I am wondering if you might be able to answer one question for me or lead me in the right direction. I am planning on moving to Playa del Carmen in the next few months. Is it possible to take with me or have transported, my 2 jetskis that I own on a double trailer? A transporter company told me that I might only be able to take 1 of them to Mexico with me. Also, how does it work to legalize vehicles in Mexico? Is it a similar process to a car?
Manny's Answer: Hi Efren,
The process of legalization for a car in Mexico is rather complicated. Some American cars (especially newer cars that are less than 10 years old) cannot be legalized. Also, by law you must hire the services of an authorized customs agent if you officially want to "import" your cars.
Because of the hassle as well as the costs involved, We didn't take our cars with us when we moved to Mexico. We sold our two American cars and purchased two vehicles in Mexico with existing Mexican plates.
Now, there are attorneys that specialize in this sort of thing, but in our research, we quickly realized that the transport costs, the shipping, and the costs for the attorney to "legalize" our cars would have exceeded the actual value of the vehicles. It was thousands and thousands of dollars. We just didn't bother to take them with us for that reason. Nissan, Ford, and Chevy, etc, all of those car companies exist here, and you can also buy used cars, boats, and jet skis fairly easily. We used Mercado Libre Mexico to find one of our cars (a website similar to Craigslist where you can search by state). The dollar is very strong against the peso right now so we got a screamin' deal on a used minivan that would have easily cost us 10K in the U.S. (it only cost $3,500 down here, based on the currency conversion right now is 20:1!)
If you are going to do this, consider watching the peso closely and converting your dollars when it drops. Our dollars have been stretching very far down here, we now own our house outright as well as two cars that are completely paid for in less than 3 years. This was an impossible dream for us when we were living in CA.
And to give you some more honest advice about shipping cars: having American plates and an American trailer in Quintana Roo is going to make you a target for the police. You might end up getting pulled over very frequently.
You don't have to make this decision right away. We held on to our American cars for about 6 months before we "pulled the trigger" and sold them, but we never actually brought them into Mexico. We just kept the cars at my brother's house in Nevada and eventually sold them when we decided to remain as expats permanently.
I suggest contacting an attorney if you decide that you really want to transfer your cars to Quintana Roo.
Be free! Expatriate!
Hi, I’m a mom with two kids (ages 10,12), I just decided to go la Paz BCS, and spent 5 weeks involving kids in learning activities and water activities, too. I'm looking for a place to rent or live in La Paz, central, but if possible, close to ocean.
I ask desperately if you can recommend us a site, or tips of how to find it. Leaving in a week so no much time to look for places. Search in Airbnb no luck with space available and other sites are way far for my economy.
Thanks for any advice.
I suggest renting through Airbnb and getting a very cheap place for only a few days, then searching the waterfront (El Malecon) by foot. We were there less than 12 months ago and saw tons of signs for cheap rental homes (full homes) that were vacant just a few blocks (just 3-4 blocks from the Malecon it's a lot cheaper to rent than right on the waterfront) from the water. None of these "local rentals" are going to be available online, but you really have to go down there in person and look.
I saw several homes that were for rent for less than a few hundred dollars. The way the exchange rate is right now, you should have no trouble finding something quickly.
I just searched Airbnb and found several small rentals for about $20 per night near the Malecon. Some were small studios with two beds that could easily fit one adult and two children. You can rent for a week or so and then go look for rentals by searching in person. I just did a quick search and as you can see, there are over 100 rentals in La Paz for less than $20 per night (see screenshot).
Now, I'm not affiliated with Airbnb in any way, I just think they are a good way to find an affordable, safe place to rent that's NOT a hotel. We have used them for years for our own travels, and have even been lucky enough to find long-term rentals that way, too. Many times, a landlord will happily accept an existing tenant for a long-term rental that they found through Airbnb. We've done that several times, too.
Many of these are room rentals or studios, but it is an affordable option for you to get down there and start your search. It's very doable, I know because I was just there.
As for fun activities in La Paz, we spent almost all the time at Balandra beach and Playa El Tecolote. We went there pretty much every single day. At night, we would walk the Malecon and let our kids play in the small park there. (There is a small park with a slide and swings and things). That is what we did, but I'm sure there are other activities too.
For news of more fun Baja events, we subscribe to the free newsletter from Baja Insider, a Baja newspaper. I would check their website and also sign up for alerts from them, they always publicise things to do in Baja and all the events.
La Paz has the most beautiful seaside waterfront in all of Baja. I know you and your kids will love it there.
Hi! We are planning a move to Tulum next year. We would like to find a nice home not too far from school as the girls are still young and we don’t feel like travelling. Also we don’t find it easy to get information on long time renting houses ? Would you have sites to recommend or a group especially devoted to that? Thank you so much. Have a great day.
Manny's Answer: Tulum is a great place for families with children. It's also very expat-friendly without being as touristy as Cancun. There are several private schools that cater to Americans and Canadians.
When we arrive in a new area, we typically rent a temporary home using Airbnb with a credit card, so our purchase is secure. We will typically rent for one month or so as we explore the region. You can rent and contact the owners of the homes to see if they will rent long-term. There are many rental options all over the Mayan Riviera. I do not recommend renting sight-unseen, no matter where you are! Don't use Craigslist or any other site where you may have to wire money without actually seeing the property first. Many people rent for a year or so before making a long-term commitment. I suggest renting an inexpensive apartment for a month or two (using Airbnb or a similar site where you can pay with a credit card and protect your purchase). Once you are in Tulum, you can search locally for larger homes or homes closer to specific areas or the beach if that's what you want.
