After spending 3 months on this popular Indonesian island I have a good grasp of costs to live here. All of these numbers are just for a single retired man. No dog. No wife. No kids. Just me. Here we go with Bali cost of living… The cost to rent on this island, in popular areas, can be absolutely amazing low and can go up as high as “are you kidding me”. For example I booked a few hotel rooms, normally referred to as a “home stay”, for as little as 7 USD per night and this included breakfast!! I Read more…
Ecuador. Cities in the Andes. Cuenca
After a week in Quito, the capital, I am learning more and more about the geography, distances and transportation. I opted to fly from Quito to Cuenca and arrived early morning; too early. Not even the coffee shops were open. This is always the problem with the least expensive flights: they are also the least attractive timetable-wise.
I told the taxi driver to take me to the “city centre”, my Spanish was improving bit by bit having now lived in Mexico for 15 months so far. My drop off point was a seemingly deserted spot on a road. “THIS, is the hub of Cuenca? Oh dear, not a good start. A building with the words “hosteria” caught my eye and so I went there to ask for directions and to my pleasant surprise this hosteria was a beehive of activity. Turns out that a “hosteria” does not mean “hostel” in this country, translated it means “guest house”. Very confusing.. especially if you were really looking for a ..hostel!
Cuenca is also high in the Andes sitting at 2,550 m (8,370 ft), just like the capital Quito and so the temperature at 7 am on a winter morning was a brisk 7 c. Not a lot of warmth in the air. I was traveling light on this trip with just a backpack, one that I can highly recommend is THIS BACKPACK for such a trip. So I decided to wander around after breakfast to get my first impressions of this old Spanish Colonial town in Ecuador. Windows.. with no metal bars! Lots of them here in Cuenca! In Mexico it is rare to see a glass window with no bars. I think it is partly due to the obvious… anti-theft but also glass in windows is fairly “new” to Mexico since the opening maybe had some wooden shutters but those would close out the light completely.. so bars on the windows! However here in the quiet streets of Cuenca I see many shops and homes with no bars, in fact one store had thousands of dollars worth of power tools on display in this window.. no bars. That was amazing to me, having lived in Mexico where this sort of thing I never saw!
One thing about this town that differed from San Miguel de Allende: In SMA you can stroll past most shops, bars and restaurants and scope out the place before you enter. However, because of the temperate climate in Cuenca, most places have closed doors. In a few instances, I opened the door and entered a place looking for a certain vibe only to leave immediately. A little awkward for me.
Just outside the city of Cuenca are the Cajas Mountains (box mountains). Take a day pack with some snacks and water. If you are chilly and damp in the city you will absolutely freeze in the mountains without a jacket and good shoes. The average elevation is 3,500 meters (11,500 feet). Take a bus from the city to one of several bus stops alongside the Caja National Park and be sure to get the timetable for the return bus to Cuenca.
I would definitely suggest a trip to Cuenca for a retirement destination.
What Will it Cost to Live in Paradise
We each have our own priorities as to the “must have” in choosing best places to retire. In my mind there is little point living in one of the cheapest places to live if the town is dangerous or has awful weather. We each have to decide what is important to us. I am living in Mexico at the moment and the cost of living in my town of San Miguel de Allende is much higher than most places in Mexico. For me, the culture of this town, the many events and the towns beauty is worth the price.
My standard of living is somewhere in between my ex USA lifestyle and how a Mexican would live in a village. That is a HUGE difference in the quality of life! I know expats here who “get by” on $400 USD a month while others I know spend in excess of $3,000 a month. I am in the middle. If you are trying to recreate your USA life here in Mexico, or ANY expat community around the world then you will spend top dollar. Imported foods and clothes made for the USA markets are expensive. Buying a late model car in Third World Countries: very expensive-perhaps 35% higher than Europe or USA. Dining out at non-local food: twice the price. Similar story for the latest and new computers and electronics. Asia may be about the same or less than Euro and USA prices.
