Post by Kathy Sterndahl
Lake Chapala is the largest natural lake in Mexico. The north shore is home to a string of villages, most of which have populations under 10,000 people. Many of those people are either from the US or Canada. In fact, including those of us who live in Guadalajara, this is the largest community of Americans outside the United States.
Eight years ago, I chose to retire in this area because I thought I needed some time to relearn the college Spanish I had lost after many years with no practice. Then I would be ready to live anywhere in Mexico. When I made an exploratory visit, though, I found out that very few of the ’gringo’ residents actually speak Spanish. I was way ahead of the game and it has gotten easier since then. In the past couple of years, many bilingual Mexicans have returned from up north and they come to places where their knowledge of English is sure to get them jobs.
Taking the First Step
Over the years, I’ve seen many people who come down to visit, fall in love with the area, and buy property during that first trip. Once they are back home, reality sets in and they never come back. That is definitely NOT the way to do things!
It is best to come down for a visit to see if you even like the place. I’d suggest a minimum of a couple months to be sure. If you decide not to move — hey, you’ve had a nice vacation and it wasn’t even very expensive. If you like what you’ve seen and want more, there are a few ways to do it.
Become a Snowbird
Many of the Americans and more than half of the Canadians come down here only part time. Summer up north and winter in Mexico. It’s easy to rent down here, but plan ahead – rentals can be scarce during that popular winter season.
Depending on your budget, you should be able to find a furnished place for $300US a month all the way up to a luxury home on the hillside for a couple thousand. Even if you know you’re ready to move to Mexico, it’s still a good idea to rent at first until you get a feel for the different villages, which are all very different.
Many people come down with a three- or six-month tourist Visa. They are easy to get and all you have to do is leave the country for a short time to renew and start over. In fact, as a snowbird, you never need anything else.
The longer Visas take a bit more effort, and most people pay a lawyer to handle the process for them. The laws are changing this year and no one knows yet exactly what Congress is likely to approve, but it will probably get easier rather then harder.
Don’t Expect Fantasyland
Many people never adjust to living in Mexico. Many things are just not done here the way they are in the US. Some make more sense than what we are used to and some make no sense at all. But that’s the way it is and you are not going to change things, so learn to accept it or go back home.
Manana does not mean tomorrow. It means “sometime in the future, if things work out.” In other words, it can take a long time to get anything done. Be patient.
Most of the roads are paved with cobblestones. They are bumpy and uneven, Neither you nor your car will like them very much. They are set in place with sand, which means they come out and create potholes and the sand pulverizes into dust. Everything is dirty during the dry months of April and May.
Sidewalks can be like obstacle courses. You must watch where you are walking at all times or you will hurt yourself.
And there are places that are best to avoid. The drug cartels have made some areas kind of scary, but, fortunately, none of them are anywhere near us. Sure, there is crime here, but no more, and probably less, than many cities in the US or Canada.
Some of The Wonderful Parts
On the other hand, it is still possible to find property at a very good price. We have lots of realtors that would love to show you what’s available.
Having so many retired people around means that there are hundreds of fun volunteer opportunities and practically non-stop partying.
The weather here is pretty near to perfect, but we are spoiled. We complain of the 50 degree cold in January and February and the 90 degree heat in late April and May. And those are the worst days!
It used to be difficult to buy some of the items that many of us weren’t ready to give up. There is one store in town that specializes in importing food items from north of the border. The mark-up is pretty steep, but many people are willing to pay the price.
Things have changed a lot, though. We can now drive into Guadalajara to one of two Costco stores or two Sam’s Clubs. Guadalajara has three Walmarts and we got one of our own at the lake a few years ago. A lot of people didn’t like that idea, but they’re sure shopping there now! The Walmart isn’t exactly like a US store, but it’s better than what we had before. Most of us still shop at the local markets, but it’s nice to know the big places are there when you need them.
And, most important, the Mexican people are wonderful, friendly, helpful, and courteous – the best part of living in Mexico!
Kathy Sterndahl is a writer and quilt artist who was living in Portland, Oregon, when she retired ten years ago at the age of 50 and moved, first to Japan and then to Mexico. She now spends her time writing, traveling, drawing, painting, quilting, and deep-sea fishing. You can read more on her blog, On Early Retirement and http://onearlyretirement.blogspot.com/.