Retiring In Mexico Or Abroad Might Not Be A Bad Idea

La Paz, Mexico boat on clear water

Balandra Bay, La Paz

When you think of Mexico what do you think of? I think of hot summers, tequila, salsa, and friendly people to name a few. I just got back from a 10 day business trip to Mexico to better understand their lifestyle as I might want to live there one day. I also wanted to learn more about US / Mexican relations from a local’s perspective. We hear a lot of rhetoric about immigration control from our politicians and I wanted to hear for myself why someone would want to risk so much to come to the United States illegally.

Until this year, I had only been to Cancun and Playa Del Carmen for vacation. This time I visited two very sleepy towns called Loreto and La Paz on the east coast of the Baja California Sur peninsula. The idea was to visit places that were not built up for tourists like Cabo or Puerto Vallarta. Loreto’s population has grown quickly percentage-wise, but their total population is still only 7,000, or 1/3rd the size of UC Berkeley’s student body.


What struck me most about Loreto was its beauty. I chartered a private boat to take me across the Sea of Cortez to Coronado Island where dive master Lupe led me 100 feet down to explore the deep blue. Over 80 feet of visibility allowed us to see sting rays, lobsters, turtles, moray eels, and numerous varieties of tropical fish. The water was 85 degrees, a full 32 degrees warmer than the water in Monterrey Bay, California where I dove last month. Diving without a wet suit is like striking gold!

During the 30 minute boat ride to Coronado, I asked Lupe about his background. He said he came to Loreto 15 years ago from the Pacific side of Baja California Sur. He’s married to an American woman who shares his love for the ocean. When they are not leading diving excursions, they are taking visitors out kayaking. When they aren’t diving or kayaking, they’re going deep sea fishing. Lupe was full of life and told me he loved every minute living in Loreto.

I asked him how often he visits his wife’s side of the family. “Never,” he said. Perplexed, I asked him why not.

“It’s impossible to get a visa,” Lupe responded. “I’ve got to first apply at the visa center far away in Tijuana. Then I’ve got to pray the immigration officer is not in a grumpy mood. If by some miracle I get approved, I’ve got to then drive to Tijuana, park the car, and fly to Seattle. Forget it.”

“So even though your wife is American, they still make it difficult for you to come in?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s the way it is,” Lupe responded.

Up until then, I never fully understood the asymmetric rules of moving across borders between the United States and Mexico. There’s no need for Americans to get a visa to go to Mexico. I just brought my passport and went. Meanwhile, Mexicans have to jump through so many hurdles just to have a chance to come to our country. My appreciation for living in the United States went up several notches after this exchange.

Diving at Coronado Island, Loreto

Diving at Coronado Island, Loreto


I asked Lupe whether he and other Mexicans resented American tourists for their freedom to move about so freely. “No, we don’t resent Americans. We welcome their dollars into our sleepy town,” Lupe replied.

“What we do resent is Americans buying up nice properties and making things expensive for the rest of us. When I arrived 15 years ago, the piece of property I wanted to buy cost $3,000. I had no money so I just rented. 15 years later, the same piece of property now sells for $50,000-$80,000! I hope to one day save enough money to buy a home that I can leave to my daughters.”

It’s hard to believe real estate values went up 20X in such a short period. But it’s also hard to believe that one could buy a humble home for just $3,000 in the first place as well. I went on to ask him how much one needs to make to have a great life supporting a family of four.

“You can live a wonderful life raising two kids and taking care of your spouse on $2,000 a month. $2,000 a month is actually more than enough. I know this because I take visitors diving three times a week on average, earning $150-$200 per trip after expenses. Rent is about $700 a month for a three bedroom apartment. Food is maybe $300 a month. The ocean is free. Health care is cheap. I’ve got more than enough left over to care for my family.”

My mind immediately started making plans for getting an apartment down in Loreto for a couple months a year during maximum visibility diving season. Being able to live and work from anywhere in the world is the biggest benefit of having an online business.

