By Catey Hill | Market Watch
It’s a far cry from his life in Los Angeles right before he left for Mexico in 2015. The 66-year-old former aerospace management professional had recently gotten a divorce and sold his home and was temporarily living at his sister’s house while he figured things out. “It was kind of depressing. Here I am 60 years old, living in my sister’s spare bedroom with my belongings in an 8-by-10 storage unit.”
Then a friend invited him to visit her in Akumal, Mexico — a little town about 25 miles from Playa del Carmen, a popular tourist spot on the Caribbean. “She was living in this condo on the beach. You walk in and there are sliding glass doors that look at the water. Her backyard was the Caribbean,” recalls Uriarte, who’d always dreamed of a house on the beach. It was on that day he decided the next chapter of his life would be in Mexico, where he’d spent two years of his childhood.
He moved in January 2015 to Akumal — “I spent that first seven months at the beach every day,” Uriarte says — and in 2016 he moved to Playa del Carmen to be closer to restaurants and friends and meet more people. (“There’s only so much self-reflection you can do,” he jokes of his beach-combing life in Akumal.) It was there that he began volunteering at the Keep Kids in School Project (KKIS), an organization that helps raise money to send children to high school (public education is not free in Mexico, thanks to the myriad extras like uniforms, textbooks, supplies and fees that many families have to pay) and college. And it was there he met his now-girlfriend.
“We had both been invited to an expat going-away party by mutual friends. I was sitting alone at a table. and she came over and began speaking English to me. I spoke back in Spanish, and she was surprised. We just hit it off.”
The couple has now moved with her teenage son to Querétaro, a gorgeous city lined with historic colonial architecture (the city center is a UNESCO world heritage site) that has a fast-growing aerospace industry. (Uriarte hopes to start consulting soon.) It’s a sophisticated city with lots of shopping, art galleries and museums, numerous hospitals, award-winning restaurants and multiple universities.
Here’s what their life is like in Querétaro — from costs to health care and safety to residency and daily life:
The cost: ‘Living here cut my cost of living by at least half’
Life in California — Uriarte lived in Redondo Beach, in Los Angeles County — was extremely expensive, in terms of taxes, real estate and car expenses, insurance, and other costs. Moving to Mexico cut Uriarte’s living costs “by at least half,” he says. Out of 315 cities that Expatistan ranks, Querétaro ranks as the 245th cheapest, and International Living estimates that monthly costs for a couple living pretty modestly are under $2,000 a month.
By the numbers: Querétaro, Mexico
|Weather||Typically between 42°F and 85°F|
Sources: Google, WeatherSpark
Uriarte’s biggest monthly expense is rent: Uriarte, his girlfriend and her son now live in a four-bedroom modern home in a gated community in a high-end neighborhood for $1,600 a month. The water bill is about $25 a month, and electricity is between $75 and $100 a month. Food, he says, costs probably 60% of what it costs in the U.S.; groceries for three people for the week costs about $75 to $100 — and that’s shopping at a Whole Foods–like grocery store. Going out to eat is also cheaper: A casual lunch with a glass of wine might cost $10 per person; a nice dinner with a glass of wine might cost $30 or $35 and at a super-high-end spot $75, he says. Car insurance costs about $700 a year, and, though Uriarte says that gas is a bit more expensive than in the U.S., he doesn’t drive as often so he spends much less.
Monthly cost of living: Querétaro, Mexico
|Rent (two-bedroom apartment)||$750|
|Two cell phones||$25|
|Health care for two||$80|
Source: International Living
One other big expense is travel. Uriarte goes back to the U.S. see his four daughters and grandkids at least once a year. “One of the advantages of living in Querétaro is that I can fly roundtrip to Tijuana for about $300 and walk across to the U.S. via the new border bridge (CBX) directly from the airport,” he says. “Once across on the U.S. side I can rent a car or take public transportation to the train station in San Diego,” which, he says, beats landing at LAX. He notes that “Querétaro has an international airport with several flights to U.S. cities, but the cost is about $700 to $900 U.S.”
Though you can buy health insurance in Mexico that’s a lot cheaper than in the U.S., says Uriarte, he’s opted to get medevac insurance, which will evacuate a policyholder via air ambulance or another fast transport mode in an emergency.
Uriarte pays roughly $500 a year for that insurance, he says. He also has Medicare, so he can see his doctors in the U.S. using that coverage.
While in Mexico, for smaller checkups and other for services, Uriarte pays out of pocket. Care, he says, has been good as well as cheaper than it would be in the U.S. A checkup in Mexico costs him about $60 or $70. When he returns to the U.S., he sees his longtime doctors and refills his prescriptions. There are multiple hospitals in Querétaro.
“I’ve never felt threatened,” says Uriarte. He says that, while he lives in a gated community with a 24/7 guard, his children in Los Angeles live behind gates, too. Querétaro is known as one of the safer cities in Mexico. “I feel very comfortable here,” Uriarte says.
Uriarte recommends expats who are considering moving to Mexico become permanent residents, as it “makes life a little less complicated when renting or buying a house, applying for a driver’s license or opening a bank account,” he says. He applied about two years ago and says the whole process took him a little over a month and cost about $100 (for an immigration specialist to help him).
Though Uriarte hopes to start consulting in the aerospace industry, the area in which he formerly worked, he’s kept busy separate from that. He’s on the board at KKIS, the organization he volunteered with in Playa, he’s taken up woodworking, and he’s very involved in the expat community, including organizing events. “My life is pretty busy,” he reports. “The days go by really fast. Life tends to present you with opportunities if you’re open to them.”
What to know before moving to Mexico
“You do need to understand that life in Mexico is not always what it is in the U.S.,” says Uriarte, who has seen some people relocate south only to head home to the U.S. in short order. “When you’re going to the bank, to the grocery store, you’re going to wait in line,” he says. “There’s also a lot of traffic.” The key to being happy in Mexico, says Uriarte, bilingual since childhood, is integrating yourself with the local community and picking a spot that you love, not just one that’s got a low cost of living.
Uriarte doesn’t have any plan to move back to the U.S. anytime soon, and that’s a “growing sentiment” he’s hearing from other expats, he says. “Why go back to the U.S. when I have everything here? The quality of life is good, [and] the cost of living is cheaper.”