Expats in Mexico: study reveals why they moved and how it turned out. Expats in Mexico: study reveals why they moved and how it turned out.

Expatriates in Mexico: what’s the attraction?

Study examines why people moved to Mexico and whether expectations were met

Why do expatriates move to Mexico? Weather, cost of living and a simpler lifestyle were the top reasons offered by the vast majority of expats contacted for a new survey.

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Expats in Medico: A Research Study found too that most of those who relocated to Mexico saw their expectations met and were happy they moved.

Completed by 1,129 expats, the survey offers insight into the motivations, expectations, concerns, experiences and opinions of people who have moved to Mexico to live, either to continue working or to retire.

The study was conducted and published by Best Places in the World to Retire, which describes the report as “a must-read” for anyone considering moving to Mexico.

“This study contains the answers to the most basic, most interesting questions about people moving to Mexico. Why did they do it? What were their expectations? What were their fears? What surprised them? How did it all turn out?” said Chuck Bolotin of Best Places in the World to Retire.

By all accounts it worked out well for most.

There were three clear-cut winners among the reasons why expats decided to move to Mexico: over 80% of respondents cited better weather, a lower cost of living or a desire to have a simpler, less stressful life.

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The next three reasons cited — albeit at considerably lower percentages — were a desire to have a less materialistic, more meaningful life, a more romantic, exotic or adventurous life or to have better access to less expensive, quality health care.

Other, more specific factors were revealed in respondents’ comments.

“I wanted some place where I could easily return to the United States,” said one Mazatlán resident, while an expat living in Puerto Vallarta cited “freedom, fewer rules, regulations and red tape,” as the main reason he decided to move to Mexico.   

As for the reality, over 80% said that they had achieved a lower cost of living and enjoyed better weather but the third top reason cited for moving to Mexico — the desire to have a simpler, less stressful life — proved slightly more elusive with just over 75% saying they had actually achieved it.

Still, a significant majority of people responded that they had achieved their motivating goals for moving to Mexico, indicating that most were happy with their decision to move.

Interestingly, women reported that they had achieved their goals at higher rates than men.

While the vast majority of comments about living in Mexico were overwhelmingly positive, there were some negative responses. One Yucatán resident said bureaucratic processes “can really try your patience” while another in Baja California Sur complained that the cost of living was high, specifically citing electricity and water costs.

Overall, the survey data showed that most people’s expectations were largely met and in many cases exceeded, especially with regard to access to high quality, low-cost health care.

However, living a simpler, more stressful life was one exception as a lower percentage actually achieved the goal compared to the percentage of people who cited it as a motivation for moving to Mexico, although the difference was minimal.

In respondents’ comments, working expatriates cited having a healthier work-life balance as an advantage of living in Mexico while many also stressed the emphasis placed on spending time with family as a positive aspect of the Mexican culture.

The survey found that respondents’ primary concern about moving to Mexico was not being able to communicate. Thirty-one per cent said they were worried they would not be able to speak or learn Spanish or get by in their daily life with only English.

However, the same percentage said they were not worried about any of the concerns suggested by the survey.

The next biggest concerns were missing family and friends, underdeveloped infrastructure, health care accessibility and insecurity, although it is worth noting that none of those issues worried more than a quarter of those polled.

“I didn’t have any worries . . . I don’t believe in borders so I thought, if Mexicans can live here, we should be able to as well,” said a resident of Puerto Vallarta, while others said that previous visits or research they had done prior to moving allayed any fears they might have otherwise had.

Just over 70% of respondents said that none of the fears or concerns they had about living in Mexico came true. Slightly more than 10% said they missed first world goods and services while just under 10% said that infrastructure including internet, roads and electricity was substandard.

All other concerns registered single-digit percentages of around 5% or less and notably, just 3.3% of respondents said the ability to communicate remained a concern for them after they became established in their new home.

Only 4.5% said security was a concern despite statistics indicating that this year is likely to be Mexico’s most violent in two decades.

One respondent said, “. . . having lived in Mexico for over 10 years I can tell you Sonora is safer than Arizona,” making a similar point to the Baja California tourism secretary who recently said that tourists are safer in Baja California than California.

A Yucatán resident said that living in Mérida “is fast becoming more and more like living in Florida.”

A resounding 76.5% responded “very much yes” when asked whether they would make the same decision to move to Mexico if given the opportunity to do so while a further 16% said “probably.”

“I don’t know” and “probably not” both came in at under 4% of respondents and just 1.6% responded “absolutely not” to the question.

