and plans, a good Real Estate Agent in Mexico will help you enormously with this process.
Choosing the right neighborhood in any town or city is important: read Home Security: Knowing Your Neighborhood in our real estate guide for more details. Mexican people are very social and warm: they will make you feel at home and, if you are open to being so, ‘adopt’ you into their neighborhood and local community.
Choosing the Climate to Live In
The next consideration with regard to location is climate. Higher altitude areas have spring-like conditions all year-round, although some can still get quite hot in the summer months especially. Mornings and evenings in these areas tend to be cool, bordering on chilly during the winter months. Fireplaces and heaters will banish any chill in the air during cooler spells.
Coastal areas tend to be hot and humid most of the year, and will be prone to the rainy season (May through September). Rains tend to be short, fierce and happen in the late afternoon or evening, leaving the night cooled off, although they can persist at times. The Yucatan peninsula, parts of the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific as well as Baja California can be susceptible to hurricanes, which occur mostly between July and October.
For hot and dry weather you’ll need to go inland, on the Baja California peninsula, to Mexico’s colonial heartland, or into its northern deserts. Most places in Mexico where retirees settle have excellent year-round climates.
Mexico’s Climate Zones: Choosing a climate you can feel comfortable living in is important. Read our article, Land of Three Lands, to get useful insights about the different climate zones in Mexico.
All of the location guides on Mexperience have climate summaries. Connect to the guide to Weather and Climates in Mexico on Mexperience for more information about the weather around Mexico’s regions.
Locations for Living and Retirement in Mexico
Detailed Guides: Places to Live in Mexico
This section outlines popular and up-coming locations throughout Mexico which are popular with foreign residents in Mexico. They are organized by location type.
Each location has a brief introduction and background; clicking on the location name will take you to the corresponding travel guide on Mexperience where you can find detailed information as well as picture galleries, location map, climate information.
Big Cities for Living and Retirement in Mexico
Popular big cities for foreign residents in Mexico include:
Guadalajara and Chapala & Ajijic
Guadalajara (including Lake Chapala and Ajijic) which has an enormous expatriate scene that has been established there for decades. The lakeside villages of Chapala and Ajijic are where most of the expats live, and it’s an easy drive (about 40 minutes) to Guadalajara which offers all of the amenities you would expect from Mexico’s second-largest city; including direct flights to the USA.
Mexico City remains a strong favorite with some expats and retirees. If you know the capital and you have fallen in love with it, you stay: and most people who stay can’t quite articulate why they do, they just do; and they adore being part of the vibrancy, the vast size and complexity and contrasts of this remarkable historical center that has been a major inhabited settlement of civilization for nearly 600 years. Besides the colossal selection of amenities, Mexico City also offers some of the world’s finest museums, parks, restaurants, markets and shops and, being the center of economic and political power, has the best connections to everywhere you’d ever want to travel to inside Mexico and internationally. read our article, The Big Pineapple, for an insight into big city living.
Colonial Cities for Living and Retirement in Mexico
Popular colonial cities for foreign residents in Mexico include:
San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende was a quiet artisan’s hide-away in the 60’s and 70’s; since the mid 90’s its popularity has rocketed and is today one of the most sought-after colonial cities to live in. People who have known the city for decades say that its quaint roots have been forever altered by the influx of investment and people in recent times; it does, however still rate as one of the top places in Mexico for living and retirement.
Guanajuato, a short drive north of San Miguel, is also experiencing an influx of foreign investment. It is, without question, one of Mexico’s most beautiful and breath-taking colonial cities.
Queretaro, north of Mexico City, is a thriving colonial city within an easy drive of the capital. The center is beautiful and kept pristine. Many people who leave Mexico City find a new home in Queretaro. It’s an ideal place to consider if you want to be away from the capital but close to it, and want a vibrant city with good amenities and a beautiful colonial environment.
Cuernavaca was an escape pod for capital dwellers back in colonial times; and even today, the road to Cuernavaca from Mexico City gets near grid-lock on holiday weekends. It is a beautiful city with a lot going for it: its proximity to the capital, its magnificent climate, its colonial feel, and while it has undergone some difficult times in recent years, it will continue to be a popular choice for foreign residents and retirees.
