Mexico has some clear geographic and economic advantages that make it the #1 retirement destination for Americans and Canadians looking for their place in the sun. You can easily live there for half what it costs in the USA or Canada and you’ll end up with a better quality of life if you do it right.
It’s a big country though, about as wide as those two to the north, so it can be daunting to narrow down your options. Beaches or jungles, heat or cool climates, dry or humid, urban or rural, filled with gringos or not?
There are plenty of expats living in Mexico who are not retired, of course, including me, plus there are some cities where you could go for days or even weeks without seeing another foreigner. If you’re looking to gather around with other retirees at least occasionally and converse in English, that already narrows down your options. The question then is whether you want to be in a place that’s dominated by people who look like you or a place where there are just a few of you and it’s still very Mexican.
Some spots in Mexico offer a low cost of living but others are flooded with moneyed tourists and are priced accordingly. Then there’s the weather. Some retirees want to live in Mexico because they want the opposite of snow shoveling and down parkas, so they move to the hottest place they can find. Others want a more temperate climate and move to a higher elevation. Some want a big city, some don’t. Some want a beach, others want a historic city where they can walk everywhere.
Fortunately, there’s an option out there to please most any desire as long as you don’t try to duplicate where you just came from. (Go straight to Puerto Peñasco if you just want to cross the border for lower prices and be surrounded by Americans.) This is a foreign county with its own strong culture and traditions, so Mexico for retirees is still Mexico. Go with the flow and learn the language, at least the basics. Then you’ll be much happier in the end, no matter where you end up.
As mentioned in an earlier post, in theory you can live here for a while with a tourist visa, which grants you up to 180 days, but the application of that has been inconsistent lately. If you really intend to stay long-term, it’s best to get legal residency in Mexico.
Here are the top retirement destinations in Mexico, the places where plenty of others have already forged a path and it’s relatively easy to get set up with housing and what you need to settle in. I am listing Airbnb monthly rentals for price comparisons only between locations. You should easily be able to find much better local accommodation rental prices by the month through other channels.
San Miguel de Allende
If you want to live in a popular place that feels like a beautiful open-air retirement home for 15,000 of you, then head straight to San Miguel de Allende, in the center of the country at around 6,000 feet in altitude. The historic center feels too perfect for some, the most manicured spot in Mexico. The residents and tourists alike love it though: the city has topped one glossy travel magazine’s list as the “best city in the world” several times and it has ranked “best small city in the world” in another.
The central area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is filled with Spanish colonial architecture from centuries ago. Many of the buildings are owned by foreigners though and when I first started going there I heard far more English than Spanish around the main plaza. That has changed as more hip hotels have opened up that attract Mexico City vacationers and San Miguel de Allende has become a big wedding destination. There are ongoing cultural events, festivals, and live music shows that provide a bit of needed local flavor and it’s one of the best cities in Mexico for handicrafts shopping.
Retirees love how easy it is to find their tribe through clubs for chess, pickleball, bridge, etc. There are loads of bars and restaurants that are filled with gringo retirees, sometimes exclusively. For more active pursuits, you don’t have to go far to play golf, go hiking, ride a horse, or ride a bike.There is a rainy season in the summer, but you get about 300 days of sun in this region, without much need for heat or air conditioning.
You will find a lower cost of living in San Miguel if you’re comparing it to an equally desirable place in the countries to the north. It is the most expensive place to live in the interior of Mexico though apart from the capital city, thanks to the huge proportion of foreigners living here. Some estimates put that number as high as 25%, though it’s likely closer to 10% if you only count who lives in the city year-round.
Lake Chapala and Ajijic
When it comes to the sheer number of foreign retirees living in one area of Mexico, Lake Chapala dukes it out with San Miguel for the title. Estimates I’ve seen put the number somewhere between 15K and 25K, though as with all these places there’s a fairly large percentage of snowbirds who only come down for part of the year.
From what I have seen there, this is also the spot that attracts the most people from Texas and Arizona who don’t want to make too many sacrifices and aren’t all that excited about immersing themselves in Mexican culture. This is where you’ll find the most detached homes with a garage and a yard, places where you have to depend on your car to get around like you do in America.
Houses are strung out along Mexico’s largest lake, which you can’t swim in because of agricultural runoff and other problems, but we went kayaking on it and that was nice. There are also lots of hot springs in the area and good hiking opportunities in the mountains. It’s bit warmer here than most of the other interior cities, at around 5,000 feet in altitude. The main towns where foreigners live are Ajijic, the town of Chapala, and Jacotepec.
