Friday, September 29, 2006

An Opinion from Chacala, on Moving to Mexico

I have gotten a number of emails lately from people who seem to be thinking seriously about moving to Mexico. This is the gist of what I wrote one of them a few days ago. I hope it doesn't sound too........., too something.

Learning to speak Spanish, at least minimally, will make all the difference in how easy or hard it can be to set-up a new life here. If you are serious about trying out Mexico, I hope you are taking Spanish classes and looking for a Spanish-speaking person to practice talking with. It really gives you a lot for flexibiity, and makes things a lot easier. There are really good CD lessons too. And books. And visit as many different towns as possible, all over Mexico, to see what's available. Mexico is huge, and there are many different climates and geographies. Mountains, oceans, deserts, the jungle. Hot,humid, dry, cool, cold in winter, unbearable (for some) in summer. Look before you leap.

When people ask about what kind of income you need to live here, I can't answer the question. There are too many variables. Lifestyle variables, health issues, whether or not you you want a vehicle down here. How you feel about health insurance. If you are planning to buy, build, or rent. If you want to live in Mexico or in Gringolandia. If you have some kind of business you can do from here. If you want to go to the US for vacation every year. Whatever. I think the biggest expense, after renting, building or building a house, is having a vehicle. . Parking and security for your car can be a big problem if you live in a regular, not-made-for-gringos neighborhood. So far, everywhere I have been in Mexico, the public transportation is excellent in Mexico.

It is not cheap to build here. Especially for gringos. If you did it the traditional Mexican way, one room at the time, maybe you could build inexpensively. But building permits have arrived in Mexico. Things are changing all the time in the real estate and construction arena. The cheapest lot for a gringo I have heard of in Chacala lately is about $40,000 US. For a 30x60 foot lot.

I think one of the problems with living in a Gringolandia, like Aiijic, San Miguel de Allende, and Puerto Vallarta, is you are always paying gringo prices for services. In addition to living the same old lifestyle. And big bucks for housing. I personally, believe in idea people charging higher "gringo" prices for goods and services. Why not? Gringos take more time to deal with (generally not speaking Spanish or knowing the names for things), are often (knowingly or not) rude and disrespectful, and almost always have more money.

At the moment I can see several ways for expats live in Mexico.

Transplanting your Gringo lifestyle to Mexico
I think there are a number of people who come here (particularly to the Gringolandia areas) with the goal of replicating the lives they led in the US. Same social activities, values, etc. Feeling they need all the trapping of a (at least) upper-middle class US life-style.

Living a middle-class life, Mexican-style
But if you come here looking for a different way of living, it can be much more affordable. It's a lot cheaper if you want to live a life with a different way of relating to people, and a different kind of friendships, and a different kind of relationship with your neighbors, and the local business people. I mean different than the lives most of us led/lead in the US. And a different level of consuming.

And taking the time to know an area, and meet people, gives you a good chance at finding a more affordable place to buy, or rent. And to have cheaper construction costs. Getting to know people and how things work can make everything more affordable here. If you best friend in Mexico is your realtor, good luck. You will probably get screwed and not even know it.

Being comfortable with basic housing, minimal furniture, no shopping addictions. Eating out at gringo-type restaurants,and trying to continue to eat your old US diet can be expensive. American-type food, even made in Mexico, is about the same price as food in the US. But regular food, fruits and vegetables and meat and ordinary food IS cheaper. Building a large, extravagant house and furnishing with expensive stuff, and continuing your shopping addiction (if you have one) doesn't work on a limited income. There are smaller and medium-sized towns, really lovely Colonial towns, for example, all over Mexico. Towns where there maybe a small gringo population, which is nice because most of us need some support from people with the same background and language. Someone to show you the ropes. All different sizes too. Merida, Colima, Patzucuaro, Morelia, Querterero, and so on. Even Alamos and San Luis Potosi.

Living a low budget life-style in a poor neighborhood or small village
I guess it's obvious this was, and is, my choice. I like being in a small poor town, partly because it fits my personal lifestyle and my minimal budget. I lived in the country with no electricity, and no running water in the winter for years. Lived pretty low on the hog, and liked that life. I like not worrying about having the right clothes, or needing a car, or spending money for entertainment. There's plenty of entertainment right here for me. I have very entertaining neighbors. But I know my lifestyle probably wouldn't work for most people. There are now a few gringos moving to Chacala. They, and the upscale Mexicans who are coming here, all seem to want the high-end lifestyle with all the newest/latest/best stuff. That just doesn't appeal to me, personally. Good thing, because I couldn't afford it without going back to the US, or working my really really hard to start a business here. Which appeals to me even less.

