Before You Move to Mexico, Figure Out What to Take and What To Leave, Without Being Bullied

Things You Can't Get in Mexico and Should Bring to Mexico

Before You Move to Mexico, Figure Out What to Take and What to Leave, Without Being Bullied

Woman holding no bullying signEvery month or so, I see a question posted to a Facebook group something like this: “How much of my household goods should I move to Mexico?”

As sure as night follows day, you will see answers like:

“Just show up with two suitcases, like we did.”

“You can get whatever you need here in Mexico.  Just bring your photos.”

“You’re coming to Mexico to live in Mexico.  Don’t bring down all your gringo items!  Live the culture here, not like they do in the US, with all its gross materialism.”

Very rarely will you see a comment from someone who brought down their mattresses, furniture, couches, etc. and advised the person asking to do the same.  Why is that?  The reason is that, if this person who brought down more of their household goods than those barking their directives has been on Facebook for any length of time, they will have seen that anyone who has given an answer to take more items would experience a pretty savage and public attack for their views.

Then, after everything calms down, in a month or so, the cycle repeats, with another innocent newbie asking the same question and pretty much the same Facebook veterans saying pretty much the same thing while others who don’t want to be attacked stay silent.  You can almost feel the piranhas as they prepare to feed.

Of course, the decision as to what each person brings down or does not bring down is a personal one, having as much to do with how much emotional, sentimental and material comfort each person receives from their own items (many times accumulated over a lifetime of travel and hard work) as it does with how much each person has actually accumulated and how much budget each person has to bring it down.  Perhaps you bought a sculpture while on honeymoon or a toaster on the same trip to the store where your husband proposed to you, so while for the jackals on Facebook, your sculpture is nothing special and your toaster should be replaced with something new you could buy at Wal-Mart in Mexico, they may have very special meaning to you and it just makes you happy to have them around.  (After all, they are part of your life.)  I would never give blanket advice on how much or what items a complete stranger should bring down, so on the face of it, such advice is ridiculous for me to give to a stranger on Facebook, because I wouldn’t know anything about that person.

I can, however, make some observations.

Mexicans like nice things, too.  The odd assertion that if you live in Mexico, you should live like a poor Mexican is quite silly.  Poor Mexicans don’t want to live like poor Mexicans, so why should you?  Any poor Mexicans I’ve ever met would like to live like rich Mexicans, or at least middle-class Mexicans.

Quick story.  Several months after we moved here, we invited some new Mexican friends (a man and his wife) to our home.  And before you get the wrong idea (because it’s relevant to the story), please let me explain that these are Mexico-born Mexicans, not US-born Mexicans.  They were both born and raised in Mexico, moved to the US as fully grown adults, and then, after the financial crash of 2008, as the man was telling us their story, they were forced to move back to Mexico.

When it came time for the man to relate to us the part of the story where he told us what items they brought back from the US to Mexico, his speech became progressively slower and his voice progressively softer until, even with our heads bent forward, it was getting difficult to hear him.  Then, he looked down and away from his wife and other than some barely audible mumbling, pretty much stopped talking completely.  After a short pause, his wife, in a voice that was quite strong, clear and easy to hear and understand said, “And he forced me to leave lots of my things in the US!”  As the man continued to look down in shame, his wife shot him a look that would be described in Hawaii as “stink eye.”  You don’t have to be Hawaiian to get the gist.

And they were visiting us in 2018, a full 10 years after the infamous event.  It was the wound that would not heal.

Would you and your significant other be like our new friends in Mexico?  I don’t know.  That would depend.  However, to make the argument that bringing your good or cherished items to Mexico is somehow politically or culturally incorrect is a bit silly.

