In my book Live Better South of the Border - Mexico, I wrote about the pluses and minuses, positives and negatives of living in Mexico. I tried to honestly tell you the good and bad points about living in Mexico. You don't get that from people trying to sell you something. Frankly, Mexico is not the cheapest country in the world to live. The book is now out of print. Here are the truths I developed when writing that book. They are as valid today as they were years ago - and will be a decade from now.
Yes, it costs less to live in Mexico with a better standard of living than many parts of the USA or Canada, but if money is your only motivator, there are other countries that cost less. You can live for less in Arkansas or S. Texas than in Mexico's gringo areas. Mexico is not paradise. Mexico is a perfect place to live for many people, but it is not perfect. While there are many reasons to live in Mexico, there are also many reasons why living in Mexico may not be for you. I urge you to explore Mexico before you make that decision. (The link opens in a new window so you won't lose your place).
If you take nothing else from my website, please consider this: don't spend less time choosing a place to live than you did buying a refrigerator.
The most salient piece of advice anyone can give you is to look around before you make the leap to moving to Mexico. If you want to discuss the idea of moving to Mexico with someone who can see both sides of the equation, the pros and the cons, then talk to me. Included is a personalized trip-plan, if you choose.
I won't help you with how to get visas or buy real estate, lots of people can do that. I will help you decide if Mexico is right for you and give you some unvarnished opinions about different expat communities. (The link is to my trip-planning service, which is included with talking about moving).
I know, you went to Merida, Cancun, Pto. Vallarta, Chapala or San Miguel de Allende and fell in love. Look at moving to Mexico like choosing a life partner. You want to see how he or she reacts in different circumstances. Honeymoons with places or people only last so long. You buy or marry and you're stuck.
Don't be one of those bitter expats who always wonders, "What if ...." Find out if you're making the right decision. You're talking about a decision that will affect the rest of your life.
Get in your car and drive across the country and spend a few weeks in several potential expat communities. Heck, I will even help you choose a route. The link opens in a new window so you can keep reading.
There are sensational news stories about Mexicans getting killed in gunfights or beheadings. Most of these are people involved in drugs or something illegal. Yes, an occasional bystander is affected but mostly not. How many news stories have there been about gringos, tourists or foreign residents who were not using or involved with drugs, being involved? No one really knows the answer to that, since we don't always know all the facts. If you don't want to believe that's fine, just don't consider moving to Mexico because you already have the wrong attitude.
Living in Mexico is a good decision for many people. You'll see a "statistic" that the U.S. embassy in Mexico City estimates that there are more than 1,000,000 Americans living in Mexico and an estimated 500,000 Canadians live in Mexico, at least part-time. Nobody knows exactly how many expats there are, but in the winter it seems like there are a more of them than locals in some areas.
You can live comfortably in well-known gringo destinations in Mexico for about $25,000 to $30,000, single, or $30,000 to $40,000, for a couple, per year in most places.
If that's above your income, don't give up hope. You can still live on $12,000 to $15,000, single, or $16,000 to $22,000, couple, or less in some non-gringo locations, if you are really frugal. That’s about what I live on in the States.
I once met a cheerful lady (67) whose income is only Social Security and she lucked into a small apartment in Ajijic, Jalisco, on Lake Chapala. So never say never. For you especially, traveling around and comparing different locales is crucial.
Housing in gringo areas is comparable to many parts of the United States. Rentals are more reasonable than buying. There is (generally) no discernible relationship between the value of houses for sale and the amount of rent charged.
If you are moving to Mexico only because you think living in Mexico is cheaper than living the United States or Canada, you are moving for the wrong reason. My advice: Stay home. If you are moving to Mexico only because of the weather, you're moving for the wrong reason. If you are the sort of person who has to have things your own way, the way everything “should” work out according to you, you will be very unhappy living in Mexico. Many go-getters live in Mexico and have adjusted very well. They were ready to leave their old ways of doing things behind and have embraced new ones, where there is always an element of surprise to planned events.
If you have only been to the beach resorts or to the interior tourist destinations, you do not have an accurate picture of Mexico. If you have only vacationed there, you do not have an accurate picture of living there.
If the lower cost and the wonderful climate are factors, but your main reason for choosing Mexico is that you love the people, are flexible, and want some adventure in your life, you are moving for the right reasons and will probably be happy there.
You won't know where you want to live unless you explore. I can't urge you to do that enough.
Overall, it is easier to live in Mexico today than it was ten years ago, and much easier than it was twenty years ago. Many things just work more smoothly.
There are Walmarts and Sam's Clubs and Office Depots and Home Depots and Starbucks and so on in most towns of any size. It seems like more people speak English, which would be expected since it is taught in school and more people are going to school than 20 years ago.
Mexican banking is still a conundrum. The names of the banks change, but the bureaucracy does not. If you believe the advertisements and Internet pages of bank, you would swear that Mexican banks operate quite like American banks and less like a labyrinth; you no longer need to be a devotee of Kafka to cash a check. Don't be deceived.
Banks seem to be moving into a reverse time-loop and are getting more like they used to be (inexplicably labyrinthine) than they were before the economy went South (so to speak). And this varied from bank to bank and even from branch to branch. There are many international banks with branches in the USA, Canada and Mexico: Scotiabank, BBVA, Citibank, (now [well, at least today - banks change ownership like babies change diapers] part of Citigroup). Still, walk into a few branches before you believe what you read.
Internet service has also improved. You can now get DSL or cable Internet service in your home. You can now get a new phone line without waiting for Hades to freeze over. You can, thanks to a variety of calling plans, call back to the States, Canada, and Europe without taking out a second mortgage on your house.
You can now operate an Internet business in Mexico, but being a day-trader might be risky. You can even get decent deals on cell phones in-country. Telcel is pretty much the most dependable service, but Movistar is not bad and less expensive.
Goods you are used to are available from Sam’s, Walmart, Costco, Home Mart (owned by Home Depot), and other international chains. Costs of imported goods have gone down - but they can still surprise you.
Some electronics (like flat-screen TV's and other that are hecho en Mexico) cost less. Imported ones (from China) still cost more and (except in the largest cities) are generally not the latest technology. You can walk into a Best Buy in a big city and see both old and new tech on the shelves.
Cars made in Mexico, like Nissan and VW are less expensive, though there is a hefty sales tax and you have to be a resident to buy one.
Overall, it's just easier to live in Mexico today than it was ten or even five years ago.