How they found their ‘perfect location’ and managed it

In 2006, after living paycheck to paycheck in California, I decided to move to Mexico. I was 50 and a previous vacation in the beautiful coastal town of Mazatlán had convinced me that an easier, happier and more affordable lifestyle was possible.

And I was right. Now that I’m 66 and having spent the past 15 years in Mazatlán, I regularly get questions from people who want to make the jump too.

There is no one way to make your expat dream come true. With about 1.5 million Americans living in Mexico, everyone does it differently.

I have met so many wonderful people and made friends who have moved to Mexico. Here’s how they’ve tackled the most common challenges of moving and created new chapters abroad:

Challenge #1: Making it happen

Tip: Brace yourself and do the research.

Moving can be a terrible process. It is complicated, time consuming and often expensive.

Some people feel comfortable making spontaneous decisions, such as my retired friend Glen Rogers, who bought a house twenty years ago on her first trip to Mexico. But most of us will look for answers before taking the plunge.

Tranquil courtyards, patios, and balconies beckon from beautiful colonial-era homes and haciendas in Mexico’s San Miguel de Allende, offering a respite from the bustle of the city.

Photo: Janet Blaser

My advice? Do your due diligence. Get in touch with experts, as well as people who have done it and have lived abroad for years. You might even consider hiring a moving service that will walk you through from start to finish.

Pick a few primary sources of information so you don’t get baffled by everything out there. Ask any question, even if it seems silly or unimportant. And if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. (A good example is the myth that there is “free health care” in Mexico.)

The Pueblo Magico (“Magic City”) of San Miguel de Allende is full of charming streets, picturesque buildings and a vibrant artist community.

Photo: Janet Blaser

I’ve found these three websites consistently provide helpful and up-to-date information:

  1. Sonia Diaz Mexico: Provides personal and virtual services and information about visas, taxes, vehicles, health insurance, moving, pets and more.
  2. Dream Retirement in Mexico: Host Risa Morimoto explores everything expats need to know about moving to Mexico in cutting-edge, well-researched videos, podcasts, webinars, and courses.
  3. Dear Mexico Movers: Chuck Bolotin and his wife are long-time expats themselves and have many years of experience helping people move from the US and Canada to new homes throughout Mexico.

Glen Rogers lives on $620 a month in San Miguel de Allende, where she bought a house in 2002 for $160,000.

Photo: Irene Barajas for CNBC Make It

Challenge #2: Finding the Perfect Location

Tip: Make it clear what you want and value in life.

Mexico is a large country with many lifestyle options. Beach or mountains? House or apartment? Cosmopolitan city or casual in a small town? These are just some of the decisions you will need to make when moving here.

Jan Davis discovered that living in an expat community was a priority. “It’s important to me because of the tendency to attract unusual people. San Miguel de Allende attracts a lot of mild eccentrics – like me,” she tells me.

A bumpy dirt road led Holly Hunter and Dan Gair to Mayto Beach.

Photo: Holly Hunter

Holly Hunter and Dan Gair moved from Maine to Mexico. They spent a month exploring several cities within a two-hour distance limit from the airport, looking for a home in their price range that answered the question, “What would you do with your life if you had all the money you had? would ever need?”

A bumpy dirt road led them to Mayto Beach, which would become their next home and also where they would start Rancho Sol y Mar, a sustainability education center and resort.

Kerry Watson retired at age 40 after traveling back and forth to different places in Mexico for more than a decade. When the time came, she asked friends who loved Mexico where to go. The “overwhelming answer,” she recalls, was Chapala, Jalisco.

Chapala Lake in Jalisco, Mexico

Arturo Pena Romano Medina | Getty

“I still remember the first time I reached the mountain pass that towered over Lake Chapala,” she says. “I cried because it was so beautiful. I immediately felt connected to the city. It felt like coming home.”

Challenge #3: Navigating New Cultures and Customs

Tip: Go slow and be easy on yourself.

A slower pace of life is part of it; Learning patience is a necessity.

Even if you really want to move to Mexico, it’s probably still a big step outside your comfort zone. Those who have done it, myself included, say that no matter how much you prepare, there will still be surprises, even years later.

Holly Hunter and Dan Gair

Photo: Holly Hunter

You learn to expect to make mistakes, and the only way to learn and move forward is just that: learn and move forward – with humility and a good sense of humor.

“I keep on adapting and sometimes I’m amazed at things,” says Linda Laino, who has lived in San Miguel de Allende for 10 years. “Be prepared that nothing will come your way.”

“I try never to forget that I am a guest in this beautiful country and to have respect for the customs and way of life, no matter how uncomfortable they are sometimes,” she adds.

As they prepared to move to Mexico, Cat Calhoun and her partner realized that “fear was not a sustainable fuel source” for the daily tasks they had to perform.

Shopping for fresh produce at the local market is a fun and inexpensive way to stock your pantry. Practice Spanish and get to know the local community!

Photo: Dianne Hofner-Saphiere

“We deliberately shifted our focus from ‘running away’ to ‘going in the direction,’” she tells me. “We got excited about learning Spanish, immersing yourself in a new culture, living less and more time enjoying each other’s company, making art and traveling.”

Janet Blaser is a writer living in Mazatlán, Mexico since 2006. A former journalist in California, her work now focuses on the lives of expats. Janet’s first book, “Why We Left: An Anthology of American Female Expats” is an Amazon bestseller. follow her Instagram and facebook

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