Foreigners like the fact that they can get to Guadalajara in about an hour to get medical treatment at modern hospitals there. That’s also the closest airport, with plenty of international flights. This is a good spot for small-town life or a big yard if that’s what you’re looking for though.
Closest airport: Guadalajara
Monthly Airbnb range for most 2BR rentals: $720 to $1,600 (more under $1,000 than not)
Playa del Carmen
Nobody can even hazard a guess as to how many foreigners live in Playa del Carmen because there are so many temporary residents who just stay for a few months and move on. Then there are a lot of condos owned by snowbirds who come down for the winter and then rent out their place or leave it empty the rest of the year.
This popular city between Cancun and Tulum was one of the fastest-growing in Mexico for many years as it transformed from a village to a metropolis and its pedestrian-only 5th Avenue went from a few blocks to miles long. This is not a place you move to for Mexican character, history, or culture. It is a full-on tourist resort town with a ferry port to Cozumel and all the cruise ship passengers that disgorge from there regularly.
As you can probably tell, it’s not my kind of place, especially since there are much better beaches up and down the coast than you’ll find in the city limits here. If you like tropical heat, a tourist destination where you can speak English all the time, and plenty of foreigners to hang out with, Playa del Carmen is a great spot. Just don’t pick this one for an affordable cost of living: you’re competing with vacation renters when trying to find a place to live and if you want more space than a typical condo provides, you’ll pay dearly for it.
Closest Airport: Cancun, an hour or two away depending on traffic.
Monthly Airbnb range for most 2BR rentals: $890 to $2,900
Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, and Costalegre
Thousands of foreigners call the Puerto Vallarta region home and if you add in Costalegre and the Riviera Nayarit, the retiree population might be edging close to the areas mentioned above. I’m lumping these together since the people who live in any of them fly into the same airport.
Puerto Vallarta itself has some character and history with its beaches, plus it’s one of the few coastal towns where you can walk around most of it. There’s a great malecon along the shore that’s dotted with artwork and close to bars and restaurants.
This is a full-on tourist city of course, with the same issues as Playa del Carmen in terms of competing with short-term visitors to find a place to live. Many of the retirees here are homeowners instead, living in “Gringo Gulch” above the center, with terrific views, or in one of the many condo buildings that keep rising along the shores.
There’s a wide variety of budget ranges represented in what’s for sale here, from modest homes in Bucerias, Sayulita, and San Pancho heading north to the exclusive Punta Mita complex where you could spend $10 million and still not have the biggest home in the gated community. This area is quite spread out and if you add in Costalegre to the south, it would take you three hours to drive from top to bottom. It’s difficult to get by without a car unless you stay in your particular town/city and don’t venture out beyond that a lot.
Once you get up to the Riviera Nayarit area north of Punta de Mita, the internet gets iffy unless you’re in a high-end development. The fishing village turned resort town of Sayulita is, for now, one of the worst spots in Mexico for trying to get fiber to the home. So it’s actually better for retirees than digital nomads, even though more of the latter keep trying to live there.
Closest Airport: Puerto Vallarta, with lots of daily flights
Monthly Airbnb range for most 2BR rentals: $950 to $2,950 Puerto Vallarta, $900 to $2.450 Bucerias
I spent a month in Mazatlan late last year so in the short term anyway, I got a feel for what it’s like to live there. To me it is kind of a “Goldilocks” retirement area: enough foreigners to socialize and converse in English, but a low enough percentage of them that you still feel like you’re living in a foreign country.
Mazatlan is far more popular with Mexicans than foreigners, as both a vacation destination and a place to buy a home near the water. As a result, prices are some of the best you’ll find near the sea, whether you’re renting or taking the proceeds from a sale up north and buying. Even in the most popular area for foreigners, near the marina and golf course, you’ll find plenty of houses for sale for half what the average is inland in the USA or Canada. Condos are even less.
This is an interesting city because it has a small historic core that’s nice for strolling and eating out, a long “Golden Zone” of beaches a few miles away, and a long malecon sidewalk connecting them. There’s also another beach area reached via a short ferry from downtown that you can get to on foot. Park yourself on a lounge chair after arrival and a waiter will keep you supplied with cold beer and seafood all day for what you’d spend on lunch at Applebees where you grew up.
