I saw something amazing last night at our son's school--an actual Christmas play in an elementary school, complete with angels, 3 wise men, and a sniffling, grinning, Saint Joseph blowing his nose throughout the performance.
My wife and I grew up in an era (the late Seventies, to be exact--God, I feel old saying that!) where Christmas plays and Christmas pageants were commonplace. Now they have all but dissapeared from American schools.
In 2015, the year we finally decided to "pull the plug" and permanently expatriate, our eldest son's school had done away with all holiday celebrations--no Christmas trees, no Menorahs or mentions of Hanukkah, no holiday decorations would be allowed.
Some vague mentions of snowmen and candy canes were permitted, but even that was an anemic attempt not to offend the sensibilities of a few screeching parents that want to ruin the holidays for all the kids, come hell or high water.
So there were no more nativity scenes, no more Christmas plays, no more parades. The kids just went home on "Holiday Leave" and that was it.
Now, we didn't leave California because of this--we mainly left because it was impossible to afford our health care, housing, and still have enough money left over to feed ourselves. LIving on the beach was an impossible dream for us there, so we left. It was primarily an economic decision--BUT, now that we our outside California, it has become apparent how much we were missing (not just in terms of money) but of family, community, and parts of our own upbringing that we thought were lost forever.
And now we are here, in Mexico, surrounded by Christmas lights, Christmas trees, nativity scenes, and, yes, even in this predominatnly Christian country, I've even seen a few proud Menorahs!
And nobody gets offended by seeing a nativity, nobody is getting attacked for saying "Merry Christmas" and everyone is happy and glad. And best of all--the kids love it. The magic of Christmas isn't dead. It's still alive everywhere, and you just have to look to find it.
Do you hate the snow? Want to escape to a beachfront paradise that is cheap, beautiful, as well as close to your loved ones?
And you don't have to leave the comforts of home. Baja has modern amenities, modern homes, a Costco, Wal-marts, supermarkets--anything you need is at your fingertips and at half the price.
We just finished our exploratory trip to Baja and LOVED it! We met so many happy expats there, (most of them from California or Texas).
Baja has something for everyone--and has every type of culture and people. We met die-hard liberals and staunch conservatives; and the one thing they had in common was that they loved living in Baja.
Baja really has something for EVERYONE.
Do you love serious sportsfishing? Los Barilles is a sportsfisherman's paradise. We saw several expats weighing enormous blue marlins.
Do you love the crunchy-granola atmosphere of San Francisco? Well, Todos Santos might be the perfect place for you! Todos Santos has yoga studios, lifelong surfers, and artists and artisans everywhere!
Do you love partying and nightlife? Cabo San Lucas is full of clubs, bars, dancing, and fun. Great for young people with lots and lots of crazy energy.
Do you love golf, beautiful beaches, and want to live a calm life surrounded by beauty and other expats? Then San Jose del Cabo might be the perfect choice for you.
We had so many wonderful experiences and met so many great people down in Baja. And living here is affordable, too.
(Here's some questions that people have asked us repeatedly about Baja and Mexico in general)
1. Our family is seriously considering a move to Baja and are weighing our options. We want a family-friendly location and we plan to rent for at least a year. A 3BR/2BA works and if there's a small office in there, too, that would be a nice bonus. We are hoping to find a nice place for $2,000 or less (preferably a detached home). Do you think this is possible?
Manny's Answer: Absolutely, for that price range you can find a single-family home in a very nice neighborhood. You can also find a nice condo on the beach for that price, although it won't be detached, and you'll have neighbors very close to you, (obviously).
The method we used all over Baja was to rent a nice place for a month using Airbnb, and then we took our time and searched for long-term rentals at a nice, unstressful pace. In some places, we just continued to rent using Airbnb and racked up airline miles on our credit card. By the end of the year, we had enough airline miles for free round trip airfare back to the US for our entire family (we personally use the Amex Delta Card for this, the miles never expire). Gotta think outside the box!
The average rent (currently) for a nice 2-bedroom is about $900-$1,500 in an upscale community if that's what you want. It would be fairly easy to get a larger detached home for 2K. You can easily find studios and smaller apartments for less than $500 a month if you want to rent something small and save money while you decide on a permanent home.
Our advice: stay away from Cabo Bello (a planned community in the Corridor). Cabo Bello has serious water problems and residents there frequently go without water for several days. Research any other properties thoroughly before you sign a lease. In some of those areas, the owners are DESPERATE to sell or rent to anyone that will take a property off their hands. You can also rent a hotel for a week or so, but we like having a full kitchen and a laundry room so we rarely do that. And, no matter what you do, do NOT rent or buy anything for long-term until you see it in person.
2. What should we do with our vehicles? How hard is it to get Baja plates for our American cars?
Manny's Answer: I'll give you my opinion on this. As for cars, we didn't bother trying to legalize our used American cars. We bought a used Excursion down here for a couple thousand bucks. In our opinion, used cars are so cheap that it's not even worth it to transfer an American car and deal with the paperwork and the hassle. We sold our newer Avalanche in the US at Carmax they cut us a check the same day and that was it. We used that money to purchase a used car in Mexico with Mexican plates.