A recurring comment from respondents was a recommendation to potential new expats to rent in Mexico initially before deciding whether or not to buy a house.

Over half of respondents said that living in Mexico was much better than they expected and when combined with those who said that it was a little better, the proportion reached almost three-quarters of those surveyed.

Around 22% said it was about the same as they expected and less than 4% of respondents said that living in Mexico was a lot worse or a little worse than expected.

One Puerto Vallarta resident said that “other than the drug wars, it’s better than I expected” while another respondent complained that “the biggest problem in Mexico is the expat folks that want to fix Mexico.”

Over 80% of people said that they enjoyed life in Mexico “much more” or “a little more” than in their country of origin while the same percentage also said they were “a lot less” or “a little less” stressed living in Mexico. A similar percentage said they were “much happier” or “somewhat happier” living in Mexico.

Is anyone planning to go home?

Forty-one per cent said they had no plans to return to their country of origin and just under 40% said they hadn’t made any plans or were unsure. Just over 7% said they either planned to return soon or in the next five years while 13% said they would only return whey they were very old or if they were sick.

Among the comments: “spread my ashes out there with the whales” from a resident of Puerto Vallarta while a Lake Chapala expat said, “the Mexican culture honors the elderly and treats them with so much compassion.”

Several other respondents cited improved medical services as a factor that would enable them to stay longer in Mexico.

The full survey can be downloaded here.

Mexico News Daily

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  • Joseph Kel

    I have noted a large number of folks who move to Mexico and leave after a short time. I do not see any mention of those who did not last over 2 years nor any mention of comments by those who did not remain in Mexico even after years and years of trying.
    I believe the source of this report-The study was conducted and published by Best Places in the World to Retire-is a division of International Living, which seems to always have a one sided view.
    A true research report presents more than one side of an issue.

    • alance

      The biggest handicap Anglos have about Mexico is fear. The only thing you have to fear, according to FDR, is fear itself. The advantages to life in Mexico far outweigh the disadvantages.

  • WestCoastHwy

    There are two side to a stick and when in Mexico you can choose which side to grab. The three things about Mexicans that is for sure is that they are habitual, ritualistic, and negotiable on one side, but the other side is, if you are a gringo they become resentful, uninformative, and stoic. It’s best to have a proxy when doing any business and that is where the cost comes in, there is very little DIY in Mexico. As for this article, I agree, it is fair, slightly biased, and incomplete.

    Viva Mexico!

    • Pat Hall

      I’ve been here in Mexico for 19 years and I have not experienced Mexicans who have become resentful, uninformative, and stoic with me. I do speak fluent Spanish and that may be the determining factor.

      • Dallas Autery Y Rocio Heredia

        14 years for me and i agree with Pat.

      • Michael C

        I completely agree with you, Pat, speaking Spanish makes all the difference in the world with how you are perceived and the ease and enjoyment of being an active member of a Mexican community! Viva Mexico!

        • WestCoastHwy

          Mexican community? I think not but will not distort your reality.

      • WestCoastHwy

        Hello Pat,
        Good for you Pat, you speak Spanish, are retired and do not have to work with Mexicans. I would also add you have grounded a nice deep path in those 19 years and don’t have to deal with Mexican outside your comfort zone. I’m not as fortunate, I have to hire a proxy or it’s back of the line, more copies and exponentially more expensive to complete a project and of course pay more taxes and fees. My Spanish is legal, technical, economical and sometimes Mexicans don’t even know what I’m saying because of their lack of education. Yes we live in two different Mexico’ and would love to introduce you to mine because it’s just ignorant to not understand the parts as a whole.

        • Pat Hall

          I learned to speak Spanish in the 70’s when I was working in Mexico. And yes, I worked with Mexicans and I did not have a problem, at least no more problems than I’ve had working with Americans and Canadians. I have more Mexican friends than gringo friends now and I like to think that I do “understand the parts as a whole”.

          • WestCoastHwy

            Under my premise, you are categorically Mexican yourself which is why you have a blinds eye to what I’m referring to. Your national eccentric when it comes to looking at Mexicans from a gringo’s prospective or your full of it.

  • John Milonas

    Fools with money in parodies.

  • gypsyken

    The reported results are what I would have expected them to be, including that the most positive responses about living in Mexico seem to have come from people living in the Lake Chapala area and from Canadians rather than Americans.

  • ericbrady

    Something that I did not see discussed before relocating to San Miguel de Allende is how friendly the people here are, it has become my favorite reason for staying.

