Saturday, March 31, 2018

What to Bring, What to Leave Behind, and What to Get in Mexico


Katarina Vasou in Campeche

What to Bring, What to Leave Behind and What to Get in Mexico


Story by Jim Foreman

Few things cause someone to ponder people’s sanity more than reading or hearing many people’s lists of what to bring and not bring to Mexico.

Many people seem intent on creating hassle and grief when visiting Mexico. This typically derives from preconceived notions, bad advice, and sadly prejudice.


There are some amazing blogs and journeys that are well worth visiting.  They reaffirm the points mentioned and also serve to inspire others to travel, solo, if necessary and enjoy life.  Among the best of these is Diary Wings.  Read about Katarina Vasou from Cypress who hails as, "born and bred, living and breathing for trips and adventure."
Emily Scarlett Romain

Another site worth browsing is that of professional photographer, Emily Scarlett Romain.  She traveled from Mexico to Colombia over four months.  She has a remarkable perspective.

Finally, enjoy a brilliant female traveler, Suzie Agelopoulos' insightful and mesmerizing journeys including Mexico.

It doesn’t matter if you’re visiting for a couple of days or weeks or if you’re coming to escape the winter cold back home. These guidelines will help you have a much more enjoyable and sensible stay in Mexico.

Things To Leave At Home


Guns- A surprisingly high number of Mexicans legally own firearms. Some also illegally own firearms, but we’re not talking about that here. It is forbidden for you to bring a firearm into Mexico with very rare exceptions. If you are participating in an organized competition or hunting trip, you can seek permission from both your home country and Mexico. The process takes several months, and the limitations are quite strict. Most hunters will use guns owned by Mexicans, on hunting trips. Aside from that, unless you’re with the secret service protecting a government official, leave them at home. This goes for ammunition, too. There are countless stories of Gringos rotting in Jail because they thought they were too special to obey the laws. Even a spent shell casing can be cause for serious legal trouble. Regardless of your take on these civil rights, you are in another country and a whole different set of laws.

Large or threatening knives- Leave your ‘John Rambo Special Edition" survival knife or other menacing knives at home. Smaller pocket knives are no problem but don’t clip them to your pocket. Clipping your knife to your pocket makes people believe you think you are some police officer. Bury the ‘Macho’ attitude when in Mexico and keep your pocket knife in your pocket and invisible. It is worse to be mistaken for law enforcement, in most cases, than a politician or tax collector.

Perhaps surprisingly, machete’s are perfectly fine, especially if you are going camping or traveling overland. The dirtier and more well-used, the better. While fine for overland travel, please realize that they won’t be welcome during your resort stay on the beach.

Drugs (Illegal Narcotics)- Don’t bring them into Mexico. First off, why? If you indulge in recreational stimulants, you can find it in Mexico, usually for a lot less than in the US. It’s not difficult, either. Recreational marijuana, like in many US states, is legal, but get it in Mexico. Don’t transport it across the border. That’s where you run a serious risk of trouble. This includes Medical Marijuana, too. If you desire use of the ‘International Herb,’ simply find it in Mexico. It’s often easier than finding an ATM.

Other items that are not legal for you to bring into Mexico include night-vision optics, Tasers, police grade canisters of pepper spray, gun parts, or gun accessories. Small personal pepper spray canisters are no problem, but again, like clipped-on knives, they make you look silly. Keep it out of sight, if you insist on carrying it.

Please take a look at this cheat-sheet put out by the Mexican Government as to what weapons or accessories you can and can't bring into Mexico.

Think about this, though. If you kill a Mexican national, you will probably never leave a Mexican Prison. Instead of trying to be ‘bad-ass’ or James Bond, remain aware of your surroundings, stay humble, and distance yourself from potential negative encounters.

Attitudes- Most importantly, leave politics, political opinions, political clothing, and political perspectives at home. It’s not the same in Mexico, and absolutely nobody wants to hear that in Mexico. This is substantially more true, when on holiday.

Even in Expat communities, abstain from dragging the ugly political baggage with you, from home. All you will achieve, by not heeding this advice is lose friends and appear like a tool. You’re in Mexico. Be respectful. Leave that compost at home.

Don't...  Just Don't.
Don’t bring clothing with American Flags or Maple leaves. Likewise, leave any offensive or law enforcement style shirts, hats, or other clothing, in that unused drawer, back at home.

In the same vein, leave your “USA or Canada is #1” superior attitude at home. In fact, if you genuinely believe you’re better than Mexicans or any other group or nationality, please stay in your home country. Don’t come to Mexico. All you are likely to do is continuously complain that things aren’t like how you’re used to them, back home. (A quick anecdote about this... Over 90% of tourists that are murdered in Mexico are dispatched by their partner or spouse.)

Ok. You’re still reading. Thank you for that. Let’s talk about the things you must bring and probably should bring.

Things you must bring with you when traveling in Mexico


Original Passport or passport card- The days of coming across with only a Driver’s License and a copy of a Birth Certificate are long over. Immigration and Customs Agents at the border may pity your stupidity, ignorance, or rare forgetfulness for not coming with proper documents and let you through. They also may not.

If you are going to leave the US you need a passport. Every other country’s people understand this, except for the USA. It’s true that it’s only been since 2007 that you needed a passport or passcard to travel overland throughout nearly all of North America, but those days are over. Don’t press your luck.

Original Vehicle Registration or Title- While some officials will accept copies, some don’t. Have your original vehicle registration OR title with you wherever you travel in Mexico. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the free zone of Baja California or Sonora. 

Make sure it’s your name, and it matches your ID or Passport name. This is important. The only way a Mexican official knows if your vehicle is stolen or not is if the paperwork matches your ID. If you or your partner may be driving the car, make sure both of your names are on the vehicle registration or title or that you are in the car. Otherwise, your vehicle may be seized, and you will likely be arrested. It’ll be up to you to hire a lawyer, prove your innocence to a judge, and get your car back.

Prescription medications in their original packaging- Preferably with a note from your physician, on letterhead, indicating you must take them. You will find that many of the prescriptions you have to buy are located in Mexico for much less than you would pay in the USA. They are often available, over the counter. If you’re staying longer than 30 days, it would be wise to find out what is available in Mexico and what you need to bring with you. There are many useful resources for this.

Mexican Insurance- Mexican Insurance is mandatory in Mexico. If you are involved in a collision, you will probably end up in Jail until you can make full restitution. The way to avoid jail is to have a valid insurance policy from a reputable company. If you’re involved in anything other than a very minor bump, call your Insurance Company first. They will send a representative, right away, to verify to authorities that you have Insurance and to begin the process of handling the claim.

A Flask filled with premium spirits (Whiskey, Tequila, etc.)- Often this will come in handy for situations you never imagined. Indeed, don’t drink and drive, ever. If you are broken down on the side of the road or need assistance, handing over your flask, as a way of saying, “Thank You,” is a massive gesture of respect. It may not be the way, back home, but in Latin America, it’ll lead to friendships and good feelings.

Mosquito Repellant- Yes, you can find this in abundance, in Mexico, but if you have sensitive skin or will be hitting the beach, right away, spray some on yourself. Zika is real, and it’s not something you want. Other nasties are present such as Dengue and Malaria. This doesn’t mean every mosquito bite will lead to it, but who wants the welts and itchy skin?

Camera-  Sure your phone has some impressive capabilities, but in Mexico, you will have incredible opportunities to take National Geographic grade photos if you have a versatile DSLR camera.

A little knowledge of Spanish- If you are fluent or conversational, you’re golden. If you lack in Español, don't worry. Have a sheet of common phrases in English and Spanish to learn and refer to often. Here are some key phrases to learn and memorize.

Donde esta el baño? (Where is the Bathroom)

LLeno, Por Favor. (Fillup, please)

Una cerveza mas, por favor. (One more beer, please.)

La cuenta, por favor (Check, Please)

Gracias (Thank You.) Also to tell off a pushy person.

De nada (You’re welcome)

Provecho (Enjoy your meal) Like Bon Appetit. If you talk to someone, at their table, say ‘Provecho’ as a departing gesture. If someone says that to you, it’s customary to say “Gracias.”

Pínches Topes (Darn speed bumps) A common expletive uttered by travelers throughout Mexico.

A little Spanish goes an awful long way to being respected in Mexico.

Though not mandatory, it’s wise to consider at least one person in the group to bring the following items. 

-Travel Insurance.  Companies like World Nomads specialize in coverage for overland travelers.

-Emergency Satellite Locator like the Garmin InReach. There are many regions in Mexico with zero mobile reception. It may be the only way to summon help.

- Paper Map(s) of Mexico and the region you’ll be visiting.  If you're a member, your local AAA or CAA office often has these available for free.  Otherwise, these are available at bookstores, Amazon or outdoor outfitters like REI.

- Tire plug kit and a small portable compressor. It’s great to help yourself or others.

- Flashlight. A small flashlight like the SureFire G2XPro can be super helpful and serve as a phenomenally useful means of self defense by temporarily blinding an opponent or as a strike weapon.  Nobody will cry to the cops for shining a light in their eyes.

We’ve talked about what to bring and what not to bring into Mexico. Let’s talk about what you should get in Mexico.

Things to get in Mexico


Tourist Visa and Temporary Vehicle Import Permit(TVIP), if necessary- Yes, you can get these both online. While the tourist Visa is simple, getting the TVIP online puts you in some legal jeopardy. It forces you to take that vehicle into Mexico to cancel-out the TVIP. If anything happens that prevents the TVIP from being canceled-out in Mexico, such as theft, total loss or mechanical issues, you will be assessed a penalty of roughly half the value of the vehicle and fines. Additionally, you’ll have the wonderful time convincing the Aduana that you still have the vehicle and did not sell it in Mexico. Hope you bring a persuasive Spanish speaker.

I recommend getting your documents when you cross the border. It typically takes only a few minutes to do everything, and be on your way.

Bottled Water- Mexico consumes more bottled water than any other nation, per capita. While washing your hands and showering is fine, you still probably can’t drink the water in Mexico. Use bottled water to brush your teeth and rinse your mouth. Most restaurants will serve bottled water.

Electrolit or Coconut Water- Dehydration is much more common in Mexico with the increased heat and alcohol consumption. Fortunately, these two options in addition to plenty of water to help you get and stay hydrated.

Pesos- We have a comprehensive story about Money and Mexico, but a quick summary is to get Pesos in Mexico. Call your bank(s) and give them a travel notice. Then go to a bank ATM (Santander, Banorte, Banamex, Bancomer, HSBC, etc.) to withdraw pesos.

Medications- Farmácias in Mexico are quite helpful to travelers. You may want 800MG Advil, Viagra, or Treda (to treat stomach illnesses like Montezuma’s Revenge). Your local Farmácia (far-MAH-see-uh) will have a staff member who usually speaks English and can get you the right medication for your ailment.

Other common items to get in Mexico include sunscreen, mosquito repellant, and a TelCel SIM card for your phone, if staying more than a month.

Traveling in Mexico is fun and quite easy. Follow these guidelines, use good judgment, be nice, and have fun.  You'll do great!

This and other articles here are sponsored by Mexican Insurance Store. They believe it’s a value to have accurate and timely information about Mexico and Mexico Travel. Please consider buying a top-rated policy from Mexican Insurance Store, next time you travel to Mexico.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

So, You Want To Move To Mexico

So, You want to move to Mexico

Real considerations one must make before deciding if moving to Mexico is right for you from Mexican Insurance Store.

