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La Vida Local

Moving to Mexico: How We Did It and Why

The Coastline of Progreso, Mexico
The Coastline of Progreso, Mexico.

Toward the end of 2003 my husband Fred and I decided to move to Mexico. It was not something we had spent years contemplating. It happened that we were talking about our daughter’s plan to move to Mexico and perhaps teach English. We were excited, because we felt it allowed us a new place to vacation.

After three years she still had not made the move. On a cold evening in October my husband said, “You know, we could do that. We could move to Mexico.” And so it started.

We veered into a local Barnes and Noble before going home and bought our first book on retiring to Mexico. The selection was limited, to say the least. Thank goodness for the Internet.

I started scanning the Web and accumulating lots of great information. I found a place to live for the first six months, and started the “winding-down” process at home.

Eight months later we had sold or given away most of our furniture, put the rest in storage, attended numerous going-away parties, and set out on our new adventure.

Seeking a New Life

We were no different from many Americans who seek a new life after retirement. We wanted to learn a new language by immersing ourselves in it. We wanted to experience living in a new culture. We were eager to test ourselves and see what we could do with limited international experience and language skills. The information we picked up along the way may help you if you are considering a move to Mexico.

Before You Go: The Internet is full of great information, so take advantage of it. Learn some Spanish, as much as you can. Buy maps of the regions you are going to and familiarize yourself with the adjacent towns, sights to see, etc.

When You Get There: Be respectful of your new country—remember, you are a guest. Don’t automatically switch to new foods you have not eaten before; take it slow to avoid traveler’s distress. To avoid some illnesses, wash your hands often or carry antibacterial hand cleaner, so you don’t pick up germs you’re not ready to handle yet. Wear sunscreen, comfortable shoes, appropriate clothing. Save your short shorts and scanty blouses for the tourist beaches.

Visas: You will need a visa for Mexico, no matter how long you are staying. Requirements change, so check with your Mexican Consulate or immigration office.

The Tourist Visa is for visitors and valid anywhere from 30 to 180 days. If you plan to be in Mexico for six months, ask the officer at immigration to give you the 180-day visa so that you don’t have to worry about renewal. You will need proof of citizenship—either a passport or a certified copy of your birth certificate accompanied by a photo ID.

You can obtain a blank tourism visa form at any Mexican consulate, at the travel agency issuing your ticket, at the airline counter, or even on the plane while en route. If you come across the border by car or bus, you can obtain one at the border office.

A tourist visa is just a permit to enter the country as a visitor. While you are in Mexico you cannot work, and the amount of personal belongings you can bring with you is limited.

If you plan to live in Mexico as a resident immigrant longer than six months, you should apply for a visa. It is needed to open a bank account and set up utilities. It is renewable each year in the city in which you are residing. One form of the visa—the visitante con actividades lucrativas—permits you to work if you so desire. You must apply in person for a visa from a Mexican consulate in one of several U.S. cities or at a city in Mexico.

Get a list outlining what you need to receive a visa from the immigration office or consulate. Requirements include proof of minimum income.

Yucatan, Mexico
Yucatan, Mexico; A burroman waits outside his home with his burro.

Traveling with Children: If you are traveling with children, you need their birth certificates or passports. If both parents are not traveling with the child, a notarized letter of permission from the absent parent or notarized guardianship papers will be necessary.

Banking: You will not need to bring a lot of U.S. dollars or traveler's checks with you, just an ATM card. However, it is always smart to arrive in Mexico with at least $100 worth of pesos in your pocket for taxis, etc.

Language: You will need basic Spanish to live in Mexico. We have electronic translators that we keep with us so we can always look up a word when we need to.

Expatriates and locals alike visit Progreso's fishmonger
Expatriates and locals alike visit Progreso's fishmonger.

Cars in Mexico: Mexican law is very strict about bringing cars into Mexico, and if you bring a car in, you are responsible for taking that same car out. There is a “free zone” of about 20 kilometers south of the U.S. border where these guidelines do not apply.

Beyond the free zone owners of personal vehicles must present a valid U.S. driver’s license with a photo or an international driving permit (available at most auto clubs); valid tourist card, passport, or visa; the original certificate of title (if you do not have title to the car you must present a notarized letter of permission from the lien holder authorizing temporary importation of the car, or from the rental agency, or your company); valid state license plates; credit card in the owner’s name to pay the vehicle permit fee.

