9 Tips to Surviving Your First Year in Mexico
By Sean Bork
November 15, 2017
You’ve made your decision! You are going to change your life and start a new career in Mexico. Sounds easy right? The last time you visited Mexico, you had a great time. The resort was wonderful, the weather was great and that kind young lady at the resort concierge desk tended to your every need. What a carefree life it must be to live this way 365 days a year.
You will have to excuse my smile as I remember my first year in Mexico back in 1998. I had moved to Mexico from Canada where I lived in a great house, in a nice neighborhood and anything I wanted was just a short drive away. I came to Puerto Vallarta without any guarantee of a job but was traveling with a friend whose brother worked with the company. After a 10-minute interview, (things were very different back then) I was hired. I had three shadows (where I accompanied a sales representative on a presentation to learn the ropes) and then was ready to embark on my career…. If I survived. I was told that I had three chances to get a sale and if I wasn’t successful then I would be fired. Thankfully the days of that kind of hiring and training are long gone.
Given the “sink or swim” scenario, I learned to swim quickly and have enjoyed ongoing success with the company. While the work adjustments were challenging, the ones I faced outside of work were even more so. In 1998, Vallarta was still relatively small and growing. There were a couple grocery stores spread across the city, yet it was lacking many of the “modern” stores we have today. Nothing looked familiar since the stores were filled with Mexican brands and items we had never heard of. If you wanted any imported items from the US or Canada, you either had to have someone bring them down or you went to one store downtown where you could pay black market prices and it was next to the smelliest fish market you have ever seen. All our favorite recipes had to be reworked to include ingredients from Mexico.
When I would tell stories to people back in Canada about that first year, I always include my adventures in finding a dryer hose to vent my dryer outside. Normally our first thought would be to go to Home Depot where we could choose from several options. However, this was Mexico in 1998 and after visiting no less than 6 different stores and spending 4 hours searching, I was finally able to find what I needed at dirty little plumbing store at the far edge of town.
Challenges ranged from learning how and where to pay bills to understanding sometimes the bill may not arrive on time because the postal delivery man decided that he didn’t want to work that week. Nothing is more frustrating and humiliating than having your power cut off because you didn’t pay a bill because it never arrived. Somehow, being psychic was suddenly a necessity when it came to paying bills on time! Numerous Mexican Holidays, confusing directions and the ever present “mañana” mindset all contributed to many occasions of pulling your hair out in frustration.
So, how can you do it? How can you face all these seemingly insurmountable obstacles and make a new life in a foreign country like Mexico? Here are some things that will help.
- Be here or there but not both. Something happens when you fully commit to your new home. Your mind stops wandering to what it believes are the greener pastures where you came from, and starts to feel at home in your new surroundings. You start to make new friends and find new favorite places and moments. If you constantly yearn for the life you had back “home” then eventually you focus on all the things you find difficult in your new home and before long frustration will have you packing your bags and leaving what could have been an amazing opportunity.
- You are not alone. You aren’t the first person to relocate to a new country and wont be the last. Connect with people who have been here for a while and ask them for advice and help when you need it. All of us have been there and I know first hand that making a few friends that guided me along my journey was invaluable. It also helps fill the friend void that comes with moving. Yes, old friends will always be there and many will be calling you up to come visit, but making new friends, and good quality friends, is very important.
- Have an emergency fund set aside. The first question I was often asked when making new friends was if I had 3-6 months of expenses set aside in an emergency fund. Why would you need that you ask? There will always be something that you didn’t anticipate, overlooked, or sometimes stuff just happens and you will be so glad you have something to help you through it. When the Swine Flu scare happened a few years ago, Vallarta was almost a ghost town. The same happened on 9/11. No tourists means no income for much of local residents. Yet rent had to be paid, food eaten and gas tanks filled. Put something away and you will be happy you did.
- Keep a journal. On the first page write why you are doing this and all the reasons you can think of for why this is important to you. Do you have financial or personal reasons why you are doing this? Write it down. Are you searching for something inside yourself? Write it down. Everything and anything that comes to mind, write it down. Now every day before you go to bed, write down what happened that day, good or bad and do that for an entire year. When you have one of those Inevitable “screw this Im going back home” moments, read the first page and 99% of the time, it will pass. I did it and even now, after 20 years in Mexico, I will read it and smile, cry and laugh, often at the same time.
- Explore, explore, explore! No one works 7 days a week so use free time to explore. If you have a car with you, drive. Pick a direction and drive and see more of this wonderful country. If you don’t have a car then take a bus. The buses in Mexico go EVERYWHERE and I guarantee you, at the end of your exploration you will have found a few more reasons to stay and have memories you will carry with you forever. Plus, when you do go back to your home country for a visit, you will have amazing stories that will have everyone thinking you are awesome.
- Go. With. The. Flow. Mexico operates on a different concept of time that affects just about everything here. You will make appointments and end up waiting for a while. You will hire someone to do something for you and it will get done eventually and nowhere near when you want or need it done. You will have people over for dinner, have everything calculated to the minute only to have everyone trickle in an hour later. Go with the flow. Life is important here. People are important here. Moments and memories are important here. Time is not. (Except for work!)
- Bring a computer or device that has Skype. You will miss people and be missed. You will feel out of touch and forgotten. Call them. Keep in touch. Yes, they will try and talk you into coming back but most times, after hearing about life back there, you will be happy you are here. If you aren’t, then go back and re-read number 4.
- Bring luggage, not baggage. Any personal issues you have back home will likely follow you here. Bring the things that you need to make this a home but leave all the “baggage” in your life behind. What held you down there, is going to do the same here.
- Be grateful and appreciative. This will change you and your life forever. This country will give you more than it will ever ask in return. If you ever leave, living here will change the way you look at things and think about things for the rest of your life. Be respectful of this place and its wonderful people. Be a grateful guest and hopefully you will become a giving host someday.
Your first year will be tough, exciting, amazing and frustrating, often at the same time. However, with a little planning, a bit of courage and heart ready for adventure, you can join the millions who have made the move and started a new chapter in their life.
Sean is originally from Oliver, British Columbia and has worked with Vida Vacations for 20 years. He currently holds the position of Sales Manager, providing Vidanta Members options from our specialty product line.