The highs and lows of living in Cuernavaca, Mexico, according to American expat Julia

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Julia is a stay-at-home mom living with her husband in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Her willingness to learn more about various aspects of the local culture, such as the language and interpersonal relations, show in part just how she loves life in Mexico. Read on for more about lessons that Julia has learned about expat life in Mexico and for some tips on settling there.
 
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Julia Taylor

March 21 2007

-Where were you born?
The State of Oregon in the U.S.

prickly pear cactus fruit-In which country and city are you living now?
Cuernavaca, Mexico

-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my husband and son.

-How long have you been living in Mexico?
We’ve been here since 2002.

-What is your age?
I’m 33.

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Mexico?
My husband is Mexican and can’t get a visa to live in the United States so Mexico was our second choice of a place to live.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
No. I had a job offer from a local language school to teach English. Between the fact that the job offer was to teach English and that my husband is Mexican I was granted an FM3 that allows me to both live and work in Mexico.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Yes, because you don’t earn enough money in Mexico to pay for insurance. We didn’t have insurance for a few years. I was worried that we might get sick and not have enough money to cover the cost of our care and I looked into paying for insurance, but the cost was about 10th of our ANNUAL income! Later I had insurance (called IMSS) for a while when I worked an administrative position at my school, but I didn’t like the quality of the care I received. I preferred to pay for private doctor visits instead. We don’t have insurance again and we are just hoping that nothing serious will happen to our health.

-How do you make your living in Mexico? Do you have any type of income generated?
I used to be an English teacher. I worked at a private language center giving classes to high school students and adults. It’s very easy to get a job teaching English when you are a native speaker as long as you go about getting the job like a professional (as opposed to acting like someone who is on vacation in Mexico) by bringing your resume and being willing to take un-paid training courses.

A second factor was that I could honestly say that I’d be living in Cuernavaca for at least 10 years. The school was willing to train me since they knew that I would stay for a while.

The hard part about the job market is that people want to hire you, but they want to pay you so little you couldn’t live on your earnings! Some jobs pay about $5 US dollars an hour or less! I worked my way up to a job that paid 10,000 pesos per month and that was a really high wage. I was lucky to have it. Even still, money was tight and we couldn’t have a lot of things that I used to consider a necessity, such as health insurance. Now I’m a stay-at-home mom and we are living on my husband’s income.

In my opinion, the only way to get a job in Mexico is to go and meet your potential employer face-to-face.

-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I speak Spanish. I would like to become better at it because there are still so many times when people give me funny looks because they don’t quite understand what I’m saying. By the same token, there are times when I don’t understand others. Also, it’s easy to hurt a Mexican’s feelings if you say the wrong thing. Speaking Spanish is critical to living in Mexico.

Mexicans place a lot of importance on their interpersonal relationships and of course communication is critical to those. When I worked in an administrative position at the language school where I worked I put a lot of effort into improving my Spanish -- especially my ability to write in Spanish. You have to use a writing style that is drastically different from the one you use in English, so I had a lot to learn.

Speaking to others is important even to get necessities here, too. For example, if you want to get a phone installed you have to be able to talk to the people at the phone company. It’s not just to ask for the service, but often to TALK THEM INTO giving you the service. There are so many times in Mexico when you have to persuade others. I often use my best communication skills at the bank, also.

The flip side of the coin is that when you do have a good relationship established with someone they will really go the extra mile to help you out in any way they can.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I really miss home and family a lot. I think of them almost every day. It’s hard to miss weddings, birthday parties, and other holiday celebrations.

I grew up hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, camping, skiing, swimming in lakes and rivers, walking on special walkways in town, etc. One of the things that I don’t like about Cuernavaca is that the outdoor recreation is all privatized and we can’t afford it. Here in Cuernavaca I can’t really get out except to walk on the street in my neighborhood and it’s kind of noisy and hot.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
My short-term plan is to develop a career in writing. In the long term, we’ll have to move to the U.S. or Canada in the future so that we can earn some money for our son’s schooling and for our retirement. We may buy a home in another part of Mexico and return to live there in our retirement. Mexico is a great place to live if you have money!

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We are renting and are lucky to have found a small three-room cottage that costs less than the usual 2000 pesos/month that most small rental places cost. We have to live with a few inconveniences, though, such as only having hot water in the bathroom sink, having an asbestos roof that leaks during heavy rains and gets very hot in the afternoon sun, having an asbestos water tank instead of durable plastic, not having any closets or cupboards, and having doors that are made of sheet metal, etc.

The cost of living in Cuernavaca is high and a condo can cost 4000 pesos per month or more while a house with a yard would cost 8000 pesos per month.

-What is the cost of living in Mexico?
I would not recommend trying to live here on less than 10,000 pesos per month. While it can be done, you have to give up so much in conveniences that you can’t enjoy being in Mexico.

-What do you think about the Mexicans?
Locals love to make people welcome and if you get out and talk to your neighbors they will befriend you. Ours share food and help out with “home improvement” projects. Best of all, they celebrate the changes in our son as he grows up. Friends stay in touch and take the time to chat with you. They go the extra mile to help out in ways that they can.