No, Virginia, you cannot get everything you “need” here in Mexico.  Of course, the full answer to this question revolves around what you “need.”  To take an extreme example to make the point, some people only “need” water, food and a medium-sized lean-to or they can live out of their 1965 Volkswagen van.  I have been told that Mahatma Gandhi could fit all his worldly possessions in one shoe box.  However, people more average than the random ascetic or world famous advocates of non-violent resistance to British colonial rule may like and appreciate more creature comforts. If you plan on being happy in Mexico, you need to assess your “needs” without regard to what anybody else says you should need because in the end, their opinion about what you “need” isn’t important; only yours is.

In contradiction to what you read all the time on Facebook, the facts are that some things you can’t get in Mexico, others are rare, and if you could get them, are very expensive.  And don’t count on picking up that used comfy La-Z Boy for a great price at a secondhand store.  The good items go very quickly (obvious reason: these items are hard to find here), and the ones that you may get to first, if you’re lucky enough to have that happen, are much more expensive than in the US.

Another Mexican friend we made here (once again, born in Mexico, lived in the US only as an adult and came back) told us that his similarly born Mexican wife forced him to bring their American-style couches and mattress she had become accustomed to when living in the US.  Luckily for the health of his marriage, he complied, and was very happy to tell us about it, placing himself as the hero of the story, giving his wife what she “needed.”

(Check this out for a sometimes humorous but informative look at what people cannot get but want in Mexico.)

Mexican furniture can and often is very beautiful, with hand carved pieces costing a mere fraction of what they would cost in the US.  However, from the perspective of anyone who has lived in the US or Canada and plunked themselves down into a nice comfy NOB (“North of the Border”) couch, Mexican furniture can also be quite uncomfortable.  And as my wife Jet says, “You didn’t come to Mexico to suffer.”

From the perspective of someone who has slept on an American mattress, Mexican mattresses can also be quite uncomfortable.  And don’t be fooled that they have the same brand names as in the US and Canada—regardless of brand name, mattresses in Mexico tend to be made for the Mexican market and Mexican sensibilities, which can be quite different than yours… or perhaps not.  The point is, don’t take anyone’s word for it; try for yourself.

My wife also tells me that the baking dishes and other baking implements are a bit different (mostly, smaller) here in Mexico, so if you like to cook and /or bake and want to use your existing recipes, you should probably bring down what you use.  It doesn’t take up that much room, and you may not be able to replace them easily here.

After they’ve moved, very few people wish they had brought less.  Because we’re in the moving business, people will often tell me how happy or not happy they are with the amount they brought.  About 5% of the time, I hear from our clients that they wish they had brought less (or, more accurately, they wish that their spouse or partner had brought less).  That leaves the other 95% who are happy with what they brought or regretted that they had not brought more.

Of course, all other things being equal, it will cost you less to move a smaller volume of your household goods than it would cost you to move a larger volume.  However, before you too ruthlessly cull your possessions, inform your decision beforehand on how much you should get rid of by having the actual costs of different scenarios of moving more or moving less.  You may be surprised.  Legitimate commercial companies such as Best Mexico Movers have certain minimum costs for expenses such as insurance, compliance with regulations, certified drivers, etc., that don’t change if you bring one box or 500 boxes.  For example, if you bring twice as much volume, your cost will not be anywhere near twice as many dollars.  I urge you to find out early in the process, so you will know exactly how much to give away and you won’t have needless regrets.

I close this section with some observations from my wife, Jet. You may not be like Jet and you may disagree with Jet, but I know that Jet speaks for many people.  How do I know?  People tell her.  When she writes something on the topic, she gets comments all the time such as “I’m with Jet!” and “I’m so happy you wrote what you did.  You’re just like me.”

Jet says, “You worked all your life to surround yourself with the things you cherish and love, and you did not come to Mexico in order to give them all up and live like a monk.”

