Retiring in Mexico: The Criteria We Used to Pick the Perfect Location

Akumal Bay (Source: Q-Roo Paul)

We occasionally hear from readers who have decided to retire in Mexico, but they’re not really sure where to go. They write asking for our advice about different areas of the country and housing options available.

Obviously, I don’t have some type of sixth sense when it comes to matching people with the perfect place to retire, so the most I can do is tell them what criteria we used to narrow down our options when we moved down.

This article is longer than most of my articles, feel free to break it up by taking about halfway through.

Why We Live Where We Do

Mexico is a large country with a very diverse landscape. It doesn’t matter if you are a beach person or a mountain person, there is something in Mexico for you.

For us, it has always been the white sand beaches and turquoise waters of the Caribbean that called to us. We absolutely love the relaxed, laid-back Caribbean lifestyle and Mexico offers it at a price we can afford.

That basically means that our search area was reduced to a roughly 200 mile stretch of coastline along the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the Mexican State of Quintana Roo.

There are a lot of amazing destinations located along that stretch and we loved visiting most of them when we used to come down on vacation. So, in order to narrow it down even further, we considered numerous factors — here are the top eight:

1) Safety and Security

As a retired law enforcement officer, this was the most important to me personally.

I spent hours analyzing crime data online and reading through old news reports related to crime from across the Riviera Maya.

As I’ve said in previous posts, relying solely on statistical data (e.g. homicide rate) can very misleading without including data about geography and victimology. The news reports helped me fill in that missing data and I determined that the majority of the state was very safe for both tourists and expats. In many ways, it’s safer than many areas in Florida where I worked as a deputy sheriff.

As you travel around Mexico and explore local neighborhoods, you can’t help but notice that many of the residences and businesses have one or more of the following: high walls; bars on the windows and doors; broken glass shards on the top of the exterior walls; barbed or razor wire; and even electric fences to block people from climbing over the walls or jumping over from a neighboring roof top.

These common property additions aren’t done for aesthetic reasons, unfortunately burglaries and thefts can be a problem in many areas.

That’s why we knew that we wanted to live in a gated community with security. We planned on traveling a lot and we wanted to reduce the chances of our home getting broken into while we were away.

2) Population

We didn’t want to live in a densely populated urban area  because of the increased noise, traffic, pollution and crime. This eliminated Cancun and Playa del Carmen from our list of possible destinations.

3) Proximity to an international airport

We wanted to live within two hours of an international airport. The closest one in this area is in Cancun, so anything south of Tulum was eliminated from the list.

4) Ease of Travel

One of our favorite pastimes is exploring the Yucatan and seeing everything that it has to offer.

Since we do this quite regularly, we decided to eliminate the islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres from our list. We didn’t want to deal with the hassle and expense of regularly transporting our car by ferry to the mainland.

5) Investment Potential

We wanted a property that would also serve as a sound investment and offered the possibility of rental income, in the event that we ever chose to go that route.

6) Community 

This is a big one that a lot of people overlook. We have met several expats who tell us that they feel lonely and isolated in their particular development.

We live in a community that promotes interaction between residents. Sometimes it is difficult to keep up with all of the invitations to go out to dinner, go to the beach, or just stop by the condo to socialize.

I believe one of the reasons we have had such an easy transition into life in Mexico is because of the community we live in.  From the first day we arrived, we began meeting neighbors, who later became good friends.  These individuals played an integral role in helping us get adjusted to our new life.

7) Access to Quality Medical Care

Even though we didn’t want to live in a densely populated area — I mentioned that one before — we still wanted to be close enough to one that has multiple well-equipped private medical facilities. Both Cancun and Playa del Carmen meet this requirement.

8) Access to Beaches

When choosing an area or development, it is important to consider both current and future beach access. Just because you have access to a local beach today, doesn’t mean that you will still have access five years down the road when they put a hotel there. We’ve seen this problem in more populated areas such as Cancun.

Where Did We End Up?

We ended up buying a condo about 20 minutes south of Playa del Carmen that checked all of the boxes, including beach access.