Lupe explained the reason why so many Mexicans want to move to America is so they can earn US wages and send money back home to their families. The problem is that wages for such immigrants tend to border on minimum wage territory. Meanwhile, the work usually isn’t very pleasant either.

Lupe and I looked around the beauty of our dive spot and he said, “Why be a slave in America when you can live free here?”

Horseback riding on the beach

Horseback riding, Cabo


It’s easy to take our lives for granted. We always seem to want more than we have. Why else do hoards of Americans visit Mexico for vacation every year? There are an estimated 1 million Americans currently living in Mexico as retirees. At the same time, why do over 140,000 Mexicans legally immigrate to the US every year? There’s an estimated 6 million illegal Mexican immigrants in the US as well.

The one common denominator is money. Americans who don’t have enough to retire comfortably in the US go to Mexico. Mexicans who want to make more come to America to send money back home to loved ones or try striking it rich on their own. These are very simplistic assumptions, but there’s no denying the importance of money in people’s decisions to change their surroundings.

It’s very tempting to become a “snowbird,” an American who comes to Mexico in the fall and leaves in the Spring to retain American retirement benefits. Flights are cheap and under two hours away. My biggest concerns are feeling isolated and bored after a while since these sleepy towns have very little going on. I’m holding off on the potential of living abroad for several more years because my preferred retirement destination is Hawaii. A Hawaiian lifestyle equivalent to a $2,000/month Mexican lifestyle will probably cost anywhere from $10,000 – $20,000 a month. If I fail to achieve my passive income goals within the next five years, Mexico might just be the ticket!


It’s been over six years since I started Financial Samurai and I’m actually earning a good passive and active income stream online now. The top 1% of all posts on Financial Samurai generates 31% of all traffic and revenue.

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You never know where the journey will take you. In 2015, I fulfilled a bucket list item by visiting the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, while stopping over at the DMZ in Korea, and attending a friends wedding in Malaysia. I could easily retire in Mexico with my online business! Starting this website is the best career/ lifestyle move I’ve ever made.


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  1. Anne says

    Hi Sam,

    I have been thinking about going to live in Thailand/Malaysia/Lao/Vietnam/Japan/New Zealand/Europe… few months/year in each country when our children become independent and we no longer work. We live in Australia and came from one of those countries. Reasons being:

    -The $ in Australia will go a long way in South East Asia (except Japan, where it is more expensive than Australia, but the country is so beautiful)
    -We could either use our retirement fund or rent our house in Australia live in South East Asia very comfortably and not having to use our retirement funds.
    -Be closer to our old friends/family when we become older

    The only thing i am a bit concern about is the pollution in South East Asia and also Health care quality

    But still it is the plan for now, maybe in 10-12 years

    • says

      I love Malaysia! Lived there for four years. Food is the best and property is only $150/sqft in decent areas to buy. Malaysia is definitely a place to consider.

      Japan would be nice, but it would be best to be able to speak Japanese. Food is also amazing!

      • David M says

        I agree Malaysia is great and cheap – except for one thing – alcohol!

        Rest of SEA $1-$ for a large bottle of beer – Malaysia/Singapore more like $5 or $6.

  2. Lucas says

    Certain parts of Mexico certainly do sound nice. Hadn’t picked up on you being a SCUBA diver. I got my OW & AOW when we lived on Oahu and got to do some fun dives there, so if you ever need any info on the locations on Oahu I can give you some pointers. I did some free diving as well and I felt like i got most of the benefits of SCUBA without all the ties of the equipment. If our paths ever cross we will have to go diving together.

    • says

      Great to hear Lucas! I’ll definitely take you up on the Oahu Scuba adventures offer. I’ve only dove Turtle Canyon, a spot a little west of Ala Moana. Good spot. Saw reef sharks, turtles, and octopuses. How many spots around the island are there do you like? I’m willing to go anywhere.