The title holder, driver, and credit card owner must be one and the same. The title holder must be in the vehicle at all times, and if another person is authorized by the title holder to drive the car his or her name must be put on the car permit by the official at the border. To avoid hefty fines, do not lend the car to anyone else.

A car permit is valid for up to six months. Your tourist visa will be stamped to reflect that you brought a car into the country. Keep these documents in a safe place, because you have to turn them back in when you leave the country. If your permit expires, the authorities can confiscate your car. If you have a visa, your permit must be renewed with your visa.

Car Insurance: Your U.S. or Canadian car insurance will not be recognized in Mexico. Be prepared to buy Mexican car insurance when you cross the border if you haven’t already purchased it. Several companies sell Mexican car insurance.

In case of accident, Mexican law requires that your car be held until damages are paid or until you guarantee proper payment via an insurance policy.

Living in Merida

The following information is based upon our experience living in Merida, Yucatan.

Weather: Progreso and Merida are warm places but in the winter months are comfortably cool in the evenings. Being by the sea means cool breezes most of the time. The rainy season is June through September, but the area doesn't see an overabundance of rain.

Getting Around: Buses run throughout Progreso. The general fare is 4 pesos, or less if you are not going very far or if you are a student. There are also collectivos, usually Volkswagen vans. The price is the same as the bus.

Shopping: You can buy locally-grown fruits and vegetables from the mercado or from the several street sellers located throughout the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. You can purchase fresh chicken, eggs, meat, and fish at the mercado as well, or you can opt for the supermarket in town. For large purchases, Merida is close, with all the available goods and services you cannot find in Progreso. Several American and Canadian families have taken up permanent residence, although not in the same numbers as in the Guadalajara area. There are Scots, Brits, and French here as well, and many we have not met yet.

Phone Service: There are three ways to get phone service. Most people purchase a cell phone and buy pre-paid "Amigo" cards from TelCel. Depending on where you call, the amount varies. For example, a local call down the street may take 4 pesos per minute, while a call to the U.S. may take 12 pesos per minute.

The second way of making telephone calls is to get in-home service through Telmex. You will need to show a utility bill and your identification. Home service is a bit expensive, but you can have Internet service added for your computer. Bring a telephone with you, as they are not easy to find here.

The third common way to use the phones is to buy a Ladatel card for use in the public phones.

Internet Service: You can have internet Installed in your home, through Telmex. You can sign up for Prodigy or use the faster service, Prodigy Infinitum. We also use an Internet phone services for long distance such as Skype and Dialpad.

Internet Cafes are sprinkled throughout Progreso. Most cost between 6 and 10 pesos per hour, and most have printing, scanning, faxing and services there as well.

Satellite TV: You can order SKY satellite service to receive English-language programming while in Progreso.

Gas: Z Peninsular Gas has trucks that drive through Progreso daily, starting at about eight in the morning. They honk their horns as they pass by, so if you need propane you can signal them and they will stop and fill your tanks. You can also call them locally.

Water: Water service to your house in generally included in your rent. You can buy drinking water it at the store in 20-liter bottles, or have it delivered to your home by Electropura or Cristal. You will see the large delivery trucks throughout the city; just stop the driver and give him your address. Water is about 15 pesos per bottle.

Cleaning Services: You may wish to hire a person to clean your house daily, weekly, or somewhere in between. Usually it is best to ask a person you know for a referral. Expect to pay anywhere from 70 to 200 pesos, depending on the size of your home and what you ask the person to do for you.

Laundry: Numerous lavanderias will take your clothes, wash them, dry them, and fold them within a day or two. (We haven't encountered a self-service laundromat yet.) Ask around for recommendations.

Mail: There is no personal mail delivery in Progreso. You can rent post office box at the post office for 150 pesos for the calendar year. General delivery works for many part-time visitors. We have a mail service in our home state in the U.S. which sends important mail once a month via fedex. This way, we know it will get here pronto.

Reading Materials: There is an English-language library in Merida (on Calle 53, between Calles 66 and 68). Finding an English-language newspaper is not possible in Progreso, so reading the current news on the Internet is the next best thing. In Merida, you can purchase magazines and books in English at Sanborn's. Two of their locations are in The Fiesta Americana Hotel and The Gran Plaza Mall.

Helpful Websites:

Mexonline offers information on ever-changing visa requirements of all kinds.

www.mexconnected.com is the oldest website dealing with living in Mexico. It features articles, forums for information exchanges, a cooking page, plus local news and much more.

Skype is an Internet phone service that is great for calling computer to computer for free to all parts of the world, and computer to landline or cell at very reasonable prices.

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