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Retirement in Mexico

Why, Where, and How North Americans Relocate

Expatriates in Oaxaca enjoy watching folklore dancing.

During the cold winter months at least 700,000 North Americans bask in the tropical warmth of Mexico. Some return each spring while others are year-round residents.

Some resident travelers head for the hot coastal zones; others prefer the temperate zones, 3,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level.

For those seeking spring-like weather all year long, Guernavaca and Guadalajara and the nearby lakeside towns of Chapala and Ajijic are the preferred locations. Guadalajara, along with Chapala and Ajijic, is home to 50,000 North American expatriates, the largest colony of retired Canadians and Americans in Mexico. Many more snowbirds travel to the area to spend the winter months. Both towns maintain a small-town and relaxed atmosphere. Ajijic, one of the most picturesque towns in Mexico, offers cobblestone streets, gourmet dining, and excellent shopping.

The nearness to the large and livable city has advantages for retirees, some of whom prefer to live in the city itself, a metropolis filled with Mexican cowboys, tree-lined boulevards, fountains, parks, and plazas.

Other cities becoming more popular for North Americans are San Miguel de Allende, Morelia, and Oaxaca. San Miguel de Allende, declared a national monument in the 1920s, is a legendary town of artisans and poets. It is filled with colonial mansions, terraced cobblestone streets, and flower-filled patios. Its North American expatriate colony of 10,000 organizes plays and lectures and even publishes a newspaper in English. It is said to be the perfect town for English-speaking retirees in Mexico who are looking for ties with North American social groups.

Morelia is the capital and the cultural and political center of Michoacan, a state renowned for its natural beauty. Its friendly inhabitants, along with its Spanish colonial and indigenous heritage, make it ideal for someone interested in Mexican culture. It is home to dozens of artists, poets, and writers and a small community of Canadians and Americans. Retirees come to Morelia because of its low real estate prices as well as the ample opportunities of interaction with the local inhabitants.

Oaxaca, located on a 5,000-foot-high plateau, though not as yet the most popular destination for North Americans, entices by its climate, cuisine, handicrafts, and history. Its downtown streets are lined with impressive Baroque colonial architecture. The city's pace is relaxed and the people are friendly. No doubt Oaxaca will soon become another important Mexican destination for North American retirees.

Information for those who wish to retire in Mexico

1. Depending on the retiree's plans for staying in Mexico, there are different visa procedures. For someone looking to stay in Mexico for a short period, a tourist visa (FM-T) is easy to obtain. It is valid for up to six months but does not grant work status.

2. Rentista is a non-working visa available only to retirees aged 51 or older. Applications for rentista status must be accompanied by a letter from a bank, social security agency, or financial institution, certifying that the applicant receives a certain minimum monthly income.

3. Foreigners who have lived in the country for five years are eligible to become permanent residents and acquire most of the rights and obligations of a Mexican national. The change to permanent resident status is not automatic and is subject to the guidelines of Mexico's Immigration and Naturalization Service.

4. Owning or renting a home in Mexico is relatively easy. Foreigners can buy directly in any area that is not near the coast or the border. If the property is within 60 miles of the border or 30 miles of the coast, non-Mexicans are required to purchase through a fideicomiso (beneficial trust).

5. Medical benefits stop at the border, so it is advised that Canadian and American retirees in Mexico buy health insurance. In general, the quality of healthcare in Mexico is very good. Hospitals, both private and public, are usually easily accessible and well equipped.

6. Retirees also have the option of signing up for the medical IMSS plan (Mexican Social Security). It costs approximately $200 a year and covers medical, dental, and vision care.

7. Another healthcare alternative is to buy a private insurance policy in Mexico that covers major medical expenses.

8. Generally speaking, there is no need to have a car in Mexico; public transportation is affordable and reliable.

For more information, contact the Mexican Tourism Board at www.visitmexico.com. In Canada, call 800-44-MEXICO. In the U.S., call 212-821-0314, fax: 212-821-0367; newyork@visitmexico.com.

HABEEB SALLOUM is a contributor to Transitions Abroad. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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