Exotic locales, new experiences, low cost of living, and the excitement of immersing yourself in a new culture.Who could pass up the opportunity for a richer fuller life? Many Americans are retiring or relocating overseas in order to achieve the “dream life.” For one family, that aspiration was attained along the coastal shores of Mexico in Baja California. But is life as an expatriate all it’s cracked up to be? What does it take to follow your heart, pack up your life and move to the country of your dreams?
Expat Emily Adams, 48, agreed to sit down with me to answer a few questions about her experiences relocating to another country and to address what prompted her and her husband to make “the big move” to Ensenada. Eighty miles south of San Diego lay the coastal town of Ensenada, Mexico. Often referred to as the perfect weekend getaway, Ensenada is a popular place for tourists, wine lovers, the adventure seeker, or those in search of a better life… the Expat Life.
What motivated you to relocate to another country?
My husband and I enjoy Latin culture and wanted to be near the ocean. We wake up every morning to enjoy the hum of the ocean while having our morning coffee.
How long have you lived in Ensenada, Mexico?
We have lived in Ensenada for six years now.
How many years in advance did you start planning your move?
We planned for five years before we moved to Ensenada. We started our quest in 2001. During that time we made several trips to Ensenada, securing property, permits, etc.In 2002 we purchased a house under construction. We were told the house would be finished in six months. Four years later we moved into the unfinished house. Things take a long time in Mexico. The process might have been a bit faster had we been living in Ensenada full-time duringconstruction. We found the property on our own, during our explorations, without the help of a realtor. We did hire an attorney to complete the necessary paperwork, however.According to Mexican law, foreign entities are allowed to invest and own property in Mexico, but there are some restrictions. If the property is within 50km of the coastal zone, or within 100km of the border, a foreign national cannot own the property outright. We had to purchase our property through a process called a “fideicomiso.”
A fideicomiso is a special trust set up to provide for ownership of the property in all but name. The trust is set up and run by a bank. In short, the bank holds the title to the property in trust for the legal beneficiary (foreign owner). The foreign owner retains the sole right to use and control the property, makingall decisions related to the property, including its sale or transfer. This arrangement never expires.
Can you describe your life as an expatriate?
Our life in Mexico is very similar to our life in the U.S. My husband and I both still work. The commute is much more attractive now, though. Our standard of living is very high and we love living in a coastal community.We chose Ensenada because we love Latin culture, it is close to the states, and we were able to purchase our home for a fraction of the cost of a comparable coastal property in the U. S.
What do you do about health care? Do you have Mexican health insurance, and was it difficult or expensive to get?
We have U.S. health care coverage; however, we use Mexican doctors for minor issues and all dental care. I had to have knee surgery last year and I opted to have the surgery done in Ensenada. I was very pleased with the level of service, the attention to detail, how quickly they were able to expedite the process, and of course the cost. A typical office visit in Ensenada runs about $35 U.S. dollars.
What is the cost of living in Mexico compared to the U.S.? If you are comfortable, what does a typical month of expenditures look like?
Don’t move to Mexico because you think you will save money.The cost of living is similar to what it was in Arizona, but with an ocean view. Although property costs less, supplies are more expensive, labor is less but food (other than rice and beans) costs more.
How do you generate an income as an expat?
We both own our own businesses. I own a consulting and training company and my husband is in commercial property management. We have a home office and travel for business as needed.
Would you recommend your current location in Ensenada to others who are considering making the same type of move?
Only if they are committed to living in another country and abiding by the rules and culture of the hosting country. Many Americans move to Mexico thinking they are going to live by American standards and they have not integrated. You can’t move and live by the rules and lifestyle from which you came. Some expats act “ugly” and offensive to the locals. If they are willing to keep an open mind, and adapt to and contribute to the local culture, living in another country can be a wonderful lifestyle and experience.
Do you speak Spanish fluently? Do you have difficulty communicating with the locals?
We do not speak Spanish fluently, but we speak enough to get by. Our Spanish gets better every year.
What have your biggest challenges been since becoming an expat?
Our biggest challenge involved working through the immigration process to be in Mexico legally.This is a step many Americans skip and it is not good! The rules changedlate last year, making the immigration process easier. We recently obtained our “Visa de Residente Permanente” or permanent resident status. I recommend hiring an immigration lawyer to guide you through the process.
Do you have any advice to offer others who are considering relocating to another country?
Only make the move if you are open to integrating, adopting and contributing to the new culture and surroundings.
Has it been easy making friends and building a social life?
We make friends easily and have met many great people, locals and expats alike. I have met friends at the gym, at a local shelter I volunteer for, and through other acquaintances. Making friends in another country is no different from making friends in your country of origin.
What’s the best part of living in the town you are in?
The culture, the people, the food and the wine! We have always loved the Latin culture, as I said before. The people are warm and friendly. We love the fact that lots of sea food is always available. The food here is not Mexican in the way you think of Mexican food in the U.S. It has a Mexican twist to it but it’s not stereotypical Mexican fare. We enjoy going to the smaller markets to buy our food. The produce is very fresh and the seafood is delivered daily.
What is your favorite local restaurant and do you have a favorite local wine?
Our favorite local restaurant is Sano’s Steakhouse. Dinner for two including salad, entrées and two drinks each costs about $75.00 U.S.
Our favorite local wine is from Roganto Vineyards, a winery just south of Ensenada. Their Roganto Tramonte, a cabernet-sauvignon and tempanillo blend is absolutely delicious.
Did you furnish your house with belongings from the U.S. or did you buy most of your furnishings in Mexico?
Interesting you should ask. We moved all our household goods from the U.S; however, we purchased all the household goods from Mexico long ago during our travels. We just brought things back to their native homeland.
How often do you get back to the states?
I travel for my work, so I cross the border two or three times a month. Last year my husband Dave crossed the border five times.
What do you miss most about living in the United States?
Nothing.We stay in touch with family and friends from the states and have established many new relationships, both personal and professional.
Do you have any final thoughts or words of wisdom for those considering a move to another country?
Think the move through very carefully. Rent for at least a year before buying property. You might find a different location during your explorations that you would prefer to settle in permanently. Liquidate and buy household goods when you get to your new home country. Go through the proper channels for immigration and always check your facts three times.
Thank you for taking the time to indulge my curiosity about life as an expatriate.