An 80 year old man with glasses looking at the camera | Ep 83 | Michael Dorfman | Retiring to Mexico - The whys, wheres, and hows!

Retiring to Mexico – The whys, wheres, and hows! | Michael Dorfman | Ep 83

Introducing Michael

In today’s episode, we’ll be talking to Michael Dorfman an American who has been living in Mexico for 40 years with his wife and has raised his children there. Michael writes and speaks about the benefits of whole food plant-based nutrition and healthy lifestyle practices that help to prevent chronic disease and premature death. In 2019, he published his first book “The Thriving Vegan – How to Discover the Foods your Body Loves but today, I am going to be asking Michael all about retiring to Mexico why you might like to do it, how you do it, and also some logistics too and also how you might split your time between Mexico and your home. 

In this episode we discuss:

  • Michael Dorfman’s passion and writings
  • How he became connected with Mexico
  • Why he decided to stay
  • Steps to take when thinking about retiring to Mexico
  • Visas and healthcare
  • Recommended places to consider
  • Violence in Mexico – should you be concerned

Learn more about what we talk about

Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode

Connect with Michael


Brighde: Hello, Michael, thank you so much for joining me on The World. Vegan Travel Podcast.

Michael: Thank you. Brighde it’s a pleasure and I’m really happy, you invited me. 

Brighde: Yeah. I’m pleased to have You on, because you’re gonna be sharing a little bit of information about retiring in another country, in Mexico. So we’re gonna dig into that. And of course, retirement is a time when, we can maybe achieve our travel dreams that we might not have been able to have time to do, during our working and professional life.

But before we get into all of that, I would love to know a little bit about who you are and what you do in the vegan space.

Michael: Okay I was born in New York in 1942. I was born a month after the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor. So it goes back ways. So I was born into a family in which my father was a butcher and my brother was a butcher. I had two uncles who were butchers, so we had meat every day, at least once meat and dairy.

And that’s what I grew up on. Until I found out that I wanted to change my diet because I was suffering from a few things that I wasn’t really happy about. And so it was finally in 1976, that I decided to become a vegetarian. So I gave up meat and I didn’t eat meat.

 I did have dairy though. I was eating well, eggs and cheese and I was getting sick. I was still getting sick every year. I would get sick once or twice not ill, but I would have my cough and my sore throat and my congestion and fever. And my brother who was a vegan. He had been a vegan already for 20 years.

He told me maybe you would like to try giving up dairy. For me, it was like giving up dairy. Are you kidding me? What about the pizza? It was a hard feeling for me to do. So finally he told me about this book called the China Study, by T Colin Campbell, and I read it. I decided to give it a try and I did.

 This was 14 years ago. I decided, and I eventually became completely vegan and that’s what it’s been 14 years. My wife also went along with it all my kids and their families are vegan. So it’s wonderful just being able to share that with the rest of the family.

So that was 14 years ago and I’m 80 years old now and I’m just feeling fantastic and very active and writing and doing these podcast guest interviews. I just finished my latest ebook, a 46-page ebook called, The Nutrition Lifestyle and COVID Connection.

I’d love to share this with people cuz I feel it’s a perfect time. This is something we need to do is share the benefits of eating plant-based foods and living a healthy lifestyle.

Brighde: Amazing. Looking at you, you look like the picture of health for an 80-year-old. And the fact that you’re still doing so many amazing things is maybe it’s testament to the lifestyle that you chose nearly 15 years ago. That’s great.

Michael: Yeah, I think it is. I tell people my age I love to talk about my age. Most people don’t like to talk about their age. You get to be 80 and it’s don’t ask me my age. But for me, it’s I feel I take pride in that. And I feel that there’s a reason for this, it’s how you live your life.

Brighde: Yeah. Yep. That’s certainly a big part of it. It’s very interesting for me because I’ve only been living in North America and Canada for a couple of years. This idea of retiring to Mexico or having holidays in Mexico. For me, Mexico has always been a very far-off destination. And now of course, like it’s much closer and I’m starting to learn a little bit more about Mexico.

Michael, why don’t you tell me how it is that you ended up in Mexico in the first place?