Story by Jim Foreman

Let’s say you have spent an incredible winter holiday in Mexico.  Instead, maybe you’ve been binge-watching HGTV’s House Hunters International or Mexico Life.

Perhaps you work from home or are about to retire and are looking for a good place to get more value for your dollar.

You are probably considering buying a place and living full-time in Mexico.  Hundreds of thousands of people are currently doing that as you read this. 

Unlike stories with an agenda, the intent here is to help you determine, for yourself, if moving full-time to Mexico is for you.   Let’s arm you with reason and wisdom before you decide to take the plunge.

In preparing this story, several long-term, full-time ex-pats were asked detailed questions.  The answers revealed simple perspectives, attitudes, and decisions for a couple or individual to thrive while living full-time in Mexico.

The focus is exclusively on those who are thinking about moving full-time to Mexico.  Seasonal and temporary visitors to Mexico can usually leave whenever they want.  The circumstances for their part-time residency is not related, as much, to money but rather a lifestyle.  Climate is often the principal factor for their duration in Mexico.  That’s an entirely different story.


The Margarita Effect


Most of us have seen the shows with a perky couple deciding and ultimately choosing one of three places to buy in Mexico and live happily ever after.  The truth is that those shows are fake.  

The couples have already purchased their home before filming.  The supposed real estate agent is not at all an agent, but often just a friend or a paid actor. 

Real or not, they are fun shows, and they do get people thinking about and believing that buying a place in a Mexico is easy.  The fantasy continues that with or without children, it is no big deal and that anyone can do it.  It's as simple as watching a 30 minute TV show.

Alternatively, many decide to take a day off from their Mexican holiday and look at new condo or neighborhood developments, in a resort location, in Mexico and consider or even decide to purchase while on holiday. 

This is called the Margarita Effect.  It’s a phenomenon whereby the dream of living permanently on vacation seems like a dream come true, and all that’s needed is a couple of signatures, and you’re done.

The reality of the Margarita Effect is that it’s typically one long-lasting ugly hangover for most people who fall victim to it.

Deciding to live full-time in Mexico should NEVER be made while on holiday and never while drinking.

Economic Refugees


Nobody’s sure who coined the term “Economic Refugees,” but it seems entirely appropriate. 

The classic definition is one who moves outside their home country to pursue a less expensive cost of living, typically while hoping to upgrade their lifestyle. 

Though not exclusively, many retirees come to Mexico as economic refugees.  There’s nothing wrong with this, and for many, the quality of life can significantly improve. 

Sadly, a majority only stay for a year or two and return to their home country with significantly less money than when they started off.  The common complaint is that they wanted to be closer to family and that they were not prepared to give up some of the conveniences they’ve grown accustomed to, back home.

This isn’t intended to scare people from looking abroad to increase their quality of life and value for the dollar.  A sizable percentage of people do quite well living in Mexico.  It’s simply important to make sure other aspects of Mexico including the culture, language, attitudes, expectations, and legalities are acknowledged and embraced.

For most ex-pats, one is going to need to bring your own income with you.  This means you have an existing job that enables you to work outside the office or a specific region, or you have a retirement income or nest egg to live off of, indefinitely. 

Many Gringos leave Mexico every day, financially broke.   They came in with the false perception that they can find or make US-style wages working in Mexico.   In very rare cases it’s possible, but significant investment is required at the onset.

Two Types of Ex-Patriots


Ex-pats generally fall into one of two categories.  Picture, in your mind, the first type of ex-pat.

These folks only consider living in ex-pat enclaves or compounds in gringo-friendly towns such as San Miguel de Allende, La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Ajijic, and Playa del Carmen.  

There is often little to no interest in learning or speaking Spanish.

They pay prices comparable to US-based prices for homes.  Curiously, these same people want little to do with the Mexicans or Mexican culture short of sightseeing and eating at Gringo-friendly restaurants.  These folks claim to have “Mexican friends” such as their housekeeper, regular server at a café, or market checkout clerk.  They tend to get frustrated when Mexicans can’t speak to them in English. 

These honest folks are more prone to foolishly enter bad contracts because they can’t understand Spanish and rely on the Gringo sales agent or worse yet, less than ethical ‘Lawyer’ (Mexicans refer to them as Abogangsters) to interpret what they are signing. Just as legal agreements in the US must be in English, contracts in Mexico must be in Spanish.  

They generally don’t really know or respect Mexico’s immigration, contract, employment, and other key laws and quickly play the victim every time they run afoul of them.  

One is likely to often say and hear the phrase. “It’s OK.  It’s Mexico.”

When visiting and strolling around their town, they only congregate with other Gringos.  Often, they are easy to identify by their, often loud, conversations with other like-minded ex-pats.  They are mostly conversations filled with complaints about ‘the help,’ inconveniences, bitter gossip, being ripped off, US or Canadian politics, and recollections of living back in the United States or Canada.

Alternatively, picture now the other category of people coming to live full-time in Mexico.

These ex-pats are generally more patient, and are actively learning and speaking Spanish.  Even amongst themselves, as much as possible. 

They don’t see themselves as better than Mexicans but rather try to learn from and embrace the Mexican Culture.  They choose to live amongst middle-class Mexicans and have numerous Mexicans as their friends. 

These ex-pats are keenly aware of the widespread corruption from the highest levels down to the lowest.  Despite that, they rely on wisdom from other Mexicans to not fall victim to it, as much as possible.  They are wary of schemes that seem ‘too good to be true’ and rely heavily on the opinions and advice of close community friends and, when possible, family. 

Now, not everyone falls neatly into one or the other of these categories.  To some, these may read a bit harsh, and that's understandable.  That's not the intent, though.  The reason for the stark contrast is to help you see where you and your spouse or partner genuinely gravitate to.  In order to understand what's at play when considering moving to another country, it’s essential to determine, with sober judgment, which camp you may be more likely to join. 

