Why We Expatriated?

Mea culpa! A reader asked recently about why we expatriated. I distinctly remember writing our explanation early on in developing this blog and now darned if I can find it. We did response to another reader on this topic and we’re adapting this response into a more robust explanation. So, here goes, why we expatriated.

Today, July 1, 2018 is election day in Mexico. It’s been a noisy and even violent election season. Best of all, we don’t have a dog in this fight. We get to ignore all the rhetoric, all the hub-bub, all the noise. And we, as foreigners, are expressly forbidden to, per the Mexican constitution.

For us, this quietude is totally refreshing. We get to ignore politics. Now, of course, we don’t totally tune out. We need to be aware of seismic shifts in the social, cultural, economic and political landscape. And we are. It has just been so refreshing to be able to pretty much ignore the political circus.

Could we do that in the States? Not hardly. The political environment in the U.S. has grown so toxic in our estimation that it’s creeping into everyday life there in glaring and obtrusive ways. And we got more and more tired of that.

To be sure, the political environment was not the main reason for our expatriation. Still, it was a factor.

Before we pulled the trigger on the move to Mexico, we thought long and hard. It has been a decision years in the making. It has involved a ton of angst and hand-wringing and perplexity. But we needed an answer. Not to satisfy our friends and family, but for us. To know, deep within ourselves, that this decision was the right one at the right time. So, readers, here’s our current answer. Undoubtedly it will morph and re-form and this blog will record those changes. But for now, here is the answer:

We’re boomers, baby boomers that is. Children of the 50s, coming of age in the 60s, the era of hippies and free love and John Lennon crooning Imagine. Maturing in the Me Decade of the 70s, going corporate in the 80s and 90s and entrepreneurs in the 2000s and 2010s.

We grew up in an America that had ideals rather than platitudes. Did we meet those ideals? Heck no, but there they were, sometimes inspiring, sometimes taunting, always in the background and sometimes in the foreground.

We believed, and still believe, in the American Dream. Not the dream of shop til you drop or nuke’em til they glow, but the Dream of a good life for us and a better life for the next generation.

Instead, we’ve watched our elected officials sell us down the river. We recall with not a bit of irony the words of then presidential candidate George Wallace (1968), there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. How sad that his words were so true, even though then we didn’t see it as so. We still believed that our government had our interests at heart. We don’t anymore.

And approaching retirement age, social security and medicare, we have run smack into the awkward truth that healthcare in the U.S. is incontestably broken. This became painfully clear when one of us received the 2018 pricing for coverage under Obamacare. The premium would go from about $75 a month (the premium paid by us–the actual premium was around $650) to $450 a month (with no change in income level). Forgive us for not even looking at the total cost of the coverage. All this and a measly $6500 deductible. The ugly truth was that the cost of healthcare coverage for one of us would be more than our housing cost, all in, per month.

But but but I can hear, healthcare in the U.S. is the best in the world. Sadly, on an empirical basis, it is not. What it is, is by far the most expensive in the world, by magnitudes. We were forced to face this unfortunate truth in making the expatriate decision.

We also expatriated for climate. Political climate, yes, yet physical climate as well. One of us is adverse to the cold; one to the heat. So we needed a geography that would satisfy both. We found that geography in Lake Chapala, Mexico.

Every day I can look at the weather in our former abode in Wisconsin as I sit here overlooking the pool at our rental unit and watch the hummingbirds feed. Here it’s perpetually in the 70s with occasional dips into the 60s during the winter and the 80s during this, the summer. It’s okay, just as in the States, we have air conditioning.

In contrast, in our former abode, we observe temperatures of minus twenty (or lower) in the winter and excessive heat warnings as I write this, in the high nineties during the summer.

Which do we prefer? We voted with our feet.

Finally, for now, work ethic and the balance of life. We didn’t know this until we actually arrived here and got to really know the area and observe the culture here. Wherever we go, we see people hustling, in the sense of being entrepreneurs, doing what it takes to earn a living.

