Reader Question: We are moving down to Playa del Carmen next month. This is a huge decision for us since we won't be working and have to live off investments from in the U.S. to provide a comfortable living. I think the smart thing to do is to keep our house here and try it for one year and then weigh the pros and cons of living in Mexico. We are only looking into long-term rentals at this point and wondered if you had any suggestions on places to look online that are more reasonable than the tourist sites ?
Manny's Answer: Hi Paul,
To find a rental, I would suggest renting on Airbnb for a month or so, then going down and actually searching on the ground. There are tons of scammers online, and a huge number of scammer rentals exist on Craigslist. Don't wire money to anyone for a rental. Airbnb is safer because you can use a credit card (which gives you protections and also allows you to reverse the charges if the property turns out not to exist). I would just go down and enjoy it, walk around and look for signs in the windows. There will be many, many rentals advertised this way. We saw literally dozens of rental signs in windows last time we were in Playa del Carmen (see just one of many examples above), and in La Paz it was the same thing.
You can use Upwork and work online on other freelancer websites, as well as live on your investments. We still earn revenues off our U.S. investments as well, but we also continue to work online. If you plan to keep your house for a year, you can choose to rent it, too.
It is much cheaper to live down here, most Mexican families live off an average of $500 USD per month so it is easier to live off less if you stay away from tourist zones. A lot of expats also open small businesses catering to tourists in the tourist zones, (which Playa Del Carmen and Cancun basically are).
As for keeping your house, that is a good idea, we did something similar and waited 6 months or so before getting rid of our stuff and our cars, although in the end, we transferred our residency from California to Nevada (no state tax in Nevada).
Good luck on your move. I hope it works out for you and your family.
Reader Question: We are planning on moving to Playa Del Carmen in the near future and we are having trouble choosing a school for our children. One problem we have is we will not have a car until we know Playa is the place we will live forever, so we need to figure the schooling issue out first to decide where to rent/purchase a property.
Since our children know basically only English we need a school which teaches English first and Spanish second. Could you point us in the right direction?
~Thank You !
Manny's Answer: Hi Matt!
Congratulations on your decision to start a new life in Mexico. Playa Del Carmen is beautiful and has many good bilingual private schools. I suggest visting several and also joining Facebook groups so you can talk to parents and other people who live in the area. This is really important, especially if you plan to make this move without a lot of "on the ground" research beforehand. Make sure you have all your documents in order, including apostiled birth certificates for all your children, apostilled marriage license, and anything else that you might need if you plan to stay (I assume you are going to apply for residency if you are going to enroll your children in school).
FYI, our COMPLETE listing of Playa Del Carmen Schools is HERE.
You can also choose an online educational option if you wish, especially at the beginning when you are making your decision. Also note that private tutors are very inexpensive in Mexico. We hired a superb private tutor (with a Master's degree in education!) for our eldest son, who has a learning disability, and she has helped him so much that he is now reading and doing math at normal levels for his age (he was at least 3 years behind in terms of his academic test scores when we initially moved down here, so his progress has been phenomenal). The tutor works with him every day for several hours. The private tutoring costs us only about $50 per week--incredible, considering that a SINGLE, hour-long tutoring session in the U.S. costs us more than $50 each time.
All that being said, why would you delay purchasing a car? The peso is still at 20:1 compared to the U.S. dollar, so you can purchase a fairly good used car for almost nothing right now. (We bought 2 used cars when we moved down, we spent less than $5,000 on both of them, the way the exchange rate is right now, they were very cheap). You will probably need a vehicle if you plan to research the area, but I don't recommend renting a car unless you only plan to do it for a few days, or a week at the most.
Car rentals are almost prohibitively expensive down here, and when we first came down, we rented a car for a month and it cost almost $1,800 USD for the rental cost and insurance. We could have easily purchased a car outright for that price. You can also legally drive an American car down and use it for up to 180 days (6 months) without issue. That might be a good option if you're not completely sure about your move. Just realize that you will have to drive the car back up to the U.S. before the 180 days are up. Take only the safe toll roads if you plan to drive down, and don't drive at night if you can avoid it.
As I mentioned in one of my other blog posts, we used Mercado Libre (an online website similar to Craigslist) and found our used cars that way. A quick search for cars in Quintana Roo (the Mexican state where where Playa Del Carmen is located) brought up over 700 results, including several practical SUVs for less than $4,000 USD. I suggest going that route and just buying a cheap car when you get there. A Minivan or SUV would be a practical choice. A sportscar (especially one brightly colored, lowered, or with anything that might attract a thief, like nice rims) would not be.
Anyway, this is a lot to take in, I know, but I really hope you go through with your plans and find your way down to Mexico. It really is a more relaxing and affordable lifestyle.
