When my wife and I first told our relatives and friends of our plans to drive through Mexico, they thought we were crazy… or had a death wish. And of course, the thought of not only driving through Mexico, but actually living there was so absurd that it wasn’t even worthy of consideration.
It turns out that my relatives and friends, just like millions of other Americans who had formed their opinions about Mexico on nothing more than a short vacation or cruise stop and the third-hand “common knowledge” about how dangerous and backward it was, were very misinformed.
Little by little over the course of our eight-month, several thousand-mile road trip through Mexico from the border in California to the border with Belize, the possibilities of living in Mexico revealed themselves to us not just as something about which we could only theorize, but as something we actually could do and may even want to do. One by one, as we examined each potential plus and minus, we cracked the metaphorical shell of each walnut and had a firsthand taste of the fruit inside.
For example, it was just a day into our road trip when it fully dawned on me just how inexpensive living in Mexico could be while enjoying a better lifestyle. Directly after swimming in the warm, clear waters of the sea and walking our dogs on a broad, sandy beach almost completely empty of people, my wife and I were having a fabulous, fresh seafood breakfast overlooking the Sea of Cortez at a very nice hotel in perfect weather… for about $6 each.
Let the fullness of that scene sink in and imagine you doing the same thing. If you’re like me, it will take you a bit to fully internalize it.
In contrast, in Los Angeles for anything even approximating this experience, I would have had to fight traffic, pay for parking and get crammed in with hundreds of people for the privilege of paying over $20 each for a meal for my wife and me. In Mexico, we were having a better experience for less than a third the financial and emotional cost. As opposed to “The LA Experience,” I was relaxed, I was fully enjoying the morning, and I was over $30 richer. As this reality fully dawned on me, I believe I broke out in laughter—crazy laughter.
Later, we drove down the eastern side of Baja California, on the Sea of Cortez, which in some areas is so stunningly beautiful that these places, in their own way, rival the beaches in Hawaii, but with one of the differences being that there is close to no one there. A few days into our trip, we were on a near empty beach with flat, clear, blue and turquoise water extending to little islands and white puffy clouds, enjoying the shade of our own, private palapa, when a man on a dune buggy magically appeared offering shrimp for a few dollars. After sampling some and contemplating the horizon, I thought back to our well-meaning but ignorant friends and relatives back in the US. Were we crazy? “Yeah,” I thought, “crazy like a fox.” Then, I went for a swim with our dogs.
We eventually spent a month and a half in a fishing village between La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. We were at a restaurant, watching the NBA playoffs with a dozen or so American vacationers who were tanned, relaxed, and clearly having a great time. They had just come back from a full day of fishing in their private, chartered boat and were having the chef cook their catch.
“How much would your day have cost you in San Diego?” I asked.
They replied that they didn’t know because it was pointless to ask about things they couldn’t afford. But here, within sight of Jacques Cousteau Island and with nary a care in the world about what it cost them, they were loose, happy, looking forward to supper, and their next adventure.
They told us they were a group of family and friends who had been doing this every year for a decade. When I asked them why their other friends and family members didn’t join them, they told me that their other family members and friends were too scared to come to Mexico, even after the people I was talking with reported back every year and were clearly still alive. We all shook our heads in amazement, and when the $2 margaritas were delivered, we toasted each other and they joined me in one of my new favorite pastimes– laughing.
It was odd, but it seemed like the belief of Mexico being dangerous was so embedded in the minds of these people’s absent friends and family, that even direct reports, year after year, didn’t convince their friends to try it, even once.
It was at that moment that it occurred to me that there was a sharp divide between those who came to Mexico and enjoyed its many benefits and those who did not. Those in the first group were in “The Club.” And one of the prime reasons why Mexico was still so affordable and relatively uncrowded in so many great and out of the way places were that those not in The Club weren’t coming and adding their demand and density. If those not in The Club knew how great it was, it wouldn’t be that great any longer. It would be LA.
Later, I found that I could see a very qualified doctor in Mexico for an hour for $25, that he made house calls, that he would give me his personal cell phone number, and that he would answer it! My monthly health insurance went from well over $1,000 in the US to less than $250 in Mexico. My dental costs were reduced by over 75%, while my monthly utilities were reduced by about 80%. The people were great (both expats from all over the world and the locals), and the lifestyle was much more relaxed, not in small measure, because it cost so much less to do anything and the weather was so good.
After taking the ferry to the Mexican mainland and touring the beaches around Puerto Vallarta, we ventured up into the Mexican Highlands, which was completely different than we had expected before we left the US. The temperatures were cool, and there was a different feel and culture. The scenery was very pleasant and, in many places, stunningly beautiful. Also, we discovered that most of Mexico is pretty empty, with miles and miles of gently rolling farmland, punctuated variously by towering peaks and snow-peaked volcanoes.
And we weren’t killed, not even once, or ever felt in physical jeopardy.
As I write this, it is now over two years since we crossed over the border in Mexicali, I had the revelations described above, and we decided to make Mexico our home. In many ways, it is so much easier to live in Mexico than in the US, with much, much lower costs, a lifestyle that is more relaxed and in many ways remarkably in line with a way of life in the US when baby boomers like my wife and I were growing up, and with surprisingly abundant business opportunities that would be much more difficult to execute in the US. (For example, I started what has turned out to be a very successful moving company to transport people’s household goods from the US and Canada to Mexico, which was easy to do, including setting up the company legally and getting a work permit.)
Is living in Mexico right for everyone? Of course not and of course, there are things about living in Mexico I don’t like, but there are things about living in any location I wouldn’t like. Being successful living in Mexico requires a certain way of looking at the world, so in order to determine if living in Mexico is right for you, you have to do a ruthlessly honest self-evaluation. Every place has its pluses and minuses.
In the next series of columns, I’ll describe some of the more popular expat areas of Mexico, such as Cabo San Lucas and La Paz, Mazatlán, Puerto Vallarta, Ajijic / Lake Chapala, San Miguel de Allende, the beach areas around Yucatan and Quintana Roo (Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, etc.), and I’ll let you in on where we decided to call home, and why.
When, up until a year or so ago, the same friends and family who thought we were crazy to drive through Mexico would ask us when we were going to “move back home,” I would explain to them about our rich social life, 60%+ lower cost of living, near-perfect weather, a laid-back lifestyle and a thriving new business, and I would ask them why any sane person would change that. After my question back to them was generally met with silence, I told them I would visit them in the US.
They don’t ask any longer.
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