Friday, July 12, 2024

Will Mexico’s influx of foreigners wear out expats’ welcome?

No matter where you live in the world, you’re always faced with the task of picking your specific combination of poison and pleasure.

Do you go for (at least the perception of) unlimited opportunities with the thrill of nary a safety net? The United States is your place.

A life where everything simply works the way it’s supposed to, but where you might feel you’re lacking excitement? Perhaps a small western European country will do.

Color and life all around, but combined with big crowds and extreme poverty? There are some cities in India with your name on them.

Many people, of course, have decided that Mexico is the place for them, and many more are increasingly deciding to stay. The reasons are varied, but one thing is for certain: there’s a lot to love about Mexico, and plenty decide that the pleasures it has to offer far outweigh the poisons.

Mexico’s popularity has really soared since the days when I first arrived in 2002. Most people’s response at the time when I told them that I was going to Mexico to study was “why?” The more polite people would say “Do you think you’ll be safe there?” The ones who couldn’t get enough of their own hilarity would say, “Don’t drink the water!”

Now when people learn I live in Mexico, they mostly think it’s cool. Mexico has become an “it” place (extremely well-deserved, in my opinion), and it seems that more and more people are discovering what I’ve always thought made it special: the friendly, gregarious culture, the delicious food, the breathtaking sites, the relaxed way of life.

And now that the tourism industry, which represents a sizable chunk of the country’s GDP, is finally recuperating after a long pandemic, I imagine that quite a lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief.


The short answer here is, “it’s complicated” – especially when it comes to visitors from the U.S., Mexico’s most enduring love-hate, on-again/off-again relationship.

A relaxed attitude about testing incoming travelers, for example, was great for the tourism industry in general, but caused COVID cases to surge in high-tourism areas, a dangerous trade-off, if you ask me.

And a Oaxaca community famous for its nudist beach had to make a specific law prohibiting public sexual acts too, so I think outsiders are definitely a mixed bag for Mexicans. These types of stories make me worry about us collectively wearing out our welcome.

Plenty of foreigners, of course, are coming to stay. The primary reason for coming that respondents gave a recent Expats In Mexico magazine survey was the lower cost of living here, which is understandable given the extent to which prices are going up all over the world.

In Mexico, those price increases are still fairly tolerable — at least, they are if you’re getting paid even poverty wages in U.S. dollars — and plenty of people have realized that they can live much better here than in their home countries on the same amount of money.

I often reflect on this fact and wonder to what extent foreign arrivals with intentions to stick around are resented. I mean, surely it’s not lost on anyone that it’s possible for those of us from countries with higher wages to work remotely and live like kings (well, sort of) while our Mexican counterparts with similar skillsets are bound to make merely average wages.

With only about 2% of salary earners bringing in above 26,000 pesos a month here, the 40,000-peso-a-month (about $2,000 USD) average income of most who responded to the Expats in Mexico survey is quite a lot to allow most people to live comfortably; especially if they’ve got proceeds from home sales in their own country in hand.

That said, it isn’t the same to live in a foreign country as one’s own. While you might have enough money to get what you need, what you often don’t have is the family and social support that most locals count on when times get tough. Still, enough money usually gets you what you need wherever you are in the world.

And most digital nomads coming to Mexico for extended stays know exactly what they want. The market is responding to those desires, with certain tourist areas offering an ever-increasing number of rentals through Airbnb. This is great for digital nomads, but not so great for average Mexicans discovering that finding an affordable, available place to live isn’t as easy as it used to be.

My question is always the same: is there a way to integrate well here without gentrifying up the whole place and negatively affecting those who were here first?

Will there be a tipping point at which it becomes clear that we’ve worn out our welcome?

For now, most foreigners I know in my area are modest and well-meaning, and I want to be clear that I’m not blaming people for coming. There are simply forces much greater than our individual wills.

Can our awareness of those forces help lessen the blow of the negative effects, and amplify the positive ones?

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, and her Patreon page.

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