      • Lucas says

        I personally like shore diving best (more control of my own timing, and i can get motion sick on boats fairly easily). Hanauma Bay was my favorite spot for shore diving although getting gear down there is a pain in a butt (need a pass and cart ride to get gear from car, and probably someone on shore to watch your stuff). Once you get out into the open bay area past the inner reef where all the tourists stay there is a lot to see, good visibility, and almost no other people. I knew a couple re-brether divers who really liked Hanauma as well. Makaha and Electric Beach (Kahe Point Beach Park) on the west side were my 2 most visited spots due to proximity to where I lived and decent diving. Sharks Cove, and Three Tables on the north shore are good as well (but only accessible in the summer). Wasn’t impressed by Kewala Pipe, 100ft hole, or Turtle Canyon (bad vis that day) when i visited them. YO-257 and San Pedro wrecks were pretty cool and we got passed by the tourist submarine while we were down there. I wanted to to the Mahi wreck on the west side but didn’t get around do it.

  3. says

    We’d like to move abroad too, not Mexico (it’s too far), but right now it’s not such a good idea, since we couldn’t afford it. We can surely hope to do it though in the next years

  4. says

    Australian here as well.

    My cousin recently told me his retirement plans, and its one of the best i’ve heard.

    He recently married an Indonesian wife, and in a decade or so when he retires, he plans to live in Indonesian. (only someone with an Indonesian passport can by property there. Even though they are married he is unable to get a passport/citizenship) hence his wife can buy it.

    The cost of living is miniscule. You can hire a live in house maid/cook for $60 a month.

    Main concerns are health care, which can be circumvented via:
    Being an Australian, he will have unlimited health care in Aus for life, so he can fly to Darwin (2 hours flight) to get access to hospitals. The only shortfall is any sickness that makes him unable to fly.

    Other concerns will be travel to see family especially kids (if they have any), who will probably remain in Aus for education / career prospects. It’s fairly cheap travel to/from Indonesia to Australia, but if you do a lot of flights it can easily add up.

    • says

      That certainly sounds like a good plan. I wonder if the concerns for health care are overblown though. After all, there are plenty of long living Indonesians who get good treatment.

      Indonesian food is so good too. And if they can move to the islands… Now that would be nice.

      • BSS says

        Hi Sam,

        Indonesian here, since you been in Malaysia maybe you can stop by sometimes to the neighbor country Indonesia. Tell me if you want to visit south east Asia, if you plan to visit Bali or other part of Indonesia let me know, maybe we can meet someday. I am your fan! hehe…

  5. says

    I’d love to live in Mexico for a year or so. It’s close by and easy for Americans. We’ll probably choose further down south though. It’s much cheaper as you go down south for a similar lifestyle. I need to do more research trip though.
    I always knew how hard it is to visit the US. It’s ridiculous when I hear Americans say they support legal immigrant. It’s almost impossible to immigrate here legally. That’s why there are so many illegal aliens. Nobody like to break laws, it’s just their only choice.

      • says

        Immigrating legally is very difficult. I don’t understand why Americans are so against immigrants. But what can I say? I even managed to marry into a family who is pretty hateful towards immigrants. My husband is not, but my in laws are. It’s very difficult trying to make them understand immigrants are good for the economy.

        • says

          I think the harder you have it at home the more you are against immigrants. The feeling is that immigrants are taking away jobs from you. Yet, there are plenty of jobs available in the US that go unfilled because of pay, conditions, or both.

          We’re a nation of immigrants who become more understanding of newer immigrants if everybody is doing well.

  6. David m says


    Sounds like a great plan, I hope you make it reality!

    For yor time in Asia. The answer to your health care concerns is Bangkok Thailand.

    I have been to all the places you mention in SEA and I would have no worries about the pollution but every is different.

    • Anne says

      Hi David, I envy your plan to live in Japan, i love to live there if i don’t have to work as it seemed to me in our recent visit in June that life was too stressful for people who have to work: long hours, crowded, but yes, the in the country it is so quiet and clean and beautiful.

      Not sure about other countries but i know Vietnam and Thailand (esp in the city) is highly polluted ( we went there in Jan this year). Some other parts of the countries are not so bad though, and yes, it does not cost as much to live there.