Tepoztlan is a vibrant mountain town is one of the most unique places in Mexico’s colonial highlands: foreign residents here love the natural beauty, the peace, tranquility, and sanguine atmosphere. Most people who visit Tepoztlan remark on its tranquil serenity, and some speak glowingly about its mystic allure and how it compels them to keep returning. It’s close to Cuernavaca and Mexico City and is one of the true ‘hidden-gems’ of Mexico’s colonial heritage.
Puebla is another beautiful city, and within easy reach of the capital by road. You need to be living in the heart of the old city to enjoy the charm and splendor because the built-up outskirts belie the true heart and soul of this historical gem.
Oaxaca has, in recent times, experienced some political unrest that has tarnished the location; nonetheless, the people and ambiance of Oaxaca remain as true and sincere as ever (not to be confused with the political jockeys who do not represent the true heart and soul of this beautiful place). Notwithstanding its recent issues, Oaxaca remains a popular place for foreigners especially those seeking out an authentic Mexican experience in one of the most culturally-rich regions of Mexico.
Morelia and Patzcuaro
Morelia and Patzcuaro have been tucked away for years but recently, they have become popular with a new generation of foreign visitors as well as foreign residents and retirees. Direct flights from the USA to Morelia have helped to make this mountain region more accessible, and there is also a fast road between Morelia and Mexico City that cuts the road trip to just under four hours. Morelia and Patzcuaro are well worth exploring if you love mountains, lakes, forests and the true fusion of indigenous and colonial Mexico.
Merida is another relatively ‘new kid on the block’ as a location choice for foreign expats and retirees. Although in the height of the summer months the temperatures here soar (40-45 degrees centigrade / 105-115F is common), the last few years have witnessed an enormous influx of foreigners to this city. Merida is one of Mexico’s most remarkable and culturally-rich provincial cities in Mexico and, notwithstanding the hot summers, will continue to draw certain types of people with its excellent infrastructure, modern amenities and great connections by air to the USA and Mexico City.
Campeche is a picture-postcard colonial city on Mexico’s Gulf Coast. Relatively unknown, even by travelers, this city has a huge potential. Real estate investment has already begun here in the form of foreign projects creating high-end housing and condo communities along stretches of beautiful coastline. Campeche is well served with air connections to the USA and Mexico City and is a potential future ‘star’ of Mexico’s in regards to popular locations for foreign expats and retirees.
Veracruz is an industrial port city on Mexico’s Gulf Coast. Although it may not strike you as a place for expat living or retirement, the city has certain charms of its own which are particularly attractive to people who know Mexico well and enjoy a fusion of Mexican and Caribbean culture.
Beach Locations for Living and Retirement in Mexico
Popular beach locations for foreign residents in Mexico include:
Puerto Vallarta and Environs
Puerto Vallarta has a history and reputation all its own: this is one of Mexico’s fastest-growing cities and the influx of foreign residents of working age as well as retirees has been unprecedented. The reasons are clear: Puerto Vallarta has an authentic colonial city feel to it and a wonderful ocean-side seat on Mexico’s Pacific coastline, and it’s a contemporary and forward-looking region of Mexico. The climate is idyllic (July through September can be stifling with heat but some people leave for those months to visit people elsewhere), the amenities are extensive and getting better every year, it’s readily accessible with good road and air connections, and it is, for many, a wonderful place to be. In recent years, Nuevo Vallarta and other towns northward towards Sayulita have also become popular and about 20 miles north of Vallarta you’ll also find the more exclusive area of Punta de Mita, where development is ongoing.
Los Cabos and Baja California Sur
Los Cabos is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico and it’s also one of the biggest destinations for foreign residents and retirees (or semi retired) expats to go and live in Mexico. The fabulous climate (especially in the winter months), access to a whole host of amenities that retirees look for in a destination including excellent medical facilities and some of the world’s top rated golf courses, well developed local infrastructure and easy access via an international airport, and very active foreign residents communities are just some of the reasons people choose Los Cabos as a place for living or retirement. Some choose to spend only the winter months here, and rent out their homes in the summer when they are away. Los Cabos is not for everybody, and it is more expensive than some other coastal resort towns, but for the many foreigners who choose to call this place home, full or part-time, they love it.
