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Mexico Attracts US Retirees Despite Crime Wave

A Mexican beach

A Mexican beach

Some 40,000 people have been killed in Mexico over the past five years as the Latin American country's police and military battle powerful drug cartels that are also fighting with each other over smuggling routes. In spite of the dire headlines, hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens vacation in Mexico every year and many of them, especially those who are retired, have opted to buy property and live there. The warm weather and the lower cost of living are big draws.

News from Mexico these days tends to be bad.

Shootouts and grisly murders dominate media reports.

But some Americans are moving to Mexico looking for peace and relaxation.

Michael Baldwin and Stephanie Villareal spoke to VOA via Skype from their home near the tip of Mexico's Baja peninsula.

“We have been here almost a year now. We came from Houston, Texas. We came down temporarily last summer and made the decision to make it permanent and we actually drove from Houston to Cabo San Lucas,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin says they love the natural beauty and mild climate and that their improved lifestyle has also saved them money.

“Houston versus Cabo, our expenses have been reduced by about 30 percent,” he said.

Villareal says they also enjoy interacting with local people in a place where they have noticed very little crime.

“We have lots of friends, they are very welcoming and that is one of our favorite parts of living here is the people,” she said.

While resort areas have generally remained peaceful. other parts of Mexico have turned into war zones.

The U.S. State Department notes violent incidents in 14 of Mexico's 31 states.

But Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete, chief operating officer of Mexico's Tourism Board, says the report does not take into account the vast areas untouched by major crime.

“Out of the 2,500 municipalities we have in Mexico, the equivalent of your counties in America, 80 of those have witnessed episodes of violence,” Lopez-Negrete said.

He says U.S. citizens living in the principal resort areas provide their own vote of confidence. "In the major time-share developments, the major fractional developments or full ownership, more than half of those purchases are from Americans," Lopez-Negrete said.

In Houston, Chris Hill works with the Mexico Real Estate Coalition to help promote property purchases south of the border.

He says activity has slowed in the past few years, partly because of the recession, but also because of news reports about violence that is generally not near tourist zones.

“All of these crime-related stories that we are hearing, drug-related, they have very little impact on a tourist or someone going to live in Mexico," Hill said.

Another concern for many home buyers from the United States is the legal process and the security of their investment in a foreign country.

Hill says new procedures and legal guarantees make real estate investment in Mexico safer and easier. “If you use the tools, there is very little risk, just as purchasing a property here in the U.S," Hill said.

The Mexican constitution prohibits foreigners from owning property within 50 kilometers from the coast.

But foreigners can enjoy ownership privileges of a beachside home by purchasing part of a Mexican "real estate trust" through which they own a home indirectly.

Chris Hill says Mexico provides a great opportunity for aging baby boomers in the United States to live better on their retirement funds.

“We believe that, long term, Mexico is going to be a wonderful opportunity for retirees to live the cost of medical services and health-related issues, but also the overall cost of living in Mexico is far lower,” Hill said.

And many Americans now living full time or even just part of the year in Mexico have found that to be true.