  • gypsyken

    I think that the survey should have addressed the ease or difficulty of acquiring and maintaining residency status in Mexico, which became more difficult a few years (three years?) ago, when the law governing it was changed. I had acquired FM3 temporary residence status for five years in 2002 and renewed it twice for five-year terms, but then Mexico reduced the term to four years and made it nonrenewable (while changing the designation from FM3 to Residente Temporal). (Application for a non-renewable Residente Temporal permit must now be made at a Mexican consulate in the country of which the applicant is a citizen.) I could not convert to permanent resident (Residente Permanente) status, which Mexico encouraged temporary residents to do (and which most of my ex-pat friends did) because permanent residents may not drive foreign-plated cars, and my Honda could not be “nationalized”–registered in Mexico–because although it was purchased in Houston, its VIN begins with a J, for Japan. I therefore had to leave the country before the expiration of my temporary resident permit in 2016. Had the law not been changed, I would still be there. Mexico also increased significantly the financial resources that must be demonstrated for residency. I don’t know how many ex-pats were affected by that, but I do know that while it was possible to live in the Lake Chapala area on U.S. Social Security benefits, those benefits were insufficient to meet the new financial requirements for Residente Temporal status, and the requirements for Residente Permanente are higher.

    • Become a citizen. Solves all those problems. (Maybe not the car.) I did it in 2005. Excellent move. As for the car, get rid of it, and buy one here.

      • gypsyken

        The only legal way to “get rid of” a car that cannot be registered in Mexico is to remove it from the country. That is what the temporary import permit for the vehicle requires to be done when the permit holder’s immigration permit expires, so that is what I had to do. (My situation was complicated, though not altered, by the fact that I was living in my motorhome in Mexico. Since my car could not be registered in Mexico, there was no point to inquire about registering my motorhome, so it also had to be removed from the country. If my motorhome could have been “nationalized,” it would have had to be taken to the border to begin that process, and it could not have been left anywhere in Mexico when I had to get leave the country to remove my car from it. Also, getting rid of a car that cannot be registered and buying another one implies having financial resources that everyone who can meet the financial requirements for permanent residence may not have. I am not, by the way, questioning Mexico’s right to change its immigration law. I am merely noting that the change that was made required me to leave the country, which I otherwise would not have done.)

        • For many years now, I have rolled my eyes at the difficulties that Gringos put themselves in by bringing motor vehicles to Mexico. I read it on message boards, forums, news story comments, etc. It’s endless. I count myself fortunate because by sheer dumb luck I moved to Mexico on Delta Airlines and purchased a car in Mexico, simplifying life immeasurably, it appears.

          There should be a sign at border crossings: Move here with your car at your own peril.

          • gypsyken

            Nonsense. I began in 1993-1994 to spend winters in Mexico in my motorhome, behind which I towed my car. Until 2002, when i acquired FM3, later Residente Temporal, status, I brought both vehicles into the country on Temporary Import Permits (TIPs) good for six months, the same as my tourist visas. Thereafter, my TIPs remained valid so long as my immigration status remained valid. I had no problem until the immigration law was changed–a poster says that was in 2012–reducing the term of Residente Temporal status to four years and making it non-renewable in Mexico. Because my car could not be registered in Mexico and had to be returned to the U.S., only then, after 23 years of living full- or part-time in Mexico, did I have to leave the country.

    • Dallas Autery Y Rocio Heredia

      the law changed in Nov. 2012. When my FM2 expired in March of 2013 i was converted to a residente permanente. I will probably go through the process of becoming a citizen in the next year or two.

    • Pat Hall

      You may “renew” a visa temporal simply by leaving Mexico and obtaining another visa temporal for 4 years, thereby enabling you to drive your foreign-plated vehicle. Repeat as necessary.

  • susie815

    love it, and yep I think the biggest problem in mexico now, is expats trying to fix mexico and the ones trying to make it more like the US…

    • Expat in MX

      I completely agree. I didn’t move here to have things like they are in the US. I moved here to escape how things are in the US.

    • Michael C

      Reasons why I avoid too much affiliation with expats, preferring melding into the Mexican community!

  • Felipe_Calderoff

    This is a good case example of sampling bias for your college statistics course. They only people tested were those who moved to Mexico and stayed. Those who moved and left were left out of the population. What a joke!