BE FREE! EXPATRIATE!
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.
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Richard: I'm living in Costa Rica right now, just outside the Guanacaste Region. I’m originally from the United States, specifically Washington state. I never got used to the cold weather. I hate shoveling snow. Whenever I had vacation time, I would drive down to Oregon or Shasta Lake in Northern California so I could enjoy the warmer weather. I don’t know what kept me in Washington for so long, except that I was used to it—humans are adverse to change, I guess.
I had a miserable job working for the state as a Data Analyst. I tried to stick it out until retirement, but I had a mild heart attack at 45. That was my wake-up call. I knew I would never make it to retirement if I stayed. I would end up in the hospital, instead. I knew that I needed serenity in my life, or I knew that I was going to end up in an early grave.
I decided to make a change. I took time off. I requested FMLA leave (due to health reasons and my heart attack). My employer was understanding about it, but I knew that they expected me to come back. I didn’t want to return to my job, but I needed time to think.
I never intended to become an expat, I went down to Costa Rica just to relax and decide what the next step in my life would be. I was recently divorced, and my kids were in college. I didn’t have anything tying me to the U.S. except my house—and a job that I despised.
While in Costa Rica, I met other expats. They all seemed a lot happier than me. That was what convinced me that I could live the rest of my life here. I spent three weeks in Costa Rica; a lot of time fishing and exploring the jungle. I lost 10 pounds! It ended up a very reflective period of my life.
I knew only basic Spanish (I took 4 years of Spanish in High School and spoke it occasionally at work, but I was very rusty). Still, I managed to communicate with the locals, who were all friendly and understanding.
After literally a few days of research, I went back to the U.S. and got my stuff in order. I sold my condo and most of my furniture and other belongings. That took about two months.
I contacted a few relocation companies and decided it wasn’t worth it to hold on to all my old stuff and take it with me. I kept some clothes, my golf clubs, and a few sentimental items that I packed up in boxes that I left in my brother’s garage. That’s it.
There wasn’t much profit in the home sale, but it was enough to pay for my move. I quit my job a month after that. All my coworkers were shocked. Some were even a little jealous. Everyone wanted to know how I was going to survive. I simply told them, “I’ll manage.” And it was true!
You can live on less than $1,000 per month down here depending on how you want to live. That’s especially true if you’re single and live away from the tourist zones. That’s certainly a lot more money than most of the local ticos earn in a single month.
I didn’t apply for Costa Rican residency right away. I did what a lot of other expats do—I entered on a visitor’s visa and did a “visa run” every 90 days to renew my visa. I’ve done border runs to Panama and Nicaragua, sometimes even staying up to a week to explore those other countries. But I always come back to Costa Rica.
I kept two U.S. bank accounts, just in case. One with a big bank and one with a smaller, regional bank. I had a problem with Bank of America a few years ago where a scammer drained my bank account, and I was without money for several weeks while the B of A’s fraud department sorted it out. Having all your eggs in one basket can be a recipe for disaster. I’ll never keep all my money in just one bank ever again.
For income, I had some carpentry experience and did some odd jobs for other expats who wanted to build an outdoor deck or some shelving. Nothing regular, though, so I knew I would have to get a “legitimate” source of income eventually.
I decided to become a landlord. I ended up purchasing a “fixer-upper” home and subdivided it into three rental studios, plus a small main house for me to live. Each studio is a separate vacation rental. Each one sleeps up to 4 people and has two beds plus a futon. I have a crib for couples with small children and some other small amenities, but they are pretty simple.
Each one has a simple kitchen with a 2-burner hotplate and a dorm-style refrigerator. I keep the price low in order to attract bargain hunters and students. I get some retirees, too, older couples who want to come down and enjoy Costa Rica on a budget.
I advertise online using Airbnb and Flipkey. I’ve used a few other websites, but most of my rental income comes from bookings on those two. I also maintain a simple website that I pay about $10 a month for through Weebly. I just upload pictures of the property and modify the website myself. I’ll put up a blog post every now and then if there’s something happening around town. I want to make sure that I have an actual website so renters can look me up and see that I’m legitimate, and not some fly-by-night scammer.
It’s worked out well for me. I stay pretty busy and usually have at least one of the studios occupied.
That’s how I make my living down here. If I can do it, anyone can.
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The first place we visited in Baja California Sur was La Paz, the state capital. For us, the main highlight of La Paz was the waterfront promenade, or El Malecón, as it is called by the locals. This spectacular pedestrian walkway and strip of swimmable beaches is the city’s main attraction, a must-see for anybody visiting La Paz.
The Malecón offers wide sidewalks (wide enough for bicyclists and roller skaters to use), beautiful local artwork, and benches just a few feet from the ocean, and many other attractions along the way. People often ride their bikes and go for walks there.
