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Get to Know San Miguel de Allende Mexico

San Miguel de Allende has remained one of the most popular expat and retiree destinations through the Latin Tropics. Rising almost phoenix-like from near obscurity, this colonial city has metamorphosed from silver mining center to a Bohemian/artistic colony to a 21st century expat magnet.

The combination of a rich colonial past and an urban cosmopolitan present make living in this mountain community a rewarding experience. In contrast to much of the rest of Mexico, San Miguel de Allende has developed into a unique hybrid of Mexican and American culture.

Expats in Mexico

Expats in Mexico photo by Jack Newton

San Miguel de Allende-An Historic, Cultural And Artistic Treasure

The story of San Miguel de Allende is really a tale with two parts. The original colonial settlement was established in 1551 moved to its current location four years later as a result of continued conflict with the indigenous tribes in the area.

The discovery of silver in the region in the mid-sixteenth century increased the prominence of San Miguel, given its strategic location between the silver mines and Mexico City. The city would continue to thrive through the mid-1700s and actually had a population larger than either Boston or New York.

The War of Mexican Independence impacted San Miguel’s prominence. The end of mining, the shrinking of the population, reduced the city to near “ghost town” status with Baroque and Neoclassical architectural structures empty as a memory of a bygone era.

Part II-Rebirth And Resurgence

In 1926, the Mexican government declared San Miguel de Allende a ‘historic and protected town” dedicated to preserving its colonial essence. The town would remain frozen in time until the Mexican opera star, José Mojica, rediscovered it and encouraged his friends in the arts to join him in establishing an artists’ commune; ultimately this lead to the creation of renown Bellas Artes Institute.

Touted by Life Magazine as a “GI paradise”, veterans from WWII looking for new opportunities, artists of all disciplines seeking to study, and those looking for new horizons all flocked to this mountain mecca. This early group of foreign arrivals has grown from a trickle to the well-established expat community of today.

San Miguel de Allende

J Wang

San Miguel de Allende Remains A Solid Investment Option

Although the international financial crisis of 2008-2010 took a toll on San Miguel de Allende’s real estate market, the result was dramatic increase in lower priced properties. Whether you are looking for a colonial structure that you can restore, new construction, or something in between, there is a wide selection of properties that can meet your needs.

There are no restrictions to foreigners owning property in Mexico except in what is known as the restricted zone designated as being 100km from a border and 50km from the coast.  Since foreigners cannot hold title in their own names in those areas, a real estate trust has to be set up to hold the title.

An attractive feature for US residents considering moving the area is that you can get title insurance from some American title insurance carriers-some of which have been writing policies for Mexican properties since the mid nineties.  This is especially important since, under Mexican law, there is no requirement for sellers to disclose potential problems.

San Miguel de Allende

J Brewer

The Expat Explosion In San Miguel de Allende

The increase in the expat population in San Miguel de Allende was largely fueled by veterans from WWII looking to move their young families south to escape the scourge of the polio epidemic that was ravaging the US. Combined with the many artists and other creative types who had discovered the cultural environment that had grown up in this mountain city, the current expat population is estimated to be roughly 10,000-12,000; this number does not include those who have settled in the surrounding villages or developments.

Of that number of expats, roughly 70% are American which is why San Miguel de Allende is viewed by many people as an “American town. However, that is still a small percentage of the roughly 80,000 residents who are estimated to live within the community itself.

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Having that many American expats has become a kind of mixed blessing for San Miguel de Allende. While the presence of a large English speaking population makes it an easy transition for those not fluent in Spanish, there is a sense of entitlement (and even arrogance) that many Mexicans (and expats as well), find distasteful.

The growing number of high-end gated communities also furthers this impression that these transplants from the North have no interest in becoming part of the unique cultural and historical essence of the area. This situation may be off-putting for those who want to immerse themselves in the local culture rather than just living in an Americanized enclave in another country.

Not surprisingly, prices in this well-developed area are higher than in more rustic locations. In a real sense, though, living here is a true example of the old saying:  “you get what you pay for”.

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende

The Benefits Of An Established Expat Presence

While there are some facets of the growing number of seniors, retirees and expats who continue to make their way to San Miguel de Allende that can be challenging, it is precisely the development and foreign investment that has enhanced the standard of living and value of property in the region. Having a well developed infrastructure, numerous social and entertainment options, and a growing number of stores with American products are all elements that make buying property here a good choice for a return on investment dollars in the future.

The close proximity to the US also is a compelling reason to consider San Miguel de Allende as a retirement destination. Being able to visit family and friends north of the border, while still enjoying the less frantic pace of this artistic colonial town, offers another attractive reason to make this a second or retirement home.

In addition to the well-developed infrastructure, San Miguel de Allende has become an international arts center filled with shops, boutiques, galleries and craft vendors. In addition, there is a thriving nightlife and gourmet restaurants that cater to the large number of tourists as well as the local population.

Local festivals, such as Fiestas de San Miguel de Allende (the feast of the patron saint, Michael) held during the last week in September provide a cultural ambiance that enhance the expat experience. There are also a number of events celebrating the arts throughout the year.

To Expat Or Not-That Is The Question

San Miguel de Allende is a unique option for those considering a move from the US to a tropical destination. It has one of the most established expat communities anywhere-a scenario that has both positive and negative features. Ultimately, the best way to decide if San Miguel is for you is to visit it for yourself and experience what all it has to offer first hand.


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