Mexico can be a great place to retire, either full time, or if
you want the best of both worlds, just during the winter months.
There are many misconceptions about Mexico, but having been through
the process personally, let me tell you from personal experience
what to expect.
I say this with no hesitation - the medical care I have received
here in Mazatlán is ten times better than the care I have received
in the USA. Why? Because there is no "factory" mentality here, and
the lawyers haven't made the doctors paranoid yet.
My doctor, who gave us his private cell phone number and makes house calls, is also a first rate surgeon.
A few years ago, Nadine had to have a mass removed from here
right breast. We flew to the United States to have the surgery
performed. Last year, she again had to have a lump removed and we
had our doctor here in Mazatlán perform the same operation. The
difference was night and day. In Mazatlán, her incision was
smaller, her recovery time faster, and the doctors here were not
afraid to prescribe medication for pain, which the doctors in the
USA will only do if you are screaming and threatening bodily harm.
In the states, we saw the doctor a week later at his office and he
had his nurse remove the stitches. Here the doctor came to our
house at least twice before removing the stitches just to see how
Nadine was feeling and if there was anything he could do for
Let me tell you, unless I required something extremely high
tech, I would prefer traveling to Mazatlán from the US for my
medical care rather than the other way around. Furthermore, in 1995
a brand new hospital with all of the latest diagnostic and surgical
equipment has opened here in Mazatlán. Everything they have is
state of the art. Another thing, the prices here are as you would
expect, much cheaper than in the US. If you are here as a tourist,
chances are your current medical insurance will cover you if you
incur any medical expenses while you are here visiting. That was
the case with us when we still had Blue Cross of California. Since
we are now out of the country for more than six months at a time,
we switched insurance companies to one that handles international
insurance. You can also buy coverage that is specific to Sharp
hospital. It is available a the Presalud office which is right next
door to the hospital. The Presalud plan covers 100% of your
hospital stay at Sharp, as well as the doctors and surgeons fees,
and whatever drugs you require during your stay. It also entitles
you to a 70% discount on all lab tests done at Sharp even if they
are for routine care. The price is based on age, but is quite
reasonable. Also the price of drugs here is astonishingly less than
in the USA. It is not uncommon for a drug to be ten times cheaper
here than in the states. It makes you realize just how large the
drug company profits are when you can buy the same thing here for
ten cents on the dollar, and that was true even before the
devaluation. As far as medical care goes, I'll take Mazatlán over
Kaiser/HMOs/ER any day. Nadine says that unfortunately none of the
doctors here look like George Clooney though. If you are still
worried about your treatment by Mexican doctors,
check out this article which I
clipped from the San Francisco Examiner.
As an illustration of drug prices, I
asked my friend
Linda at Pharmacy Belmar to
put together a table of the ten most common drugs that she sells.
Here is the info, as of winter 2000. While the prices in pesos may
vary with time, the price should remain relatively constant in
terms of dollars:
How drug is supplied
US (9.5 X 1)
500 mg 100 Cap
20 mg 60 Cap
500 mg 100 Cap
350 mg 100 Tab
800 mg 100 Cap
500 mg 36 Cap
40 mg 100 Tab
500 mg 50 Cap
0.05% 40 G
20 mg 100 Cap
Tales from the dark side
Having told you how wonderful
medical care is here, I am duty bound to also warn you that there
are quite a few shady operators down here as well. I have heard
reports of tourists falling ill and waking up in a "private clinic"
where their credit cards receive more thorough examinations than
their bodies. Some hotels and taxi drivers are in "partnership"
with these clinics, and unless told otherwise will bring any
tourist who doesn't know any better to them. It is much easier to
check into one of these places than it is to check out. I
strongly suggest that you go to
Sharp Hospital for treatment. They are a reputable
and first class organization, and the doctors there are as good as
you'll find in Mazatlán.
You have been warned.
