The Riviera Maya has become a tourism magnet for visitors from around the world, as evidenced by the remarkable speed of its economic recovery from the global pandemic. It’s no surprise, then, that the number of expats choosing to relocate and settle permanently there has also seen consistent growth over the last number of years; with just over 6% of all expats in Mexico (about 70,000 persons) residing in the surrounding areas. So what makes this jewel of the Caribbean so attractive to everyone from young bohemians to retiring baby boomers?
First, the obvious: an unparalleled beach climate! The average temperature stays just about perfect (that’s not a scientific term, but live here for a few years and tell me it doesn’t feel like tropical Groundhog’s Day minus Bill Murray). A sunny living environment carries remarkable health benefits, including boosting Vitamin D and serotonin levels, lowering blood pressure, and reducing tiredness (say goodbye to that second cup of coffee).
Anna Sanders, a retired teacher from Toronto, has lived just south of Cancun for 6 years with her husband Tim. “We used to come down every winter when the kids were young. I struggled with seasonal depression and it was always such an encouragement to be here,” Anna relates. “By the time we were ready to retire it just made sense to relocate.” She’s not alone, 78% of expats participating in a recent Trip Advisor survey listed “climate” as one of their top 3 motivations for moving. And while many of those searching for warmer weather are retirees, changes in the way we work continue to expand the expat demographic in the Riviera Maya as well.
Paul Ewing is a 39 year old IT specialist living in Playa del Carmen. “I was working in Little Rock, but when the pandemic hit my job became 100% remote. I realized it made no difference to my employer and I had always dreamed of living in the Caribbean, so I took a risk and moved to Playa. Being so close to the water has changed my whole quality of life.”
Alongside beautiful weather, the second reason many expats choose the Riviera Maya is the investment in high quality infrastructure. The revenue derived from tourism plays a significant role in the Mexican economy, approaching 10% of her annual GDP. This creates an economic incentive cycle directly benefiting expats – The government pours money into Cancun and the Riviera Maya to make it more attractive to visitors, private businesses see the growth of tourism and build beautiful communities, better grocery stores and restaurants etc, and more tourists continue to arrive as a result, which just kick-starts the cycle again.
This becomes obvious when you travel to the Riviera Maya – Cancun International Airport is the second busiest in Mexico (behind Mexico City) and boasts an impressive list of nonstop flights all over the world. This means expats don’t have to worry about traveling home quickly in case of emergency or receiving visits from family and friends.
Beyond that, sophisticated healthcare by world class medical groups like CostaMed has not only lead to the rise of medical tourism in the area, it has also provided consistent, high quality healthcare on par with what expats expect in their home countries (often at a lower cost, we’ll get to that shortly!).
Further, the steady stream of visitors means that when expats are tired of going to the beach, there are unending arts, entertainment, culinary, and educational options nearby and easily accessible. You can start your day visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site, grab an early dinner on the water, and spend your evening enjoying Cirque du Soleil.
Amazing weather and sophisticated infrastructure are great, but pairing those with affordability is what seals the deal for many expats on moving to the Riviera Maya. A favorable exchange rate from the US or Canada and a relatively low cost of living mean that expats coming from those places are able to live quite well for a lot less. This is especially true if you are willing to venture out of strictly “tourist” environments.
Diego and Liz Rodriguez moved to the Riviera Maya in 2018 from Chicago. “We’ve spent 50-60% less than we did back home, and we are enjoying life now more than ever,” he reported. “We know the local markets now so save on groceries, we have one vehicle we hardly use, and we rarely touch the air conditioning if the windows are open. I feel far better about our finances and our retirement being down here.”
For all of its advantages, remember that Mexico is still a different country with distinct laws, business practices, and traditions that expats must take the time to adjust to. The volume of expats moving into the area means new resources continue emerging to help with this adjustment, including online tools like Mexify.biz. Mexify was started by a group of expats who love the Riviera Maya and want to help others transitioning here. It provides an online directory for the Riviera Maya catering specifically to expats, with reviews of local businesses, how-to guides for getting things done in a different culture, and interviews allowing you to meet trusted local partners. If you live in the Riviera Maya or are considering moving here, the “Explore” tool on their website is a great starting place for getting to know businesses and resources in the areas you’re looking at.
Increasing numbers of expats keep moving to the Riviera Maya for all sorts of reasons, three of the most important being the weather, the infrastructure, and the cost of living. While all of those factors can be found individually in other places, the confluence of all three in the Riviera Maya make the region uniquely accessible and welcoming for expats of all ages and financial situations.