How can I live in Mexico?
July 2, 2016 8:45 PM   Subscribe

I want to live and work in Mexico for 18 months (as a trial period). Specifically, in or around Cuernavaca. How is this possible?

  • I don't have savings to do this. So I'll need to work. I've worked remotely and liked it. Is it legally weird to do this in a foreign country? Harder for some other reason?
  • I have very good development chops. Mostly server-side heavy lifting. Recently a pretty modern full-stack with Angular, Bootstrap - and importantly *very* secure server side and OAuth imple. Got any leads for remote work?
  • If there's not a remote situation for me, what do american ex-pats do for a living?
  • Where do I begin with documentation? Uh, what do I even need?
  • Do i bring my car - drive it down?
  • How do I do health insurance?
  • Am I crazy?
As you can see, this is the brainstorming stage. Is there a secret, awesome 'how to be a happy(not already rich or retired) expat" website or resources?

Seriously, I'll take anything: links, books, anecdotes. Let's get this pelota rolling.
posted by j_curiouser to Travel & Transportation around Mexico (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've worked remotely for US companies from international locations.

I'm a US citizen who owns a one-person consulting company structured as an LLC -- my clients hired my company in the US, and the company paid me in the US -- while I happened to temporarily live elsewhere. Financially, I never really left the US (ignoring ATM withdrawals). I paid professionals to make sure that was legal, as far as the US was concerned.

I'm not going to get into the legalities of this on the Mexican side, because I don't know them. When I was last in Mexico on an FMM (visitor visa), expat wisdom said that I needed to stay out of the local workforce, but that if I was still making money back in the US while spending it in Mexico, that was OK. YMMV.

If I can offer one piece of advice about this kind of work arrangement, it would be this: get your work/client(s) lined up before you leave, and do a couple of months work for them from the US. It is much easier to be a remote contractor who says "Hey, I'm moving at the end of next month, and so I'll probably be offline for a week or two" than it is to look for remote work possibilities from another country. There is still a stigma about "offshore" programmers, and if you're looking for work from overseas (even as an expat) that's the group you'll be lumped into. If you start your contract in the US, you'll be seen as "that lucky guy who decided he'd rather move his workstation to the beach, and actually pulled it off".

Where do I begin with documentation? Uh, what do I even need?
You can stay in Mexico for 180 days on a multiple-entry tourist card (the FMM) that is cheap and easy to get with a US passport. It's not uncommon to take a 3 day trip to Belize or Texas when your FMM expires, which will allow you to get a new one validated on re-entry.

The Mexican temporary resident permit ("Residente Temporal", formerly the FM3) is a step up from that. It's good for up to 4 years, at which point it can usually be replaced with a permanent resident card). It costs a few hundred dollars, and perhaps a few hundred more for an attorney/translator and other professional help.

The residente permits are primarily aimed at retirees who have savings or investments overseas. You are required to show that you're financially self-sufficient (usually passive income in the $2000/month range, invested assets around $100k or both). If you can't do that, you're going to have a hard time staying in Mexico legally for more than 6 months at a time.

If there's not a remote situation for me, what do american ex-pats do for a living?
Most expats I met had passive income coming from the US (ex-cops collecting pensions, landlords, and professional writers are over-represented among expats in Mazatlan). Very few worked in the local economy.

Do i bring my car - drive it down?
Forget your car. Every expat in Mexico has a story or two about bribes and fines and other giant pains in the ass surrounding their US-imported car (and one or two about registering their mexican one). If you absolutely need one, buy one down there and sell it before you leave.

I'll take anything: links, books, anecdotes.
You'll find some of these car (and other "Life in Mexico") stories in the MexConnect Forums. Lots of collective wisdom there.

You're not crazy.
posted by toxic at 10:24 PM on July 2, 2016 [5 favorites]

My business partners and I frequently work remotely in Mexico and Central America, and the semi-annual trip to Guatemala (or Belize, etc) and back to get another 6 month tourist visa is a real thing -- I have friends who have done this for years.

