Working Gringos

Working Gringos

8 November 2016 Interviews & Editorials 79

Editor's Update:

Now that the US election is over, we know more and more people are thinking that maybe living outside the United States would not be such a bad idea. We love the United States but we also think that living outside of it, for some amount of time or the rest of your life, is a great idea. Because there is nothing more refreshing than a new perspective. There's nothing that makes you feel younger like learning a new culture and language. There is really nothing that compares with going outside your comfort zone to explore new horizons and opportunities. With that in mind, here is what we were thinking and feeling ten years ago in 2006, four years after we moved out of the United States, four years before this happened.


The following is the first of a series of interviews with expatriates living in the Yucatan. We decided that in all good faith we couldn't ask our friends and acquaintances to answer these questions if we hadn't answered them ourselves. So we are our first interviewees:

YL: When did you move to the Yucatan, where did you move from and why did you move here?

Working Gringos: We moved from California in January of 2002. We had recently lost our jobs at an Internet development company and were trying to start our own thing when the World Trade Center in New York was attacked. That put a stop to just about everyone's business development. For a long time nobody wanted a website and every business in our industry was laying off, not hiring. We had to find work and we had to move to find it.

We call ourselves dot bomb refugees.

We ruled out the San Francisco Bay area and other major technology centers because there was a surplus of workers and the cost of living there was too high. We ruled out Bakersfield and many other inexpensive places because, well..., if we need to explain then you wouldn't be reading this.

We finally decided to make a virtue of necessity and cast our net world-wide. Thanks to the worldwide web we could do that more easily than ever. We made a short list of what we wanted in a new home. Here it is:

1. A place were we can make a living
2. Beautiful house we can own outright
3. Tropical and/or European ambiance
4. Close to scuba diving
5. Learn a second language
6. Live more lightly on the planet (our private code phrase for "eco-friendly and cheap")
7. Be within a day's flight of our family

YL: Why did you choose Merida over other places in the world?

Working Gringos: It met all of our criteria and more. We've traveled around the world. We thought of Tuscany, Bali, Costa Rica, the island of Roatan, but none of these quite worked for us. The combination of Mayan, Spanish, Caribbean and Gulf cultures makes Merida unique. It's also the closest place to the United States that is the most unlike it. And you can make a living here and live for much less.

YL: Did you know you were going to be working when you moved here?

Working Gringos: Yes, we essentially moved our nascent Internet development company here, bringing all of our computer and photographic equipment with us. Besides, we're not sure what retirement looks like.

YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here?

Working Gringos: We are doing more than we intended. We figured we would make a few websites for people, live on less, and give ourselves more free time. Wishful thinking. There has been much more demand for website development here than we anticipated, as well as photography.

YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the right decision (either way)?

Working Gringos: We bought two houses. We found a renovated colonial-style house where we live now using the Internet. It was another reason we moved here. Another smaller house was recommended to us by the real estate agent here and we turned it into an office. Considering how much these properties have appreciated in value, we think we did the right thing by buying right away. But we do see the value in renting first and getting to know the area before making a commitment.

YL: Now that you live and work here, how do you like it?

Working Gringos: We're never bored!

YL: Would you ever go back?

Working Gringos: We go back at times to visit family. One of us would consider going back if we were suddenly left alone here... but we would always keep one foot here, even if we did go back. Mexico is home now too. We would rather have our family move here. Then there would be little or no reason to go back, except for the occasional bookstore craving (see below). But can you ever really go back? So much has changed in the U.S. since we left...

YL: What are the most striking differences between living here vs. living there (wherever you came from)?

Working Gringos: Socially, the Yucatan is a lot more forgiving. It feels like people here have more liberty, that there is a wider range of opinions and backgrounds. It's not as culturally homogenous. It's also very, very affordable. We were being "gentrified" out of our little town in California. But Yucatan, as Ry Cooder would say, "is a poor man's Shangri-La."

YL: What do you love about living here?

Working Gringos: Not pumping our own gas or having to compare gas prices (editor's note: well, everything changes and that has changed...), paying taxes monthly (it's so much easier), the people, music in the streets at night, tropical weather, weekends at the Caribbean, the diverse culture, the food, learning a new language, the VIP movie theater, our friends, the list goes on...

YL: What do you miss from your "former life"?

