A decade ago, the part-time expat life would not have been an option for most people. By all accounts, past expats to Mexico were true pioneers compared to the lives expats enjoy today.
Dealing with cross-country communications, banking issues and the lack of availability of goods in Mexico make prior expats seem like frontiersmen.
Oh the hardship! You could almost picture them. Cut-off from friends and families back home, scavenging for English-language books at the local library and always keeping an ear to the ground about where to find a good cheeseburger.
As a part-time expat, I've seen my movement from one country to another become more seamless even in the five years I've been doing it. Uber came to Mexico. Storage Box picks up and stores my boxes without trips to storage facilities. More direct flights to Mexico have been added by carriers.
Services and technologies have totally changed what it means to be an expat. While some changes, like online banking, have been around for a decade or so, they still remind us that living in Mexico in 2018 and beyond is no longer like living in a third-world country - in spite of what many people (who have never done it) insist on telling you.
The Game Changers
Online banking - Everyone sits in their pajamas these days to do their banking. When I first arrived to Mexico, I looked at my account several times a day to convince myself it was still there. Being cut off from my money was my number one fear left-over from years ago when you had to wait for your bank to actually open in the morning. Being able to reach someone at your bank used to be restricted to business hours - an eternity of teeth-gnashing if your debit card has disappeared.
So much has changed. Customer service hours have stretched to not having to wait more than a few hours if you have a question or concern. Having two separate U.S. banks and the technology to transfer money from one to another within a day is also a life-saver in the case of a loss of a debit card (If I seem obsessed, getting your debit card replaced can be a real hassle in Mexico).
Easier Visa processes - Where it used to take months to complete Mexican “tramites” (bureaucratic processes) like applying for temporary and permanent visas, in major expat areas these processes have become much more efficient. Getting my Visa Temporal took less than a month. Getting a regular tourist visa is also quicker than it used to be.
Uber, Lyft, ZipCars, Cars to Go and other alternative transportation methods - Maintaining a car in the U.S for many months at a time is a major obstacle to living in Mexico part-time. You might have the fixed expense of car payments if you’ve not paid your car off, and you might have the fixed payment of car insurance regardless of whether you’re driving the car or not unless you have a private garage. You also have the headache of finding reasonably-priced secure storage and someone to drive your car every now and then while you're out of the country.
Traditional car rental companies like Hertz, Enterprise as well as local companies in larger cities have also gotten into the car sharing business. Taking the leap to car sharing services made me wish I’d given up my expensive SUV years ago. Ditching the car payment, property taxes, trying to park my car in one of the tiny spaces offered in my Denver apartment's parking garage, and finding parking in downtown Denver on a Saturday night added up to far more a burden than the occasional inconvenience of not having a car.
I do understand how it would be different for me as a woman and not a man, especially a dating man. However, apparently many such men (younger) are finding ways around how to pick up their dates. Many young professionals in urban areas, even those who can easily afford cars, are putting off owning a car. Because of parking issues and drinking laws, they are using car-sharing services heavily anyway. Why pay to both have a car and car-share?
If you sublet your place while you are gone and no friends are available to help you move your things once a year, look for Uber’s new service Dolly Uber, an on-demand moving service app to call on the day you have to move your personal items into storage while you are in Mexico. For me, Closetbox storage is the part-time expat's dream. They come pick up your boxes, put them into storage and bring them back on a set date.
MagicJack, Facetime, Skype, Google-Hangout and other internet-based telephone communication methods to help you keep in touch with friends back home - For those accustomed to traditional telephone carriers, making the transition to internet-based phone communication can be a little daunting. Living in another country will put you on the fast track to figuring alternatives out because expats simply don't tolerate high charges from carriers after they see what Mexicans pay.
Spending a little time experimenting with these apps should beat the heck out of paying for data you don’t use and enduring the monthly gouging and multi-year contracts of the four major carriers.
My MagicJack system (and I’ve heard there are several newer options) costs $48 for a year-long subscription, another one-time fee of $35 for a Magicjack device and $15 for an old-fashioned handheld phone to receive calls that ring just like they did in 1960 (optional). Factored in with amortizing the cost of buying my own phone. it adds up to a little over $24 a month.
Since getting my old number transferred to Magic Jack, I found an AT&T plan in Mexico that allows me to make unlimited calls to and from Mexico for $10 a month. AT&T is moving aggressively into Mexico so check out those plans when you are in Mexico.
VPN (Virtual Private Network) services - Many expats are especially concerned about network security and privacy. A VPN is a private network that uses the Internet to connect remote sites or users together. VPN services secure your online activities by routing your internet traffic through their routers.