  7. David m says

    My plan is to move to Japan and become a gentleman farmer. My wife is from Japan and her family lives in the countryside and has rice fields and a wonderful garden.

    I could farm march to October and travel the rest of the time.

    Japan is expensive but I would sell my us house and live in my wife’s parent home. In the last 20 years japan has been coming less expensive as the US dollar has been staying constant but ther has been virtually no inflation in Japan!

      • David M says

        The rate is actually pretty good right now – it was as low as 85 yen to the $.
        100 Yen to the $ really is not bad as we have inflation Japan does not.

        My wife and I were talking about how CHEAP Japan now seems compared to what it used to be like 20 years ago.

        Onsens are wonderful – the last 2 times we visited her parents we spent an overnight at an onsen. Likely we will do this again around New Year this year. (4 weeks in Taiwan and then 2 weeks in Japan – December into January.)

  8. Marcel says

    Sam – I invested in a condo in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. It’s definitely a place to look into. The PROS: super business friendly government, relatively low taxes, you get a lot of space for your money, amazing beaches, food is relatively inexpensive, solid infrastructure. The CONS: hard to find good paying work, gas and electricity are very expensive, a bit of a language barrier if you don’t speak Spanish, summer season is slow and gets very hot. Let me know if you have any other questions.

    • says

      I second your opinion, Marcel. My plan is to ex-pat to the DR in year 2020. Punta Cana is a great town, but it’s getting expensive as it is only 15 years old. I’ve been to the DR 3 times in the last year and am going back in November. I love the slow pace of things there. I’ve been working on my Spanish for a little over a year and hope to be fluent by the time I ex-pat. I’m thinking more north of the DR, though, such as Puerto Plata.

      • Marcel says

        Hey Romeo – Cool idea about moving to the DR in 2020. Can you get there any sooner?! I have a feeling these tropical island destinations are going to become extremely valuable over the next several years, as the modern city life becomes unbearably stressful and people start throwing in the towel. I visited Puerto Plata and it’s definitely a cool vibe. .kinda reminded me of Hawaii.

  9. says


    You should do it. Maybe your Spanish will resurface. Your current savings will last to infinity over in Mexico. Your one year goal of $200,000 per year will last you 100 months in Mexico. lol

  10. Irene says

    I lived in Panama for awhile and studied for a semester at FSU – Panama, which is an US university that you could teach at if you got your PhD and wanted to keep busy (although some teachers only have their Masters). Many retired folks bring their college aged kids to go to school at FSU since you can get a 4 year US degree (without ever stepping foot on US soil). All of the infrastructure in La Zona (Canal Zone) was built by the US, so the water is perfectly fine to drink from the tap in the city. Let me add that I am was also super blonde and American looking, took taxis everywhere, and always felt safe. In fact, it wasn’t until I went to Costa Rica that I felt uncomfortable. Tons of Americans everywhere, I would even run into them at the Doctor’s office ($5 a visit at the place I went to about 7 years ago). Everything is cheap, the people are friendly, and Americans are well loved. Plus, with the US protecting the Canal, you’re pretty safe. The only thing I would be concerned about is certain areas (Colon and the border of Colombia). The border isn’t stable, but just don’t live on that side of the country and you’re fine. President Bush’s daughter spent a lot of time in Panama City and Boquete, so it’s pretty safe. You should also add San Blas to your vacation list, I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

  11. says

    One the worries which pushed me into personal finance and wealth building is a fear of being unable to retire. I am working hard to attain as safe and secure a retirement for my family as possible. However, I can easily imagine retiring abroad due to the incredible, and rising, costs of living in the US – health care, housing, food – it just keeps going up.

  12. says

    I doubt we would relocate internationally because it’s so cheap to live where we do. I would imagine we will use it as a home base and travel around quite a bit. I know you aren’t a fan of the “middle” places but I think SW Colorado is a good place to retire. There are lots of former So Cal residents here who’ve given up the city for the mountains.

