Most expats in Mexico live in the country fulltime, but “snowbird” expats rotate their lives between their home in Mexico and their native country, usually flocking to Mexican cities and towns during the winter months in North America. Kerry Baker is an expat snowbird from Denver, Colorado who has turned this conventional wisdom on its ear.
Baker, 58, lives in Denver mostly during the winter and nests in Mazatlán primarily during its warm weather low season to enjoy its lower cost of living. A writer, Baker has lived in five different homes since she discovered the self-proclaimed “Pearl of the Pacific” on Mexico’s western shore.
“I decided to live in Mazatlán off-season,” Baker said. “I just felt like there could be some advantages going off-season, and there were.”
Born in a small town in Oklahoma, Baker graduated in 1980 from the University of Oklahoma with a major in business and a minor in Spanish but did not find a use for her language skill until she moved to Mexico in 2014.
She was an executive recruiter for the first 15 years of her career and then became the development director for the Boy Scouts of America. Her jobs took her to New Orleans, Virginia Beach, San Diego and other cities in the U.S. but she settled in Washington D.C. for a while when she got married. After 15 years, she and her husband split.
She landed in Denver 2009 at the height of the economic recession and bought a condo in Denver’s lower downtown area called LoDo.
“I moved to Denver right in the middle of 2009 during the recession, which was probably not the smartest thing to do,” she said. “I couldn’t get a career position but I did find contract work. I had contract work that kept me going but nothing like the career position that I had at the Boy Scouts and so I felt like I was losing ground. I didn’t want to go into my retirement savings so I started thinking out of the box about how I could cut expenses and still have an interesting life.”
Mexico’s lower cost of living was on her mind and soon she was networking with friends in Denver about a place to live south of the border. She had spent a year in Spain during college but had never visited Mexico.
“I moved around a lot when I was younger and for once in my life I decided that I was going to make a few contacts in Mexico before I moved there rather than be dropped in “commando style” in my underwear,” she laughed. “You know every single time I moved anywhere, that was how I did it. I thought this time, moving to a foreign country, I’m not going to do that anymore.”
Her Denver network came through for her and provided Baker with contacts and useful information on Mazatlán to help her make the transition.
“My friend Grace recommended a B&B on Constitución in El Centro,” she said. “I spent my first month pounding the pavement trying to figure out where I would live and how things worked.”
Her initial experience finding a place to rent gave birth to an idea for a book she is currently working on called, “If Only I had a Place – The Aspiring Expat’s Guide to Renting Luxuriously in Mexico (for Less).”
“I primarily go off-season and I live for about half of what it costs me in Denver,” she said. “I can live on the beach in Mazatlán for part of the year, which subsidizes my life in Denver.”
She admits that cutting costs was a major impetus for the move to Mexico but she also loves the adventure of living in a foreign land, the Spanish language and, above all, the warmth and graciousness of the Mexican people.
“I’ve had such incredible luck making some really close Mexican girlfriends,” she said. “Single women my age live and die by our girlfriends, and so to establish a circle of girlfriends in Mexico surprised me and was a real life saver because it makes such a huge difference having Mexican friends.”
Her Spanish language skill has been a big plus for her living in Mazatlán and has led to a new career as a writer.
“A lot of people think they can’t learn Spanish after 50,” she said, “but I picked it up again at 55, although I had forgotten much of what I had learned in college. Speaking Spanish makes such a difference and really enriches the whole experience if you really want to get the most out of being an expat.”
She has written “The Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online,” a book designed for people over 50 who want to learn Spanish.
“There are a lot of references on how to use Spanish or practice Spanish as an expat,” she said. “My book is geared toward adults who travel to Mexico or are living there as expats. I have curated the best tools available online. I researched 300 different websites, many of which have really good features to learn Spanish and are free. I’ve put them together in the book and created lesson plans so that you can go from one website to another, depending on your needs.”
Baker loves her life in Mazatlán and each year finds a new place to live on the beach, which gives her inspiration for her writing.
“I’m in my fifth location but always on the beach, although I’m not really a beach person,” she said. “It’s more about the view and a tranquil place to write.”
Her current place is a two-bedroom, two-bath condo on two levels with about 1,800 square feet of living space. She pays US$1,100 for it because she also rents it during a few low season months. During high season it would normally rent for at least US$1,800.
Mazatlán is also delivering in other cost-of-living areas for Baker. Her grocery bill runs about US$75 a week, electricity is no more than US$60 a month and she spends US$20 each week on transportation. Dining out runs around US$20 for one person.
Baker loves that Mazatlán is a working town, not a tourist magnet like Puerto Vallarta and other international resort cities in Mexico.
“Tourism is the third largest industry here and I love that,” she said. “Fishing – mainly tuna and shrimp – is the largest industry. Mazatlán is more of a working town although it has an excellent cultural scene. We have theater, opera, art, ballet and concerts, which I love. The city is also big enough that it has a lot of the amenities and shopping expats like, but it’s not overwhelming like Mexico City or Guadalajara.”
She told us that most expats who own homes tend to live in the northern area of Mazatlán around the marina and golf courses. Those who prefer apartments and condos love the cultural attractions found in El Centro and the Golden Zone.
Asked what she would recommend to new expat snowbirds and full-time residents of Mexico, Baker said: “I would tell them to get started learning Spanish. You know, that sounds self-serving because of my book, but whether or not it’s my book or some other tool, now is the time to start. Knowing Spanish will help make your life in Mexico a heck of a lot easier.”