If you want to purchase property, be VERY CAREFUL in Tulum, there are a lot of real estate scams in the area. You will want to use an attorney, a notary, and a licensed real estate agent to cover your legal bases as much as possible.
It's too difficult (in my opinion) to pick a school without being here in person. Most of the schools do not have websites, although most of them have Facebook pages. In Tulum or Playa Del Carmen you can explore on bikes, but if you want to explore the entire region (recommended) you will need a car. We DO NOT recommend Hertz Mexico, which has a reputation for being very shady. We did not have a good experience with them at the Cancun airport, and they allow time share scammers to act like employees within the business premises. Their reviews on Yelp are HORRIBLE!
Good luck on your move, Tulum is a very beautiful place.
Reader Question: I live in California with my wife and young son. 5 years old. I'm so burned out on California it's for this reason I'm trying to persuade my wife to expatriate to Cabo San Lucas.
My wife is concerned about the schools; however, all of the info I've gathered the private schools seem to be terrific. Are you concerned about safety at all?
Secondly how do you create income ? What's a monthly budget in Mexico ? Lastly, are there sports for kids. Basketball Etc?
Manny's Answer: Hi Todd,
Like you, we are also California "escapees", and we love living in Mexico. The month before we moved, the quote we got for our family medical coverage was almost $3,000 per month (to continue with Aetna). So we knew something had to change, and drastically.
There are good schools and plenty of ways to live and make money down here. A lot of Americans buy real estate and just do the Airbnb or sell timeshares, or find some other job that caters to tourists.
We liked San Jose Del Cabo the best, there are lots of expats from Texas there and it's more laid back and friendly. The entire state of Baja California Sur has a lot to offer and I suggest exploring a bit if you have the budget to do so.
You can go down for a week and even rent a cheap condo right on the beach for less that $1,000 if you don't mind a 1-bedroom or a studio. Then you can explore and find out if Cabo is for you.
As for a budget, it's really all over the place. The average Mexican family lives on $400-$500 USD per month, but I doubt that is the lifestyle that you want. But you can easily live a comfortable life on 2K a month in Mexico, and that's why so many retirees flock down here once they become eligible for Social Security.
As for private schools, I can't speak for all of them. But we've had great luck and have found them to be very affordable. Our eldest son is now bilingual after only 2 years, when he was struggling with just learning English at the terrible California school he was attending before.
As for sports, there are many children's sports. Baseball and Soccer are HUGE down here, and there are plenty of other sports that he can enjoy, too. It's been a great move for us.
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?
Reader Question: We're looking to explore Playa Del Carmen this winter for a week. Been going to Key West for the past 10 years and as we reach retirement age, we have come to the conclusion the we can't afford Key West. Wanting to see if we like Playa and hopefully start to look for a home to spend December through May.
Any advice on where we should stay to start our search would be greatly appreciated and we are SOOOO excited to take this adventure. We would consider other spots on the peninsula but think that Playa just may be the best to start this quest. We're both in our mid 50's, and from Ohio
Any correspondence is welcome and I want to thank you in advance for your time and assistance.
Answer: Hello Greg!
Playa Del Carmen is absolutely beautiful and full of retirees, snowbirds and expats. Much, much nicer than Cancun for a permanent move (which is super-touristy). My suggestion is to rent a place on 5th avenue and just peruse the whole city on foot (Airbnb is where we usually book our reservations because we prefer to stay in Condos with a full kitchen, rather than hotels).
Take a day trip to Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, too. It's worth it, you might like the islands more.
Akumal is fantastic and so tranquil, but it's a little further south, so it's a bit of a drive. Worth exploring though if you are looking for a "forever" home.
We liked Tulum for it's wildness and natural beauty, but the modern amenities just aren't there yet, plus there is a TON of real estate fraud going on in Tulum right now, so buying down there is very very risky, even for Mexican citizens.
Be free! Expatriate!
Reader Question: Hi! My husband and I are thinking of buying in Playa Del Carmen. We'd like to spend time there first, but I was wondering, as it seems you lived there a while, is there an area that is ejido and should be avoided? If we don't have a lot of money, what area of the town do you recommend? Do you know if it is easy(ish) to rent to others if we were not there a few months a year? I appreciate any advice you might have. We lived in Cuernavaca many years and my husband and two sons have dual Mexican/US citizenship. (I don't.) Thank you so much for any information you can share!
Response: Our suggestion is to rent temporarily, at least at first. When we arrive to a new area, we usually use Airbnb, and rent a condo for about a month or so. We also rent a car and spend a lot of time researching an area with our own eyes--that will tell you more than anything else. If you see a lot of graffiti, that's a sure sign that an area has at least some crime.
That being said, Playa Del Carmen is extremely safe for tourists, children and families, more so than any US city. The only crime we ever saw there was petty theft.
Anything on or near the beach or 5th Ave is going to be very nice, but be aware that there is always the potential for loud noise if a club or bar moves in close by. For that reason, we usually choose to rent, rather than buy. And you should get your Mexican Residency, it's very easy to do. My wife just completed the process and it was pretty painless (read about our Visa application journey here) and only took about a month.
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 family 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.