If you find yourself in need of emergency transport,
Red Cross at 981-3690 or 985-1451. They will
dispatch an ambulance to take you whereever you want to
Housing down here is plentiful and very affordable. Your range of
options include renting, buying, and building. We have done all
three, and definitely recommend building if you have the money to
do it. One of the nicest experiences we have had here is building a
house. Hard to believe, but true. The key is finding a good
architect. We can't sing the praises of ours too highly. His name
Santiago Leon Lorda, and
over his 30 year career he has built over 500 houses here in
If you are not ready for building, there are many houses on the
market right now for sale. The economic crisis is winding down, so
bargain days are pretty much over, but compared to many
places in the USA, especially California, the houses here are
downright reasonable. The trick here is either dealing directly
with the owner, or finding a good and trustworthy real estate
agent. Unlike the United States, real estate agents are not
licensed down here, and often all bets are off. Once again, I can
wholeheartedly recommend the agent that has been involved with us
over the past three years, her name is
Carol Ibarra. She is
originally from Canada, and speaks perfect English. She has been in
the real estate business for years, and knows all of the ropes.
Don't even contemplate acting as your own agent. Believe me there
are too many holes that you can fall into.
Now let me comment on the misconception that Americans can't own
property in Mexico. First of all, depending upon where you live,
this is either completely false or mostly false. The law here is
that a foreigner cannot own property outright within 100 kilometers
of the coast. Thus if you live in Guadalajara or Mexico City, you
can certainly own property just as you could in New York or San
Francisco. Now, if you want to live within 100 kilometers of the
beach, in a place such a Mazatlán, you need to establish a trust
through a bank of which you are the beneficiary. What this is, is a
way for the Mexican government to save face. They can still sell
their beach front property to foreigners while claiming that they
aren't. It also provides a means to pump a few extra dollars into
the Mexican banks at no cost to locals. The way it works is like
this. Through an attorney, you set up a trust with a bank where you
have the right to use or transfer the property for a period of 50
years. This trust is renewable, so the 50 year time limit doesn't
really mean much except that you have to set up a new trust when it
expires, if you still own the property. In the meantime, you can do
anything you want with it - live there, rent it out, sell it. You
have to pay the bank an annual fee to administer the trust, I call
it ransom, but it amounts to about $1000 per year. If you sell the
property, the new owner can either buy the remainder of your trust,
or start a new trust of his own, if he is a foreigner. A local can
just own the property without going through the trust stuff. Thus
for all practical purposes, you can own property anywhere in
Mexico, it just costs you an extra $1000 per year.
You can ask 5 different people and get 6 different stories on this
one, but since our furniture arrived here on June 14, 1995, listen
to what I have to say instead. First of all, when you come to
Mexico you will probably be arriving as a tourist. A tourist cannot
have his furniture imported to Mexico, so don't even try. However,
it is very easy to get what is called an FM-3 status. For us, it
took less than a week, and cost about $200 in fees. We got our FM-3
documents here in Mazatlán, but I believe you can do it through a
Mexican consulate in the United States as well. Once you have an
FM-3, you need to arrange with a shipping company to have your
furniture shipped to your home in Mexico. Part of the process is
providing a list of items that are to be brought down. Also, it is
important that none of the items be new. Don't try to fudge on
this, it isn't worth it. The customs agents will check the date of
manufacture on your washers, dryers, refrigerators, TVs etc. and
will give you a hard time if they find something less than a year
old. Your inventory needs to include the make, model number, and
serial number of anything electric, even the portable tape
recorders and clock radios. For the rest of the items, descriptions
such as 5 boxes of clothes and 3 boxes of kitchen articles is
sufficient. You must take your inventory, with 4 copies, and your
FM-3 to the nearest consulate, where they must stamp it and write
in your FM-3 document that you are bringing down your furniture.
You give these stamped inventories along with a notarized copy (by
the consulate) of your FM-3 to your shipper, and then settle back
and wait for your furniture to show up. Very likely, the guys at
customs will find something amiss, even if it is not. In our case,
they said that one of the portable boom boxes that we were bringing
down was new, when in fact it wasn't. They will demand payment of a
duty. It is a small amount, and it is far easier to pay it than to
try to fight it. Once the furniture clears customs, you should have
it in a few days. Everything I have said above is from personal
experience, so don't believe anyone who tells you it can't be done.
We heard that here for years, and believed it until we finally
decided to try anyway, and we were surprised by how basically
simple the whole thing was provided that you followed the
possible to have an American car here for your use in Mexico, but
there are some rules that you need to be aware of. First of all,
your car will
need to be
registered at the inland border crossing. If you are here on a
tourist visa, your car better leave when you do. Also you should
not let other people, especially local Mazatlecos, drive your car.
