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.