If it’s the first one, you’re probably not a good candidate to move permanently into any other country.  You can still enjoy living in Mexico seasonally, but you’ll very likely not be happy living there full-time. 

If the second description is much more your reality, you and your partner stand a much greater chance to prosper and thrive in Mexico.

There is actually a third category of ex-pats, typically younger, who are excited and up for adventure. Often, young children are part of the equation.  The enjoy living in different countries and wear that as a badge of honor.  Theses hearty individuals typically work for a company remotely or get work locally as an English instructor or other in-demand role.  Their attitudes and perspectives generally follow the second category.

Thoughts From Full-Time Ex-Pats


Los Arcos de Sonora Hotel in Banámichi, Sonora
Specifically, Several wise and thriving full-time ex-pats were asked their thoughts about moving to Mexico permanently.  Despite the vast backgrounds, a similar chord is rung that you’ll likely identify. 

Mike is 59 and lives in Veracruz.  Mike met his future wife while living and going to school in Canada.  She was an exchange student from Veracruz.  She and Mike stayed in contact and eventually married.  She studied dentistry and orthodontistry at university in Mexico, but her certifications and degrees were not recognized by Canada.  At the same time, Mike’s early career path was being phased out by technology and changing economic conditions in Canada.  They both decided to move to her hometown in Veracruz.  
While Mike’s situation was helped by marrying a Mexican National, it was still fraught with pitfalls and hoops to jump through. 

Dan is 73.  He and his wife are retirees from New Mexico living along Lake Chapala, near Ajijic, in Jalisco.  Given the close connection to the Latin culture Mexico shares with New Mexico, they felt pretty good about taking the huge step to living in Mexico full-time.

Tom is 68.  He and his wife live in Banámichi, Sonora.  Tom is originally from Long Island, NY.  after relocating to Denver, Tom worked as an executive.  Tom and his wife moved to Denver to enjoy a better quality of life however tragedy struck Tom with the early passing of his wife.  This caused Tom to reevaluate everything including what he wanted from life and his priorities.  After several years, Tom and his new wife shared their love of motorcycling by eventually starting and running a tour company. Along the route, his tours took riders though northern Mexico, Tom, and his wife became quite familiar and somewhat enamored with Banámichi, Sonora.  After many visits and extended stays, they agreed to buy a property to eventually build a hotel on with the money from the house they sold.  Tom and his wife own and operate the Hotel Los Arcos de Sonora along the historic Rio Sonora in Banámichi.

The famed Ruta Rio Sonora in northern Sonora.

Each one was asked, “What was the easiest part and the hardest part about moving to Mexico, full-time?"

For Dan, the easiest part was adapting to the near-perfect year-round climate and walking almost everywhere in town, instead of driving. The hardest part was and still is, to a lesser degree, getting stuff.

Tom replied that the limited regulation in the small region, not dependent on tourism, was both the easiest and hardest aspect.  It's the easiest in getting the permits and plans approved for the building of the hotel.  In turn, he had and continues to serve as his own building, plumbing, and electrical inspector.

Mike answered that the easiest part of moving was probably having a structure of family and friends to ease the move and cultural changes. Mike went on to say, “Mexican people, in general, are very accommodating and willing to help out migrants. My wife's family, and my (late) father in law, in particular, made things much easier. I began working immediately.”

Mike continued saying that the hardest part was dealing with the ramifications of major political events in the mid 90’s.  These included high-profile assassinations of political leaders, the leftist Chiapas Zapatista uprising following the implementation of NAFTA, and the massive devaluation of the Peso in December 1995.

The next question was asking what perspectives have changed since moving to Mexico, full-time.

Mike reflected on quite a few aspects that changed significantly.  My perspective on Mexican migration to the USA and Canada is entirely different today. I understand it first as a migrant myself, and second because I see people who are migrating or who have returned either willingly or forcibly every single day. I have become much more informed as to the real causes of migration and the corruption behind it.

Corruption, in general, is something I now loathe entirely and have zero patience for. I have seen it's devastating effects and felt it personally and in business.

I see NAFTA completely differently as I have seen it from top to bottom and inside out through my work. NAFTA is a mess that has only benefited certain large corporations and needs to be re-designed completely.

My view on politicians is completely different now.  I trust maybe two that I know personally, as for military, police, and any "authority," they are largely corrupt or forced to work for corrupt officials higher up on the chain of command.  Mexicans have taught me how to navigate around and within these "authorities.”

For Dan, “When we moved here, we thought Mexico was a country on the rise.” Now he’s not so sure due to the rampant corruption and crime, which has significantly worsened in the last five years.

Tom points out that the corruption from the top down permeates everything. Tom mentioned that a University of  Sonora professor said something that really rings true. “Mexico is on the verge of greatness and always will be.” This was due of corruption.  

Despite that, Tom mentioned  that he feels more free and less danger in Mexico than in the US.

The follow-up question was, “Do you believe you are better off in Mexico?
The three answers also had profound similarities. 

Tom said, Yes!  He would not have been able to reach financial independence in the US.  
His economic success in the US allowed him to prosper and become financially independent in Mexico.  Money still generally goes much farther here.  Especially for domestic goods.

Dan also said Yes.  He explained that he is still better off but perhaps not as much as ten years ago.

Mike also agrees.  He said: In quality of life and real-life experience, I would say Mexico has been a wonderful teacher. However, it is a strict teacher and doesn't suffer fools. There is no way to compare my life here to what I had in Canada. It is just so different.  I regret nothing about migrating to Mexico.

Lastly, each one was asked to give their advice to people considering moving full-time to Mexico.

Mike’s response is:  First, understand that you must learn Spanish and become reasonably fluent to truly enjoy life here and to do business. This is extremely important. Relying on translation or stumbling along in someone else's native tongue is not good.

