March 22, 2019
I have a friend who asked me a bunch of questions about moving to Mexico and San Miguel. In fact, there's a bunch of people who have been asking questions. In order to not end up telling the same long story multiple times, I'm going to begin answering things here to the degree that I can. Please remember that we ain't no experts here no how. We've just started the process. The house goes on sale in two weeks at this point. As we learn, we'll add information here. This is pretty dry stuff and even with short answers, there's a lot to this, so if you're looking for a pleasant story, this may not be your gig. If you're pondering the idea of moving to Mexico, then you may very well have an interest here. We'll get to it. These things aren't in any real order, so have a go at it. If you have other questions, you know where you can find me. I'll be easy to spot - I'm the old fart whose starting over and scared to death I'm not gonna do it right. Chances are I'll also have a cocktail in my hand and an urbanesque lite version of that Thousand Yard Stare made famous years ago in Vietnam. Too much time on the front lines boss, but I'm headed there anyway.
What’s Your Schedule?
Working now trying to strip the house of nonessentials. Put the house on the market in Aril. Should sell fast (We Hope). Forty Five days for closing – probably means we’re out of here in June? Atticus (Australian Shepherd) can’t fly (small heart murmur), so we’re gonna have to drive, and cross the border in Laredo, Texas. Not something I’m looking forward to in June. It's one of the issues we’ll have to address. We have contracted with a person in San Miguel to help us with this process. He'll meet us in Laredo and help us across the border and overland to San Miguel.
What’s The Climate Like In San Miguel de Allende?
San Miguel is at 6,400 feet elevation. High desert. South central Mexico. Pretty middle of the road most of the year. Never gets much over 80 and in the evenings the coldest would be low 40’s for a month or two. No snow. Rains in the evenings maybe three months out of the year. For a kid from the Northwest, this is nothin to complain about.
Cost Of Housing?
Depends on what you define as baseline. For us, it’s somewhere between $ 450,000 and $ 550,000. We have seen examples of people getting into good houses that need work for $ 350,000. At this point, by the time you hit $ 500,000, you can simply move into a house without any fixer upper issues at all. Really great houses. Housing in San Miguel is more expensive than the rest of Mexico because of all the expats (maybe 20,000). That drives the prices up, but still, dollar for dollar, the prices are very reasonable. I suppose if you’re 30 years old and all you want is to throw a backpack on your back and disappear into the world of adventure, then you could do the whole thing for next to nothing. We’re not in that head-space now. We want some expats around and we want to be able to immerse ourselves into the culture as we evolve in this process.
Are you moving all your furniture?
Not all of it, but a lot of it. Oddly, Mexican furniture is not all that great generally. How important is your bed or that favorite chair? You can find it in Mexico, but as odd as it might seem, the best furniture in San Miguel is actually furniture that was brought down by Americans and they discovered that all their stuff doesn't work in the house, so they dump it at a consignment store and they sell it at inflated prices. You can get good stuff, but it's gonna cost big time. We looked at the pros and cons and decided that we wanted to bring a certain amount of stuff. We had to contract with an international shipping company that will come out to the house, pack everything, ship it to Puerto Vallarta and then overland to the house in San Miguel (once we get a house). We've got a house that's maybe 2500 square feet in Gig Habor, we got rid of a lot of stuff, but still, what we've got will fit in a container that's 20ft by 8ft by 8ft. At this point, (estimate) it looks like the cost will be somewhere less than $ 15,000 and more than $ 11,000. Replacing it all in San Miguel would be closer to 20 to 25. Everyone will, of course, see this differently. If you're 25 and you live on boxed Ramen out of a backpack and tell yourself you're the only truly free person on the face of the earth, you may feel differently. We don't. Your choice. Please withhold any judgments on this stuff until you've lived 72 years and you like your bed more than you like life in general :-).
There is a lot of building going on in the area. Not unlike what happened around Las Vegas a number of years ago. So the key is to do your homework, and try to get into a neighborhood that has value in the first place. Those houses are increasing in value.
The Best Neighborhoods?
Again, it depends on what you want. You want to live on a golf course or you want to live in the central city (Centro), or do you want to live on the edge? Just like in the US, there are neighborhoods that are not so good. Nothing unusual here at all. We are exploring this now. On our first trip we found amazing neighborhoods that are quiet on the outskirts of town and neighborhoods that are buried in the culture (and noise) of downtown. A lot of celebrations in Mexico. “No fireworks, no fiesta”. It’s noisy in downtown and near all the churches. It just depends. We’ll keep you posted.
As I write this, Deb and I are considering not owning a car at all. Taxi’s are good and cheap and there are very affordable private drivers who can get you around. There’s so much available in San Miguel, there’s very little reason to drive and the center of the city is so narrow and filled with people and cars, it just doesn’t make sense to have a car. Sort of like living in Greenwich Village. What’s the point to a car? A taxi pretty much anywhere is less than $ 4.00. If you take say $ 30,000 and divide it by 4 how many taxi rides do you get or need? We just aren’t sure about the car right now. We will start out by taking a car to Mexico and then we’ll see. Driving on the narrow streets in town is impossible for a big American car. Keep it simple. Don’t act like a target and don’t make a lot of noise.
Is There An Expatriate Bubble?
I understand it can happen. Local businesses have raised prices for expats as opposed to locals. You just have to do your homework and make certain whom you are dealing with. We have not experienced this yet, but heard it does happen.
Has The City Become Overloaded With Expats?
Again, it depends on what you want. For us, because we don’t speak Spanish and we aren’t 30 years old anymore. We wanted a combination of a strong expat community to draw on for support and friends, and we wanted to be close to the stunning cultural influences. We want to get involved in the native culture and learn Spanish as well, but having the expat community close by helps with the structure of our life as active seniors. A friend of a friend called San Miguel “Mexico Lite” and there may be some truth to that. That’s exactly where we want to start, so that’s just fine. Another couple years and we may feel differently.
There’s Spanish classes all over the place. We’ll be making a list of people we’ve found who can help in this regard, but it’s easy. An if you’re serious about wanting to move to San Miguel, the least you can do is try to learn some of the language. It’s just a matter of respect if nothing else, and it will increase your personal experience.
What’s The Cost Of Living?
We’re working on getting that figured out, but everywhere we turn it appears that even with the influx of expats in the area, the costs are incredibly less expensive for equal goods and services including food, transportation, insurance, medical issues, property taxes, subcontractors, etc. More on this later. I’ll give you one example right now. I have a friend who has a 5,000 square foot elegant home in downtown San Miguel. Property taxes on it for the year are less than $ 400. That’s for a year. We have found similar cost savings in medical care, food and entertainment. At this point I’m thinking if two people want to live frugally, but at ease, then you can do it for less than two Social Security checks combined. For the sake of argument right now call it much less than $ 5000 a month, assuming you own the house. I’ll know more soon enough and can report.
How Friendly Are The Locals To Expats?
From what we’ve seen the locals are incredibly friendly, courteous and kind.
What’s The Crime Level Like?
Crime in San Miguel is taking a tick up with all the expats, but it became clear very quickly that Mexican crime is a victim of American journalism that thrives on spectacular and gory headlines. Americans simply love their crime. So is there crime? Yes. Do you have to be careful? Yes. Is it any different than crime in Seattle or Denver or LA? No it’s not. The publicity comes from the American press. The cartels kill one another. Expats simply mean money coming into the country and that’s good. Do you have to avoid certain places? Yes. The same way you would avoid it in Chicago or any major city. Don’t be stupid and you’ll be fine. So far, I have never felt unsafe anywhere in Mexico. If you go to high school in the US, you could argue that you’re in more danger from white guys with guns trying to make America great again.
Haven’t seen a thing to compare to America. America wrote the book and called it freedom.
Diversity of People and Ideas?
Too early to tell about this for us, but there seem to be people from all over the world in San Miguel with different cultural things happening all the time. I don’t see how it can’t be the perfect melting pot.
I can say with a lot of confidence that I am not looking for sophistication. It’s clear that it’s here, and if we wanted it and were willing to pay for it, then we could have it. I’m not going to go out of my way to look for it. I want to be out on the streets with the locals eating at taco stands and neighborhood joints. Sophistication is overrated. Been there, done with that.
