Moving or retiring to a foreign country can seem like a dream come true—but it’s not all white sand and piña coladas on the beach. There are some practical considerations you need to take into account when you’re planning to build your dream lifestyle. After 12 years of living and working full-time in Mexico, I’ve come up with some tips to make your transition easier, and help you to relax and enjoy the ride you’ve just begun.
1. Visit Properly Before You Move
It may seem obvious to say you should visit your potential new home first, but I mean a real visit—preferably more than one—not just a vacation. Try to experience as much of the area as possible. Visit in different seasons so you know what it would be like to live there year-round, not just in the most pleasant seasons. Explore different neighborhoods. Stay in different types of housing. You may be used to a sprawling ranch-style house, but discover you love being 15 floors up in an oceanfront condo. Maybe you’ll like living in the middle of a city, with cafes, shops, and theaters within walking distance, or prefer the inter-cultural experience of a small Mexican neighborhood. What you think you want may be very different than what you discover in this new phase of your life.
2. Check Out Shopping, Services, and Costs of Living
Research this carefully with your preferred lifestyle in mind. You want to be comfortable and not dependent on having things sent from home. Can you find the shampoo, laundry soap, and medicines you regularly use? What about lamps, cotton sheets and towels, appliances and tools? Walk through the grocery stores and see what’s available. Don’t assume a big-box store in Mexico has the same items it does in the U.S. Is there a hairdresser, vet, public transportation? What do internet, electric, and car/house insurance cost?
3. Learn the Healthcare Situation
For most of us, this is a biggie. You’ll want to explore thoroughly what medical service infrastructures exist in the town or area where you’re going. What kind and how many doctors, labs, and dentists are there? Do they speak English, take insurance, work with a local hospital? Is there an ambulance service? Do take the time to visit hospitals or clinics, doctors and dentists, and check out prices and available services. In this case, asking on local forums can be helpful to set you in the right direction.
4. Get Your Personal Papers in Order
When you’re a foreigner, birth, marriage, and divorce certificates are required for many, many things. Update or renew your passport and driver’s licenses, then make copies to keep in a safe place, and also to leave with a relative or trusted friend in your home country. Bringing a pet? Find out what they’ll need to cross the border and any useful vaccinations for the area you’re moving to.
5. Investigate Money Matters
Figure out how and where you’ll do your banking. If you’re retired, you may be able to take care of your banking needs online and with your ATM card. Thinking of opening a new bank account in your new home? Find out before you go if that’s even possible—or necessary—and what the requirements are.
6. Purge, Purge, Purge!
Get rid of those clothes and shoes you never wear (or that don’t fit), all those extra dishes and glasses, older pots, or small appliances you never use. Go through every closet and drawer—and then go through them again six months later. But, having said that…
7. Keep Some Sentimental Items
When you’re thousands of miles away from them, things your grown kids made when they were little take on an even more special meaning. That scarf your mother gave you, Junior’s refrigerator magnet from second grade, those hand-made Mother’s Day cards from your kids—put them all in a box and take them with you. Allow yourself this small luxury—you’ll be happy you did.