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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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!