The 920 days in Mazatlán report

March 29, 2010

Several times recently someone has commented with admiration that they are so impressed that we had the nerve to make such a big move.  We kind of chuckle when we hear that, as living here is so normal now… but it was a big move, and we are so glad we did it!

We drove into Mazatlán 920 days ago in our mini-van loaded down with our remaining earthly possessions.  We’d sold our house and most of our belongings and drove down with our two dogs.  If you want to read about those times look at the left where it says “monthly archive” and pick September 2007.

When we first arrived we totally felt we were living in a foreign country.  (And guess what?  We were!) While we had already bought a house and had our FM3’s, there was still a lot to learn.  But learn we did – and I guess still are – but the things that seemed so foreign at first are now as comfortable to us as an old shoe (or should I say)  sandal!

Around the House

  • You need a hammer drill.  Don’t even try to put up a picture in a concrete house without a hammer drill, expanding anchors, and screws!
  • The mailman will whistle at your door to let you know you have mail… and don’t forget to tip him on Mailman’s Day (Dia del Cartero) on November 12!
  • If  you need your knives sharpened, listen for the whistle… same for steamed sweet potatoes.  Your ear will quickly get tuned in to the call of “tamales, camarón” (shrimp tamales).  The gas trucks play a little jingle. We even had our chairs re-caned by a fellow who came door to door.  We live too close to the main mercado for fruit and vegetable vendors, but most neighborhoods have a regular route.
  • Here in Mazatlán the garbage is collected three times a week. (Thank goodness, too… since when it is so warm, trash can get pretty stinky pretty fast!) All you do is tie up your garbage sack and put it outside your door after 6 pm on garbage days.  The collectors run up and down grabbing bags and tossing them into the back.  Don’t forget to tip these hardworking guys at Christmastime, too.
  • Bills for water, electric, and cable don’t come through the mail – they are delivered door to door.  We find ours out between the wrought iron gate and the front door every month.  And beware – if you don’t get your bill that’s no excuse for not paying it!  It’s up to you to know what date your bills are due.  We can pay our cable bill online, but the water bill we pay at a booth in the Plazuela Republica.  The electric bill can be paid at most grocery stores and at the drive up machines on Rafael Buelna.  But beware that if you pay your electric within 3 days of the due date you should take it to the main CFE office or you risk having your power cut off.
  • Electricity is expensive here, and there are penalties for going over the basic amount.
  • Household chores can be a thing of the past (if you have the money.)  Laundries will be happy to clean your clothes and you can have an ironing service do your ironing. (Last time I had mine done it was 12 items for 50 pesos!) Most people have a housekeeper to mop the floors and do the heavy cleaning.
  • Many things get delivered to your door.  We put our empty water jugs in between our front door and gate when they are empty and a new one will be along promptly.  You can have beer delivered, and if you’re having a party, the tables and chairs.  Practically every restaurant will deliver to your door.  The paint stores will also deliver to your door – and don’t think you always have to buy a gallon of paint – they’ll sell you whatever amount you need.
  • Paul pays our property taxes online, too.  You can look up what you owe online early in the year, or you can go to various locations around town where there are cards for each account. (We haven’t done this so I have no firsthand experience)  There are discounts for early payment.   The first of the year is also when we pay our fideicomiso.  This is the bank trust fee for the trust that holds the deed to our house since we are foreigners within 50 km of the coast.  We pay our fideicomiso at the bank, and can use our US check.

Shopping

  • Shopping can be a challenge here in Mazatlán.  When you need something specific like for example blinds for a window, there are very limited offerings.  We would make the rounds of Home Depot – WalMart – Mega – Soriana until we were so mixed up we couldn’t even remember who had what.  In the end we ended up having them custom made.  That’s often what happens here.
  • At the grocery store we learned that if you see something that you hadn’t planned on buying but it is something you like and haven’t had in a while – buy it!  The stock stores carry here is very erratic so if you see tofu, or walnuts, or raspberry jam or english muffins buy it when you see it.
  • Most people go to the mercado every day, and get just what they need for that day.  Need two eggs?  No problem. And most neighborhoods have a few small convenience stores that will sell you items separately.  I have watched people buy one bandaid, one disposable razor, and one aspirin.
  • Just because something is on display in a store doesn’t mean it is for sale.  We went in circles trying to buy some hardware at a small hardware store – we were told it would be arriving in “15 days” so many times that we finally realized that was their way of telling us it would be arriving “never.”
  • If you are interested in shopping on eBay, we recently learned that you can narrow your search by sellers who have stated they will ship to Mexico.  We’ve ordered several things delivered here and had no problems.  Mercado Libre is another place to check out!  Craigslist is here now, too.  We’ve ordered books (and my Kindle) from Amazon and had prompt delivery.
  • If you go into a department store, there will be plenty of blue-suited sales associates visible.  If you need assistance, be sure to ask, as the custom here is to let you browse until you ask for help. 