Buying used items, eating local ethnic meals, renting/buying a local styled home and so forth, then this is the smarter way to spend your money when retired. Some costs in your new paradise come unexpected and often at the worst times. Many people here in San Miguel trip on the hazardous sidewalks and end up having to pay medical expenses. Traveling back “home” can also be a huge expense. Certain things we can all control with our day to day living expenses, but just like my non-retired life, there were and still are many things that I have little control over costs.
Check out my articles on countries and towns that I have information on, that will help you choose your best choice for the cheapest places to live. Also go to THIS WEBSITE for general information about the cost of living around the world. Bottom line here is really, really, really consider what you can afford, what you would be willing to forgo (priorities) and try to look realistically at current and possible future expenses.
Search my website for more in-depth articles on various towns around the world.
Senior Living in San Miguel de Allende
This article will be a more in-depth look at my life, my “senior living life”, in San Miguel de Allende. I hope you find this real-world information useful.
Today is my birthday and tonight I will be going to the local Gringo bar, Hanks. This pub/restaurant used to be called Harry’s up until 2012 and Bob, the owner has this New Orleans style establishment in about 4 different locations in the USA and 2 in Mexico. The food is moderately priced (for SMA) and the quality is excellent. Try the salmon BLT, wow! That sandwich with a ton of french fries is priced at 140 pesos, about 10 USD. I do not eat here a lot because frankly, $10 for me is too expensive for my tastes and totally not necessary, plus I would put on weight if I were here more than a few times a month. The music is also awesome at Hank’s playing mostly 70’s music along with all the standards. All in all a great place to hang out, good food, music, decor and vibe with both Mexicans (the wealthier ones) and gringos alike. The later, enjoying their gringo senior living life here in beautiful San Miguel de Allende.
At the other end of the dining-out scale is street food. Eating a taco from street vendors can be very hit and miss. However I, fortunately, do not have any first-hand information on the bad ones that may/will give you a stomach upset or worse. Word-of-mouth can be a killer for any place of business so how accurate these second-hand accounts are I am not really sure. I go to one street vendor in the evening, for beef tacos and they are just mouth-wateringly fantastic and cost 10 pesos each.
The nightlife for me may mean that I sit on a park bench in front of La Parroquia and watch the families, kids playing soccer, young teen lovers and often a town organized art performance. These performances include music for all tastes, folk dancing, choirs from local schools and more. The plaza is also a huge source of people watching for most people. The Teatro Angela Peralta, in the town centre, has events on a weekly basis and also offers a wide range or live performances and some movies. Speaking of movies, we have 2 movie theatres here in San Miguel de Allende. A short bus ride out of the old city centre takes you to a small shopping mall, which has a large multi-screen modern movie theatre. They offer movies in both Spanish and English dialogue, but some with only English subtitles.
In another article, I describe my USA plated van here as a “boat anchor” and so I got rid of it. Getting around San Miguel is often accomplished on foot now. I live at the extreme east end of the cento area and to walk across town to the west side is about 1.5 km and 20 minutes of walking. Mostly downhill and returning home a 30-minute walk, uphill. This town is not for everyone. The altitude here is about 2,000 meters, so less oxygen available for stuff like breathing. It is also a VERY hilly town and there are not too many occasions that will not take up a rather steep hill. The stroll across town can also be accomplished in a tax for 35 pesos and the 10-minute bus ride to the shopping mall is just 5 pesos.
Many people have accidents when walking in San Miguel de Allende. All the streets are some sort of cobblestone. Very smooth and slippery cobblestone. My feet are big, so my shoe spans at least one stone, those with smaller feet do not and sometimes twist an ankle or worse while navigating the beauty of the street! This town is like many others (all perhaps?) in Mexico; there are lots of obstacles on the sidewalk that, if you are not paying attention, will trip you up. Friends have had their foot/leg trapped and broken down deep holes, fallen through storm drains, and tripped over the myriad of smaller stuff that sticks out the sidewalks. Welcome to Mexico and Third World Country, culture?
