Growth and Reinvention in Mexico

Growth and Reinvention in Mexico

Moving to a new place, especially to a new country and especially where probably close to no one knows you, is a great chance for personal growth and what lots of expats I’ve interviewed call “reinvention,” a topic I wrote about you can find here: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/want-to-reinvent-yourself-retire-abroad-2017-09-11

  You can also get my take for “How Living Abroad Made Me a Better Person” here: https://bestplacesintheworldtoretire.com/stories/moving-abroad-in-general/lessons-about-moving-abroad/how-living-abroad-made-me-a-better-person/

When Americans and Canadians move to Mexico, most will find a culture that is less concerned with punctuality and perfection and more concerned with interpersonal relationships than they experienced NOB (“North of the Border”; the US and Canada). Believe me, you are not going to change Mexican culture, so complaining about it only makes you more frustrated, unhappy and unlikeable.

A better course of action is just learn to see the good in the Mexican culture, relax, and try to become less of a Type A.  Your blood pressure will go down, you will be more pleasant, and you may even learn that aspects of the Mexican culture are actually better and more appropriate for living here in Mexico for many things, and perhaps even better for life in general.

I’ll give you an example.  In the US, if a truck were blocking my way on a one-way street because the passenger had to get out and have a quick conversation with a store owner or had to unload a few items, I would be very unhappy.  Here, I just wait those few moments and enjoy the day.  The wisdom of my new reaction to this can be seen in my mental and emotional health, and also in my realization that I may have to do exactly the same thing as that truck driver later in the day and I would appreciate that everyone else didn’t honk their horns, curse at me, give me bad looks, etc., and just acted patiently.  It’s just how life works here. We don’t get all that worked up over items like this. Once you get used to it and learn to embrace it, it’s very nice because you’re much less worried about “doing something wrong.”  People are much more forgiving here for all sorts of things that would be horrific NOB.

And while we’re on the subject of vehicular travel, you may find it interesting to know that when you get your car scratched or dented (and believe me, you will), it won’t cost a fortune to repair it.  Just before we moved here, I backed up into a wall in the US, which caused only minor damage to my bumper and the side of the car.  The cost to repair it: USD $1,200.  In Mexico, that same repair would be the equivalent of around USD $60 to fix it like it never happened.  With costs like that, your old habit of having your month ruined when you got a scratch or a ding in your car will eventually just fade away.  When you do get a scratch or a ding in Mexico, after you’ve been here for a while, instead of responding with of a string of curse words running through your head, regret, remorse and anger, you’ll just think “so what?”  Then, you may even laugh a bit to yourself as you compare your new response with your old one.  That’s what I did.

A great tool for your growth or reinvention (if you’re into that type of thing) is to learn as much Spanish as you can.  Doing so will not only make you much more comfortable living in a Spanish-speaking country, but it will also make you more confident, competent, relaxed (and who doesn’t want that?), and also more able to better enjoy more of the people you come into contact with every day.

Please don’t worry if you botch your Spanish.  The Mexican people are thrilled and honored that you are even trying.  Let’s honor them as well by trying to learn their language, at least a little bit.  Doing so will spread goodwill, make you lots of new friends, and make your life here much, much more enjoyable.  You will be able to integrate into the larger community here (not just the English-speaking expat one), be less isolated, be better in an emergency, and make lots of very good friends.

You don’t have to learn all at once; you can learn Spanish at your pace.  There are lots of good alternatives.  One I’ve been using lately is Duolingo.  You go as fast or slowly as you wish, it’s fun, it seems to work, and it’s free.

You absolutely don’t have to be fluent or perfect in Spanish in order for to make a huge impact on your life and the lives of Spanish-speaking people around you.  Please don’t pass up this opportunity.  Maybe you can sign up today for an app, a program on your computer or a class.

Interested to see how we can help you?  Just give us a call now at our US or Canada phone number 1 (520) 940-0481, or send us an email using our contact form.

Adjusting to Mexican Culture: Step One

Adjusting to Mexican Culture: Step One

You’ve likely heard about several adjustments you’ll have to make regarding Mexico’s culture. Perhaps you’ve been advised to learn the language and develop more patience, both long-term propositions. 

“Dios mio!” you might say (if you spoke Spanish) “All that could take years! I’m older, my attention span isn’t what it used to be and I’ll be in Mexico next month! Isn’t there a faster, easier way?”

 Yes there is: Embrace the tortilla.

