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More Canadians Are Choosing La Paz as Their Place in the Sun  

Kayaking on the Sea of Cortez near La Paz, Mexico
Credit: Jack Hamilton

More Canadians are choosing La Paz as their place in the sun. Take Chanel Graham and her husband, Troy, for instance. They were 30 and 31 respectively when they moved to La Paz five years ago, decades younger than the normal age of retirees moving to the country.

But now, post-COVID, they are being joined by dozens of “digital nomads” who work on-line for U.S. and Canadian companies and are able to live in Mexico or anywhere in the world.

Channel, Troy and Aria Graham in Los Cabos, Mexico
Channel, Troy and Aria Graham

“The trend is a lot of younger people are moving here,” said Graham, who is originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, as is her husband. “In 2017, when we moved here, we were the youngest (expats) in La Paz. “But since COVID a lot of digital nomads have moved here from Canada, the U.S., Germany, England and New Zealand.”

Graham, who is now a realtor with Baja Life Realty (her husband doesproperty management), said La Paz, which is the capital of Baja California Sur, is attracting an increasing number of expats and snowbirds of all ages.

As a Canadian, who comes from a city where winter temperatures can plunge to minus 50, she said she and her husband will “never” move back to Canada. “We don’t have a single regret,” she said. “The only regret I have is that we didn’t buy an ocean view house earlier.”

Instead, they rented a house for two years, then bought in the popular El Centenario neighborhood, about a 15-minute drive from La Paz, a city with a population of about 250,000. Houses there with two-bedrooms, two-baths and a pool, as well as with ocean view, sell for about US$300,000 to $350,000. She said there is a wide variety of housing options in the area, with similar sized homes in La Paz itself, that have a communal pool and sell for $180,000 U.S. or so. But there are also some high-end areas, where houses can cost as much as US$1 million.

However, as with much of Mexico, ongoing housing maintenance costs are low. For instance, the property taxes for her home are about US$300 a year. The most significant cost is for electricity (it gets hot and humid there in the summer). But even that is reasonable, since power costs are subsidized, with a cost of about US$325 for two months during the summer. Rates in the cooler winter months are very inexpensive.

She and her husband were able to move to La Paz because they had done well in business in Canada. She ran a marijuana home delivery business in the country, where marijuana use was legalized about five years ago, a business she subsequently sold.
They had vacationed in Baja and “fell in love” with La Paz after spending some time there.

She has given birth to a daughter since the move. Their daughter, now two-and-a-half, was born in Central De Especialidads Medicas, a private hospital used by many expats. It was a complicated, Cesarean delivery, which cost a little over US$2,200 ($3,000 Canadian). She said the procedure and care were both exceptional.

The healthcare there is so good, she said many older Canadians, who now have to wait years for hip or knee surgeries, opt to get surgeries there.

One negative of La Paz – and she can’t think of many – is that the local airport has few international flights. Most who fly to the area need to land at the airport in Los Cabos, about a two hour drive away. However, she said some can now fly to the local airport from locations such as Phoenix.

In any case, many expats and snowbirds drive to the area from points farther north. It’s about a four-or-five-day drive from Edmonton, for instance, which is the most northerly city in North America with a population over one million.

Both she and her husband have many family members back in Canada, including parents. But, thanks to today’s technology, like FaceTime, their daughter sees and talks to relatives on a regular basis.

She returned to Edmonton this summer for two months; the first time since the pandemic. Even though the weather was warm by Canadian standards (it was in the high 70s F and in the high 20s C), it was too cold for her to go swimming with friends. “I’ve acclimatized,” she joked.

She said the expat and snowbird community in La Paz is large and growing, with several sports options, get-togethers and a wide variety of restaurant and entertainment venues.

Elizabeth Schaal sailing on the Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Elizabeth Schaal

Tom Philip and his wife, Elizabeth Schaal, who are aged 70 and 66 respectively, will also be making their “home” in La Paz. In the case of the two retired Canadian journalists, though, that home is a dock where they will moor their 37-foot sailboat, where they plan to spend most of their time now that they have retired to Mexico.

“We did a big trip in 2019, where we spent five weeks sailing on the Sea of Cortez,” he said. “Now we’ve rented an Airbnb in La Paz, where we’ll moor our boat.”

They plan to spend several months each year on the Sea of Cortez, which famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau called “the aquarium of the world.”

They will maintain a presence in Victoria, Canada, where they have a rented apartment, but Philip said it’s likely Mexico will become their permanent home. They have traveled extensively in the country. Elizabeth traveled to Veracruz 20 years ago as a single woman and fell in love with the country.

Tom Phillip on the Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Tom Phillip

Philip, who had never been to Mexico (Netflix movies about “narcos” had made him reluctant to do so), traveled with her for the first time in 2017. “I loved it,” he said. “It’s a beautiful culture, with a rich history and warm and kind people.”

After they both retired from working at major Canadian publications, they had tried living for four years on a farm in a remote part of the Canadian province of Ontario. It wasn’t for them.

They then bought a sailboat, which they spent summers on. That, plus their time traveling in Mexico, led to the decision to live a life as sailors in the country. They sold their boat in Canada and subsequently bought their current sailboat in Baja.

Although the boat itself was about the same price as it would be in Canada, they discovered that equipment and parts are more costly in Mexico, thanks to heavy import duties and retail mark-ups. However, once one owns a boat, ongoing costs are minimal. “It’s a cost-efficient way to live,” he said. “I estimate it will cost us about US$1,000 a month.”

He said there is little to compel them to move back to Canada, since he has no surviving relatives and Elizabeth has two brothers in Toronto, who she can keep up with via emails and phone calls.

As for losing access to the “free” public health care system in Canada, he said that’s definitely not a concern. They are on a waiting list to be patients of a general practitioner in Victoria, along with thousands of others. Meanwhile, healthcare in Mexico is readily accessible very good and very inexpensive. “So much for the much-vaunted Canadian health care system,” he said.