-Where were you born?
Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States
-In which country and city are you living now?
Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my wife, who is Mexican.
-How long have you been living in Mexico?
Almost eight years.
-What is your age?
I am 63.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Mexico?
The Latino world has interested me for decades. I majored in Latin American history in the university. I lived in Puerto Rico for almost two years in the early 1970s, working for an English-language newspaper. However, the two prime factors that led to my moving to Mexico were:
1. Lovely Latinas. (I was single.)
2. I was tired of working for a living. I could not have afforded to retire in the United States at the tender age of 55, seven years before my federal pension kicked in.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Getting a visa to simply reside in Mexico is easy. I have since become a Mexican citizen, which was easy too. However, the requirements, oddly, vary in different areas of Mexico.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
I believe medical insurance is a waste of money in Mexico. I have none. It concerned me the first year because not having medical insurance in the United States is foolhardy, and I was brainwashed. However, with time, I noticed that the Mexican healthcare system is affordable out of pocket. Even major problems cost a miniscule fraction of what they would run in the United States.
-How do you make your living in Mexico? Do you have any type of income generated?
I am retired, and receive both government and corporate pensions. Plus, I have investments. Money, no problem.
-Do you speak Spanish and do you think it's important to speak the local language? Do you think it's important to observe the local customs?
When I moved to Mexico, I spoke no Spanish. I spent my first six months in a language school in nearby Morelia, the state capital. I believed when I arrived, and believe even more so now, that learning the language is essential. Without speaking Spanish in Latin America, you remain clueless about your true environment. The culture will forever remain obscure to you.
After six months in the language school, I moved to a smaller city nearby and made a point of putting myself in situations in which Spanish was required. Slowly, I got better. I married one of the lovely Latinas two years later. My wife does not speak English, so my Spanish has improved remarkably. Talking to your wife is a good thing.
Local customs? Like trying to cut you off in traffic, or elbow you out of the way as you wait in line? Or saying they will show up at the appointed hour when they have absolutely no intention of doing so? Or charging you four times the normal price for something because, as a foreigner, you are known to be very rich? And foolish to boot? Those customs I can do without, and do not recommend that you copy them.
And there is the custom of igniting fireworks at dawn in odd religious festivals, turning an otherwise peaceful morning into a war-zone atmosphere. Mexico is very noisy. I recommend you stay in bed in the pre-dawn darkness. The locals prefer noise.
Air kissing and hand-shaking all around, both coming and going, when you run into someone on the sidewalk? Yes, it's best to do that so you won't get the reputation of being a snot.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes? What are your favorite recreational activities in Mexico?
After living here for nearly eight years, I would prefer moving back to the United States. My wife would prefer living there too. She loves it. We could do that, but it would require considerable financial belt-tightening. And we have a fantastic home, entirely paid for, in Mexico that we could not hope to equal in the United States due to far higher prices. We will remain here forever. I have virtually no family in the United States, so that's no issue.
Recreational activities? We go to a very snazzy health club here. They have tennis, racquetball, semi-Olympic pool, soccer field, etc. Though I do not do them, I imagine most of your normal recreational activities are available in these parts except winter sports like snow skiing, etc. And beach sports like surfing and sailing. We are almost four hours from the nearest beach.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
We intend to travel more, particularly in South America. We also would like to get into real estate on a small scale, buying land and building houses for other Americans moving south. We will do what Mexicans do: overcharge them outrageously. Really. I am not making this up. Since so few Americans moving to Mexico can verbally communicate with the locals, it is easy to make fat profits off them. That and the fact they are accustomed to far-higher U.S. prices makes them very juicy customers indeed. I have no qualms. I support capitalism.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I lived with a family connected to a language school for my first eight months in nearby Morelia. Then I moved to this town and rented a nice, furnished, two-bedroom, two-story home with a gardener for $350 U.S. a month for my first three years here. That price was too high, I now know.
However, I moved south with the specific intention of marrying a local, one of the lovely Latinas and (with her help) buy property and (with her help) build a home. That was all accomplished in a little over three years from when I crossed the border with my two suitcases and the clothes on my back.
We bought a double lot. We hired no architect. We hired no general contractor. My wife is a civil engineer. We designed the home ourselves on graph paper. We hired an old man who was highly recommended to us by a Mexican brother-in-law. The old man was an albañil who couldn't get work easily due to his age (He was almost 70 and very talented), so we got a very good price from him.
The word albañil has no good English equivalent. The dictionary says bricklayer or stonemason, but a good albañil can do about anything connected with homebuilding. Our old guy came with two other albañiles, younger versions, and a helper. They worked ten hours a day, five days a week, and half days on Saturdays without fail for nine months straight.
When the dust cleared, we had a 3,500-square-foot, very Mexican-style, beautiful, two-story home with a view of the mountains for about $100,000 U.S. We could not duplicate that today because concrete and steel prices have gone up significantly in the past four years. A similar home in the U.S. would probably cost ten times more.
It would be difficult to provide a ballpark figure on a home with X number of rooms in this area because it would depend a lot on the details of the home, and it would also depend a lot on whether the buyer speaks Spanish. Most Americans, and Mexico is a growing spot for U.S. retirees, use English-language real estate companies and websites, often guaranteeing themselves a good financial reaming. We Mexicans (for I am one now) take them to the cleaners. I would venture a guess that many Americans moving here are paying in the vicinity of $200,000 for homes far less snazzy than ours. Cheaper ones are available, but they would be nothing like our house.
-What is the cost of living in Mexico?
We live on about $20,000 U.S. a year, and we lack nothing that matters to us. You can live cheaper, of course. Most Mexicans live on far less. The main areas in which prices are generally far lower here than in the United States and Canada are:
1. Real estate, both buying and renting.
3. Property taxes.
-What do you think about the Mexicans?
The locals can be trying. The culture is very, very different from what expats are used to back home. Mexico has had a difficult and violent past, and that has led to a mindset that can be challenging at best. The people are suspicious, and their primary focus is on their families, the only thing they can rely on.
Mexicans love "Mexico," but they really don't much like other Mexicans. It amuses me to hear, as is often the case, Americans who move here crowing about the "warm and friendly folks." If they would take a moment and pay attention to how Mexicans interact with other Mexicans who are neither friends nor relatives, they would see that “warm and friendly” are not the appropriate terms. Suspicious and glum are more accurate.
Mexicans appear oh-so-friendly to foreigners, primarily Americans, because of two things:
- Most Mexicans never run directly into a foreigner, and when they do, they find it highly entertaining.
- If the foreigner is an American, whom most all Mexicans regard as incredibly rich and foolish with money, the Mexican thinks some money may be made. Thus, the "friendliness."
Generally, foreigners are treated very well in Mexico.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Mexico?
The positive aspects are almost exclusively financial. It´s cheap to live here. Even cheaper if you speak Spanish.
The negatives include bad infrastructure, potholes, pollution, corruption, rude drivers, often unreliable people who say "yes" to virtually all questions, regardless of its connection to reality. That type of thing.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Mexico?
If you can live comfortably where you are, stay put. Most foreigners in Mexico are Americans or Canadians, and life is far more convenient in Canada and the United States than it is in Mexico. But if finances are an issue, Mexico has your name on it. Learn Spanish and be patient. It's always interesting. Though often one thinks of the ancient Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."
And if you are a single guy, reasonably presentable and looking for a mate, this is Happy Hunting Grounds.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Mexico?
My photo site:
A good commercial website full of valuable information about moving to and living in Mexico is: