A whole new world of possibilities opened up for Doris Payne-Camp several decades ago when she discovered the joy of living in Mexico just south of the border in Baja California Norte.
Nearing her mid-70s, Payne-Camp and her 77-year-old husband Walter live along the Pacific Ocean between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada, a favorite spot for expats who are either still working in San Diego or wanting the same beach lifestyle as Southern California, but at half the price.
“We live about 50 miles south of the border,” Payne-Camp said, “which makes it work for my husband who is still working as an electrical engineer for the city of San Diego. He comes home on Friday and returns to work each Monday. When we sold our home in San Diego, we purchased a 37 ft. cabin cruiser, which we dock at the Marina across from the international airport and use when we are there.”
Payne-Camp was born and raised in Deptford, New Jersey and graduated from Gloucester Catholic High School in 1962 before receiving a bachelor’s degree in education at nearby Glassboro State College (now Rowan University). She added to her credentials by studying community relations and public relations in graduate school at Glassboro.
Fresh from university she began the first of her three careers – school community relations – in Bucks County, Pennsylvania where she worked for 10 years before moving up to the Oakland, California school system.
“When I was in Oakland my supervisor was recruited to head the Chicago public school system and offered me a chance to come with her as a special assistant,” she said. “I did mostly media relations but it was a big job. Chicago’s school system had 500 schools and 22,000 teachers at that time.”
After 15 years in education, she switched careers to become the executive director of Financial Women International, a large organization of women in banking and financial services headquartered in Chicago.
“It was a big job with nearly 30,000 members at that time, but I felt I needed to leave Chicago,” she said. “I changed careers once again, this time moving to San Diego to work for an association of apartment owners. I got heavily involved in senior housing issues and spent a lot of time in Sacramento lobbying for rental housing and women’s issues.”
She and Walter married in 1996 and began looking for a place in Mexico, initially visiting San Felipe on the Sea of Cortez but found it to be too hot and too far from San Diego.
“We then tried the Pacific side of Baja Norte between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada and realized we could afford to buy a condo there with an ocean view, and with basically the same climate as San Diego,” she said.
The couple purchased a two-bedroom and two-bath condominium in a small community of 65 homes and condos for about US$70,000 and added another US$50,000 in improvements over the years. Their home is on a cliff above the beach with whitewater views and the sound of pounding waves at night.
“Condos here cost about US$120,000 now and homes are around US$350,000,” she said. “Same coast, same weather as San Diego, but significantly less expensive. You can buy million-dollar homes along the beach, but mostly condo towers are being built.”
They are close to Rosarito Beach, a resort town and expat enclave just over 30 miles south of San Diego. She does much of her shopping at the local Walmart, Home Depot and other big box stores there. For healthcare and other shopping needs, San Diego is nearby. Ensenada, to the south, is a port city of over a half million people and well supplied with retail stores, restaurants and night life.
“I love living in the sticks,” she said. “We have everything we need here and have a nice community mix of expats and Mexican nationals. Most of the full-time residents are expats. There is a very large community of expats that stretches from Tijuana to Ensenada. Many of them commute to work in San Diego and cross the border every day.”
Payne-Camp said that many expats who cross the border on a regular basis have a U.S. Customs and Border Protection SENTRI pass. The pass allows you to reduce your wait times by using dedicated processing lanes. Without the SENTRI pass, wait times could easily exceed three hours.
She is quite content, though, to spend most of her days in Mexico participating in a wide variety of activities available to expats.
“I am pretty involved here,” she said. “I belong to a book club, a garden club – we have many beautiful gardens in our condo development – and the local library club. You never run out of things to do.”
She told us that a popular weekend getaway for expats and tourists is a visit to Mexico’s premier wine area, the Valle de Guadalupe. About equidistant between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada, it is one of the fastest growing wine areas in the world with about 150 wineries. Blessed with cooling breezes from the Pacific Ocean, it produces some of Mexico’s finest wines.
“It takes about 40 minutes to get to Valle de Guadalupe from our home,” Payne-Camp said. “Sometimes we go there for breakfast or go to the organic farm. We go almost every week this time of year.”
Beyond wine tasting, the local area has much to offer, according to Payne-Camp.
“There is a theater guild in Rosarito and a very large blues festival there,” she said. “The cultural center has a long list of programs, so there is something going on almost every weekend. They just built a new performance area and held an arts festival there several weeks ago.”
The cost of living is a big plus for expats who make Baja Norte their home. Payne-Camp said that central heating and air conditioning often does not exist in homes, which significantly reduces utility costs.
“We don’t have either,” she said, “but we have ocean breezes to cool us year-round and a propane stove to warm us during the winter, when needed. Water also is not expensive and our HOA fee is about US$150 a month, which covers gated security, gardening, street lights and trash removal. We don’t have a lot of other costs.”
High-speed Internet is available, but “neurotic,” according to Payne-Camp. Their provider is Quickspeed, which she said is not always reliable.
“You can go all day and it doesn’t go off at all,” she said, “but then it goes off for 10-minutes, returns and then might be off for three hours. I think they have grown faster than their equipment.”
Top-of-mind for most aspiring expats considering a move to Mexico is local crime. Payne-Camp said she feels safe living in the area and often walks in her neighborhood at night with her dog. Ensenada ranked 13th in our blog, “The Top 10 Safest Cites for Expats in Mexico,” but areas in Baja Norte along the border can be unsafe.
For those linguistically challenged, English is widely spoken in the area, understandable given its proximity to the U.S. Payne-Camp has tried studying Spanish but is still at the basic level: the ability to understand and be understood.
“I get along just fine,” she said. “Language has not been a problem for me. It is so beautiful and quiet here. I love being able to look out at the ocean morning, noon and night. I like to watch the dolphins playing in the surf and just smell the ocean. I also love the relaxed lifestyle here. It’s so much quieter than across the border. But most importantly, I like the people. I continue to learn from them and enjoy doing things with them. They are truly good friends.”