January 20, 2019
Moving to Mexico: USAdios.com
Chapter 29: How Did You Do This? Can We Do This?
After my last article, lamenting the hopelessly divided state of the USA, I have decided to take a totally different direction for the next several articles. Since this is our Go Year, I will focus on trying to provide some useful information on several popular topics that seem to come up repeatedly.
Many readers have asked similar questions and most of them seem to revolve around the livability (and affordability) of our new chosen home. I am not a real estate agent and I have no properties for sale. But I do have a few contacts and may be able to assist someone who is thinking of making a move similar to ours. I have already done this a few times. Having gone through the process of renting a few homes in the Mayan Riviera, remodeling an office building and working with a contractor to build our current home, I have taken a lot of the licks, so you don’t have to repeat some of the mistakes we made.
The next few articles will be less poetry and more nuts and bolts of how to get it done. But there will be more poetry. I received a lot of kind feedback on my last article…thank you for that.
When I talk to people about our move to Mexico, there is almost a scripted conversation that sounds a little like this:
Me: Yeah, so we’re moving to Mexico in June of 2019.
Them: How did you do manage to arrange that?
Me: Well, we built a home there where we plan to retire after our son goes to college. We’re selling out home in California.
Them: Wow, I’m envious. I could never afford to do that.
Me: How do you know. Have you checked the costs?
Them: No…I haven’t.
Me: Do you realize how expensive it is to live here as compared to there?
Them: Of course. It’s killing me here! But if you leave, you’ll never be able to come back.
Me: California. It’s just not what it used to be, and the cost keeps getting higher. And I can ALWAYS come back. I just won’t be investing in real estate here. But, I’m hardly alone there. So few people can actually afford to buy anything nice around here these days.
Them: Leave California. I wonder if we could do something like that.
Me: You could.
The path is there.
You don’t need to be led.
But you do need to take the first step.
I have had that same conversation with so many people. So many dreamers not willing to wake up and put the dream into action.
Over the last twenty-five years, traveling through the Caribbean, I have met hundreds of people who dream of living where they long to vacation. I just can’t live like that anymore. I want to live the dream. I want to live with my wife in a postcard. (Remember those?) If it’s possible, I want to go. I don’t want to just talk about it and dream about it, push it off. Life is too short.
The sad thing is that for just a moment, I see a glint in their eyes as they imagine themselves escaping and living a life they have only dreamt about. They imagine different business schemes…
“I’ll just rent Jet-Skis on the beach!” They say, imagining themselves barefoot, tan and carefree. But I know they never will. It takes a certain will, real boldness, to actually pull the trigger on a move like this. So few will do it.
And then it’s just like when you’re at a party and your drunk friend says, “Yeah! We need to get together more often!” After they sober up, that fun plan is put on the back burner right behind the job, the mortgage, the bills, the kids…all of the handcuffs we all place upon ourselves that disallow us from realizing who we really are, or at least who we really want to be.
The interested party had a 30-second dream of life in Mexico, and then that dream was erased by their reality. The glint fades.
Them: Oh…we could never do that!
Wait for the justification….wait for it…….THERE IT IS.
Them: We would miss our friends and family.
Me: How often do you really see them? Do you think they will just disappear if you live a five-hour plane ride away?
Them: Well, everyone is so busy.
Me: And that is the problem. We are all so busy that we have no time for each other, much less ourselves. We are alive, but we are not living.
In a previous article, I commented on the “busy” lifestyle here in California and how it is actually revered to be busy, shunned to be inactive, idle or “free”.
“Man! I have been SO BUSY lately…
I barely have time to do anything!”
-Actually said by a someone I know.
I tried to break out of this California nightmare back in 2006 when we moved to The Bahamas. And it worked for a few years. Now I believe I have a better plan for our new departure here in 2019…jeez, 13 years later? I suppose it was worth it. But, man…the clock seems to have been ticking a lot while I was working so hard. Like it was moving faster. Is that possible?
I look at the clock on the wall and the little second-hand chugs in a circle. That ruthless little sliver of metal brushes past the twelve and another minute is gone. Another hour, a day, a week. That clock cannot be pushed backwards. We are ever moving towards the end of this one-lap race called life. I keep remembering hearing that life is not a dress rehearsal. It’s not a warm-up.
From the moment you are born, it’s a race. Children are raised, educated and tested. The smarter ones get into the better colleges, the better jobs, the bigger homes, the more attractive spouses, etc. It is a race and there are winners and losers. We are the rats and some rats are just plain stronger, faster and smarter than the other rats in this race. There are no “participation trophies” in real life, my Millennial friends. You are probably figuring that our right now.