At this point, Deb and I have spent a total of maybe three weeks in San Miguel and during that time I have not heard one car horn and I’ve not seen one waded up piece of paper. Incredibly clean so far.
Pretty much nonstop cultural stuff going on in town. Based on what we’ve seen in the little time we’ve put in on this subject, it feels like there’s gonna be things going on all time. I don’t know about hiking in the high desert yet, but we’ll see. Fishing appears to be not so great. There is some black bass fishing nearby, but I need to look into it. Nothing in streams that I can see so far. The lakes are pretty silted up, so visibility is not much. But outside of that, it’s non stop activities and chances to learn new stuff.
Leon is a bit over 1.5 hrs away. Mexico City is a four hr. drive. We flew from Seattle to Dallas to Leon. A private driver picked us up at the airport and brought us to San Miguel. The cost was about $ 100 with a tip. Probably could take a bus or some other transportation available in Leon as well. I hear the buses are actually comfortable and pretty cool. Not like in the US.
Pace Of Life?
It’s Mexico time pretty much. As expats, understanding the pace of life and being able to adapt to it so it works for you is one of the keys to success here. There are expats who return to the US in frustration. The problem is not a Mexican problem. It’s an American problem. Many expats expect Mexico to be like home and when it doesn’t live up to expectations, too many people think they can force Mexico to be like America simply through the sheer force of their will to make it so, and their arrogant belief that America is the only truth. It’s not so, and Mexico has no desire to be like us or live up to our expectations. Welcome to Mexico. You are the foreigner. You need to adapt.
Availability of Culture?
It’s everywhere all the time. The great thing about San Miguel is that if you want the expat community, it’s right there. If you want Mexican culture and history, it’s right there as well. Fiestas are all the time. Mexico is a happy country and they want to celebrate.
Incredible. From all over the world. Everywhere. I believe Oaxaca is more famous for native food and chocolate and mezcal, but San Miguel is filled with great restaurants at very reasonable prices. If you want elegance and a $ 300 dinner with wine, you can get that, but the more and more I get into this, the less and less I’m enamored of dinning. I want to eat, and you can eat well in San Miguel far more affordably than in the US.
I can’t speak to this at the moment, but I think it’s everywhere. We just haven’t looked for it yet. Too busy trying to get the foundation established.
In the core of the city, it’s flat out terrible. Narrow cobblestone streets and very little parking. If you take a car into town, you’re gonna have a bad experience. There are parking lots outside of town. Take a $ 3.50 taxi ride anywhere and leave the car alone. Deb and I are considering not owning a car at all. Depending on where we end up living.
At this point, have not heard a thing about allergies. I guess with Mexican dust comes Mexican allergies, but so far no huge issues for us. Another person might see it differently.
Our cell phones worked well. Texting, GPS were not an issue. We have not gotten into the issues of getting Mexican cell phones yet, but the town is pretty well set up for cell service. AT&T is everywhere. More on this later.
The city appears to be wired pretty well. There are local companies (like Comcast) who provide local service and so far we haven’t seen any issues. We’ll be looking into this more in a very short time.
Day to Day Stuff?
There is a Costco about 30 minutes from San Miguel. Office Depot and all the other expected stores like Home Depot and shopping centers. Nissan car dealership in town. Nissan appears to be the car of choice in Mexico, but there are other makes. Having a dealership with a repair shop is a critical issue if you’re gonna have a car. The whole process of living day to day when you don’t speak the language can be a challenge, so this will be one of the main issues to come to terms with.
Obviously there are a lot of poor people in Mexico and there are many services set up to help people. I would think if you’re an expat in this country you are duty bound to try to help people if you can. There are a lot of volunteer organizations where people can lend a hand. A lot of expats also hire Mexican folks to help with landscape work, and housekeeping and so forth. It puts money into the pockets of people who want to work and badly need the money. It is incredibly affordable and they seem to really appreciate the extras cash.
Social Security Income and Taxes?
There is no tax on social security income you make while living in Mexico. Setting up a business is a different deal entirely and that’s not something I will look into. I don’t want the complications. Our business will remain headquartered in the US.
Strength of The Economy?
