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Living Abroad in Mexico

Overview

© Ken Luboff, from Living Abroad in Mexico, 1st Edition. Used by permission of Avalon Travel Publishing. All rights reserved.

Living Abroad in Mexico

"As they meet and become friendly with Mexican people, foreign residents are often invited to weddings and other family celebrations, religious ceremonies, and community festivities. If they desire, they can leisurely explore the country—canoeing through a lush jungle lagoon in the morning, then sleeping in a high mountain pine forest that night."

Mexico is one of the unknown wonders of the world—it is amazing how little people to the north know about their neighbor. Many Americans think of Mexico as having palm-studded beaches lined with mega-hotels and resorts, surrounding a vast, scary inland of baking cactus and unfriendly, if not hostile, Pancho Villa types.

This image couldn't be further from the truth. Mexico is filled with both natural and artificially constructed wonders—hot rivers, snowcapped mountains, magnificent colonial towns, charming Swiss-style villages, indigenous people wearing flamboyant costumes, exotic coffee plantations, art deco architectural fantasies in the jungle, and the generosity of a very warm people.

Foreigners living in Mexico defy any single classification. Many are snowbirds who return each winter to escape cooler climes; others come to study Spanish; still others to immerse their kids in the country's vibrant culture; some come to find work; and some to follow the sun and high surf.

In San Miguel a young family of four from Boulder, Colorado, spent a year in Mexico so that they could all learn Spanish and so that the two young children could gain a new perspective. The kids were enrolled in the local Waldorf school, where the majority of students are Mexican.

Mexico offers some obvious advantages over other countries. The foremost may be its location. Mexico is a breeze to reach from the United States. It has modern airports and a well-developed four-lane highway system. The trip by car from the U.S. border to most central Mexican cities takes only a day or two. Once at home in Mexico, you can keep in touch with friends and family back in the States using its modern telecommunications network. Phoning the United States is easy, but it is just as easy and less expensive to turn on your computer and stay connected by email and instant messaging.

Living in Mexico costs about one-third of what it costs to live in the States. Depending on where you make your home, it is possible to live very well in Mexico on $2000 per month—even less. After all, a pound of oranges costs about $.19, a dozen eggs $1.12, a dozen fresh long-stemmed roses $3, and a full-time maid $50 per week! Sure, in the fanciest areas of towns like San Miguel and Puerto Vallarta, higher rents drive monthly expenses up. But outside the ritzy areas—in the countryside and the smaller villages—houses rent for as little as $200 or $300 a month.

Those interested in buying a house in Mexico will find that laws make it easy for a foreigner to own property with a secure title. A few U.S. mortgage companies now offer mortgages on Mexican real estate at competitive rates. In many areas, homes and lots are covered by U.S. title insurance companies. Real estate is appreciating in popular areas, but bargains can still be found, and building costs are about one-third to one-half of those in the United States.

For the most part, Mexicans are sweet people who will go out of their way to help a friend or even a congenial acquaintance. You may go into shops for the first time and, because the shopkeepers cannot break your large bill, be told to return and pay later. Knowing at least a little Spanish, even if it is badly spoken, can make kindness like this more likely.

But can a country with a great sunny climate, friendly people, beautiful beaches, first-class recreational facilities, spectacular mountains, and low prices be perfect? That might be too much to ask. Like anywhere on earth, Mexico has its downsides. Among them are environmental degradation, poverty, and crime. Cultural differences, as well, are a source of frustration to some new arrivals. Government is not efficient by U.S. standards, and whereas computers are now ubiquitous, some offices still use old typewriters and carbon paper.

Most tourists come to Mexico to lie in the sun on a tropical beach, whoop it up in a border town over the weekend, or explore archaeological ruins and cathedrals. Foreigners living in Mexico, on the other hand, have the opportunity to slow down, tune in to the subtleties of the culture, and discover the wonderful diversity of terrain within Mexico's borders. As they meet and become friendly with Mexican people, foreign residents are often invited to weddings and other family celebrations, religious ceremonies, and community festivities. If they desire, they can leisurely explore the country—canoeing through a lush jungle lagoon in the morning, then sleeping in a high mountain pine forest that night. They might attend a first-rate opera in Guadalajara in the evening and spend the night in a quaint fishing village just 45 minutes away.

The contrasts in Mexico are astounding: the Stone Age and high technology stand side by side. An old man rides along the highway on his burro—a huge General Motors plant his backdrop—as a new Mercedes whizzes by. Poor families live in tin hovels back-to-back with fancy, high-speed cyber cafés. Your experiences in Mexico can be just as varied and sometimes just as striking.

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