The hard part is that generally Mexicans only help out people they know, so when you first arrive or when you are trying to get services such as shopping or getting something repaired you can be treated with apathy and dishonesty. It’s grinding sometimes being a “stranger” in Mexico.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Mexico?
Positive:
There is a strong sense of community.
People always have time to chat or help out.
People celebrate children.
The fruits and vegetables are high quality and low cost.
There are wonderful places to visit including cultural, historical, and ecological sites.
It’s easy to get around by walking.

Negative:
As a “stranger” you are treated “badly.”
There is no consumer protection.
It’s hard to make enough money.
You have to work 6 days a week.
There are safety hazards such as corrupt police, contaminated food, etc.
Many products that you are used to from home aren’t available.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Mexico?
Yes, learn to speak Spanish well. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Mexicans are flexible and would never tell you that your Spanish is lacking, but don’t let that be an excuse. Be independently wealthy :). Travel around and get to know lots of places in Mexico. Make friends and get to know your neighbors. Have high-speed Internet in your home to stay in touch with family and friends back home. Keep a bank account in your home country.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Mexico?
As part of my goal to become a writer I have created my own web site for people who want to travel extensively or live, work, or retire, in Mexico. It’s called www.home-sweet-mexico.com and on it I sell an ebook called Mexico: The Trick is Living Here which anyone can purchase online. I decided to create it when I couldn’t find any other web sites or books that dealt with the cultural differences that one encounters when living here nor with the culture shock that is so normal for people to experience. The web site and ebook are completely unique and give practical information about day to day experiences in Mexico.

I also like to use the forum on Mexico Connect to ask other expatriates for advice about things. You have to be a member, but it’s worth it.

Also, My Life in Mexico is a really good web site created by a guy who is “really” living in Mexico.

living in Cuernavaca

Jodi Munoz's picture

Julia,

I just read your story of life in Mexico. And I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me? My husband can't return to the U.S. for atleast 10 years too. So once your 10 years is up does your husband have to reapply for a visa? Does Cuernavaca have a lot of Americans. and is it a safe place for Americans to live? What about the schools? I'm still living in the US with our 2 girls and I'm really considering moving to Mexico to be with my husband as well. I'm just really scared about where to live and how to find a job. Any information you can provide me with would be greatly appreciated.

Jodi Munoz

job opportunities

Aaditya N air's picture

well, i really liked your article, and really haapy with it, well, i was thinkeing if you could help me in a way, i am from india, and i am indulge with a mexican girl girl from your city. so its kind of long distance relationship. if you could help me,what sought of good job can i get there, i am acollege student, going my commerce graduation. if you could help me in some way or other, i 'll be very thankfull to you.

Life is so different!!!

mrosiles's picture

Hi, Julia I just read your story and I love it. I recently moved to Temixco, MX which is 10 mins. from Cuernavaca, Mexico and we visit Cuernavaca all the time. I been living in Temixco for about 6 months and I had to come back in January 2010 to get my Taxes done, and I am here in California trying to find work(noone is hiring)and have left my family back in Mexico which I miss so much. I have 4 kids 3 boys and 1 girl and my husband of course. My husband is not allowed in the USA was deported back in Sept. 2009 and now I am here trying to make enough money to bulid our home bigger. Are there any places that you know of that can help getting a job in Cuernavaca......I speak spanish but not to well ...counting is alittle hard for me n spanish as well as reading. What I really need to know is how to make a living in Mexico my husband does not make enough. If you know of any websites let me know. I know I can teach English as well but I did not finish high school and I do not have a diploma but my English is excellent!!!! Thank you -Rosiles

Teaching in Cuernavaca

sparkytiger2003's picture

Hi Julia,
I'm so glad I ran across your post! I have been to Cuernavaca twice, both times I lived with a host family and learned Spanish. I would love to teach English in Cuernavaca and live there, but am unsure of where to begin. I would be able to live with my host family, and I have a bachelors in International Studies with some teaching experience but no certification. What would you suggest would be the best course of action of finding a teaching position down there? (I would be available for about 8 months and prefer to teach adults) My Spanish is intermediate.
Thank you!
Nicole

Hi, Nicole!

VannAsh's picture

Hi, Nicole! I am considering moving to Cuernavaca and just read your post. My boys 13 and 11 are homeschooled (all English) (www.calvertschool.org) and, if I move, I would like to hire/host somebody to sit and go over the materials with them, say 8 - 1:30 pm M-F. No teaching certification is required and I have all the teacher's notes/results, on top of all the online resources they have. Would you consider something like that? It's not a sure deal, yet, but I'm looking at all my options at this time.

Thx,
Annie

Teaching English in Cuernavaca

RPadilla's picture

Hi Julia, I am writing because we are a Business English Training company based in Mexico City and we are currently looking for teachers to attend a client in Cuernavaca. If you are interested or if you know of somebody who might be interested, we would gladly contact and give information about his job. Thanks, Rodrigo

Hello. I'm an American

ScottN's picture

Hello. I'm an American moving to the area within a couple of years. My wife is wanting to move there, me to San Cristobal, a more 'artist' friendly area? I'm a musician, playing blues, classic rock, latin rock, etc. and would like to continue playing some when I move. Is Cuernavaca an area that a little American flavor 'musically' would go over? I was in San Cristobal for several days last earlier this month (Jan, 2011) and it's definitely a musical/artistic area.

I liked the weather in Cuernavaca though, but I was there New Years day and the day after, and most every thing seemed to be closed for the Holidays.

Is there a music scene there at all, even on the weekends?

Thanks for any replies!

Scott