After Greg Hartzell was told he would be losing his management job with a high-tech company in nine months, he had plenty of time to think about what he wanted to do with his life. He decided to move from Phoenix to Guanajuato and become an expat in Mexico.
Hartzell, 51, spent 10 years directing Toshiba’s surveillance cameras and recorders security business in Phoenix, Arizona before they shut down his division and he was given a generous management severance package.
“My wife and I decided that since our parents are healthy, we are healthy, the kids are out of the house and we have no grandchildren, let’s go for an adventure now before we get old,” Hartzell said.
Hartzell smartly used the nine months notice he was given to search the Americas, his geographic choice to start their new adventure. He researched cost of living, safety, health insurance and other important factors aspiring expats consider when thinking about moving to another country.
“Medical facilities were especially important to us because my wife has a heart condition,” he said. “From my initial research we narrowed our list down to Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Ecuador. Guanajuato kind of checked off all the things on our list.”
Hartzell was born and raised just outside of Los Angeles but moved to Lincoln, Nebraska to get a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska in 1994. His father was a professor at the school.
“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. “I was interested in other cultures around the world so I got a degree in international studies with an emphasis in business, and a minor in Spanish.”
Soon after graduating, the university held a job fair and Hartzell was recruited by a distributor of high technology products. His first job foreshadowed his life-long employment with technology companies.
“I was in Omaha for a few years before being recruited by Microage, a Fortune 500 company that distributed tech products,” he said. “They relocated me to Phoenix to manage their relationship with Microsoft. But for the past 10 years, I’ve been in security products management at Toshiba.”
He has been married since 1991 to his Danish wife Janne, who is 51. She has worked in the front office of a Phoenix-area elementary school for over 12 years and is fluent in Danish and English. She also speaks conversational German, Swedish and Norwegian.
Hartzell is no stranger to Mexico. His love for surfing took him to Baja California many times. Later, he vacationed in Mazatlán, Cancún and Cozumel. But after much research, Guanajuato became his chosen destination.
“We were looking for a place that had good healthcare, was safe and had a good climate,” he said, “and that place was Guanajuato. We have been living in Phoenix for over 20 years and are sick of being hot. Guanajuato is in Mexico’s colonial highlands and has an elevation higher than Denver, the mile high city. It gets into the 80s during the day when it’s warm but cools into the 50s at night. There is also a younger vibe there because of the University of Guanajuato and other schools.”
The couple does not want to move to neighboring San Miguel de Allende because they feel too many expats live there. They would rather become fluent in Spanish and integrate into the Guanajuato community and culture. High on their agenda after they arrive is to take intensive Spanish classes for the first several months.
Hartzell has used the advance notice his company gave him wisely. He took the time to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate from Oxford Seminars, plus a certificate to teach business English. He has started his new career by teaching English online to Chinese kids for US$20 and hour.
“I went to Guanajuato twice last fall to visit all of the language schools to see if I could teach there,” he said. “I was fortunate to find a language school that was interested in hiring me to teach English.”
The couple has decided to rent in Guanajuato, which will be a big change for them after living in a 3,700 sq. ft. home with a pool in Phoenix.
“We will be living in a one-bedroom apartment high in the hills above the city,” he said. “It’s in a group of about five or six apartments and will cost us about US$650 a month. That includes all utilities, Internet, a maid twice a week and laundry facilities. It’s also very safe, which is a key concern for my wife.”
The Hartzell moving plan is minimal. They will sell what they can of their current household goods and put the rest in storage. They will fly to Mexico with just their packed suitcases and return to Phoenix later to sell their home and cars, which are not needed in pedestrian-friendly Guanajuato.
Like many aspiring expats planning a move to Mexico, Hartzell has done extensive research and uses a spreadsheet to manage his moving checklist.
“When you’re doing your research, it’s important to read a lot and read with a critical eye,” he said. “Many sources you go to only write about the good stuff. I don’t think they paint an accurate picture of everything going on in those locations. They mostly focus on the positives. You need data that shows both the negatives and the positives.”
But even with rigorous research and planning, Hartzell has days when he is unsure about moving to another country.
“One day I think it’s good and the next day I’m like, ‘Oh my God, am I really going to do this?’” he said. “We’re both sure now that we’re doing it for the right reasons.”
He believes that reasons like hating Trump or something about America, or moving just for financial reasons, will lead to an unhappy life as an expat. He and his wife are moving to Mexico to change their lifestyle, which he believes is the right reason to make a move.
“We’re looking to experience a new culture, become really bi-lingual and just get out of the rat race so we can enjoy life,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be for the rest of our lives, but for now it’s an adventure we want to experience. I think at some point, though, we may come back to look after a parent or enjoy our grandchildren.”