Questions and Answers about Mexico
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Question and Answer Forum:
Moving to and living in Mexico

 

Guadalajara cathedral and Mexican flagA number of people have contacted us through this website, Facebook, CouchSurfing and other forums to ask questions about moving to and living in Mexico.  So we've decided to create a Q & A forum so other people can benefit from the advice we give.  Also we can refer future similar questions to this webpage!

If you're thinking about moving to Mexico, we hope this forum helps.  If you have a question that isn't covered here, please email us!

Driving in Mexico

Q:   I would need to bring my car down to Mexico, and I don't relish the idea of being stopped by corrupt policemen, perhaps for no reason. Am I being overly concerned?

A:  When driving in Mexico, here are some recommendations:

  1. Never drive at night outside urban areas.
  2. Make sure your car has the appropriate sticker and papers when you cross the border, or that you get the stickers and papers just after you cross the border into Mexico.
  3. If a cop stops you unfairly, ask for the policeman's number, insist on going to the police station to discuss it, show your ID (passport, drivers licence) but don't give it to them - give them a photocopy instead.  Take a photo of the policeman.
  4. If you're stopped fairly (and remember some of the road rules ARE different in Mexico), many people just pay the policeman the fine directly to avoid the time and expense and bureaucracy - as we did once when our car was being towed!  But they are starting to encourage people to pay at the police station or other convenient locations by making it easier and lowering the fine - e.g. pay there within 5 days and get 50% off.  This is designed to limit corruption, and it may be worthwhile supporting the initiative.

Safety

Q:  Safety is probably my most important concern, as I don't want to feel like I can't be out and about.  My understanding is that the kidnappings and killings are mainly near the border, but what is your take on the area?

A:  On the whole, we feel safer in Mexico because there's less general delinquency.  But because you can't rely on the Police to resolve crimes, guard dogs, window bars, fences, security guards and barbed wire are common here.  You can reduce your risk of crime if you:

  1. Don't spend time in the border cities.
  2. Don't live in Mexico City.
  3. Have no involvement with the "narcos" (drug gangs) or the security forces that fight them.
  4. Take the same basic security precautions you would in the United States or your home country, both at home and on the street.

Teaching English as a Second Language

Q:  I'm interested in taking classes to learn to teach English as a second language, and also German.  How easy is it to do, and is teaching a viable option in Mexico?

A:  Teaching does not pay much here - $US 5 to $US 10 per hour.  Living on a teacher's salary here gives you a lower quality of life than teaching in the United States or Canada.  If you have another source of income, either external to Mexico or from a family member, then you should live well and have fun teaching.  But as Andrew's very first boss here said, "You won't get rich teaching English.  If you want to be rich, join the narcos."
 
Teaching can be fun if you teach people who are keen to learn - as many see English as essential to getting ahead in the job market.  But avoid any schools where English is a compulsory subject - many kids don't care, and cheating and lax behavior is rife.
 
There'll be a smaller demand for German teachers, but there are also fewer fluent German teachers, and being able to teach two languages is definitely a bonus.  In general, you can earn more as a teacher of a non-English second language, particularly teaching the language of a country that Mexico trades with, e.g. Mandarin Chinese, German.

Q:  Could you give me some insight on the teaching situation in Guadalajara? Do you think I would be able to find a job, and if so do you think it would provide training?

A:  There are plenty of jobs for teachers of English as a second language here in Guadalajara.  This is partly because Guadalajara is a large city with many businesses focused on the US market, as well as people wanting to travel to English speaking countries, but also because many teachers move on to bigger and better things, if they can, because the pay for teaching English is so bad.  The best thing to do is to come to Guadalajara, and then apply to a number of teaching jobs nearby.  Traffic can be terrible, and transportation difficult if you don't have a car, so choose a job near to where you live, or conversely live near your work!

A few employers do give on-site training.  The language school Andrew teaches at twice a week (Mundo Bilingue) is always on the look-out for new teachers, and offers excellent training so teachers meet their high standard. 

Cost of Living

Q:  We've heard that Mexico is cheaper to live than the U.S.  Which things are cheaper and more expensive? 

A:  If you have US dollars as income, then you'll find some things, notably food and anything to do with human labor e.g. builders, plumbers, car mechanics, doctors, dentists - much cheaper.  Electronics and imported manufactured goods from China are more expensive than the US.  Rent is generally cheaper, and power (electricity, gasoline, gas etc.) is about the same, depending of course on where you come from.  Check out http://www.mexperience.com/guide/essentials/priceindex.htm for detailed costs.  (Note: Mexperience requires registration before viewing.)

Cultural Adaptation

Q:  Can I survive with just Engish in Mexico?

