Researching Mexico and What You Are Doing Wrong
If you have just started your research on what it might be like to live in Mexico full or part-time, brace yourself, especially if you are considering relocating as a single person.
Accounts by expats are often depressing (on many different levels) and screamingly banal. On-line sources in the most popular, general-circulation sources, like the Huffington Post, are usually empty copy provided directly or indirectly by International Living.
Then things jump to the overly specific when you go to expat forums and the like.
Looking back after over four years here, I realize now that most of it was even more worthless than I thought. Several issues stand out to me.
Why it's frustrating as a single person
For one thing, almost all you will read was written by married people. Sorry, but it is a totally different ball game single. In some ways better, in some ways harder.
Expat couples find each other quickly. That's a positive thing. The negative is that couples more quickly fall into a social life that is exclusively expat, even if one of the couple speaks Spanish.
The dynamics change dramatically as a single person. Figuring out the social part has to move up in priority from that of a couple. A couple immediately focuses on the mechanics, then finds their social life. A single person hoping to find happiness in Mexico needs to do the reverse.
Second frustration: The information is not presented in chronological order
How-to information in books is never on a time-line of what you need at different points in your transition.
Most book throw information all together in one big hot mess to pick through when you only need enough, really, to get through your first six months.
Although you may tell yourself you will skip over the topics that don’t yet apply, those sections (buying a car, buying a house, transporting goods) will suck you in. You will stress over things you might not need to know for years, if ever if that first long-term stay doesn't agree with you.
Then there is the part about reading vs. doing. Which do you think would be harder, going to the DMV or reading an instruction manual about going to the DMV?
Everything you read makes it all sound much more complicated than it is once you get here.
Do a little research, then take an extended visit.
Before you read the chapter about proper communication with your housekeeper, take an extended visit. Get a feel of what it is like to be the minority an not speak the primary language.
All future decisions and outlays of energy should hinge on developing this primary understanding first before thinking about the logistics of a bank account or buying vs. renting. Before the first extended (non-vacation) trip, you should know how to
- get through customs,
- practice money exchange,
- learn about public transportation and taxis,
- study basic Spanish,
- choose the proper telephone plan for while you are here,
- know a little about the food/water issues
- find a place representative of the lifestyle you want in Mexico
Relax. That will be plenty.
I cannot believe the stupid stuff I fretted over before I'd even spent a month here - but you get sucked in.
Watch a good movie and skip, for now, the article on how to find a notary and how to drive from Guadalajara to San Miguel de Allende.
In your first months living here, expats will hardly be able to contain themselves from explaining it to you anyway.
Take caution in how you choose your city
Many books focus on helping you choose what city in Mexico to live in. For a single person, city selection is not a place to start.
The place to start is developing relationships in Mexico and following those relationships, informed by certain elements you know you like; a beach, cooler weather, a big expat population, for example.
What do I mean by that? One of my best friends, a woman gifted at developing friendships, and I have an inside joke. About four years after I moved to Denver without a single contact, she moved to Denver too. Or as we put it, I stormed the beach. She built the hospitals.
She wanted to leave Richmond, where we met, but she wouldn't move to anywhere she didn't have friends. It was much easier for her to move to Denver because she had taken the time to develop some relationships with people in Denver, in addition to me, for a year or so before she left Virginia.
She used those 3-4 people as a platform, then grew that circle organically while, being the commando that I am, went to hundreds of MeetUps which yielded me zero. It took me four years to accomplish what she did socially in six months.
Taking a hill as I did is a brutal process, or as they say in Spanish, “Es fatal.” My friend was much wiser than me. I went as the gung-ho infantry man, picking a city by it's characteristics then conquering it. She came in behind me, thoughtfully and quiet when the bloodshed was over. Which would you rather be, especially in a foreign country?
Whether it’s La Paz, Mexico or St. Paul, Minnesota have a least a few scouts in a new city can make for a quicker and thereby more successful ground campaign.
Places to start in making friends
Expat forums and Facebook group pages I've heard are excellent ways to find potential friends in Mexico.
The folks in these forums and online groups are very upfront.
Their profiles have pictures, ages and backgrounds. Most of them love to hear from a kindred spirit. All have established social circles. While I've never made a friend from one, I can see how someone might if they kept the conversation going.
These are the two best ways to to go.
#1 Spend one to two introductory months in Mexico in the town of interest, go back home and try to make friends on-line with people in that town.
#2 Build relationships with the people in Mexico first through your personal network in the States, then move to where they are.
One of my best expat friends here was "found" by a friend of mine who is gifted at this kind of networking. She had a friend, who knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone in Mazatlán. She's that good at networking. I'm not. (I'm a storm-trooper, remember?).
Moving to Mexico by yourself, especially if making native friends is not a priority (like it was with me) in some ways will be easier than moving to another city in your own country.
There are usually places where expats hang out. They become friends by sheer virtue of being expats (which often makes for strange bedfellows BTW).
It's a little like being on a NASA space mission. You become friends with expats by the daily work and sharing pay-offs of that work in space together. You may not have necessarily chosen them as friends at home, but in another country it binds you together like immigrants everywhere.
Just like in the United States, your relationships, whether native, expat or both, will contribute much more to your happiness in a new town than perfect weather or a cultural arts center.
We all need a posse. Yes, I love Mazatlán, its beaches and lifestyle, but it’s the relationships that I built here that made me want to make it home.
"Will I Get Lonely Living in Mexico?" - one of our most popular posts. Ventanas Mexico
If you get a little homesick, you can always go see a good cover band with your friends - Ventanas Mexico
Next up: Before you even make a trip, know that Mexico does have income requirements for retiring here.
Most recent: It's really not that hard...how to drown in Mexico (and piss your friends off at the same time).
Kerry Baker is a partner with Ventanas Mexico and author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web written especially for adults considering the expat life full or part-time.
The best tools are not the ones that are advertised the most. Find them in the Guide.
Most recently, she also wrote, "If Only I Had a Place," an insider's guide to renting luxuriously in Mexico for less written especially for the aspiring expat.