How to Retire Part-Time In Paradise

The snowbird approach to retirement for as little as $1,200 per month.

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The snowbird approach to retirement isn't new. Retirees from upstate New York and the Dakotas have been migrating south for the winter for decades. The difference today is that they're migrating farther south. Mexico, for example, has become an established choice among Americans looking to escape winter back home by spending that season in far sunnier climates.

[See 10 Historic Places to Retire.]

Akaisha and Bill Kaderli have been spending part of every year in Chapala, Mexico for nearly two decades. "In the 19 years since we retired, we've spent about 30 percent of our time in the States,” says Akaisha. “The rest of the time we're on the road, using Chapala, Mexico as a travel base.”

Chapala certainly qualifies as a bargain retirement haven. The Kaderlis live here comfortably on less than $50 per day, including housing, food, transportation, entertainment, and in-country travel. They eat well, play tennis, socialize, and travel comfortably. As they put it, they want for nothing.

The low cost-of-living is an important reason for relocating to Chapala, but the culture is an even bigger draw. “In Chapala, horses wander down the cobblestone streets, with and without their owners, vendors sell their wares door-to-door, and the houses are painted whatever color is on sale at the paint store,” says Akaisha. “We hear mariachi music from nearby restaurants wafting through the air each afternoon starting around 4. This place is colorful, engaging, and teeming with life.”

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Chapala is one of the largest expatriate communities in the world and a very comfortable place for Americans to retire overseas. Exactly how much it would cost you to retire here depends on your lifestyle, of course, including the kind of house you choose to rent or buy, how often you dine out, and how you choose to entertain yourself and your friends. You could live well here on about $1,500 a month. A more modest lifestyle could cost you as little as $1,200 per month.

Housing will be your biggest expense. In Chapala you could rent a small, modest apartment for about 4,000 pesos per month. At the current rate of exchange between the Mexican peso and the U.S. dollar, that’s less than $400. Of course, you could spend a lot more. If you rent through a real estate agent, the price likely will be listed in dollars and it will be higher. Try to rent from a local Mexican and to pay your rent in pesos.

[See 7 Affordable Places to Retire Abroad.]

You won’t need to own a car in Chapala. This is an easy place to be car-free. Local buses run every few minutes on a daily basis. Phone and wireless Internet services are likely to cost about $35 a month.

One of the nicest things about retiring to a place like Chapala is that you may be able to afford things that would qualify as luxuries back home. It costs 14 pesos (right now, that’s less than $1.50) per kilo to have your laundry washed, pressed, and folded, for example. And a maid service is as little as $2.50 to $5 per hour. You can have your hair cut for $4. A ticket to a matinee movie is $2.50.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.