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Living/Retiring in Mexico
If you are considering retiring or just living in Mexico, or staying for all or part of the winters, here are some tips.
Most of the tourist areas (except isolated ones), have excellent shopping, and believe it or not, WalMart is the biggest retailer in Mexico. There are other department stores and major retailers in Mexico, both American and Mexican owned.
Prices vary depending on your life style. Fresh produce, meat, poultry and fish are relatively inexpensive, and if you adopt a Mexican approach to eating, the cost of living will be low. American canned goods, toiletries, supplements, etc. can be more expensive than in the USA. Pharmaceuticals vary widely in price. Some border areas sell prescription drugs at discount prices, but some other areas the costs are similar to the USA.
Medical care is generally very inexpensive, and most of the doctors are American trained. There are many fine hospitals in Mexico, particularly private ones. If you live in Mexico and can prove residency, you can purchase inexpensive medical insurance, both public, and in many areas, private policies. The private insurance companies are generally related to one or more private hospitals, and often the annual cost is about what you might pay for one month's coverage in the US. The public insurance is even cheaper, but the public hospitals are generally overcrowded and not to the same standards as the private hospitals.
Public and private services of all types vary widely. Most water, electrical, and telephone services are not to US or Canadian standards, but in some areas they are. Public utilities such as these, are generally owned by very wealthy Mexicans, and they have been granted monopolies, so prices are high. The prices might not seem too bad to Americans, but they are onerous for Mexicans. Roads and highways vary widely too. Many good privately owned toll highways join the major cities, and they are very good. Lots of other Mexican highways are good too, but many of the secondary roads are not to US or Canadian standards. One noticeable feature is the lack of shoulders on many of the roads. If you have a problem, there is often no place to pull over. Lighting and signage is poor on these roads too, and they are best avoided at night.
Real Estate and Infrastructure
Real estate prices vary widely, as they do in most countries, and areas that cater to Americans and Canadians, price their real estate in US dollars. Coastal prices are high, inland prices are lower. Prices in small towns are very low, but the infrastructure is often problematical. If you can put up with some power outages, water outages, etc., the cost of living in small towns is very low. Property taxes are very low everywhere. Utilities are relatively cheap to Americans, particularly in inland areas where heating or air conditioning are not needed in many places. Coastal areas get hot and humid in the summer, and air conditioning is needed, so utilities are much higher there. Also there are lots of hotels and resorts available for long term stays if you choose not to purchase real estate.
MLS services are springing up in many areas of Mexico, but don't expect the same standards of training or ethics for most Mexican realtor's compared to the US or Canada. They are getting better trained in areas that do have MLS services, but they still have a long way to go. Lake Chapala and area have one of the highest standards for real estate training and ethics.
Most infrastructure is not built to American standards, but still acceptable to most people, particularly if you make a decision to take life a little easier and not let yourself get upset with little annoyances.
Buying real estate in Mexico
Many people believe that you can only lease real estate in Mexico. This is not true! Foreigners can buy real estate in Mexico, and thousands do. Here is how it works:
The Mexican constitution does not allow foreigners to have their names directly on deeds of land within 50 kilometers of the coast, and 100 kilometers from the border. This is the Restricted Zone and we will deal with that later. In all other areas of Mexico foreigners can own land just like Mexicans, with their names directly on the deed of land.
Land ownership is guaranteed in the constitution and the rights of land owners are secured there. The rights to land are just about the same as in other countries. For a foreigner to own land, the foreigner must obtain a permit from the Secretary of State for Mexico. This is all done by the lawyer (Notario), who does the deed transfer.
The permit is usually automatic and once obtained, the Notario can transfer the deed. The deed even allows you to name some beneficiaries in case of death, but they can only be a spouse or blood relatives of the owner. This may avoid the need for a will and probate.
In the Restricted Zone, Mexican law provides a way around the constitutional restriction. There, the laws provide that foreigners can own land, but they must use a Mexican bank to hold the deed (the arrangements are called Fideicomisos). The name of the bank is on the deed, but the foreigner is granted all the rights of ownership, and the bank has no rights to the property. The bank holds the deed in trust and the foreigner is named as the beneficiary of the trust. The trust agreements are for 50 years and they are automatically renewable. Also, the foreign owner can decide to start a new trust with a different bank and start a new 50 year trust at any time, by paying the set-up fees and the deed transfer fees. When the foreign owner decides to sell the property, the buyers can assume the trust or take out a new one for another 50 year term. The deeds do not form part of the bank's assets, and cannot be attached by a bank creditor.