Getting around Mexico from San Miguel de Allende is easy without a car. First class buses travel from SMA to all over Mexico and these buses are very comfortable indeed. These buses often having luxurious seating, WiFi and electrical adapter and even a cappuccino machine on the ETN bus line! The cost is around 100 pesos for each hour of the journey. Book online for discounts. If you are over 60 you can use your INAPAM card for a huge 50% discount on the bus fares. The cost of plane fares are on par with those in USA, so not cheap and trains only connect a few cities. Driving a car here is only cost effective when there are 3 or more in the car. The cost of petrol, maintenance, meals along the way and the road tolls add up to a 2 or 3 person break-even cost. Add to that the stress of driving and well, why bother with a car?
Lastly, there are the holidays and processions. Holidays in San Miguel de Allende are amazing festivities of light, colour, and sound. Most of the events are centred around Catholic holidays and tradition. Semana Santa, Easter was the end of March this year, is perhaps the biggest of these celebrations. People from all over Mexico come to this pueblito for the Semana Santa procession and cultural events. The next biggest holiday is the celebration, September 27, of Mexican Independence from the Spanish. The fireworks are not to be missed and this festival last about 5 days!
My life and your life, here in San Miguel de Allende can be as lively or as quiet as you want. A low budget can still be a lively time here because all the cultural events are for the public in the streets and plazas. Plan a visit soon, you will have no regrets.
Cell phones overseas
A common question when traveling overseas is “can I use my cell phone in xyz country?”
The short answer: maybe.
1. Assuming you are just visiting for a holiday ask your cell phone provider for their rates and also, VERY important, ask them to remove any restrictions on using your phone overseas. This is my personal least favourite way because it usually is so damn expensive.
2. Ask yourself.. do you really need the phone (4g) part of your cellphone? ALL cell phones can connect to ANY WiFi in any cafe or hotel anywhere in the world. Via WiFi you can look up maps (take a screenshot to save the map when you are not in a WiFi area), retrieve your email, post Facebook updates; in fact you can do anything but make a phone call. But wait, you can use WiFi based Skype or LINE to make a phone call.. for free! If this is the case any cellphone, iPod or tablet will also suffice.
3. If your phone is UNLOCKED and is a GSM type of phone then you can make a call and connect to the internet via a cell tower data connection. Before you leave your home country, ask your cell phone provider to UNLOCK your cellphone, you then take the phone to a provider at your destination. They will sell you a “SIM” or “chip” for your phone. Your current SIM is removed and replaced with the new SIM. Keep the current SIM in a safe place for your return home. Assuming you will return one day :). The next step has many variables.. but basically you need to add money on to the new SIM in order to use the phone. This is my favourite way to use my cell phone.. it is usually a much, much cheaper method and I can connect to maps, email, Facebook while I am anywhere with a cell date data connection.
If your phone is not unlocked or if your phone is not a GSM cellphone then your options are limited. Check before you leave your home country. A fourth option is to simply BUY a phone at your destination.. this cheap.. cheaply made… cheap to buy cell phones, come with call time already available, but these cheap phones can only make calls, but sometimes may include free Facebook or LINE communication.
Moving to Mexico. Logistics and practical stuff.
First things first. I have decided that “Mexico is the best place to retire” and so living in Mexico means that I have to move to Mexico. So, how will you accomplish this?
My story: After I had made my decision to live in Mexico I also decided to sell just about everything I owned. Since my home sold in 2008 for 65% of the purchase price in 2006 (gosh what fond memories those days were) all I had to sell was the rest.
I sold my 1996 Jaguar xj6 (sniff sniff) and bought a mini-van. Yep, flashbacks to when the kids were all less than 10 years old. The mini-van cost me $1,200 and it would serve as a moving truck so to speak and storage place while I looked around for a new home. Looking back the plan was the best for me out of all possible options. Those options were: just like I describe here, have a moving company do everything, have a packing company ship everything or arrive with a suitcase and nothing else from a flight to Mexico.
