|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.
March 21 2007
-Where were you born?
The State of Oregon in the U.S.
-In which country and city are you living now?
-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?
-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?
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.
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.