A:  Some people do survive here speaking only English, especially in "gringo" enclaves, but in general this is not a bilingual country.  You should learn some basic Spanish before you come.  It will be very helpful.  Some people who know some English will speak it if they see you're struggling,  but you can't rely on that.  And the sooner you can become reasonably fluent in the language, the more you'll enjoy life here.

Visas

Q:  A travel visa is only valid for 6 months maximum and my boyfriend's looking at a 2 year assignment.  I was under the impression that in order to get an FM3 visa, I would need to be sponsored by an employer.  You were both able to get one without that, though, correct?  How did that work?  That's not an issue?

A:  Many US citizens survive years here on travel visas.  They just drive up to the US border every 6 months, do some shopping, and come back through the border again.  The Mexicans don't mind - as they think you're spending US/Canadian dollars in their country, which they welcome.  What you can't do on a travel visa of course is work.  And if you're wanting to occupy your time and earn some spending money, go for the FM3/FM2 visa. 
 
Being sponsored by an employer is the easiest way to get a work visa.  However you can get one without an employer's sponsorship if you are starting your own business (and paying Mexican taxes), and you have skills that are needed in Mexico.  I.e.  you can't have a business and work independently in Mexico that will take jobs away from Mexicans, e.g. builder, health worker.  Dave got his visa this way.  Thankfully, native English teachers are seen as useful to Mexico, so Migracion gave Andrew an FM3 because he had the necessary qualifications - i.e. an apostilled university degree, and a SEP (Secretaria Educacion Publica) certificate in TEFL or in English.  They may let foreigners have an FM3 without that, but it might be tougher depending on the migration office.  Apparently there is substantial variation in standards around the country.
 
Dave got his FM3 in "repair of electronic appliances".  We were suprised, as that's a job a lot of Mexicans do.  But he got it fine, so great.  Dave, as an independent business owner, had to prove he had enough money coming through to support him (about $1000 US per month, though the amount creeps up every now and again).  Andrew didn't have to supply this information as his employer gave a letter that said it would pay him enough to live here ok. 
 
We imagine getting a Mexican FM3 in the United States through an embassy is even more of a nightmare than in Mexico.  We've read a few accounts of people who tried it, and we wouldn't recommend it.  Best advice - come in with a tourist visa, find a job, then get the FM3 here with the school's endorsement.

Q:  Can I retire here in Mexico and live off my foreign income and pension?

A:  Yes - that is what most Americans and Canadians do here.  Mexico has a special category for retirees in their FM3 and FM2 visas.  You only need to prove that you have $1500 USD equivalent regularly entering your bank account for the last three months, plus a few other minor things, and you can be issued an FM3 or FM2.

Q:  What is the difference between the FM3 and FM2?

A:  In brief, an FM3 is designed for temporary migrants who will be in Mexico for a number of years, but who won't establish themselves here permanently.  An FM2 is designed for people who want to permanently migrate here.  Once the FM2 is issued, a 5 year waiting period starts ticking.  At the end of the FM2 5 year period, you can apply for residency.

Q:  I heard that you need an FM3 visa to be able to move furniture into the country.  Is there a way around that?

A:  You're right that to move a ton of furniture in, you need an FM3 visa.  Mexico does not want US citizens smuggling in used furniture and goods to sell second hand in Mexico - and believe me many people do try this.  So with only a tourist visa, they assume you're going to hike off the furniture within the 6 months.  We avoided this as we came down in a motorhome with all our furniture and goods inside.  If your furniture isn't that valuable or sentimental, you can pick up a lot of second hand stuff here relatively cheap.

Also, some rental accommodation here come fully furnished for not much more money per month.  A better way could be to move down, get the FM3, and then take a trip north and move everything down in a trailer.  Or get a certified moving company to do it for you.

Health

Q:  Health insurance is a concern, as U.S. insurance doesn't work in Mexico.  What have you guys done?

A:  Health insurance here through IMSS (you can get it if you have an FM3 or FM2) is dirt cheap compared to the US, at about $110 US per year.  The IMSS hospitals are good quality but low service, i.e. if you have an emergency operation, you'll need a relative to be there to bring you food, maybe even pillows and blankets!  Also the bureaucracy for non-emergency treatment can be annoying as well - proof of residency, standing in lines, paperwork etc.  So many Mexicans, if they have the means, have IMSS insurance for emergencies, prescriptions and a few other services, and rely on private medical care for the rest.  Operations here in the private sector as a rule are about half the cost of the US (depending on the area, again) - dental work is even cheaper.  And the service and skill is top quality.

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Do you have a question about moving to Mexico we haven't covered here?  Check out http://www.mexconnect.com/living and http://www.mexperience.com/lifestyle/.  Both websites have a wealth of information about moving to and living in Mexico, and they've helped us a lot.  If you have questions about our personal experience, please email them through and we'll add them to the list!

 

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