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Mexico Gains As a Home for Gay U.S. Retirees

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by Matthew E. Pilecki
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Those looking to retire in Mexico should consider the affordability of Guadalajara over coastal communities where prices are beginning to rise, Kief said.

"The pleasant surprise was that it was less expensive to live in the big city than it was to live on the coast where there is a concentration of gringos buying up property and driving up the price of not only property, but of all the services," he revealed. "In Guadalajara, you have all the services available to you in a big city including many great hospitals and really good bilingual doctors. And you have less cost than you have in the tourist areas."

Like Angel, Kief had nothing but praise for the Mexican health care system. The system operates on three branches of service: civil care, public care, and private care. Civil care is available to unemployed citizens and foreigners at little to no cost. Public care, or IMSS, covers all employed citizens and is available to non-citizens at an annual fee of about $400. Private care grants access to the nation’s best hospitals, and while it is the most expensive option, Kief estimates that it costs about a third of private health coverage in the U.S.

Guadalajara offers retirees some of the best hospitals in the nation, Kief added. And LGBT seniors are treated with respect and dignity.

"The society overall in Mexico doesn’t look down on homosexuality," he said. "People’s private lives here are still very private. It doesn’t matter if you’re a foreigner or a Mexican citizen. Your own personal business is your own personal business, and it’s very nice that it is still that way. Gay people are openly accepted here. The only person that talks badly about gay people in Guadalajara is the archbishop of the Catholic Church-and he talks badly about everybody."

Kief agrees with Angel that drug violence is primarily reserved to the border. Crime varies from section to section in Guadalajara, like cities in the U.S., he said, but he has never had a moment where he felt unsafe since moving to Mexico 10 years ago.

"What I say to people is if you want to know what Mexico is really like, come to Mexico," Kief said. "Make a trip-come and meet some people who can show you the country and form your own opinion. Everybody who comes down here that was apprehensive ends up becoming the best ambassadors for Mexico. The press in the U.S. has just blown [drug violence] so far out of proportion. It is nothing like they portray it to be."

Modern, Temperate & Courteous
Nicknamed "the city of eternal spring," Guadalajara is mild and temperatures only demand air-conditioning one or two days a year, Kief said. While its architecture and technology competes with major cities across the globe, Guadalajara has preserved a sense of civility that has long been missing in the States.

"Mexico is very modern, but Mexican people are still very polite," Kief said. "There is a level of courtesy here that is extended to everybody on the streets, in the restaurants. It is as if it was in our own country when I was a kid growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. The level of politeness and civility, all of those good things that we miss that seem to have deteriorated in the U.S., are still very alive and well in Mexico."

Off the coast of the Yucatan sits the tiny Isla Mujeres. Only five miles long and a mile wide, the island is just a short ferry ride from popular spring break destination Cancun. When Steve Broin, owner of Casa Sirena Hotel, stepped off the ferry over 20 years ago, he knew instantly that the island would one day be his final stop.

After traveling for more than 15 years, Broin returned to Isla Mujeres five years ago to open up his own six-room hotel. Housed in a renovated colonial style residence, Casa Sirena is in the center of the quaint island village. Stone-tiled baths, stunning views of Cancun’s skyline, and a rooftop bar with complimentary happy hours, make the hotel a popular stop among island hoppers.

The transition into running a retirement business like Casa Sirena has been a joy, but has come with its fair share of headaches, Broin said.

"Generally speaking, the less Spanish you speak, the more everything costs, from legal and accounting services to fresh fruits and vegetables in the markets," he said. "We jokingly refer to this as the gringo tax. But I have found the government officials to be cooperative and helpful, generally in good humor, and patient. The bureaucratic nuisance factor is about the same as that of the business I formerly owned in the U.S., only complicated due to the fact that everything is in my second language."

Broin ran a profitable graphic design firm in Minnesota for over 25 years. Since moving to Mexico, however, he has traded in pinstripe suits for Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops.

"I had the wardrobe of $500 suits, the Saab convertible, the trendy work loft space in a converted railroad building, and the obligatory two-week vacation," he reflected. "Now, I go to work in shorts and a t-shirt, walk most places I need to go, live in a small hotel room in my own hotel, and feel like life is always a vacation in paradise."

