While people from distant lands have been putting down roots in Lake Chapala area for more than a century, the influx of new foreign settlers appears to be growing by leaps and bounds, with no end in sight.
No one has a better grasp on the subject than David Truly, an expert on foreign migration who has studied the dynamics of lakeside’s expat population for two decades.
“Welcome to the new boom,” he declared in addressing the Lake Chapala Garden Club last month. His talk delved into evolving trends he has documented since 1997, when he conducted the first survey of foreign retirees here as a geography professor at the Central Connecticut State University. Since then he has continued research at other academic institutions while splitting periods of residence here and in the United States.
He has tracked local history from the time of the intrepid world travelers who became the earliest foreign settlers, between the 1880s and the 1940s. A solidified expatriate community emerged after World War II with the arrival of military veterans and their families.
Subsequent periods of boom and bust occurred between 1960 and 1990. Newcomers were attracted by 30-odd books that promoted living cheap in Mexico. Many were eventually driven away by rising inflation, precipitous devaluation of the peso and the temporary nationalization of banks during the economic crisis that struck the country in the early 1980s.
Truly cites the 1994 implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a turning point. With international companies expanding business in Mexico, expats found it easier to acquire familiar brands of imported goods. Access to Internet allowed them to live far from home without feeling an acute distance. Growth of the expat population slowed down once again on the heels of the 2008 slump of the U.S. economy, combined with widespread negative news coverage about Mexico’s drug cartels.
He attributes the current upswing to the Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age, prompting 78 million U.S. citizens and 200 million people worldwide to search for inviting places to live out their senior years. Migration has been fueled by a profusion of websites and social media guiding them to retirement destinations abroad.
Climate, cost of living, the availability of quality health care and senior living facilities, and the comforts of a well-established expat community are noted as the leading reasons for choosing lakeside. Truly believes the area’s appeal is not likely to decline unless infrastructure becomes insufficient to support further growth.
His ongoing research reveals significant shifts in the new wave of expats coming here. In earlier years most foreign migrants were people either particularly attracted to the Mexican culture and way of life or those dissatisfied with social, political and economic circumstances in their homelands. In contrast, many newcomers expect to import their own lifestyles and live essentially just as they did back home. They prefer living in secure gated communities and have minimal interaction with native inhabitants. Many are more inclined to buy property on impulse, rather than taking the plunge after multiple exploratory trips.
Truly observes common characteristics among foreigners who best adapt and remain here the longest. They are usually well-educated and come with previous experience living or working abroad. Owning real estate in the area is another anchor that keeps people here.
His recommendations for those now scouting the area: “Give yourself time, do your homework, gauge your ability to adjust.”