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Making a Home Abroad - Retirement in Mexico

Retire to Mexico - Information and Advice for Retirement Planning, Retirement Activity, Leisure Activity, Jobs for Seniors, Retirement and Real Estate Purchases, Investment for Retirees, Health, Sports, Residential Care, Home Care, Long Term Care, Caregivers, Companionship and Dating, Spirituality and much more.

Are you wondering if you can retire in Mexico?  Has the idea of retiring south of the border been planted in your head?!  Is it safe, and can you really do that?  You can! In the Americas, foreigners choose Mexico more than any other country in the world for retirement. For many retirees, it is possible to reduce living expenses by half, while not sacrificing the conveniences found back in the USA or Canada.  Very likely , you will raise your standard of living.   This is true for most areas in Mexico. 

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Americans and Canadians love to retire to Mexico. In fact, there are now over 700,000 Americans living in Mexico. Clearly, there is something magical about the tropical climate, the laid back lifestyle
and the friendly people, not to mention the great food, history and architecture. Besides the magic, low costs-of-living is one of the many reasons why North Americans and an increasing number of Europeans choose to retire in Mexico. There are many areas where English is spoken. Access to the United States and Europe is quick, and in most cases, fairly easy. Foreigners can buy and sell property.  On top of that, the weather is warm, and in some areas tropical.  There are also many places where the weather is mild during the summer.

A very short History of Mexico

Mexico is a huge country with an area of 758,249 sq mi ( 1,972,550 km²) inhabited by 108 million people. It is, by population, the third largest country in the Americas following the USA and Brazil. Mexico is the most populous Spanish speaking country in the world. Its population reflects Mexico's ancient and complicated history: about 70% are of Spanish-Amerindian (Mestizo) descent, 15% Amerindians, 12% Europeans and the rest Chinese, Arab, Philippine and Jewish minorities.
Between 1800 BC and 300 BC, complex cultures began to form. Many matured into advanced Pre-Colombian Mesoamerican civilizations such as the: Olmec, Izapa, Teotihuacan, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huaxtec, Purepecha,Toltec and Aztecs (Mexica) , which flourished for nearly 4,000 years before the first contact with Europeans.

In 1519, the native civilizations of Mexico were invaded by Spain, and two years later in 1521, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was conquered by an alliance between Spanish and Taxcatecs (the main enemies of Aztecs) led by the most important of the early Conquistadores, Hernan Cortes. Because of constant rebellions, attacks, and continued resistance against the Spanish, it would take another two centuries, after the Siege of Tenochtitan, before the Conquest of Mexico was completed. The colonial period, when Mexico was known as "Nueva Espania" or "New Spain", lasted to 1810,

In 1807, Spain was occupied by Napoleon and became powerless to control its overseas possessions. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Spanish Catholic priest with progressive ideas, supported by Spaniards who wanted to reinstate the Bourbon King in Spain, declared, in 1810 in the town of Dolores, Mexico independent from Spain. This act started a 11 year war, that ultimately led to the official recognition of independence from Spain in 1821, when the liberating army entered Mexico City. The Treaty of Cordoba recognized Mexican Independence.

Following Mexican independence, many Spanish possessions in Central America, which also proclaimed their independence were incorporated into Mexico from 1822 to 1823. The exception were Chiapas and some other Central American states.

In an attempt to populate "empty fringe areas" the Mexican government awarded extensive land grants in remote areas such as the northernmost state of Coahuila y Tejas (Texas) to thousands of immigrant families from the United States, on the condition that the settlers convert to Catholicism, did not keep any slaves and assumed Mexican citizenship.

Because of personal ambitions of various Generals, the First Republic was quite unstable, until Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna took office in 1832. His abolition of the federal constitution, caused insurgencies in Yucatan and Coahuila y Tejas (Texas). Both areas sought independence from the Mexican government. Santa Anna's army eventually brought Yucatan to recognize Mexican sovereignty, Texas, led by relatively recently-arrived English-speaking settlers, declared independence from Mexico, with the Texan militias defeating the Mexican army and winning independence in 1836.