Also situated in Baja California Sur, La Paz and Todos Santos are popular locations for living and retirement. La Paz offers a laid-back, relaxed pace of life with plenty of water-based sports and eco-activities on tap. Todos Santos is the bohemian arts-center in Baja California Sur and is ideally suited to people who want a town away from the more commercialized feel of Los Cabos. Further north is Loreto, which is well-known for its planned residential communities—mostly retirees—enjoying a fine climate on the shores of the Gulf of California.
Mazatlan, the northern-most ocean facing city on the Mexican Riviera, has long been a favorite vacation spot for Mexican families. One of the location’s key attractions is that it offers excellent facilities at great prices; thus is acknowledged as one of the best ‘value for money’ options on Mexico’s Pacific coast. In recent years, a number of real estate developments have begun to evolve as foreign residents look at Mazatlan for living, working, retirement and second-home investments. The port city’s excellent air/road connections and proximity to the USA, coupled with affordable living and great climate are making Mazatlan an increasingly attractive option for people who want ocean-side living without the ultra-commercialization associated with some of Mexico’s more widely-known beachfront locations.
Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo – these are two contrasting cities which sit side-by-side with each other; situated on the shores of Mexico’s Pacific Coast, about 200 km (120 miles) north of Acapulco. Most foreign residents and retirees will choose the ‘village’ feel of Zihuatanejo instead of the modern ‘vacation city’ of Ixtapa: although the latter offers some stunning property opportunities. There is a fast road connecting the two locations, which are only a few kilometers apart and the local airport offers connections to Mexico City as well as the USA. Estrella de Oro’s Diamante bus line connects Ixtapa to the capital on an executive-class bus; the bus journey time is approximately nine hours.
Acapulco continues to attract a certain type of foreign resident; usually those who know Mexico well and enjoy the old-world charms of Mexico. Some head to the ‘old town’ of Acapulco — on the south side — where, in the 1950s and 1960s (and for most of the 70s) the rich and famous had homes. Those properties, now looking dated and some in need of love and attention, may be acquired at value-prices. If you want something more modern and up-scale (with prices to match), head to the north side of the bay-city: to Diamante. On the road north, you’ll also find houses overlooking the amazing Acapulco Bay (only Hong Kong can better it for style), but you’ll need deep pockets for those mansions, if one happens to be for sale when you’re looking. Acapulco has suffered in recent years with the drug-related violence flare-ups, although foreign residents who have called Acapulco home for years continue to live there.
Puerto Escondido definitely a ‘niche’ location for foreign residents and retirees, this Pacific coastal enclave attracts surfers and the bohemian-set looking for rustic, authentic — often remote — Mexico. If you’re a surfer, an artist, a romanticist and ocean waves-lover at heart, this may be the ideal place for you, although if you don’t know it, a reconnaissance visit is essential to get to know the town and the area.
San Felipe in Baja California, has been a favorite stopping point for travelers exploring the Mexican peninsula for years: today, San Felipe is a retirement boom-town: massive investments have created new infrastructure, services, amenities and high quality retirement homes. Land prices here are still low and ocean-front property is affordable. The town is just a two-hour drive south from the US border (Mexicali) and, facing the Gulf of California offers wonderful climate and attractive waterside living.
Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya
Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya is one of the most sought-after places for foreign residents and retirees coming to Mexico. Playa has experienced tremendous growth in the last decade; at one point, out-pacing even Puerto Vallarta. Not too far by road from Merida (see Colonial cities, above), Playa offers a beautiful Caribbean lifestyle with less of the commercial hype of its neighbor, Cancun (although in recent years, Playa del Carmen’s development has created a much more commercialized feel than was here fifteen years ago). With Cancun just 30 miles away, you can enjoy the excellent infrastructure and facilities it offers as well as access to a major international airport with direct connections to the US, Canada and Europe.
Cozumel and Isla Mujeres
Cozumel and Isla Mujeres: Although small island life is not for everyone, each of these islands, off the coast of Playa del Carmen and Cancun respectively, offer charms of their own. Cozumel is particularly popular with divers and is a larger island with more happening and more amenities. Isla Mujeres is small, with very little traffic, but has beautiful calm beaches on one side and a rugged, dramatic coastline on the other (some houses overlook the latter, also). Cozumel has an international airport of its own and both islands are well-served with frequent ferries to the mainland.