Once in Mexico, hay que renunciar (you have to leave behind) your former love, the crusty loaf of bread. You must leave that affair behind and love the one you’re with … the hot, fresh corn tortilla, that chewy, earthy incarnation of Mexican history told in a single buttered bite. 

The sooner you embrace the tortilla; that is crave it, contemplate it, and ask for it over the desultory piece of white restaurant bread, the easier your whole transition to Mexico will be. This embrace will  bolster your authenticity and serve as proof positive that you belong, evidence of your Mexican spirit behind the gabacho facade.

Here’s what you need to know about the corn tortilla. (The flour tortilla’s history is different. You’ve probably never had a real Mexican flour tortilla.)

Tortillas are an ancient superfood – The corn tortilla, created thousands of years ago, became a superfood through a process known as nixtamalization. In an authentic Mexican tortilla, field corn sits in an alkaline bath for 12 to 14 hours, which breaks down the skin of the corn kernel. (The part that gets stuck in your teeth after you eat popcorn). Nixtamalization and lime (the mineral, not the fruit) make the corn more digestible and nutritious. An authentic Mexican tortilla has about the same amount of fiber as a slice of whole wheat bread.

The result of the process is masa, a dough from which many types of Mexican regional foods are made; gorditas, panuchos, and sopes, as well as tortillas. 

Not all corn is equal: Tortillas are only as good as the corn they’re made from and its milling. Mexico has over 10,000 years experience growing corn and some say the soil of certain parts of Mexico, such as Oaxaca, carries that history (terrior) into the flavor of the corn, as happens with wines.

Tortillas are politically powerful – Combined with beans, tortillas create a near perfect and cheap protein. It’s a food so important to the Mexican working class that violent protests have occurred  when prices rose. So today the Mexican government controls those prices. In all Mexican states, tortillas are part of the canasta basica, a list of price-controlled necessary foods and products. Each Mexican state has its own canasta basica. 

Dos and Don’ts of cooking your tortilla – Never, ever microwave a tortilla, especially not in front of a Mexican (who will look at you in great sorrow). Microwaving changes the texture of tortillas. They only take a minute to heat on a comal (included with many Mexican ovens) or in a frying pan. Since most Mexican ovens are gas, you can even heat them with tongs over the burner flame.

Tortillas are more versatile than bread.  You can’t put “just anything” between two slices of bread. You can put just anything into a folded, fried tortilla. From the half-can of refried beans in the back of your fridge to yesterday’s stir-fried vegetables or 30-second scrambled eggs, you’ll find that anything tastes good in a hot fried tortilla. They’ll be a godsend on the nights you don’t feel like cooking.

Care for your tortillas – Tortillas are served and kept hot in tortilleras, a woven straw basket with a soft, clean cloth inside. Otherwise they’re refrigerated, as authentic ones do not have preservatives.

Where to buy your tortillas – While you’ll likely buy many fresh tortillas (nopal, blue corn, white corn) from unmarked coolers at major grocery stores, they’re also sold by little old ladies from their homes. These little people will dart out from doorways like black market traders, handing off their small illicit bundles to grateful construction workers so quickly that you’ll wonder what you just saw.

Negotiating the price of your tortillas – Fresh tortillas are also found at OXXO convenience stores where cashiers sometimes sell them from behind the counter. The more clandestine tortillas dealers, noting you’re foreign, might ask if you prefer one pound or two pounds, which you’ll come to learn is thousands of tortillas. Surprise them by saying you’d like 20 pesos worth, 50 pesos worth, etc (a dozen or so tortillas).

How your tortillas should look – When choosing tortillas, usually the more yellow the tortilla, the fresher. A very white tortilla can indicate a “bleaching” of ingredients. If your tortillas become dry, using a plant mister is a great way to revive them.

A word of warning – Fried tortillas can become an addiction. Eating too many is the leading cause of the dreaded “tortilla belly” my Mexican girlfriends bemoan. As with any new love, you can become so thoroughly infatuated that you don’t notice the first signs of betrayal. Limit yourself to two tortillas a day. 

Develop a healthy, balanced relationship with your tortillas and they’ll serve your diet, and personal image, very well in Mexico.

Kerry Baker, author: Ventanasmexico.com

Before You Move to Mexico, Eliminate as Much Paper as Possible and Consider a Mail Forwarding Service

Before You Move to Mexico, Eliminate as Much Paper as Possible and Consider a Mail Forwarding Service

Mailing addresses are wonderful in the US and Canada; no one has the same address as you, your address will show up on Google Maps (and in the right place), and when you give your address to Amazon, Amazon accepts it and can deliver to you.
Not so much in Mexico.

