Moving To Mexico – Perfecto
An Update: I am now 2 years in. Live here full-time. My wife and I built a house (that’s it on the left), I am maintaining my global advertising agency consultancy and am way into a major multi-year photography project.
I am convinced I made the right… move. San Miguel de Allende is great (and was just named the best city in the world by Travel & Leisure) and I get to make fairly obvious Donald Trump jokes that get big smiles (from Mexicans, not Texans).
By the way, check out my 210 portrait photograph series, La Gente. I am celebrating the beauty of my Mexican neighbors. Please pass it on, especially to Americans.
Why Mexico? [The Original Blog Post]
This post explains why I moved to Mexico, the where, the how and provides some details should you want to follow me. Yes, you can make a living in Mexico.
The move has been a two-year process for my wife and me to decide to make the move and then choose where to live. We selected San Miguel de Allende (for its culture and high-altitude weather) over Puerto Vallarta (too beachy); Baja (too close to California); the Yucatan (way too humid); Oaxaca (a close second); Mexico City (too crazy); or Lake Chapala (boring – though near Guadalajara).
I like moving to new places and do so about every 7 years. The upside is adventure and having to creatively deal with unknowns. The downside is leaving friends behind. But, some visit and Skype and Facetime keeps everyone face-to-face.
In addition to pure wanderlust, there are other factors that seem to make me move. Here is a new one. I recently read the Wall Street Journal article, Nature or Nurture? What Makes You an Expat? Is a lust for travel, adventure and new surroundings built into your DNA? The article covers the idea that moving and living in a foreign country might be, partially, a function of your DNA. My kids are in their twenties and they now live in Buenos Aires and Budapest. Is the Levitan DNA responsible? Who knows. But, this is an interesting concept to digest.
By the way, that’s me up above C/O of an artist’s photo booth at a Mexico City art museum.
OK, so why am I moving to Mexico?
I grew up in New York City. Went to college in Boston and San Francisco. Then moved back to New York, to Minneapolis, to New Jersey when we had kids, to London and back. And, 15 years ago my family split from post 9/11 New York metro to go to Bend and then Portland, Oregon. Was it genes? Wanderlust? Career building? I think all of the above.
We are not alone. Mexico has the highest number of American expats. The actual numbers are a bit flaky but the U.S. government estimates the number at over 1 million. These include people working in Mexico, folks just hanging out, Mexican Americans and a very large number of American retirees.
But, hey, this blog post is about me.
- Numero uno: Adventure (life is short.) See David Bowie for inspiration. ‘”Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the strange) Turn and face the strain. Ch-ch-Changes”
- Our new home is San Miguel de Allende which is in the middle of the country. That’s one of its most famous scenes in the picture. SMA is one of the coolest towns in the world (yes, the world.) Here is what Huffington Post says.
- If you don’t mind skipping heat and humidity, San Miguel de Allende’s weather is perfect (high desert at over 6,000 feet.) See the map at the bottom for its location.
- The people in San Miguel are always smiling.
- It’s safe. Please stop the silly ‘gringo’ question, “Is it safe?” Get this: most of Mexico is safer than New Orleans and Detroit. And, you know that if Americans stopped doing tons of coke, meth and heroin, we’d solve the cartels problem. The key is that you don’t go hang out where they do business.
- The Mexican culture combines indigenous and Spanish cultural influences. There are endless street, art and music festivals and a very vibrant art scene.
- The cost of living is about 60% of living in the USA. In our first ‘test’ year, we are renting a fully furnished 4 bedroom house with 3 days of housekeeper service and a gardener for $2,000 per month. At over 18 pesos per dollar, the dollar is as high as it has been in years.
- San Miguel has the second best restaurant scene in the country. It has become a major weekend destination for people living in Mexico City.
- Surrounding towns deliver sweet day trips to visit hot springs, local ice cream meccas and university towns. And… truly exciting things like a CostCo and the largest shopping mall in Latin America. I haven’t been there yet but will avoid a Chili’s if they have one.
- I can easily fly nonstop to L.A., Dallas, and Houston out of two local airports and internationally from Mexico City.
- Getting a long-term visa easy. Try living long-term in the U.K. or France or Thailand.
- I’ll try to avoid CNN and FOX and MSNBC.
- Oh, and I can work from anywhere I have a laptop and WIFI. Plus, my town is conveniently in the central time zone.
Have you considered living in Mexico?
A recent research study I did testing Google Consumer Research focused on where Americans want to retire. My findings show that 13% (13%!) of Americans between 45 and 65 “have considered retiring in Mexico”. By the way, you do use easy-to-use-super fast Google Research in your business development program, right?
Who will thrive in Mexico?