San Miguel appears to be stable. A lot of money coming into town because of tourism and expats moving into the area. The town at least feels solid. Growth appears to be under control. The local government seems to understand the balance necessary between growth and maintaining the culture and the history that make San Miguel so great.
The people we talked to seemed to like what was happening with the new President (Obrador). He’s a left wing populist and at the moment most people we talked to approve of his stance on business, growth, the environment, and crime. Time will tell, but the folks we talked to liked what he was doing. More on this in the future. I got the sense that Mexican’s love the American people and welcome them into their culture. Their opinion about American government at the moment is the direct opposite. They can’t stand our government. There’s a chance they aren’t alone in those thoughts, and there’s a real good reason why they might feel that way. Can we blame them? On the expat community – it appears that the vast majority of the expats are very much anti-Trump. The government is one of the reasons they moved out of the country to begin with and as a consequence, the expats (to the person) are in a great mood. My understanding is that there are Trump supporters in the expat community, but they are very quiet about it. So far, I’ve not heard anyone say anything kind about anything related to American government. Nothing but kindness for the American people. I found the same to be true in Cuba when I was there. Love the people. Hate the government.
Medical and Insurance Issues?
This is a huge subject and I’m not expert. I can tell you what we know so far. I’m only interested in senior related issues here. Deb is a retired nurse, so she’s taking charge of looking at this. So, for seniors - first up – basic medical care is incredibly inexpensive and very high quality. Many doctors make house calls. Emergency care is great and there are very good hospitals in the area. We toured a small hospital and talked to a doctor who will become our main physician. Very professional. For us – we are keeping Medicare at this point. Seems like that’s a given, but we might feel differently about this as we do more research. Medicare needs you to have a US address, so that needs to be addressed either through a second home, a friend or relative or possibly through companies that are set up to provide US addresses for things like Medicare and forwarding mail from the US. Again, this is complicated and you will want to explore it. A lot of information online and we’ll be posting some links for help as well. Anyway, we are keeping Medicare – we think. Then we will have private medical insurance for more major medical issues treated in Mexico at Mexican hospitals. There are insurance brokers in Mexico who can provide health care coverage options. At this point in our research it appears we can get great quality medical care coverage for a fraction of what we would pay for private insurance in the US, and then if we need to for an extreme situation, we would go back to the US for Medicare related treatments. That’s the theory at the moment. Looks good so far. For a lot of medical issues, we will pay out of pocket, because the cost of medical care is so low compared to what we find in the US. We will not have a huge income in Mexico, but the cost of doctor’s visits and basic medical stuff is just not even close to the costs in the US. There is a universal insurance coverage for everyone in Mexico called Seguro Popular. That’s very cheap insurance and covers a lot of the basics, but it’s also cumbersome for expats to get used to and you have to lower your American expectations of cause and effect, as well as the speed at which the system works. Hence, the search for private insurance. All of this is a huge discussion and no one should take our experience to be the experience of everyone. Every person needs to do their own research, but no matter what, the medical experience in Mexico is great compared to the same thing in the US.
For us, the benefits far outweigh the downsides. As of this moment, I can’t find any reason to not do this. The only downside is that Mexico doesn’t function the same way we do in the US, and that’s gonna take some getting used to. I guess that’s a downside, but other than that, for us, there is no downside here other than we are leaving what we know for what we don’t know. But we’re ready for that, and excited for it. So there is no downside. There is only adventure and growth and a new culture. Not so bad. Is the culture a good fit? Absolutely. The people are friendly. There is 600+ years of history. The food is incredible. The art is spectacular. It’s exactly what we need. What are we loosing if we move? For us, we don’t have family issues holding up back. We don’t have business issues holding us back. The weather will be better. The politics will be better. It will be incredibly less expensive. If we make this move the only thing we will regret are the friendships we won’t be able to pay close attention to. That’s gonna hurt, but not enough to stop us from going. As we get further along in all this, we will get you some links for people or services or organizations that make this move easier. You need to do your research and you need folks helping you along the way. It all appears to be well within reach. The real intangible here is what happens to you when you decide to change every single thing about your day to day existence and your future? What now? I'd call that an intangible, and to me, that's incredibly seductive. Why not start over? Who says we can't?