Closest airport: Mazatlan
Monthly Airbnb range for most 2BR rentals: $600 to $1,800 (most under $1,200)
If you want historic architecture, heat, and a million things to see in one area, Merida is a great choice. This is a real city of more than a million people, with all the traffic and bustle that entails, but a surprisingly low crime rate. The size means you can get pretty much anything you want though and the historic center is compact enough that you could get by without a car here if you lived there. Others choose to live to the north of the city in a more modern home instead, maybe one with a swimming pool to get a break from the heat.
If you do a trial run, come here in May or June to see how hot it is in the summer. It will often top 100F degrees then, a very different feeling than if you’re here in January and the weather seems perfect. You can also head to the beach to cool off, about 45 minutes away on the Gulf of Mexico. If you’re looking to buy something, the sleepy beach towns there offer some of the best beachfront real estate bargains in Mexico.
The real appeal of Merida though is the wealth of unique things to see and do nearby. This area has the biggest concentration of Mayan archaeological sites, the most cenotes (underground lakes), and the more cultural tourism opportunities than you’ll find almost anywhere else. (See my feature article on the region here: Yucatan Cenotes, Sisal, and Surprises.)
Closest Airport: Merida (also ones in Campeche and Cancun)
Monthly Airbnb range for most 2BR rentals: $680 to $1,500
I have been living in Guanajuato on and off for more than a decade now and have a house here that’s my home base. I feel like the foreign population has skewed older over time since I first set foot in the city but honestly, it’s not an ideal place for retirees. There are more streets for pedestrians than automobiles, which is nice, but very few of those pedestrian streets are flat and there’s very little parking.
That’s great if you’re able to walk for miles at a time and go up the side of a mountain to get to your house like we do. It’s not so great if your deteriorating joints or out-of-shape lungs can’t handle the 40 or 50 steps to your front door. The city sits at an altitude of 6,500 to 7,000 feet. Many older retirees I met when I first came here have left and moved elsewhere because they needed to be somewhere flatter and more car-friendly as they hit their 70s.
A few hundred foreigners think this is a great place to live in Mexico for retirees though thanks to the great climate, the cultural opportunities (a university, a symphony, a three-week music and arts festival) and the beauty surrounding them every day. Some have told me the hills keep them feeling younger and in shape, others cope by getting a house on one of the streets or roads that cars can go on, sometimes even finding a rare house with a parking space.
Prices in Guanajuato City are some of the best in the country for those who want an integrated urban lifestyle in a city that’s not overwhelming. There are a lot of tourists, but they’re mostly domestic tourists. That and the university crowd keep prices reasonable for eating out and going out drinking. Plus you’ll be motivated to learn Spanish. See more in this post on rental prices in central Mexico, which also touches on Patzcuaro and Queretaro.
Closest Airport: Leon/Guanajuato (about 25-30 minutes away)
Monthly Airbnb range for most 2BR rentals: $630 to $1,800
Oaxaca City is the capital of the state bearing the same name and in many ways it is the cultural center of Mexico. More great handicrafts are produced in the villages around the city than anywhere else in Mexico and it’s the home of the fantastic carved wood creatures known as alibrijes. They made an appearance in the Pixar movie Coco and the creative team spent some time here while working on the film.
Oaxaca is the land of mole, the complicated Mexican sauce of many ingredients, as well as mezcal, the smoky liquor that is becoming almost as well-known as tequila. The city is known for its interesting cuisine, whether you’re eating at a fine restaurant or pulling up a plastic stool in the market. You can visit Mesoamerican ruins like Monte Alban, visit mezcal distilleries, or pick from a variety of other cultural and natural excursions nearby.
For a bit of background, see my Perceptive Travel article about Oaxaca and this one on the Gueleguetza Festival.
This is not a great place to be based if you need to fly in and out a lot since the airport’s flights are not extensive for the North Americans outside Mexico and there seem to be strikes and blockades on an annual basis. Otherwise it’s a pleasant place to live, with highland weather, a compact historic core, and fairly reasonable prices for rentals and eating out. You get a more curious and adventurous expat crowd here than in many of the other spots mentioned in this article and with fewer than 1,000 of them around, you won’t feel lost in a sea of foreign faces.
Since the foreigners are a small percentage of the population, prices are reasonable here, even if you just rent through Airbnb or VRBO.