Dropping the "keeping up with whoevers (the Jones, the people in magazines and on TV, and your friends and family) lifestyle, and just do things you enjoy doing can be pretty nice. Waking up in the morning, without any definite plans, and just following your heart and your instincts, and doing whatever you feel like doing at the moment is a pretty nice life. I think this is when people's artistic and creative side starts to come out, for many people. Once your life, and responsibilities, and activity level has slowed down, you have time to pay attention to what's going on around you. And I have noticed a lot of people find start to find creative outlets, often ones they never considered before.

I think it is not un-common for people to or buy or build a house in Mexico, and then, in about three to five years, go back to the States, or Canada or wherever. I think that for the first two or three years they are here, they are so busy trying to buy, build, decorate a place to live, and to learn the in-and-outs of dealing with life in Mexico (banking, bills, visas, taxes, medical care, care ownership,etc) they don't have time to notice that this might not be the place for them. Soon the thrill is gone, and off they go. I like living on "Mexican time". Not having a schedule. Rarely having an "appointment". And never wearing a watch, or looking at a clock can be pretty relaxing. There is hardly anything that HAS to be done right this minute. It's nice to be able to visit with people, and to be able do whatever comes up, without feeling pressured to get somewhere else. You get a chance to see what life brings your way. It feels to me like you end up being more "in synch" with the universe sometimes. You get more attuned to what's going on around you. Seeing someone's body language. Hearing the sound of children playing, and cars moving around.

I like it when there is time for things to just sort of work out. Like deciding in the middle of one morning that this is the day to go into PV, to get my Diabetes meds, and some books for my trip. And walking down to the road, and hey, here's a ride, all the way to San Pancho. And then, all day, never having to wait more than a minute or two for the bus. Or collectivo. Friendships can just develop in your day-to-day life when you aren't rushing around, doing all these really "important" errands. You have time to let life happen to you, and to notice what's happening around you. And to experience things you never knew were available to you. Like a trip to the hot springs, spur of the moment.

I think one of the nicest things about my having a limited ability to communicate in Spanish is that I can't use all my old ways of interacting with people. I can't play my old games. At least not quite as much. I have to pay much more attention to how my words are impacting the person I am speaking too. My non-verbal skills were never very good, but I am getting more sensitive to other people's reactions to me. And I like how it feels, and how people respond to me.

Anyway, I guess the gist of this long epistle, is my suggestion that you really tthink about what you need in your life to be comfortable, contented, and to feel safe. What you need to be able to do the things you like to do. What your bottom line is for your standard of living, and how you want to spend your days, and what kind of people you want to spend your time with. I would imagine that's what you are already doing if you are thinking about moving to Mexico. I hope so anyway. I came to Mexico with a couple of roll-on suitcases and a little backpack. I brought stuff that was special and important to me. Stuff that I thought would help me feel at home. here Little things, like pieces of fabric, and photos, and four books, and some little boxes, art supplies, and a place setting of special silver, and a nice plate. And my Mom's locket. You can buy anything here. You don't need to bring all the stuff that support your old life. You don't need to hold onto all the objects in your old life. I can't speak for you, of course.

One last thought. One problem with spending months and years in the US dreaming and planning about your move to Mexico, is you arrive with your head full of have-to-do things based on the "American" way, and your old life. Which is usually just what most people are trying to get away from when they come to Mexico.

If you decide what you are going to do, and how you are going to live in Mexico, while you are in the US, you may just be bringing your U.S. lifestyle to Mexico. I think that would be a shame, because what usually draws people to Mexico is having a different lifestyle in a different culture.

If you decide how you are going to live here, and make long-term commitments like buying or building, before you actually have time to absorb some of Mexican culture into your thinking, and to understand more about how things work here, you are just going to be living in Gringolandia, in Mexico. Which is obviously fine for some people. PV and Baja and SMA all seem to be full of them. At least that's how it looks to me.
There are a number of message boards about living in Mexico that can be very helpful for getting information about different towns, and the rules for moving to Mexico, and all kinds of things. Most boards have very helpful and knowledgeable posters. JR in Puerto Vallarta is one, and the Lonely Plant, Mexico board is another. And


Roodi said...

I really liked this post, Andee -- you are so right about the various motives of moving to Mexico. I wish gringos were more willing to just RENT from Mexican owners instead of thinking they have to buy up everything in sight -- why do they have to "own" something to enjoy it? I am aghast at the rapid converting of low cost mixed use residential areas into gringo enclaves with high priced seasonal homes, boutique hotels and condos. The Mexican local people are pushed further and further away from the beaches and desirable land that should be for their use too. And prices for everything soar because the gringos can and will pay.

Anonymous said...

Really excellent information.

Sabrina said...

And fot those who finally decide to move, welcome to a great country. Most Mexicans are friendly and you can start doing frineds in the bus...

:) I'm Mexican and miss my country as nnothing else in the world. I had to move to US. Hope someday I can go back to my pretty and lovely Mexico.

Nice post. It also works for me, as to see I first tried to move to US with my mexican way to live... and I have to adapt myself to this country now :).

Your post.. I think work for any changing country decision one has to take.. if it has to be done.