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.


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


  1. We love Mexico and spend six months a year down there. We have tried several places and settled on Mazatlan. Some tips for your Vacation part of your move, one while picking a Condo, ask if a gurney will fit on the elevator. Tow ask local expats who is a good doctor and does he speak english. On one of your vacations choose a place two or three blocks off the beach, quieter and much cheaper. Eat where the locals eat. Do not give money to beggars, the native don't like it. We bought an older motor home in the U.S. for six months a year and go back to Maz for six nonths a year.

  2. Thanks for this.

  3. Thank you for that wonderful information.

  4. We were one of those margarita effect buyers, but not because of booze, but because of the people, both expats and Mexicans. Todo los días en México es nuevo. Every day in México is new. You need to be involved in the community helping mexican initiated activities. #sancarlospueblomagico

  5. Met Tom and his wife years ago in Colorado at a small rv park before they moved io Mexico. Love to get emails from Hotel Los Arcos. Great article