Banking

  • There are as many ways to handle your money as there are people down here, but here’s how we have set ourselves up:  We have Wells Fargo accounts in the US – checking, savings, investment, credit card, etc.  We elected to get electronic statements, so no need to worry about mail.  We also have an account in Mexico with Bancomer, a bank that has an affiliate relationship with Wells Fargo.  (Most of the big banks have relationships with banks in other countries.)  We related these two accounts so that we can do an Express Send from our Wells Fargo to our Bancomer account of up to $2,500 US per day.  So most of our money goes into Wells Fargo and as we need funds we transfer them to Bancomer.  We also have accounts with ING Direct and PayPal that fill out our banking requirements.
  • We also set up an account with Intercam.  If you take a US check there by 10 am it will be in your Mexican bank account (or if you are paying for a service, someone else’s) before 3 pm the same day.  We have used Intercam for paying contractors their progress payments, and also when we bought our car and our house.
  • We mostly use our Bancomer cash card at ATMs to get cash out, although we can use our Wells Fargo one if we need to.  We seldom use credit or debit cards in restaurants, as it really is a cash society.  And remember to wash your hands!  I am convinced that the reason Paul gets more colds than I do is because he handles the money more than I do.

Communication

  • You can get your internet from the cable company or the phone company – and now you can even do a 3G USB gizmo!  We get ours from Megacable – the package with cable, telephone, and 4 MB internet for less than $100 US per month.  While we used to have Vonage for our calls to and from the US,  recently we changed to Skype.  It works great.
  • Paul is still working so he set up a fax line over the internet that allows him to send and receive faxes to and from the US. (that’s how he has to submit time sheets!)
  • We have our mail sent to an address provided by Earth Class Mail back in our home state of Washington.  When mail arrives they send an email with an image of the front and you can decide whether you want it recycled, shredded, scanned, or forwarded to you or someone else.  Once in a while we need something forwarded but for the most part we have them scan our mail.  1099 forms, social security statements, IRS correspondence, etc. is about all we get anymore with the exception of never-ending junk mail.  Some people use Post and Ship, where they are given an address in Texas and once a week or so mail is brought down to Mazatlan.  To send mail back to the US, the Mexican mail system has been reliable but slow.  Post and Ship will take your  stamped envelope back to the US once a week for a 20 peso fee.
  • All the usual couriers operate here – UPS, FedEx, Estafeta among others.

TV

  • As I said above, we get our television from Megacable.  Most of the programming is in Spanish, although there is CNN International, USA Network, and a few channels that are in English with Spanish subtitles.  To supplement this programming we have an Apple TV box that gives us movies and tv shows on a pay per view basis.  Then, like many expats including Gary in Mexico City, we download movies and tv from the internet using bit torrent.  We have an old computer set up in a cabinet next to the tv that uses the tv as a monitor.   Many expat households here have different setups – some bring their Canadian sattelite set top control boxes here when they come for the winter and have a second sattelite dish here.  Some use Direct TV the same way, and some use something called Slingbox to allow them to control their US or Canadian boxes from here.  Since we don’t have a home up North, I don’t know a lot about how that all works.

Health Care

  • There are plenty of different ways to handle health care here.  We are doing a combination of insurance, self insurance, and pay as we go.  I have an insurance policy with AXA.  I’ve never had to use it but we set it up with high deductibles  so it is mostly for catastrophic situations.  Paul doesn’t have coverage, but in a couple of months he will be 65 and will go to the US for treatment using Medicare if something big happens.  For everything else, we pay as we go, and it is very reasonable.
  • You can also join the Mexican health system, IMSS.  We hear that the care through IMSS is decent, but no-frills.  There will be long waits usually for treatment.  But in Mexico all doctors must do some time of community service so there are excellent doctors there, too.  For a person around retirement age the cost per year is around $400 US.

I hope that some of this information will be helpful to you when you move to Mexico!  See you soon!


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More about Nancy

I'm Nancy, a US expat living in Mazatlán, México.

16 Comments
    1. For us it’s been around 1270 days in Mazatlan, and I can’t think of anything to add to Nancy’s list.

      About the only thing we did different is enter on tourist visas. We pulled a small trailer with just a few things in it and didn’t get our FM3s until we’d been here a few months.

      We haven’t opened a Mexican bank account because there hasn’t been a need. We have checking, savings and credit/debit cards with BofA. All of our income is from US sources, and everybody deposits electronically to our BofA account. We use ATMs for cash. It really is a mostly cash society. Since we have BofA debit cards, we try to use ATMs associated with Santander. That way there are absolutely no fees and we receive the current exchange rate.

      If you’re considering the move, print out Nancy’s list and study it. She’s done a good job getting it all down.

      Larry

    1. Great Post Nancy!
      It was about time to write a summary as I do every year or so to answer questions about stuff down here. You saved me some time since I am just going to include a link to this particular post, if that’s ok with you….it will save some time and not rehash a lot of stuff….give me more time for my relaxing….
      Saludos.