Closest Airport: Oaxaca
Monthly Airbnb range for most 2BR rentals: $350 to $1,150 (most under $1,000)
San Critobal de las Casas
If Oaxaca City and Guanajuato City get a smaller number of more adventurous expats, San Cristobal de las Casas is like the secret handshake club. There are probably fewer than 200 full-time foreigners in the city.
It would be near the top of the list for me if it weren’t so hard to get in and out of. It has a cool mountain climate at 6,900 feet that can get misty and magical some months. Plus it’s in Chiapas, a state loaded with great adventure travel options. Add in women in traditional garb and a nice selection of handicrafts and just taking an afternoon walk can present 100 interesting things to look at.
San Cristobal has a great coffee culture, being located in a state that grows a lot of beans, and there are enough good restaurants catering to the tourist crowd that you get some variety in what you’re eating. This city is way down the list for most people thinking about where to retire in Mexico, but it might be worth checking out if you like mountain climates and you want to get immersed in Spanish.
This is one of the most reasonably priced places to live in Mexico among the cities with a historic center. There’s plenty to choose from as well for a price that’s a fraction of what you would pay in the United States or Canada
Closet Airport: Tuxtla Guiterrez, 1.5 hours away
Monthly Airbnb range for 2BR rentals: $340 to $1,130 (most under $800)
The resort town of Huatulco is mostly an unknown with Americans, but it has a small community of Canadian retirees drawn to the dramatic scenery, warm beach weather, and reasonable prices. Located on the coast of Oaxaca state, this collection of resort towns does have a lot of waterfront hotels. They are mostly frequented by domestic travelers, especially around Easter and summer. But this is mostly a collection of bays spread out between mountains and the water, so it’s easy to find a spot away from the big crowds.
This is a great place for people who love getting out on the water, whether that’s in a fishing boat, a stand-up paddleboard, or a kayak. There are also some surfing spots if your body can still handle that and you’re not far from the big wave center of Puerto Escondido.
Nearby there are coffee farms, mountains to hike in, lagoons to explore, and dramatic spots for watching the sun go down.
Closest Airport: Huatulco
Monthly Airbnb range for most 2BR rentals: $500 to $1,950
Barra de Navidad and Melaque
At the very bottom of Jalisco state and close to the city of Manzanillo, this two-town area of coastal Mexico is another where they should probably open up a Tim Horton’s and show nothing but hockey at the sports bars. The Canadians probably outnumber the other foreigners here at a 50-to-1 ratio.
Barra de Navidad is a small peninsula with some hotels, restaurants, and apartments. Just to the north of there is the beach town of Melaque. It’s linked with sand-in-the-toes beach bars, low-rise condo buildings, and lounge chairs. The beach slopes down rapidly but the waves are relatively calm and the water is warm most of the year.
Just be advised that you’re a long way from an international airport that gets lots of daily flights: that would be Puerto Vallarta more than two hours to the North. Medical facilities are good in Manzanillo or Puerto Vallarta. This is one of safest places in Mexico among the beaches. It’s too sleepy in this small town for organized criminals to bother with!
Closest airport: Manzanillo (about 30 minutes)
Monthly Airbnb range for most 2BR rentals: $520 to $2,100
Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa on the Pacific Coast
When most people hear the word Zihuatanejo, they think of The Shawshank Redemption (it’s where the main characters ended up briefly at the end). It’s been a twin-city resort area for decades though. Zihuatanejo itself was a fishing village that eventually became a tourist town and cruise ship stop, while Ixtapa was a purpose-built tourist resort area meant to be the Cancun of the Pacific.
The area never took off like the planners hoped, mostly hosting domestic travelers these days, but a lot of expats took notice and started buying up houses with a view. Many of those houses are big mansions with a swimming pool, but there are more modest homes in the center of town and condo buildings along the Ixtapa beach.
You can play golf here, take out a fishing boat regularly, or go swimming and walking on various beautiful beaches. You’ll probably need a car here to get around, but it’s not a huge area to navigate. Just down the road a bit is Troncones, a much smaller community that’s also popular with people looking to retire in Mexico near the beach.
Closest airport: Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa (limited international flights)
Monthly Airbnb range for most 2BR rentals: $700 to $2,300
If you’re a regular reader of this Cheapest Destinations Blog, there’s a good chance you don’t have a prayer of buying or renting near the ocean in Los Cabos. This is a location that has more AAA 5-diamond resorts than any other spot in North America and it has some of the best golf courses on the continent too.