Michael: Okay it was back in 1964. I was finishing up my duty, as a soldier. I was the basic trainer in Fort Seals, Oklahoma. I met a couple of guys buddies that we decided to, it’s not too far from Mexico. Let’s take a trip down there. So we bought a used car and we made the trip down to Mexico.

We stayed for about a week. We went to the pyramids, we went to museums and the parks there. It was a beautiful country. When I went back to New York and I always had this little thing from Mexico, it was something about it that I wanted to check out. It was four years later in 1968 that I came down, on a motorcycle. It was a BSA 650 and it took me three weeks to get down here, went all the way from New York up to Canada, to Ottawa crossed over to Toronto, down through Detroit, and then through the US, and ended up in Mexico City.

Just went exploring, went out to the coast, to the Caribbean, and visited other cities. It was in 1969, actually that in Mexico City, I met my future wife, Dalia. We’ve been married for, in October’s gonna be 52 years. Now, we have two sons.

One son is 51 already. He’s a recognized well-known sculptor in Mexico and our other son, Adam lives near Sacramento. That was it, being in Mexico, marrying a Mexican, and loving Mexico, and we’ve lived in several cities during these years we lived in Acapulco, Puebla, and Mexico City. And we lived 30 years in Cancun before we moved to here where we live now, San Miguel de Allende for the past seven years. We left Cancun. We loved Cancun. We got to Cancun where it was like it was new. It was only 140,000 people living in Cancun. We explored, we found new beaches and it was beautiful.

It was wonderful. Now it’s changed. So it got to be a big city now. I guess you could bear it to Fort Lauderdale or Miami with, tall condos and buildings. So we thought it was time to leave. It was getting also hot and humid for us. And we came to San Miguel seven years ago and that’s where we’ve been.

Brighde: I know a lot of people are moving to Mexico or retiring to Mexico. So why do you think so many North Americans are choosing to move to Mexico these days? 

Michael: I’ve been speaking to some friends and some people, and I think one of the main reasons is the cost of living. It’s much cheaper to live here in Mexico. And even where I live San Miguel is one of the most expensive places. Cancun is also expensive. But even with that, yeah, I would say you can live on maybe half, of what it would cost to live in most cities in the US. Maybe California, New York, be much less than what it costs to live there.

So I think that’s one of the main reasons that healthcare, food, and even rentals are. It’s very attractive to people. Especially for people who are retiring or maybe have social security, they don’t have that much. I know my brother in New York, he lives in Manhattan. They are suffering.

They’re living off mostly their social security and it’s very difficult. It gets, keeps getting more and more expensive. And I think that’s one of the reasons. The other reason is, I think that people feel free here. There are a lot of places that have more restrictions, especially because of the pandemic over the last two years.

A general feeling of being feeling free. And I think another reason may be that there’s a lot to do. As you get older, a lot of people retire, especially here where I live. There are so many things you can do here. It’s perfect for older people here.

But what I’m noticing is a lot of young people are starting to come here. That’s new.

Brighde: Even though you’ve been living in Mexico for a long time, you’ve seen an influx of retirees heading to Mexico, and you’ve explained the reasons why behind this. So this is helpful and you’ve explained the reasons why people would wanna be coming to Mexico.

What are some of the things that people need to consider and think about if they are looking to retire to Mexico? I’m sure there are a lot of logistic things like making sure that they have healthcare organized and that they have enough money to support themselves and also with visas and these kinds of things.

So would you be able to share a little bit about the things that people might wanna consider if they’re looking to retire to Mexico?

Michael: Okay. Well, I think that the most important point is to realize that you should experience some of Mexico before you make a decision. And that’s why, many people come down on the tourist visa, which is a six-month visa, 180 days. And during that time you can experience it because you’re going to a new culture.

I know there are situations where I’ve spoken to people who know people who have moved here without really giving it time to see if they like Mexico.

So that’s important. So I think you have to give it some time, at least a few weeks, even possibly a couple of months to just check out the terrain and see if it’s something that you like because there are situations, for example, the language.

Fortunately here in San Miguel where I live there are over 10,000 ex-pats from the US and Canada that live here. It’s okay. But in most parts of Mexico language could be a barrier.

So, if I’m gonna come to Mexico, I gotta learn the language. Because you wanna mingle with the Mexicans, you don’t wanna just stick around and just be with them, the Americans or people who speak English. You want to experience, what the people are like.