    1. Nancy, you amaze me. What great information. Thank you.

    1. Wow. Thank you! The only thing of concern to me is having a hearing disability I’d not be able to hear the whistling, etc. and would miss vendors.

      Great information! It’s because of the generosity of wonderful folks such as yourself that more of us take the exciting plunge!

      Thanks again.

      1. Larry, Thanks, but as soon as I finished that post I thought of a bunch of things I forgot – so there may be an addendum. I think some of the things we’ve done – like having Mexican bank accounts are because we are stubborn and want to pay for things online or in pesos. And we were desperate to get rid of our US plated car, wanting to drive around in the anonymity of Sinaloa plates. We are weird that way.

        Tancho, Link away! And I hope you enjoy a little more time swinging in your hammock.

        Chrissy, You’re welcome! Stay tuned for Part Two.

        Barbara, If people on your street knew you had hearing loss, I’m sure they’d figure out another way to alert you, don’t worry about that! Have fun planning and making your move!

    1. Nancy, that is a very comprehensive list! I especially like the way it was written.
      I’ve got about 2100 days, I’m like Larry with the BoA stuff, kept my CA plates because I never have to think about it, have an FM3. Use PayPal too.
      My water guy uses a bicycle with the big load carrier in front and a bulb air horn to announce his arrival. Someday I’m going to blog him, he’s very enterprising.
      My TV is Telecable – 289 pesos with prompt payment, and my internet and phone is a TelMex package about 389 pesos.
      From my front door I can buy household cleaning products, produce, hot elotes, ice cream, berries, doughnuts, pan, and the tianguis starts 2 blocks away.
      I use Yahoo Messenger for phone calls to the states or out of MX.
      I mostly walk into centro to pay bills, check Joco PO for mail, buy food, and shop but sometimes go into Ajijic and stop at SuperLake for treats (root beer, artichokes, Popeye spinach, bags of baby lettuce, bagels, Hawaiian papayas, turkey bacon and whatever else I think I can’t live without).
      ALWAYS check my favorite thrift shops when in the Ajijic area, especially for clothes and books and almost never leave empty handed.
      I have IMSS, a personal doc, and use Cruz Roja and pay out-of-pocket.
      My cleaning lady is my friend and neighbor and also does my laundry, I love her and she’ll probably bury me one day.
      It’s fun to see how every one does it, I think we’re doing pretty well, don’t you?
      I got some ideas from you, you and Paul have got it down!
      Thanks for this post, enjoyed it.
      M

    1. Nancy – Came up with a couple of things for your Part 2.

      We have 2,200 liters in tinacos on our roof, and a 13,000 liter cistern under the cochera. Given the current water situation, it’s kinda nice. Many of our neighbors have to use a bucket of water to flush. We have flow at the meter, but just a trickle at the moment. It’s still enough to top off the cistern before the next pump-up to the tinacos. We didn’t even think about it when we bought the house, but boy are we glad now.

      We also have a 300 liter gas tank on the roof. Only have to have it topped off twice a year for around $1,000 pesos.

      Larry

    1. This was very helpful information, Nancy. Thanks. We are moving down to Mazatlan in June. I notice that you went with AXA for health insurance. I’m inclined to go that route myself, but am trying to find out more about how they process claims, and their reputation in general. May I ask why you chose AXA?

      thanks,
      Fred

    1. Thanks for the information about Earth Class Mail. I always thought there should be something like that for expats, and there is! Going to check it out.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to list all of this information. I am nowhere near the time I can think about retiring but Mexico is on the list I keep in the back of my mind. Information like yours helps me to visualize myself living in Mexico.

    1. What a great post! I have rented an apartment on Isla and am just learning some of the things that you mentioned. I can only spend vacations there now but hopefully in a couple of years I will be retired and spend at least 1/2 a year on Isla.

      1. Pamela & Mic, Thank you!

        Trailrunner, I love your additions!

        Larry, Thanks for the ideas, I am putting together part 2 right now.

        Fred, I went with AXA because it had the right mix of price and features, but I have heard some bad things about them (they have not paid on Philip Pain’s hospital bills, I’ve heard, and have gone to a lot of effort to do so. He’s the young man who fell out of a 7th story window at the first of the year. I bought it through Juan Chong, and I have my fingers crossed if I ever need it they will honor the contract…

        Alice, We love Earth Class Mail. My son in Mexico City uses it, too.

        Irene, Glad you liked the post. Visualizing your move is the first step!

        Jackie, You have the right idea! Retirement in Mexico is the best.

    1. We are moving to Mazatlan this October. my question is if we cannot fit the “stuff” we want to bring to Maz in our car, what is the best way to ship some boxes to Mazatlan?

      Your help will be appreciated..

      1. Cheryl,

        How great that you are moving to Maz! I have no experience with shipping boxes, but there is a thread right now going on on MazInfo about someone who wants to ship household belongings and it may have some leads for you. The link to MazInfo is on my Links page if you don’t already participate. (You have to join) You could also ask the question on the Mexscape Forum, link is also on the Links page. Hope you get some good responses!

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