There are English-speaking insurance agents in Cabo who draft special permits for expats who want to bring their American cars down, but we didn't use those services because we discovered it would be approximately the same cost as buying a used car.
There are also regular dealerships like you can find in the US. Nissan, Mazda, Ford, and Toyota all have dealerships in Baja and you can certainly purchase a new car or a used car from a dealer just the way you would purchase one in the US or Canada.
If you want to legalize your American car, be aware that you can only legalize certain years (new American cars cannot be legalized with Mexican plates). This law changes frequently. HOWEVER, you can certainly bring your car down and drive it for approximately 6 months (or 180 days, the length of a tourist visa) while you decide what you want to do. So, you don't have to decide immediately.
You can certainly USE your own American car for a few months while you get settled, that will save you the money on a rental car. But be aware that you might have to drive it back to dump it in the US when the 180 days are over. The problem with having American license plates is that you also become a target for the police. Better to stay under their radar.
That being said, we personally haven't had any issues. Not even theft. Los Cabos is very safe overall.
3. I'm an American and I want to move to Baja and work in the tourist industry there. What is terminology when we go down to stay permanently? Are we obtaining dual citizenship? Or are we just applying for residency?
Manny's Answer: For this scenario, you will be applying to become a legal Mexican RESIDENT. You can't just become a Mexican citizen right off the bat, unless you have a Mexican parent or grandparent. So, you will be applying for the Mexican equivalent of a "green card" in the US.
This will allow you to stay in Mexico indefinitely, work for a Mexican employer, buy property and open a bank account. You won't be able to become a Mexican citizen until you are living in Mexico for at least a few years. Then, you can apply for citizenship and become a dual citizen if you want. You will not be relinquishing your American citizenship unless you want to, and to do that you have to go to a US consulate and formally renounce as well as pay a fee.
4. What should we do about bank accounts?
Manny's Answer: We do not have Mexican bank accounts because of the onerous FATCA reporting requirements, which is a legal requirement for Americans to report foreign bank accounts. Rather than deal with that hassle, we obtained an HSBC bank account. We drove all the way to Oakland CA in order to get it, because HSBC is all over Mexico and since it's a US-based account, we don't have to pay any ATM fees or have any reporting requirements when we withdraw. Santander is another bank in Mexico that also has US branches (several in New York and New Jersey). We also retained our US-based Wells Fargo account and that's how we pay our US bills when we have to.
5. And we want to use our cellphone here as well as internet. What do you recommend?
Manny's Answer: For internet, we always make sure that we rent places that have free wi-fi. Those are easy to find these days, and every hotel has wi-fi. This has not been a problem for us as DSL internet service is now common all over Mexico. However, we also invested in a KeepGO device, which is a mobile 3G hotspot that works all over Mexico as well as other countries. It's metered, so data is expensive, but we use is only when we absolutely need to and it has helped us numerous times when wi-fi was unavailable.
For cellphones, we use Cricket as our cellphone provider. We have a family plan. Two of our family members in America use their phones up there, while we use our two cellphones in Mexico. It's a flat $150 per month for all 4 lines. The phones work in the US as well as Mexico so we always have cellphone service when we come back to the US on business. It works out great and there are no "surprise" fees like there is with AT&T and Verizon. After getting hit with a huge thousand-dollar "foreign roaming" bill with Verizon, we switched to Cricket. No more nasty surprises after that, we always know what our bill will be.
We are not affiliated with any of these companies, we are just letting our readers know what has worked for us. If you find something else that works for you, that's great.
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EXPATRIATING TO BAJA?
Thinking about expatriating to Baja California Sur? Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, or San Jose del Cabo caught your fancy? Then consider the beauty of Baja!
This particular book discusses Baja California Sur (BCS).
We cover the following cities:
This book also includes answers to common questions, a reference section for local schools, and several insightful interviews with local residents a well as a Mexican immigration attorney. Learn candid information to help you on your personal expat journey!
Southwest Airlines now offers direct flights to Cancun and the beautiful Mayan Riviera from Los Angeles! We fly back and forth on business to the US a lot, as well as all over Mexico to do research for our Expat Fever book series.
We can attest that it is almost always easier and cheaper to fly Southwest. We try to use them whenever we can (American Airlines and AeroMexico have both left us stranded in Ciudad Mexico TWICE!, never with Southwest!). The only other airline we use is Delta, because they have never left us stranded anywhere, although they are a bit pricier than Southwest.
Now if we could only get Southwest to offer a direct flight from Las Vegas, we would be in heaven! If you're planning a trip to Cancun, you can also get a $1,500 resort credit if you book through the Southwest Website.
No website or company has paid a fee to be mentioned in this blog. Any suggestions you see are based solely on our own experiences and personal preferences.
Just a middle-class dad and mom with three young kids, looking to escape the rat race. This is our journey!
If you have a question for us, please contact us directly using our email here.