The foreigner must obtain the permit to own land from the Secretary of State, just as in direct deeds, so that is proof that the Mexican government considers this to be "ownership" of land. The bank will charge an annual fee to maintain the trust. This can run from $300 to $500 per year. There is also a set-up fee to start the trust.
One benefit is the right to name multiple beneficiaries in case of death, and they do not all have to be blood relatives. For this reason some people have used Fideicomisos instead of direct deeds even in areas that allowed direct deeds. Also, since the deed is in the name of a bank, the bank has to investigate the status of the deed first, offering a further security level.
Another option for the foreign purchaser is to form a Mexican Corporation to buy the land. The laws now allow a foreigner to own 100% of a Mexican corporation. A Mexican corporation can have it's name directly on a deed of land in the restricted zone, but they must show some commercial use for the property. Renting the property for some of the year has been deemed a commercial use. The advantage here is the saving of the trust set-up and annual fees, but there are charges for setting up a corporation and some annual costs are incurred there too.
Lastly, there are leases around too. Generally they should be avoided as the foreigner does not have as much protection as they do with Fideicomisos. Mexican leases are only enforceable for a maximum term of 10 years. With leases, you need to check out thoroughly if the person leasing to you has the right to do so, and has undisputed title to the property. Foreigners on a development on the Baja found out the hard way that this step should not be ignored.
Crime and Safety in Mexico for Tourists
Many people have asked "is it safe to travel in Mexico?". My answer to them is a qualified YES. There are problems in part of Mexico such as the border cities, Mexico City and area, parts of Sinaloa state, and some isolated areas, but the vast majority of tourist destination in Mexico are probably safer than cities such as Los Angeles, Detroit, Miami, etc. I don't have detailed statistics, but I bet there are more tourists robbed, assaulted or killed in any week in Los Angeles than in all of Mexico. But as soon as a tourist is assaulted in Mexico it seems to make the national headlines in Canada and the USA. All those tourists assaulted/robbed in Los Angeles or Miami hardly make local headlines.
Even the governments issue travel warnings for Mexico, but have they ever issued travel warnings against travel to California, or Florida or other high crime areas in the USA, or places like Vancouver Canada, of course not! The Mexican people need the tourist trade to feed their families, and it is not fair that their country is singled out by the media. There are millions of Canadian and American tourists that travel to Mexico every year, totally safely! The main tourist destinations are generally safe, with only petty crimes, like any tourist destination in the world. You can't name a tourist destination anywhere in the world that is totally safe from petty crime!
That being said, there are some simple precautions that tourists should take in any country. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption and stupid behavior. Don't flash money or valuables in bars and public places. Don't try to pick up a Mexican lady if there seems to be a Mexican man that she may be with (Mexican men can be quite macho, and most violence in Mexico other that drug violence, is over a woman). Avoid taking RV's into isolated areas, in fact in my opinion, you shouldn't even take an RV into Mexico unless you caravan with others, or go straight to an RV park. Most Mexicans don't use RV's, so an RV targets you as a foreign tourist, which may be of interest to criminals. Parking an RV in an isolated spot is an invitation to criminals, and they know that tourists are not allowed to carry guns. They also know the police are not that efficient, nor are they well equipped.
Drive carefully but not too cautiously. Mexicans usually drive quite aggressively. On local highways there are government "green angels" that patrol and help tourists with car troubles, stay with your automobile. Toll roads have their own private patrol vehicles. Mexicans will probably try to help you, and 99% of them are honest and trustworthy. Use your judgement on accepting help. If they have women and children present, they are almost certain to be trustworthy. Generally, Mexicans will go out of their way to help anyone that has troubles. I have heard many stories on how a Mexican family will spend hours helping a tourist with car troubles.
Mexico is caught in the between the demand for drugs from the USA and the drug suppliers in South and Central America. It is used as a transfer point because of the large border with the USA that is nearly impossible to totally protect. Mexican gangs that are moving these drugs have become totally ruthless, but most of their killings have been against competing drug gang members, or honest police trying to do their jobs, but not tourists.
One of the biggest problems in Mexico generally is the lack of police protection and investigation. Police are not paid very well in Mexico, so they don't attract the best recruits. Some police are corrupt, but most are not. If a police officer tries to shake you down, don't argue, pay him off. You don't want to go to jail in Mexico, and you don't have the same rights under Mexican laws, as you would in the USA or Canada.
Mexico is a wonderful place to visit and the Mexican people are generous and friendly. Don't be afraid to travel to Mexico, just take a few simple and common sense precautions!