Or, because I don’t know you, perhaps you did come to Mexico to live like a monk.  The point is, it is your decision, so don’t be bullied.  Here’s my advice:

  • Personally try Mexican beds and furniture for comfort and decide how important it is to you to have your own.
  • Determine the most amount of items you would consider taking with you to Mexico.
  • Determine the least amount of items you would consider taking with you to Mexico.
  • Get prices for the most and the least amount of items you would consider taking with you to Mexico and for the amounts in between.
  • Without being bullied or using anyone else’s values but your own, determine the right amount for you to take with you to Mexico.
  • Get rid of everything else, either by selling it or giving it away and have no regrets.

— Chuck Bolotin, Best Mexico Movers

How to Figure Out What You Need to Bring to Mexico (and Some Examples)

Things You Can't Get in Mexico and Should Bring to Mexico

How to Figure Out What You Need to Bring to Mexico (and Some Examples)

Woman sitting on a comfortable sofaThe best advice I would give is to make a trip to Lakeside [Lake Chapala / Ajijic area] several months before packing and moving here. Explore the local shops (furniture and home furnishings stores, hardware stores, drug stores, grocery stores, etc.) to determine what is available. Take a lot of notes. Then think about the things you might need in your new space. If you can’t find the specific things you want to set up a comfortable home for yourself locally, bring it from the US. The list is specific to the individual and what you personally find important.

Some real-life examples: There are high cabinets in the kitchen of our Lakeside home. But it is not possible to find a kitchen step ladder that folds to 1-inch wide for storage with more than two steps here. Likewise, for a telescoping ladder. While large extension ladders are available everywhere here, a 16-foot ladder that collapses to 3.5-feet for storage isn’t available. I brought these items from the US.

Other items I would recommend bringing from the US:

  • Soft sheets and bed linens that have a high thread count
  • Bed pillows that are comfortable to sleep on
  • Some health and beauty products that you can’t find here
  • Comfortable living room chairs and sofas – many of those available in Mexico are too firm or have a straight back by US standards
  • Specialty kitchen gadgets
  • An accurate oven thermometer that is marked in both Celsius and Fahrenheit – propane-fired ovens in Mexico are difficult to regulate for baking

There is a Wal Mart at Lakeside and Home Depot in Guadalajara. These stores are not fully stocked with all of the things that you are used to seeing in their US stores. The same item from Home Depot here is generally much more expensive as compared to the US. If you are like me, I know certain tools and pieces of hardware when I see them. But I don’t always know their name or how to describe them. Trying to ask for an item in Spanish when you don’t know the name of it in English is usually a lost cause. Moral to the story: If it is something you think you might need from Home Depot or Lowe’s, bring it with you. It is better to bring something than to regret that you didn’t.

— David Hudnall

What to Bring When You Move to Mexico: Patience, Flexibility, Humor… and Cash

Things You Can't Get in Mexico and Should Bring to Mexico

What to Bring When You Move to Mexico: Patience, Flexibility, Humor... and Cash

Jet Metier and Chuck Bolotin with Mexican childrenMy usual advice to people moving to Mexico is bring Patience, Flexibility, and a Sense of Humor.  I am going to add Cash to that.

Mexico does not operate in a linear fashion.  It does not value time, money or efficiency the same way gringos do.  And it does not have an infrastructure that facilitates getting things done quickly.  A good example is the answer I received when I complemented a local Latina rental agent for building a very successful business. Her answer was “Thank you, I am so proud.  I can support 12 families.”

Family and community was the goal of her business, not profit.  She still lives above the office she started 18 years ago, although she could buy a big house.  She would prefer to insure the security of the families who work for her.  That is a Mexican value. But it also means that repair work goes to those families, even if they might not be immediately available.  Time is less important than relationships.

So be patient, things will (usually) take longer than you imagined possible, but sometimes they happen faster.  And be flexible; if the garbage truck is stuck between you and the highway you need to get to on a one-lane cobblestone street, back up, go over to the next street and drive one block the wrong way to the intersection.  You will probably not be the only one.

