By: Mike Nelson |

Live Better South of the Border

Book Overview

In my book Live Better South of the Border – Mexico, I write about the pluses and minuses, positives and negatives of living in Mexico. I try to honestly tell you the good and bad points about living in Mexico. Frankly, Mexico is not the cheapest country in the world to live. The book is outdated now in many respects, but philosophical stuff like this is not.

Yes, it costs less to live in Mexico with a better standard of living than many parts of the USA or Canada, but if money is your only motivator, there are other countries that cost less. You can live for less in Arkansas or S. Texas than in Mexico’s gringo areas. (I stand fast on this, though I was verbally thrashed by someone who disagreed.) Mexico is not paradise. Mexico is a perfect place to live for many people, but it is not perfect. While there are many reasons to live in Mexico, there are also many reasons why living in Mexico may not be for you. Negativity isn’t the point. Reality is.

Live Better South of the Border is old, with the last printing in 2005. People who who still buy it tell me it is still relevant. The costs of stuff changes, but the priceless advice about how to choose a place to live in Mexico, or to decide if you should even move to Mexico, is what I help you with. Look, the important things you need to know are ‘Big Picture’ concepts, not the little daily nitty-gritty stuff like how much tortillas cost. Understand the big stuff and the little stuff will sort itself out. The information about how to get a visa is way out-of-date. The left-brain way of looking at things, humor and straight talk will never go out of style.

Safety of living in Mexico is still most people’s first concern. Ask any gringo living in Mexico if he / she feels safe living in Mexico. The answer will be yes – I know, I ask real people and don’t depend on sensational news stories.

There are sensational news stories about Mexicans getting killed in gunfights or beheadings. Most of these are people involved in drugs or something illegal. Yes, an occasional bystander is affected but mostly not. How many news stories have there been about gringos, tourists or foreign residents who were not using or involved with drugs, being involved? No one really knows the answer to that, since we don’t always know all the facts. If you don’t want to believe that’s fine, just don’t consider moving to Mexico because you already have the wrong attitude.

Living in Mexico is a good decision for many people. You’ll see a “statistic” that the U.S. embassy in Mexico City estimates that there are more than 1,000,000 Americans living in Mexico and an estimated 500,000 Canadians live in Mexico, at least part-time. That is hogwash used by people who want to sell you something. Nobody knows exactly how many expats there are, but in the winter it seems like there are a more of them than locals in some areas.

The Mexican economy is tied to the US economy. I think it is fair to say you can live comfortably in well-known gringo destinations in Mexico for about $25,000 to $30,000, single, or $30,000 to $40,000, for a couple, a year in most places.

It is still possible to live on $12,000 to $15,000, single, or $16,000 to $22,000, couple, or less in some non-gringo locations, if you are really frugal. That’s about what I live on in the States. I once met a young lady (67) whose income is only Social Security and she lucked into a small apartment in Ajijic, Jalisco, on Lake Chapala. So never say never.

Housing in gringo areas is comparable to many parts of the United States. Rentals are more reasonable than buying. There is (generally) no discernible relationship between the value of houses for sale and the amount of rent charged.

Don’t Move To Mexico If …

If you are moving to Mexico only because you think living in Mexico is cheaper than living the United States or Canada, you are moving for the wrong reason. My advice: Stay home. If you are moving to Mexico only because of the weather, you’re moving for the wrong reason. If you are the sort of person who has to have things your own way, the way everything “should” work out according to you, you will be very unhappy living in Mexico. Many go-getters live in Mexico and have adjusted very well. They were ready to leave their old ways of doing things behind and have embraced new ones, where there is always an element of surprise to planned events.

If you have only been to the beach resorts or to the interior tourist destinations, you do not have an accurate picture of Mexico. If you have only vacationed there, you do not have an accurate picture of living there.

Do Move To Mexico If …

If the lower cost and the wonderful climate are factors, but your main reason for choosing Mexico is that you love the people, are flexible, and want some adventure in your life, you are moving for the right reasons and will probably be happy there.

Much Has Changed About Living In Mexico

While much has changed about living in Mexico in the years since I first wrote Live Better South of the Border, and much has improved, Mexico is still Mexico. That means that Mexico is unique. Mexico has a culture that changes slowly, no matter how technocratic the government is. Overall, it is easier to live in Mexico today than it was ten years ago, and much easier than it was twenty years ago.

By easier, I mean that the day-to-day interactions with places you need to interact with is getting utilities is simpler. You can pay many of your bills online instead of having to stand in line to do so. You can get a phone or a cell phone without too much trouble. There are Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs and Office Depots and Home Depots and Starbucks and so on in most towns of any size. It seems like more people speak English, which would be expected since it is taught in school and more people are going to school than 20 years ago.

Banking in Mexico

Mexican banking is still a conundrum. The names of the banks change, but the bureaucracy does not. If you believe the advertisements and Internet pages of bank, you would swear that Mexican banks operate quite like American banks and less like a labyrinth; you no longer need to be a devotee of Kafka to cash a check. Don’t be deceived. Banks seem to be moving into a reverse time-loop and are getting more like they used to be (inexplicably labyrinthine) than they were before the economy went South (so to speak). And this varied from bank to bank and even from branch to branch. There are many international banks with branches in the USA, Canada and Mexico: Scotiabank, BBVA, Citibank, (now [well, at least today – banks change ownership like babies change diapers] part of Citigroup). Still, walk into a few branches before you believe what you read.

Internet and Phone

Internet service has also improved. You can now get DSL or cable Internet service in your home. You can now get a new phone line without waiting for Hades to freeze over. You can, thanks to a variety of calling plans, call back to the States, Canada, and Europe without taking out a second mortgage on your house. (See my page on VOIP phone service). You can now operate an Internet business in Mexico, but being a day-trader might be risky. You can even get decent deals on cell phones in-country.

Goods you are used to are available from Sam’s, Wal-Mart, Costco, Home Mart (owned by Home Depot), and other international chains. Costs of imported goods have gone down – but they can still surprise you. For instance, I purchased stockings for a girlfriend (“not for me,” he said hastily) that were a name brand sold in the United States for less in Acapulco than at home. Getting back through customs with twenty pairs of lace stockings took some explaining, but I figure a bargain is worth stocking up on. Electronics still cost more (about 20%) and (except in the largest cities) are generally not the latest technology.

Overall, it’s just easier to live in Mexico today than it was even five years ago.