We’ve been here for over three years now — and even though we travel frequently and see a lot of places — we still haven’t found another place where we would rather live.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Everyone is different, so your list of criteria will likely differ from ours. The important thing is that you are happy and safe wherever you end up calling home.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

37 Comments on "Retiring in Mexico: The Criteria We Used to Pick the Perfect Location"

  1. Albert Davidian | November 26, 2018 at 10:24 am | Reply

    so you live in PA? 🙂

    • No, but not far from there.

      • Hi, your search criteria and employment history are the same as mine! I will be retiring in 4-5 years and am starting my research now for a place to live full time or over the winter months.
        I don’t need your home address, but what City or town did you buy?
        Do you recommend a Realtor or Agency?
        Thanks!

        • Hi Julie,

          We don’t like to publish where we live; however, if you send us a request via the contact form, we’ll send you the information. And yes, we can give you some recommendations for real estate agents.

  2. Hi Paul, I live in the same area of Mexico as you but I find beach access a huge problem. We live across the highway from X-Cacel but cannot enjoy a morning beach walk because access is after 9. Out by 5 so no sunsets either! No more than 300 at the beach at a time so no access during Mexican holidays. Private resorts control most of the beach, even Akumal if you wander too far. And access to Akumal has become a nightmare. Wonder if you would consider a post on this issue with tips on those accessible beaches you talk about.

    • As the Riviera Maya becomes more developed, beach access is certainly a problem. That’s a great story idea, I will add it to the list of possible future topics.

      By the way, the list of possible future topics now has 131 topics on it. I need to stop vacationing all the time and start writing more…lol.

  3. Think 1st criteria, beach or no beach, is most critical. We like to visit beaches periodically but much prefer history, art and more balanced weather so the Bajio and San Miguel was a no brainer

  4. Enjoy your posts! What is your opinion on safety in central Mexico– Guanajuato City or SAN Miguel?

  5. Excellent article Paul. We also found that a smaller centre with a great sense of community is one of the reasons we enjoy our Mexican home.

  6. I agree we traveled all over Mexico to Cancun and back north. We visited many areas we also wanted to be near the beach but not on the beach. We ended up back in Mazatlan we liked it the first time we visited. We like the city it has great restaurants on the beaches, a lot of history in the centro area. We bought a home 5 miles from the beach in a small village, the locals are wonderful people and good neighbors. Weather was also important right now our high is 82-85 but we cool down in the 60’s. The summer is hot but that for us is the time to travel to the higher elevations.

  7. We’ve already purchased in your area and will be moving down at some point. I’ve been dreaming of living there since we visited on our honeymoon in 1995. A couple of points you make may be a double edged sword. Population and Investment. Likewise, both are among reason we made the decision to invest there. The problem being, possibly, that as the properties increases in value, the population increases and/or vice verse… So population growth is a good thing….. and a not so good thing… The area is DEFINETLY booming.. Thanks for doing all the homework for us!

  8. When we first flew into Cancun (2015) we rented a car and spent 17 days exploring and drove all over the Yucatan Peninsula looking for our spot. Yes there is a lot more to Mexico but the Yucatan has been the safest area in all of Mexico for years and that was important.
    We finally decided on the Progreso area. We are close to Merida which has world class hospitals,restaurants, lots of amenities and the airport is close. . Unfortunately it doesn’t offer the flights like Cancun does but we can take the ADO bus from Merida directly to the Cancun airport for not very much money plus we get the senior discount.
    This area isn’t for everyone as it has its problems esp. when a norte comes in.
    I would recommend looking around on both sides of Mexico before you settle on a place since there is so much to discover.

  9. What are your recommendation for learning Spanish to the level of conversation?

  10. Three years ago, when we
    visited Playa del Carmen, we thought this was the place to be, close to 5th Ave. After a year living in Playa, we decided it wasn’t for us! Too much concrete –condos, too much noise. So we looked around and found Puerto Aventuras!! So we moved to a beautiful place! Full of nature, jungle-like atmoshere!l Love being close to nature! And a village feeling!
    If we have the desire to return to Playa for a day, easy enough! Not far. Glad we made the change of address.