Most people are taking here are taking Spanish lessons. So you wanna think about that and then you are moving to another culture. It’s different here. The pace is slower. And I think maybe that’s one of the reasons people like it when they come here. It’s slower.

That’s good, but you have to get used to, living at a slower pace and everybody is slower here. So it may take longer to do things. Coming from a first-world country, like the US or Canada, you’re expecting things to be responded to quickly, and here it’s like, it may not happen that way. So you have patience. Patience with the people and you have to realize that, okay, are you willing to live with that? Maybe something goes wrong. You don’t have water one day. And then you have to wait. Recently we had electricity where we live was out in the whole area. So we call up the electricity commission to work on it. So they said anywhere between 24 and 72 hours, we’ll have our electricity back. It’s a new culture, you’re dealing with different types of people you’re dealing with.

You may be dealing with indigenous people. So actually, 60 different languages are being spoken in Mexico. Cause there are so many indigenous people. So if you go out into the countryside and, you know, meet new people. So it’s a different type of life in many ways.

Brighde: Mm. Yeah. I think that’s really good advice especially for maybe people that haven’t moved a lot around in their lives because if they’re only used to being in one place, Mexico might sound like this incredibly romantic, wonderful destination.

It’s where I’ve spent, two weeks on holiday, for example. And therefore I loved it then. So I’m gonna love living there, but that actually might not be the case. I’ve been lucky enough to live in several different places and have always been able to adapt fairly well. So I think even in that case, I want to make sure I spend time in the place actually to see that I like it.

All right. So let’s imagine that the potential retiree has not only spent some time in Mexico but has found a place that they think is a good fit for them. What would be the next steps?

Michael: There are different types of visas. In other words, you have a visa that comes for 180 days, people who are tourists, then have a temporary resident visa, and the best way of applying for a temporary visa is what’s called temporary resident is going to your local consulate.

 Talk about what are the requirements because there would be a requirement of minimum, monthly income, for example. So you have to find out what’s required. And then the temporary resident is good for up to four years and you could work with a resident, it’s called also a working visa.

You can work in Mexico. Then you have the permanent resident visa, which is like having a green card in the US. In other words, you could do pretty much anything you want except you can’t vote. And you can’t hold office. So I have a permanent resident visa card. I wouldn’t call it a visa.

I call it a resident card and that’s what you eventually might like to do if you wanna permanently stay in the country. Now, one very important thing also is that, with a temporary resident and you can go back and forth. I think that if you have a certain visa in the US, for example, you have to stay a certain amount of months in the country. 

A lot of people here, where I live in San Miguel, go back and forth between the US and Mexico. So they have a home in the US, they keep their home in the US, and then they may have a rental here. They come here for, a certain amount of months of the year, cause the weather here in San Miguel is beautiful.

So it never gets too cold or too hot. And people come here say in the winter time, let’s say from up north course, it’s not as extreme the weather. So you, as you can go back and forth. But the best thing to do is to find out through, the consulate what are the requirements. Cause they could change also.

Brighde: Mm. So does Mexico have a specific retirement visa? 

Michael: Yeah, it’s a temporary resident or a permanent resident. And either one of those is good that you could stay here. See up to four years with a temporary resident and permanently with a permanent resident, but there is no retirement. In other words, if a retirement visa, comes, you could apply for it.

In other words, if you came down on your tourist visa and you say, I like this. I like to spend some more time here. And I think I like to live here for at least part of the year. You can go for your temporary residence, or if you want a permanent resident, you want to own land here, or you could decide what you want.

Permanent resident. You’re just completely free. Just like having a green card.

Brighde: Yes. I’ve just recently acquired my permanent residency status here, in Canada. And to keep my permanent residency status, I need to spend three years out of five years in Canada, unless I’ve got a very good reason. So because of my work in travel and all of these things, as soon as I have the opportunity to get citizenship, I will take that opportunity because then I won’t have that kind of limitation let’s say.

But yeah, that’s something to consider to make sure that you don’t lose your permanent residency when you’ve invested so much time and effort, to get it. Okay, great. What about healthcare? Because I know this is a big question for a lot of people because even though I know health care is much cheaper compared with the United States. You could still end up with a big bill if you pay out of pocket for, some sort of serious illness or injury. So how do retirees cope with that? And especially of course, as you get older, very often healthcare issues bubble up. So how do retirees from North America deal with that?