I also had decided that if I was really going to live in the best place to retire (Mexico) then I should never look back and so a storage locker full of maybe a $1,000 worth of “stuff” that might end up costing twice that over the years was not in my plan for success. I know many people who have stored items for years only to regret this boat anchor of a mess later on in time.
I packed almost everything in cardboard boxes and each box was numbered and contents described for the Mexican Customs (aduana) officials at the border. Clothes were on hangers inside inexpensive plastic garment bags and larger items wrapped in bubble wrap. For security reasons I bought some window tint that blocked out 95% of sunlight and so even with a nose pressed up to the glass the contents was impossible to see. Along with my stuff I knew I must have a detailed list of the items and their worth and aduana (customs) would need to see this. My value shown was about $3,500 and aduana charged me $120 on import duty. How much they charge you will depend on your attitude, the officer’s attitude (that day) and how organised you appear. If memory serves me Mexico allowed me no more than $4,000 of items before I needed to hire the services of a broker to import the items. The broker fee was not cheap at all and you need to decide for yourself that value.
I was living in Tucson and so my border crossing was Nogales. The entry point into Mexico was only just to slow down and I was waived on my way. However about 20 km down the road is the first the car import gate and then the customs check point.
In Mexico no one has a copier on any government office, well not for YOUR use. So arrive at the car import place with 4 copies of Passport, car registration, car title and some cash. The fee for the entry permit is about $30 and another $200 to $400 for a deposit on the vehicle, depending on the cars model year. The deposit is returned to you when you remove the vehicle from Mexico, IE you drive back over the USA border. Your permit is only for a temporary import permission as is good as long as your resident visa is valid and so only for a maximum of 4 years in the case of a residente temporal status by the driver. In 2014 there was a LOT of fuss about residente permanente not being allowed to own a vehicle that was imported via the temporary permit. The details of this mess can not be explained here and so please ask at your Mexican Consul for the latest info, in writing if possible.
Now some would say “don’t stop and take a chance”. Why ask for trouble for a few hundred dollars in fees? At the check point I had a choice, pull over and declare what I had or go thru the gate. The gate opens after you press a button and a random red or green light allows you to pass. Or not. It is most often green and this system is employed at airports and road crossings. A red light could mean trouble if you have more than $300 value in import items and you never declared those things.
Now I am really on my way. Full tank of gas, GPS working fine, cell phone with international plan working, passport with visa, telephone numbers of Mexican Tourist police in my phone just in case. I was also told to only have a few hundred pesos visible in my wallet and stash the rest of my cash inside the van. Would you believe that I forgot exactly where I put all that cash a week later? I digress… The purpose of all this was in the event that police pull me over and try to extort money from me for a traffic violation that never really happened.
During my 1,300 miles journey I was never stopped by the police. I did destroy my vans fuel pump after I drove over the mother of all speed bumps in Guadalajara at about 5 mph. The van stopped and gasoline was pouring out of the vans rear and I was stopping traffic in both directions NOT GOOD!!! Five men came out of nowhere and pushed me safely off the road. The men came up with a plan (amongst themselves since I spoke zero spanish). They pushed my van about 5 blocks, up down and around and into a dirt yard. The mechanic greeted me and within 15 minutes had diagnosed the problem! His helper then got on a motorbike and went to buy a new fuel pump. This all happened around 1pm and by 6pm the mechanic came to my hotel, which I had decided was a good idea to get since I thought I would be staying in this one spot for days, he handed me the keys and asked to be paid $120 for the part and $30 for his labour. Wow, inexpensive, fast and so courteous.
As you can see from the map here my journey was via Mazatlan, a beautiful beach city that I visited in November 2012. I had continued with my Mexican residency application in that immigration office and was informed that I need to complete that process at the same office within 90 days. However BEFORE arriving in Mexico one MUST have a visa resident stamp in your passport. So your first step is to apply at your local Mexican Consul office. This first step of the process can NOT be done inside Mexico.
