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One Year in Mexico: 8 Things We Have Learned Living in Mexico

By Michael S Lewis

Summary: Michael and Jennifer Lewis moved to Cozumel, Mexico one year ago. They share some great tips for expats living in Mexico.

One Year in Mexico - 8 Things We Have Learned Living in Mexico

One year ago, Jennifer and I left the United States with a fully-loaded Toyota 4Runner and moved to Mexico.

Our first year as expats was eventful and full of surprises. Looking back, we have wonderful memories, several new friends and an enthusiasm for the future.

Jennifer had more experience with the expat life than me. She had lived in Germany and London for four years during high school, but attended international schools and never quite became an expat. My summer in a Paris apartment hardly qualified me as an expat, but I did get a taste of it and wanted more.

We have been content to rent a house on the island of Cozumel while we went about the business of setting up our photography business. We interviewed lawyers and accountants and started the process of creating a Mexican corporation, which would allow us to work here legally. While the paper work was making its way through the system, we attended language classes in Chiapas, saw some of Mexico and made new friends. One month after arriving on the island we got married. So, a big year.

Here are a few of the high points and things we have learned in the last year:

  1. We loved driving here, have done it three times, and highly recommend driving as the best way to see this beautiful country. Get a Guia Roji, the best road map for Mexico, a Mexican chip for a Garmin GPS (sometimes helpful, sometimes woefully inaccurate) and plan your trip carefully. We were coming from New Mexico, so we could essentially cross the border at a number of places. We crossed early on a Sunday morning at Laredo. A quick pass through customs, then immigration, then getting our car permit and we were on the road by 8:30am, arriving in San Miguel de Allende before dinner. More than 80% of our route was on four lane roads, many of them cuotas (toll roads). A bit more expensive, but you make good time. Our second night in Fortin de las Flores, third night in Palenque (if the road to Villahermosa isn't flooded - it was last year at this time, see the blog post of Oct. 1, 2010) and we catch the 6:00pm ferry to Cozumel on the fourth day.


    Descending into Fortin de las Flores on the road from Puebla

    We NEVER drive at night. We don't know the roads, there might be a few vehicles on the road without lights, there are pedestrians (sometimes inebriated), animals and hundreds of topes. Plus, eight hours a day should be enough. Slow down, the journey can be as enjoyable as the destination.

    You don't want to see the room!

    If, for some unseen circumstance, you don't end up in the town where you planned to stop and it is getting dark, look for a "Love Motel". You'll recognize them by the fence that obscures the entire motel and the curtain or garage door that covers the parking area for each room. Created for couples who want privacy, the rooms are available for four hours or for the entire night. The secure parking for an auto full of your stuff is invaluable.


    Uxmal, Yucatan - Palacio del Gobernador

  2. We lived here as locals for a six-week test run before moving. Being here as a local, going about your work, shopping at the markets and stores, arranging for cable tv, a cell phone, etc. will help you to decide if you will like living in the place where you had only previously vacationed. We made the decision to rent until our business will support us. The island is loaded with houses and condos for sale by people who bought while on vacation and then decided that the expat life was not for them.
  3. When setting up a corporation, ask other expats who they have used, then interview a couple of attorneys and accountants. You will need both. If you don't speak Spanish well, make sure your accountant and attorney are fluent in English. You don't want miscommunications when setting up your company. Our entire process was smooth and we now shoot destination weddings, advertising photos and contribute travel photos to the National Geographic Image Collection.


    Mark & Miranda on the east side of Cozumel after their wedding.

  4. Learn the language!!!!! Take classes, read the newspapers, keep a dictionary close by, watch television in something other than English. Change the language settings on DVD movies and watch it in the language you are learning while using English sub-titles.
  5. Travel and discover the amazing country of Mexico. Long coastlines, rugged mountain ranges, vast deserts, mysterious jungles, lush rain forests, bustling modern cities and beautiful colonial cities, are only a few of the reasons to leave your comfortable home and see Mexico. I am constantly amazed at the number of expats on my island who don't try to speak Spanish or who have never seen any of the country.


    Mexico's Bicentenario in San Miguel de Allende

  6. We love: the island of Cozumel with its relaxed atmosphere, colorful Carnaval celebrations and clear Caribbean waters; small, lesser known Mayan ruins like Ek Balam and Calakmul; the architecture and sophistication of San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato; the vast number of Reservas de las Biosferas; everything about Chiapas; tacos al pastor, Bohemia beer, Centenario tequila, sopes for breakfast, jamaica, pork any way it is cooked, Campeche camarones, warm handshakes and cheek kisses when we greet our friends; the love shown to children; salsa music; and the general love of life that permeates the country.


    Dance competitions during Cozumel's Colorful Carneval

  7. If you are an animal lover, adopt a pet. Although don't be surprised if one adopts you first. While more and more Mexicans have pets and are responsible pet owners, there is an overpopulation problem, due to the lack of a spay and neuter program in most places. You can practice your Spanish on the dog or cat who shows up on your doorstep.
  8. Don't be in a hurry to get things done (mañana doesn't mean tomorrow, it just means "not today"), don't compare habits, rituals, government, service providers or drivers to the country you have left. Prepare yourself for a change in thinking to go with your change in address.

Let us know if you have any questions about living in Mexico!

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About the Author

Michael and Jennifer Lewis have worked as photographers for more than thirty years combined. Contributors to National Geographic Images, magazines and corporations, they make their home on Cozumel, Mexico. Their blog, Latin Journeys, contains trip reports from their travels around Mexico and their blog, The Cozumel Sun features stories and restaurant reviews about the island of Cozumel.

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Comments about this Article

guest
Nov 14, 2011 11:12

Terrific article. I guessed I missed the part where you mentioned that Mexico is essentially a lawless country that has brutal murders and slaughter of civilians in broad daylight. The state dept as the highest warnings about travel to and within Mexico for good reasons. This has affected some provinces worse than others but murder and kidnapping are in virtually every province, even Cozumel. some cities have the delightful diastinction of being the leaders of murder on the planet. Have a good time.

ollieburger
Nov 14, 2011 12:27

It does my heart good to see an article which brings out the beauty of this wonderful country and its people. I was there as a child and have dreamed of going back ever since. Muchas gracias!

guest
Nov 14, 2011 18:12

I would like to know what your expenses are running a month there if you don't mind me asking Darrell

guest
Nov 14, 2011 21:20

I first moved to guadalajara in 1972 mexico in those days was still peaceful,cheap and you could still eat the whitefish from lake chapala. However on my birthday,1973, we went to "carlos & Willy's", about half way through the meal, about five shots rang out as there was an assassination two tables away. I lived in various parts of the country for twelve years. It s nice place but danger is real. For the past five years i have been living in s.e. asia,(not thailand) and feel safe.

guest
Nov 14, 2011 22:29

Great article and even better pictures.I'm curious about the guest comment about living in asia "not Thailand" Where are you living? I considered Mexico but ended up in Nepal somehow lol

guest
Nov 15, 2011 05:14

Well documented highlights, and your comment about "don't compare" goes for any place to which one moves. You let yourselves truly feel and experience the places you visited and the home you've adopted, rather than mentally inventory what's different, which so often becomes 'what's wrong with...here'. Congrats on taking the steps, doing it right, making a business and personal contribution to another country.

guest
Nov 15, 2011 17:37

I really enjoyed your article and most of the comments! The snide one about how dangerous Mexico is did not entertain me. My husband and I have been living in Playa del Carmen for almost two years and we LOVE it here! It is not without its problems but where on earth is? We moved here from Las Vegas, NV, and as far as I'm concerned, this is home.

ftm6899
Nov 16, 2011 22:37

Nice article but it would also be nice if you would respond to some of the comments below. Thank you.