Michael: For the basic things it’s inexpensive like you’re saying, in other words, if you get sick and you wanna go to see a doctor, it could range anywhere from, let’s say $30 for an appointment. You go in consultation, $30 to $50 for a consultation. You get taken care of, for simple things. When you get surgery or something like that. So yeah, you would wanna have health insurance, and there are companies in Mexico, that offer health insurance for foreigners when you’re living here.

I was checking out this it’s website, which I found very good. It’s called www.expatarrivals.com. They deal with everything on visas. They deal, they pretty much talk about all situations they even offer different types of health insurance.

Brighde: I can imagine Michael that there are probably a lot of services that, that you can get the use of, to help you navigate this possible move to Mexico. Just like how, when I came to Canada, I employed the services of an immigration agent. To help me with all of the visas and everything.

And to help navigate that a little bit, I’m sure such services exist for visitors to Mexico, just so that you don’t have to have such a great understanding of all the ins and outs. Is that fair to say?

Michael: Yeah, that’s true. If you are in Canada and then you’re in the States, you go to the consulate and you check it out. You find out what the requirements are, but if you are here, everything changes.

Because everything is offered here. In other words for example, here in San Miguel, we have it called the civil list. Thousands of people on the civil list are ex-pats and you find anything you want. They have lawyers and people call facilitators. For example, if you want something done, you wanna get a, uh, a driver’s license or health insurance, you can go through a facilitator and they offer it’s not expensive.

So that’s what most people do here, especially if you don’t speak the language. People are always willing to help and they know somebody who knows somebody. So you can find a facilitator who can help you do this and help you through that. Especially if you wanna buy a house here. You may wanna take somebody with you who speaks the language, who’s recommended by somebody else. There’s a lot of that available. Once you’re down here, it changes things.

Brighde: I see. Okay, great. All right. So you mentioned that the town where you live San Miguel de Allende is a very popular place for retirees. Can you tell me a little bit about why that is?

Michael: First of all tell you a little bit about San Miguel. It was one of the first cities that was founded in Mexico. It was, I think the date was 1562. It’s about 60 years or 65 years after Columbus came to the west. So it was one of the first cities founded in and it’s in the area, it’s the birthplace of Mexico.

The independence of Mexico came all around this area here. It’s maintained its feeling. It still has the cobblestone streets it’s recognized worldwide, as a special city. I think five or six years twice it was a travel and leisure magazine.

It came in number one as the best city in the world. And this year came in, second-best.

Brighde: Wow.

Michael: city in the world, in travel and leisure magazine. Number one was another city in Mexico, which is Oaxaca, which is another popular place where people like to possibly retire. Two cities in the world are selected, in Mexico. San Miguel, the culture is, is special. It’s colonial, it has so many things. It has cobblestone streets and the population is not a very big city. It’s about 180,000 people, and there are a lot of things to do. People like hiking, and mountain climbing, there are rivers and they have natural hot springs.

 It’s an area of, thermal water. And there are so many things to do here in San Miguel. For example, you have a lot of art it’s very well known for its galleries. There are over a hundred art galleries in San Miguel. There are hundreds of restaurants here. I think somebody had said, we have nine vegans, a hundred percent vegan restaurants here. There are a lot of other restaurants that offer vegan options because I formed the group here, which is called the Vegan Waves, San Miguel.

And we have close to 450 members already. So there are a lot of restaurants offering vegan options. And the other thing is a lot of fresh foods. The produce comes from the farms. Organic produce comes every Saturday. There’s the organic market. There are a lot of organic food stores and just a lot of things to do. Every February they have the literary sala, where writers come from all over the world. It’s I think two weeks long and very famous worldwide. So there’s a lot of writing going on painting, and it’s great for the arts people who wanna retire, want to do something. It offers a lot. Mexican food is great.

Brighde: Yes. I did a wonderful podcast interview with Eddie Garza and he is a Mexican American Chef and he did a virtual vegan food tour on this podcast with me, a few months ago. And my mouth was just watering the whole time. It was just so delicious. It just sounds like such incredible stuff.

And this town sounds really up my alley. It sounds like a really lovely place to check out. I didn’t realize this until I moved to North America and started learning more about Mexico, and just how diverse it is. And culturally rich it is and diverse and all of these things.

So let’s address another stereotype of Mexico. And that is that Mexico can be dangerous. This is something certainly I have heard. Although, I lived in Thailand where we would very often have, big travel warnings, and while I was living there and I was like, it’s not dangerous. I’m absolutely fine. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about like maybe why Mexico has this reputation for being dangerous? And what that means in reality?

Michael: Okay. So that’s an excellent question. I know people may think about that as something that would deter them from coming here. First of all, it’s mostly the problems with the cartels. you know, The drug cartels are always fighting for the terrain. They’re fighting over their territories. So it’s not, the people are in danger. It’s just that most of the violence is between the cartels, be fighting for power. And this started this tremendous amount of violence started, two presidents ago.

That caused the president here in Mexico for six years. So this is, we’re talking about 12 years ago. We had a president who decided that he was gonna take on the cartels and that’s what he did. It was the army against the cartels. That’s when you heard a lot about the borders in Tijuana and different border towns, in the north.

It was terrible. There’s just a lot of violence and that was going on then. What happened is that this new president, AMLO, changed the whole mindset, and what he’s doing, he’s not fighting the cartels. What he’s doing, he’s created this it’s called the national guard and there’s like hundreds of thousands of them.

And he’s using the national guard to protect the people, not to fight the cartels, he’s using it to protect the people. There is now a national guard all over the country, but just to protect the people. They don’t fight. And the presence there has caused a tremendous reduction, in the amount of violence.

And the other important thing is that the violence with the cartels is mostly, in the Northern part of the country. That’s where you find the big problems with violence. Here in San Miguel, and most cities, there’s very little. One of the things that’s important about Mexico is that, in the US, there’s so much gun violence because you know, have their weapons. 

It’s not that way in Mexico, it’s very difficult to get a gun. There are only two gun stores in the whole country. And to get a weapon, a gun, you have to go through months of waiting. And even then you can’t carry it out in public. don’t know anybody who has a gun in San Miguel, and I never knew anybody who had a gun even wherever I lived in Mexico. It’s not the mindset of the people. You don’t have a gun in Mexico unless you are a police officer or the army or whatever. You don’t have these killings, on the street or people going into malls.

You don’t hear about those things. So that’s one thing, I think people need to know. And that’s why people are still coming here. That hasn’t stopped people. They’re vacationing here, just like they always did.

Brighde: Yeah. It’s really interesting. I mean, The cartels, aren’t interested in tourists, that’s not what they’re about. Uh, I live fairly close to Whistler, which is a resort not far from where I live a ski resort. And it’s very busy in the summer as well.

There was a shooting there which was, for Canada, that’s quite unusual. And it turned was gang-related. Occasionally mass shootings do happen, where people that are just walking around doing their regular things, somehow got caught up in it.

But generally speaking, that’s not what happened in Whistler, a couple of weeks ago. We had something similar that happened in Vancouver, but very often these are gang-related, and that they know who they’re targeting, was terrible of course. But it does mean that people that are just minding their own business generally aren’t impacted by that for sure.

Michael: Yeah, for sure.

Brighde: Another question that I have, and this is regards to the logistics of, retiring to Mexico and that is like accommodation and finding accommodation, like how much it is? You touched on a little bit about buying a place. Is it easy to buy a place? Because for example, in Thailand, it’s quite difficult to buy land, as a non-Thai person. How does all of that play out? And what did you do?

Michael: Well, uh, when we lived in Cancun, we owned that home and we sold that home and we moved here to San Miguel. and The difference is that whatever land we own is in the name of my wife or my son because they’re Mexican citizens, but anybody can, can own land. You can buy land. You only can’t buy land within 50 miles of the coast.

Brighde: Oh,

Michael: That’s one of the stipulations, in Mexico. I guess maybe just want to control the coasts, but you can buy land. Anybody can buy land here. Uh, We’re one of the few people that are renting here, actually, but people have come down from Canada and the US, they bought their homes here.

