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More Canadians Are Becoming Permanent Residents of Mexico  

Credits: James Mattil | Adobe Stock images

More Canadians are becoming permanent residents of Mexico, and Mazatlán, easily accessible by air or by driving from much of Canada, is becoming the permanent home for many of them.

As with most year-round residents from the U.S., especially northern states, climate is a factor, as is the much lower overall cost of living.

But for Canadians, who have access to publicly-funded healthcare throughout their lives, the decision to cut ties with their homeland means they are also surrendering their free healthcare coverage, since most Canadian provinces only allow their residents to be out of the country for six or seven months a year.

Jan and Cyndi Oster in Mazatlán, Mexico
Jan and Cyndi Oster

Jan and Cyndi Oster, who are originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, have never regretted their move four years ago to the oceanside resort, even though the decision to move year-round to Mazatlán led to some healthcare costs they would not have faced in Canada.

They have lived outside Canada since 2015, having resided in Puerto Vallarta for a year and Barbados and Grenada for a total of 18 months, before moving to Mazatlán four years ago. “I’ve been wanting to live in the tropics since elementary school,” said Cyndi, who is 57. It wasn’t a difficult decision for her husband either, who is 67.

“About 45 years ago I worked helping to build a hotel in Barbados and I knew I would like living in the tropics after that,” he said.

Jan, a former office administrator with the federal government, who still works part-time as a financial advisor, thoroughly researched the move to Mexico, comparing the cost of living, crime and other factors to Costa Rica, Australia and elsewhere. “I put together a spreadsheet looking at 25 different locations worldwide,” he said.

Although they enjoyed the year they spent in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán was the clear winner in that comparison, especially compared to pricey Vancouver. “The cost of living is about 30 percent what it would be in Vancouver,” he said. That includes the cost of renting a newer apartment about four blocks from the ocean. They chose not to buy a car, since their place is close to many stores and taxis and buses in the city are inexpensive, especially by Canadian standards.

But they have faced a cost they wouldn’t have to deal with in Canada, which has a publicly-funded healthcare system. “We had to surrender our Canadian healthcare coverage,” said Cyndi, who is retired from various roles with the Canadian federal government.

Soon after they moved to Mazatlán, she found out that she needed to have stomach surgery to deal with a hiatal hernia, a condition that occurs when the stomach bulges through the large muscle separating the abdomen and chest (diaphragm).

Although the surgery cost them $8,000 Canadian (about US $6,300), she says it was well worth it, since she had suffered from digestive issues previously. The surgery, which happened days after she was diagnosed (it could take years to have surgery in Canada), not only cured the digestive problems, but dealt with the asthma she had suffered from for 20 years.

Last year it was Jan’s turn to confront health issues, since he dealt with a bout of pneumonia and sepsis, a life-threatening medical emergency that happens when an existing infection triggers a chain reaction throughout one’s body.

After an extended hospital stay and treatment, which cost him about $5,000 Canadian (about US$3,900), he is fully recovered. “The healthcare here is fantastic and, unlike in Canada, it’s immediate,” said Cyndi. “I got my surgery done the week after being diagnosed.”

Aside from ready access to medical care, including much cheaper dental care than in Canada, they like the music scene in the port city. “There’s a huge choice here for music lovers (which they both are),” said Cyndi.

Mazatlán is known as the “shrimp capital” of Mexico and both of them enjoy the fresh seafood that is available in the city, at a fraction of the cost it would be in Canada.

They both are studying Spanish, although they say there is so much English spoken in Mazatlán. After four years of living in the city they’re certain of one thing; they’re not moving back to Canada (where they both have adult children and grandchildren). “We love it here,” said Cyndi. “If someone told us we had to leave Mazatlán, I’d be kicking and screaming.”

Chris Davidson in Mazatlán, Mexico
Chris Davidson

For Chris Davidson, who is 68 and single, moving from Canada and leaving behind its public healthcare system wasn’t exactly a revolutionary idea, since she had first done so in 2012, when she moved to Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, where she managed an Ikea store.