Also, even if some NOB (“North of the Border”; the US or Canada) companies mailing to you in Mexico could send to an address where your mail would actually be delivered, many will not.

For these reasons and others, it is a good idea to stop receiving in paper as much as you can while NOB and get everything sent to you digitally, via email or access through the Internet.  In probably 95% of cases, your vendors, banks, brokerage accounts, credit card companies, etc., will welcome you doing this, and you can do it by just logging into your account on their website, clicking some boxes and giving your email address.  If this doesn’t work, you may want to call them and ask for assistance.

Ruthlessly eliminate as many pieces of paper coming to you as possible.  There is no downside to doing this now, even if your move is still several months in the future.  That way, if something doesn’t work properly or gets lost, you’ll have a chance while still NOB to fix it in a serene way.

Next, look at all your important documents, such as:

  • Driver’s license
  • Marriage certificate
  • Birth certificate
  • Residency visa (when you get it)
  • Passport
  • All credit cards and debit cards and any other cards you have
  • Car registration
  • Tax returns and receipts
  • Your most cherished photographs
  • Medical records, x-rays, and any lists of medications you’re taking
  • All the other pieces of paper you have that you need from time to time or are especially worried about no longer having

Wouldn’t it be a shame if you lost one, two, or all of them?

In many cases, it would be a complete disaster.

Don’t let it happen, at least in digital form.

Create a directory on your computer, create some subdirectories and scan each category of paper into its own directory.  Then, just think of how secure and at ease you will feel that there is no way to lose at least the digital version of these important documents and photos and how superior your will feel when someone needs your birth certificate or passport and you can just send it to them right from your computer, without having first to find it and then scan it.

Regardless of how much paper mail you eliminate, you’ll still have some.  What do you do about that?  You can either use your sister-in-law’s address where she can collect it for you (thank you, Lisa!), use some other trusted friend or relative, or you can use a commercial service.  There are now lots of mailbox companies in the US who will receive your paper mail and either scan it and send you the scan, or even from time to time physically transport it to you in Mexico.  Make sure you have one of these in place well before you move.

  • Look at each piece of paper mail you receive.  For each one, go to the Internet, to that company’s website, and ask for your correspondence to be sent via email.
  • Buy a low-cost scanner or go to Staples, Office Depot or another retailer who can scan for you.
  • Scan each of the paper in the list above into a place on your computer where you can find it.
  • Either ask someone who is stable, you can trust and who will collect your remaining mail for you if they would do it, or contract with a mailbox company who will do it and will provide you with a legal address. 

Back Up All Your Data Before You Move to Mexico

Back Up All Your Data Before You Move to Mexico

Now that you’ve put all your important pieces of paper online, think (and more importantly, feel) what it would be like to lose it all.  Maybe you drop your computer, or someone steals it, it’s lost in a fire, or the hard drive crashes unexpectedly, right in the middle of you using it.  Feel your frustration, your anger and your fear.  All that data, all those pictures, all those personal papers, completely lost forever.  That’s nothing you can do about it.  Nothing.  All gone.  You’re devastated as you try to figure out your next move, but there really isn’t one.

Let those emotions set in and wait a moment before you read the next paragraph.

Now, feel the relief you have because you know that you backed up everything in the cloud.  Between the two feelings, this one is better, isn’t it?

I use Dropbox to continuously back up my computer, but there are plenty of other backup services that do pretty much the same thing.  I can’t stress enough how important it is to back up your entire computer to a cloud-based service, so that, if the worse happens, you can just download your saved items onto your new or repaired computer with nothing lost.  If you don’t know how to do this, ask someone who does, and please get it done.

  • Buy a service like Dropbox for your computer and install it.
  • Back up all your files.
  • Ask a knowledgeable friend to look at what you did to make sure you really did back up all your files and that they can be restored elsewhere. 

Before You Leave for Mexico, Visit Your Doctor, Dentist, and Maybe Your Auto Mechanic

Before You Leave for Mexico, Visit Your Doctor, Dentist, and Maybe Your Auto mechanic

Whenever you move to a new place NOB (“North of the Border”; the US and Canada), you establish new service providers, and none are more important than your doctor and dentist.  Sometimes, this takes a while and sometimes, there’s an emergency before you’ve done it.  As with so many other considerations about your move, moving to Mexico is just like that, only more so.

