You might be making plans to start pulling from your social security benefits soon. And if you’re considering retiring in Mexico, you might be wondering how you can afford to retire with social security alone.
To help you determine if this is possible for you, I’ll highlight how you can join the thousands of retired ex-pats living in Mexico on social security alone. I will cover what type of lifestyle you can expect, how to qualify for residency, planning for healthcare, and some watch-outs that can eat into your fixed income.
Because there are many different social security benefit amounts, I think it’s important to establish an average. According to US News, AARP, and many other publications, the average social security check is USD 1,543 in 2021. You might never be able to retire on that in the U.S. However, considering Mexico’s lower cost of living, retiring in Mexico is absolutely doable!
Let me explain…
Yes, you can absolutely live in Mexico for $1500/month. Many people already do it. The trick is having and sticking to a budget.
You’ll have to set a realistic budget for a rental, health insurance, groceries, eating out, transportation, and entertainment. You’ll probably have to shop at mercados or farmer’s markets to buy fresh produce instead of big-box grocery stores.
You should also expect to take public transportation instead of buying or owning a vehicle. In Mexico, the cost of gasoline is $4-$5 dollars a gallon or $83-$95 pesos a liter. However, most people do just fine getting around on public transportation or foot, especially in smaller cities like Ajijic or San Miguel de Allende.
I’d also like to point out that some cities like Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende tend to be more expensive than other very similar cities. But if you look at rentals from word of mouth or by exploring the city and finding “se renta” signs, you are more likely to find better deals. Another advantage of living in SMA or Ajijic is the weather and the savings on your electric bill. Hardly anyone in these cities has air conditioning or heating. That alone can save you 100 dollars or more monthly on heating or cooling costs than coastal towns.
What’s even better is that not only will you be able to afford to retire, but in most cases, you can even hire some services that seem almost like a luxury back home. In Mexico, we hire a maid that comes 2x/week for less than $15/a day, and a gardener that comes once a month for less than $20 dollars. Our maid helps us out with cleaning, washing clothes, folding and putting away clothes, and also cooks on occasion. She is lovely, and very reliable. But more importantly, I don’t have to do it. And when you retire here, you won’t have to either if it fits in your budget.
Cost of Living
To give you an idea of just how you can stay within a $1500/month budget here is a quick breakdown for someone living in Ajijic/Chapala Jalisco:
- 2 Bed 2 Bath Condo. $600/Month. It is fully furnished, it has a community pool, bbq area, and plenty of green space to enjoy sunbathing.
- Utilities (electric, water, and gas) $30/Month
- Groceries for 1 Person: $200/Month
- Mexico Only Health Insurance $150/Month
- Taxis/Ubers/Didi $50/Month
- Public Transportation: $20/Month
- High-speed Internet (50Mbps+) : $25/Month
- Restaurants (eating out 2x/week) $200/Month
- Entertainment: (movies, theater, or similar) $100/Month
- Savings (setting money aside for big emergencies) $125
- TOTAL :$1500/MONTH
You can see that not only is it possible to live on $1,500/month in Mexico, but you can actually live very comfortably! I also noted that it’s important to set some money aside each month for emergencies. For example, you should always try to set some money aside each month for those unexpected things like getting dental work done. Or perhaps you might need to plan for a big trip back home to visit family. Either way, having some savings is necessary and smart.
If you’d like a few more examples of other people’s expenses while living in Mexico, check out this interview with Sue and Paul in Huatulco. Or check out how April and her family of 4 live on less than $2,000 dollars a month.
Residency Income Requirements
And now that you’ve worked out your budget you might be getting excited knowing that you can afford to retire on your social security income! But there’s one caveat. $1,500/Month isn’t enough for the Mexican Immigration Government to grant you a resident visa. So I’ll cover how you can qualify further on.
The chart below will give you a baseline of income requ8irements by residency type. And I mention baseline because, in order to apply for residency in Mexico, you have to start the process at a Mexican consulate in your home country. And every Mexican consulate has different income requirements to apply. I don’t understand it either, but that’s how things are.
Some Mexican Consulates will grant you a temporary resident visa with as little as $1,500/month in income or $25,000 in savings (Dallas, Texas and Denver, Colorado). And some Mexican consulates (for example, Austin, Texas) require you to have more than $2,500/month in income or more than $40,000 in savings. So it’s a big range. So to try and help you decide if you’re in the ballpark, the chart above gives you a good range.
To add a bit of complexity to the process, some consulates require you to be over 60 to apply for permanent residency. I guess they assume that only people over 60 can afford to retire?
So what happens if your social security benefit doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for you to obtain residency in Mexico? Well, most people end up relying on their savings to prove financial independence. That means that if you’re one of the people whose social security benefit is less than the minimum requirement at the consulate nearest you; then you’ll have to start beefing up your savings account.
Here is a list of all Mexican Consulates and Embassies around the world. Each one should have their income requirements for residency.
A Few Money Saving Tips
One thing you don’t want to do is move to Mexico, and end up eating into all your savings because you didn’t plan for some expenses. So here are a few watch-outs that can surprise you and your wallet.
- Rent! Don’t buy. Buying real estate in Mexico can be very enticing, but I highly suggest renting for at least 6 months. If you don’t like your area, you can easily pack up and go to a different area when you rent. If you own your home, this is less possible.
- Sell your car before moving. Owning a car in Mexico has become increasingly more expensive with time. Gasoline costs keep going up, and public transportation is cheap and readily available. Most cities have a mixture of residential and commercial. Therefore most neighborhoods are walkable and easy to navigate.
- Only bring what you need! Hiring a moving company to bring your things to Mexico can be very expensive, and in most cases, rentals come furnished. So, it’s always better to downsize, and start fresh. You’ll be able to find everything you need in Mexico, don’t worry.
- Buy local health insurance. Most retirees coming to Mexico are surprised when they get sick with a costly illness, and don’t have insurance. At the very least, I highly recommend buying local health insurance that will cover you in Mexico. Yes, healthcare in Mexico is very affordable in most cases. But if you end up needing chemotherapy, dialysis, or major surgery the costs can quickly add up if you are paying out of pocket.
- Always save some money. It can be very liberating to have a fixed income for the rest of your life that you can live on without a worry! But it’s still a good idea to set some of that income aside for an emergency. That way you’re not forced to take out a loan or use a credit card with a high-interest rate.
So Why Wait?
I know many people who worked their whole lives, and saved as much as they could afford only to find out they’ll never be able to retire. When they start budgeting their lives without their normal income, and counting on social security alone they quicklt realize they can’t afford not to work. Most of these people are in their 60s and the thought of working another 10 years seems depressing.
But luckily, there’s a way! And if your social security alone doesn’t give you enough income for you to be able to retire in Mexico comfortably, you can always count on a few side hustles like teaching English online, remote customer service jobs, or other part-time opportunities that can help you fund your freedom overseas. One of the silver linings that Covid brought to our modern world, is the need for remote workers. Many companies are realizing that remote employees are just as efficient as in-person workers. And the same companies are realizing they can save a lot of money on overhead without the need for a big expensive office. Luckily for you, that means more and more opportunities to continue a job from anywhere in the world!
The point is, you only have one life. It isn’t a dress rehearsal, and you’ll never regret having worked more on your death bed. If you’re interested in learning more about living, traveling, and the cost of living in Mexico, check out my other blog posts. Visit www.MexicoRelocationGuide.com and don’t forget to subscribe.