In 1999, I took a weeklong vacation with a friend to Mazatlán, Mexico — and it was love at first sight. I was so smitten with the beach city that I went to a realtor the next day and bought a small house for $28,000.
My plan was to make it a second home for when I wanted to get away from California. But in 2002, at 49 years old, I decided to follow my favorite mantra — “Leap, and the net will appear” — and left the U.S. to live in Mexico full-time.
After a few years in Mazatlán, I was ready for a change. I considered several places, including Oaxaca and the Lake Chapala area, before turning my sights to San Miguel de Allende, a colonial-era city in Mexico’s central highlands, known for its baroque architecture.
I was very lucky to have found a charming place within my price range for $160,000. Since real estate in Mexico is a cash market — 90% of foreign buyers are cash buyers — I had to sell one of my rental properties in Mazatlán and take a small loan from my brother to come up with the money.
It took three months to close the deal, and by 2006, I was fully moved in.
Building the perfect home
My 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom San Miguel home has a front courtyard on the ground floor. On the second floor is the living room, kitchen, dining area and a small terrace.
It’s a gorgeous home with more than enough space for one person. But as a retiree who does painting, printmaking and sculpting on the side, I wanted to have a dedicated place to work on my art.
So in 2007, I began construction to add a third floor studio and a rooftop, expanding the total space from 900 square feet to 1,600 square feet.
I built two metal stairwells from my front door — one to the rooftop garden terrace, and the other leading to my studio so that visitors who come to see my artwork don’t have to enter through the bedroom.
I do a lot of reading in the living room, where there’s a small library and a cozy fireplace. The small dining area connects to the kitchen, which is decorated with beautiful Talavera-style ceramic tiles.
I’m very happy with how the studio turned out. There’s a ton of natural light, a large wall to display my art, and enough space to hold workshops.
In total, the renovations cost about $32,000 and took less than a year to complete.
What I love about San Miguel
A Unesco World Heritage Site since 2008, San Miguel is a lovely city filled with old-world charm.
There’s nothing like walking on the cobblestone streets and passing the colorful colonial facades draped with bougainvillea. There are several small cafes, yoga studios, restaurants and events for writers and artists.
One of my favorite things to do is visiting art galleries. Occasionally, I’ll go to small venues to hear live music for the price of a meal or a $15 cover change.
The only major downside is that the weather is much cooler here than in Mazatlán, which prompted me to buy sweaters, jackets and heaters that I never needed before.
While I mostly walk everywhere, I have a car that’s mainly for transporting my artwork or taking day trips to nearby cities.
My income and spending in Mexico
My income, which ranges from $1,100 to $2,500 per month, is a combination of Social Security, book and art sales, workshops and rental property in Mazatlán.
Here’s a quick look at my average monthly expenses:
- Property tax: $41
- Private health insurance: $250
- Car insurance/gas: $50
- Utilities (water, electricity, phone, internet): $70
- Groceries: $110
- Entertainment/dining out/shopping: $99
Total: $620 per month
I’m not sure if this will be my forever home. Mazatlán still holds a special place in my heart, and it’s possible I will move back at some point. But I definitely plan to stay in San Miguel for the next five to 10 years.
I never would have been able to build this perfect life back in the U.S. The low cost of living in Mexico allows me to live my ideal retirement lifestyle and do what I love most: creating, teaching and being surrounded by art.
Glen Rogers is an artist living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She has traveled to many sacred sites seeking connection, understanding and inspiration; Newgrange in Ireland, Knossos in Crete, caves in the south of France and Las Labradas, Mexico. Find her on Facebook.