After accepting Texas's application for statehood in 1846, the US government sent troops to Texas in order to secure the territory, ignoring Mexican demands for US withdrawal. Mexico, despite having ignored Texas for ten years, saw this as a US intervention in internal affairs by supporting a "rebel" province.This led to the Mexican-American War (1846-48) during which Santa Anna was in and out of power. It ended in Mexico's defeat and the acquisition, partially through purchase, by the USA of vast territories north of the Rio Grande.

New Constitutions in 1856 and 1867 did little to establish stability and the constant confrontations between liberals and conservatives, the latter supported by a wealthy Catholic Church, continued. A short and bizarre intervention by the French and Napoleon III led to the Second Empire (1864-1867). But the Austrian born Habsburg Emperor Maximilian wanted to institute a liberal democratic Monarchy. This was opposed by the conservatives who abandoned him and he was ultimately executed.

Porfirio Díaz, a conservative General came to power in in 1876. This brought relative stability for a period of more than thirty years (1876–1911). Massive voter fraud on Diaz's re-election led to his resignation and the Mexican Revolution. The Federal Army was defeated by the revolutionary forces which were led by, amongst others, Emiliano Zapata in the South, Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco in the North, and Venustiano Carranza.

While the civil war may have subsided after 1920, armed conflicts did not cease. The conflict continued as a battle between forces favoring a secular society with separation of Church and State and those favoring supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church and social conservatives. This developed into an armed uprising by conservative supporters of the Church that came to be called "la Guerra Cristera." It is estimated that between 1910 and 1921 the country lost about 900,000 people in this struggle.

The constant struggle and changes of Presidents led to a deterioration of the economic conditions and in 1929, the National Mexican Party (PNM) was formed by the serving president, General Plutarco Elías Calles. The party later became the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) that ruled the country for the rest of the 20th century.) The PNM succeeded in convincing most of the remaining revolutionary generals to dissolve their personal armies to create the Mexican Army. Its foundation is considered by many to have been the real end of the Mexican Revolution.

After it was founded in 1929, the PRI monopolized all the political branches.The party is typically referred to as the three-legged stool, in reference to Mexican workers, peasants and bureaucrats. Its power base continued until the year 2000. The PRI brought stability to the country, but its long reign also brought endemic corruption.

The PRI did not lose a senate seat until 1988 or a gubernatorial race until 1989. It wasn't until July 2, 2000, that Vicente Fox of the opposition "Alliance for Change" coalition, headed by the National Action Party (PAN), was elected president. His victory ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party's 71-year hold on the presidency, though it did not end the PRI's significant hold on power in the legislative branch and the bureaucracy.

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Living and Establishing Yourself in Mexico

Americans and Canadians tend to settle in five main areas in Mexico: San Miguel de Allende, Mazatlan, Oaxaca, Guadalajara or Lake Chapala.

Mexico has good, modern infrastructure such as highways, telephone connections and internet connection, allowing retirees to stay connected to home and the outside world, while enjoying a new carefree lifestyle.

One of the best aspects of Mexico is the food. It is always good, fresh and healthy. Fresh vegetables and fruit are always available and they are not picked before they are ripe and transported to far away destination. In Mexico they are picked ripe and, almost immediately, available in the local markets. This means you will live a much healthier lifestyle, free of preservatives, hormones and other chemical ingredients. Despite this, some American studies claim that up to 40% of all travelers, staying at least one week in Mexico will will have intestinal troubles. Most of these people become ill on the third day of their visit. 

