David Brody and his wife Joanne began visiting the Riviera Maya on vacation nearly four decades ago before deciding to head north to Mérida when they retired last September, both at 64. But the Brody’s are not just retired expats. They are expats who spend summers providing medical care in Chiapas.
“We started a volunteer health project in 2001 because our son worked at a boys’ orphanage in Chiapas and we saw there was a need,” Brody said. “Joanne was a physician and I was a dentist. We were the first doctors to ever walk in a valley of the Zoque people.”
Brody said the project has changed somewhat over the years because of the difficulty in getting volunteer physicians and is now mainly dental assistance. The couple will return to Chiapas in August to run a free clinic once again.
“We have all mobile equipment and go out each day to small communities that don’t have electricity or running water,” he said, “and basically do extractions all day.”
Brody, who was born and raised in West Hartford, Connecticut, wanted to be an engineer when he enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, but the first math course he took was too boring and he switched to applied biology. After graduation, he entered Boston University’s School of Dentistry.
“I met Joanne at B.U. my first year,” he said. “She was in medical school and we had a few courses together. She was the next cadaver over and we became friends for that year, and husband and wife in 1981 after we graduated.”
Brody worked as an associate at a one-man practice in Hartford, Connecticut following graduation while his wife did her residency there. They moved to Newton, New Jersey to establish their practices and had the good fortune to have adjacent offices so they could see each other every day.
The couple, who have a son and daughter, began visiting Mexico in 1982, frequenting the Riviera Maya and eventually buying property south of Tulum on the beach.
“We came to Mérida on a lark in 1987 and liked it and returned several times,” Brody said. “Although we had 110 meters of beachfront at our southern Quintana Roo property, we felt it was just too quiet there. We ended up buying our home in Mérida seven years ago and then decided to move here full-time last fall.
Mérida is a wonderful cultural city with beautiful architecture, which is a vestige from the time the city was one of the wealthiest in the world. The sisal plant grows well in this area, so a rope-making industry developed and flourished during the industrial revolution. Many people got wealthy and built spectacular homes and grand boulevards.”
The Brody’s live in a Mexican neighborhood about 12 blocks south of city-center, the opposite side of Mérida from more established expat enclaves.
“All of the modern development in Mérida is to the north,” Brody said, “where all of the shopping centers and big box stores are located. Our home is about 4,000 sq. ft. and has three bedrooms and three baths with hacienda-style 20 ft. ceilings and big archways. Our son – who studies Roman architecture – walked in and immediately said this is based on a Roman villa. It has a large indoor atrium and a large back yard with a 40 ft. pool.”
Brody paid US$420,000 for the large home and is still amazed that the annual property tax is just US$55, compared with property tax payments of US$18,000 for their home in New Jersey.
The family’s Spanish skills have helped them integrate well into their Mexican neighborhood. Both kids are fluent, his wife is nearly fluent and he said he can carry on conversations.
As a retired dentist and an OBGYN physician, the Brody’s live well in Mérida, but he told us expats can live comfortably on just Social Security.
“The cost of living is very favorable here,” he said. “I think the way to think about it is everything the average Mexican would use is cheap. Everything the average Mexican wouldn’t use, such as electronics or processed food – those things that require more manufacturing – is more expensive. Overall, though, it is an inexpensive lifestyle.”
Although Brody and his wife enjoy cooking, and entertaining friends, at their home, they also dine out frequently and like the arts and entertainment Mérida has to offer.
“Mérida has a full array of restaurants, from mom and pop joints to very expensive restaurants,” he said. “Expensive here might be US$25 or US$30 per person, including seafood, wine and drinks. The entertainment here is also great. Every night of the week at a different park there is a concert. Every Sunday they shut down the center of town and there is dancing and music. There are also multiple theaters and a symphony orchestra.”
There is a lot to love about Mérida, Brody said. First and foremost is its affordability that has allowed the couple to retire at a relatively early age. But the people of Mexico, he said, are equally important.
“They talk in America about family values, but here is where it actually exists,” he said. “People look after their family in Mexico, which is what really makes it different from the U.S. Mérida also has so many cultural opportunities and it is routinely considered the safest city in Mexico, which is an important criterion for many expats.”
Brody advises aspiring expats considering a move to Mexico to check out different areas of the country to see which you like best. And, do not buy a home right away. Rent a place and try it out to see if you like it first.
“I also think it’s smart to learn some Spanish before you come,” Brody said. “We have several friends who are expats and speak no Spanish. They survive quite well, but I think knowing at least a little Spanish opens you up to so many more people if you can speak the language. Finally, remember that this is a different country and things are done differently here. If you can see the humor in much of it, I think that helps.”