One of the beautiful things about travel is the people that you meet along the way. We have had the good fortune of meeting a lot of interesting people during our time in México. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests. We have asked some of these individuals to share their knowledge, personal stories, experiences, insights, with our readers. One of those individuals is Lee Steele, whom we had the pleasure of meeting during our time in Ajijic. Lee is a wealth of knowledge, and he’s the perfect individual to tackle the subject of “vacationing” vs “living” in México.
If you’ve ever been on a vacation and dreamt about what it would be like to live there, you’re not alone…
According to the most recent data, 35 million U.S. citizens visited México in 2017. And I’m sure the vast majority of them had a wonderful time. But, “vacationing” in México is NOT the same as “living” in México.
When you’re vacationing in México, everything is taken care of for you. The sheets on your bed are always clean & fresh, your hotel room is cleaned every day, there’s a fabulous restaurant on-site, live entertainment is offered nightly and the electricity, phone lines, air conditioning and hot water are always on and working properly. There’s even a friendly bi-lingual waiter to bring you a cold drink as you lie by the pool. If you want to go “into town” from your hotel, there’s always a taxi waiting outside, or if not, the hotel will call a taxi for you.
What could be better, right? “Hey, honey, this is great! Maybe we should move to México.”
Lots of Americans (and Canadians) “north of the border” have done just that. It’s estimated that over 1 million U.S. citizens are now living full-time in México. And many more are on the way.
But, before you make the “big leap” to México, here are the 8 things you need to consider.
1) YEAR ROUND CLIMATE/WEATHER
I often see posts on Facebook and other social media where someone from the U.S. or Canada has exclaimed, “We love México! We’ve been to the beach there several times and now we want to move there.” But, it always turns out that their visits to a Mexican beach resort were in December, January or February. Of course the weather was “wonderful” at the beach in December, January and February. Try visiting again any time between May and October and see how you like the 6 straight months of sweltering heat (well over 90 degrees every day) and over 90% humidity. THEN see how you would like living there full time.
The most noticeable difference in México is that unlike the climate controlled homes and spaces in other countries, the majority of homes in México do not have central heating or air conditioning. If they do, they are most likely the small wall mounted units and space heaters or fireplaces for warmth in the winter months.
Also, the salty ocean air rusts and corrodes everything made of metal – your car, your outdoor furniture, window frames, computers, kitchen appliances, light fixtures and even the electrical wiring in your house. And the salty ocean air isn’t kind to wood either (your furniture, doors, kitchen cabinets, and more will swell and crack). You don’t see all of this continual, and expensive, required property maintenance when you’re staying for a short period of time at a beach resort.
The year round climate in México’s central highlands is much more moderate. The proximity to the equator, counterbalanced by the higher altitudes (4,000 to 7,000 feet elevation), combines to create a very moderate temperature in all four seasons – rarely ever too hot or too cold. But, at some of the higher elevations (above 6-7,000 feet), the winters can get very cold (and even have snow).
So I would always recommend that you visit your “ideal” Mexican location at different times of the year to see what living there full time would really be like.
2) SETTING UP WATER/ELECTRICITY/PHONE/INTERNET/GAS
In the U.S. and Canada, we tend to consider utilities as “always there.” But, when you move into a house, condo or apartment in México, you’re not always guaranteed that all the basic utilities are already hooked up or even available in your area. And getting a water/electricity/phone line installed can often be a prolonged and hair-pulling experience in some parts of México. And even if installed, that doesn’t guarantee that it will meet your expectations for quality or reliability.
Only your own personal due diligence (“boots on the ground”) before you select your place to live can help to minimize these problems. Talk to your soon-to-be neighbors about their experiences and visit the local office of each utility provider and ask them if they have service at your intended address. Ask them how long it will take to connect your residence to their service.
3) PAYING BILLS
In this modern Internet age, we’ve become accustomed to paying our bills online, or setting up an automatic monthly bill paying method through our bank or credit card.
Much of México is still a “cash society”. Online bill pay is not nearly as common (or reliable, speaking from personal experience) as it is “north of the border.” With some exceptions of course, you’ll have to go to your local telephone, Internet, TV, electricity and water department offices to pay your monthly utility bills in person, with cash. Or, you can often pay your utility bills (in cash) at the corner OXXO store (similar to a 7-Eleven store in the U.S.).
And, don’t expect to always get your monthly utility bills delivered to your home on time, or ever. In many parts of México, the local postal system (if there is one) is notorious for slow delivery (if it gets delivered at all).
In my part of México, Telmex (the telephone company) distrusts the local postal system so much that it hires its own delivery people to deliver the monthly bills to each customer’s home. And, because these independent contractors are not employees of the Mexican postal system, they are not allowed to put your utility bill in your mailbox. So, they try to slide the bill under your front door, or through a narrow crack in your garage door (where it falls to the floor) or any other place they think you might see the bill. And claiming “I never got the bill” isn’t going to help you when your utility service is cut off or you’re late paying the bill (as well as the additional “late fee”).
4) GETTING MAIL & PACKAGES FROM ACROSS THE BORDER
Getting mail and packages here in México from “north of the border” is not what you’re used to. Letters, bills and other important documents that cross the border by mail can often take 2-3 months to be delivered to your home here in México. My Christmas cards from the U.S. usually arrive at my home in México in late February or early March.