VPN services enable expats to watch their favorite television programs live from their own countries and not depend on local networks. More savvy expats who love movies and television utilize something called a flash routers, something beyond my scope at this point.
VPN's don't work with Netflix anymore - they can tell you're using a VPN and will prohibit access to certain shows. You can still rent movies on YouTube if you have a VPN though. Otherwise you will be directed to YouTube Mexico, which doesn't permit movie rentals. VPN's also keep your Google searches in English, since Google has decided to based your results on your location.
International trade makes far more goods available - As much as some crusty expats bemoan the Walmarts and Sam's Clubs ruining “authentic Mexico," Today's expats embrace these chain stores as much as the Mexicans do. Availability compares to what you'd find in a small American town.
You may get a little frustrated if you live full-time in Mexico and have to do without pickles for years at a time. If you're a part-time expat, you can marvel at the availability of goods when you're at home and marvel at the lower cost of goods when you are in Mexico.
Online language tools - Even if you don’t want to learn Spanish, internet tools like Google Translate and enable you to get by more easily.
If you do want to learn the language, you no longer have to find a local tutor you like, go to classes, or haul books around. You can learn Spanish completely on your computer. You can even practice speaking, using Skype/Google Hangouts to find free language exchange partners or paid tutors.
Streaming music - If music is important to you, you will be able to stream your favorite music, as well as explore Latin American genres through Spotify, Deezer and Sony Unlimited (Pandora is still not available in Mexico). VPN services enable you listen to location-restricted streaming internet radio like IHeart stations.
Amazon.com - Expats are holding their breath in wild hope that Amazon will achieve its global goal. My own experience with ordering inexpensive items on Amazon has been positive. If this keeps up, one of the last ill-fitting pieces of the expat lifestyle puzzle (availability of goods) will fall into place.
Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, Roku and other television streaming services, as my friend Mary mentioned in her expat guest post, mean you rarely have to miss a show. While the availability of programs on Netflix is different, the good news is that you will have a broader selection of Spanish language shows for practicing your Spanish. I like the bigger availabily of Spanish-language series in Mexico.
Working remote from Mexico - Just as I hired a book cover designer from Brazil from the website Fiverr, and techies from Atlanta, Georgia and India to de-spam my site’s Google Analytics, people can hire you from another country.
Some of my expat neighbors are artists, writers, I.T. professionals and photographers. You can take your dream job description and explore whether technology will support your working in and experiencing another country for six months at a time or more.
Online healthcare records - My healthcare provider in the U.S. has just announced that I will soon be able to view all my health records online.
Being able to see these records while I am in Mexico with the cost of medical services and drugs available for less here at my finger tips, should make it far easier to choose what to do in Mexico (routine check-ups, potential drug purchases) and what to do in the U.S.
Having access to Mexican drugs and services and my medical records online with my insurer at home gives a whole new meaning to the words “managed care.” I can see huge potential for being able to better manage both the care and its cost.
On-line Language tools - As you will discover in my book, The Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online, there are virtually hundreds of free online-tools to learn Spanish. With Skype, you can practice with native speakers as much as you like. Years ago, it would be impossible to become fluent without going to the country. I can honestly say that's not the case anymore.
Keep the best of each lifestyle, discard the rest.
You have many reasons to consider living in Mexico full or part-time.
Some of the reasons to go are the activities you can still do just like you did at home. You can continue watching the same shows you like, listening to music you know and managing your money just like you do now.
Other reasons to consider moving to Mexico are that things that are different from home. You will have a less expensive cost of living, more daily adventure, a break from relentless commercialism, and a more gentle way of life.
Things are not (yet) perfect living in Mexico. The greatest inconvenience is the unreliability of mail service and internet. Considering the world domination plans of Amazon, how could Amazon delivery by drone not be in the American expats future? Tools have also developed where you can buy your own internet hot spot to take with you.
There's no doubt that with each year's innovations, life in Mexico will get better and better.
"How to Watch Streaming Video and Netflix in Mexico" - Flashrouters.com
"Best VPN services for 2017" - PC Magazine
Next up: A friend's startling decision to become a Peace Corp volunteer at 50 reminds me that, for all it's press, love is not all that matters.
Most recent: A slice of what is going on in healthcare in the U.S., a main reason many are looking into retiring abroad.
About the author:
Hi - I'm Kerry Baker, a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources to people considering expat life in Mexico, including "If Only I Had a Place" a new guide for the aspiring expat on finding the perfect place in Mexico.
I am also author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web. Spanish changes your life in Mexico - get started today.