A useful place to head at this point would be to CLICK HERE – a website that was run by Rolly Brook, but please come back here.. otherwise I will miss you! Rolly was the defacto place to go to for the latest info on life in Mexico. Unfortunately Rolly passed away February 2015 and so I will search for a site nearly as good and update soon.
With my Residente Temporal in my hand (in the form of a green plastic card) I am now free to continue my journey to San Miguel de Allende. You will need plenty of cash pesos if you are heading anywhere in a “cuota”, a toll road, some as much as 120 pesos per leg. Very few restaurants take credit cards and for security reasons I do not recommend them when travelling. Pay for gas, hotels, food and tolls with cash. ATM’s are easily found and that’s the best way to access cash in Mexico.
After my Guadalajara adventure with the fuel pump the journey was uneventful. Upon arriving in San Miguel de Allende I parked my van in a secure paid parking area for 800 pesos per month and only removed a suitcase of items since I stayed in a small hotel for the first 2 weeks while searching for an apartment to rent. Thats a whole different story to be told later.
Please let me know if you have any questions regarding this article’s topic and I will do my best to answer or find the answer for you. Cheers and welcome to Mexico (soon)!
Making it legal in Mexico
I got a HUGE surprise at the Mexican Consulate office here in Tucson this morning. First let me explain about Mexico’s visa process which is very similar to the other countries on my short list.
You can not just waltz into Mexico and rent a home, stay for more than 180 days and call yourself a resident, well not legally that is. It takes paperwork and a little money and a whole lotta patience!!
Earlier this year (2012) the Mexican Government announced 2 major changes in their immigration program in order to become a Mexican Resident. First the income requirement were just about doubled from $1,200 a month to $2,300 a month. Second the process to apply MUST start outside the USA. The income also must come from outside of Mexico, so my USA Social Security qualifies in this regard.
The nitty-gritty: Keep in mind that whatever you are reading here and now has a good chance of being outdated at any time by the Mexican Government. In addition the person you are face to face with, either at your Mexican Consulate or Mexican immigration can really make or break what you are trying to accomplish. Thier mood can change from day to day.. and YOUR attitude can help things dramatically. First, TRY to at least say Buenos Dias and Holla when approaching the staff member, second- have ALL your document ready. ALL of them. Often times they need 4 copies of everything and guess what – they have no copy machine available to you.. so you will need these copies upon your arrival. Smile and be patient, do not appear in a hurry. After all, since you are retired what IS your big rush? Take a book, sit down relax and wait.
For the current rules on income, background checks etc etc please check HERE.
Now fast forward to today again and my surprise. I drove to the Consulate office and knew full well that my income was short but rationalized that “it would be just fine”. Crazy me. The 2 ladies at the front desk took a look at my income and it stopped right there.. no, I can not move to Mexico and I was basically handed my hat. So much for THAT dream. I sat in my car with the incredulous feeling and said out loud “oh great so my income isn’t even good enough to live in Mexico??!!”. I marched back in to the office.. and headed for a different area and spied a man in his 30’s that I felt I could appeal to. I began a conversation with him about my desire to live in Mexico and that surely my close to $2,000 monthly pension income would be sufficient in a practical sense. In an adjacent office I was aware of a man, well dressed, crisp white shirt who interrupted our conversation and in a really great Mexican accent asked “so you want to live in my country?” he introduced himself as the consul! He then invited me to Mexico and to return tomorrow and he would approve the application. Whewwwww.
Lesson learned: The Mexican consul has complete discretion as to who is approved and who is not. So if you are in in a similar quandary about your “lack” of income and you desire to move to any Third World country, don’t give up so easily..there are ways to make it happen! On the flip side, a high income and a poor attitude along with an ego the size of Mexico, you may not get to live in Mexico. Good luck to you all.