Until the 1950s, Puerto Vallarta was a small fishing village, modestly popular among Mexicans as a beach resort. In 1963, “The Night of the Iguana” was filmed just south of Puerto Vallarta. The film’s star, Richard Burton, was involved with Elizabeth Taylor at the time. She followed him on location and the paparazzi followed her. Suddenly Puerto Vallarta was all over the news — and on the map, as far as Americans were concerned — and it’s remained there since.
At about this time, the Mexican government began to invest heavily in infrastructure making Puerto Vallarta more accessible and attractive as a destination. Luxury hotels began to spring up, and Americans began to flock here. It is also one of Mexico’s most cosmopolitan beach resorts. Half the population works in the tourism business, so English is widely understood, which is a boon for those of us who speak little or no Spanish. A whole range of services has sprung up to cater to English-speakers, including everything from gourmet shops and restaurants to clothes design and medical care.
One of the fundamental issues you should consider early on in your retire-overseas planning is this: Do you want to live among the locals or in a more private, perhaps gated setting with fellow expats for your neighbors?
If you choose to relocate to an established expatriate community, you’ll have no trouble slipping in to the local social scene and finding English-speakers who share your interests. On the other hand, going that route, you might end up with little real experience of the new culture you’re adopting.
This important early decision may not have occurred to you. But I encourage you to consider the question directly, for the answer sets you on one track or another, and they lead very different places.
It can be easier to seek out a place where your neighbors would be fellow North Americans. In these places you might hear more English in restaurants and bars than local lingo, and you will have like-minded compatriots to commiserate with over the trials and tribulations of daily life in a foreign country.
This can make it a terrific first step in a new country. It’s a chance to dip your toe in the retire-overseas waters rather than diving in headfirst. You’re living overseas and enjoying many of the benefits including great weather and an affordable cost of living, but the surroundings and neighbors are familiar in many ways. You can shop at Walmart or PriceSmart (in some cases), meet up with fellow Americanos for bridge on Thursday evenings and never have to travel far to find English-language conversation.
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On the other hand, life overseas would be a very different experience residing in a little fishing village or a small colonial city in the mountains where you’re the only foreigner in town. Settling among the locals means you must learn to live like a local. The thought of immersing yourself in another culture can be appealing, exciting and invigorating or terrifying. Be honest with yourself as you consider where you would feel comfortable. There is no right or wrong reply, and there are pluses and minuses either way.
If you decide you like the idea of retiring overseas among like-minded company, Puerto Vallata is a good option.
*** INM reports that about 35,000 expats from the US and Canada hold Visa’s as residents of the Puerto Vallarta area, this is confirmed by INM and also reported by CNN in May 2014, and US News in September 2014. Our number of 40,000 + includes citizens not from the USA and Canada, and those who come and go from the area and stay on tourist visas, and of course a portion of expats who do not hold any Visa at all and cannot be confirmed by INM. ***