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A million gringos?

17 January 2013

I’ve been hearing for years that there are supposedly a million gringos living in Mexico — a number was pulled out of somebody’s butt (the somebody being a highly unreliable  source that used to be running around this country… and cyberspace… spouting all kinds of nonsense) back in 2002, and taken as semi-gospel ever since.

While it’s difficult to count U.S. citizens who are dual nationals, and there may be a million FOREIGNERS in Mexico at any time (this is a big country, and one of the 10 largest tourist destinations on the planet after  all), the Centro de Estudios Migratoria of the Instituto Nacional de Migración, pegs the number of total foreign RESIDENTS at a mere 262 thousand plus.  That was in 2009, and of course, there are “undocumented aliens” (including, and maybe especially) one million peopleNorth Americans, but even if the number of foreign residents doubled or tripled in the last couple of years, or was vastly undercounted, it’s still nowhere near a million anybodys… and certainly not a million gringos.

AMERICANS… meaning those who hail from somewhere between Point Barrow to Tierra del Fuego account for 2/3rds of foreigners, but U.S. and Canadian citizens only account for a about a quarter of foreign residents.  And, of those 70,000+ “North Americans,” an undetermined number are people who already had  cultural or familial ties to Mexico when they came here.

There are far more Argentines and Colombians than Canadians… followed closely behind by Cubans, Venezuelans and… Chinese.  Spaniards still come to Mexico in some numbers, as they have since 1521.  The second largest single  cohort of foreign nationals in Mexico are the los gachupines.

Other than simply accepting an unreliable source, how did we get such “funny numbers?”  I tend to think that a lot of it was wishful thinking on the part of realtors, the “leisure industry” and those catering to the “gringo ghettos” (which includes myself, at least partially).  That is, by presuming one has a market of a million, it’s a lot easier to find investors (and to continue investing one’s one time and effort and money) in a Mexican business, than when faced with a market (scattered over a huge country) that’s actually much smaller and more localized than one wants to think.

There’s also the tendency to assume that those with which you share one trait share all the same traits.  I get semi-annoyed at the English language “ex-pat” websites and message boards, which are full of information (and misinformation) and discussion of new immigration and visa procedures.  Most commentators, even the knowledgeable ones, go on and on and on about requirements for a pensioner’s visa, as if pensioners were the only sort of foreign resident of any significance.  While slightly less than half of U.S. and Canadian resident foreigners are on pensioners’ visas, overall, only about 20 percent of foreigners are pensioners.  Over half of us gringos, and most of the other immigrant… ex-pats… refugees…  “mojados reversos”… creatively (or otherwise) self-exiled… are not.

And, because the North American pensioners are so concentrated in a few communities, there’s again, that sense that all foreigners are living in such places.  A third of foreigners live in Mexico City, and none of the ten largest municipalities we think of as “gringo” has a foreign population of more than 2 percent.

A million is a nice, round number, and sounds good.  But perhaps those that claim a million of US guys just plain overlooked their neighbors, or just can’t count.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Allen G permalink
    18 January 2013 8:31 am

    The “one million” plus figure has been used by the federal government of Mexico.
    There are a few people that can provide better estimates. Starting with Dr. Omar Lizarrage Morales, who teaches at Universidad Autonoma de Sinaloa, in Mazatlan.
    The foreigners who settle here are retirees, some workers, and some self-employed, not all legally.
    This is becoming a very important topic.
    One that needs disussion within the foreign community.
    In Mazatlan it was estimated that six thousand foreigners live here, a low figure.
    How many in Mexico City, Guadalajara, ?
    One of the reasons for the new Migracion rules.

  2. mexicomystic permalink
    7 March 2015 9:53 am

    INS of Mexico tells me there are about a 1000 foreigners in the State of Tlaxcala, of which about 25 or 30 are US citizens. I’m not counted anymore as I’m now a Mexican. But amongst these many or managers of businesses just waiting out their work time. I figure if a foreigner can get past the 5 year mark he may really become permanent. Haing to move here with your family makes that decision much harder.


  1. And all they will call you will be retiree… | The Mex Files

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