As life gets prohibitively expensive for many people living in the US (and other rich countries), relatively cheaper countries like Mexico are becoming increasingly attractive. But for local people the costs are growing.
Between January and September of 2022, Mexico issued 8,412 Temporary Resident Cards (TRT) to US residents, 85% more than in the first three quarters of 2019, according to a Mexican government migration report. Many are choosing to live in Mexico City. Such rapid growth rates have not been seen since comparable data became available in 2010. The number of Americans receiving permanent residency during that period has also risen sharply (48%), to 5,418.
But this may be just a fraction of the real number of American expats choosing to settle in Mexico. As the Mexican government has said for years, the number of Americans moving to its shores is likely far greater than the official figures suggest. According to data from the Ministry of Tourism (Sectur), over 10 million US citizens arrived as visitors through September this year, 24% more than in the same period of 2019. However, the Mexican authorities do not know exactly how many of those chose to stay.
A Growing Trend
In 2020, the US State Department estimated that 1.5 million USians were living in Mexico, more than double the number a decade earlier. That was before Usians began moving to Mexico at an even faster pace.
But why are so many choosing to move across the Southern border in the first place?
One reason is that it is remarkably easy. Mexico is at most a four- or five-hour flight away from most US cities. It has also been one of the most welcoming countries since the COVID-19 pandemic began, having implemented fewer COVID-19 travel restrictions than just about any other country on the American continent. Nor has it introduced vaccine passports. This has made it particularly attractive to digital nomads looking for affordable destinations with few COVID-19 restrictions.
Mexico is also remarkably cheap, as long as you are earning dollars, euros or some other hardish currency.
“Obviously, if you can earn in dollars and spend in pesos, you can triple your income,” Marko Ayling, a content creator and writer living in Mexico City told El País. “And that is very attractive to a lot of people who have the luxury of being able to work remotely.”
Unlike Mexicans in the United States, Americans can work in Mexico for up to six consecutive months on their tourist visas as long as they are paid from overseas. And, although technically not allowed, many choose to return to the US for a short period, then return to Mexico and renew their six-month period in the country, and that way continue working.
But it is not just Americans that are opting to live in Mexico. In fact, Mexico is apparently now the preferred destination for those moving abroad, beating off the likes of Indonesia, Vietnam, and even the popular expat hub Thailand. That’s according to this year’s edition of Expat Insider, an annual report published by InterNations, an expat community founded in 2007 that has been gathering data on expat/rich migrant flows and experiences for more than a decade.
Among the biggest draws highlighted by the survey are ‘the ease of settling in’ and ‘finances’. Of vital import to many people choosing to move abroad are how acccessible visas are to live and work in the countries, safety, and how expensive daily life is. Mexico may have not topped the ranking in all aspects, but it still came out on top with a higher average score.
The country also placed third on International Living‘s list of the best places to retire, just behind Panama (#1) and Costa Rica (#2). The accompanying report highlighted one of the key attractions for many retiring Americans: affordable heathcare:
A big part of the lower cost of living in Mexico is the healthcare. There are two government-run programs, including one (INSABI) that is basically free to Mexican citizens and foreigners with residence (there can sometimes be some small out-of-pocket expenses). This system is designed for those without the means to pay for any other healthcare and has facilities all around the country. Another government option is called IMSS, which costs about $500 per year per person. However, with IMSS pre-existing conditions are not covered.
There is also private healthcare, with clinics and hospitals with all the modern equipment and technology, and doctors of every specialty trained in the latest techniques and procedures. In fact, Mexico is a major medical and dental tourism destination for that reason. You can pay cash at a private facility (costs are a fraction of the U.S.—try $50 to $70 for a specialist visit, $300 for an MRI) or use local or international insurance.
Of course, Mexico has been a popular retirement destination for USians for decades, with places like San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Vallarta, Oaxaca, Cabo San Lucas and Chapala/Ajijic particularly in demand. But as life grows more expensive and more precarious for working- and middle-class USians, this trend is likely to intensify.
As a Brit living in Barcelona and married to a Mexican woman, I can understand the lure that draws people to Mexico. It is a beautiful, vibrant, exotic country with a bewitching color scheme, a rich culture and a diverse geography. The food is delectable and the people by and large warm, welcoming and supportive (in Spanish we would use the word “solidario,” meaning they have solidarity with others). The weather in the Valley of Mexico is temperate all year round. The biggest concern I personally would have about living in Mexico, which is something my wife and I are seriously considering, is its escalating water crisis.
The decision to switch one’s country of residence is usually a deeply personal one and is often triggered by both pull and push factors. Not only are you moving to somewhere new but you are also moving away from somewhere established and familiar, where many of your friends and family live. Speaking as someone who has spent the best part of his adult life living abroad, it is a huge step. I would be very interested to know from US readers who, like Yves, are thinking of leaving the US what their main motives are for doing so.
Ironically, this gathering exodus to Mexico is happening at the same time that the US Federal Government is issuing blanket travel warnings for many Mexican states. In August the State Department issued alerts for 30 of Mexico’s 32 states, six of which (Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas) it warned US travelers against visiting altogether, due to the high risk of being kidnapped or attacked.
There is no doubt that security remains the primordial issue in Mexico, as it does in many other Latin American countries. Although the number of people dying in the war on and for drugs has ebbed slightly in the past two years, the country still boasts some of the highest homicide rates on the planet, with Zamora de Hidalgo at 196 per 100,000 people, Zacatecas at 107, and Tijuana at 103. Also, regions that were traditionally relatively safe, such as Puebla or Quintana Roo, have recently been caught up in the spiral of violence…
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