Many of the residents we spoke with said the city’s gorgeous waterfront was the primary reason they chose to live in this area. La Paz is the political center of the region, as well as an important commercial center in its own right. You can enjoy beautiful sunsets, a myriad of water activities, and the authentic feel of a city that has yet to lose its charm to huge skyscrapers and thousands of tourists. La Paz has a population of about a quarter-million residents. The city is full of people from all walks of life and boasts great hospitals, many schools, and a number of restaurants, bars, and shops. Life in La Paz is laid-back, but never dull.
There is plenty to do here, and the beach is only a short drive away from any area of the city. If you’re looking for a city full of beautiful scenery without the resort town feel, La Paz may just be the place for you and your family to settle down in Mexico.
We spoke with La Paz local, Carole who was originally from Canada. She was walking her little dog on El Malecón when we stopped and spoke with her.
Carole: I’m originally from Ontario, Canada, but I hate the cold. My husband and I were both looking for a warmer climate. We got lucky because a job basically fell into his lap. He was a college instructor, and he got an offer to come teach down in Baja, so we jumped at the chance.
I wasn’t sure I would like La Paz, because the city itself seems rather congested, but as soon as I saw the waterfront, I knew that I could be happy here, as long as we lived close to the water. We got a nice rental near the water, and now I walk my dog down here every single day. It’s done wonders for my stress levels. My husband teaches during the day, and I work online, but only part-time. We are living comfortably here on a third of what we were earning in Canada.
And no more snow!
Colegio El Camino is a bilingual, Private K-12, nonsectarian, nonprofit organization governed by a permanent board of governors. There are over 400 students from all different countries and backgrounds.
El Camino offers education in Los Cabos to students from all nationalities, religions, cultures and socio-economic standing. In addition to their bilingual curriculum they offer support services including licensed psychologists, a mentoring program, career and college counseling, a nutrition program recognized by AdvancED as an outstanding practice, afternoon academic academies, afternoon sports program, the Camino Language Acquisition Support Program (C.L.A.S.P), para-academic workshops and the IB Diploma CAS (Creativity, Action and Service) program.
Communication is a key component in any successful institution and to guarantee that parents are informed and the lines of communication are open and easily accessible we are equipped with their bilingual website www.elcamino.edu.mx.
Heath Sparrow is the Headmaster at Colegio El Camino, and you can contact him through the school's official website.
Today we are exploring the beautiful port city of Manzanillo, in the Mexican state of Colima. It is a busy port town on the Pacific coast. There is a lot happening here, and we weren't sure what to expect when we arrived. It is obvious that there is a lot of wealth here--and a fair amount of poverty, as well, as you go inland and away from the private beaches.
The weather has been beautiful since day one. It's not very hot or humid, although warm enough to swim every single day. The skies have been blue and gorgeous. Some of the beaches have been very crowded, although there are private beaches that are available to those who stay in exclusive areas. There are many beaches worth exploring, and we have visited several since our arrival.
We are staying in "La Punta" which is a developed community in a wealthier part of Manzanillo. The area itself seems very secure. There are a lot of federal police to protect the tourists here. The police are armed, and they tour the public beaches in pairs and hand out informational flyers to anyone who looks like a tourist.
Playa La Boquita in Manzanillo, Mexico
We visited Playa La Boquita yesterday and rented a palapa and chairs for 180 pesos (about $11 US dollars). The beach itself is very nice and safe to swim, the waves are not rough and there are lifeguards. This is an authentic Mexican beach experience. Playa La Boquita is just minutes outside of Manzanillo.
Don't get scammed into paying for parking when you drive in. The parking on the beach itself is free, although the palapas are not. Stay away from the rocky areas of the beach (on the right hand side, and for many meters towards the center of the beach). The rocks are painful on the feet and some have urchins. But there is an area in the middle with no rocks and the water is warm and pleasant to swim. Lots of great food and beach vendors selling fruit and oysters, I stepped on a rock and got a small urchin spike that I had to remove with a needle later, back at our condo. Wear water shoes. Otherwise the beach is very safe, pleasant, and the water is safe for swimming.
There are some expensive condos nearby that are linked to the beach by a pedestrian bridge. We saw locals cross over and walk their dogs along the water.
We had some fantastic food while we were there, and the kids had a blast playing in the sand all day. It's an affordable day trip because you can cart your own food in, including beer, soft drinks, and anything else you can carry to your table. The only expense we had at the beach itself was the rental of the palapa, although there were some locals who brought their own chairs and beach umbrellas as well as their own food.
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Just a middle-class dad and mom with three young kids, looking to escape the rat race. This is our journey!
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