Coming to Mexico as a Couple....You and Your Laptop
Not surprisingly, you will hear consistent accounts from me about all the reasons you should learn a little Spanish and live in Mexico at least part-time to test it out.
You can live on the beach at a fraction of what it would cost in the U.S. The people are gentle and gracious. Life can be an adventure again. With technology, you can keep up with your friends back home.
So what’s the bad news? Cartels? Nope. Corruption? Not likely. Bad water? Nah.
Home technology is the only thing here that’s ever made me want to jump out one of my huge (and conveniently screen-less) 12th story windows.
What you have to get used to is a technological shift. To get started, you might want to start getting familiar with Zoom (better than Skype), Skype, FaceTime, GChat and especially WhatsApp. All of them enable you to call your friends back home and/or talk face to face for free from Mexico.
When you move to Mexico, inexplicably your friends back in the U.S. will resist all of them. Press on, especially if you want to avoid the high cost of contracts and international phone plans.
I ported my own number over from Verizon and switched to Magic Jack, an internet-based phone service and have been receiving and making calls from the U.S for free since 2015.
Usually the reception is very good, both in Mexico and in the U.S. Recently I added a $10 a month AT&T phone plan offered in Mexico which allows me to make unlimited calls to the U.S. and Mexico from both countries and some data.
AT&T provided me a Mexican number. My friends in the U.S. still call the number they're used to, which comes though the Magic Jack line, because the plan only cover my calls to them, not my calls from them (unless they are on the same plan).
You'll either learn all about these crazy systems when you move, or you will pay a much higher price than you need to. While a little unwieldy, these systems together mean my phone bill runs about $23/month.
Home entertainment options
As far as home entertainment (apart from the kind you get from your Mexican friends trying to explain the appeal of Banda music), plan on spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to see recent movies, HBO or Netflix series or how to listen to your personalized radio stations. You will be tempted to break the law like you’ve never been tempted before.
Some expats who don't want to suit up for battle have simply gone native and surrendered to the fact that they simply will not get what they did at home. For the most part, they watch what Mexicans watch.
Barriers to access to American movies and shows are constantly put up and expats constantly work their way around them. Some turn to a life of crime. I can’t say I blame them. If you want recent movie and television fare, often it's the only way you are going to get it.
Get a VPN
VPN’s (Virtual Private Network) hide your IP address and connect you to servers in the place of your choosing. For example, I have the VPN service Hide My Ass (Yes, that’s the name). I chose it because it has a clean interface, excellent chat support and, with a name like that, I’d always remember who my VPN provider was.
With recent changes in the law, your internet service provider is now allowed to sell your private data. If you care about them being able to sell your social security number, medical information and bank information, you should use a VPN regardless of where you live.
I chose my IP address to be Montana (It had more of a "throw them off the scent" ring to it.) Supposedly, my location is “hidden” from Bad Guys and others who would profit from knowing my location. I’ve been told it slows your computer down though I haven’t noticed that being the case.
Once you move to Mexico, you can get Mexico’s Netflix, which does not carry the same lineup as your Netflix in the U.S. Some of the shows you like (House of Cards, Orange is the New Black), yes. But not all.
Until recently, VPNs worked with Netflix until the company started coming down on VPN users. You can no longer access U.S. Netflix using one. If your I.P. address is in the U.S, I don’t understand how they know but I guess that’s part of the chase.
To get a regular network and programs like CNN news, the most popular option according to friends here is a subscription to Canada’s Shaw Network with a Shaw PVR (personal video recorder) receiver. With the current political situation in the U.S. I have divorced myself from the network news and stick to Dave Pell’s Nextdraft newsletters for my news.
In Denver, I had started renting movies on YouTube. It’s easy, they have your credit card information and I have never found a movie that I couldn’t buy there. Even Netflix doesn't carry them all. Loved it.
Once I arrived to Mexico, again, all I could access was Mexican YouTube (YouTube.Mx) which does not allow the movie purchasing service. You can’t view many of the U.S. videos either. Here again is where VPNs save you. So far, as long as I'm using one I can access American YouTube.
This whole situation of getting access to new movies, popular YouTube videos like Saturday Night Live sketches or new television or network series' turns 65-year-olds who have never had a speeding ticket to unapologetic outlaws. To get many programs, they turn to Pirate Bay, Popcorn Time and other illegal sources. Pirate Bay even advises you get a VPN before using its site.
To a man, expats tell me they’d happily pay a fee but they aren’t given that option. It’s either break the law or don’t see the movie or program. You already feel a little more like an outlaw just by living here so it all begins to make sense to you.
Now let's say this happens to you. A Mexican friend wants to share a movie with you. It’s a DVD. When was the last time you used a DVD? My new laptop doesn’t even have a DVD player.
Windows 10 no longer installs Media Player and you will pay Microsoft $15 for their app. There are free apps on line but none of them worked when I tried the installations. Then I came to find that some Mexican DVDS won't play in American laptops and the reverse. Mexican videos have a rating system of permissions.
Hey! We are trying to exchange some culture here, please!
One very exciting development is television via Itunes. They can get a little pricey, but once a week or so I treat myself to a hot foreign film and can do so from Mexico. The first episode in a series is usually free.