Yahoo Travel recently ranked Isla Mujeres’ white sand beaches among the Top 10 across the globe, and Forbes magazine named its underwater sculpture park one of the "World’s Most Unique Travel Destinations." Add that to temperate climates, international cuisine, and boutique shopping, it’s clear why Broin never looked back.

Unlike Guadalajara and Merida, Isla Mujeres’ LGBT community is small and tight-knit. But, like the aforementioned, villagers are respectful of queer tourists and homophobia is a bad word.

"The line between gay and straight is more blurred here than in the black and white culture of the north," Broin said. "Many Mexicans simply do not fit into our rigid categories. Drag shows in Merida can be family affairs, bringing a little Las Vegas to a Sunday afternoon outing with beer and food."
The cost of living on the island is slightly more expensive than that of its continental neighbors, but taxes remain very low. Average homeowner taxes rarely exceed $1,000 a year. And though most islanders don’t own cars, many walk or drive golf carts, those that do pay around $500 a year in insurance.

Crime is as rare as snow on the island, and Broin said he feels safe walking the beaches into the wee hours of the night. But he says the growing drug violence in border cities is a threat to the very fabric of Mexican culture.

"It is a serious problem, but the story that is underreported in the U.S. is that most of the violence is between competing cartels and against public officials and police officers unfortunate enough to be on the payroll of rival gang," he said. "They are not interested in killing tourists or foreigners. In my opinion, Mexico is as safe as any major city in the world."

Broin suggests renting property in Mexico before buying to become acquainted with the change of seasons, customs, and location of markets and public services. Though he has no doubt that anyone who visits Mexico will be hard pressed to leave, especially retirees.

"If anyone is considering a retirement in Mexico, they will find beautiful homes at a fraction of the price in the U.S.," Broin said. "They will find a beautiful, historic culture with gentle people who welcome foreigners to their country. Fascinating food, wonderful climate, low taxes, and great medical care are available at a fraction of the cost. Best to learn a bit of Spanish and get a home with an extra bedroom-family and friends will always want to visit."


Comments

  • Anonymous, 2011-04-14 13:56:17

    It depends who you talk to about this relocation. I know a gay-coupled friends both born in Guadalajara who decided to become naturalized citizens some years back. They’re not wealthy but have good jobs, living comfortably and would not move back even with middle-class relatives back in Mexico, despite the economic situation in this country.


  • Anonymous, 2011-04-15 15:43:44

    I am one of the many gay "norteAmericanos" who have retired successfully in Mexico. In my case, Baja California. While the "border areas" receive a negative comment, not all of these areas are the same. It is true that Tijuana is a big city, but the problems have diminished greatly, and considering its size, on a per capita basis, Tijuana is not all that bad. Particularly when most of the gringo retires live in areas such as the Playas de Tijuana, the beach, which is far removed from the downtown areas. Other cities in northern Baja such as Rosarito, Ensenada, and San Felipe are also retimement havens, and Rosarito in particular has an active gay retiree community. While these areas are on the beach, and perhaps slightly more expensive than inland areas, the extra cost is in housing, not primarily the cost of living over-all, after you have purchased a residence. To buy household goods or rent property... the prices are a great savings compared to almost anyplace in the US. And... the proximity to the border has some value. From the gay hub in Rosarito, the US border is a mere 20 miles away. Here, we stick together on Facebook (www.facebook.com/BajaGay) and email, and socialize in the community events, or just among ourselves almost weekly. For the past two years those of us who live here, visit, or want to have gathered together for annual cruises... where else: to the Mexican Riviera! The Latin culture IN Mexico is much different from the "Americanized" version you see in the cities of the US. Here older persons are viewed as mentors, and the older/younger partnerships are quite common, both in gay or hetero situations. While Mexicans have a very "live and let live" attitude, there are limits. However, we have aided and participated in Pride events to show support, and are always welcomed. Mexico has proven to be a great experience for the gay retirees here... all it takes is a little sense of adventure, and you can live a full life with great economy.


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