Your budget will need to top $1 million if you want to just buy a condo that’s in good shape and facing the water. Double or triple that for a house. Naturally, the rents are correspondingly high.
I’m putting the popular tourist destination of Los Cabos in here though because there are loads of retirees living here, thousands maybe. Just understand that most of them have retired from Silicon Valley, Hollywood, or the richest country club neighborhood where you’re living right now. I always have a great time when I’m there and I really wouldn’t mind shelling out a couple grand to live in San Jose del Cabo village for a month or two. (Not Cabo San Lucas at the other end of the corridor highway.)
That’s about the only place you could get by without a car though, plus costs are higher than anywhere else in Mexico for food because everything has to come such a long way by truck or ship. It’s like living on an island. A very hot island in the summer. On the plus side, crime rates are low and there’s good medical care.
Closest airport: Los Cabos, with lots of flights
Two bedroom monthly Airbnb rental rates: if you have to ask, you can’t afford it…
Loreto on the Sea of Cortez in Baja
Think of Los Cabos as the flashy sister who gets showered with gifts, is adored by the cool kids, and is a fashion icon. Loreto is the nerdy sister in the corner who is a lot more interesting once you start talking to her.
Situated about a third of the way up the Baja Peninsula on the Sea of Cortez side, this small city is an adventure playground like no other. When I visited the first time, I saw humpback whales swimming by while I was out on a paddleboard, saw another when I was out on a boat ride, then watched in awe as hundreds of rays jumped into the air and dove back down to the water’s surface. In the background are dramatic mountains with great hiking options and you can go kayaking or scuba diving around several islands just offshore.
Just be advised that this little slice of paradise in Baja California Sur is not easy to get to. Driving from California takes 16 hours if you don’t stop and the Loreto International Airport only has a few international flights. Many of the retirees who live here only come for four or six months, then leave when they start feeling an urge for a little more action and shopping options.
There’s a rather large expat community here: in the middle of winter when it’s cold up north, it feels like they make up half the population of this town of 20,000. Since there is so much competition for short-term rentals, prices are some of the highest in Mexico if you search on Airbnb. Try to find another way to score a long-term rental.
Closest airport: Loreto
Monthly Airbnb range for most 2BR rentals: $1,100 to $3,100
Other Spots to Consider for Retirement in Mexico
Since this is the Cheapest Destinations Blog and I’ve got a popular book out on moving abroad, I talk to a lot of other expats in the course of my research. Plus I belong to a few Facebook groups where people are talking about where they’re living and how much it’s costing them. There are probably a dozen other locations in Mexico that come up as places to live in Mexico for retirees.
Most of the following probably have between 50 and 500 foreigners living in the destination, only some of those being retirees, so I’m not going to go into detail on them. Just do some research on them if none of the above looks like the perfect place or you want to widen your horizons when you’re traveling around Mexico doing first-person research.
Mexico City – for retirees who would stay in New York or San Francisco if they were loaded, but they want an urban lifestyle that’s not going to break the bank. The best city in the country for food, museums, and culture.
Puebla – the home of talavera pottery, the largest historic colonial area of any Mexican city, and an under-the-radar foodie destination. Lots to do nearby and you can head to the Mexico City airport if local flights aren’t working out.
Guadalajara – Mexico’s second-largest city, but one that doesn’t have many gringos as tourists or residents. For big city bustle and small city prices, this is a good choice with excellent air connections and pleasant weather.
Queretaro – I’d be surprised if there are more than 100 foreign retirees living in this attractive historic city, but there are a good number of foreigners who are still working thanks to a lot of business in the area. There’s an international airport (quite far out) and a direct bus to the Mexico City airport.
Morelia and Patzcuaro – two cities in Michoacan state that probably don’t have more than 150 foreign retirees between them. They’re both pleasant places to live though and Morelia has an international airport.
Ensenada – a port city and cruise port that is near the largest wine region in Mexico, and only a few hours south of San Diego.
Todos Santos – also in Baja but at the other end, a small-town beach settlement that’s close by distance but a world away in feel from busy and expensive Los Cabos.
Mexico is a country with a great variety of climates and landscapes. It is one of the most popular destinations for retirees because it offers a rich culture, beautiful scenery, and good food with an affordable cost of living. Unless you’re looking for snow and four seasons, you should be able to find your perfect spot.
Source: Cheapest Destination