Advice to Northerners
Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from an article written by a friend of Yucatan Living, Philip Merrick. He shares how he came to Merida and why, as well as some insight into what life is like here for him. We thought our readers might like to read his observations. Enjoy!!
People often ask me what led to me deciding to uproot my life and start a new adventure in the Yucatán. I actually had to retire early for health reasons and I was denied disability. Fortunately I have a very small pension that I’m squeezing by on until I can collect Social Security when I turn sixty two in about fifteen more months.
I had long planned to live here when I retired, so I just accelerated the process and came down here after selling my property in the States and paying off all my debts. I wouldn’t even be able to pay the electric bill at my old house in California on my current income, but here I am able to maintain a comfortable though very careful and frugal lifestyle.
To answer the obvious question, and I’m not exaggerating, a couple can live like royalty in an actual palace full of servants, with two cars and two chauffeurs on $4000 USD a month, very extravagantly on half of that and quite comfortably for even half of that! As a point of reference, the rent for the luxurious twelve room house I live in is a fraction of what I would pay in the United States. The utilities are about $30 to 40 USD a month. Now, it’s true that I got a special deal on the rent, in exchange for investing time and money into renovating and repairing the house. This house is owned by a local family who are close friends of my family. I mention this because those kinds of deals are out there if you take the time to learn the language, assimilate into the local culture and get to know the local people.
If you don't have time or the inclination to do that, there are a number of real estate agencies that cater to the expat crowd and for a little more money, you can find houses that have already been renovated and remodeled with modern features. A friend who lives in my neighborhood pays about $500 USD for a large, roomy three bedroom house with a pool and an additional huge guest house. This includes the utilities, maid service, a gardener and pool service. I have another friend who lives in a rather modest but lovely two bedroom house in a very chic neighborhood close to the city center. She pays around $300 USD per month.
Today I spent $12 USD for about nine pounds of assorted fresh meat and $2.32 USD for a bagful of farm fresh organic produce. The prices for basic necessities are set annually by the government and kept very low so even the poorest people can afford to feed their families and keep themselves and their homes clean. There is a program called INFOVAVIT where any Mexican citizen who has a job can buy a house with payments of a certain small percentage of their income. Some luxury items, such as electronics, are actually more expensive than north of the border, so it’s best to bring those kinds of things with you.
(Editor comment: We have a saying around our house: In Mexico, the things you need are cheap but the things you want are expensive. In the US, the opposite is true.)
Not For Everyone
To be sure there are drawbacks to living in Merida, mainly the relatively remote location and the extreme temperatures in the summer months. On the other hand, Mérida is a grand and elegant city of about a million population, steeped in centuries of history. There is an endless array of cultural activities including world class opera, ballet, theater and symphony orchestras. There are countless museums and art galleries that all have free admission and many of the musical and theatrical productions are also free. Nearly every neighborhood has a lovely park, usually with an ancient and beautiful church and a marketplace and most of the parks have free public wifi.
Mérida is often referred to as the safest city in Latin America. There is none of the drug war violence that we hear about in the news media. I’ve been told that many of the narcotraficantes have palaces here where their families live and that there is an unbroken agreement that no business will be done here. There are very few crimes against persons or property and probably an average of about two murders every few years in the entire city. I feel safe walking alone in most parts of the city, even at night.
Culture and Community
There are many archaeological sites within a short distance in the surrounding countryside featuring ancient Mayan cities, temples and pyramids as well as grand old Spanish Colonial haciendas and plantations, some of which are still in operation. Many of them offer tours or have been converted to hotels and restaurants. Gulf coast beach towns are about a forty minute drive from the city and the Mayan Riviera Carribbean resorts are from four to six hours away.
There is a very large community of expats here. I am here all year round except for a trip to visit fiends and family in California for two weeks every six months but many of my friends tend to spend only the winter months here and then return to their homes in the cooler northern countries for the summer.
The local people are almost without exception very friendly and warm hearted and welcoming to strangers. If I pass someone on the street and they don’t greet me with a smile and a cheery Buenos Dias, it is actually a strange occurrence and I wonder what’s wrong with them. People here are tolerant of my lack of skill in speaking their language and when they see that I’m trying, they go out of their way to help me.
Very few natives speak English here, other than the upper classes with higher levels of education. I took Spanish classes all through school but I did not really remember much beyond getting around town and getting my point across with hand signals and a few scattered words. There are a number of excellent language schools here. I took some intensive crash course classes when I first got here and that helped a great deal. My church sponsors a class for four months a year when the snowbirds are in town and I avail myself of that as well.
There is still an accepted and very rigid class system here, as in most countries other than the USA. It has nothing to do with financial status or level of income. People are born to a certain class and remain in that class for their entire life and so do their offspring down though the generations. This may sound politically unacceptable and perhaps offensive to many northerners, and I’ll admit that I’m still trying to get used to it. But the fact is, the whiter one’s skin, the higher one’s class. On the other hand, the lower classes seem to be respected and treated with dignity.
Health Care in Mexico
Many people have asked me about health care in Mexico. That’s a good question that requires a long answer and there are many sources of information regarding this. For now, I can tell you that what I have found is state of the art and shockingly affordable. Insurance is available but I choose to pay as I go.
The last time I was in hospital for four days here in Merida, the bill came to about $1500 USD, including the doctors. The last time I was hospitalized in the USA for the same problem, I received the same level of care, treatment, tests and medicine for the same period of time. The bill was $89,000 USD.
My advice to anyone seriously considering moving here, although I didn’t follow it myself, would be to plan three or four trips at different times of the year to visit and explore and to get to know some of the locals and expats and see how you like it. I especially recommend spending a few weeks in the summertime. It takes about that long to acclimate to the heat and humidity... or not. Some people just cannot get used to it, while others have no problem.
I have found Yucatan Living to be an excellent resource chock full of helpful information for anyone who is considering living here or even just planning a visit. I spent countless hours for several years devouring this website and found it to be a very valuable tool in the planning for my retirement. It is also interactive and the nice people who run it are friendly and helpful and usually respond to inquiries within a short period of time.
We want to thank Philip for his kind words about Yucatan Living! You can read an expanded version of this article on his blog, where he talks about Merida, tiny angels, the heat and a lot more.