Just before you leave the US or Canada, you may want to have that final checkup at your NOB doctor’s office and final dental cleaning at your NOB dentist, just so you don’t need a root canal while en route to your new home in Mexico or soon thereafter and have to start asking people for recommendations to the local endodontist, all while you’ve got this throbbing pain in your head.  Like so much other preparation, this problem probably won’t happen, but if it does and you’ve planned ahead, it won’t be a big deal.

While you’re visiting your NOB doctor or dentist, please let them know you’re moving to Mexico and ask them for all the documentation and records they have that would be useful to your new doctor or dentist, including your list of any allergies.  These records belong to you and NOB doctors and dentists are usually very happy to provide them.

While you’re there, ask for a list of medications you take on an ongoing basis.  Then, check to make sure you have enough for an extended period of time (well after you arrive in Mexico) and that you can get your medications in Mexico.  If you don’t have enough, have your doctor write a prescription so that you do.

And while we’re on the subject of preventive maintenance, if you’re planning on driving your car into Mexico, have that NOB 108-point check enough beforehand so that, if they find something, you can have it fixed before you leave, rather than on the side of the road in Mexico next to a bemused goat in a corn field between two towns whose names you can’t pronounce.

  • Make an appointment to visit all your medical doctors.  Tell them the reason for your visit and ask them to have all your medical records and a list of medications available for you.
  • Visit your doctor.  If necessary, ask your doctor to prescribe enough medications for you to last at least several months after you arrive in Mexico.
  • Take with you your paper medical records and list of medications and then scan them into your computer(see above).
  • Do the same for your dentist.
  • A month before you’re ready to leave, have your car checked and consider getting new tires.

Before You Leave for Mexico, Get Up-To-Date

Before You Leave for Mexico, Get Up-To-Date

Check the expiration dates on everything, including your:

  • Passport
  • Driver’s license
  • Credit cards
  • Debit cards

Then consider where it would be easier to renew any of these items– when you are NOB (“North of the Border”; the US and Canada) or when you’re a newbie in Mexico.  Relative to credit and debit cards, it can be extremely difficult or close to impossible to get your company to send you a new card in Mexico.  Just get items renewed early and this will be yet one more problem you will not have.

  • Check the expiration dates on all the items listed above.
  • Renew anything now, before you leave, that is due to expire any time soon.

Using Credit Cards in Mexico

Using Credit Cards in Mexico

A “foreign transaction fee” is the amount your card will charge you in order to exchange the pesos you used the card for to make a purchase in Mexico into the dollars your credit card company uses to charge you on your account.  Please check to see that any credit card you will use in Mexico has a zero foreign transaction fee.

Next, make sure that whatever credit cards you have utilize a good exchange rate from Mexican pesos.  Some are much better than others, and this can really add up.  For example, if you buy something in Mexico for 2,000 pesos and your credit card company exchanges your USD dollars at a rate of 20 to one, that 2,000-peso purchase will cost you USD $100.  However, if your credit card company exchanges your pesos for dollars at the rate of 22 to one, you’ll only pay $90.91 for your 2,000-peso purchase.  If your credit card company uses the 22 to one rate, it’s like getting a 9% discount on all your credit card purchases just for being smart enough to use the right credit card!

Also please check to make sure that your credit card will work in Mexico for an extended period of time.  Some cards do this without any intervention needed on your part while some make you indicate that you are on vacation every 90 days or so.  If you don’t know which policy your credit card company uses, it’s a good idea to call them to find out.  You don’t want to discover how they will react on day 91 while you’re standing in the checkout counter at your grocery store in Mexico with all your groceries bagged and six people behind you when your card is declined, the ice cream is melting, and those people behind you in line all wondering what would cause your card to be declined.

  • For each credit card you have, check the foreign transaction fee and exchange rate.
  • If you are not happy with any of your existing cards, apply for a new one that’s better.
  • Make sure that you have replicates of each card, for yourself, and if you’re moving with someone else, for that person, too.
  • Find out what the rules are for each card for using it outside the US and make sure you comply with those rules.

Using ATMs in Mexico

Using ATMs in Mexico

Lots of people who live in Mexico don’t have a Mexican bank account.  Instead, they pay everything via cash or credit card and for larger purchases, via PayPal, wire transfers or ACH (which is like a bank transfer, but generally much less expensive and faster).  When they want pesos, they use their debit card at a Mexican ATM machine.