After over two weeks wrestling with search results coming up in Spanish, “Page not available” and other internet error messages, I can tell you technological bugs like internet search interference and licencing barriers may be the only blight on your metaphorical palm tree living in Mexico.
Searches in Google (for me, also a form of entertainment) had become a nightmare. Up until as recently as December, I could use Google.com/ncr (no country redirect) to run searches as if I was in the U.S.
Now Google is trying to improve the “user experience” by making all your searches "local," meaning my search results are Mexico's answers to my questions.
How Google tries to make me Mexican even applies to accessing sites like Amazon.com. I recently wrote a book on Spanish learning tools listed with KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), part of Amazon. When I went to the site to work on the author’s page, the site came up in Spanish with no clear way of getting it in English.
Many times I don’t know if I am looking at a Mexican site or an American site that has been translated to Spanish because Google wants so-much-to-improve-my-user-experience, and make me Mexican in the process.
Don’t think this is a simple matter of changing your language settings either. Mine have been firmly set to English everywhere. Google ignores that. Since I live in Mexico, it frequently insists I want Spanish.
While it’s true that I may not want a search for pizza joints coming up with Denver locations, you can’t help but smell a rat with this change. It smells a lot like Adsense, Google’s ad sales operation.
After all, how can Google sell ads to advertisers if it doesn’t know where you are? My being under a VPN cloak of secrecy might mess up the demographics they peddle. Just a theory.
With half of my searches coming up in Spanish, the VPN became an absolute necessity. Even though I speak Spanish, I keep those brains in separate places. It’s disconcerting to switch back and forth between languages. I hated the extra time it took to scroll past the ones in Spanish. It’s was as if Google was trying to trick me into revealing where I was.
Do I sound paranoid to you?
You will have to figure out this redirection business on all of your devices. I was having the same issue on my Kindle reader and my cell phone. Fortunately, the VPN will enable you download its service from multiple devices.
Some of my expat friends balk at the $10/month for a VPN. I would pay five times that for the internet to think I’m sitting in my pajamas doing laundry in Denver like a good little girl.
As far as your music goes, Pandora is not (legally) available in Mexico. Spotify is available but who has time to create their own playlists?
The good news is you can expect good internet connections most the time. Coastal areas with their big tropical storms can cause longer outages that you're used to.
Salt air eats away at electronics more quickly in coastal towns so you can suspect that as a culprit when you have problems too.
Bring your old laptop
A combination of having a VPN service, downright piracy, a few subscriptions and lots of troubleshooting on Google can get you about 90% of what you want as long as you don't mind jumping hoops that are always in motion. There will be times however, that you need professional help.
Finding someone to fix your computer or laptop
Unlike at home, when computer issues come up in Mexico, you can’t just corral an 18- year old. Well, you can, but you’d better speak some Spanish and be prepared to change all your settings back to English when he’s done. Be warned, your instructions on how to do that will be in Spanish too.
Understand that Mexican I.T. people sometimes don’t return phone calls because their Telcel phone plans charge them to retrieve calls. That’s why often you can leave 10 messages for them saying you are desperate for help and never get a call back.
I have three people on speed dial, César, Lope and Rafael and still have to wait days. When they arrive, I throw myself at them like I’ve been locked in a closet and they charge me about 300 pesos ($15).
I still stand by my advice in an earlier blog: Always bring two laptops with you for an extended stay. It comes in extremely handy when troubleshooting or if, Diosita, your laptop goes bouncing down your ceramic tile stairs. Don’t forget to bring those extra chargers too. Many here are after-market.
My Hewlett Packard laptop had lost functionality in three keys, its wireless capacity and the ports were beginning to go bad three months after the warranty ran out.
I had wires everywhere, both a Spanish keyboard and a monstrous English one I bought for 150 pesos propped up against my dead keyboard. After six months of this, it wasn't funny anymore.
If you find yourself with your only laptop or cellphone irreparably broken, expect a trip to Tucson or San Diego, or learn how to type on a Spanish keyboard, because your selection of electronics is limited, expensive and, for some reason, in Spanish.
My new Acer Aspire, purchased on a special trip to San Diego, is glorious and much admired by César, Rafael and Lupe.
For me, ironically, the necessity of working out technological problems was a draw at first. I’ve never been good at technology and being in Mexico has made me better at it.
Even talking about entertainment technology to this degree would have been beyond the scope of my imagination three years ago. As I've indicated in other blogs, once again Mexico is making me a better person.
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"Trouble in Paradise: The Beating Heart That Is Your Laptop" - Gather every name you can when looking for technical support, as they all have their specialties - - Ventanas Mexico
Next up: We all know medical bills can bankrupt you. What if the bills were for your pet?
Most recent: When you've been away a while, you return to Mexico and discover everything all over again, like it's the first time.
Kerry Baker is a partner with Ventanas Mexico and author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online" - a language resource for anyone, but especially potential expats to Mexico.
Ventanas Mexico provides insights and resources to those considering part or full-time life in Mexico, also including "If Only I Had a Place" for aspiring expats renting in Mexico.