Roya and I permanently moved to Mexico on 29 November 2021. We have a condo in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, and a summer home in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. What follows are some thoughts and observations about Mexico, presented in no particular order.
You can’t beat the weather.
The weather in Mexico is almost always sunny, dry and warm. Puerto Vallarta (PV) has a humid tropical climate with comfortable winters and hot, sticky summers. San Miguel de Allende (SMA) has a high desert climate with abundant sunshine, comfortable temperatures and low humidity year round.
Mexico is noisy.
There’s no getting around the fact that Mexico is a noisy place. There are old cars and trucks with no mufflers everywhere. Car alarms are frequent. Engine braking among big trucks is the norm. Some clubs and restaurants play loud, throbbing club music. Garbage trucks appear, turn on a loud motor, and sit there for twenty or thirty minutes while the garbage men sort the garbage. If you like peace and quiet, Mexico is not for you!
Mexico is cleaner than it used to be.
Back in the 1980s, littering was common and accepted in Mexico, and trash was everywhere. This is no longer the case. Thanks to public education campaigns over the years, littering is frowned upon and happens infrequently, and most of the old litter has been cleaned up.
Mexican cities are cleaner that many cities in the US. Here, city workers frequently power-wash sidewalks and sweep the streets. Shopkeepers keep their storefronts tidy. It’s quite nice.
Mexico’s toll road system is excellent and public transportation is quite good.
The toll roads that link the major cities are smoothly paved with concrete and are engineered for high speeds. You can easily and safely drive 100mph on them.
Luxury motor coach service is also available between the major cities. The buses ares clean, luxurious and safe, and the fares are very reasonable.
Public transportation within cities is also quite good, with the majority of it being by inexpensive bus service.
The cost of living is much lower than in the U.S.
If you’re retired like we are, the lower cost of living in Mexico compared to the US is quite welcome. Staples like food and clothing cost a fraction of what they do up north, especially if you purchase them in neighborhood markets. But even in supermarkets, groceries cost 25-50% what they do in the States.
If you become a property owner, you’ll learn that property taxes are incredibly low compared to the US. For example, in Colorado and California, the two states in which we lived, property taxes are roughly 1% of assessed value. Here it’s about 0.0005%. Unbelievable!
Medical care is excellent and affordable.
The quality of doctors and medical care rivals that of the US for a fraction of the price. Routine medical care, such as physical checkups and teeth cleanings, costs so little that most expats pay for it out-of-pocket. For example, an annual checkup with bloodwork runs about $100, while a teeth cleaning runs about $50.
We own a Mexican health insurance policy that covers only catastrophic care, and the annual premium and deductible are both quite low.
Many drugs that are prescription in the US are over-the-counter down here, and the prices are generally lower than they are up north.
For the most part, the Mexican people are very warm and friendly.
The Mexican people are, by and large, the best thing about Mexico. They are warm, friendly, and never hesitate to offer a helping hand to someone. Mexican society in general is more cohesive and civil than in the US. We think it’s because of the importance the the Church and family in their lives. It gives them common ground and a sound moral compass to live by.
Driving in Mexico is… different!
Roya and I both drive in Mexico and we have adapted to most of the quirks and rules of the road that are quite different from up north. Aggression is the name of the game here. If you need to change lanes, just cut in front of the car next to you. If you’re in the far right lane and need to make a left turn, just do it! Red lights are sometimes optional. Stop signs are only for decoration. Unpredictability is the norm here; expect just about anything to happen at any time. This goes quadruple for motorcyclists. Yet, remarkably, we’ve seen very few accidents.
And then there are the cursed topes (speed bumps). They are everywhere and range from barely noticeable blips to some as tall as mountains. Many come in groups of 4 to 6 to ensure effectiveness. They are also difficult to see because most aren’t painted, so launching over one at full speed is not uncommon. But worst of all, they cause miles-long traffic backups on busy highways which quickly disappear after crossing the topes. Damn the topes!
Parking citations are issued in a new and exciting way.
Parking enforcement in Mexico is highly aggressive. If you have the misfortune of violating the parking code, the police don’t leave a parking ticket on your car. Instead, they remove one of your license plates and take it to the police station.
Driving without a plate is also enforced vigorously, so it behooves you to get to the station right quick to retrieve your plate. You do so by paying the fine for the violation, at which time they return your plate to you and you’re on your way.
Learning Spanish makes your life a lot easier.
