I am one of those women who moved to Mexico. The first morning I woke up in Mexico was magical. I had arrived the afternoon before with a group of about 10 other study-abroad students. The director of the program had rented several bungalows in a central Cuernavaca neighborhood where we would be starting a month-long intensive Spanish course. We stayed there for a couple of days before being sorted off to our various host families.
On that morning, the sun was streaming through the window with the breeze and there was a symphony of delightful smells: coffee, bread, flowers, and plenty of others that I did not recognize. The air felt balmy but not oppressive, and the blankets slightly damp, but not unpleasantly so. It felt like waking up in color, not having realized I’d been living in sepia tones all that time.
Challenges would certainly present themselves over the next month as I dealt with the terrifying prospect of learning to be an adult in another language and culture, but that would come later. For those first few moments of a new morning, I felt like I was in heaven.
Picking up and moving one’s life to Mexico is not for the faint of heart. This country is one big, messy adventure, and if you are not ready to roll with some punches, it is easy to get uptight and panicked about things. Keep your cool long enough, however, and you can come out the other end with some fantastic experiences and maybe even some passable Spanish.
In preparing to write this article, I interviewed three other women from North America who had also immigrated to Mexico, all with different stories. Though their reasons for coming were different, the conclusions were similar: it changes you for the good.
Women Who Moved to Mexico
Laura, a woman in her 30s, had been raring to get out of the U.S. after feeling disillusioned with her (self-described) soul-killing suburban lifestyle and social worker job that she had taken after college. By the time she had decided to move to Mexico, she had already been in the process of selling most of her belongings to move to Ecuador. As fate would have it, a handful of good friends in Mexico made her rethink her original choice and she decided to head down here instead, where she has been living now for the past 15 years and working as a teacher.
Karla is a seasoned world-traveler, having lived in over 10 different countries, some of those through her time serving with the Peace Corps. Like Laura, she already spoke Spanish when she arrived, allowing her to settle “off the beaten path” in a small town in Veracruz long-considered a hidden gem for its world-class whitewater river rapids and small but dedicated rafting and kayaking community. While much of her development as a rafting instructor took place in the U.S., the opportunity to work remotely made her decide to spend some time living along one of the Mexican rivers she loves the most.
Alice and her husband had travelled to Mexico many times over the past several decades, and both loved it. Their retirement automatically made them more mobile, so when their son married a Mexican national and they became pregnant with their first child, Alice and her husband decided quickly that they would move close by. They bought a house in a nearby city, and have so far managed to keep one foot in each country.
Getting to Mexico
Like many people who decide to come to Mexico, all three women decided to bypass the hassle of moving all of one’s things down to another country, which most of us have found to be a prohibitively expensive process.
Laura simply showed up with suitcases after having sold most of her belongings. She started out by renting a room above a Mexico City tattoo shop she found out about through a friend, and began working as a teacher soon after until she got more settled and established. After moving to another city, furniture was accumulated bit by bit by buying what she could afford as she could afford it.
Karla was also able to secure housing in her town of choice because a friend knew someone renting a place and connected them. She has also been buying and accumulating furniture little by little, some of it second-hand. Meanwhile, she rents a couple of storage units in the U.S. for the things that did not make sense to travel with, but that she needed to hold onto for later.
Temporary housing can be fairly easy to secure, but you either need to get someone to do it on your behalf before-hand, or show up and live in a hostel or hotel while you look around. Generally speaking, the nicer the place, the more likely it is they will want you to sign a contract, with a Mexican co-signer who owns property.
That said, “on the ground” is still the most common way to find a place, basically by traveling through neighborhoods you like and calling anyone with a for rent or for sale sign out front. Most homes that are for sale are also for rent.
Alice and her husband knew they wanted to buy a house, so she travelled to the area a couple of times before they moved and found a real estate agent to take her around to look at different properties, a good strategy. Through that process, she learned what features were most important to her, like trees and closets, for example. Because they kept their home in the U.S., there was no need to make a big move and they simply bought what they needed down here.
Personal Safety and Culture
Reactions back home for all of us who move to Mexico are mostly of the concerned variety. “Is it safe?” “Are you sure you want to do that?” From those who have never been, the reactions were closer to “Why on earth would you move to Mexico?” Funnily enough, most people have gotten the “but why do you want to live here?” question more from Mexicans than from their fellow countrymen. I will say this for the U.S.: we have great PR.
Those who had been to Mexico, however, and those close to the women who came, were overwhelmingly supportive and not any more concerned about their safety in Mexico than in the U.S., which, in this humble writer’s opinion, is a good and fair mindset to have. When it comes to risks, adventurers know that nowhere is foolproof. You simply weigh the options and choose where to place your bets.
One thing that all women who moved to Mexico talked about was how friendly people are here, and how they look out for each other. Karla classified them as “spontaneous, kind and humanitarian.” Alice was likewise surprised by people’s immediate friendliness, and all of them, from their trips before, had known to expect at least a degree of it. Most expats living in Mexico are continually surprised, not just by the kindness of the majority of people, but by how consistent and widespread that kindness is.
Frustrations and Hiccups
That is not to say there are no problems. As most of us have found out the hard way, Mexicans (especially in small towns) can be quite sensitive about certain things. While higher levels of directness are tolerated in larger, more urban populations, it is pretty easy to hurt someone’s feelings or pride by being too frank about things, especially when it comes to their presumed responsibilities, and especially if it is coming from a woman. Did they come through? Did they do it on time? As these questions tend to rub people the wrong way, it is important to learn the precise art of beating around the bush. Remember, in Mexico, it is always all about the relationship.
One of the major differences all of us women who have moved to Mexico come to notice about how things work down here is that there are not any “manuals” for learning to do things. The way you get things done, especially at first, is by someone else showing you how it works for your particular situation and either guiding you through it or doing it for you.
Take gas and water, for example. As Laura says, most North Americans do not even know where the boilers in their homes are, let alone how they work. Many adventures are to be had when it comes to simply making sure you have hot water for your shower (Pilot light? What is a pilot light?). You will eventually run out of gas as well, which will need to be delivered either by giant truck or an LP cylinder. Like I said, it is an adventure!
So, what is the number one piece of advice from the women who moved to Mexico?
Above all, be open. Some things will surprise you, and others will frustrate you. Try to maintain curiosity and expect to be delighted about your new surroundings. Go with the flow when things do not happen exactly the way you thought they would. As it turns out, the secret to living in Mexico is really just the secret to living life. Mexico simply nudges you a bit closer to reaching those upper levels of enlightenment.
Looking for other articles on moving to Mexico? Find them here.