Mexico

This 65-Year-Old Retiree Lives in Mexico on $1,500 Per Month—Here's Why She's ‘Never Moving Back to the U.S.'

Photo: Matt Mawson

When I left the U.S. for Mazatlán, Mexico 15 years ago, I had stars in my eyes. Everything about this place seemed wonderful, and since retiring a few years ago, I've had the opportunity to enjoy them to the fullest.

To many people, the expat life seems like such a big unknown. But in reality, your day-to-day life won't be that much different than it is right now. You might not find it to be exactly what you expected, though, and there will still be some downsides.

But those things weren't deal-breakers for me. In fact, when people ask about my experience, I tell them I'm never moving back to the U.S. Here's what I love about living in Mexico, and why it's the perfect place to retire:

1. The food is fantastic

Love mangos? They’re grown all over Mexico and really are “cheaper by the dozen!” This vendor near me was selling them for less than 50 cents a pound.
Photo: Janet Blaser
Love mangos? They’re grown all over Mexico and really are “cheaper by the dozen!” This vendor near me was selling them for less than 50 cents a pound.

Mexican cuisine is so much more than tacos and burritos. That weather we love is good for growing tropical fruits and vegetables, as evidenced by the abundance and affordability of avocados, mangos, pineapples, limes and coconuts.

In Mazatlán, seafood is king. Some iconic dishes the city is known for are aguachile (raw shrimp marinated in lime juice, chilies and salt) and ceviche (raw fish or shrimp marinated in lime juice, with tomatoes, cucumber, onions and jalapeños).

I love having tacos for breakfast, especially these delicious quesabirria tacos.
Photo: Janet Blaser
I love having tacos for breakfast, especially these delicious quesabirria tacos.

I've gotten used to having shrimp in everything — omelets, pastas, salads. They're caught fresh locally, as are tuna, mahi-mahi, dorado and oysters. In the U.S., fresh fish is usually out of my budget. But here, I can buy two big tuna steaks for $3 or a half-pound of big shrimp for $5.

2. The weather is great

I love being able to walk to the beach every day!
Photo: Janet Blaser
I love being able to walk to the beach every day!

Mexico is a big country, with different climate zones and different types of weather. Beach towns too humid for your taste? Head inland to places like San Miguel de Allende or Lake Chapala, where summers are mild. Want more of a lush, tropical lifestyle? Check out the Yucatan or Puerto Vallarta areas.

Mazatlán is on the coast, and the weather is temperate most of the year, with blue skies 99% of the time. I love it, although some people find it too hot and humid. I have a simple wardrobe of small, light clothing and keep socks and sweatshirts in my suitcase for trips up north.

The days are long and beautiful, which makes me happy. No fog, snow or grey skies!

3. An adventurous, stress-free lifestyle

With Mazatlán's three islands just offshore, a sunset surf session is doubly wonderful.
Photo: Lucas Mullikin for CNBC Make It
With Mazatlán's three islands just offshore, a sunset surf session is doubly wonderful.

Until I moved to Mexico, I didn't realize how starved I was for new experiences. And there are so many here: the language, the customs, how things are done and, of course, new friends.

Building a completely different community — and assimilating into the local one — can be both challenging and stimulating. But mostly it's all just deliriously fun.

In that same spirit, I've crossed many things off my bucket list. I took up surfing and yoga; I started two businesses; I published a book; I'm speaking and reading Spanish and now learning Italian.

What's next? I don't know, but all of this keeps my brain alive and active — and a smile on my face.

4. The cost of living is very low

My living room is spacious and pretty, with wonderful natural light and 10-foot ceilings.
Photo: Lucas Mullikin for CNBC Make It
My living room is spacious and pretty, with wonderful natural light and 10-foot ceilings.

Like anywhere else, you can spend as much money as you like to create your ideal lifestyle.

But I love that I can have a very comfortable way of life here, where I spend significantly less than I did in the U.S.

I'm retired now, but I still do some freelance writing about expat topics and promote my book. I live on about $1,500 per month (which includes social security benefits).

Some examples of my basic costs:

  • Rent for a two-bedroom apartment: $420 per month
  • WiFi (includes landline): $20 per month
  • Phone (unlimited international calls, free Facebook and WhatsApp): $18 per month
  • Water: $5 per month
  • Electricity: $20 per month
  • Maid service: $15 per visit
  • Vet (checkup and shots): $15 per visit
  • Doctor consultation in a pharmacy: $4 per visit
  • Dermatologist or other medical specialist: $35 to $45 per visit
  • Groceries: $160 per month
  • Eating out: $110 per month

5. The beautiful colors and scenic views

Mexico is a land full of natural beauty and amazing colors! Sunsets like these are the norm in Mazatlán.
Photo: Janet Blaser
Mexico is a land full of natural beauty and amazing colors! Sunsets like these are the norm in Mazatlán.

It's such a simple thing, but it's a wonderful, satisfying part of my life. Starting with the slowly developing montage of sunrise, and ending with the colorful riot of sunset, each day is a constant performance by Mother Nature at her best.

From the brilliant blue sky to the green jungle-covered hills to the bright colors of the colonial homes, the colors of Mexico are calm and uplifting.

Do the colors seem more vivid because of Mazatlán's proximity to the Tropic of Cancer? Is it all in my head? Whatever the case, all I know is that it's hard to be depressed or worried when you're surrounded by such a magnificent tapestry of vibrant, dazzling colors.

6. People are friendly

Scrumptious artisan gelato in unusual flavors like Mixed Berries & Lavender, Lime Pie with Rosemary, and Mango, Lime & Cardamom is a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.
Photo: Janet Blaser
Scrumptious artisan gelato in unusual flavors like Mixed Berries & Lavender, Lime Pie with Rosemary, and Mango, Lime & Cardamom is a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.

When I visit the U.S., there's always a shocked re-entry for a few days as I adjust to the impersonal "me-bubble" mentality that seems so prevalent: Don't smile. Don't make eye contact. And hurry, hurry, hurry.

In Mazatlán, people just seem friendlier — maybe it's part of the culture. It's normal to nod or say hello as you pass someone on the street or get behind them in line at the bank. Complete strangers say "Provecho!" (basically means "enjoy your food") to other diners as they enter or leave a restaurant.  

I know the names of people I see regularly: Oscar, who runs the little store down the street; Joaquin, who washes my car; Paola, the fantastic barista at my favorite café; and Anita, who lives across the street with her big sheepdog. And they all know my name, too.

7. It's close to home

Mazatlán is an easy 3.5-hour flight to the border — close enough for my family to visit (here, with my daughter) or for me to go to the U.S. for holidays, birthdays or whenever.
Photo: Janet Blaser
Mazatlán is an easy 3.5-hour flight to the border — close enough for my family to visit (here, with my daughter) or for me to go to the U.S. for holidays, birthdays or whenever.

This was one of the main reasons I chose Mazatlán: It's a short flight to visit family, but still far enough away to be an adventure.

I wanted to be able to go back for Christmas or birthdays, to help with the birth of a new grandchild or, if necessary, in case of a serious medical situation. (While I do have health insurance, and medical care here is affordable and highly reputable, my Spanish isn't sufficient enough that I'd feel comfortable dealing with a serious health issue.)

The added bonus is that it's a beautiful destination for friends and family to visit, so it's a win-win for everyone!

Janet Blaser is a writer who has lived in Mazatlán, Mexico since 2006. A former journalist in California, her work now focuses on expat living. Janet's first book, "Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats" is an Amazon bestseller. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.

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