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Retiring in Mexico: What You Need to Know

A vibrant, low-cost lifestyle south of the border may be easier than you think

spinner image a street of houses in valladolid yucatan mexico
View of residential street in Valladolid, Mexico
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In the mid-2000s, when she was winding up her career as an accountant in Houston, Harriet Rich decided to make a bold lifestyle change in her retirement by moving to Mexico.

Rich, who will turn 79 in February, wanted to live in a warm climate, maintain her knowledge of Spanish and immerse herself in a new culture. She also had an economic motivation.

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“I knew that my money was going to go further there, and that I was going to be able to have a lifestyle that I simply couldn’t afford as a retiree otherwise,” she says.

For the equivalent of $30,000, Rich was able to buy land to build a home in Valladolid, a nearly 500-year-old city of 85,000 on the Yucatán Peninsula. With its distinct cultural life and relatively low expenses — Rich estimates it’s possible to live comfortably in Valladolid for as little as $2,000 a month — the city turned out to be the perfect place for her. She’s developed close friendships with her neighbors, and she tutors local schoolchildren.

Rich is one of the many Americans who’ve made Mexico into the most popular destination in Latin America for U.S. retirees. The Social Security Administration paid benefits to more than 62,000 people in Mexico in December 2023; only Canada and Japan are home to more beneficiaries.

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View of Lake Chapala, Mexico
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In addition to lower living costs, Mexico offers a varied climate, from tropical heat along the coasts to cool mountain air inland, and a wide range of places to live, from beach resorts and modern metropolises to historic cities and quiet small towns where expatriates can experience an authentic Mexican lifestyle.

Is Mexico Safe for Retirees?

Portrayals of Mexico in movies, TV and news coverage as crime-ridden and cartel-run may give American retirees pause about moving there. And some parts of the country are potentially hazardous enough that the U.S. Department of State issues travel advisories about them. But experts and expats say areas where Americans settle are generally safe.

“Most of Mexico is fine,” says Lief Simon, real estate editor for the retirement guide publisher Live and Invest Overseas.

“It depends upon where you are,” he says. “If you’re in a border town that’s part of the drug-trafficking routes, then there are safety issues. But if you’re in a tourist area, like Puerto Vallarta, the drug guys, they don’t want attention, so they try to avoid those areas.”

World Population Review, a website that aggregates demographic data, ranks Mexico 40th in crime rate out of 144 listed countries, with 54.1 crimes reported per 100,000 population. The U.S. ranks 57th with 49.2 crimes per 100,000 people.  

Simon recommends that retirees visiting or newly settled in Mexican communities ask around and talk to locals about the safety of various areas. Wherever you go, he adds, it’s wise to not wear expensive jewelry or otherwise conspicuously display wealth.

Americans who encounter problems of various sorts in Mexico can contact the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City or one of the nine U.S. consulates located throughout the country. You’ll find contact information for all the diplomatic facilities on the U.S. Embassy website.

“Mexico has all of the things that an American retiree is looking for,” says Kathleen Peddicord, founder and publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, which produces books, newsletters and online guides on moving and doing business abroad. “It’s accessible and nearby, and it has great weather and great beaches, and it can be really, really affordable.”

Because Mexico is so close, it’s easy to split your time between there and the U.S. Heidi Kimsey, 62, and her husband, Larry White, 77,  spend half the year in Mexico (mostly in Valladolid) and half in Asheville, North Carolina.

“We’ve been driving back and forth,” Kimsey says. “We usually leave for Mexico sometime in late October and then head back north in April.”

What are the requirements to retire in Mexico?

Older Americans who’ve moved south of the border say it’s not too difficult, as long as you plan carefully, spend some time picking a location that’s right for you and take into account the cultural and economic adjustments you’ll need to make. Here are some of the practical things you’ll need to know.

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View of Playa del Carmen, Mexico
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Establishing residency

For retirees who want to live in Mexico, the first stop is to visit the nearest Mexican consulate and apply for a permanent resident visa. You’ll be required to:

  • Fill out a visa application form and pay a $48 application fee.
  • Provide a valid U.S. passport and a color picture.
  • Provide proof of economic solvency — documentation that you have maintained bank or investment accounts with a monthly balance of $181,968 for at least the past year or that you have monthly income from work, Social Security or a pension of at least $4,549 after taxes over the past six months.
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Buying property

Americans can buy property in most of Mexico in much the same way as they do in the U.S., says Stephanie Pepper of Coastal Properties of Cabo, a Mexican real estate brokerage.