And laugh.  Mexicans laugh a lot.  While you are stuck behind that garbage truck and the driver comes over to your car and says “lo siento” – I am sorry, tell him you don’t mind the delay, but can he do something about the smell” and make a funny face (No me preocupa el retraso, pero ¿puedes arreglar el mal olor?).  You will both laugh. The truck won’t move any faster, but you will feel better.

Finally, Cash.  Mexico runs on cash; not credit and not electronic money.  Oh, there are places that take your credit card and you can use your debit card at Walmart, but most places want cash.  Paying a utility bill?  Pay it with cash at OXXO. Go to great Mexican restaurant? Pay cash.  Shop at the Wednesday Market?  Cash only. Go to a medical lab in Guadalajara for a test. Cash – in advance.  Despite this, the reliance on cash has not made its use easier.  As techies in the US would say, cash has a lot of friction in Mexico.

You need cash?  Go to the bank in the morning and they are out of it.  Go to the ATM (one of the two in town that will accept your card) and it can’t connect to the internet.  Go to the ATM at LCC, and there is a long line and when you get there, the machine is empty.  Go back to the bank and wait outside with 10 other people while the armored car brings cash into the bank.  Go to the one open teller after waiting for the armored car and she tells you that they are offline and can’t give you a withdrawal.   Rinse and repeat the next day.  Cash does not move quickly in Mexico.  So get a lot when you can.

But once you get used to that, you begin to automatically plan ahead, anticipate all the things that can – and probably will – go wrong, and enjoy life if Mexico.

Oh…and learn Spanish.  Things go faster and work better when you do. Except money.

— Patrick O’Heffernan

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My Fun List of What I Brought When We Moved to Mexico

John Perdiagao and Cindy Bozeman in Mexico

Things You Can't Get in Mexico and Should Bring to Mexico

My Fun List of What I Brought When We Moved to Mexico

John Perdiagao and Cindy Bozeman in MexicoMexico has so many natural and handmade treasures one might wonder… what should I pack to bring that I might not find there…

Well … depending on what you hold dear I believe the answer differs for each if us.

For me it was sentimental cherished items such as my Mom’s ashes contained in the pearl urn and the old photographs that I hold dear from the “pre-Facebook” days. Another “must have” was my beautiful wood chest that my Grandpa built by hand especially for me. I even managed to bring my first cherished stuffed animal from my preschool years (surprised myself that I couldn’t throw that beat up puppy away). I admit I’ve tried throwing him out several times since I’ve been here… tears start welling up before I made it to the bin.  Very strange indeed. But I digress…

For my husband it was simple. He wanted his giant computer monitor and his two cats! 

Having lived here two years I admit that sometimes it’s really the small things that we crave every now and then.

Here’s a few examples…

  • Ghirardelli Chocolate chips – I found them locally here in Mexico but nearly had a coronary over the price…$7.00usd per bag!  Good gawd…enough to stop my cookie cravings.
  • Graham crackers – nope, Mexico must not know about magic cookie bars or s’mores. 
  • “ain’t nobody got time for that” self-tanning foam (hard enough to find in the US.  And yes, I need it now and then! I wear sunblock and stay white as a ghost. #itsaredheadthing
  • Frosted candelabra light bulbs for our chandelier (yes really, they only have clear). We had our friends mule them over. They were like …you want what?!?
  • Whitener strips – haven’t found them anywhere! Yellow is the new white.
  • Clothes and goodies from Ross. (Whaaaaaaa!! I do miss my Ross and Home Goods)
  • Anything from Marshall’s (think soap dispensers, soft throw blankets, trendy summer tops, lamps and shades).  Yes, lamps and shades …don’t get me started.
  • Another really odd “must have” that would have never entered my mind is a heating pad. It’s one of those things you may only need once in blue moon but when you need it you’ve got to have it. Like other things you wouldn’t think would be hard to find, why this item hasn’t made it to stores south of the border is anyone’s guess.
  • Dill pickles (they’ve gotta be here somewhere)
  • Grape jelly (Mexico has literally every other jelly except grape)
  • Butterfingers! I once brought an entire carry-on bag stuffed full for my husband …. BEST WIFE EVER!