Working Gringos: Browsing in bookstores, Starbucks Gingerbread and Pumpkin Lattes (yes, we still think they taste better in the USA...), hiking in the mountains, ginger Altoids, huge selections of black tea at the grocery store, Trader Joe's... It's always something. But we've lived here long enough that when we're back in the States for very long we miss things like fresh habanero salsa, not looking over our shoulder all the time when we're driving (avoiding speeding or parking tickets), Yucatecan food, big piles of rocks. It's an ever-growing list... and there is something about the Yucatan that we miss when we're not here, but we can't put our finger on it. Must be the magic.

YL: What is it like owning and running a business here?

Working Gringos: It's easier than we expected. Demand is high and competition is low. If you're not engaged in a business that has a long tradition in Mexico, then your chances of success are pretty good. That's becoming less true, but we think it's still true.

There is some red tape at the beginning. You have to apply for and maintain the correct visa. You have to itemize any equipment you bring into the country and prove it was either taken back out or destroyed, in other words, that you didn't sell it and dodge import taxes. These days, we just buy our equipment here. Dell, Apple, Canon, etc. all service Mexico. You also need a good lawyer and accountant to watch your back. It's nearly impossible to understand Mexican tax law, but isn't that also true in California? It was for us; except our lawyer and accountant there charged us about 10 times more.

YL: Do you have to do more than one thing to make a living?

Working Gringos: Many people do. It's a tradition here to maintain many different sources of income in case one of them falls on hard times. It's Mexican job security. We probably have four or five different sources of income, but they are all related to marketing somehow.

YL: Do you work as much as you used to "back home" or are your work habits different here?

Working Gringos: We work more than ever. At the moment, it's like drinking from a fire hose. Some of the demand is probably related to the times we live in. The Internet was made for places like Yucatan, which is historically remote and unknown.

On the other hand, we don't have to work in a cubicle battling office politics in some sprawling corporation, wondering if what we're doing even makes a difference. The work here has been more fulfilling. And we can and do take a day off here and there to go exploring or to enjoy a long weekend on the Caribbean. We also seem to have more of a social life here than we did in California, because people take more time for friends and family and socializing here.

YL: Is Merida different for residents than it is for tourists?

Working Gringos: Yes, as residents we see a lot of different areas around Merida that tourists rarely visit. We see the modern side of Merida as well as the remote Mayan villages and "undiscovered" ruins, beaches and haciendas. We've been invited to many social, cultural and private events that tourists don't encounter.

YL: How is your Spanish?

Working Gringos: We're getting there. We can make it in almost any situation without a translator. We don't sound very good, but at least we can understand people and make ourselves understood most of the time. The people here are very helpful, too.

YL: Is the language barrier a problem for you in your day to day life?

Working Gringos: No, not a problem... an opportunity. Really! We learn so much more through the process of taking down the barrier. One interesting thing about the Yucatan is that the majority of people here speak Spanish as a second language. Their first language was Mayan!

YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone just moving to the Yucatan?

Working Gringos: Be open to magic... it lives here. And if you have a problem with ants, get over it.

YL: Are you a Mexican citizen?

Working Gringos: Not yet.

YL: If you aren't, do you think you will become one?

Working Gringos: Yes.

YL: Why would or wouldn't you?

Working Gringos: If one passport is good, two are better. And being a citizen means we don't have to do the visa renewal thing every year.

YL: How are you treated by Mexicans?

Working Gringos: Embarrassingly well, considering how we treat Mexicans in the United States.

YL: Do you feel resented or welcome?

Working Gringos: 99.99% welcome. While there may be more prejudice against strangers in the Mexican border towns, we don't feel anything like that here. We've even heard locals say that extranjeros treat Yucatecos better than they treat each other. We think that means we aren't as codo (cheap).

YL: What are your plans for the future here?

Working Gringos: One day at a time. The magic works better that way.

YL: Do you see yourself staying?

Working Gringos: Way'a no ne (why ah NO nay). It's Mayan for "here we are".

YL: Do you see your business growing?

Working Gringos: Only as much as we want it to. We'd like to work a little less and enjoy this city and country a little more. There is so much of Yucatan and Mexico left to discover!


Yucatan Living followed this with many more expatriate interviews. Some of those people are still in Merida, some are not. We welcome your comments and any other questions that you have for the people living in the Yucatan.


  • Working Gringos 11 years ago

    Thank you for your compliments on the website. Many things, its true, have changed since we wrote this article. What hasn't changed is our reasons for moving to the Yucatan or our love of the place!