A big paycheck does not mean happiness. Popularity does not bring security. Possessions do not equal freedom. In fact, the more possessions you are in charge of, the less free you really are; because you don’t own them, they own you. You spent your life acquiring them, now you get to insure them and maintain them, house them, lock them up. They OWN you. Most celebrities are incredibly insecure and country clubs are full of drunks, philanderers and crooks. So, why the huge race to get MORE? Why are we all in this race?
Our son loved growing up here in Walnut Creek and he got what I never had: a stable home in the same house with the same parents, same friends. I wanted better for him, so I enlisted in the Rat Race and was a good little rodent. I worked very hard, harder than most rats were willing, and the race rewarded me a little. It also damaged me, took my life and scarred me. I am still not sure it was worth it but at least I am able to pass something on to my son, a better life.
Running that multi-decade marathon of vermin was a labor-of-love. It was a gift that his mother and I gave our son. Now, we are giving him a college education that will cost a fortune and we are giving ourselves our freedom. No more expensive cars, no more ridiculous Las Vegas shopping sprees, no more Italian designer jewelry, no more first-class airfare and no more lavish vow renewal ceremonies in The Bahamas every five years. We need to be safer with our money now, but we are out of here. Again. We are gifting ourselves a simpler life, more time to live and truly be free.
Paradise Island, Bahamas.
The day before our 5th Wedding Anniversary.
What made me run so hard in the race of rats? I think I have mentioned in earlier articles that I grew up poor. Not third world-poor, but one-pair-of-jeans poor. Wearing-rain-boots-every-day-in-Spring-to-school poor. Mustard-sandwich poor. 13-schools-by-the-time-I graduated-high-school poor. Move-when-the-rent-was-due poor. I guess I was California poor. By the time I was ten years old, I knew we were broke, and I hated it. I did not want the same financial worries and limitations my family had. I planned a way out and it required a lot of hard work.
I was an OK student, but school was very difficult for me socially. I had a very hard time always being the new kid. It wore on me as local asshole kids tattooed certain opinions of who I was on my psyche. They wore me down mentally, but I did not give up dreaming of a better life. I kept at it.
As I get older, I realize that many of the personality characteristics and habits I have are (gasp!) due to my childhood.
Hats off to you, Herr Freud. You were right about me.
One of my many quirks is finding sheer delight in organization, probably because my early life was such chaos. No mystery there. I have always loved the comfort of systems. Order brings me peace. I excelled in the military where life was ultra-systematic. But when I left the Army and went to college, I often lived alone, which (after living and working with hundreds of young soldiers for a few years) was a shock to my system. Many times, I would find myself at home, alone with the TV or radio and I could not sleep so I would organize my small room. I went through everything I owned and categorized it, organized it, found a place for each thing and made it clean and neat. Somehow, it made me feel busy, comforted and satisfied with the work I completed. The music was a friend and the work settled my mind, so I did not feel so lonely in my new life in the city of San Francisco.
The first time my Betty came to my small place on 48th Avenue, San Francisco right by Ocean Beach, she marveled at what she saw.
“Wow. This is NOT what I expected.” She said. My place was immaculate and orderly. Unfortunately, she is an organizational mess. Opposites attract, and opposites can drive you a little crazy sometimes. Be careful what you long for!
Ocean Beach, San Francisco.
One of six sunny days that year.
The blur of this photo makes this ugly beach a little prettier.
I love living by a spreadsheet, but more than that…I love creating spreadsheets. There is a particular tranquility I feel when I make plans and organize our future on a spreadsheet. Numbers on a page make me feel safe knowing that (barring an unforeseen calamity) my plan will work, and I will be OK because numbers do not lie.
For the next several articles, I am going to focus on the Nuts and Bolts of a departure like ours. I will focus on the costs and details of the following:
- Lodging (rental or purchase) +
Utilities (power, water, garbage, Internet/Cable…do you really need cable anymore?)
- FOOD (one of my favorites)
- Transportation (my favorite)
- Health (yuck…but everyone gets sick)
- Entertainment (OK, my real favorite)
*First question: does someone who calls himself Tom Collins categorize beer under FOOD or ENTERTAINMENT? I suppose that depends on the day of the week, i.e., how many beers! J
Let’s get into it here with the number one cost in most of our lives:
Whether you rent or own, there are advantages. Either way works. It just takes a fair assessment of your lifestyle, plans and budget. Let’s look at RENT first.
RENTING A HOME
These are the main qualifiers I use as a real estate appraiser, so we can consider the same here, but you will really need to either do your own research or enlist me to assist. BTW: my services are free.
