Plan Your Move to Lake Chapala Mexico the Right Way
You’ve read about the beauty of the Lake Chapala area and how enticing it seems from the descriptions in the pictures and articles. You’ve done some research on this as a possible retirement destination. It looks very promising – even exotic! But reading about moving to Mexico and actually doing it are two different things.
Relying on what you read on the internet or what you hear from other people can be dangerous – how much of it is “Fake News” or just out-of-date information?
So without a doubt, it is a good idea to do your “due diligence” and check it out thoroughly BEFORE you pull up the stakes from where you are now. After all, what if you find out that Lake Chapala is NOT for you AFTER you move there? Ouch! That would not be a good time – more like a waste of time, a waste of money, and a lot of trouble at a time in your life when you probably can’t afford it.
Retirement in another country is definitely doable – thousands do it every year – so what should you know before making the move?
When Moving to Another Country – It’s Even More Important to Plan Ahead
Planning your retirement involves financial, health, and lifestyle issues. This is a “cross-roads” decision-time of life. The decisions you make around retirement or moving will impact the rest of your and your family’s life. When retirement includes moving to another country we add a few more items to the “My Plan to Move to Mexico” list.
For instance, if you retire near “home”, then you don’t need to worry about speaking the language, the currency exchange rate, immigration requirements, cultural differences, or a different medical system to name a few.
This added complexity can stop people from considering the move. You might feel it’s too much to think about! But in fact, over 15,000 people have made the move to Lake Chapala’s beautiful lakeside towns. All you need is a checklist of essential things to consider, a source of reliable information, and a sense of adventure!
Ultimately, you will want to make an exploratory trip to Lakeside to get a feel for life there and answer questions or confirm the information you have gathered. So, let’s get into making this dream a reality.
“Moving to Mexico?! Are you crazy?” Dealing with Loved Ones
“…so just what are you thinking! Retirement in Mexico!? – well, that’s just crazy!” – just to paraphrase what some of your family and friends might say. So not only do you need to find out the essentials listed in this article for yourself, but you may also need to show others that you know what you are doing.
FocusOnMexico.com has been running educational programs on moving to Mexico for over 20 years. We have seen more than one instance where one spouse is all “gung-ho!” on making the move, while the other is not so sure and eventually quietly sabotages the notion. We have also seen the adult children of ready-to-move couples put up such a fuss that they wind up abandoning their dream of retiring to Mexico.
One good strategy is to show them some pictures and perhaps a video like the one on this page; Magic of Lake Chapala that is worth watching to give you a flavor of the area.
If you are part of a couple, it is natural that one of you will have a higher interest than the other. It is good to talk this through so that you both know each other’s feelings and thoughts about making the move ahead of time. Moving to another country does indeed take some openness to the strangeness of another culture, as well as a sense of curiosity and adventure. If one spouse completely lacks in those qualities, expect the road to be very bumpy!
So in summary, getting clear on essential “need-to-know” information will help you and your loved ones make the transition more peacefully and without the risk of expensive set-backs and hard feelings.
Getting Clear On Your Motivation; Write Down Your Reasons for Moving
Putting your own thoughts and reasons for wanting to move onto paper is highly recommended. It helps you become clear about your motivation, and it will act on you at a psychological level to help you move forward. Be clear about your motivation for why Mexico and why Lake Chapala, and also be clear about “why staying where you are is not an option”. Writing it down is a step in making the dream concrete.
So why are you attracted to moving to the Lake Chapala area? Need some help on your list? There are many sources to quote from, but here are links to 4 articles that expound on the benefits of living in this slice of paradise;
- Article from this Focus On Mexico; Top 8 Reasons to Move to Lake Chapala
- Article from International Living; Retiring To Mexico: The Transition To Expat Life Is Easy At Lake Chapala
- Article from The Telegraph; Glorious weather, cheap living: a lakeside retirement haven in Mexico
- Article from TheStreet.com Why So Many Americans and Canadians Move to Ajijic Mexico
Why not stay where you are?
List the reasons why you see where you are now is not ideal. Why is it NOT the place for spending your next chapter of your life? Very likely it might be the flip-side of some of the previous list…such as the climate sucks, it’s a lot more expensive, it’s not friendly, not much to do locally, it’s “same all – same all” of being without a sense of adventure, and so on.
Essential Need-To-Know Areas Before Moving to Mexico
You don’t need to become a complete expert on all matters relating to Mexico before moving. But there are some areas you really should have a clear idea on. It’s important to avoid major disappointment or a costly about-face. Doing some basic research on these key areas will help you check off these important boxes.