    • Happy Girl

      Oh so true! You can make any article slant which ever way you want if you are its author. From personal experience and observation…Mexico wears people down and they leave. In our neighborhood in Chelem four houses in a four block radius sold in one year (our’s was one), one more has been for sale for years and one that sold is again on the market…two more have recently been listed. Mexico is a wonderful country but gringos are sold a dream that day to day reality turns it into a bad dream. Gringos are seen as walking atm machines by the locals, nothing is easy, you better be handy, have a happy out look and be willing to shrug off lots and lots of stuff that would bother you back home….disappointment is around every corner. We are renting this year, no headaches and no house repairs…real estate brokers are the only winners when it comes to real estate in Mexico. A long time expat friend and resident said most Gringos last from 1 to 8 years…the average is five years. Buyer beware!

      • Pat Hall

        Buying a house in Mexico seems to be the first thing that gringos do. Mexican houses are not cheap and maintaining a house in Mexico is very expensive and time-consuming as well. I would advise anyone moving here to rent. As retired people, we do not have that many years to live and what happens to your house after you die? You leave it to your adult children who do not understand Mexican bureaucracy or the Spanish language. How many heirs have walked away from a Mexican house that has been left to them? Do your heirs a favor and do not leave them a Mexican house to sell.

        • prepped

          Yup. Gringos still live as Gringos in other countries, rather than adopting to a new lifestyle. We Americans are obsessed with home ownership. Perhpas that makes sense here in the US, but not living abroad. Life is so complicated now with every decision having weighty financial, legal and tax considerations, in additional to the lifestyle and cultrual ones when expatriating.

          I’m traveling the world now to determine where, if anyplace, I’d put down roots again. howver, the more I see and experience, the more I beleive our post-WWII American “Dream” ideals of settling in one place for life is very limiting. Duplicating the American Dream in Mexico or any other country is nonsense, as it doesn’t fit everything else about the Amercian lifestyle.

    • rogelio39

      Felipe – sorry, not a problem. The article clearly stated that the survey was done among those presently living in Mexico, readers know that at the outset. Secondly, there is no way of knowing why those who have left did so. It makes sense, that if a high percentage of the present population is positive, then it must have changed radically in the past if a lot of people left for negative reasons. There is no reason to think that has occurred.

    • BB

      Let’s face it. Americans in general are unable to hack it living anywhere else but in the continental US. Take it from an expat from another country now living in the US. Even in the military, from Day 1, they’re counting the days until they get out. Until they can eat a greasy, McDonald’s burger that’s bad for your health. They’re out of their comfort zone. Most Americans are stuck in a country they can’t escape no matter how difficult life is. But for the rest of us who can live anywhere that has plenty of sunshine, nice beaches and a much more affordable cost of living, Mexico is the perfect option. What’s the next closest option for living on as little as $1200 /month?

      • David Nichols

        Better option:
        Costa Rica, much more peaceful country–they don’t even have an Army, Navy or Air Force…! 30% of the country is national park preserves, same ocean and beach environment as MX, same low cost of living…

        • Marlene Rusk

          Costa Rica is not a cheap place to live ~ $1200 a month would be a VERY tight budget here. Electricity is 4x the cost of US/Canada, gasoline / vehicle costs are the same or more… rice and beans are cheap, meat,dairy, eggs are the same or more.

        • BB

          Costa Rica might very well be. However, I had heard several years ago that it used to be more affordable to expats. Now, like Panama, it’s no longer quite that for North Americans.

  • Karen Blue

    I’ve lived in Ajijic for 21 years. I’ve interviewed hundreds of expats on their reasons for moving here, their hopes and fears, dreams and disillusions. I included one couple who decided to leave as well as couples, singles, gays and straights in my recent book, “Baby Boomers: Reinvent Your Retirement in Mexico.” Their stories also include health issues, cost of living and a myriad of other subjects prospective expats should be exploring. It’s not one-sided. The interviewees talk about the good, the bad and the ugly. For me, the reasons to come were so I could retire 15 years sooner than I could in Silicon Valley, but the reason I’ve stayed is definitely the community.

  • Scott S

    We were there for 2.5 years. We were considered long term peeps. Many didn’t make it 1 year in our circle which included many Canadian and European folks. We did try to fit in and live in the Colonia. We felt like we succeeded in that type of living. Local meat markets and vegetable stands were our choice for basics…

    Services were easy enough to get. We rented and would never buy there. Also only got tourista visas the whole time. Permanent seemed like a big hassle. Do it again? Yes, but not in Playa del Carmen. Maybe Puerto Morelos or Telum.

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