Learn to listen to locals and respect them. They know. They deal with things and know how to deal with things. Listening is extremely important.

Remember that everyone below a certain income is going to think you are a millionaire, even if you are not.  Accept that you will always be a gringo, and understand how you are seen and why you are viewed that way. It is no big deal.

Understand that things often take a long time here! Patience is essential, as well as diplomacy and protocol.

Friends are more important here than all the money in the world.

Finally, your migratory, taxation, and financial matters in order, strictly in accordance with Mexican law and always stay aware of any changes.

Dan’s advice is to spend significant time here before buying anything or pulling up one's roots in your home country.

Tom offers that one should know why you want to come to Mexico and what you’re willing to give up. Migrating solely for financial reasons is fine, but there will be a lot of conveniences you’ll give up.  For example, one can’t find bagels in town or a Pastrami Sandwich anywhere.  It's equally difficult to find proper plumbing or electrical supplies.

You will have to learn Spanish and change your way of doing things.  Accept that it’s different and don’t think you can make it just like living back home.   You need to have a clear understanding of what you’re getting and what you’re giving up. 

Be sure to have the appropriate visa, not just a tourist visa if you plan to work or run a business.  Mexico is not like the US in this matter.  As a guest of Mexico, you are also forbidden to participate in political matters.  Don't mess around with this.

You’ll likely need to adjust your expectations.  Take a week in an area you’d consider moving into, then go back home and let it sink in.  Next time, take two weeks, then go home and reflect.  Increase the duration and reflect on how it will affect you. 

Don’t do this as if on vacation, but with a goal to see if it’ll work out for you or both of you.

Have clear expectations and goals.  Don’t be afraid.  Mexico will reward you in countless ways if you’re open and embrace it.


Conclusion


Walking through Guanajuato, GTO
Mexico is one of the easiest countries to test out and possibly move to, full-time.  The requirements for Temporary Residency and then Permanent Residency are surprisingly easy to meet.   Thriving as an ex-pat in Mexico requires you learn and speak Spanish.  One needs to embrace the culture and its people.  Despite widespread corruption, the people of Mexico are the single greatest asset to your success.  Ignore them at your peril.

Successful ex-pats do not try to make their lifestyle and living situation exactly like it was back in their home country. Rather, they are excited at the prospect to learn, grow, and adapt to a new culture.

Lastly understand your family or friends may not come down to visit so have some resources and ability to travel back home, occasionally to visit with them. 

One of the best books one can get and read or listen to as an audiobook is “A Better Life for Half the Price” by Tim Leffel.  Tim's book covers in much more detail aspects such as medical care, food, lifestyle, and culture for popular expat destinations including Mexico.  If you're serious about relocating, get and read or listen to this book.


Traveling overland is a wonderful way to test out the different locations you wish to consider living in.  It’s so easy that millions do it every year.  

All you need to begin is your passport, Mexico insurance policy, Tourist Visa, and Temporary Vehicle Import Permit, if the area you're visiting requires one. 

Brought to you by Mexican Insurance Store.  Since nearly all US and Canadian car insurance is not valid in Mexico, you need get top-quality protection.  Mexican Insurance Store offers multiple Mexico insurance policy rates and coverage options with liability limits up to $1,000,000.  Review seven different rate quotes from the leading Mexico insurance policy providers based in one of the largest metropolitan areas in California.

©2018 Jim Foreman All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 29, 2017

Mobile Phones In Mexico

Mobile Phones in Mexico by Mexican Insurance Store




Story by Jim Foreman

For Americans, and to a lesser extent Canadians, traveling or spending time in Mexico, a priority concern for most people is Mobile Service.

Having talked to thousands of people who are interested in traveling to Mexico, it’s clear there is a lot of confusion.  Add to that the fact that options have changed relatively recently.  This means what was a great choice a year or two ago is no longer a wise choice, now.

There are actually two questions that need answering.  The first is, “Do I use my US/Canadian based plan in Mexico?" or "Do I get a Mexican Carrier SIM Card?

For many, a combination answer is the most reasonable choice.

The biggest determining factor for this answer is how long you plan to stay in Mexico.  If you are staying for one to three weeks, your answer may be one way.  If you are staying over 30-days, your answer is probably another.

If you are staying 30 days or less, in Mexico, in most cases, your US-based mobile carrier will function just fine.  There are exceptions, nuances, and most importantly, not all carriers have the same offerings.

If you are staying longer than 30 days, it’s probably best to get a Mexican SIM card and go on a pay-as-you-go plan.

Telcel has, by far, the best coverage and service options.  Also, Telcel offers smartphone users free use of the Facebook and WhatsApp Apps on your iPhone or Android phone.
This means you can use the two apps free of any data usage.

As long as your phone is unlocked, you can pop out your US SIM and slide your Mexican SIM in its place and be on your way.  You will have a Mexican phone number.  During this time, calls to your US-based phone will behave as if your phone is turned off.

If your US phone is locked and you don’t have another unlocked phone you can use, you can buy an inexpensive smartphone and use it primarily for Mexico.

Though most Mexican mobile plans offer free calls to the USA from Mexico, having a local number makes communication with people in Mexico much more natural.



Telcel

To get a Telcel SIM card, one can walk into any OXXO, 7-Eleven, or Telcel store and buy a SIM card and prepay any amount you wish.  The more money you prepay to your account, the more free data and minutes they include.  If you buy it at the Telcel store, you can have more choice in your number and area code.  You will have to ask before they issue the number.  Some use of Spanish helps a lot here.  At other stores, your choices in numbers are very limited.
Recharging is very simple.  Just walk into any Oxxo, 7-Eleven, or Telcel store and recharge with cash.  Reloading on the website or App may prove problematic with a non-Mexican bank credit card.  Both the App and Website are only in Spanish so that may be a limiting factor.  The Telcel app is pretty easy to use and figure out how much service you have left before needing to recharge.