Lifestyle and Cultural Issues
You or your spouse may have developed some real passions in life that partly define who you are. You may be an avid bridge-player, you might crave for being on the water sailing or fishing. You may have a sport that you really want to continue with.
What Are My “Must Haves”? So make of list of “must-have” activities and then find out if they are available at Lakeside. You might be able to find out by searching online or asking someone online. Focus On Mexico’s Facebook site is a great place to have a conversation and find out about the availability of your “must-haves”. Then confirm your “must-haves” when you make an exploratory trip to Lakeside
The good news is that the ex-pat communities at Lakeside have been evolving for over 60 years. That means you will most likely find everything you can think of in some form at Lakeside. It also means you might find a ready group of takers who would be interested if you started something up yourself!
Mexico’s cultural differences can be both charming and frustrating. To enjoy the flow of life in Mexico, it is necessary to drop value judgments based on how things go back home. For instance, the slower pace of life can either help you relax or it can become a source of anger and frustration. Adopt the mind-frame of a curious explorer vs. thinking that “my way is the only way”.
Fortunately, at Lakeside, one of the things that make our community great is that most of the “mexpats” who actually move here have a natural openness to these cultural differences. They know that Mexico is not going to change for them. We tend to attract the open-minded and those with a sense of adventure! Those few who must have things done like back home usually wind up frustrated and go back.
Do I Have To Speak Spanish?
Spanish is the native language of Mexico, but in communities around Lakeside that expats have been for decades, it is quite easy to get by without knowing any Spanish. This I think is a negative thing. I highly recommend that learning Spanish becomes part of your adventure. By doing so, it will open up a vast range of lifestyle activities and deepen your appreciation for the Mexican culture. Many options exist for learning Spanish at Lakeside, so no worries there.
The safety issue gets a lot of media exposure. Nearly everyone at Lakeside thinks the general perception of Mexico as dangerous is a gross misperception. Like any country, there will be areas of high crime – Lakeside is not one of them.
However, you will be able to put this hesitation to rest by talking to residents around Lake Chapala – part of your To-Do list when taking an exploratory trip.
Cost of Living (including the cost of housing)
There is much info online on this topic. For instance, check out the – where you can enter your current town or city (or something close) and compare the cost of living to Ajijic. (I was doing a check on some of Numbeo’s Ajijic prices and for sake of typical accuracy, I would add about 10% on what you see online.)
People that have done detailed comparisons often find that the same lifestyle in the US or Canada will be 30-60% cheaper in Lakeside.
Generally, people find that they can live quite well on say $1,300/month USD for a single person, or around $2,000/month for a couple. There will be those that can live just fine on much less – or seem to need more, so this really varies.
An exploratory trip to Lakeside will definitely help in pinning down a more precise cost of life.
The vast majority of rentals and homes for sale will be in USD$.
Since the currency of your pension incomes and the currency of your daily expenses will be in different currencies, you need to consider “currency risk”. If the Mexican peso starts to appreciate against the USD$ or CDN$, then your cost of living will go up. So make sure you have some wiggle-room in your budget and/or hold some deposits in Pesos to cover your daily expenses. Holding some of your savings in the currency of your regular expenses makes sense as it reduces your currency risk.
You can easily set up a bank account at Lakeside, but besides needing a passport and immigration card (including a tourist visa), you may need to provide proof of residence. This might involve a recent utility bill that shows your name and address (check with the financial institution for their requirements).
Many gringos at Lakeside will keep an account open back home, have their pensions go to that account, and then use ATMs for their Mexican peso needs. But it becomes more convenient to also have a Mexican bank account for regular bills and a place to access larger amounts of pesos when you need them (ATMs have daily limits)
If you own furniture that you think you might want to bring with you on a move to Mexico, maybe think again. Consider that most apartment rentals in Mexico come furnished, and also many homes you buy are furnished or give you the option to buy the furniture. This is because for the home seller the cost of shipping stuff across the border is often not worth it.
If you do need some household items, then searching and shopping is a great pastime! Furniture, art, mattresses, etc. are readily available to buy either locally, in nearby towns, or somewhere in the big city of Guadalajara (just 45 minutes away). Also, if you consider the gringo retiree demographics, there is a fair amount of “turnover” which results in regular estate sales as another source of household things. My wife and I used a “Concierge Shopper” who was fluently bilingual and helped us find the best places and negotiate the prices when we furnished our house.
For those that must ship some items, there are moving specialists that can make the process seamless. It is easy to get an estimate that would include any customs duties.
If you drive in as a tourist, you will need temporary car insurance. Best to get this online before you come.