The social safety net in Mexico is thin. So people here turn to making their own way. I know it’s not to everyone’s taste. Everywhere we go in Mexico, we are approached on the street by individuals selling a variety of goods. Candy, tortillas, plastic thingamabobs, flowers, ice cream, pretty much everything that can be carried and sold. Vendors of such goods also set up on street corners and hawk goods to cars stopped at lights.

Can this be annoying? Sure. But, on the other hand, people are making their way here.

And the exchanges here are so pleasant, most of the time. Vendors greet me and treat me as a person, not someone to get rid of as quickly as possible and move on. I like that.

If I say no, gracias to a vendor, they move on without a fuss.

Yes, there is the hustle. And it is mixed with a lovely ethic of family life and caring for people. I keep running into entire families, grandma and grandpa, even great grandma and great grandpa and the sons and daughters and the toddlers and the infants. Everyone is cared for; everyone is cherished.

Does this still exist in the States? Sure it does, yet, less and less it seems as the government takes over more and more responsibility and control. Where is that leading? I don’t know.

I really like what we have found here. And having reduced our material life to a carload, if the need arises, we can move on.

For now, though, and for the foreseeable future, we are loving life here.

 

 

Choosing Mexico? Part 1

We’d been talking about, planning, and dreaming about becoming expats for a very long time. Choosing Mexico as our first foray was not even on our radar scope until quite recently. So, friends and family ask, why Mexico? Of all the possibilities, how did Mexico become the focal point?

When we first started discussion a move outside the U.S., we focused primarily on Ecuador. I did all the usual vetting: International Living magazine, websites, blogs, books and the like. We focused primarily on Cuenca or Loja. Neither of us are beach people and we both like cooler weather, so the coast was out.

Good friends of ours made a similar decision and they executed pretty quickly. They took an exploratory (which we had yet to do) and decided on Manta. They adjusted pretty well and then came the earthquake in 2016. Manta was close to the epicenter and was badly damaged. Our friends had to quickly escape.

In addition to the earthquake (as if that wasn’t enough), they had issues with internet connectivity, which for us is mission critical. So with their direct experience and the relatively long travel distance to Ecuador, we moved it down on the list and began to explore anew.

Our friends told us that several of their friends in Manta were exploring Lake Chapala as an option. We had not really considered choosing Mexico as an option (oh, my, those drug wars and murders and don’t drink the water!).

Still, we started looking there. We discovered plenty of online resources. Plus, Bonita had already visited Mexico a couple of times in her life, so she was encouraging.

We started evaluating our must-haves. Availability of reliable internet connections? Check. Great weather? Check. Easy transit? Check. We were starting to become comfortable with choosing Mexico.

Were we concerned about the blizzard of negative publicity rampant in the U.S. about Mexico? About how “dangerous” it is? Of course. Yet, we also knew enough to undertake our own evaluation.

First, Bonita had been to Mexico as a tourist. She had had very pleasant experiences.

Second, I had travel experience in so-called dangerous zones. Back in 1999 I had visited Ireland. You may have to dredge your memory on that one, but at the time, the U.S. news was brimming with reports of street wars, murders, drive-bys and violence between Catholics and Protestants all stirred up in a stew of political drama with England and Ireland.

When friends heard I was going, I got severe warnings about how dangerous it was.

Of course, I flew to Dublin, stayed in Dublin, and loved Dublin. Turns out, all the “danger” was happening in Belfast, hundreds of miles away and then, only in a few neighborhoods. Now, should I be afraid to visit New York City because there are areas in NYC that I should avoid? I posit no. Just don’t go there and I’ll be fine.

Same in Ireland in 1999 and same in Mexico, 2017 and 2018.

So, having done our research, it was time for both of us to venture on an exploratory trip, which I will discuss in a subsequent post.

 

The Healthcare Experience in Chapala Mexico–Bonita’s Story Part 1

I am very fortunate.

This may sound a little crazy when I am just one year past an ovarian cancer diagnosis and major surgery and still undergoing aggressive treatment. Still, it is true.

First and foremost, it has opened my heart to give and receive love and support more than I though possible. Second, it has helped me appreciate each day as the gift that it is.

Having had a long-term career as a nurse, primarily in Home Health and Hospice, I though I pretty well understood the ins and outs of cancer treatment. I did not. It involves being caught up in a whirlwind of decisions, options, questions and quandaries that I had only glimpsed as a caregiver RN. These tough questions and decisions and financial worries are overwhelming and I have thought many times are worse than the actual disease.

I chose current western medicine treatment because this was the environment I had developed comfort with though my twenty-five years of practice as a nurse. My family has been very supportive and they also gently made me aware of nutritional, herbal and alternative options that the medical establishment and big pharma in the U.S. for the most part ignore. So many options and so much information–it adds to the overwhelm.

Then the cost of treatment sinks in and takes its toll. In the U.S. system, medicine tries very hard to isolate the patient from the  cost.The healthcare insurance system is upfront about insured premium costs, deductibles and co pays which we know are getting higher every year. But when the explanation of benefits arrives from the insurer showing what has been billed and paid, it is quite staggering. Sticker shock takes on a whole new meaning.

In order to maintain my healthcare insurance (because I am not Medicare eligible for another year), I must pay just under half of my total social security benefit each month. Not much left to pay rant, buy food, operate a vehicle, much less enjoy leisure pursuits.

Yet here is another reason I’m very fortunate. I have parents who are much better prepared for “the golden years” than myself and have been very generous in their support. I’ve also had to spend down about half of what I had saved for retirement in the year since the diagnosis.

Not knowing how long one has to live puts another spin on retirement planning. My cancer “came back” quite aggressively less than six months after initial surgery and chemo. I was not ready to throw in the towel. More decisions–more support.

How to maintain quality of life? How to embark on new adventures? Let’s go visit Mexico!!

[To Be Continued]

Why We Expatriated

When you finally disclose to close friends and family and then to an ever wider circle of acquaintances that you are going to move out of the good ole USA, the first question almost invariably is Why? You grew up here. You know here. You are rooted here. Why jump ship?

We’ve had to think long and hard on this matter. It has been a decision years in the making. It has involved a ton of angst and hand-wringing and perplexity. But we needed an answer. Not to satisfy our friends and family, but for us. To know, deep within ourselves, that this decision was the right one at the right time. So, readers, here’s our current answer. Undoubtedly it will morph and re-form and this blog will record those changes. But for now, here is the answer:

We’re boomers, baby boomers that is. Children of the 50s, coming of age in the 60s, the era of hippies and free love and John Lennon crooning Imagine. Maturing in the Me Decade of the 70s, going corporate in the 80s and 90s and entrepreneurs in the 2000s and 2010s.

We grew up in an America that had ideals rather than platitudes. Did we meet those ideals? Heck no, but there they were, sometimes inspiring, sometimes taunting, always in the background and sometimes in the foreground.

We believed, and still believe, in the American Dream. Not the dream of shop til you drop or nuke’em til they glow, but the Dream of a good life for us and a better life for the next generation.

Instead, we’ve watched our elected officials sell us down the river. We recall with not a bit of irony the words of then presidential candidate George Wallace (1968), there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. How sad that his words were so true, even though then we didn’t see it as so. We still believed that our government had our interests at heart. We don’t anymore.

And approaching retirement age, social security and medicare, we have run smack into the awkward truth that healthcare in the U.S. is incontestably broken. This became painfully clear when one of us received the 2018 pricing for coverage under Obamacare. The premium would go from about $75 a month (the premium paid by us–the actual premium was around $650) to $450 a month. Forgive us for not even looking at the total cost of the coverage. All this and a measly $6500 deductible. The ugly truth was that the cost of healthcare coverage for one of us would be more than our housing cost, all in, per month.

But but but I can hear, healthcare in the U.S. is the best in the world. Sadly, on an empirical basis, it is not. What it is, is by far the most expensive in the world, by magnitudes. We were forced to face this unfortunate truth in making the expatriate decision.

Finally, at least for now, we are expatriating for climate. Political climate first and foremost, yet physical climate as well. One of us is adverse to the cold; one to the heat. So we needed a geography that would satisfy both. We found one such geography in Lake Chapala, Mexico.

So here we are, just starting our adventure.

Thanks for reading and check back with us here for our progress.

All the best to you!