Step one is having savings. You need at least enough to cover a month or two of expenses in country, money enough to get home, and cash to float on once you get back to the States. You may not need it, but I can't advise relocating to Mexico unless it's there in your savings account in case something goes pear-shaped for you or your family back home.

Start networking into freelance remote work and figure out how many clients you'll need to pay for your lifestyle and save. Here's some numbers to help with that part. The nice thing about freelancing is that you don't have to work full time to pay for your lifestyle. You can, and you can save tons of money or live the high-life, or you can do what I usually do and work part time so you can enjoy exploring your new home.

Leave your car at home. I'm also going to suggest you don't buy one there, either. Get a used scooter or a motorcycle instead. I rented a Yamaha YBX for $80 a month so I didn't have to worry about registering it or selling it when I left (the market for used vehicles is not that great). Plus it's cheaper, more gas efficient, and less likely to be stolen. You don't need a special permit for it or anything.

As far as insurance, you can get travel insurance (mostly to cover big emergency stuff) but when I was living in Mexico I needed emergency outpatient surgery and paid out of pocket for it -- it cost me $120. You'll find that health care there is very inexpensive, and that you can get most basic prescriptions (which are super cheap) from a pharmacist, with no need to visit a doctor first. All the dentists I've been to use the same equipment as their American counter-parts, and their work is just as good.

Also keep in mind that slower internet speeds are a rule, especially during peak hours, and occasional power outages are not uncommon. You'll get used to it. Cell minutes and texts are expensive, so everyone uses WhatsApp, Kik, and stuff like that. Waze works much better there than Google Maps.

I've never been to Cuernavaca, but I have a good friend and business partner who lives in Tepoztlan. Might be worth a look, he loves it there.

Have fun!
posted by ananci at 12:07 AM on July 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

Consider this what Ananci said but be careful not to violate any visa rules. This "in and out" normally has a restriction how many days you can spend in a country.

This being said, I heard of people teaching English in Mexico. Teaching English abroad is normally a shitty job but it gets you started and you learn a lot of things while being paid.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 5:41 AM on July 3, 2016

Hi, some great answers here.
Teaching English actually isn't a shitty job- it's easy as long as you know how to reverse-engineer understanding a language you never really had to *try* to learn speaking, and can connect to your students, and tailor the activities appropriately. You can get TEFOL certified online, and a lot of countries, you can work at one place some days, other places other days, do classes, clubs, and private lessons- IE, it's very flexible! Most importantly, your goal is to facilitate someone learning to do something that you're already a master at doing, so a lot of the focus is on your students.
Depending on how much money you make abroad, you'll want to check about reporting your income to the IRS.
You will want savings for 2 months living expenses, minimum.
Definitely square away your visa situation so you don't get deported or violate the laws.
And look for international health insurance companies based in the USA. If your Spanish is serviceable and it would be cheaper to just pay as you go, I hear the Mexican health care system isn't so bad!
Best of luck to you, living abroad is a blast!
posted by erattacorrige at 6:33 AM on July 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

This "in and out" normally has a restriction how many days you can spend in a country.

For Mexico, circa 2007, it was 360 days per year on two FMMs, and it was customary to spend at least 3 days out of the country before getting a new FMM. There are stories of people who went to Belize or Guatemala for less time than that, but they usually involved having a little extra cash change hands (usually to the Belizian authorities who invented a short-term exit tax, rather than to Mexico). I know people who have been doing this for the better part of a decade without issue.

Everybody, on both sides of the border, knows what's going on when a passport shows a series of basically consecutive 179 day stays in Mexico followed by 3-7 days nearby. This does not raise red flags in a country that is not trying to keep brown people out and likes it when foreigners move foreign capital into the country's economy.
posted by toxic at 7:43 PM on July 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

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