If they are pulled over for some reason, the policeman will
undoubtably notice that the car has non-Mexican license plates, and
it will be impounded. Also for those of you that have an FM-3,
there is a new (2002) wrinkle. You will need to re-register your
car whenever you renew your FM-3, which is once a year. This takes
places at the offices of the Aduana (customs), and
must be done when your FM-3 expires, even if you
just entered the country and received a
new permit. It (currently) doesn't cost anything for this
renewal, and just involves filling out a letter and taking it to
the office of the aduana. My friend,
Martha Armenta has
kindly provided a sample letter, which I will reprint here for your
SR. JOSE ALFREDO LOPEZ ARREGUI
Administrador de la Aduana de MazatlÃ¡n,
Por medio de la presente me permito informarle a usted que
el INSTITUTO NACIONAL DE Migración de este país me ha
concedido prórroga en mi calidad migratoria por el tiempo
de _______ días, para permanecer en México, con
vencimiento el día _________.
Lo que estoy avisando a esta autoridad para los efectos del
Artículo 106, Fracción IV, inciso a de la Ley Aduanera,
con respecto a la importación temporal de mi vehículo:
NO. De SERIE: __________________, efectuada por la Aduana de
____________________ (CITY WHERE THEY ISSUED THE TEMPORARY
IMPORT PERMIT), al amparo del Permiso de Importación
Temporal No. ____________________ (THE HOLOGRAM NUMBER).
Fecha de Entrada del vehiculo: ________________________,
FECHA DE VENCIMIENTO DEL PERMISO:
Para que pueda prologarse el plazo del vehículo mientras
dure mi calidad migratoria.
and read a lot in the media about how dangerous Mexico is:
bandits, drug lords, rebellions, assassinations etc. All of
these things are true, just as they are in the United
States, but the media, as usual, is a great amplifier.
Remember when those German tourists got shot in Florida. The
German press printed the story daily in 36 point type,
warning their precious citizens about the dangers of
traveling to that crime and drug riddled USA. What did you
think of that coverage? Did it make you want to leave your
dangerous home and move to Germany? Well, the US press
treats Mexico exactly the same way. Yes, there is a
"rebellion" going on in Chiapas. Does that mean there is
machine gun fire in Mazatlán, more than 1000 miles away?mean
there is machine gun fire in Mazatlán, more than 1000 miles
away? Of course not.
. Yes, there is a "rebellion" going on in Chiapas. Does that
mean there is machine gun fire in Mazatlán, more than 1000 miles
away? Of course not.
To give you a feel for the level of crime in Mazatlán, let me
tell you about our local newspaper, the Noroeste. In their local
crime coverage, which is printed every day, they often include
pictures of the guys who stole a bicycle, and sometimes of the gun
or knife that was confiscated. Finding someone with a gun is a
big deal, and gets big coverage, with pictures not
only of the villain, but of the firearm as well. Can you imagine
the LA Times doing this? They would need to publish a 100 page
crime section daily if they were to include pictures of guys
stealing bicycles. Here the crime section is 2 pages long, and
often includes traffic accidents when there is one.
I can honestly say, that Nadine and I feel much safer living
here in Mazatlán than we have living almost anywhere else in the
United States. We used to live in Oakland, and going down the hill
to Safeway for some milk was a truly frightening experience. Here,
we have walked in the heart of downtown at midnight on several
occasions, and have never felt threatened in any way. In fact, even
late at night you will still pass young men and girls strolling on
the streets or in the parks, holding hands and making out.
I believe that the reason most Americans have such a negative
impression of Mexico is because of the media and the "great sucking
sound" politicians. It is always easier to denigrate your neighbor
than to take a good hard look at what is wrong in your own
Basically, it is possible to live in Mexico with far less money
than in the United States, though that is not to say that
everything here is cheaper. Labor, food, and locally manufactured
goods are much less expensive than their counterparts in the US. We
go to the movies here every week, and a ticket costs $2, while
popcorn is $.80. Our maid, who comes in 6 days a week for 8 hours
each day, is paid approximately 500 pesos or $50 per week, and she
is very well paid my Mexican standards. On the other hand, if you
want to buy some imported electronics or appliances, be prepared to
pay double for it. A large Whirlpool side by side refrigerator can
run around $2000USD, and new cars are more expensive than in the
US, especially if they are imported. All in all, I would say that
you can live quite well on $1000 per month, and live like a king,
or at least a high level prince, on $2000 per month.
