If you have just started your research on what it might be like to live in Mexico full or part-time, brace yourself, especially if you are considering relocating as a single person.
Accounts by expats are often depressing (on many different levels) and screamingly banal. On-line sources in the most popular, general-circulation sources, like the Huffington Post, are usually empty copy provided directly or indirectly by International Living. Expat forums are like panning for gold, as you try to sort out the review of a restuarant in Chiapas from information on tourist visas that you need right away.
My first Mexican friend, Lupita.
Looking back after over four years here, I realize now that most of what I read was even more worthless than I thought. Several issues stand out to me.
Why it's especially frustrating as a single person
For one thing, almost all you will read was written by married people. Sorry, but it is a totally different ball game single. In some ways better, in some ways harder.
Expat couples find each other quickly. That's a positive thing. The negative is that couples more quickly fall into a social life that is exclusively expat, even if one of the couple speaks Spanish.
The dynamics change dramatically as a single person. Figuring out the social part has to move up in priority from that of a couple. A couple immediately focuses on the mechanics, then finds their social life. A single person hoping to find happiness in Mexico needs to do the reverse, or go insane.
The information is not presented in chronological order
How-to information in books is never on a time-line of what you need at different points in your transition.
Most book throw information all together in one big hot mess to pick through when you only need enough, really, to get through your first six months.
Although you may tell yourself you will skip over the topics that don’t yet apply, those sections (buying a car, buying a house, transporting goods) will suck you in. You will stress over things you might not need to know for years, if ever if that first long-term stay doesn't agree with you.
Then there is the part about reading vs. doing. Which do you think would be harder, going to the DMV or reading an instruction manual about going to the DMV? Everything you read makes it all sound much more complicated than it is once you get here.
Do a little research, then take an extended visit.
Before you read the chapter about proper communication with your housekeeper, take an extended visit. Get a feel of what it is like to be the minority an not speak the primary language. Go to a grocery store and realize you have no idea how to ask for bay leaf.
All future decisions and outlays of energy should hinge on developing some primary understanding first before thinking about the logistics of a bank account or buying vs. renting. Before the first extended (non-vacation) trip, you should know how to
get through customs,
practice money exchange,
learn about public transportation and taxis,
study basic Spanish,
choose the proper telephone plan and setting up communications between you and home,
know a little about the food/water hazards,
find a place to stay representative of the lifestyle you want in Mexico
Relax. That will be plenty.
I cannot believe the stupid stuff I fretted over before I'd even spent a month here.
Watch a good movie and skip, for now, the article on how to find a notary and how to drive from Guadalajara to San Miguel de Allende. In your first months living here, expats will hardly be able to contain themselves from explaining it to you anyway.
Don’t choose your city on surface value.
Many books focus on helping you choose what city in Mexico to live in. For a single person, city selection is not a place to start.
The place to start is developing relationships in Mexico and following those relationships, informed by certain elements you know you like; a beach, cooler weather, a big expat population, for example.
What do I mean by that? One of my best friends, a woman gifted at developing friendships, and I have an inside joke. About four years after I moved to Denver without a single contact, she moved to Denver too. Or as we put it, I stormed the beach. She built the hospitals.
She wanted to leave Richmond, where we had become friends. Unlike me, she wouldn't move anywhere she didn't have friends. Instead of moving there and finding people, she took the time to develop some relationships with people in addition to me in Denver for a few years before she even left Virginia.
She used those 3-4 people as a platform once she arrived, growing that circle organically while I, being the commando that I am, went to hundreds of MeetUps which yielded me zero. It took me four years to accomplish socially in Denver what she accomplished in six months.
Taking a hill as I did is a brutal process (or as they say in Spanish, “Es fatal.”) My friend was much wiser than me. I went to both Denver as the gung-ho infantry man, picking a city by it's characteristics then conquering it. She came in behind the 3-4 people she knew, thoughtfully and quietly when the bloodshed was over, and built over the bloody remains.
I learned my lesson: Whether it’s La Paz, Mexico or St. Paul, Minnesota having a least a few scouts in a new city before you arrive can make for a quicker, easier and thereby more successful ground campaign.
All the single ladies, expats in Mexico
Places to start in making friends - before you get to Mexico
Expat forums and Facebook group pages I've heard are excellent ways to find potential friends in Mexico.
The folks in these forums and online groups are very upfront. Their profiles have pictures, ages and backgrounds. Most of them love to hear from a kindred spirit. All have established social circles. While I've never made a friend from one, I can see how someone might if they kept the conversation going.
These are the two best ways to to go about your campaign to make contacts in Mexico
#1 Spend a introductory month in Mexico in the town of interest. Then go back home and try to make friends on-line with people in that town. With a little info on the town, it will be easier to relate to what they say than if you contact them and then make your first visit.
#2 Make friends with people in your city who live in Mexico part time (most of them will be snowbirds) through your personal network, then visit where they they live when in Mexico. Try to be in Mexico when they are. A familiar face after being on your own for a few months will keep your spirits up.
I had one contact in Mazatlán through a hiking group that I could reconnect with during their frequent trips there. I challenged a friend of mine who is gifted at this kind of networking to find another person in Mazatlán.
(She's that good at networking. I'm not. I'm a storm-trooper, remember?). She had a friend, who knew someone, who knew someone, who knew someone in Mazatlán. She introduced me online to a person she'd never met herself. Four years later that person is still my best expat friend in Mexico.
Moving to Mexico by yourself in some ways will be easier than moving to another city in your own country. There are usually places where expats hang out. They become friends by sheer virtue of being expats (which often makes for strange bedfellows BTW).
Being expats together is a little like being on a NASA space mission. Astronauts become friends by the daily work and sharing the pay-offs of that work in space together. Your expat friends may not have necessarily been chosen as friends at home, but being in another binds you together in Mexico like it does immigrants everywhere. The friendship is no less valid and sincere.
Just like in the United States, your relationships in Mexico will contribute much more to your happiness in a new town than perfect weather or a cultural arts center, or any of the other criteria that you now think is so important.
We all need a posse. I love Mazatlán, its beaches and lifestyle, but it’s the friendships that I built here that make it home.
"Will I Get Lonely Living in Mexico?" - one of our most popular posts. Ventanas Mexico
If you get a little homesick, you can always go see a good cover band with your friends - Ventanas Mexico
Five clichés you will read again and again - debunked.
Next up: Before you even make a trip, know that Mexico does have income requirements for retiring here.
Most recent: It's really not that hard...how to drown in Mexico (and piss your friends off at the same time).
About the author:
Kerry Baker is a partner with Ventanas Mexico and author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web written especially for adults considering the expat life full or part-time.
The best tools are not the ones that are advertised the most. Find them in the Guide.
Most recently, she also wrote, "If Only I Had a Place," an insider's guide to renting luxuriously in Mexico for less written especially for the aspiring expat.