She enjoyed the job, after a lifetime of working in retail. What she didn’t know at the time was Ikea has a policy of requiring its senior people to retire once they reach 60. That’s when Mexico and early retirement entered her picture.

“Twenty-two years ago, after I traveled to Mexico, I decided I wanted to live here,” she said.

She had mobility on her side, with a move to a near country not requiring much of an adjustment. Even within Canada, where she worked for various large retailers, she moved a great deal, after being raised in Toronto.

She knew, after her time in Abu Dhabi, she couldn’t afford to retire in Canada, even though she had saved money in a retirement account and would be eligible for Canada’s public pension plan. It was just a question of where Davidson would live in Mexico. She had an old friend who lives in Mazatlán, so it was a logical candidate. She moved there and has lived in the city for almost nine years.

“What I like a lot about Maz is the diversity of the culture,” she said. “I live in a Mexican neighborhood and I speak Spanish and have a lot of Mexican friends.”

She said she enjoys the arts scene in the city, the live entertainment options at the Peralta Theater and the restaurant choices, where one can enjoy fine dining for a third of Canadian prices. She also likes the “ease of travel” from the city, with frequent flights to Mexico City and from there to anywhere in the world.

Like Fournier, she lives comfortably on less than $2,000 Canadian a month (between US$1,500 and $1,600), with her rent, for an older house, being $450 (US$350) a month. She doesn’t own a car, since her place is close to the Plaza Machado and the ocean.

The hot and humid summers don’t bother her, since the weather is much more pleasant than it was in Abu Dhabi.

Davidson has opted to join the Mexican public healthcare system, since she is a permanent resident. “I’m grateful because the Mexican government takes care of us expats,” she said.

In any case, because she is active, which would likely not be the case in wintry Canada, she is healthy.

She is involved in several local volunteer activities and has what she describes as a full life. Would she ever move back to Canada? “Absolutely not,” she said. “I’m living my best life here.”

Frank Daskewech and Colleen Tarant in Mazatlán, Mexico
Frank Daskewech and Colleen Tarant

Colleen Tarrant has lived in the city since 2008 and, after many years of owning businesses in the rough and tumble oilfield service business in Canada, she’s enjoying the weather, the lack of stress and many other aspects of life in the city.

“I operate on very little money,” said Tarrant, who owns an ocean-view condo in the city. “Before, when I lived in Canada, I had a clothing budget of $6,000 a month. Now I know how much I need and how much I want and it’s a lot less than it was in Canada.”

She is from a city called Grande Prairie, an oil and gas and agricultural service center in northwestern Alberta.

Her first trip to Mazatlán was several years ago, when she was president of one of Grande Prairie’s Rotary Club branches. Rotary Clubs from that city have donated 15 school buses, several ambulances, fire trucks and other vehicles to Mazatlán. In total there are more than 100 donated vehicles in the city, as part of its “Highway to Mexico” initiative.

Tarrant said her move to Mazatlán came after she turned 50 and decided there was more to life than working. “I was pretty much a workaholic,” she said. “I had my own company. I was in the oilfield service business, which runs 24-7, so I didn’t really have a life.”

In 2008 she sold the interest in her company and moved to Mazatlán. “I drove down in October of 2008,” said Tarrant, who is single but has a relationship. “It has been the best move of my life.”

She has three adult children back in Canada and five grandchildren and manages to maintain a good relationship with some, despite living in Mexico year-round. She speaks some Spanish.

As for healthcare, she says she can afford to pay for needed medical treatment and credits the healthy lifestyle in Mexico for her good health. She has driven to many parts of Mexico and has also traveled outside of the country.

Tarrant said she will never move back to Canada, where her life was stressful. “It took me two years to stop running when the phone rang,” she said. “Then I realized that I don’t have to run.”