There are many reasons for that. Some have to do with the use of different oils in cooking, some simply with eating a different diet with different spices. Water systems in Mexico can also be contaminated with bacteria, which can cause havoc on American stomachs. (strangely enough, Americans often have the same complaints in France, Spain and even in Switzerland). The key is to drink bottled or carbonated mineral water (e.g.Evian, Perrier) and eat smaller portions. You should use some common sense and especially in the beginning, give your intestines some time to adjust.
Once you have adjusted to food and water, the relaxed pace of Mexico will allow retirees to discover new hobbies or develop old ones. You may want to spend more time cooking, gardening, fishing, hiking, discovering new towns and villages or even learn Spanish (unfortunately, few Americans do that. If you start learning the language, you will have a far more fulfilled life in Mexico). In Mexico it is all is possible and costs only at only a fraction of what you would to pay expect in the US.

Before you decide to move to Mexico it is advisable to spend as much time as possible getting to know the area, where you want to settle and which you intend to call home. Try vacationing there, as often as possible, Maybe you want to rent a few months, prior to making a life changing decision. A little preparation can go a long way. You may also want to check with other expatriates in Mexico. You can do so online (though, we were actually disappointed about the general ignorance, even in specialized chat rooms for residents in Mexico). But local clubs and English language newspapers in the area, where you want to settle are a good source about the pros and cons of retiring in Mexico.


Health Care and Insurance in Mexico

Mexico has a national Health Insurance system. National healthcare (Mexican Social Security Health Plan) the is available to any foreigner regardless of residency status for an annual fee of $390.

Health care in Mexico is very good.  Many doctors have trained in the U.S. and are bilingual.  Mexico itself has excellent Universities and medical schools. One of Latin America's best hospitals, Americas Hospital, is located in Guadalajara and has many San Diego-trained staff members.  It accepts Blue Cross and some other American insurance plans.  Medicare and Medicaid are not accepted outside of the U.S., but many supplemental plans are accepted.  Joining the Mexican Social Security Health Plan covers medical, dental and vision.  Regarding dental care, Americans and others have been coming to Mexico for dental procedures for years; typically, dental care in Mexico is one third the price of similar care in the United States.

There are insurance companies in the USA which provide international insurance. However, it would be better to take out local Insurance such as the Mexican Social Security Health Plan in Mexico. It is cheaper and easier to deal with, when you need it locally. It has been known that American Insurance companies will not reimburse you for foreign hospitalization or using a doctor abroad, even though international insurance was part of the contract.


Immigration and Residence Permits in Mexico

Mexico has an easy to understand immigration system.  Tourists, with an FM-T Visa, the tourist visa, which you get stamped into your passport when you enter the country, are allowed to stay in Mexico for 6 months without crossing a border to renew the visa. 

If you want to stay longer than 6 months without having to make a trip to the border for your visa renewal, you have to apply for the temporary residence permit using an FM-3 Visa. You enter the country with a normal tourist visa stamped into your passport at the port of entry. Then, during the six months, before the tourist visa expires, while in the country, you have to go through the procedure shown below. For the FM-3 visa the following conditions apply:  

For a Retiree Residence Permit you must be 55 years of age
Have a current unexpired passport
Have your original tourist entry visa (it cannot be expired).
A completed official application form (FDN1/02) and a copy of the same.  These are available at any Mexican Consulate and at the Regional Immigration Office in Mexico.
If your spouse is also applying, have a certified (notarized) copy of the marriage certificate.
Present written proof from a U.S. or Mexican bank that the equivalent of about US$1500 is being deposited monthly into your bank account. For each dependent (e.g. your wife/husband), the amount required is approximately US$ 525.  If you own property in Mexico, the amount required is reduced to half.  These minimums are set annually by the Mexican Government and fluctuate.  ( Situation in 2006)
You must pay two small fees to the Mexican Tax Department through a Mexican bank, using Hacienda Form #5.  One fee is approximately US $35 and the other approximately US$90.  These are paid separately. The first fee has to be paid before you apply for your visa, and the second one after you have applied and received a letter stating that your application has been received and is being processed.

This FM-3 residence permit allows for the one-time opportunity to import personal goods and household goods duty free. It also allows for the importation of one American registered car for the duration of the permit (usually it is valid for one year and can be renewed annually). If you have a monthly income of $2000 a month you can qualify for permanent residency status. Your dependent requires US$ 750.00 per month.

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Costs of Living in Mexico

Where you decide to live depends, besides personal preferences, on a number of factors. An important one is how immersed you want to be in the Mexican culture. Another is how inexpensive you want your life to be.  Areas with a higher concentration of foreigners tend to be more expensive than more remote areas.Though, even in the Lake Chapala area, where there are about 55,000 retired Americans and Canadians, a comfortable lifestyle for two people can be had for about $1,500 a month.

Recent reports suggest that you can live in most of Mexico, comfortably on about $1000 to $1600 a month. This includes your cost of housing, food, local transport or gas for your car, insurance and occasionally dining out.

You can eat well for about $150 to $250 a month. Housing while not dirt cheap is cheaper than in the US, unless you choose an up-market enclave or resort town. Within an area dominated by American expatriates you should be able to find a decent house for between $90,000 and $250,000. In areas not frequented by expatriates you may find something between $40,000 and $70,000.

Something about the Geography of Mexico
As well as numerous neighboring islands, Mexican territory includes the more remote Isla Guadalupe and the Islas Revillagigedo in the Pacific Ocean. Mexico's total area covers 1,972,550 square kilometers, slightly less than three times the size of Texas, including approximately 6,000 square kilometers of islands in the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of California. On its north, Mexico shares a 3,326 kilometer border with the United States. The Río Bravo del Norte (known as the Rio Grande in the United States) defines the border from Ciudad Juárez east to the Gulf of Mexico.

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A series of natural and artificial markers, soon supplemented by an impregnable artificial wall delineate the United States-Mexican border west from Ciudad Juárez to the Pacific Ocean. On its south, Mexico shares a 962 kilometer border with Guatemala and a 251 kilometer border with Belize.

Mexico has a 10,143 kilometer coastline, of which 7,338 kilometers face the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California, and the remaining 2,805 kilometers front the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Mexico's exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which extends 200 nautical miles (370 km) off each coast, covers approximately 2.7 billion square kilometers. The landmass of Mexico dramatically narrows as it moves in a southeasterly direction from the United States border and then abruptly curves northward before ending in the 500-kilometer-long Yucatán Peninsula. The capital of Yucatán State, Mérida, is farther north than Mexico City or Guadalajara. - More Ways to Save!

Foreigners Buying Property in Mexico
Many Americans settle in the Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende areas, but North Americans can be found nearly anywhere in Mexico.  You will find retirees in Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, on the Riviera Maya, in Baja, Alamos, Taxco and elsewhere. 

Property and Real estate transactions in Mexico are straight forward. Although, the Mexican constitution forbids foreigners from owning land within 100km of its borders and 50km of its coasts, it is not a problem. Under Mexican law, foreigners cannot own property outright within these restricted zones. By establishing a fideicomiso or bank trust you can work around this. The real estate trust must be set up to hold title for the foreigner. Normally, the foreign buyer has a bank act on their behalf. It is similar to the use of a trust if a property is held by a minor (i.e. a child under 18) because minors cannot sign a contract either. Potential buyers should get advice and have all real estate transactions reviewed by a licensed Mexican attorney.

Mexican real estate transactions are not carried out in the same manner as United States real estate transactions. The buyer must retain professionals to assist in the transaction. Normally four types of people or agencies are involved in any real estate transaction. These are

A Real Estate Company
The Buyer's Lawyer
A Bank who establishes the Real Estate Trust governed by the "fideicomiso", the trust agreement
A Notary Public

Transactions outside of the restricted zone do not have to involve a bank, since it is not necessary to establish a real estate trust in those areas. The general rule in all Real Estate Transactions in Mexico is "Buyer Beware". There is little regulation of real estate companies, it is therefore a good idea to contact the American Embassy or the American Consulates to find out if a real estate company is reputable. Some of the real estate companies are well known and have established quite a reputation with the Consulates.