Immigration & Legal Issues
When you enter Mexico as a tourist, you will be given a tourist “FMM” immigration card. This is generally good for up to 6 months. You will surrender this card at the airport or at the border when you drive or fly out of Mexico. Most snow-birds or sun-birds will just use tourist visas.
For those staying in Mexico longer than 6 months or wanting to work in Mexico, you will need to apply for either a Temporary or Permanent Visa. The important thing to note is that you need to start the immigration application process before you move to Mexico. You do this by setting up an appointment with the nearest Mexican Embassy. There is a list of things you will need to bring to your appointment. The Embassy will provide a list – it can vary from Embassy to Embassy – and many people will wind up hiring an immigration specialist to help them navigate the process.
There are income and/or asset requirements if you are applying for Permanent or Temporary status. Check on this with the Embassy as you will need to support this with statements. Generally speaking, as of 2022, for a Temporary visa, the income requirement is about $2,600USD/month or about $43,000 investments, while Permanent visa status requires about $4,300USD/month or $173,000USD investments (check with the embassy). In 2023, this has gone about 20% higher! Focus covers an alternative solution with much lower requirements in our education programs for those that fall short of these requirements.
Some couples find that only one spouse “passes” – so that spouse applies for the immigration visa, while the other waits with a Tourist status. Then once their spouse has established residency status, they can apply as their spouse. Again, work with the Embassy or an immigration consultant.
If you drive a car into Mexico as a tourist, you will need to get a sticker that will allow the car in the country for the length of your stay. If you are retiring in Mexico and want to bring your car with you, then think twice. It is a complex and usually expensive undertaking to nationalize your foreign car in Mexico. Much easier to buy a car in Mexico (very competitive pricing) or even consider getting by without a car. Yes, it can be done, and many do this by making use of the excellent bus system and taxis.
Health and Medical Issues
Mexico’s medical system is one of the many positives about living there. Well-trained, compassionate bi-lingual doctors are the norm. Waiting lists for procedures are non-existent or extremely short. Many of Guadalajara’s hospitals are world-class with the latest technology. Most (but not all) medications are available at Lakeside.
For those coming from the US, keep in mind Obamacare will not work outside of the US. Those from Canada should check the rules of their province, but generally are covered up to 6-7 months while out of province.
Canadians used to free medical care will need to budget for out-of-pocket medical costs in Mexico – but most find it to be quite affordable. As a rough measure, the uninsured medical cost of procedures is about 1/3 the cost of the same procedure done in the US, but of course, this varies with the details.
For those moving to Mexico, there are a number of government run and private health care programs. This is an area of much personal variety in terms of what people decide on, but suffice it to say, you have a lot of options.
Tourists will need travel insurance in Mexico unless you already have a plan that covers you for excursions abroad. Important to check this out before coming and to get additional insurance if need be.
Take the “Exploratory Trip” to truly kick the tires
If your research and “due diligence” still have you encouraged and you’ve decided that the Lake Chapala area is likely your next chapter in life, your next step is to “kick the tires”. It’s time to plan a trip to the area. This is when you will want to confirm, that what you thought was true, is indeed true. And more importantly, it is your chance to get a feel for the “lay of the land”. How are the people really, how does it feel to be a foreigner on the streets of Ajijic or Chapala? What is the food like? How easy is it to get around? What areas would you consider living in – subdivisions, gated communities, or in the heart of a village? …and so on.
While it is possible to “do-it-yourself”, Focus On Mexico’s educational course on life at Lakeside was designed exactly for this stage in your moving process. The Focus On Mexico team holds in-depth 6-Day Fast Track Seminar and Online Programs. Getting first-hand information in a small group setting – either live or online – is the right formula – according to the hundreds of Focus Alumni who have taken the programs. Focus Programs provide the information and advice you need and provide the space to get answers to your specific questions.
Hearing from actual local experts present in their area of expertise helps you know you are getting the right information. The live at Lakeside Focus Seminar built a lot of fun to the experience with excursions to Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque, Chapala, and Ajijic. We build in time for shopping, exploration, and sampling a variety of excellent local restaurants. Because the essential information keeps changing, many Focus Alumni take advantage of sitting in on the educational part of the program at no cost after they move to Lakeside (free for 5 years after your first program).
All the Best With Your “Due Diligence”!
- Do your research
- Understand what the key areas are
- Decide if Lake Chapala is worthy of your “next chapter” and,
- Schedule your “Exploratory Trip”
Those are steps to make the dream real. Questions? Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to sign up for our free email newsletter (see sidebar) to get notices when new articles get posted on the Focus website. Ready for more? Then sign up for our 6-Day Fast Track Seminar and/or Online Programs.