The process is a bit more complicated in areas along the coasts and near the border. In these zones, non-Mexican nationals must go to an authorized bank and set up a special trust called a fideicomiso, in which the bank holds legal title to the property as trustee but the buyer has complete ownership rights.

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View of Mazatlan, Mexico
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As in the U.S., you’ll need to have an agent representing you in any property deal. It’s advisable to find an English-speaking attorney to represent you as well.

Finding the right place

Before you buy, it’s a good idea to explore Mexico and see different areas. “Dip your toe in the water for a minimum of six months,” says Denis Larsen, 84, a longtime American resident of Valladolid who for years owned and operated a bed-and-breakfast there. “Make sure the city fits.”

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Mexico has a range of places that provide different scenery, climate, lifestyles and cultural experiences (see “7 Mexican Cities Retirees Love,” below). Several have large communities of English-speaking expats, notably the resort meccas of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast, the Riviera Maya on the Caribbean and the area around Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake.

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View of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
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But even if you live in an area where you can get by on English, it’s advisable, not to mention polite, to learn at least some Spanish.

“If you don’t speak Spanish, your experience here is just not nearly as multidimensional or as rich,” Kimsey says.

Health care

American retirees with legal residency can sign up for public health insurance offered through the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS), the national social security system, and pay a small premium. But they often buy private insurance coverage or pay out of pocket for routine care, which Rich says is relatively inexpensive.

Though Medicare doesn’t cover most care in Mexico (or anywhere abroad), Peddicord advises retirees to keep their Medicare coverage as a backup in the event of serious illness or injury, since it’s relatively easy to travel back to the U.S. for treatment.


Even if you’re retired and living in Mexico, you need to file a U.S. tax return every year — federal taxation is based on citizenship, not place of residence.

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View of Puerto Aventuras, Mexico
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You must report any income you get from renting out property you own in Mexico and file disclosure forms if you have $10,000 or more in Mexican bank accounts or $200,000 or more in foreign assets.

7 Mexican Cities Retirees Love


Scenically situated between Lake Chapala and the Sierra Madre, less than an hour from Guadalajara’s international airport and big-city amenities, and boasting a large well-organized expat community, this charming, “extremely affordable” small town is rated Mexico’s top retirement destination by financial education website Investment U.


Popularly known as the “Pearl of the Pacific,” Mazatlán offers the history and architecture of a five-century-old colonial city amid a bustling coastal resort with a vibrant cultural scene, miles of pristine beach and low living costs for such a touristed area. 


The population and cultural center of the state of Yucatán is “a growing modern city that retains its colonial feel through its architecture,” Investment U says. Along with its architecture, Mérida is known for its wide range of shops, art galleries and restaurants featuring distinctly Mayan cuisine.

Playa del Carmen

About 40 miles south of Cancún on the Riviera Maya, Playa del Carmen is Mexico’s fastest-growing city, according to International Living magazine, a “seaside jewel” with plentiful amenities and a socially active expat community. Proximity to Cancún’s international airport makes for easy travel back to the States.

Puerto Vallarta

This well-known Pacific resort is a longtime “expat haven,” per International Living, drawing vacationers and retirees alike with its deluxe amenities, iconic malecón (boardwalk), highly rated medical facilities and the huge range of recreational activities in, on and around the water.

San Miguel de Allende

In Mexico’s central highlands, San Miguel is widely considered one of the country’s prettiest cities. It’s “an artsy kind of town,” Live and Invest Overseas real estate editor Lief Simon says, with a rich crafts tradition and numerous small shops selling local pottery, art and housewares.


Forty miles down the Riviera Maya from Playa del Carmen and much smaller, Tulum attracts visitors looking to explore its spectacular clifftop Mayan ruins and expats who want to experience its “palpable bohemian vibe,” International Living writes. The town offers “an affordable Caribbean lifestyle a bit off the beaten path.”

You also have to pay Mexican real estate taxes on your home, though typically these only amount to a few hundred dollars a year, according to Pepper.

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