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Boomers seek blue skies and mild winters in Mexico

If the latest real estate boom in Baja is any indication, Mexico is fulfilling many baby boomers’ dreams.As the boomers get closer to retirement age, many of them are seeking the perfect retirement spot: somewhere warm, aesthetically pleasing, inexpensive, with lots of opportunities for an active lifestyle.Janet and Ken Plake, who currently live in Peyton, are building a contemporary home in Los Barriles on the Baja Peninsula. They expect to live there six months out of the year.Patti Pak and husband Steve, originally from Boulder, live and run a business in Ajijic, a small town south of Guadalajara on Lake Chapala. Patti owns a jewelry studio, and is a member of a large artist community.Both couples live in areas where many U.S. and Canadian citizens have decided to retire. They love the easy-going lifestyle, climate and wonderful scenery, but warn it is important to research Mexican property and visa laws before moving.Plake advises people who want to move to Mexico to check out a number of areas in the country before buying property there. “Rent first,” she said, “because you can’t get to know an area during a two-week vacation.” She added, after visiting Mexico for many years, “We just happened upon Los Barriles, which is a sleepy little fishing village. There’s fishing in the summer, and kite wind-surfing in the winter.”The U.S. State Department Web site offers advice about obtaining visas and buying property in Mexico, and additional information can be found on the Ajijic real estate Web site. Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution prohibits foreign ownership of real property located within 30 miles of the coastline or 60 miles of the border. Therefore, the Plakes, and anyone else wishing to build in Baja, have to purchase their home through a “Fideicomiso” bank trust.Plake explained, “This is a 50-year trust, not a lease. In the past, many people were burned thinking they had purchased a 30-year lease on their land. When, in fact, the maximum lease in Mexico is for 10 years, and most of those are only available for mobile home property. But the trust is obtained through a Mexican bank. The agreement is recorded; it allows you to sell the property, lease it, rent it, and it’s renewable every 50 years. Plus, the trust is even transferable to your heirs.”She also insists that everyone should get American Title Insurance on their property, hire a reputable architect before building and have all real estate documents translated to English before signing them.”We live far enough away from the coast that we were able to buy our property outright in Ajijic. Just like in the U.S., we have a deed to the property,” Steve Pak said. However, “obtaining a mortgage through Mexican banks is impossible, although some U.S. banks will finance real estate purchases in Mexico, most property is purchased with cash.”That does not mean all Mexican property is inexpensive. “People come down here expecting to build a home for $50 to $75 a square foot, but it’s more like $100 or more a square foot to build a home with an ocean view,” Plake said.And even real estate prices away from the coast have increased dramatically in recent years. “We purchased our home two years ago, but today we could sell it for double our purchase price.”According to the U.S. State Department Web site, anyone visiting Mexico for more than 72 hours should obtain the FM-T, or tourist card visa, that allows visitors to remain in the country for six months, but it doesn’t give them permission to work in Mexico.Snowbirds often like to obtain an FM-3 visa, also known as a renter’s visa. The Ajijic Web site reports, “Rentista” status is granted to anyone over age 51, who has a monthly income of $1,000 or more. U.S. citizens may stay in Mexico for as long as they like, own property and operate vehicles with foreign plates.Those wanting to permanently live in Mexico should get an FM-2 visa. Qualifications for this visa are only slightly more stringent than FM-3 requirements. After five years, it conveys “Immigrado” status – granting immigrants most of the same rights as Mexican citizens, except the right to vote. Holders can own property, work and remain in Mexico without having to renew their immigration papers or give up their U.S. citizenship.”Moving to Mexico is not for the faint of heart,” Janet Plake said. “There are advantages and disadvantages. She doesn’t like the pollution, especially the litter, but loves the inexpensive fresh fruit, fish and meat raised without hormones. The biggest benefit for her is being away from the hustle and bustle experienced in the states, she said.Pak said the lack of hustle and bustle was an adjustment. “I learned to take a book with me wherever I go, because I know I’m going to have to wait, and now when I return to the states, I’m overwhelmed by the way people rush around,” he said.Bribes, the lack of actual police protection and pollution are bothersome to Pak.”You have to keep a supply of pesos in your wallet at all times in order to pay bribes, whether you’re getting permits for your home or paying traffic fines. In fact, I was shocked to learn my homeowners association set aside 30,000 pesos ($2,855) to bribe the assessor to lower the property tax on our homes,” he said.Although he doesn’t think crime is a major problem in rural Mexico, he said, “You are often better off not calling the police.” He added that drug gangs are a problem near the border, in Guadalajara and other large cities.While the area around Lake Chapala is beautiful, the water is polluted and litter is a problem throughout the country, Pak said.Working in Mexico requires a work permit, and running a business has its own set of problems. Patti Pak said she has trouble finding quality gems and silver for her jewelry making business. And Mexico places heavy duties on imports from China, so jewelry supplies from outside of Mexico can be expensive.”You don’t have to speak Spanish to live there, but it helps, and the locals always appreciate it if you try to speak their language,” Plake said. Pak concurred, “The menu in one restaurant we go to has English on one side and Spanish on the other. I’ve noticed the prices are different for the same meal, but that’s no problem if you order from the Spanish side.”Still, more baby boomers are moving south every day. Modern technology has also made living in a foreign country easier. Pak, talking over his local Denver connection while in Mexico, said cell phones, ATMs and the Internet make it easy to conduct business and stay in touch with people back home.Plake said ATMs are scattered throughout the country, and she was pleasantly surprised to find Mexico so technologically advanced. “The one thing I don’t have, and do not miss, is television,” she said.Plake could only think of one thing she misses when she is in Mexico, “I miss my cats, but soon I will be able to bring them along, too.”For more information about retiring in Mexico, visit and

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