Category Archives: Living in Mexico

Food Prices

By David Simmonds 

One of the coolest aspects to living in Mexico is that there are small tiendas everywhere that don’t look remotely like the ubiquitous 7-eleven on every other corner north of the border. They are family-run, friendly, funky and essential to every neighborhood. When you require a large grocery purchase with a wide variety to choose from, the chain stores, which are now plentiful in areas where expats settle, carry everything you will need. Many have their own bakery, tortilleria, food deli, and ATM’s. And the prices, if you buy domestic products, are relatively inexpensive.

Here is a short list of grocery store prices from a recent trip to a mainland town on the coast, in an area where fruits and vegetables are grown. More remote areas, like most of the Baja peninsula can be nearly double these prices, due primarily to transportation costs. I have converted the prices to U.S. dollars and kilos to pounds.

Whole Chicken $0.80 per pound

Ground beef $1.75 per pound

Sirloin $2.33 per pound

Pork chops $1.95 per pound

Bacon $3.25 per pound

Milk $0.56 per liter

Eggs $0.90 per dozen

Cereal- Cornflakes $0.90 box

Cheese $2.77 per pound

Beans $0.24 per pound

Bread loaf-sliced $0.79

Bolillos (rolls) $0.10 per roll

Sugar $0.40 per pound

Mayonnaise jar $1.23 24 oz. jar

Fresh fish filet $1.36 per pound

Butter $1.50 per pound

Oranges $0.20 per pound

Mango $0.34 per pound

Tomatoes $0.88 per pound

Can tomatoes $0.79 12 oz. can

Beer – Corona $2.90 per six-pack

Rum – domestic $6.00 per liter

Beach sunset – Priceless

The Immigration Issue

By David Simmonds 

The McCain Kennedy Immigration bill seems to please no one. Not the Republicans, not the Democrats, and not the Mexicans. It seems as if no one really wants to tackle the issue in terms that people understand. What I understand, very clearly, is that if the Bush administration really wanted to stop the flow of undocumented workers from crossing the southern border, they would fine and jail the employers who hire them. I assure you, if the hard-working Mexicans who travel north to work could not find jobs, they would stay home. I have talked to enough of them to know that this is true. It would cause an immediate catastrophe in Mexico, but it would force the Mexican government to address the problems that have been systemic throughout their society for a very long time.

It is argued that the Mexicans we hire are doing jobs that American will not do, but that is only partly true, or maybe not at all true. They are doing jobs that Americans shun for the wages being offered, but Americans would do most of those jobs for the right money. And have you hired a construction crew lately? Not along ago these were well-paid middle-class jobs, but here in SoCal they are mostly Mexican workers who are not here legally. And they work damn hard. I haven’t seen a gringo hanging drywall in years. How can they compete with a crew who will do it cheaper?

We now have some very strange alliances on this issue. I’m a political progressive…always have been. But I believe that our open borders are hurting the American worker, the middle-class, by driving down wages and busting unions. I love the U.S. and Mexico, but I want Mexico to address their problems and find a way to keep their husbands and sons home with their families. They deserve to be allowed the opportunity to live and work in their great country.

I was looking for a mobile mechanic on Craigslist recently and called a couple of guys. They both asked where I lived and when I told them they said that was too far for them to drive…about 20 miles. Compare this to the men you see on the street corner, who have traveled a couple thousand miles, hoping to get a day’s work for $10 per hour, most of which he will send home to his village. You see what I’m saying…there’s no easy solution here.

Taxes in Mexico

By David Simmonds 

For years, many of us have wondered why Mexico, with so many natural resources and hard working people, remains largely in poverty. Since volumes of analysis by people smarter than I have attempted to answer this, I’ll just add a couple of opinions based on my observations over a lifetime of Mexico study and travels. Many expats are drawn to purchase and live in Mexico because of the low cost of living, day-to- day. Whereas property taxes in the U.S. are used to fund multiple social services (schools, etc), in Mexico the taxes are so low that they fund very little. Property taxes on a $200,000 house are only about $200 per year. In fact, tax collection (corporate, income, etc) on a whole is very low in Mexico, totally about 10% of the country’s GDP, compared to about 28% in the U.S. So, you end up with a situation where people love moving to Mexico for the low taxes, but then bitch about not having paved roads, a well-paid police force, and crooked politicians…well, I guess those are everywhere you go.

Mexico has some very wealthy families, with Carlos Slim now the second richest person in the world. At least ten others in Mexico are billionaires. They have the highest GDP in Latin America, including Brazil. This in a country that has an average daily wage of about $400. Mexico has a majority of its wealth concentrated in a very small upper-class, with a small and shrinking middle-class. The majority are poor and sinking lower every year . Why, you ask? Well, it’s the same old story. The rich don’t want to invest, to pay taxes, to fund the programs that help to build a middle-class….good schools, health care, transportation corridors, a living minimum wage…the list is long. The wealthy control the politicians who write the laws and they don’t want to tax themselves. That’s the simple story.

