Dear Mexican Government:

I saw a man, he's a well-dressed man
He had a tan from the Yucatan
He had a car, he looked like a star
I said, Hey, don’t I know who you are
But when he glanced into my eyes
I saw yes I saw was such a big surprise
He was afraid that he’s just a bum
Someday when all his stuff is gone and he's left without a dime
Time ain’t money when all ya got is time…

From the song, “Just a Bum,” by Greg Brown

The Mexican government wants to make it easier for Americans and Canadians to move to and live in Mexico, and their first job has been figuring out what “easier” means.

Inside México readers may remember a survey we publicized last April in our e-newsletter The Tip: “The Mexican Government Wants to Know What you Think!” Well, you haven’t been shy about sharing your experiences and opinions; more than two thousand of you responded, taking the time to click your way through the questions, providing Hacienda (the Mexican Finance Ministry, which sponsored the survey) and the rest of us some interesting and occasionally surprising insight into what it’s taken to adopt Mexico as your home. For example, you told us that it was harder to get a phone line installed in Mexico than it was to find a good doctor, to transfer money internationally, or to buy a house! Mr. Slim, take note.

The study’s architect, Rodrigo Garcia-Verdu, wants to improve Mexico’s chances of attracting a significant percentage of the tens of millions of Americans and Canadians who will retire over the next decade.

The impetus for the study, not surprisingly given its provenance, is economic. Mr. Garcia-Verdu and others in the Mexican government see opportunity in attracting retiree dollars to Mexico. The presence of more Americans and Canadians here, Garcia-Verdu predicts, will provide Mexico with revenue, create more jobs, and reduce the need for Mexicans to emigrate.

It’s a win for budget-conscious American and Canadian retirees, who save money (the cost of living in Mexico was about 40 percent less than in the US even before the peso/dollar ratio slipped from 1:11 to nearly 1:14) and enjoy Mexico’s pleasant climates and rich culture.

While Mexico wins on proximity and its diverse geographies and lifestyle options, it lags behind Costa Rica and Panama in terms of successfully streamlining the immigration process.

What should be made easier for migrating foreigners? Based on the survey results, Garcia-Verdu comes up with quite a list, including getting visas, bank loans, tax refunds, and work permits; opening a business, moving your household belongings into the country, and, yes, getting a telephone line.

Of course, he recommends that the US government open Medicare reimbursement to qualified Mexican healthcare providers (66 percent of you said that Mexican healthcare services were on par with or better than care you have received in the US).

The study suggests health care is both a primary driver for considering the move south and one of the biggest impediments. Since 1970, Americans have doubled the percentage of income they spend on healthcare, from about 8 percent to more than 17 percent today. And over the last eight years the number of uninsured in the United States has grown by 8.5 million. In this context, cheaper health care and prescription drugs may be Mexico’s most powerful lures for American and Canadian retirees. The average cost of a coronary bypass in the United States is about $150,000 USD; the average cost in Mexico is just over $20,000 USD.

There is a catch: health care is cheaper in Mexico, but Americans and Canadians are reluctant to give up their state-sponsored benefits, which today don’t cross the border with them. Eighty-two percent of the survey respondents believed that if these benefits were extended to Mexico many more people would migrate south. However, this fix is beyond Mexico’s control, and up to legislators back home.

How can Mexico compensate for the loss of easy access to Medicare? Only 5 percent of American and Canadian expats buy access to IMSS (Mexico’s Social Security program). IMSS could create a product specifically tailored to meet their needs, which in turn could bring cash into a resource-constrained system.

An even bigger win may lie in easing restrictions on work visas and permits for opening businesses. A huge percentage of the survey respondents (average age: 60) cared about this: most people who retire to Mexico are healthy, active, and not interested in just sitting by the beach all day.

If the Mexican government encouraged Americans and Canadians to start businesses and to actively participate in local economies, expats might be able to counter the economic difficulty of reduced social services from the home country. These highly skilled and motivated immigrants would generate new revenue streams for themselves, and Mexico would tap into an innovative workforce that could create jobs for Mexicans not only by spending money, but by actively building Mexico’s base of businesses. Why not take the next step and create an Expat Worker program?