Bodie Kellogg
Choosing the right accommodation can save a lot of money. Choosing the right accommodation can save a lot of money.

Hidden dangers for Mexico expats: there are financial and psychological costs to consider

On the financial side there are some bargains — food, shelter and tequila, for example — but there are budget busters too

Prior to choosing Mexico as a relocation destination, all future expats ponder the big question: “What will be our cost of living?”

The implications contained in the term cost of living cover a broad spectrum of our personal reality, where the financial aspect is the most conspicuous component. So what does it really cost to live in Mexico? Just what are the monetary advantages, and are they all true advantages? Are there hidden costs?  If so, why and where are they hiding?

Some wonder, will my meager retirement income be adequate to live with some level of comfort?  Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! What shall I do?

How about the personal costs? What is the impact of this culture on your psyche? Will it rankle the deep-rooted and closely held sensibilities implanted by your native culture? How do people deal with the merciless culture shock which lurks around every corner? Is there some type of therapy available to defray the nagging angst of making a huge mistake? Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! What shall I do?

Or, could it be possible that life in Mexico is the most brilliantly awesome thing since sliced bread? How easy could it be to meld into a culture where the concept of tomorrow falls somewhere between nebulous and nonexistent?

I will start with the fiscal aspect of what it costs to live full time in Mexico. Over the years I have heard the all too common expat refrain: things would cost twice as much back in Duluth, or Edmonton, or whatever frozen wasteland they have left behind. But is that actually a well thought out assessment, or an apples and avocados type comparison?

For example, financially speaking, living on a tropical beach in Somalia would be a real bargain, but what about that quality of life thing?

So let’s first take a look at the peso side of life in this strange and colorful land. The obvious lifestyle bargains in Mexico are, quite conveniently, also life’s basic needs: food, housing, medical, dental, property taxes and tequila. However, there are less obvious expenditures which can be the real budget busters.

These cleverly camouflaged costs for a life in Mexico are numerous and can be outright deceptive. For example, people who live in condos, throughout Mexico, are charged monthly maintenance fees which seem reasonable at the time of purchase. However, many condo developers view the monthly charge as a long-range cash cow and these fees can rise over time well beyond reasonable “cost of living” adjustments.

And, if you live in a condo where not all the residents pay their share of the maintenance costs, upkeep could get expensive. I know of one place where friends footed the bill to have the outside of their four-story building painted because the other owners refused to pay the maintenance fees.

For those who rent, unexpected costs could plague your idyllic life in paradise. Numerous Mexican landlords consider expat tenants as the perfect way to improve their property. It is quite common for the general maintenance of the property to be the tenant’s responsibility i.e. water heater, stove, fridge, plaster repair, roof repair, paint, door hardware, plumbing fixtures, electrical breakers, air conditioners, propane tanks and whatever else may break or fail.

And to top off this arrangement, it is not uncommon for landlords to actually raise the rent after the tenant has spent substantial money to improve the property. After all it’s a better property now so it’s worth more, right?

Even the simple act of shopping for food and other necessities can be a maze of conflicting prices and disappointing choices. Knowing where to shop is a journey of discovery for the adventurous but savvy expat. And, unlike north of the border, prices of consumer goods in Mexico can fluctuate greatly, especially for people who are obviously recently arrived foreigners.

Despite the fact that Mexican consumer law forbids the sale of goods without clearly marked prices, there is a lot of cheating. The lack of a price label is the perfect way for shopkeepers to bump the price for well-dressed Mexicans or to impose a “gringo tax” on the unsuspecting expat.

Construction or renovation costs, auto maintenance and repairs of miscellaneous household items can either be a bargain or a serious rip-off, totally dependent upon how you make your choices. And the best way to determine whose service is fairly priced, or where to shop, is through recommendations from the expats who have boots on the ground in your chosen area of residence.

Mexican friends can also be very helpful when trying to locate fairly priced goods and services. However, a word of caution: all Mexicans have either a relative or neighbor who they will assure you is a very capable and reliable plumber, electrician, handyman, gardener, brain surgeon, notario, etc. But what about the genuine newbies, without friends or acquaintances to guide them through the sticky wicket of potentialities?

In our digital world of the 21st century, there is invariably an internet forum or a Facebook page that will cover the area of your interest. There you will find expats who have endured the gauntlet of bad plumbers and lousy dentists, and are more than willing to share their experiences. Even in such venues, a word of advice: don’t ask for referrals; again, get details of direct experiences.

Your life in Mexico is completely dependent upon how you create it and how you wish to live it out. For those people who have tight budgetary constraints, life in Mexico is the perfect opportunity to perfect a totally Zen state of being.

A two-room hovel in a small village at the end of a dirt road could easily be rented for a few hundred pesos per month. The purification diet (required to attain nirvana) of your new Zen lifestyle can be carefully gleaned from the sparse shelves of any rudimentary mercado or local tienda. Again, your meager sustenance would cost very little on a monthly basis.

Since the Zen discipline frowns on personal luxuries, material possessions, alcohol and other ego-driven accessories, this further reduces your monthly outlay. If this type of lifestyle appeals to you, life in Mexico could be had for about US $100 US per month.

Conversely, I know people who boastfully declare their grand life in Mexico costs them no more than $100 per day. Actually, this is not far off the mark for a comfortable life in many areas of Mexico — and it requires no meditation. Your true financial outlay for life as an expat is normally less than your pervious home country, but it can be much more than you anticipated prior to making the expat leap. So just suck it up Bucko, that’s the financial reality of living full time in Mexico.

But wait, there’s more! Now we get to examine the psychological cost of living in Mexico when compared to life in your native country. I know in my native country I was making a living, but my attempt at making a life was impaired by the fast-paced insanity of adequate survival. As I ran the perpetual wheel of the first-world ratrace I began to feel a numbing futility with each tedious stride.

I realized I was spending my present moments as a down payment in the hope of higher quality moments somewhere in my anxiously anticipated, but murky future. My fiscal cost of living was just fine, but my state of mind was dark; hovering somewhere just above Neanderthal. Being swept up in the tumultuous flow of modern life had blinded me to my self-induced plight. Fifteen years ago I couldn’t even spell Mazatlán, let alone envision the potential for a lifestyle so sublime.

My transcendental moment came one snowy evening as I was trudging through an ally, in a small town at the north end of Idaho. I caught a reminiscent fragrance wafting through the downy texture of the falling snow. As I peered through the drifting flakes I spotted an exhaust fan that was disseminating the haunting aroma of serious tacos; the lingering redolence of smoldering mesquite in a symbiotic dance with carne asada; I abruptly snapped. What happened next is a bit sketchy, because I found myself in the throes of a vividly realistic flashback.

When I finally regained what was left of my senses, I was ensconced in a nicely padded room with no windows. Later I read a report of my actions in the local paper. It alleged that once inside the restaurant, I stripped down to boxer shorts and began screaming Spanish expletives at the falling snow, while smearing my almost naked body with salsa picante.

Directly after this episode, I realized my psychological cost of living north of the border was massively insurmountable. I then knew that trying to buy a better life as I had been doing was futile. It was time to create a lifestyle that would become entirely holistic as well as culturally integrated.

Of course, my therapist recommended this new lifestyle was to be totally devoid of any form of cold weather, especially snow.

The writer describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. He can be reached at buscardero@yahoo.com.

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