All in all, nothing we can’t live without of course but believe me, my husband and I now bring back full suitcases every time we go home! Just cuz we can 😁😉

I hope you’ll find this helpful.

— Cindy Bozeman

#weloveourforeverhome

#noregrets

Before You Move to Mexico, Figure Out What to Take and What to Leave

Things You Can't Get in Mexico and Should Bring to Mexico

Before You Move to Mexico, Figure Out What to Take and What to Leave

Quinton, Sharon, and Jessie Dube
Quinton, Sharon, and Jessie

The time between our visit Lakeside and our move to Ajijic was just over six months.  During those six months we: sold our house and car, bought a house in Ajijic, established a retirement date, set-up change of address and an account with virtual mail service, ported our Calgary phone line with Vonage, started the immigration process in Calgary to become residents in Mexico and set the date for our three day Estate Sale. However, before the Estate Sale could take place, we had to determine what was moving with us to Mexico.

Thinking that moving less furniture would be more economical than moving more, we decided that we would only bring our bedroom furniture, linens, kitchen dishes, flatware, pots and pans, a few sentimental items. That was an assumption, that we later learned was incorrect.  It is more cost effective to move more than it is to move a smaller amount.

We do wish that we had moved our living room furniture and our office furniture and bookshelves.  The furniture that we owned in Canada was high quality and comfortable and it would have suited our home in Ajijic.

There were also several physical therapy items (heating pads, support slings, ice packs, etc.) that we had purchased over the years in Calgary that now we are having to purchase online through Amazon. We cannot find all these items, not everything ships to Mexico and it is more expensive to get many of the items.

In hindsight, we should have shipped more. It would have been nice to keep the furniture we loved, photo albums, some books, and a few more personal items.  If we had more time to think it through during our six-month preparation, those are the items we would have brought to Mexico.

Quinton, Sharon, and Jessie

What Should I Bring With Me When I Move to Mexico?

Things You Can't Get in Mexico and Should Bring to Mexico

What Should I Bring With Me When I Move to Mexico?

Jet Metier walking to WalMart in MexicoWhat should you bring with you when you move to Mexico?

The short answer is: “It depends”. 

The longer answer is: It depends on:

  1. Where you will be living in Mexico.
  2. How comfortable you are with ordering products online.
  3. How attached you are to your furniture and other items/keepsakes.
  4. How important your home country branded products are to you.
  5. Things you may not easily find in Mexico.

Where you will be living in Mexico.

If you will be living within a short (1+/- hour) drive to a larger city, then you’ll most likely have a wide variety of shopping options. Anything you can buy at these stores, you won’t need to bring with you. 

Although you should know that any and all products shipped from the U.S. or Canada to stores in Mexico are subject to additional customs duties and a 16% IVA (Sales Tax) when they cross the border into Mexico. These additional fees and taxes will increase the retail prices of these products in Mexico.

General Merchandise:

Costco: 34 stores in 18 Mexican states Sam’s Club: 88 stores in 29 Mexican states

Walmart: 72 stores in 28 Mexican states Home Depot: 74 stores in 24 Mexican states

Best Buy: 10 stores in 5 Mexican states

Major Grocery Stores:

Soriana: 824 stores Chedraui: 138 stores Mega: 30 stores

How comfortable you are with ordering products online. 

If you’re comfortable with ordering products online, then you’ll have several good options when you’re in Mexico.

amazon.com ships many different products directly to Mexico from the U.S. (although you will still pay the customs duties and Mexican sales tax on these products). 

amazon.com.mx offers many (but certainly not all) of the same products available on its U.S. website. Most of these products are stocked and shipped directly from Amazon MX to your home in Mexico, which makes the shipping time shorter than ordering from the Amazon US website. 