guest
Nov 17, 2011 11:44

We are working photographers and have been away from home working and have not had time to respond. Our apologies. We appreciate most of the comments. So here goes. guest #1: no response is necessary here, since nothing I say could penetrate a closed mind. ollieburger: Thank you, we couldn't agree more. guest #2: Tough call on expenses. We work from the home, so don't need to rent office space, but we need a bigger house. We also live in one of the more expensive places in Mexico. A couple could rent a 2-br house here for around $500usd and up per month. More amenities is more expense. Eating out at tourist restaurants is comparable to the US. Food at the groceries a little cheaper than the US (we are on an island, so the costs are higher than most of Mexico). guest #3: So, you happened to be in a restaurant where someone was taken out in 1973? How many people have witnessed the same in NYC, LA, Chicago, etc? guest #4: I like Thailand and Nepal. guest #5: Thank you guest #6: Playa is nice, we work there a lot. Enjoy the TOP this weekend.

ftm6899
Nov 17, 2011 19:51

Thanks for your responses. Much appreciated.

ashbyt
Nov 21, 2011 09:36

To characterize the comments of one individual as snyde or closed minded does a disservice to your readers. In fact Mexico is one of the most dangerous places on earth. This is not due to any inherent evil on the part of the citizens but a result of the rampant coruption both in the local police as well as the federal authorities. This has allowed a well armed and ruthless group of drug cartels to run many provinces virtually unchecked.

guest
Nov 21, 2011 09:51

ashbyt - Our article was about our year in Mexico, what we experienced and what we learned. It was not an essay on the current state of affairs, political, social, economic, etc. The initial comment, and yours, have nothing to do with the story we posted and warrant no further comment.

guest
Jan 17, 2012 12:39

great artical ... love the information ......i am a transplanted canadian ..... and for the guest that is only talking about the dangers ..... well when i was first coming to mexico .... i was in phonex az ..... burger king .... and there was shots that when through the frount window from some gang fighting .... so i guess people should not go to buger king in the usa because it is very dangerous ....... look in your own back yard and open your eyes ... you could see that it in more dangerous to be living in canada or the usa than in mexico ....... i have been here for over a year .... and have never had any problems .... other than learning spanish hahahahahah ....

ashbyt
Jan 17, 2012 13:12

In regard to the guest from Canada, his point is well taken (despite the numerous examples of CS Canadian Spelling). Phoenix has had an incredible rise in violent crime in the past 5 years. This is mostly attributed with an overflow of Mexican gangs related to Mexican drug cartels. The types of violence that have increased are kidnapping, murder, and drug related violence. Sound familiar? This is strikingly similar to ....oh yeah right across the border. The northern provinces of Mexico lead the world in murder rate. To compare it with the US crime rate is, as they say in Canada, silee.

guest
Apr 30, 2012 16:53

Thinking of Mexico/Central America for a retirement locale.

guest
Apr 30, 2012 19:59

Thank you so much for your comments and articles. I have been considering going to Mexico to live on my social security. I am bilingual Spanish is my second language. I have been to Manzanillo and found the Ocean wonderful but am not sure if I should look around more to find the ideal spot for us. I am in the medical field and was hoping to do something helpful.. I would appreciate any suggestion from you.

guest
May 15, 2012 18:50

Great article! It reflects my experience as well, that is why I'm still here....11 years and counting with twin 14 year old daughters. This is home! I have helped other expats find their home to rent or buy and make the move. We lived in Cozumel for the first 2 years, then moved to Playa. playadelcarmen4sale.com, although we visit Cozumel as often as possible.

Stuart
Sep 5, 2013 14:46

Very wise not to travel at night. If in doubt overnight at the town before the one you anticipated if it's near dark. There are bad drivers, maniacs and drunks on the roads - not to mention animals. It's just not worth taking any risks. I would take a pinch of salt with the dire warning about kidnappings. i have been up and down to the US with no problems, and if you consult the WHO's world list of murders, country by country (Sept 2013) Mexico is well down the list...even below Costa Rica which was a surprise.

eldante
Mar 1, 2015 00:36

well written, reflective of adventurous spirits. Seems like realistic encouragement any reflections on access to medical care?

First Published: Nov 15, 2011

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