I went to the market, called Commercial Mexicana, which is a
chain similar to Safeway in the USA, and jotted down some prices of
some typical items on the shelf. For those of you who care, here
they are, after I've converted them to dollars.
Bacardi White Rum
Liebfraumich white wine 1991
Vegetable cooking oil
double ply toilet paper
Hamburger extra lean
wilson tennis balls
1 can of 3
johnson baby powder
Mexican music CD
Sony 21 inch color TV
Pert plus shampoo
Head & Shoulders shampoo
Mennon Speed Stick deodorent
Cover Girl compact
bag of movie popcorn
If you would
like a glimpse at what Mexican money
looks like you can also learn more about some of the people who
faces appear on the bills. They range from bandits to nuns, and
provide an interesting glimpse into the national heroes of
Spanish will definitely make your life easier and fuller, it is
certainly not a requirement. Many locals speak a passable English,
and anyone in the tourist industry definitely does. Also, satellite
television is widespread down here, so you can still watch all of
your favorite programs from the US. The only problem is that the
picture and sound are so much better, you may return home and find
that you are unsatisfied with your current cable system. Then your
vacation to Mazatlán would turn out to be expensive indeed. All of
the locals we've met really appreciate it if you make an effort to
speak Spanish, and don't just assume or demand that they should
speak English. They will generally meet you more than halfway if
you make an attempt. Nevertheless, you can still get along just
fine if your only Spanish is Buenas Dias and Adios. Recently (2005)
a new and fun Spanish book was published by Bradley Kim.
You can find out more about it, and see a
few sample pages, if you like.
Even though Mexico is a
great place to live, it is not such a wonderful place to work. Just
about the only well paying work that is available down here for
gringos is in the timeshare sales area. If you are a good salesman,
you can make good money selling timeshare to unsuspecting victims.
Other than that, the employment outlook is pretty bleak, for
Americans as well as Mexicans. If you have a dream of starting your
own small business down here in Mazatlán, be prepared for a
struggle. There is quite a bit of bureaucracy that you will need to
overcome. Also, chances are there will already be some competition,
and remember, the minimum wage down here is around 5 dollars per
day, not per hour. If you need to earn an income down here in order
to survive, I advise you to bring enough money with you so that you
can live here for 3 to 6 months and still have enough left over to
go home in case things don't work out. Rent something and check it
don't burn any bridges back home. If you're not
discouraged yet, call me and I'll discourage you some more.
I find myself
answering the same questions over and over again, so I've decided
to just write my answers here and refer you, gentle reader, to this
As background, the message I receive usually goes something like
Buenos Dias Nadine and Henry,
All me to introduce myself, my name is Bill, and my wife is
Hillary. We have both been working for the government all our
lives, and now find ourselves ready to retire. Our social security
income just isn't cutting it for us here on Park Avenue, so we are
considering moving to Mazatlán. We aren't looking for anything
extravagent, like we had in DC, just something comfortable and
moderate. Please Obi Wan Kenobi, you're our only hope.
BC & HC
Can we live on $1000 USD per month?
The short answer is
yes, but it is a little more complicated than that. A big factor in
your quality of life will be whether or not you own your own home
or not. If you do not, and must pay rent out that $1000 per month,
you are going to be living in a largely Mexican neighborhood,
probably either renting an apartment or a small house. That will
take $200-$300 out of your monthly income, leaving you with about
$700 per month. Gas, water, sewer, and electricity will run about
$100 per month. Food perhaps $50 per week. That brings you down to
$350 left over for anything else. You can probably squeeze in a
maid a couple of times a week for $100 per month. Internet access
is $25/month for dialup, and cable TV is another $25 per month.
Another $25 per month for a telephone, and we're at $175 per month
for everything else. You can eat out a few times, or go to the
movies every day, but probably not both. Also it would be best not
to get very sick. So it can be done, but you won't be living the
stress free life of luxury you were hoping for.