You can also order directly from costco.com.mx just like you do in your home country. 

You will be surprised by how many dozens of online retailers in the U.S. will ship directly to Mexico and/or have a Mexican website that you can order from directly. 

There is also mercadolibre.com.mx which is like a Mexican version of Amazon. 

How attached you are to your furniture and other items/keepsakes.

There are many high quality, but affordable, furniture stores all across Mexico – from tables and chairs to sofas, desks, cabinets, etc. And, of course, there are always custom furniture makers in most mid-to-large cities and towns who can make you exactly what you want at very reasonable prices. 

But, if you have new furniture, or just furniture that you love and want to bring with you, that’s ok too. Maybe you have a favorite “easy chair” or a favorite bedroom suite that you just can’t part with. Or maybe you want to bring items that have sentimental value like family heirlooms (furniture, artwork, quilts, sculptures, etc.) that mean a lot to you. That’s ok too. 

Just remember that you may be moving to a location in Mexico that may have a very different climate than where you live now. This new climate may not be “friendly” to the furniture and other things you want to bring with you. For example, living on a coast in Mexico where the climate is hot and humid for many months of the year could damage your current furniture. The heat and humidity can often warp or crack furniture made of wood. The salty ocean air rusts and corrodes everything made of metal – including your outdoor patio furniture, as well as the electrical wiring in your house and your vehicle, metal doors and window frames, light fixtures, kitchen appliances and even your computer and other electronic devices. Just be sure that what you’re bringing with you will be “climate friendly” where you will be living in Mexico.

How important your home country branded products are to you.

Ok, you may not easily find Vegemite or Poutine at your local grocery store or restaurant, but if finding branded products from your home country is important to you, then you do have some very good options IF you live near a large city in Mexico. But, they WILL be more expensive than what you’re used to paying in your home country (due to shipping costs, duties and Mexican sales tax). 

For example, there are U.S.-equivalent shopping malls throughout Mexico where you will find popular U.S. and worldwide brands. In Guadalajara (Mexico’s 2nd largest city), you find just about everything you’ll ever want in these 2 shopping malls. 

There are also popular restaurants at these malls:

Applebee’s, Chili’s, McDonalds, Outback, P.F. Changs, Dairy Queen, Denny’s, Cheesecake Factory, Hooters, Carl’s Jr., Krispy Kreme

And there are similar upscale shopping malls throughout Mexico, including: Cancun, Tulum, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City and many more.

Things you may not easily find in Mexico.

If you’re a woman with a shoe size larger than an 8 or a man with a shoe size larger than a 10, then you will most likely have a problem finding shoes/sandals/boots in your size locally. 

If you wear large or tall clothing, then you will most likely have a problem finding clothes in your size locally.

If you like down pillows, 600+ thread count all-cotton sheets, soft/fluffy all-cotton towels or a soft mattress (Mexican mattresses are available in either “hard” or “rock hard”), then you will most likely have a problem finding this type of bedding locally. 

If you have countertop kitchen appliances (mixers, blenders, crock pots, steamers, bread makers, etc), that you love, then you’ll probably want to bring them with you. You will most likely have a problem finding these types of kitchen appliances locally. 

If you have favorite pots & pans and cutlery that you love, then you’ll probably want to bring them with you. You will most likely have a problem finding these types of cooking utensils locally. 

You will also want to bring your computers/laptops, tablets and mobile phones with you. Finding U.S.  brands of these products is possible, but more expensive in Mexico due to additional shipping costs, duties and taxes associated with importing these products into Mexico. Also know that computers available for sale at retail stores in Mexico will have Spanish operating systems and Spanish language keyboards (with ñ, á, upside down ? and ! keys, for example). 

The best advice on what to bring with you to Mexico is to just ask Chuck at Best Mexico Movers. He’s seen and done it all and can give you the best advice based on his own and his clients’ experiences. 

—  Lee Steele, Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico