Does the prospect of President Donald Trump make you want to relocate to Canada?

Not so fast: a far sunnier option awaits just south of that mega-wall Donald Trump wants to build along the Rio Grande.

For decades, Mexico has been a top destination for U.S. expatriates, combining the best of maritime, mountain and metropolitan settings with a welcoming local culture, all at a dreamlike cost of living. In fact, the 1 million-plus U.S. expats now living south of the border have earned their own nickname: Mex-pats.

Changes in Latitude

U.S. retirees searching to stretch their fixed income have become the norm in the towns around Lake Chapala south of Guadalajara. Michael Nuschke, a former Air Force brat, moved to Ajijic on the north end of the lake two years ago after living part-time in Mexico for more than five. He now directs Focus on Mexico, a service group that holds seminars to help new Mex-pats acclimate. “I am happy with the way I made my move – gradually. I took it slowly and rented for some years before buying,” he said. “There are a lot of issues to consider, including language, culture and border/immigration rules. Also, many homes actually come furnished because the seller, often from the U.S. or Canada, does not want to foot the cost of shipping back across the border.”

Preparing for Your Move

What makes moving to Puerto Vallarta different from, say, moving to Poughkeepsie? Here’s how the Mex-pat consumer website Mexperience runs it down:

Three months out: For starters, you’ll need U.S. passports and visas for each member of your family; contact your nearest Mexican consulate and allow three months for the latter. Oh, and you’ll need documentation for your pets as well. This is also a good time to contact a relocation specialist and choose the menu of services they will provide to smooth your move.

 Two months out: Time to get quotes from moving companies (you’ll want a mover with international experience), make travel and accommodation arrangements, and check on the status of your visas. With a Resident visa, you’re allowed to bring in most of your personal belongings duty-free, with the exception of certain electrical goods and home appliances that are subject to both duty and taxes. This is also a good time to sell appliances; between the cost to transport them and the favorable exchange rate in Mexico, it probably makes financial sense to jettison them. If you’re bringing a vehicle with you, you’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the permitting process for your destination.

One month out: In addition to the usual move-out chaos, be sure your documents are in order, your unwanted belongings are outbound and you’ve familiarized yourself with how to use your Resident visa at the border. Now is also a good time to pick up some Mexican currency for use on the other end.

“As everyone’s moving experience is unique, with moving to Mexico, there’s an international/intercultural element involved,” said Mexperience editor Matthew Harrup. “That adds additional layers to any narrative.”

Living in Mexico

A smooth home move was the last thing on Alma Maria Rinasz’s mind when she decided to move to central Mexico in 2001. “Right out of college, I made this crazy decision to go to Mexico.” she laughed. “I did it when I was young and stupid. I moved here when I was 23. I didn’t have kids. I just said, ‘Yeah! Let’s try this!’”

Since then, the native New Yorker has married a native Mexican, had a child, divorced, birthed a blog called Life in My Mexico, and been dazzled by her Mex-pat experience. That said, while the exchange rate works for Mex-pat retirees, Rinasz now struggles to make enough money in pesos to keep up with her U.S. student debt.

“Living in Mexico has made me much more appreciative of the differences in socio-economic issues like wages. I studied international relations in college, but now that I live in a developing country, it’s not just an idea anymore; it’s a reality,” she said. “It’s been a real adventure. I feel like the grass sometimes is greener until you get on the other side and find it’s maybe not so much.”

Culture Shock

Though they share a love of the Mex-pat experience, Nuschke and Rinasz have different pet peeves about the downside of heading south.

“You must be aware of the noise levels,” Nuschke warned prospective Mex-pats. “Roosters, dogs, loud-speakers, fireworks at all hours and parties make up a steady stream of audio input. Make sure you scout out the noise levels on any place you might consider buying or renting.”

Rinasz finds her biggest void in something she took for granted stateside.

“Libraries; I miss libraries,” she said. “There are cities in Mexico that have wonderful libraries, but they’re not common.”

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Jay MacDonald