You do not have to be a trailblazer. But, if you wish, you can be. There is a lot of Mexico to explore that is way past the unusual tourist hot spots. One of the first questions I get asked when I say that I am moving to Mexico is… “West or east coast?” Believe me, for most people, 3 + weeks of just sand and beers gets boring. Surfers and divers excluded.
My Key Mexico Lifestyle Facts
Some info if you are in the 13% that have considered moving to Mexico.
Where do Americans live?
Mexico is a large country with many lifestyle options.
You have a few choices to consider. Do you want a gorgeous beach? Check. A sophisticated city? Check. Colonial towns? Check. Hundreds of years of history and pyramids? Check. Jungle, check. Established expat communities? Check. Places where you can get completely lost? Check.
The mix includes:
Huge cities like Mexico City with a total population of over 20 million; Guadalajara at 1.5 million and southern Oaxaca with 3.8 million. Smaller inland cities include San Miguel de Allende, Puebla, Cuernavaca and the Yucatan’s Merida. Note that central Mexico is booming and is where your car might have been built.
A beach lifestyle in west coast beach towns including Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo, and Zihuatanejo or Yucatan towns including Playa del Carmen, Cancun, and Tulum.
Traditional expat enclaves that deliver lots of gringo-related services include the small towns in Baja, Oaxaca, Lake Chapala and the high-culture of San Miguel de Allende.
The Big Negative
Mexico’s biggest negative is the fear of crime. The image of rampant crime is fueled virtually daily by our press. When people announce that they are moving to Mexico they are often asked, “is it safe?”
Unfortunately, it is difficult to escape the fact that Mexico is living through an organized crime war that is fueled by America’s insatiable love of drugs. Because of this, there are areas of the country that have become no-go zones. Gang violence continues in border states and central and the southern states of Guerrero, Michoacán, and the State of Mexico.
Good news, these areas are not going to be your promised land unless you are Sean Penn. I advise you to visit The U.S. Department of State to learn about the risk of traveling to certain places in Mexico.
That said… it is time to take a breath of reality. The vast majority of Mexican crime victims are unfortunately Mexican citizens (especially drug-related killings), not foreigners. It has been said that you have a greater chance of being hit by lightning than being murdered in Mexico. In fact, for comparison, the murder rate in the somewhat nasty border town of Nuevo Laredo is 34.92 vs. 39.61 in New Orleans.
Leading expat cities like Chapala, Los Cabos, Merida, Oaxaca, Puerto Vallarta and San Miguel de Allende just might be safer than your own hometown.
To stay safe, like anywhere, you need to be conscious. Just like in America, be smart and alert wherever you travel. Displays of wealth, walking in the wrong part of town at the wrong time and driving down lonely roads at night should be avoided.
Location: Mexico covers an area of 761,600 square miles. It is bordered by the United States on the north; The Pacific Ocean on the west; Guatemala and Belize to the south and The Gulf of Mexico to the east.
Travel: There are dozens of one and two-stop flights per day to most American cities. The drive between Mexico City and the Texas border takes 12 hours.
Climate: It is a heck of a lot nicer all over Mexico than it is in Fargo! Mexico’s generally drier climate varies from the coasts to the mountains. It includes tropical environments, warm beaches, high humidity-free deserts and mountain towns where the daily temperature can range from highs of 80 to lows of 50 — my town.
Visas: Mexico has a range of visas and the application process is easy. Mexico welcomes Americans. I went to the local Mexican consulate and in two visits got a 4-year resident visa.
Cost-of-Living vs. U.S.A.: One word: Inexpensive. Consumer prices, including housing, are 139% higher in the United States than in Mexico.
Population: 126 million
Median Age: 27.7 (U.S. 38)
Life Expectancy: 77 (U.S. 79)
Government: Mexico is a democratic federal republic. It is stable (if a bit corrupt due to the effect of cartel-generated billions.)
Currency: The Peso. Good news: it has been heading way south versus the dollar.
GDP Per capita: $10,361 in 2014 (it has grown 16% since 2010.) Mexico is on a positive growth trajectory.
Language: Over 90% Spanish. English is spoken in major cities and tourist destinations. It is said that San Miguel de Allende is the toughest town to learn English. Why? Because so many SMA citizens speak English.
Primary Religion: Roman Catholic.
Food and Drink: Generally familiar to Americans. Regional specialties will be surprising when you get way past Tex-Mex.
WIFI: Average connection speed varies by location. However, it is generally acceptable at 4.1 (M/bits) vs. 6.0 for the U.S.A.
Phones: Mexico has a very well developed phone system and prices are decreasing. You can get by virtually anywhere using 3rd Generation (“3G”), 4th Generation (“4G”) and LTE (Long Term Evolution) cellular services. Your American phone will work there. But, watch out for international roaming fees.
Cars: I just bought a 2012 Toyota RAV 4 — with some local help. There are some complications & hoops to jump through if you want to bring down your American plated car.
