Expat basics

At the beach, in the city, or in your own hacienda, possibilities are endless. This is what drives people of all ages to live here. To retire, or to escape, or to reinvent themselves. Or even to make money.

We built our home in the Centro Histórico, in the Yucatán state capital city of Mérida. We are city boys at heart, finally living (at least part time) where we can walk to a coffee shop, restaurants, shops and parks.

Mérida has almost a million people, but we are talking about a small part of it, the 3.5-mile area anchored by the Plaza Grande, the main square. The historic center contains about 20,000 properties with historical value, of which between 3,000-4,000 are ruins. Of those, 34 percent were beyond repair when that report was written in 2011.

Mérida’s Centro Histórico is one of the biggest historic districts in Latin America. This is where a growing community of expats are discovering a laid-back, affordable lifestyle filled with high culture, good food and a welcoming community of expats.

The reasons for Mérida’s growing popularity can be attributed to many intangibles which have been artfully detailed in numerous travel magazines and newspapers. The New York Times Travel Section and its Fashion Magazine supplement have also shared differing perspectives on the capital of Yucatán state. A city of quaint, time-honored traditions, or a emerging center of art, culture, and fashion? Maybe a little of both.

We have built a house in Santa Ana, one of the neighborhoods that expats seem to prefer. Putting the finishing touches on the house has been slow-going, and more costly than we ever thought it would be, but still, we consider the city an up-and-comer and a good investment if you can control costs and choose your location well. Our house, with a pool and four en suite bathrooms, cost a lot less than it would have in the United States, and the tax situation is much more favorable. It’s hundreds of dollars, not thousands. When you found in the fideicomiso, we’ll still pay under $1,000 a year, which will be great when we’re eventually no longer earning paychecks and ready to bootstrap a business.

It’s never been easier to be an expat. We couldn’t imagine doing this without the ability to do Internet research, communicate country-to-country cheaply and easily with Skype and email, and without a government like Mexico that is welcoming extranjeros with open arms. We have tools like never before to do our reconnaissance work. Facebook has several groups, including this one, that help English-speakers with everyday problems, like where to find Twizzlers or a good dermatologist, dealing with garbage pick-up, or if that scorpion in the closet is poisonous (it isn’t). Explore our list of expat blogs, which can be very candid about the ups and downs of living here. Google around and you’ll find what we call the “expat industrial complex,” all the real estate agents, property management companies, and tour operators all standing by to ease your path. Google around even more and you’ll find some inside tracks to make your move here even more economical.

We got the bug, as many have, from watching the popular HGTV program House Hunters Internationala cook’s tour of the world. We have never learned so much about other cultures than we have from that 30-minute “reality show,” which isn’t always so real. The personal story lines are often fudged. We’re not too bothered about the fact that the houses HHI show aren’t necessarily for sale, or that the couples depicted may not have even actually bought the house they’re shown buying. In reality, the couples have already bought a home before production even begins. But the show features cities we’ve never even heard of before, we are ashamed to admit: Ostuni, Italy; Villa Carlos Paz, Argentina; and Mérida, Mexico are some cities introduced to me via HHI, not my geography class.

It’s that last city that got us. After two separate episodes, it slowly dawned on us that this was a place to seriously consider. (Even more episodes followed.)  The economics, climate, close proximity, and culture all come together there in a way that’s hard to beat elsewhere.

It’s not a beach resort, but it’s close enough to the water by bus or car. It has tourists, without being overly touristy. It’s a big city, but on a human scale. It has the cathedrals, plazas, and mansions of a European city, but it has its own distinct flavor — something apart even from the rest of Mexico. And its geography places it far from the turmoil of the northern states. Mérida, Yucatán, is eminently livable, even on a modest budget.

Since the 1994 NAFTA agreement (yes, Mexico is part of North America), our borders have opened up. Ross Perot’s warnings about a “giant sucking sound” proved true … it’s the sound of expats and snowbirds traveling south.

Here’s a list of some resources to help you learn more about the region.

© Imagine Mérida. If excerpting this article, please credit and link back to Imagine Mérida.