Although this seems obvious, I think there are too many expats who’ve been living here for a decade or more who still don’t speak Spanish. Most just don’t want to make the effort; a few expect Mexicans to accommodate them in English, which I find to be quite arrogant. Also, with the advent of language translators on smart phones, many just rely on those to get by.
I speak Spanish pretty well and am very glad I’ve made the effort to learn it over the years. I enjoy eavesdropping on Spanish conversations any chance I get because it helps me to understand the people better and to improve my Spanish. I read every sign I see and look up every word I don’t know to keep improving my vocabulary. I think that if you live in a non-English speaking country, learning the local language unlocks the entirety of the culture to you and is well worth the effort.
Mexico has beautiful grocery stores and excellent neighborhood grocery markets.
Mexico’s grocery chains are all quite good. The two standouts are La Comer and City Market, which is owned by La Comer but is more upscale. The stores are impeccably neat, with all the produce shined up and displayed in perfect geometric shapes. The stores are constantly being restocked, so they are seldom out of anything. We enjoy grocery shopping down here.
The neighborhood food markets are also quite good and impossibly cheap. For example, you can get a liter of fresh-squeezed orange juice for just $2.50. Avocados cost $2 per kilo. And the food is all locally-grown, fresh and delicious.
Poultry and produce are of excellent quality and very affordable. Beef is not as good.
Mexico farms its own produce, poultry and beef. Most of the produce we buy in San Miguel de Allende is grown within 300 miles of there, so the produce is always fresh and delicious.
Poultry is very tasty down here. The chickens are not pumped full of hormones, so they’re organic and natural. The farmers feed them Marigold seeds, so their skin and meat have a yellowish tint. And the meat is tender and delicious.
Mexican beef is not so good. There is no equivalent of USDA inspections down here, so the quality of the meat varies among various shades of mediocre. When we buy beef, we do so at Costco because they sell USDA Prime and Choice meats imported from the US.
Certain food items are simply unavailable here. Others are of uniformly poor quality.
Because the Mexican diet is different from the US diet, some food items are either difficult or impossible to find. For example, dill pickles are not prevalent, but sweet pickle relish is. Frozen hash browns are very seldom available. And when it comes to canned soup, all they have are the Campbell’s “Cream of Mushroom/Potato/Corn/etc.” varieties. They don’t have chunky soups or more upscale brands like Progresso. Mexicans prefer their own local soups, apparently.
Some spices are either processed differently or hard to find. For example, black pepper is ground to a fine powder. You can’t find the coarser grind like we have in the US. Lemon Pepper is hard to find. Dill is almost nonexistent down here. And if you like to cook Thai, Indian or other Asian dishes, you’re out of luck unless you live near a city that is big enough to have these kinds of stores.
Other food items are available but are poor in quality. Artichokes are one example. The ones here are scrawny, with elongated, open leaves. They’re also tough and have tiny hearts. However, just today I spotted some some large, healthy artichokes but another person cut in front of me and took them all, knowing how precious they are.
Railings? We don’t need no stinking railings!
Unlike in the U.S., Mexico has limited accommodations for the disabled because it’s not written into law like it is up north. One of the first things people notice is the nearly complete absence of railings on staircases and ledges. For people like me who have terrible balance, this makes negotiating stairs an adventure, especially because many staircases are steep with tall risers. Puerto Vallarta’s Malecon, which is a concrete platform that serves double-duty as a breakwater and a boardwalk, has no railings on the seaside edge, which in some cases rises up to 12 feet above the rocks below.
Wheelchair ramps started appearing in the cities in the 2010s, but many are too steep and narrow to be useful.
Bottom line: Being disabled in Mexico can lead to some serious mobility challenges.
Unless you buy and use illegal drugs, Mexico is quite safe.
Mexicans are almost universally peaceful. Violent crime is much rarer than the US media would lead you to believe. Very few people have guns. The worst thing likely to happen to you is to have your pocket picked or your purse snatched, because property crime is common due to the poverty down here.
However, if you deal or buy illicit drugs, you are asking for big trouble. The drug cartels are ruthless, heavily armed, and act with impunity in most parts of the country. Much better to stay away from that scene entirely.
Unfortunately, all bets are off in the towns that border the US. In those locations cartel turf battles are in full swing and it’s easier to get caught in the crossfire of a gun battle, as just happened yesterday in Matamoros where two American youths were killed and two kidnapped when they stumbled through the crossfire of a turf battle.