  • Chaparo Grande 11 years ago

    Gringos, I've enjoyed this site for many years. your insight into the workings of everyday life is a small portal into Mexico. It appears based on the dates of the replies that this interview was done in 2006. Is that correct and if so, do you have time to update it as many things have changed since then? It would be very cool to leave the 06 answers and insert the '12 answers so we can, as they said in school, compare and contrast. Thanks.

  • Working Gringos 11 years ago

    Artesia, you should check out our sister website,, which has a lot of good information about immigration and working in the Yucatan. You can also download the Expat Guides for those subjects. As a daughter of a Mexican citizen, you can become a citizen also, which will make it a lot easier to find work here. Good luck and welcome to the Yucatan!

  • artesia 11 years ago

    I have the question concerning jobs. I'm an Mexican American, 22, bilingual and my dad and that side of my family live in Merida. I will be moving there in about 2 months with my two small children and husband. Will it be difficult to find a job or to start a daycare business? Will we need working visas or anything like that?

  • Working Gringos 11 years ago

    Lynette, as we have said many times, it is extremely difficult to get a job in Mexico as a foreigner. There are jobs occasionally to teach English, but you may not make the income you need. The best bet is to start your own business, and there are many business opportunities.

  • lynette 11 years ago

    I moved from California to Merida Yucatan and am intrested in jobs where I will primarily be using english.

    I know that teaching English at a language school is definitely a way to go but am unsure what is the best way to get established in this area.

    Does anyone living in Merida know of any school or other company willing to hire expats? I know that options are very limited, but I would just to earn enough to cover my minimal expenses. I I am basically willing to do almost any type of work!. My Spanish skills are ok, but not great yet. My ability to read and write is better than my conversational skills, but I'm sure those will improve pretty quickly.

    Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

  • Texican Scott 12 years ago

    Wow! really love your blog/web sight. I am looking to retire in about 5 years and desperatly want to retire in Mexico. I have a what I consider to be a unique set of work skills. I am an arson/fire investigator, as well as a Police Officer. Almost ALL insurance companiies in the U.S. either contract or employ private fire investigators to determine the cause of fires in buildings that they insure. Is there a market for this skill set (fire/insurance investigator) in Mexico? I speak a little Spanish, and would immedialy enroll myself in an immersion languge school to become fluent in Spanish.I would also be able to function as a regular private investigator, since I have been a criminal investigator for close to 30 years. I would be able to travel throughout Mexico on assignment. Any ideas??

    Scott B.

  • Yanet Gonzaga 12 years ago

    Hello everyone:

    My name is Yanet Gonzaga and please, we need some help. If someone can help us we would appreciate it. My boyfriend wants to come to Merida to live. He is from US (Coral Springs, FL). He is 24 years old and wants to work here but we don`t know where he can find a job. He is flight instructor but now he`s working in Public Storage. He`s in charge of the property, he takes payments, does new lease handling, customer service, collections, manages end of month bookkeeping. He`s storage expert. If you can help us please contact us by my e-mail:

    Thank you!

  • CasiYucateco 13 years ago

    Just a few notes to mention: Mexico (as well as Costa Rica where one radio personality intends to flee) has national health care. Of course, as in most countries with national health care, you can conduct your medical needs through private funding as well. And many projections are for small business costs to decrease after reform comes fully into effect in the USA.

    If government regulation and/or bureaucracy is frustrating to anyone in the USA, try it in another language, with a much more deeply entrenched and - at times - unresponsive system. And then there are banking "difficulties" which are improving, but slowly.

    Just want to help anyone understand that it isn't all rosy in the land of enchantment. You have to be the type who can roll with the flow, because inanimate objects are soon overcome by 'the system' in Mexico.

  • Dave 13 years ago

    My spanish is very, very basic but willing to learn. House calls for sure. I am assuming that internet access is stable there? I would like to continue supporting sites in the states as I do now so it would be very important to have stable internet access of at least 3mbs or more. Thanks much for the feedback!

  • Working Gringos 13 years ago

    Hola, Dave. You don't mention if you speak Spanish, but that would be important if you are thinking of providing services to Yucatecos. However, there are many opportunities in Merida for serving the expat/English-Speaking community, and computer maintenance and repair is one of them, especially if you're willing to make house calls to expats' homes and offices. There are local computer repair shops in Merida and many options for buying and maintaining a computer, but most expats are not able to take advantage of them, due to the language barrier (both Spanish and technical jargon).

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