  13. Stefanie says

    My husband and I live in Silicon Valley where it is impossible to buy a house even on a $100K yearly income, so it’s impossible to even think of retiring here. Lately, we have been thinking about purchasing property in South East Asia for our retirement. We love the ocean, especially the tropical ones for I don’t have to put on a wetsuit to go surfing! There’s still 25+ years to retirement, which gives us some time for plan execution.

    • says

      I hear you loud and clear as I live in SF where the median home price is now over $1 million. Property taxes and state taxes is what bums me out the most as ongoing expenses.

      Surfing/diving without a wet suit is heaven. I think I’ll still dive with a skin to protect the skin from stings.

      Save lots of your six figure salary and relocate when you’re done. Everything is so much cheaper than here!

  14. says

    My cousins’ grandparents had a place in Mexico (and another in Arizona and another in Colorado) and they spent many years following the hot air ballooning season between the three locales. They always loved their time in Mexico, and actually my cousins lived down there for a time when they were very young as well.
    Mr PoP spent a couple of months exploring Mexico in 2009 and settled in a town on the Sea of Cortez in Sonora called San Carlos, and I flew down to meet him and we actually got married there before he came back from his extended vacation. (Mexico has a fond place in our hearts…) When he first went down he was spear fishing for cheap dinners, but quit putting quite as much effort into fishing for sustenance when he figured out he could get a good sized steak for dinner from the local market for just $2 or so. =)
    All in all, I think it can be a great place to spend a lot of time in retirement or just for some extended holidays without spending a ton of money.

  15. says

    I could totally live in Mexico! In fact, I’m trying to persuade my wife to take a sabbatical next summer, and spent 2-3 months south of the border (with our 3 young kids!).

    The USD goes so much further down there than stateside. The food is awesome, culture is awesome, weather in many places is more awesome than the Southeastern US where I live currently.

    The only real downside is the occasional bureaucratic hurdles you might have to jump. But if you aren’t in a hurry, those might not be such a big deal. And they might turn into an interesting story to tell later.

  16. says

    I watch the HGTV show Househunters International quite often and see a lot of people moving to Mexico or buying vacation properties there. That’s kind of sad though for the locals that the Americans going there are driving up the property prices so much that the locals can’t afford to buy anymore. Mexico is a beautiful place.

    If I spoke or could learn decent Spanish I’d totally consider moving there someday. But a lot of the places there are not very developed, so it’s a good place for people who like the simple life without some of the amenities that come with a suburban or city US lifestyle.

    • says

      Yes, it is sad. I would be kinda pissed if I was Lupe. Regret of not buying is a maddening feeling but overall, tourists pump money in and help build better infrastructure and life into the city.

  17. Mike says

    Reminds me of the oft quoted Parable of the Mexican Fisherman:

    An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

    The Mexican replied, “only a little while.”

    The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

    The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

    The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

    The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, and stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”

    The American scoffed. “I have an MBA from Harvard, and can help you,” he said. “You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, and eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middle-man, you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening up your own cannery. You could control the product, processing, and distribution,” he said. “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, and eventually to New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

    The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

    To which the American replied, “Oh, 15 to 20 years or so.”

    “But what then?” asked the Mexican.

    The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time was right, you would announce an IPO, and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions!”

    “Millions – then what?”

    The American said, “Then you could retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play guitar with your amigos.”

  18. nbsdmp says

    I’m 90% sure that I’ll spend an appreciable amount of time living abroad once I retire. The plan would be two-fold, first to see and truly experience more of the world and its people, and second to figure out where I really want to spend the majority of my days. Right now I kind of think it would be awesome to live extremely large inland lake in the south that is within 30-60 minutes of a major metropolitan area for accessibility to restaurants, activities, & an international airport. But who knows…living in Costa Rica and taking people on fishing charters every day might be the ticket too. My good friend is from Mexico, and she truly has a different attitude about living and retirement…life is a little slower down there, and that is a good thing.

