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Retiring South-of-the-Border: Legal Ins and Outs

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 05, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Many of us dream of retiring to warmer climates, preferably to a beach, and one where we can stretch out under an umbrella and really stretch our retirement dollar. As it turns out, many of us have been living that dream, albeit somewhat illegally.

U.S. News recently released a report on American retirees living in Mexico, and found that, despite a welcoming atmosphere both socially and legally, many U.S. citizens may be illegal immigrants south of the border.

Bad Dudes?

At the same time that U.S. President Trump is stoking anti-immigrant fears through both rhetoric and action, Americans are receiving a far warmer welcome in Mexico. The U.S. News report cites restaurant ads targeting aging Yanks and the open border crossing at Tijuana, where "Americans can drive straight into Mexico without stopping or showing any kind of identification."

And while younger Americans might be heading south for clubs and Coronas, their older counterparts are seeking sunny days and a favorable exchange rate:

Statistics from the U.S. Social Security Administration show that distributions to beneficiaries in Mexico increased 7.2 percent between 2012 and 2016. Yet those numbers, too, aren't exactly reliable: many American seniors move south while keeping their old bank accounts back home.

Bad Behavior?

The legal gauntlet that foreign nationals face to residency in the U.S. has been well documented, yet undocumented Americans in Mexico has been less of a story. Despite a relatively inexpensive process (year-long temporary visas cost less than $200 in U.S. dollars), a 2015 study from Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography determined over 90 percent of visiting Americans lacked proper documentation.

Perhaps that's because the penalties for illegal American immigrants in Mexico are so light. The report notes that fines related to immigration paperwork are less than a few hundred dollars and U.S. citizens are generally only deported if they have committed serious crimes. This may be why, according to the report, "15,000 Americans skirt formal residency requirements by obtaining tourist visas, and renewing them every 180 days."

But why risk it? You'll want to enjoy your tequila sunrises in peace during the sunset of your life, so talk to an experienced immigration attorney about your Mexico retirement before heading south of the border.

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