If you own your own home, and still have $1000 per month to live
on, things are much better. Instead of $300 per month for rent, you
will have to pay about $80 per month for trust fees and property
taxes. You also can't be kicked out of your house on a whim.
What do we do first?
Before you do anything, come down for
a visit. If you are planning on living here full time, (year round)
come in July, August or September, not in February or March. It is
best to experience Mazatlán at its worst, not its best. If you are
on a very tight budget, there are plenty of $20 and $30 dollar a
day motels around. Stay in one for a few days, buy a local paper,
and start checking out the available rentals. You can stay at
Apartment for $550 per month, a good deal if it is available.
Then hire a taxi for a day and start looking around to get a
feeling for the area and the types of homes or apartments that are
available. Moving here is a big decision, and should not be rushed.
Can we drive down there with our household goods in a U-haul or
do we have everything shipped?
You can do it with a U-Haul.
You might also consider contacting
Robert Hudson, who has made a small
business out of helping people bring their furniture to Mazatlán.
How much would shipping cost and whom should we contact that is
reliable and honest?
Personally we moved with United Van Lines.
We had to create the list of household items, but they pretty much
did the rest. One morning at 4am their truck showed up in front of
our house. It cost us $6000 as I recall, but then again we had a
lot of stuff.
Will we be able to have Internet connection in our rented
Yes. Dial up is available everywhere, so if you have a
phone, you can get internet access. You might also be able to get
DSL, depending on your locaton. Similarly for cable. Costs range
from about $20 per month for dial up to $50 per month for DSL, with
cable in the middle. You can't have cable without also subscribing
to TV. Such are the benefits of a monopoly.
Is it advisable to bring our car?
Many people do, but there
is some hassle involved. Personally, we prefer to buy local. If you
plan on living in Mazatlán full time, our advice is to sell your
car in the US, and then buy another one here. Your best and most
economical route is to buy a used car. They are much less
expensive, and the yearly registration fees are much lower as well.
Also you never have to worry about the arcane rules that govern
Does the insurance cost a lot?
First let me say that all I
really know about insurance, both in the US and Mexico, is that the
insurance companies are very good at collecting premiums. I have no
idea whether or not they are any good at paying claims, since we've
never had one. Having said that, I can say that we pay around $800
a year for car insurance, $1000 per year per person for local
health insurance, and about $500 for homeowners insurance.
Where do we get a permit from to live in Mazatlán?
permit required. If you come in as a tourist, just fill in the form
as you drive/fly in. If you want to stay all year round, you can
still do the tourist thing, but you'll have to leave the country
every six months and re-enter. It is probably better to get an FM3
or eventually an FM2. You can do this in the USA, but it is
probably easier to do it down here. Plan on spending a day or two
the first time. Look in the
Pacific Pearl for ads by people who
can help you through the process, especially the first time.
And, when we arrive there, where do we go that's reasonable and
nice until we find a modest but nice home to rent?
That is a
very difficult question to answer, as one person's nice is another
person's dumpy. It also greatly depends on your budget. There are
several mailing lists and online forums that you can subscribe to
that might be able to help you. Try visiting the
Mazinfo Group or
click on the
WhatsUpMaz Forum, finally
there is also the
Pacific Pearl bulletin
board. I'm sure someone on those lists will be able to help you.
I'm assuming you took pets with you when you moved there. How
much red tape is there to bring in dogs and cats? And, do the local
people respect animals?
Bring pets in and out of Mexico
is very easy. As for the locals respecting pets, it certainly
depends on the person, but in general I would say that pets are not
treated as well in Mexico as in the US or Europe. But on the other
hand, neither are the people.
Are Americans treated well, there, and what is the level of
crime? Also, is there a big drug problem?
Americans in general
are treated very well, even better than the locals. For example,
some hotels will deny access to locals coming in from the beach,
unless they can show that they are guests of the hotel. I have
never seen that happen to a gringo. As for drugs, they are
certainly available, but in the areas you are most likely to
frequent, you won't see any drugged out low lifes wandering around.
If you needed emergency health care, would you trust the local
hospital to manage your care, at least until you could safely be
moved to a location of your choice?