  11. We are not retired but own a home in Sayulita near Puerto Vallarta. We love the town. It is not our favorite place in Mexico but for living it will be our go to in the future. The town has its growing pains and there are many haters that talk down upon Sayulita on the web but it is a very nice town for community and safety. We like to surf so the Cancun zone while beautiful is not for us. There are other towns Like San Pancho and Lo De Marcos in the vicinity that are quieter and slower paced if you want to be off the beaten path. Guadalajara is 4 hours away soon to be 2.5 hours away when the new road is finished. You have beach and mountains close to home.

  12. Thank you for this article. We have felt the same about San Jose Del Cabo since the 80’s. We have finally made the plunge and purchased a condo on the beach. Your priorities and explanations of such are spot on. They translate well regardless of where in Mexico the decision is made to reside.

  13. Chuck & Carol Rock | November 26, 2018 at 11:33 am | Reply

    Thank you as always!!!

  14. So glad I rented first in Playa del Carmen for three years and then for a year in Puerto Aventuras for year before deciding to buy. After lots of exploring along the coast Puerto Aventuras was the right choice for me. Checked off all the boxes. I love it here.

  15. Does your community have golf and tennis?

  16. Good read.

    My 2 cents is I think the most pressing variable is a real desire & deliberate commitment to relocate to Mexico. Too many folks whose comments I have read over the years have prematurely relocated south of the border only to realize in short time (after the honeymoon) that perhaps paradise isn’t soo much paradise & other more viable appropriate options should have been more thoroughly investigated and thought-through.

    Once the transition is genuine, the factors you delineate offer enough challenge to keep future expats conscientiously doing their homework and planning. I think it is important to understand that such factors vary in degrees of importance as focus upon security, investment return, geography, etc. is relative in measure.

  17. Thank you for this informative blog. My husband and I had some of the same concerns and are very satisfied with our choice also. It is a pleasure reading your blogs. Thank you

  18. So, how do you know about community until after you have purchased? Did you rent there prior to purchasing?

    • I had the same question. We have lived in several places in the US over the course of my career, and even on this side of the border this can be difficult. Very curious to hear how they navigated this.

  19. Great article! it is so very important to move to a community with other expats, would you mind mentioning some communities south of Playa Del Carmen or perhaps doing a
    future article on this. Thanks

  20. Evelyn Latture | November 26, 2018 at 6:42 pm | Reply

    After living in Playa del Carmen for a year, we decided on a change. That’s when we discovered Puerto Adventuras! A beautiful village— nature and trees! We enjoyed our year in Playa, but found it a bit too noisy and too much concrete.
    If we really want to visit 5th Avenue for the day, it’s not that far. We made a wise choice!

  21. Cherry, we love it here, too! Excellent choice! So different from Playa! Evelyn

  22. Thanks for a great article, you checked all of the boxes that one would want to consider!

  23. You rock Roo. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time you do to keep us informed. We recently bought in San Jose del Cabo and are taking on a renovation. We are hearing the costs of running a home here are very expensive. Electricity and Water. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  24. Paul, I have a continuing problem that should fall into your categories of expertise. My wife, family, and I have been vacationing in Playa for over 15 years. Two years ago, we purchased a 2 bedroom condo on the north side of town on 1st Ave., near CTM. I am 60, with white hair. My wife is 53. My question is, how in the world can I get all the people, now including women and children from constantly crossing in front of me on 5th to offer me cocaine. I wish I had a dollar for everything time I’ve heard, “weed, blow?”, or the never ending, “hey, buddy, you want to get high?” Is there some special colored shirt I can wear? I might even consider getting my 1st tattoo if that would work. It’s gotten way worse than it used to be. I now have to literally zig-zag 5th after I have spotted them up ahead. We plan on retiring here someday soon. Is this problem just going to be something that I have to learn to deal with?

  25. Thanks to Paul for these tutorials! We thought Puerto Aventuras was the one until mazatlan grabbed us. Much better fishing and hunting, great music scene and plenty of expats!

  26. Jeanelle Perez | December 12, 2018 at 1:19 am | Reply

    I am retiring soon! Sayulita is my destination. Its a friendly place with charm! Lots to offer. I cant wait to call Sayulita my home! Its about community in this town. I look forward to making a difference.

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