  19. says

    Every time I read articles like this, I consider moving! I almost immediately reject it because of our children in California. There is much more to consider than just the financial side of the question. Moving in general is a big deal, never mind to another country. It seems much more glamorous at first. The financial differences will disappear after you make weekly trips home or the differences or comforts you require which increases your expenses. On the surface, it seems cheaper, but there are hidden costs to moving or an extended trip in another country. Perhaps, I am rationalizing my decision.

  20. says

    I don’t want to retire in the US. I’m hoping I can work abroad for many years. Hopefully, find an awesome place for my home base. You just get a better appreciation for my life living abroad. Life in America is so isolated.

  21. says

    My takeaway here is that having a personal finance blog is the perfect business. You can relate just about anything that happens in life to personal finance somehow. You can even write off trips like this as a business expense – totally justified by why and how you wrote this blog post. I applaud your savvyness Sam!

  22. Ace says

    Interesting…… Are we so sure about residing in Central American countries?

    So… If you are looking for a hot & humid climate, with a Spanish speaking population, and which lacks many basic services. Sounds like Texas!

    And you won’t need a passport! LOL!

  23. says

    My best friend’s parents moved back to Columbia after 50 years in the US. They just couldn’t afford to live in the US in an sort of comfort. They actually spend a good deal of time in the US and traveling abroad from the savings they’ve accumulated.

    The biggest draw was healthcare, personalized help as they age and no/low taxes.

  24. says

    My fiance and I are both in our mid-30’s. We have been able to save a good amount of money through smart spending and good paying jobs. We are getting to a point though where all of the work for the high salary is burning us out. We visited Belize last year and loved it. I’ve been joking with her that we should just quite our jobs and move there. Based on the numbers I’ve ran, we could easily live there for the rest of our lives with the money we have now. If laying on the beach all day got boring, we could always get a part time job there.

  25. B says

    I much prefer Costa Rica to Mexico. I would also consider Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. I get sick of Mexico quickly. Costa Rica, on the other hand, is a peaceful country with great surfing and diving, and amazing hiking and kayaking. Lake Atitlan is so gorgeous and inexpensive, but I wish it weren’t so polluted. South East Asia, though wonderful and inexpensive, would be far from family in the U.S. South America would be a great option. The skiing is rather good in Chile and the beaches of Brazil are my favorite. Chile/Brazil might be my preferred retirement. This is a fun topic to consider.

    • says

      I was planning on going to CR this year for 10 days but scrapped it. I’ve received some very mixed reviews. Very built up already they say. But, I’ll give it a shot!

      Brazil is amazing.. Rio especially. Expensive though!

  26. Jon says

    Speaking to Jons post above, I agree it would get boring. The ideal way to retire in my mind is in another country where your financial nut will take care of you, but still work a part time job to be part of the community. I plan on doing the same here in Peru, hoping to “retire“ at age 30 to 32 if all goes well.

  27. says

    I lived in Puerto Rico for a couple of winters. It was one of the best times of my life, although I was also very young and carefree. My goal for the future is to spend at least part of the winters there and the other part of winter traveling to new places. Loreto looks beautiful. I don’t think I would get bored because I don’t crave that big a social scene. Just need some good surf and an internet connection! (oh and food and a place to live =P)

  28. says

    Mexico is a beautiful country. Been there a few times and I love the food and the music. I speak spanish so I can communicate well there but my concern about retiring abroad is access to good healthcare especially as you get older. I look forward to your posts about best places to retire in america.

  29. says

    As I research my new book I found these cost numbers work out well. The new book looks at Americans and Canadians in Mexico who’ve chosen to avoid the big expat colonies in San Miguel de Allende and Lake Chapala. What they’ve found is both diverse and surprising. The book is called Into the Heart of Mexico: Expatriates Find Themselves Off the Beaten Path. There’s a sample on my website:

  30. says

    I’ve always wanted to live in Mexico because it’s a diver’s paradise and to be that close to its beautiful beaches is like a dream come true for me and my husband (he’s a diver too). Crossing fingers for my early retirement ^_^

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