Canadians longing for endless beaches and friendly people are increasingly heading south.
When Christina and Robert Stobbs of North Vancouver first visited Mexico 20 years ago, they fell gobsmacked in love with its white-sand beaches, rich culture, climate and, most of all, Mexico’s “wonderful, friendly people.”
Like other frost-bitten Canadians, they began flying south regularly to seek warmth in the winter. While soaking up the country’s history and traditions they checked Mexico out from stem to stern so when the question of retirement started to loom in their lives, Mexico looked as if it might be more than just a temporary escape from the weather.
“About five years ago we started thinking about buying something there instead of just being snowbirds,” says Christina. “Every time we left to come home we were sorry because we love the people and the culture.”
Last weekend, the Stobbs were among more than a hundred other Vancouverites looking for answers at the first “Canada2Mexico” seminar held in Vancouver for people considering Mexico as a retirement destination. Event planners say that the seminars at Simon Fraser University’s downtown campus Sept. 30 were the first in what will be a series of annual seminars in major cities across Canada to examine the options and benefits of retiring to Mexico.
Seminars on a variety of subjects were headed by experts in the fields of finance, taxation, immigration, real estate and health with a look into all the problems, benefits and formalities that need to be considered before heading for “offshore” retirement.
Garreth Westwood, a specialist in international relocation consulting, unravelled a web of visa formalities anyone thinking about lengthy or permanent residence in Mexico needs to consider.
There are essentially three types of visas; the FMT, the FM2 and FM3. “Snowbirds” only require the FMT tourist visa which allows a 30- to 180-day visit, but limits the amount of household goods that can be brought across the border. For retirees, the FM3 visa renewable annually is the most flexible allowing long-term residence and the possibility of converting to Mexican citizenship after five years in the country.
There are a number of categories and sub-categories, each with its special requirements depending on the professional status of the new resident, if he wants to invest in the country or establish a business. The FM2 visa is primarily for investors.
Reg Cyr, a Toronto-based financial planner, pointed out that by retiring in Mexico you not only get a warmer climate you can also reduce your cost of living and taxes. “Mexico is one destination where this works for many Canadians because Mexico can be called a tax haven,” he says. “By moving to Mexico the bottom line is that you can eliminate or mitigate most taxes while still collecting RRSPs, RRIFs, CPP and OAS.”
While Canada will withhold 15 per cent from these payments as a non-resident tax, Canadians on an FM3 visa are not required to fill out tax forms in Mexico.
“Mexico wants us there,” says Cyr. “Because they’re developing and growing their country, they want foreign currencies.”
Cyr said it was mandatory to plan carefully (especially when your net worth and assets are high) and to work with an experienced financial planner in preparing your exit. Revenue Canada has a long list of requirements that need to be met to avoid later complications.
One of the major concerns with visitors to Mexico is reliable health care since language barriers and cultural differences can make illness a frightening experience for anyone travelling outside his own country.
Dr. Robert Page, an Arizona-based physician, has lengthy experience and an understanding of medical issues in Mexico from which he has built MedToGo, an advisory website (www.medtogo.com) and series of books for travellers who want trustworthy advice on hospitals and physicians in Mexico. In his talk, Dr. Page covered a variety of issues including health insurance available to long-term residents in Mexico ($250 US a year), cited examples of serious problems that have occurred and how they were dealt with by Mexican doctors and gave specific “dos and don’ts.”
For snowbirds who have decided to put down roots, Luis Brasdefer, a consultant based in Canada with expertise in acquiring Mexican real estate, outlined how to buy property legally and safely. Among a number of differences involved in land purchase in Canada and Mexico is the legal requirement that Canadians looking to buy near Mexico’s beaches or borders do so through a bank trustee. Brasdefer cautioned that buyers should do their homework and laid out some of the procedures to follow, the legal issues involved and cautions about purchasing special land categories that affect title.
Safety on the road is one of the major concerns for Canadians who drive to Mexico and stories galore circulate about bandidos and corrupt traffic police.
Rocio Morales with Sanborn’s Insurance described in detail what visitors need to do or take with them before crossing the border with the family car, road conditions, insurance and safety. He also introduced a Vancouver couple, Laurie Moffat and her husband Walter, who are regular visitors to Mexico and always drive.
“There are just so many misconceptions about Mexico,” said Moffat. “We’ve never had any problems and we’ve never felt unsafe, even walking around town at night.”
Morales ended with a final assurance: “If you do get into trouble at night on the highway, you’ll have Green Angels to help.” These are trained mechanics who patrol at night on all major toll roads and always help motorists.
For more information on the specialists who were speakers or future seminars, contact Canada2Mexico Marketing Inc., 400 — 1681 Chestnut St., Vancouver V6J4M6. Tel: 604-733-8242; www.retire2mexico.info.
Helena Zukowski is a West Vancouver freelance writer.
RETIREMENT TO MEXICO
Canadians thinking of retiring to Mexico need to consider:
– Visas: “Snowbirds” need one kind of visa, the FMT, while those living there year-round need another, the FM3.
– Taxes: Experts say most Canadians moving to Mexico will save on taxes, as Canada charges only 15 per cent on income and Mexico collects nothing.
– Health care: Health insurance and directories of English-speaking doctors are available. Visit www.medtogo.com.