Which card you use can make a very big difference.  Consider these features:

Exchange rate.  Like above, the exchange rate can matter a lot.  Find out which exchange rate your debit card uses.  The Capital One card I use exchanges dollars from my US account to pesos at the ATM I stand at in Mexico at using pretty much the same rate as I see on the Internet.  (I checked.)  I’m sure there are other cards like mine, but there are lots of other cards that are not and use a terrible exchange rate, like the card I used to use.  Here’s a bonus tip: when you’re standing in front of the ATM in Mexico and it asks you if you accept the exchange rate, choose “Decline.”  Doing so will cause the ATM to use your financial institution’s rate, which is usually LOTS better.  On a recent withdrawal, this saved me about USD $30.

How much the Mexican ATM machine charges for each withdrawal.  When I use my Capital One card at CI Banco, they charge me less than 18 pesos per withdrawal, which is less than one US dollar. I can definitely live with that.  There are many (like that other card in my wallet) that charge a lot more.  I have been told that some cards charge even less, so that whatever fees the bank ATM in Mexico charged, that US bank removes entirely.

How much you can withdraw at one time With some cards, you can only withdraw 3,000 pesos at one time.  With others (like my favorite), you can take 10,000 pesos at one time.

Check the deal for your card and if you need another one, get it well before you leave the US or Canada.

After putting this into practice for ATM cards (and credit cards, too, above), what would you do if one expired and it didn’t work any longer, or one got stolen, or you lost it, or the magnetic strip just stopped working?  You’re not in the US or Canada any more, so you would have to do without your card for probably quite some time.  Maybe that means you can’t get cash or you can’t charge on your credit card.  Not a good plan. The easiest way to get around this is to have at least two ATM cards from different banking institutions and if you have a partner like I do, get separate cards for your wife or husband.  That way, you’re covered in two directions.

This brings me to an overall recommendation.  Like with so many other things in life (and especially in Mexico), it’s always good to have backups.  Just like in the moving business, when living in Mexico, I always think, “What could go wrong?”  Then, I plan for it, so if things do go wrong, I don’t get too upset, because I have a Plan B and many times, a Plan C. This easy way of advance planning and life in general will reduce your related stress and anxiety and the actions needed if things go wrong, to close to zero.  Then, you can just enjoy yourself.

  • For each card, check the exchange rate, transaction fee and withdrawal limit. If you’re not happy with any of them, establish a relationship with a different bank that offers a better deal.
  • Just like with your credit cards (above), make sure that you have replicates of each card, for yourself, and if you’re moving with someone else, for that person, too

Making Bank Transfers in Mexico

Making Bank Transfers in Mexico

It won’t be all that unusual for you to want to transfer from US or Canadian dollars to Mexican pesos, perhaps to pay someone more money in Mexico than you have in cash.  Also, if you decide to get a Mexican bank account, you’ll also have to fund it.  If you do this through a bank-to-bank transfer, you can do it through your bank, or alternatively, you can try the service I use, along with lots of other expats: Transferwise.

I like Transferwise for several reasons, including that you can make transfers to pretty much any currency in the world, the exchange rate is very close to what you see on the Internet, and their fees are very low, compared to typical banks.  Their customer service has been good, and once you get the hang of it, it is extremely easy to use.  Setting up an account, even for future use, is free.  If you set up a Transferwise account now and link to one or more accounts where your money is kept NOB (“North of the Border”; the US and Canada), you won’t have to do it later.

  • Find out your bank’s policies and how much they charge to do a transfer from dollars to pesos.
  • If you don’t like your bank’s policies or fees or if you would just like an alternative (always recommended), set up a free account at transferwise.com or some similar company.

Using a Password Manager in Mexico

Using a Password Manager in Mexico

Not many people are diligent about their passwords.  Maybe you’re one of them.  Do you ever use the same password for two different sites?  Do you have your passwords written down somewhere in hard copy or in a cleverly named Word document?  Do you use “strong passwords” that would be impossible to guess (even more so than your date of birth, the date you were married or your dog’s name)?  Are you aware of “phishing”, whereby you think you’re on a legitimate company’s website like Amazon but you’re really not and you use your real password to try to enter the phony site, thereby handing over your password and all the information in your Amazon account to cybercriminals?  (That’s exactly what I did quite a while ago.)

For these and other reasons, you should get a password manager, especially now that you have pretty much everything online.  (See above.  You did put pretty much everything online, didn’t you?) The one I use is Dashlane, which I recommend highly.  It’s not expensive, it’s a great productivity tool, and it’s an excellent way to create and manage passwords.  I’m sure there are others that are very good as well.  You really should get one of them.

  • Do the research to decide which password manager you prefer.
  • Install your password manager on your computer.
  • Follow the directions to completely set up your password manager, including changing your weak passwords into strong passwords and never using the same password twice.