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July 15, 2024

Retiring in Mexico: By the Numbers

By Michael McLaughlin


Mexico is Not the United States. Repeat after me: Mexico is NOT the United States. I will refer to #1 many times. For us who live in Mexico, whenever something doesn't make sense here we all say, "That's Mexico."


Definitions, general.

Gringo(a): Person from North of the Mexican border.

High Season: November through April.

Snowbird: A person who travels to Mexico during high season to escape the cold in the north.

Low Season: May through November.

Sunbird: A person who travels to Mexico during low season to escape the heat in the north.

Manana: Spanish for tomorrow. Usually it means: Sometime in the future, not today, probably not tomorrow, soon or not at all.

Lakeside: People who live near or around the shores of Lake Chapala.


Lake Chapala, Mexico. This area, to include the cities of Ajijic, Chapala, San Juan Cosola, San Antonio Tlayacapan and Jocotepec are located 35 miles south of the city of Guadalajara. The lake is 50 miles long and is the largest lake in Mexico. The elevation is 5000 feet and on the same latitude as Hawaii. The climate here is considered to be the best in the world. Don't believe me? Look it up. Average temperature year round is 84 degrees. Relative humidity is very low.


Ajijic: (The J is pronounced like an H. Ah-he-heek) This village is on Lake Chapala. Most Americans and Canadians live around here.

Lakeside, general: The Lake Chapala area reportedly has the largest collection of ex-pats outside the United States. Most of the people here are friendly. This community is the easiest place to start your Mexican retirement. Better hurry. 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day and looking to retire where the standard of living is cheap and the weather is perfect. This is on the radar screen of any person looking to retire outside of the United States.


LCS, Lake Chapala Society: This organization is located in the village of Ajijic and is THE organization for gringos. They have excellent and varied activities -- lectures, immigration advice, medical programs, entertainment, sports, leisure, a book library, a video library, good coffee and beautiful gardens and yoga. LCS is Ground Zero for all gringos in Ajijic. To start your new life in Mexico you must check this place out.


Lakeside Seasons: Winters are dry and temperatures pleasant. May is the hottest month with daytime temperature around 90. In June through October the rains come and the daily temperatures are perfect. It usually rains at night. With rain, every living thing is green and there are less tourists, prices are lower, and the streets have fewer cars. You don't need dinner reservations. Life is good.


Canadians: Americans are not alone here. A lot of Canadians live here. If you are familiar with Canadians they look just like Americans except have a little more common sense about world politics. They speak English, are courteous and laugh easily. You will know them only when they use words like "out" "boat" "about" "house" -- pronouncing the "o" with the long "o" sound. Canadians don't say, "uh" they say "eh." You will have no problem living side by side with them. Canadians are good people.


Mexicans: They come in all sizes and colors. Their temperament is mellow. See # 37 for an exception. If you ever yell at a Mexican you have lost their friendship forever. Unlike the USA where loudness counts and people seem to get angry over nothing, the Mexicans are not yellers.


Mexican-Americans: Very rare creatures here. If you ask a Mexican-American if they going to retire in Mexico they will look at you as if you were asking them to retire in Bangladesh. Mexican-Americans do not come back to Mexico to retire. They see their homeland as a place to escape from, not return to.


Guadalajaran: This is a Mexican that lives in Guadalajara and visits Lake Chapala on weekends, usually in the summer and on holidays. Mexicans from Guadalajara own many of the houses here and live in their Lakeside house a total of 3 weeks a year. People from Guadalajara are loved and hated by the Mexicans here. Some Guadalajarans who come here have money and drive big cars, litter, make noise, ride their horses down the streets in Ajijic (Yes, people ride horses in the streets). Their young use the lake front as a place to party, dance, drink, liter and play their music as loud as they can. Most are educated, sophisticated and speak English.


Cities in Mexico to live in besides lakeside Chapala:

San Miguel. This city is fabulous and located in the high desert around 7000 feet. A landmark city. The summers are great, the winters can be cold. There are many art galleries and cultural events. There is not a stop light within the city limits. This city is the most expensive city in Mexico to live in. Call it the Beverly Hills of Mexico. Housing costs are high. Many good restaurants.

Patzcuaro. I predict great things for this city. At present there are only hundred or so gringos living there. It is situated on a beautiful lake and it is famous for its "Day of the Dead" procession. See #51 . Around the lake are many villages with world class crafts. Outside Patzcuaro there are rolling hills and in the rainy season the green hills it looks like Northern California or Austin, Texas. When the wild flowers come in bloom this is what heaven looks like. It is at a higher elevation than Lake Chapala and can get cold in winter. Of course cold is a relative term. If you are from Minnesota the winters are balmy.

Guanajuato. My favorite city in Mexico. This city has underground roads through old silver mine tunnels. It was featured in the movie The Mexican with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. The city is set in a bowl and looks like San Francisco with an Italian charm. Very beautiful city. If you are a photographer, this is visual heaven. The mercado (market) was designed by Eiffel. Yes, that Eiffel. There are not many gringos. The Cervantes Festival of music, dance, theater and art exposition happens here once a year and is the biggest festival of its kind in Latin America.

Cancun. Great hotels and fabulous beaches. This is not Mexico. Condos are not as expensive as Florida or California. Everything else is way over-priced. When I was there last year one scoop of ice cream was $5. This place is hotter than hell in the summer. I won't mention the humidity. Need I mention hurricanes?

Puerto Villarta. Great hotels and fabulous beaches. This is also NOT Mexico. Condos are not as expensive as Florida or California. Everything else is way over priced. Hotter than hell in summer. Downtown is funky and cute. Like all the tourist beach towns in Mexico, you have to get away from where the visitors stay to see the real (cheaper) Mexico.

Cabo San Lucas. Same as above places. Living here is like living in Santa Monica with the malls and American franchise businesses. Hotter than hell in the summer. But it is a dry heat. Hurricanes happen here. See global warming.

Tijuana. Don't even think about it. Mexican drug cartels operate here. With Tijuana you get the worst of all worlds -- too close to the United States, a tourist town, plenty of drug wars, corrupt police and it is hot and dusty. The Mexicans are trying to clean up this city. Email me when that happens.

Guadalajara. This is Mexico's second largest city. It is still a livable city. There are many things to do. If living in the smaller cities like San Miguel or Chapala sounds unexciting, then "Guad" is the city for you. The weather is similar to Lake Chapala.

Mexico City. One of the largest cities in the world. Weather is very mild there. Traffic is wild. Pollution is bad. There is more petty crime here than in any other city in Mexico. Kidnapping is a real possibility for the rich. Living outside of the city is doable.

Gated communities. Just south of the U.S. border are numerous gated communities. Too many to mention. Recently there has been a building frenzy along the Pacific coast and on the Sea of Cortez. The location is ideal but a little remote. Though not expensive, it is getting that way. Just six degrees colder than hell in the summer. Worth a look.

Real De Catorce. This is a mysterious place. Several major motion pictures have been shot here. It is a ghost town in parts. Situated very high in the mountains. Only the really adventurous would want to live here. Go to the web site and see for yourself.

Mineral de Pozos. Another community that is only for the adventurous. This small village has been trumpeted as the next "happening" place to live in Mexico. The trumpets are still blowing as this village is not yet happening.


People, specific. Most of the gringos that live here are, ipso facto, adventurous. Most people here are politically liberal. George Bush is not our favorite son. Yes, we support the troops too. There are conservative Republicans here, too (not many). Most are from Texas.


"A" personality types. (You know who you are!) Mexico is not for you. Do not come here. You will complain the entire time. Stay away. Unlike the United States, where efficiency and business are part of every interpersonal encounter, Mexicans have a different concept of time and courtesy. Mexican events rarely start on time. If you invite a Mexican to your house for a party at 7 p.m. they will arrive around 9 p.m. They will stay late to make up the difference. If a Mexican person is leaving their house to go to your place and a friend or relative shows up just as they are leaving, they will not go to your place. It would be rude of them to not stay with the friend or relative. Service workers do not have to be at your house on time. To get a Mexican repair person to come on Sunday would be a minor miracle. Sunday is family day. Surprisingly there are gringo "A" personality types here and they are always telling anybody that will listen that if only the Mexican people did business this way or that way they would be more efficient, make more money and be happier. Americans always look at life and try to make it run better. It is a personality defect many Americans have. You should come to Mexico to RETIRE, not spread the virtues of capitalism and the free enterprise system. "A" types complain that businesses aren't open 24/7 like "in the states." If this is you: Stay away. We don't want you here. You won't be happy. I would suggest retiring to Switzerland or Japan. These countries are way more efficient. I believe they have the death penalty for littering or coming late to an appointment. If you are a "B" personality type like me, Mexico is the place for you.


Houses. This is the web site for houses in Lake Chapala.

Update: As of spring 2007, there has been a downturn in the American housing market. This downturn has affected the sale of homes here. Houses are not selling. How long this will continue is uncertain. If you are retiring in the next year this would be a great time to come down here and buy a house. It is a buyer's market presently in Mexico. The areas along the ocean selling condos are a different story. Consult a local realtor for latest information.


Buying a house. Buying a house is not hard or complicated. In Mexico you go through an attorney and he/she handles all matters like title search, property transfer, etc. In the USA you sign, if I remember, about 100 papers to buy a house. Here you sign three. There are no silly disclosure laws. Yes, I know some are helpful, but most are just there to cover the realtor's you-know-what from whiny people and lawyers.


Buying a house near the border or ocean is more complicated. Basically buying a house in those areas, you and the bank own title. Mexican law. Don't worry, you can sell the house and land and do anything you want. You own the title for 99 years. If you are going to live longer, it is not a good deal. My best guess the Mexican government will change the law in the next 99 years.


Building a house. On this matter there are many opinions. We are building our second house. Some people tell of horror stories. Like the USA, it all depends on your builder, your relationship with the builder, your knowledge of construction and how diligent you are. As in the USA, matters get lost in translation between you and your builder. You can explain and explain and explain how you want it done, and then it is NOT done the way you want it. If that occurs, see Number 1. You must show up every day when the house is being built and inspect with a smile on your face. If you are a person that changes things all the time, you are in for problems. I worked in the construction trades and the worst people are the whiners who carry on, "It is not what I wanted." Communication is a two way street. Sometimes people believe that builders read minds or think something is so obvious that it needs no explaining. It needs explaining. Speaking Spanish helps but does not insure success. The right attitude goes a long way with a Mexican builder.


House construction. Most houses in Mexico are constructed of brick, rock and concrete. The construction work done by workers here is great. (Who do you think builds houses in the USA?) The stone work is world class. Marble and granite work is expert and way, way cheaper. You can customize your entire house without spending an arm or leg.


Property taxes. Better sit down for this. Last year we paid $160 dollars for property taxes and water/garbage pickup. Yes, for one year. Garbage is picked up twice a week. If you pay your taxes early, you get a discount. See Number 1.


Insurance, House. No need for house insurance. You think I'm kidding. Houses don't burn nor have termites. Sure you can carry earthquake insurance, but it's expensive and if your house collapses while you are in it, you will not collect. Know what I mean? No need for liability insurance. There are no lawyers running around suing for millions because some knucklehead slipped and got a boo-boo. Believe it or not, Mexican law assumes people are responsible for their own actions and need to look where they step. I know, a novel idea.


Electricity. Houses have no heat or AC, fans are sufficient. Since we use less power costs are reduced.


Phone, Land line. Telmex, the Mexican phone company, is owned by the 3rd richest man in the world and anything to do with a phone is higher than the USA. You can get DSL, but not in every place. Get Vonage for calls to the USA.


Phone, Cell. Why would you want one here? I know, in case the world comes to an end you can call your spouse. Remember, you are retired. No cell phones! Cost? More than the USA. Cell phones are used by Mexico's affluent and status symbols by the youth of Mexico.


Gas, Propane. Houses in Mexico use tanks filled with propane. Trucks drive around all day, every day and ready, willing and able to fill your tank. It costs, depending on your use, about $1 a day for gas. Our tank holds 3 months worth.


Television. You can get Dish satellite here. There are changes in the air. The US government doesn't like you getting the signal down here. You do have the option of getting a Canadian satellite feed (A lot of hockey games) or the Mexican satellite. (How's your Spanish?)


Health care. Great. The hospitals in Guadalajara are modern and the doctors are well qualified. Unlike medicine in America where an appointment takes months and you have to fight with your HMO for an aspirin prescription, Mexican physicians take time and the process is all quite civil. The dental care is as good as or better than the USA. Prices? Considerably lower. Then again, who pays more for medical care than the Americans? Of course you are not covered by Medicare here. Move is afoot to change that. You can get health insurance through various plans that are reasonable here. You can also get IMSS health insurance through the Mexican government. It is cheap but limited the first two years. It is usually only used for emergencies.


Food and beverage. A bottle of cold beer cost $1. Personally I like Negra Modelo. That sells for $1.25. Most of the excellent wines come from Chile. If you drink tequila you are in heaven. The town of Tequila is about an hour drive away. You would have a hard time spending more than $40 for a dinner for two in Lake Chapala. The restaurants here are many and varied. Many a Mexican worked in an American restaurant and then came back home to open his/her establishment. Service in most places is great. Gringos rule here concerning restaurants. If a restaurant is too expensive or if people get sick the word gets around and they will close pronto. Please don't come down here and open a restaurant. You can't compete with Mexicans. No Starbucks or McDonalds at lakeside ... yet. We do have Domino's Pizza and Subway. Please note: At the end of the evening, the waiter will not give you the bill unless you ask. It is considered rude for them to do so. Further note: The portion sizes are normal unlike the USA that has HUGE portions. And people in the States wonder why they are all over weight.

To be continued ...

Article © Michael McLaughlin. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-06-11
2 Reader Comments
11:29:58 AM
One thing that you forgot to mention is the fact that animals are mistreated on a regular basis. I saw starving, homeless dogs, bony horses tethered tightly to a tree in the sun without water. Dogs running in the street getting hit by cars. It was a nightmare to watch; Ajijic, dirty, hard to walk on streets and sidewalks; not much in the way of stores for necessities; cheap, low quality goods from China in the stores and markets; prices were way more than I expected; NO...most Mexican people in Ajijic DO NOT speak English; The lake was not pretty close-up; I'd dreamed about and did extensive research about moving to Mexico for several years and was horribly disappointed; The Lake Chapala Society seemed like a big country club for Gringos who try to isolate themselves from what they see around them and/or shrug it off; Even walking the cobblestone streets and broken sidewalks was an unpleasant ordeal and I like to walk but not with my nose down to scout for tripping hazards; I wouldn't drive, ride a bicycle or a motor scooter if my life depended on it...traffic is a free for all. Went on a tour of homes for sale and the decent ones were $300,000+ USD. The cheaper ones smelled of mold. I think that Mexico is for Mexicans and I'm not surprised that Mexican-Americans look at you like you're crazy if you mention Mexico as a retirement destination. I have nothing against Mexicans, they were very polite and helpful and their children were very well-behaved in public; I'm only sorry that people who report about Mexico spend too much time on the positives which totally did not give an accurate view of the place. They would have saved me some money if they had been more truthful.
10:32:04 PM
I have spent three months in Mexico the last two years. Beautiful country, mellow people. NOT a place to retire to. Main problem is corruption. Police have complete and total power. They can arrest you, extort money, do ANY damn thing they like and you are helpless. Trials are secret. Think twice before coming to Mexico.
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