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Health Considerations When Deciding Where to Live in Mexico

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Festive stairs in Guanajuato, Mexico
Credit: Shoshanah Naiman

This article is intended to help keep you off the rocks by giving you a list of health considerations when deciding where to live in Mexico.

This list does not consider other important things you may be thinking about when you plan your move to Mexico, such as:  Can I afford the housing? Is there is an unusual amount of crime? Is there a community of people who speak my native language?

Downtown
Credits: cameraman | Adobe Stock images

When I first came to Mexico, I was in love with a most excellent Mexicano who I had met online. Like many unmarried adults in Mexico, he still lived with his parents in Mexico City. Over a period of three years, I visited him there many times and I loved the excitement of the city. But for me it was not on my list of potential places to live. I had lived in Chicago for many years and had had my fill of urban living. I was looking forward to a different lifestyle. But I wanted to be near Luis Felipe, so I drew a circle on a map about 50 miles from the center of Mexico City and decided to begin my search within that circle.

I eventually found a remarkable place to live high in the mountains above Tepoztlán in the state of Morelos. It was a small ecovillage founded by a group of nomadic entertainers who built their homes in what would become an internationally renowned ecovillage. I was able to rent a large, handcrafted house at the head of a wooded ravine complete with jaw-dropping vistas.

I would not trade my experience living in Huehuecoyotl for seven years, but it is a good illustration of what happens when one’s ideals and reality of living in a place collide. You might say that life changes us over time and what proves suitable at one point, may not work at another.

For example, there was a significant climb from where my car was parked and the house…. about five or six stories. There were concrete stairs and ramps all the way up. I was athletic enough to make the climb, and taxi drivers helped with groceries. But I had not anticipated the changes that take place during the rainy season when a slimy layer of green moss grew on everything outdoors including the stairs and ramps. Climbing became hazardous—although unavoidable—and the moss defied the various attempts to remove it. I fell a couple of times, once injuring a shoulder seriously enough that an ill-planned movement even today reminds me with a twinge of pain.

But more to the point, some years after Mr. Mexico City came to live with me in the mountains he was diagnosed with a chronic disease and there was no local hospital. As his health declined, the hour-long bus ride to Cuernavaca for medical care became burdensome. When he was hospitalized, I needed to be with him during the day, and then to taxi home alone at night to make that slippery climb to the house—sometimes in the rain—and always in the dark. We decided to move.

So, the lesson is this: consider not just the current circumstances, but what will a place be like year-round as the seasons change? Or, how will your needs change as you age, or if your health declines?

Sometimes it is the place itself that changes over time in ways that are unpredictable. But there are many changes that can be anticipated as well. However, it may require some digging to get to the important facts. For example, you may have been told by many about that lovely lakeside village that other foreigners are so enthusiastic about. But they may fail to point out the growing problems with traffic or serious problems with water pollution. Informed decisions based on learning both the positive and negative facts are critical. I will point out what to look for, but ultimately your decision needs to be made through your own research and serious deliberation.

One of the most important things to consider is the question of whether a location is toxic. There are places in México—even some that are popular with expats—that are extremely toxic. Alpha radiation may be over permissible limits in the water, as are arsenic and fluoride in some places. This fact is often minimized or denied by locals despite the documented increases in deaths and illnesses.

sunset
Credits: Jose Luis | Adobe Stock images

Many people are aware of the air pollution in Mexico City, but in some places water pollution is so extreme that there is a real hazard of breast and cervical cancers. Heavy metals and pesticides in the water cannot be avoided by drinking bottled water since some of these can be inhaled while showering. This information is available online, but it requires researching the location you are considering.

Some places in Mexico have chronic or seasonal water shortages. It is a good idea to learn what the source and condition of the local water is. Everyone in Mexico drinks bottled or filtered water, but water for laundry, plumbing and bathing may run short. If so, can water be delivered by truck and what is the cost.

With the seasonal rain come infestations of mosquitos in some areas. They sometimes carry serious and even life-threatening diseases in some parts of Mexico. Mosquitoes feed on blood and are vectors of diseases such as Dengue Fever, Chikungunya, Zika, West Nile Virus and Malaria. There are some practical ways of dealing with mosquitoes since they tend to be active during the evening and morning hours, so screens and even bed nets are essential in some places. Fumigation is done in some communities to control mosquitos while adding an additional potential source of toxicity.

As you learned from my personal experience, not every location that is popular with expats has a full-service hospital. Consider where the nearest hospital is. You will need to discover if hospitals are public (IMSS) or private. If only public, you will need to participate in the IMSS program to be admitted (except on an emergency basis). Is there a local ambulance service? Are there medical specialists available locally? This is especially important if you are being treated for a chronic health condition. Medical specialists in Mexico will not be found in every community where expats congregate. It is a good idea to form a relationship with a specialist you are comfortable with before making a long-term commitment to a location in Mexico.

There are some weather conditions that have driven people to move from one location to another in Mexico. I have a Canadian friend who made the decision to move to Mexico during a Christmas vacation in a popular costal city. She had always wanted to live by the ocean, and she loved the idea of being on the beach where the weather was idyllic while her friends back in Canada were shoveling snow. That was until summer came and the heat and humidity were so punishing that she spent several months holed up in her apartment with the air conditioner running up her electric bill. She is currently shoveling snow back in Canada. Expats In Mexico offers climate information in their Cities section for the 15 most popular cities for expats. Other online sources, such as Wikipedia, also have annual temperature and humidity information for many cities in Mexico.

If you have asthma, emphysema or other breathing difficulties altitude or air pollution may be of concern for you. While many people have minor symptoms adjusting to higher altitudes such as headache, others have significant problems and many people simply never adjust to the lower levels of oxygen associated with high altitude or the air pollution in Mexico City.

If you have a health concern that makes you reliant on a specific medicine, you will want to know if your medicine (or its equivalent) can be obtained where you are considering living. If you rely on a narcotic for pain control, you should not consider moving to Mexico. Narcotics, even for legitimate pain control, are nearly impossible to obtain.

Street view
Credits: studioloco | Adobe Stock images

If you are in a wheelchair or have difficulty walking, you will need to discover the local situation before deciding where to move. Mexico’s streets are often irregular, lacking in curb cuts, lacking sidewalks, frequently made of cobblestones, etc. While Mexicans are very considerate and helpful, especially to the elderly, please consider that you may not always be able to climb steep grades or dodge traffic.

There also is an aspect of Mexican culture that many foreigners complain about: noise. It comes in two forms: music and fireworks. Given that Mexicans celebrate holidays and honor saints by shooting off fireworks, sometimes all night and typically in front of a church, do not live near a church if you can avoid it. Your dog will thank you. Similarly, bars will often play loud music until the wee hours. But late-night parties at the neighbors cannot be avoided in Mexico where “sharing” live or amplified recorded music is the norm. Ear plugs or noise canceling headphones can help, but don’t bother complaining about loud music. It is part of the culture, and you cannot change this. Personally, I have learned to enjoy it most of the time. But there will be nights when you may lie in bed considering ways of cutting off the electricity.

Doing the homework required for the type of thorough investigation I am recommending can help to assure that you will find a location that is ideal for you in Mexico. Hopefully for many years and perhaps a lifetime.

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