If you really are interested in seeing what it is like to live in Tulum, I offer a 10% discount for any of my readers who want to use my home. (Just use the discount code of TOM COLLINS when booking.) My home has two available units now (soon to be three) and may be seen on the “Products and Services” tab on USAdios.com. *Below are the AirBnb links to each unit:
It’s a great way to “try before you buy”. We did this ourselves and will continue to cautiously test the waters our first year in Mexico. As mentioned, we will be renting a home in the USA near where our son will attend university. It’s a two-pronged plan:
- keep your belongings
- have a bail-out contingency
Just in case we just hate living in Mexico, we can simply leave. It’s a possibility I do not foresee, but I am cautiously optimistic, and I always have a back-up plan.
My property managers can arrange your travel from the airport, assist with groceries, tours, car rentals, etc. I highly recommend their service as they continue to impress us with their professionalism, prompt replies and always going the extra mile. I have mentioned them before, but here they are again:
At Home Property Management
52 1 (984) 213 6512 Office
*Ask for Craig or Karla.
Both are fluent in English and Spanish.
And tell them Tom Collins sent you!
I also have contacts who can show you rental properties as well as homes for sale in the entire area. In the future, I may be able to actually list some examples of homes for sale. I’m hesitant to do that unless I am sure they are quality deals for people like us. I do not give referrals easily. More on that soon. I have a lot more research to do before I will recommend anything.
According to the article linked just below, there are three things you need to live:
Connection, Contribution and Vitality
This is less of a Nuts and Bolts approach (and a totally different approach to my focus for this article) but here is the link anyway:
It might be a good read and is certainly uplifting.
Here is what you really need to live in San Francisco:
Home Purchase: Forget About It. San Francisco has some of the highest-priced real estate in the nation with an average home price of $1.61 million. Yaay…a new annual record. L
And what do you get for that? Not much.
Here is a listing for a small home, just 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom totaling 1,529 square feet, for the bargain price of…..$1,975,000 USD. Granted, it is very nice detached residence. It has a small yard, views of downtown and a “peek-a-boo” view of the tippy tops of the GG Bridge…but JEEZ!!! You better be wealthy to afford this home…and the taxes that come with it, about $1,100 USD a month.
The BUBBLE is coming. “Get out while you can” is my advice.
Or…get in and plan to stay a long time.
*There was an elementary school near my home in Santa Cruz called “Salsipuedes”,
which means “leave if you can” in Spanish.
But what do I know? We could have purchased in SF decades ago and decided to get out because of the prices, weather and crime. Whoops. Missed that train, didn’t we? Perhaps it was a financial mistake, but I just could not stand living there any longer. I am glad we left.
So, let’s forget purchasing in SF and focus on RENTING, like most people in this area.
Average rents in SF for an apartment is about $3,300 USD per month. However, it you go to Zillow and look for a 750 square foot apartment, they start at $2,450/month and then climb right to $5,500/month.
*You want something different? I get it. There are detached homes for rent in some neighborhoods of SF, but they are astronomically costly. This just an example to drive home the point that it’s MUCH easier to live in Tulum than in San Francisco, capeesh? J
BTW: Buying in Tulum costs about $160/square foot inside the city, about $140/square foot outside. Obviously, you can spend more or less, but these are averages. *BTW: we built a custom home for about $110/square foot and we live on a resort! It pays to shop around and work with your builder; buying new construction directly from the builder tends to be cheaper as there is at least one less layer of profit removed from the price.
For a 1-bedroom apartment in the town of Tulum, the rent is about $500/month USD, and you can use a 2x multiplier for a rule of thumb for a two-bedroom place and just under a 3x for a three bedroom. *Take 10-20% off those prices for rentals outside town, and again…I know you can find better or worse, but this is from MY research and it’s very general. There will always be deals to be found, unique situations. And Tulum is a “sky is the limit” town, too. If you want to spend a lot of money, there are lots of local real estate agents ready to separate you from your money. The numbers I report here are from my market research. If you have something different to report, please raise your hand and politely send your information. Perhaps we can share it with the class and we will all be smarter.
Just for grins, I did a quick Google search. I found an apartment for rent in nearby Akumal for $7,500 MX pesos/month, or about $400 USD/month. It’s furnished and has a pool, can’t find that in SF. I am NOT crazy about the glass stairs with no handrail; I see that everywhere in Mexico…the “handrail-less” staircase. It looks modern and clean, but it’s incredibly unsafe…especially with wet feet, kids, older folks, sleepwalkers, tipsy guests, etc. But this is the first time I have EVER seen glass stairs. Yikes! Still, an awesome place and incredible value for money. *And again, I’m not renting this place, nor do I know the people who are. This is not a pitch. It’s just an example. If you want to find a place to rent, I am more than willing to assist. I like doing this. It’s what I have done for decades.