Infrastructure: Mexico is first world. But, can at times seem like a second world country. However, toll-roads are well maintained and inter-city travel is easy via air and a comprehensive bus system that includes relatively low cost ‘luxury buses’ that shame our northern bus systems.
Healthcare: Healthcare in Mexico is inexpensive. High-quality well-trained doctor visits can cost as low as $5 to $20 per visit. Major city hospitals provide excellent service. Many Americans already head south to Mexico City and Guadalajara for affordable elective surgery and dental procedures (my Portland dentist has Harvard colleagues that practice in Mexico City). Although Americans can sign up for the national healthcare system (IMSS), most Americans opt for international based insurance and/or just pay out of pocket. Medicare is not accepted in Mexico.
Real Estate: Americans can buy and own property in the interior of Mexico. However, we cannot own property outright within the ‘restricted zone’, which are lands within 64 miles from an international border and 32 miles from the coastline. In this case, you will need to use a bank trust called a fideicomiso. This sounds more complicated than it is. However, you should seek out professional assistance, and proceed with patience.
The Test Year. Lots of people arrive in San Miguel de Allende and are so blown away by the beauty and pace that they rush to buy a house. We are not. We’re doing a “Test Year.” If we really dig living there and the much lower cost of owning a house and real estate taxes, then who knows.
The test years helps you get the lay of the land and lifestyle. Renting long-term can eliminate some of the vagaries of ownership including any difficulties associated with how and when to sell your property.
Since this is a test and not a full-on commited move, we put most of our household possessions in an Oregon storrage unit. Downsizing to shrink our 25 years of collected possessions was “interesting”. Major thanks to The Salvation Army, The Disabiled Americans, Habitat For Humanity and, of course, Craigslist and eBay.
Working: I can work from anywhere I have a laptop and WIFI. Many expats are in Mexico care of their corporation. Some are down for the surfing and diving. Retired Americans own businesses like B&B’s, bars, rental real estate, shops and art galleries. To do that, you will need a Residency Visa. Note that if you earn money in Mexico you will need to pay Mexican and American taxes, although a large portion of your Mexican earnings will be excluded by the IRS. Talk with Mexican and U.S. accountants before you open up for business. Many Americans also run Internet-based services that are billed in the U.S.A. that will not require filing in Mexico.
Taxes: Non-residents are taxed on their Mexican income only. Residents are taxed on income earned abroad.
Cannabis: Personal possession of up to 5 grams of marijuana (3 joints or so) is legal. It is not legal to buy, sell, share, or grow marijuana. This might be the only major cultural issue confronting an Oregonian who is used to buying weed at his local marijuana shop.
Homosexuality / LGBT: Legal.
Abortion: Abortion is prohibited except in the case of danger to the mother.
The Visa Thing: Visas are always a major expat issue. However, Mexico welcomes American’s and has three types of visas.
- Tourist Visa / Visitante / FMM: You will need an up to date passport and a FMM “Forma Migratoria Multiple” to stay in Mexico for 180 days or less. This form is provided free of charge by your airline or at point of entry.
- Temporary Resident Visa / Visa de Residente Temporal: The Temporary Resident Visa, is for people who want to live in Mexico for more than 6 months and up to 4 years. This visa also provides non-immigrant temporary residency status. Bottom line is that you can live in Mexico for up to 4 years. A Temporary Resident Visa cannot be issued in Mexico. You will have to return to the U.S. to obtain this visa. After 4 years, four you must apply for a Permanent Resident Visa if you want to stay in Mexico.
- Permanent Resident Visa / Visa de Resident Permanente: The Permanent Resident Visa allows people to obtain permanent residency status. To apply, you must meet these requirements: Have 4 years of prior Temporary Resident status. Retirees must be able to show sufficient monthly income or assets from investments or a pension.
The Bottom Line / La Línea de Fondo
Mexico represents one of the easiest expat moves. It is a quick flight away; your dollar will stretch twice as far (many Americans can live on their Social Security check alone); you already know what a taco is (no, I don’t mean Taco Bell); English is spoken in major cities and tourist zones and Mexicans are very friendly and welcoming.
If you want to just be a mega-Gringo – that’s OK. You can choose to hang out with lots of other Americans and Canadians in Cabo or Puerto Vallarta. The downside of this is that you will miss one of the key reasons to live in Mexico – the indigenous culture.
Oh, last point. Mexicans like to party. Colorful festivals run all year long. If you think you’ve experienced the wide range of tequilas and mescal…. think again.
Back To Me.
Yes, I am still in the business of helping advertising agencies grow and prosper. I can do that from anywhere. I’ve run my new business consultancy from Oregon, New York, Thailand, China, Vietnam, and Mexico. Laptop + Skype + my phone + WIFI. All I need.
Starting on 15 July, I’ll be here…