You can also rent, which is what we do. The people who are renting to you, they wanna make sure that you’re going to do, with the rent you know, that you’re not gonna leave. You have to make sure that you understand what the contract says, and you may want to have your real estate agent and even a lawyer. If you don’t speak Spanish, make sure that, uh, everything is clear when you’re renting. Here, one of the advantages also in Mexico is, you could do a long-term lease or you can, rent for a month or two months. So especially if you want to come and try it out, you wanna rent for a short period. You can do a short-term rental or one thing that we did. And this is interesting. You have house sitting. When we were living in Cancun. We weren’t sure if we wanted to stay in San Miguel. So for two years, we rented. We did house-sitting for four months each year, and then we decided that we wanted to stay. That’s very popular also, house sitting here. 

Brighde: I can imagine that if there are a lot of people that wanna divide their time between the United States and Canada and Mexico, that maybe they want their house looked after or they need their pets looked after or something like that?

Michael: that’s what we did. So when the people that we house sitted for, they left every year from April and they came back in September.

During that, that. house sitted them. We didn’t have to pay rent. All we had to pay was utilities and some people, like you said, you know, they have a cat, you take care of that.

So that’s very popular in Mexico, especially because people go back to the States or Canada because that’s another advantage. When you asked at the beginning, why Mexico? It’s so close to the US and Canada. You can go back and forth with no problem. So that’s what people do.

They come here and they go back. and, uh, Like right now, they were San Miguel is sort of empty because a lot of people went back to the States or Canada, they’ll be coming back, uh, in September and October. That’s when things start picking up again.

Brighde: So people are back in North America enjoying the summer months, I guess. 

Michael: Yeah, a lot of people, but some people, for example, these friends of ours from Canada, they’re selling their house in Vancouver. They were renting for several years. They just bought a house here and now they’re looking at the possibility of selling their house in Canada. So can have both, most people have both. They have their cake and eat it too.

Brighde: Yeah. I will say I haven’t thought too much about where I want to be when I retire, but Mexico is on the list for sure. It just sounds like such an interesting place. I think I would love it.

All right, Michael, I wanna thank you so much for joining us on The World Vegan Travel Podcast. I’m gonna be putting links to all of the things that you’ve talked about in the show notes. So I encourage people to go and check that out. But before we go, would you mind spending a little bit of time sharing with our listeners, how they might connect with you? Maybe ask you some follow-up questions and how they might see some of the content that you’ve created.

Michael: Thanks for this opportunity. Yeah, I have a website and the website is michaeljdorfman.com. That’s my website for plant-based nutrition and lifestyle practices. I get into many different topics, including the planet’s environment. So it’s so much to see on that website. What I wanted to call attention to is, I just finished a 46-page ebook, which I’m offering free to your audience. The title is The Nutrition Lifestyle and COVID Connection. It’s basically on how to be best prepared for pandemics when, when they come, or viruses and also how to prevent and reverse, you know diseases and especially thrive as we get older.

I spent I think 30 or 40 hours putting together this ebook and I’m offering it free for anybody who sends me their email. So I wanna give you my email and it’s, [email protected].

And then I could put ’em up on the list and they immediately would get their ebook. And then besides that, if you do that, you subscribe to my ebook. Every Thursday, I send out a newsletter. Which could be a blog or a video on veganism on how we can help save the planet and its species.

So I make sure I get it out every Thursday, without fail and I cover many topics. And if people would like to, comment to me, and send the information on what they’d like to know if they have any questions, I’m completely open to that.

Brighde: Oh, 

Michael: That’s my offer.

Brighde: That’s generous. So definitely people, if they would love to check out Michael’s ebook then you just send an email to [email protected]

Michael: Okay I just wanted to mention that in 2019, I published my first book, which is, The Thriving Vegan: How To Discover The Foods Your Body Loves. It can be either paperback or an ebook. I wanna finish my second book by the end of this year, which I’m gonna be covering a lot more topics.

So yeah, I just wanted to mention that.

Brighde: of course, this is your moment to mention those things. Thank you so much, Michael. Thank you. It’s just so wonderful to see that, uh, that somebody is, who is retired is, still doing some amazing things and putting lots of fun stuff and useful stuff into the world.

Michael, I wanna thank you so much for joining me on The World Vegan Travel Podcast. I appreciate it.

Michael: Thank you very much, Brighde. And it was a pleasure doing this.

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