There are several other mobile carriers in Mexico including Movistar and AT&T.  Their coverage and service are nowhere as good as Telcel.

Top Tier Mobile Carriers

As of January 2018, this is the current offering of the top-tier US Mobile carriers.  The companies that make up the top tier are AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.  Second tier carriers often have more limited coverage or are regional.  Some examples of these mobile carriers include Virgin Mobile,  Boost Mobile, and Cricket Wireless.

An important consideration for those who will use their US carrier in Mexico is that they all put a limit on consecutive days outside the US for their included features.  That number is generally 30 days.

For those who want a simple, “Tell me the Best one to get.” T-Mobile has the best plans, pricing, coverage, and options for regular travelers and visitors to Mexico.  As long as T-Mobile has good coverage where you live and work, it is currently the best carrier, as of this writing.

Now the breakdown of the Top-Tier US-based Mobile Carriers in ranking order based on a combination of price, features, and coverage domestically and  in Mexico.



T-Mobile One Plan


A single line is $70/month including taxes and fees, with auto pay.  Auto Pay is where the monthly charges are paid automatically from your bank or debit card account.  T-Mobile is the US Presence of Deutsche Telekom.  Deutsche Telekom is probably the biggest mobile carrier in the world.   The benefit of that is that in addition to unlimited US text, calling, and data, Canada, and Mexico calling and data,  you receive limited included phone, text, and data in 140 other countries.  All of this is yours without spending a penny more on add-on features.  If you have two or more lines, T-Mobile also includes Netflix service for free.  In the US, after 50GB of downloads in a 30 day period, service may be temporarily reduced during peak usage.

In Mexico, you are not locked to a carrier.  You can choose the carrier in your phone’s ‘Cellular Settings.’  This is important as TelCel offers 4G speeds when roaming in Mexico while Movistar only allows 2G speeds.  2G feels like dialup.  Forget media-rich sites or messages with 2G.  This is T-Mobile’s policy limitations regarding roaming in Mexico or Canada in their Terms and Conditions. “50% of your voice and/or data usage being off-net (i.e., connected to another provider’s network) for any 3 billing cycles within any 12 month period.”


AT&T Unlimited Choice or Unlimited Plus


A single line is $60/Mo plus taxes and fees, with auto pay and paperless billing.  The Unlimited Choice plan’s data speeds are limited to 3Mb/s.  4G LTE is typically 12Mb/s with burst rates up to 50Mb/s.

The Unlimited Plus for $90/mo is full-speed 4G LTE.  In the US with the Unlimited Plus Plan, after 22GB of data in a month, service will be temporarily reduced during peak hours.

Unlike T-Mobile, AT&T will, by default, lock you into a carrier in Mexico.  This means you will be forced to use AT&T Mexico (4G LTE) or Movistar at 2G speeds.  Again, 2G feels like dialup.  You may call customer service to have that restriction lifted.  According to AT&T, the usage policy in Mexico or Canada states: “Roaming feature may be removed if voice, text, or data usage in Mexico and/or Canada exceeds 50% of total voice, data or text usage for 2 consecutive months.”  AT&T offers HBO for free after 2 billing cycles.



Verizon BeyondUnlimited


A single line is $85/Month plus taxes and fees with Auto Pay.  Like AT&T, Verizon will temporarily reduce the service after 22GB domestically in a month, during peak usage.

When traveling in Mexico or Canada, phone, text, and data are included at no additional charge.  There are some restrictions.  After the first 500MB/day, speeds are reduced to 2G (dialup).  Roaming in Mexico or Canada is limited to less than 50% of your talk, text, and data usage in a 60 day period.  If those limits are exceeded, service can be interrupted or removed.
It is unclear if Verizon locks you to a particular Mexican carrier.  Best guess is that they don’t.


Sprint Unlimited Freedom Plan


Sprint has the Unlimited Freedom plan starting at $60/month plus taxes and fees with Autopay.   Sprint tiers their domestic data streaming rates depending on if your streaming video, gaming, or Music.  Generally, one won’t notice any limitations during normal operation.

In Mexico Sprint includes, according to their website, “Free LTE/4G high-speed international data roaming in Canada & Mexico. Free calling and texting while roaming in Canada & Mexico.”  Without being specific, Sprint’s terms and conditions state that “Service may be terminated or restricted for excessive roaming.”

It is unclear if Sprint locks you to a particular Mexican carrier.  Best guess is that they don’t.

Second Tier and Regional Mobile Carriers


Second Tier and regional carriers are much less consistent with their plans and roaming in Mexico policies.  While not complete, here is a general rundown of the offerings available.


Boost Mobile Unlimited Gigs and the Todo Mexico Plus add-on.


Boost Mobile offers the Unlimited Gigs Plan for $50/month including taxes and fees.  Like Sprint they also cap the datarate for video, gaming, and music streaming.

For Mexico, you will need to add the $5/Month Todo Mexico Plus which includes "Data Roaming, up to 8GB, Unlimited calls to U.S. & in Mexico, and Unlimited International text (SMS only)."  The Boost Mobile Terms and Conditions state: “Data roaming provided at 2G/3G speeds; data roaming access ends when applicable allotment depleted & restored at next plan cycle. Includes unlimited int'l. text & talk to landlines and mobiles in Mexico and Canada (excluding Northern Territories/area code 867). Not for extended int'l. use; first & primary usage must occur on our U.S. network.”

Virgin Mobile Inner Circle


Virgin Mobile’s Inner Circle is $50/month plus taxes.  Fees are included.  Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint network.  Plans are domestic only and do not offer any minutes, texts or Data when roaming in Mexico.  Doing so will be at the mercy of whatever the carriers wish to charge.

Virgin Mobile is NOT a good option to take into Mexico.  It’s best to leave that SIM at home and get a Telcel SIM or switch carriers.


