living in Mexico

My current home – 40% less expensive than the last one

I used to get this question every month or so. Now that I’ve broadcast on a regular basis that I am living in Mexico, I get it every week or so. We’re living it up and spending 40% less than we did at home, so I can’t blame anyone for asking how they can move to a foreign country and do the same.

Many people seem to want to move abroad to lower their expenses or escape the hectic life of always-on connections and 24-hour bickering on TV. But the idea is so daunting they don’t even know how to take the first steps.

So here goes.

First of all, change any prevailing mindset that everything you need to know can be gathered up for free online. Good information, solid information that’s reliable, costs money. Not a fortune, but not free either. If you’re going to ask where and how you can live on a few thousand dollars less a month than you’re spending now, be willing to invest a hundred or two to get you there. Spend a little, save a lot.

1) Get International Living magazine.

Sure, they’ll wear you out with sales pitches and they’re in bed with some people they recommend for purchases, but they’re still the best resource, period: International Living. That takes you to the order form, where it’s $49 a year or $89 for two. The best investment you’ll make in living abroad for less. If you need a stronger hard sell though, browse around their site and they’ll pour it on thick: they’ve obviously got a few direct-mail copywriters on staff. Hype aside though, what’s in the magazine is well-researched info with real prices on the ground, usually from writers who are living in the places they’re writing about.

2) Buy the right books.

Sure, The World’s Cheapest Destinations is a nice start, but that’s mainly a travel book, not a living book. Before I moved to Mexico with a daughter, both my wife and I read The Family Sabbatical Handbook and found it helpful. I’ve since met a dozen other parents who have used it as well. Follow the Amazon recommendations that pop up along with that and you’ll get to books like Getting Out, How to Retire Overseas, and Escape 101.

If you already know where you want to go, dive into a book for that country, if it’s available. Moon Handbooks puts out a lot of good Living Abroad guides, like Living Abroad in Panama or Thailand. Do an Amazon search for the country you’re interested in and you’ll probably find more. Naturally you’re going to find more info on living in Costa Rica or the Dominican Republic than you will on some obscure country where you’re the only expat, but if there’s a sizable number there’s probably a book on moving there.

If you come up empty on physical books, start trolling for e-books. Often you’ll find something on International Living or EscapeArtist.com, but if not keep looking. Often a locally run website or expat message board can point you in the right direction. Sometimes these e-books are pricey: the author is giving away insider information to the few who really want it and can charge a higher price. Again though, if investing 40 bucks saves you $400 a month on rent or $4,000 on closing costs, isn’t that worth it?

3) Read Reliable Web Resources

Anybody can post anything on the web without getting called out on it, so there’s a lot of misinformation and just plain misleading advice that will take you down the wrong path. I’ve found EscapeArtist.com to be more reliable than most overall, though you can stumble across things that are way out of date. Also look to living abroad articles from Transitions Abroad.

If you can find a local expert who really knows his/her stuff, like Lan Sluder for Belize, then embrace their site and use it as your main guide.  Most countries have at least one really good authoritative site you can trust, like Mexperience for Mexico or Travelfish.org for Thailand and its neighbors.

Sometimes you might have to pay a little for “special reports” with all the dirty details, but usually they’re worth it.

4) Travel

You can ask a hundred questions and read a hundred books, but there’s no substitute for getting out there and giving a place a trial run. Think you might want to live in Central America but you’re not sure where? Get a one-way flight to Guatemala and start moving. You’ll get a real sense of prices and you’ll find out where you would truly be comfortable.

I spent a month in Guanajuato with my family a year before we moved here for our sabbatical. I knew from my travels which places I definitely did not want to live in, even when they were cheap and looked great on paper. They just didn’t have the right feel. The only way you’ll know that is if you pack a bag and go.