There is much to like about Mexico. It’s my favorite place in the world. But they, as a country, need to enact reforms that will benefit the majority. In the long run, everyone would gain.

Living in Mexico

This article is from the May 2003 The Mexico File newsletter.
Searching for a Better Life

by David Simmonds

I have been spending time in Mexico since I was a kid. Sometimes it was just a day-trip to Tijuana. Other times I would stay for two or three months, beating around the back roads in my old van or riding the trains and buses wherever they rolled. Through all of the journeys, one thing remained constant – I was always glad to get back home. Back to my friends, family, my place at the beach. Back to potable water, a familiar mattress, baseball games, pot roast and mashed potatoes. Back to my country, the United States. Moving to Mexico has always been an option for me, one that has been considered many times, but never acted upon. There was always the primary dilemma – how to make a living. When my friends ask me if it isn’t now time to act upon what I advise others to do and retire to Mexico, I explain “I lived my retirement years between the ages 20 and 40 – now I’m working.”

For a long time it was very difficult to work in Mexico or own a business, but that’s been changing in recent years. Today I could probably swing it, but I have children four and eight years old and I really like the idea of their growing up here in San Diego, taking them to ball games, uh, well, hmmm, I suddenly can’t think of all of the reasons why we should stay.

You see, that is what’s going on now. It’s not just me. Most of the people I talk to these days are starting to question how they live their lives (and how other people live their lives, but that’s another issue). Not just my age group (I’m a boomer, 53), but everyone. Democrats, Republicans, teachers, lawyers, plumbers, it doesn’t matter. People seem confused, skeptical, angry, and cynical. Maybe the fallout from 9/11 will not be fully realized for years to come. Maybe that’s what’s happening. Personal foundations have been rattled and now, collectively, we seem unsure of our place in the world as a country and ultimately, individually. We have become a nation filled with fear, striking out in retaliation, not sure who exactly the enemy is, but determined to do something, anything to feel better. That is the animal instinct in us. The human instinct is to consider and analyze, to look into our souls and ponder our lives, at the same time that we cover our butts.

There are today around 600,000 Americans living in Mexico. Twenty or thirty years ago it was where retirees went to live a better life than they could back home on their depleting pensions. Occasionally you would run into a scofflaw on the lam, hiding out, laying low. Or the 60’s burnouts “just livin’ off the land, man” until the trust fund runs out. Today the reasons are as diverse as are the people who go. In today’s wired world you can often work from anywhere. Having an internet connection, fax machine and a cell phone have opened up numerous options for people who understand how to use them effectively. And, as mentioned, you can often own a business in Mexico these days or work for a multinational corporation that has a Mexico base. This has resulted in a younger median age of Americans moving south, although retirees still comprise the largest group.

Moving to Mexico used to entail considerable sacrifice. Little things like worrying about the purity of the ice in your drink, standing in a long bank line to cash travelers checks, buying fresh sandwich bread (remember those rigid loaves of Bimbo?). Today’s Mexico is much easier. You can get a latte in the morning, cold Gatorade when you’re parched, salsa dance into the night, watch cable TV so you can know which country is next on the list to be bombed. But be prepared for a little different news reporting than you were getting back home. You’ll likely be viewing the BBC who, as of yet, does not parrot prepared statements from the White House and call it news.

Whenever I am asked where in Mexico is the best to re-locate, I always smartly reply “I dunno.” I do suggest that they need to do as much research as possible first, and then take their trip. Plan to visit several towns that look inviting. Find a place in a neighborhood to rent and live like a local. Consider enrolling in a language school. Shop at the open air markets and eat at the family run restaurants. Find other expats in town and attend their meetings and social functions. Check out the local doctors and hospitals. Investigate the local weather on a year-round basis. Daily deluges of rain and 98% humidity in the summer months don’t agree with everyone’s idea of paradise. See if you can adjust to “ma ana,” meaning some day in the future¼.maybe. Meanwhile, don’t burn all your bridges back home. You may be returning sooner than planned.

Also, keep a daily tab of how much it will cost to live in your town. If you aren’t going to buy, how much is it to rent a house that you can be comfortable in. How much are you spending on food every week, and entertainment? How much will your phone and utilities cost? How easy is it to get back to the States in an emergency? Can you adjust to paying a mordida? (Back home you call them taxes)

Do you plan on working or starting a business? What are the start-up costs? Is there a need in the area for your idea? How are other gringos doing in their business? Are they welcomed by the Mexican locals or are their resentments?

Once you have decided on the town you want to call home, go back to your U.S. home. Think about it for a while. Consider how it will feel to leave the things that have framed your existence, the people that have been your anchor and stability. Can you really leave all of this behind? Yeah, me too.