All packages that cross the border must be inspected by Aduanas (México’s Department of Customs). That often means packages can be delayed for up to 1-2 weeks (or much much longer during the Christmas holidays). And, there is always an additional “customs duty” and 16% IVA (Mexican federal sales tax) that you must pay to receive your package. It is not unusual to pay up to 25-50% of the original retail value of the products in your package for duties & taxes.
If it’s an important document, it’s always best to pay the (often high) fee to have it sent to México by FedEx or DHL or other international carrier. At least you’ll have a better chance of it being delivered in a timely manner.
5) MOVING MONEY TO/FROM MÉXICO
A common question is “how do I move/transfer my money from my U.S. (or Canadian) bank to México?” The most common method is to just use your home-country bank or credit union debit card to withdraw Pesos at a local ATM here in México.
Of course, you’ll have to deal with fluctuating exchange rates and possible withdrawal fees, but it can be minimized by using a foreign bank or credit union or other financial account that does not charge, or reimburses, the withdrawal fees and offers a fair exchange rate. And, of course, your bank or credit union, or the local Mexican ATM, may have a limit for the amount of money you can withdraw per transaction or per day.
It is possible in most areas of México to open your own personal checking or savings account at a Mexican bank. Generally, with some exceptions, you’ll need to have your Residente Temporal (RT) or Residente Permanente (RP) Visa to open an account. You can then transfer funds from your U.S. or Canadian bank directly to your Mexican bank. Some people use online transfer services, like Remitly or TransferWise, to transfer funds online.
6) HEALTH INSURANCE
One of the most important decisions you’ll need to make when moving to México is how you will obtain health insurance in México. Most American or Canadian health insurance plans (as well as Medicare) will not cover you in México (unless you have an international plan).
And even though the cost of Mexican medical treatments are generally much lower than in the U.S., and even though you may be “in good health,” there will always be the chance of a serious car accident, fall or other calamity that you should protect yourself against.
Your healthcare insurance options in México include:
- Private Mexican Health Insurance – the premiums are generally less than for the same coverage & deductibles in the U.S. But, if you have any pre-existing medical conditions, you will have very little chance of being approved for coverage by a Mexican health insurance company.
- IMSS – México’s employer/employee private health insurance. Funded by Mexican employers, employees and subsidized by the government. Like other private insurance, IMSS does not cover pre-exiting conditions. IMSS has “co-pays” for services. Foreigners, with Resident Visas, can join IMSS for an annual fee.
- Seguro Popular – México’s national healthcare program. This program is funded by a portion of the 16% IVA (federal sales tax). So every time you buy something, you’re helping to support this program. Seguro Popular is very affordable (less than IMSS) and will accept people with pre-existing conditions. Foreigners with a RT or RP visa can join Seguro Popular. And, if you are over 60 years old, you can join Seguro Popular for free (even for foreigners). Most services are also free. But know that the availability and quality of service provided by Seguro Popular varies greatly depending upon where you live in México.
Unless you’ll be living near a major city in México that has a Costco, Sam’s Club, Home Depot, Best Buy, Walmart or other major international retailer, your local shopping will be an interesting experience. Most of the American/Canadian brands of food, clothing and other items you love so much will not be available here. You’ll need to “adapt” to using Mexican brands/products for your normal, everyday needs.
In many cases, you can buy online (e.g., Amazon) from U.S. retailers and have your orders shipped to México, but that can be costly in added duties, taxes and shipping. There are several Mexican online shopping Web sites (.e.g., Mercado Libre, Vivanuncios, and others) that offer similar products that can be shipped directly to your home in México without paying additional fees. But the 16% IVA sales tax will always be included in any online purchase.
8) EVERYDAY “STUFF”
I’ve found that it’s NOT the “big stuff” you have to worry about if you’re moving to México. It’s the “little stuff” you have to learn how to navigate.
- If the electricity in my house goes off, who do I call?
- How do I get my leaking toilet fixed, fast?
- Where do I go to pay my parking ticket?
- What do I do if my trash is not picked up for 5 days?
- How, and to whom, do I contact about a noisy all-night party next door?
- When and where do I pay my annual license plate fee for my car?
- Where do I get my hair & nails done?
- How do I find out if the annual property taxes on my house have increased for next year?
- What do I do if I have a medical emergency in the middle of the night?
The bottom line is, do your due diligence, ask a lot of questions, visit your intended location in México at different times of the year, and above all else, remain calm. Bienvenidos a México!
Lee Steele was born in Kansas City, MO and graduated with a degree in Business from the University of Missouri. Over his career, he has worked in sales & marketing for many different consumer products companies, including Wilson Sporting Goods, Penn Racquet Sports, Igloo Corporation and Polaroid. Lee started his own Marketing Consulting/Internet Advertising Agency, Strategic Insight, in 1991 and still has clients today. He has lived in St. Louis, Chicago, Houston, Dallas and Phoenix.
Lee has been coming to México since 1980. He moved permanently to San Antonio Tlayacapan (“next door” to Ajijic) in Jalisco, México in 2012. Lee has 6 dogs (3 are rescues) and volunteers one day a week at the Lucky Dog Rescue and Adoption Center in nearby Chapala. He is also an avid golfer at the nearby Chula Vista Country Club.
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