This has been just some baby steps in a much larger discussion about real estate in the Mayan Riviera that we will continue with as we move forward. Numbers and details will vary, but there are some pretty universal truths:
- It is still cheaper to live in the Mayan Riviera than most people realize because when they visit, they are in a hotel and do tourist things. Residents and locals do not do those things that often and they know where to shop to save money. For example, I cannot remember the last time I went to Fisherman’s Wharf in SF because I had a craving for a $26.00 crab cocktail served in a paper cup. We’re local. We don’t do that. You do.
- The Mayan Riviera is growing. It’s still on the upswing and many will make fortunes investing locally. You can still make a big mistake with a lot of your money. I have done it several times. Don’t be stupid like younger me. It is unwise to buy without research and local guidance. I wish I knew older me when I was younger. Get help.
- Mexico is far from perfect. There are drugs, crime and violence every day. However, Oakland, CA (just 12 minutes from where I live) has had a homicide every other day since 2019 began, and that is the good news. Back in 2006 (one of the worst years in memory), there was a homicide every 2.46 days, so Oakland is down about 0.33 murders every two days. Like anywhere, you better know where you should and should not be.
- You cannot buy, work or marry into being Mexican. Regardless of how good your Spanish is, how long you live there, who you marry and how many local friends you have, you will never truly be Mexican. You will always be a foreigner, a gringo. Be polite, be friendly and be OK with never truly being Mexican. You can become a “local”, but it will take a lot of time.
- You can be happy in Mexico and still love other places. You don’t have to divorce yourself from the world to live there. Mexico is modern and comfortable. You can still visit your family easily and they will love your new home once you convince them to visit. The people I bring down with me all want to stay. That is saying a lot.
Are there problems in Mexico? You had better believe it. Just like we shook our heads constantly in the Bahamas, Mexico will shock and surprise you with the slow pace and lack of urgency in many things. For example, let’s talk about homeowner’s insurance in Mexico: I have only needed it once and the company I deal with is a joke. There service has been so awful that it borders on criminal negligence.
I’m with a major insurance carrier with an office in Playa Del Carmen. They came highly recommended by local Mexican colleagues and industry professionals, and the service provided by this company is a total JOKE. *If you can recommend a good insurance company, I am all ears.
We had a minor issue at the house on October 15, 2018. The adjuster was there that day and promised a quick solution. Since then, I have been required to fill out ten pounds of paperwork, sign documents, supply information, repeatedly produce identification, back and forth for months. To date, three months later…we STILL have no resolution. The pittance of a compensatory payment I am to receive is tiny, just over $1,000 USD, and they are absolutely choking on delivering this money.
Here are just a few of the issues I have had:
- They will cover my damaged contents, but only 40% of their actual value.
- They will not cover the damage to my structure, even though it’s in the agreement.
- They made me digitally sign documents and then required me to overnight (at my expense) documents to Cancun (the same exact documents) with original signatures.
- They have promised to have this situation resolved many times…and yet, every time they find a new reason to delay things.
Colleagues in the area tell me that this is typical for Mexico. Can this be true?
Lord, I hope not. If you have a good home insurance company you can refer, please tell me. And I don’t care if it’s your company, your friend’s company or a company you get paid to promote. I just need good coverage.
It is plainly clear that lodging in Mexico, even in a touristy area like Tulum, is incredibly affordable. I have been doing a ton of research on this subject for us in case we rent out our entire home and we need a place to stay. And I have also done research for many of my readers who have reached out and asked the same questions:
How Did You Do This?
Can We Do This?
I’ve told you how we’re doing it. But our situation is unique. We’re in our 50’s, we’ve had some luck and a little success, etc. What if your situation is different?
Well, if you’re wealthy, you probably already know what to do. And if you don’t know what to do, you probably wouldn’t ask for help anyway. You can afford to make mistakes. Good for you. The rest of us don’t have it like that.
If you’re like me, CAN’T afford to make mistakes and need some information on lodging in the Mayan Riviera, let me know. I will share all of the information I have with you.
Email me at:
I have also lived, owned property, researched and/or have colleagues in:
Let me know if you have any questions about living there.
Now, I hope this article did not come across as a pitch. I have nothing to sell. Well, perhaps that’s not totally true. I would like it if nice people would rent my place. I have been mentioning that for some time. You see right through me, I’m guilty. I want to rent the two units in my house. But only to nice people. The rest can go elsewhere. Other than that, I’m just here to help so let me know if you have questions.
Next week, I’ll talk about something everyone loves: Food.
Until then…USAdios. Soon, but not soon enough.