Cricket Unlimited Plan


Cricket’s Unlimited plan is $55/month with autopay.  Taxes are included.

Roaming in Mexico and Canada is included.  Here are Cricket’s Terms and Conditions: “Includes calling/texting in Mexico, Canada and between the U.S., Mexico & Canada. Also includes use of the high-speed data allotment from your plan while traveling in Mexico and Canada. Actual data speeds vary by device and location. Each number of texts, number of voice minutes, and data usage sent, received or used while in Mexico and Canada cannot exceed 50% of the total number of texts or voice minutes or data usage (including domestic use) in a month for any consecutive three month period or service may be terminated. Roaming services not guaranteed, limited coverage in select markets outside the U.S. Other restrictions apply.”


Google Project Fi


Google Fi is a newcomer for personal communications.  It's got some appealing aspects including worldwide data at one rate in over 135+ countries.
The cost is $20/month for domestic only calls and texts and $10 per Gigabyte.  Any Gigabytes you prepay for and don't use get credited toward your next month's bill.
If you use 5 Gigabytes of data a month, your bill comes to $50.  If you go over and use 9 gigabytes per month, you pay $90.
Project Fi rides on top of existing major networks so coverage is usually pretty good.  The downside is that the major networks sell off their extra capacity to Google Fi or Virgin Mobile at typically reduced data rates and quality.
This service is also strictly limited to Google Pixel phones.  Forget it if you want to use your iPhone or Galaxy 8.  Use of an existing or established phone number is complicated.  Voice calls outside of the US are billed per minute.
It may be an excellent choice for some tech savvy travelers.  There is a helpful questionnaire one can use to determine if Project Fi is a good choice for them.

Conclusions

Sometimes the little details make all the difference.  This is especially true with mobile service in Mexico.

Plans and included services change often and typically get better and better for the consumer.  It wasn’t too long ago that no carrier included Mexico roaming.

Call your carrier and make sure your plan is capable and compatible with Mexico roaming and what the restrictions and limitations are.  If your phone is locked, by your carrier, you may be able to unlock it for free, legally.  Most offer to unlock the phone when your contract expires.  Contact your mobile carrier for details.

Traveling in Mexico is fun and easy.  All you need is your passport, depending on where you go, a Temporary Vehicle Import Permit, and lastly, Mexican Insurance.

Head out on adventure and discover the wonderful offerings from our great southern neighbor.

Friday, February 10, 2017

15 Rookie Mistakes To Avoid When Traveling In Mexico


When in Rome, do as the Romans do. -Saint Ambrose

Story by Jim Foreman

We’ve all been there. We’ve all made that first trip to Mexico, as green as a cucumber.

What’s more, everyone, it seems, from the news, family, and friends will try to impart some conventional wisdom. The problem is that these same people offering their advice have either never been to Mexico or went so long ago, the memories are grossly embellished.

Originally this was going to be only ‘6 Rookie Mistakes.’ As the thoughts and situations kept appearing, the number rose to 8, 10, 13 and finally 15. Truthfully, this list could have exceeded 16, 18 or 20 points. Sticking with the self-imposed limit of 15, take a moment to ponder, read, and think about what’s listed below. These can mean the difference between a ‘Meh’ trip and a wonderfully memorable journey.

The list below isn't about rules to follow such as not driving at night or taking the toll roads. Instead, these are some key details and perspectives that will make your first trip and future trips memorable and enjoyable.

1) Pay with Pesos


If I had a dime for every time some well-meaning Gringo told me to pay with US Dollars when in Mexico, I’d have a 50-gallon drum filled with dimes. Unfortunately, I would have overpaid for everything in Mexico negating the value of those dimes. When in Mexico, get Pesos and pay with Pesos.

Several things are accomplished by this. First, you are going to be most likely to pay the local price for goods, food, and services. Second, and perhaps more importantly, you show respect to Mexicans by paying in Mexican currency. If you need more details about paying for things in Mexico, take a look at this story.

2) Learn a couple of key phrases in Spanish.


This is a biggie. One doesn’t have to be fluent in Spanish to get along, but one should make an effort to know a little bit of Spanish. Starting with ‘Por Favor’ for Please and ‘Gracias’ for Thank You, it’s easy to build one’s vocabulary. Frequently used words like Baños, Cerveza, Comida, Escribe, and numbers in Spanish will help even more. There are many fun and easy ways to pick up Spanish. Some of the best are entirely free.  Duolingo, and the BBC offer great Spanish Language courses.

3) Don’t assume all police are crooked.


They’re not. Police in Mexico have taken great strides to weed out corruption and discipline those that prey on visitors. If you are stopped by the police, chances are you were speeding, blowing through a stop sign, or some other offense. Imagine all the craziness Mexican officers have to put up with from locals as well as foreigners.

Dealing with the situation is a little different than in the US or Canada, but handling oneself professionally is up to both you and the officer.  For advice on handling police encounters in Mexico read this story.

4) Don’t go in with expectations. Let Mexico unfold on you.


One of the biggest mistakes first-time visitors to Mexico make is building up a set of pre-conceived notions about the people, culture, and attitude. Many of these conclusions derive from stateside people of Mexican descent. Mexicans in Mexico are very different from Mexicans in the US. This is particularly the case of the second generation and further Americans of Mexican heritage.

Keep your politics, tasteless jokes, and other disrespectful perspectives back home and open your mind to a warm, welcoming and wonderful people.

5) When driving, pull to the right to let people pass you.


For some reason, Americans have the hardest time with this. You don’t own the road in Mexico or back home. If someone wants to pass, pull to the side and let them pass. It does nobody any good to hold up other drivers, and it’s the fastest way of building animosity anywhere you go.

6) Don’t be a slave to your GPS.


