News
The Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. The Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. Having many beautiful places to visit was cited by one expat as an advantage to living in Mexico. deposit photos

Weather, friendly locals, cost of living: expats in Mexico, Costa Rica enjoy same things

But Costa Rica is known as one of the safest countries in Central America

Of course it was no surprise that readers of Mexico News Daily voted Mexico as the No. 1 expat destination in a recent MND poll. We can probably safely assume that most already live here, want to or are snowbirds.

Fully 60% ranked Mexico above Costa Rica and Panama as the prime destination for expats.

We wanted to find out not only why Mexico holds a special place in the hearts of so many of our readers, but also why Costa Rica consistently wins the top spot in many surveys and polls.

The “holy trinity” of reasons — weather, cost of living and friendliness of the people — were cited over and over again in comments on our website and in response to posts on a dozen expat Facebook pages as to why Mexico should have garnered the No. 1 retirement destination.

“Love Mexico!” wrote Claude. “The people, the food, the climate, even the humidity in the summer! The people that I know are so humble and helpful, and always have a smile for you no matter what their situation is.”

Lisa’s bulleted list pretty much summed up the reasons why so many of you have chosen Mexico:

  • Culture, people and food
  • Affordability
  • Diverse geographical locations
  • Proximity to U.S. for affordable and easy return trips
  • Many large expat communities that help with acclimation
  • Simple lifestyle that’s well-suited to retirement.

Another list sent by Roxana included decent and generous immigration policies and genuinely hospitable people, also mentioned by many others.

“There’s a warm welcome from very humble and friendly people who love to adopt us expats,” added Leland. “They give their trust, and in return we give them respect.”

“I think Mexico is a wonderful place to retire,” wrote Susy. “There are so many options, from well-to-do areas to areas where a single person can actually live on their social security. It’s in close proximity to the U.S. to visit or have family and friends visit. Housing is readily available, food and utility costs are low, and you can have basically the same or better quality of life here as in the U.S. Lots of opportunities for volunteer work, and so many lovely places to see and visit!”

That said, Costa Rican expats said many of the same things, especially about how warm and welcoming the locals are.

Results of the May 24 MND Poll.
Results of the May 24 MND Poll.

It’s the people,” wrote Peggy. “The ability to be kind and live with peace in their hearts.”

On the world stage, Costa Rica is known as one of the safest countries in Central America. The government abolished the military more than 70 years ago, instead directing that money into education, and as a result, Costa Rica has good public schools and an exceptional literacy rate.

Kathleen chose Costa Rica to retire to, and her list rivals those of expats in Mexico in terms of outlining exactly why.

  • Easy and affordable(-ish) flights to the U.S.
  • Better weather
  • Stable democracy
  • Ability to buy property/business legally as a foreigner
  • Fairly straightforward residency process
  • Safe to drink tap water
  • Supportive local and foreign communities
  • National healthcare (with residency) as an option, affordable private healthcare
  • Overall lower cost of living than where we lived in the U.S.

“Costa Rica was one of the few places that met our criteria,” she added. “It just ticked the boxes. Been here eight years. We don’t regret the move. Pura vida!”

One advantage Mexico has over Costa Rica or Panama is its proximity to the U.S. John said that’s what makes Mexico his choice for retirement.

“If I need to get back to the U.S. quickly, I can do it by land, air or sea; with the pandemic, it really sank in for me how important that is,” he wrote. “I think Mexico is the No. 1 country for Americans for that reason: Mexico shares a land border and is close to home. Research shows that Mexico is not the No. 1 destination for expats as a whole, but Americans will keep flocking in.”

“I haven’t been to Panama or Costa Rica so I can’t compare. I do like the fact that Mexico and my home country share a border,” concurred Sally, adding, “I love it here in Mexico!”

After two years of living in various countries in Europe and the Americas, Mike also chose Mexico.

“France was our favorite place to retire, but we have family in the U.S. and it’s easier to reach them if we live in Mexico. That, plus the climate, were the determining factors in our decision.”

Crime — cartel violence, narco activity, gun violence — is the main reason readers think Mexico doesn’t win these surveys.

“I wonder how many of the ‘yes’ voters have lived in any other countries other than their home and Mexico?” mused Chris, who’s traveled to more than 75 countries and now lives in Portugal. “I spent six months in Mexico for 15 years in two very different cities and would certainly not rate Mexico as the best. I no longer worry about corrupt police and government, petty crime, cartel shootings, litter and excessive noise, etc. It’s so nice to run or bike and not be worrying that something bad could happen.”

crime scene
‘The incredible lack of law and order is why we fled paradise,’ said one expat.

That sentiment was echoed over and over.

“I’ve been continually disappointed since moving from Vegas,” said Peter. “Love the seafood, loathe the insecurity.”

“We lived on a catamaran sailboat for six years up and down the west coast and Sea of Cortés of Mexico until last week,” wrote John. “The people, towns and extraordinarily beautiful country are wonderful!”

Sadly, concerns about corruption, crime and cartel activity curtailed their activities in port.

“The showstopper is the incredible lack of law and order,” he continued. “That’s why we fled paradise. We are so sorry to return to the U.S.A.”

Also cited as unfavorable is Mexico’s rigorous rate of growth and development and lack of supporting infrastructure or environmental concern. Unlike Costa Rica, where sustainable tourism and environmental protection is built into the country’s constitution, Mexico often seems to look the other way.

“Water is becoming a big problem; there just isn’t enough,” wrote Sydney, who lives outside of Guadalajara. “The infrastructure can’t support the intensive building that’s taking place. What was paradise may be compromised.”

Ultimately, numbers don’t lie: no matter what the surveys and polls may say, government statistics show that more Americans live in Mexico than in any other foreign country in the world: 1.5 million, in fact. That’s in comparison to between 25,000 and 50,000 in Costa Rica (official numbers are varied and confusing). As for Canadians, who tend to be snowbirds, about 12,400 live in Mexico, with no numbers found for Costa Rica.

Whatever the reasons may be, expats in Mexico are a happy, contented bunch. Why do other destinations “win” in these surveys? Maybe expats in Mexico are just too busy on the beach / relaxing / eating tacos / to vote!

“Mexico is my home and suits me far better than the land of my accidental nationality,” wrote Gerald.

More people than ever before are considering moving to Mexico, say new surveys, for all the reasons mentioned.

“You don’t get to choose where you’re born, but if you’re lucky, you get to choose where you live,” said Lee. “I choose to live in Mexico; I’m a lucky man.”

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. A retired journalist, she has lived in Mexico since 2006.

Reader forum

The forum is available to logged-in subscribers only.