In 2006, after years of living paycheck to paycheck in California, I decided to move to Mexico. I was 50, and a prior vacation in the beautiful coastal town of Mazatlán had convinced me that an easier, happier and more affordable lifestyle was possible.
And I was right. Now, at 66, having spent the past 15 years in Mazatlán, I frequently get questions from people who want to make the leap, too.
There is no one way to make your expat dream a reality. With about 1.5 million Americans living in Mexico, everybody does it differently.
I’ve met and made friends with so many wonderful people who moved to Mexico. Here’s how they handled the most common challenges of relocating and created new chapters abroad:
Tip: Buckle down and do the research.
Moving can be a dreadful process. It’s complicated, time-consuming and often expensive.
Some people are comfortable making spontaneous decisions, like my retired friend Glen Rogers, who bought a house a few days into her first trip to Mexico 20 years ago. But most of us will look for answers before we make the move.
My advice? Do your due diligence. Reach out to experts, as well as people who’ve done it and have been living abroad for years. You may even want to consider using a relocation service that will guide you from start to finish.
Decide on a few primary sources of information so you don’t get bewildered by everything that’s out there. Ask every question, even if it seems silly or inconsequential. And if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. (A good example is the myth that there’s “free health care” in Mexico.)
I’ve found these three websites to consistently have helpful and up-to-date information:
1. Sonia Diaz Mexico: Offers in-person and virtual services and information about visas, taxes, vehicles, health insurance, moving, pets and more.
2. Dream Retirement in Mexico: Host Risa Morimoto investigates everything expats need to know about moving to Mexico in sophisticated, well-researched videos, podcasts, webinars and courses.
3. Best Mexico Movers: Long-time expats themselves, Chuck Bolotin and his wife have many years of experience helping people move from the U.S. and Canada to new homes all over Mexico.
Tip: Clarify what you want and value in life.
Mexico is a big country with lots of lifestyle options. Beach or mountains? House or apartment? Cosmopolitan city or small-town casual? These are just some of the decisions you’ll need to make when moving here.
Jan Davis found that living in an expat community was a priority. “For me, it’s important because of the tendency to attract out-of-the-ordinary people. San Miguel de Allende draws a lot of mild eccentrics — like me,” she tells me.
Holly Hunter and Dan Gair moved from Maine to Mexico. They spent a month exploring different towns within a two-hour distance limit from the airport, looking for a property in their price range that answered the question: “What would you do with your life if you had all the money you would ever need?”
A bumpy dirt road led them to Mayto Beach, which would become their next home and also where they would start Rancho Sol y Mar, a sustainability education center and resort.
Kerry Watson retired in her 40s after spending more than a decade going back and forth to different places in Mexico. When the time came, she asked friends who loved Mexico where she should go. The “overwhelming answer,” she recalls, was Chapala, Jalisco.
“I still remember the first time I crested the mountain pass towering over Lake Chapala,” she says. “I cried because it was so beautiful. I was immediately bonded to the town. It felt like I was coming home.”
Tip: Go slow and be easy on yourself.
A slower pace of life is part of the deal; learning patience is a necessity.
Even if you really want to move to Mexico, it’s likely to still be a big step outside your comfort zone. Those who’ve done it, myself included, say that no matter how much you prepare, there will still be surprises, even years down the road.
You learn to expect that you’re going to make mistakes, and the only way to learn and move forward is exactly that: Learn and move forward — with humility and a good sense of humor.
“I continue to adapt and sometimes be baffled by things,” says Linda Laino, who has lived in San Miguel de Allende for 10 years. “Be prepared for nothing to go your way.”
“I try to never forget I’m a guest in this beautiful country and to have respect for the customs and way of life, however inconvenient they are at times,” she adds.
As they were preparing to move to Mexico, Cat Calhoun and her partner realized that “fear was not a sustainable fuel source” for the day-to-day tasks they needed to take care of.
“We deliberately shifted our focus from ‘running away’ to ‘moving toward,’” she tells me. “We became excited about learning Spanish, immersing ourselves into a new culture, living on less and having more time to enjoy each other’s company, create art and travel.”