A Mexican attorney should be involved to draw up contracts and to review the conditions and terms of sale. The attorney will have to do a title search and point out any problems or alternatives a buyer may have. The buyer has to appoint his/her own attorney rather than using the attorney of the seller or some attorney used by a real estate company free of charge. Legally, only a licensed Mexican attorney should provide advice on the law. American attorneys are not licensed to practice law in Mexico and should not give advice on Mexican Law. There are currently very few Americans who are licensed to practice law in Mexico.

If an attorney is licensed in Mexico he should be able to produce a "cédula profesional." This document is a registered license to practice law in Mexico and includes a photo of the attorney and his signature. To be sure that an attorney is licensed in Mexico, a foreign buyer should ask to see the attorney's license, or have the attorney's license number included in a retainer agreement before employing any services.

Besides formalizing your real estate transaction, an attorney can help you save money. Because of their usual contacts with banks, notaries, and the Mexican government they know how to get the most competitive cost and fees involved in a transaction and can make sure that the buyer is given the best prices. An attorney can also inform the buyer regarding his or her legal options and by doing so can make sure that no opportunities are missed: tax planning considerations, closing costs which have to be paid by the seller, and ways of taking title to the trust rights which make sense for the particular circumstances of a specific buyer. Very often one piece of good advice can save the buyer thousands of dollars in tax savings or other savings when the buyer eventually sells the property.

Any Mexican attorney can normally handle a real estate transaction. The buyer is not limited to only the local attorneys where the property is located. All real estate transactions involving a trust are governed by federal law. This means that all such transactions are carried out the same way regardless if the property is in Cancun or Los Cabos.

A "fideicomiso" is a trust agreement created for the benefit of a foreign buyer, executed between a Mexican bank and the seller of property in the restricted zone. The bank acts on behalf of the foreign buyer, taking title to real property. The bank, as trustee, buys the property for the foreigner, then has a fiduciary obligation to follow instructions given by the foreigner who is the trust beneficiary. The trust beneficiary retains and enjoys all the rights of ownership while the bank holds title to the property. The foreigner is entitled to use, enjoy, and sell the property that is held in trust at its market value to any eligible buyer.

The beneficiary can instruct the bank to sell or lease the property at any time. The beneficiary can develop and use the property to his liking and benefit, within the limits of the law.

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Some Final Words about Retiring to Mexico
Mexico is a great retirement destination. This large, diverse country with its beaches, great historic cities, resorts, ruins and its cultural heritage attracts travelers from all over the world. As a retirement spot, it offers low costs of living and in most places, excellent health care.  If you retire in Mexico you have to adjusting a bit to its slower pace of life. It is not for everyone, but it does offer what many retirees are looking for.  Retirement in Mexico, is not the same as going there to a resort on vacation and life in Mexico as a retiree can take some getting used to.  

With white sand beaches and some of the world's best sailing, fishing and scuba diving,, Mexico offers something for almost everyone.  Whether you make your home in Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Cozumel, Acapulco or any of Mexico's other old cities, such as San Miguel de Allende, you will soon see that Mexico's many towns are truly breathtaking.  Mexico's pre-colonial and colonial cultural heritage including its ancient ruins and archeological treasures, are truly astounding.

You may enjoy the Riviera Maya on Mexico's eastern coast or the majestic Copper Canyon in the northern central part of Mexico.  You can travel safely throughout Mexico by bus, car or railroad and you only need a tourist visa to do that. Travel by car is often challenging and sometimes not without risk, since excessive speed and sometimes poorly maintained cars can be a hazard. But   you can easily travel between resorts, including Cancun, Acapulco, Mazatlan and Ixtapa, by plane, train or car.  In short, Mexico is a wonderful country that offers something for everyone.

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