This bit is another biggie. Turn the darn thing off. Get a paper map, look at where you want to go for the day and what major cities are along the way. Then follow the signs. It is surprisingly easy to travel around in Mexico without the Sat Nav. By turning off the GPS, you will be much more inclined to see interesting sights, attractions, and towns. The GPS will only route you on the toll roads where you see remarkably little. In bigger towns, the GPS can be quite helpful but when driving distances, turn it off. You’ll notice your happiness increase by the kilometer.

7) Do Take the Libre road sometimes.


In most cases, there are at least two ways to get where you’re going. A free road and a toll road or 'cuota.' Toll roads on a map are designated with a ‘D’ after the number. Some Libre roads are much nicer than the toll roads, other times the toll road is the only practical way to go.

Simply put, be flexible. Ask locals at the café or people at the gas station if one option is better than another.


Todos Santos, BCS

8) Don’t rush your visit. Take the time to explore.


Americans are notorious for trying to cram too much into a day. Don’t. Relax. You’re in Mexico. Take the time to enjoy traveling and being in Mexico. Enjoy down time and don’t make the mistake of packing too much into a day.

9) Ask locals for interesting things to see.


Whether you are only at a luxurious resort or driving to a Mexican Hamlet by the Sea, make friends and ask locals if there are worthwhile attractions in the area. Take the time to check them out. The costs are typically minimal, and the enjoyment can be quite surprising.

10) Don’t make hotel reservations in advance.


Unless you are flying into a big resort or are traveling during a Mexican holiday period such as Semana Santa, don’t pre-plan your stops. Again, this is a very American thing, but it is absolutely the wrong way to enjoy Mexico. Drive and enjoy the land and when you feel like it, find a hotel. You will almost always find it for less that you would have paid on your fancy phone app. Asking for a promotional rate or discount is perfectly fine. It may seem very counter to the obsessive compulsive individual, but trust in this. You may want to stay the night in the Pueblo Magico rather than the bland city you initially were targeting.

11) Don’t spend too much time in hotels, ‘Gringo’ restaurants, and RV Parks.


When you arrive at the hotel and have freshened up, go into town and walk around. This is especially true for those in RVs. Get out of the RV Park. You will enjoy much better food and most likely better company by venturing out. Look for places that have a lot of Mexicans. Those places are busy for a reason. The food will certainly be much better and as a bonus, much less expensive.

Getting out of the hotel or RV Park also benefits you and the locals. Both you and they can share experiences and learn from each other. One doesn’t get that from a sweet septuagenarian New Englander escaping the brutal winters back home.

Querétero Centro

12) Do walk the city center.


Most Mexican towns are built around a church. There’s most likely a town square and some activities, restaurants, and attractions to enjoy. You won’t find out much online so just get out and pound the pavement a little bit and explore the area. Most hotels have a map for guests. If the distance is too far, hire a cab to take you and pick you up. The experiences one will gather will often be the most memorable to one’s trip.


Mariscos El Cuchupetas in Villa Union, Sinaloa is known nation wide and worth the wait.

13) Don't eat at familiar American chain restaurants like Mc Donald's or Applebee's.


You're now in a region with some of the best food in the world.  Great food may be served on a sidewalk or a surrounding street in the centro.  Look for restaurants or cafes with lots of Mexicans patronizing it.  That's where the best food and surprisingly best prices are going to be found.

Try new foods and dishes.  That's what traveling is all about.  Leave your American diet sensibilities behind.  Avoid those pesky salads which are often rinsed in tap water.  Go for the tacos, cocteles, and grilled fish.  It's surprisingly healthy and more often than not, the vegetables and fruits are locally and organically grown.

14) Don’t be loud.

Americans have this thing about being loud when they are in unfamiliar places. No matter where one goes when one hears loud voices, it’s almost certainly made by Americans. Don’t Be Loud! Relax. Talk slower and softer. People are often surprised by how much better they are received when they simply quiet down a little bit. This may seem like a subtle point, but it’s not. Next time you’re out and about in a foreign land, take a listen. You’ll spot the Americans in no time. Shhhhhh…

15) Don’t get the cheapest auto insurance.


This is critical. Yes, this story is sponsored by Mexican Insurance Store, but this bit of advice has nothing to do with that. Many policies sold at the border kiosks, especially brokers selling only one brand, in particular, are a very poor choice for travelers into Mexico. These policies are often unrated or poorly rated. Unrated means, no outside company has evaluated them to see if they are solvent enough to pay out if you have need to file a claim. More so, the 'too-cheap' policies have such minuscule coverage that they’re rarely worth the paper they are written on.

The problems with this arise when you are in a moderate to serious collision and the damage is determined to exceed the coverage limits or the insurance coverage you think you bought turns out to be non-existent.   You will be jailed, until full monetary restitution is made.  Furthermore, the fact that few Mexicans wear seat belts, despite a federal law requiring them, make your risk and exposure even greater.

The brokers that offer policies at low-ball rates have a long list of exclusions, limitations and practices that should cause one's hackles to rise.  Some exclusions include:
  • Not being able to get your vehicle repaired in the US
  • Ridiculously low hourly rate paid for repair services on a damaged car
  • No guarantee on repair services
  • A history of low-balling vehicle loss at the 'poor quality' trade-in value
When you shop, only buy policies from Ace Seguros, Mapfre, or HDI. These are all top rated (A.M. Best) insurers that will provide adequate quality coverage throughout the entire country of Mexico.  If your provider is missing from this list, it's not by accident.  Don’t skimp on this and think you're doing yourself a favor.

When traveling by car, motorcycle or RV, go to MexicanInsuranceStore.com to shop up to 7 quotes from top rated insurers. We all hope we never need to call our insurance company to file a claim. Should you ever have to, though, it’s good to know that you will be covered by honest and reputable companies who have served travelers reliably for decades.
©2017 Jim Foreman All Rights Reserved.