Something I Found Interesting About the Expat Communities in Mexico

Source: Q-Roo Paul

Anytime I include the word expat in an article, I inevitably receive emails from readers asking me what the word means. Since I stuck it right there in the title of today’s article, I figured that I should go ahead and define the term:

Expat comes from the word expatriate and refers to a person who temporarily or permanently resides in a country where they are not a citizen.

For those of you who were already familiar with the word, thanks for allowing me that moment to define it for others. That one sentence is going to save me from answering a minimum of 15 emails today.

Breaking Social Norms

One of the things that I immediately noticed when we moved to Mexico was how friendly the expat community is here. From the first day that we arrived, absolute strangers were walking over to us introducing themselves and offering their assistance.

I’m not talking about one or two of them – I’m talking about dozens.

It reminded me a lot of being the new kid in kindergarten. When you’re only five years old, no one cares how much money you have, what color your skin is, or what kind of clothes you wear – they just want to meet you. That’s a lot what it’s like here, but with adults.

If you’re from the United States or Canada, this concept may seem hard to believe. It’s just not normal to approach strangers to introduce yourself, even if you see them on a regular basis.

We lived in the same house for over 10 years and we never knew the names of 95% of our neighbors. Sure, we would wave to each other when we were walking out to the mailbox, but the socializing really ended there. Not here in Mexico.

Here in Mexico, people who would probably never hang out together back in their home country because they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, often become good friends. It’s not uncommon to see very wealthy people sharing drinks with retired blue collar workers. The best part is that you often can’t tell who is who because everyone is dressed in casual beach attire.

Most of these people have spent their entire adult lives defining themselves by their occupation. One of the first questions that people ask one another back home when they meet is, what do you do for a living? But again, not here.

That question has been replaced with a new one: What do you like to do?

Somehow those professions that we all thought were so important have become mere footnotes. It’s really quite refreshing.

Let’s Wrap This Up

If your one of those readers contemplating moving to Mexico but you’re afraid you won’t have any friends, there’s no need to worry.

You basically have two choices: 1) move to an area with a substantial English-speaking expat population, or 2) learn Spanish and get to know the locals. Either way, you’ll probably end up with more close friends than you ever had back home.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) is a former lieutenant from the Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida. During his 25-year career, he received numerous commendations to include two of the agency's top honors: a Meritorious Service Medal and a Medal of Valor. In 2015, Paul retired and moved to Mexico with his wife. He now spends his days enjoying the Riviera Maya and blogging from the beach.

44 Comments on "Something I Found Interesting About the Expat Communities in Mexico"

  1. 100% agree and I experienced it myself
    Take that mask off and be yourself!
    That was not so easy in the beginning!
    Thanks for your GREAT blog. I always share it on my pages! SOSO helpful

  2. Amen. I confirm your experience as being just like my own, and we’ve lived in three different areas — and everywhere there is the same nonjudgmental attitude. When you live up north, in my experience, asking about your job was the top conversation-starter. You can tell who’s a visitor here in Mexico because they’re the only ones that seem to care about such things. So glad to leave that all behind.

  3. I remember in about 1990 I met a woman in the Northern California town I was living in and she told me that she owned a house in our town but that she was a expat living in Mexico. I went home and googled what expat ment and right then decided that’s what I wanted to do/be. Well fast forward to now and I’m part way there. I have a rental in that NorCal town but I also have my 90 year old mom with me so we bought a motorhome that we live and travel in. She doesn’t want to live in Mexico but that isn’t stopping me from continuing to do my research and studying about where I want to hang out in Mexico in the future. I enjoy reading your blog. Thank you.

  4. We have found this to be true and we love it. We are learning Spanish but are not fluent yet but or neighbors who speak no English greet us like family

  5. I can’t wait for the simplicity of living life in Mexico. Already putting that in motion here in US .

  6. Hi Paul, Love your Blog. Every new post is bringing us closer to Mexico. What would you say the average age is in your community?

    • Q-Roo Paul | May 3, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Reply

      In the expat community here, people run from about 40 and up. I would say the majority fall in somewhere between 50-65.

  7. Kasha Rudner | May 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Reply

    Great article!
    Thank you Paul

  8. What does Expat mean? …just kidding. Great article!!! It’s sad really, that some people never realize that their career is a mere footprint in their lives, and what really defines them is what’s on the inside, as well as how they treat others.

  9. anne walmsley | May 3, 2017 at 1:58 pm | Reply

    Yet another well written, interesting and encouraging article. As I look out at yet another gloomy, rainy Spring day I can close my eyes and feel the sun’s warmth and hear the birds singing. Counting the months [46 or less if we can swing it] till this will be our view with our eyes wide open. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Thank u. This blog is helping me in my plans to retire in Mexico

  11. Neil Norman | May 3, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Reply

    Hi Paul, after recent incidents regarding the couple who were murdered in Belize what is you’re feeling regarding traveling in that country. Was thinking of spending a week or so checking the country out in October or November. Thanks for any thoughts you have, Neil and Janet ( a paamul couple.

    • Q-Roo Paul | May 3, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Reply

      We never go down to Belize, so I don’t follow the crime trends there. Be careful if you head down there. I hear that it’s not as safe as Quintana Roo.

  12. Well done…

  13. I’d like to think I would embrace both of those choices — get to know the expat population AND learn Spanish and meet/befriend the locals. In our 17 years of travel to Cozumel we have met some of the nicest people — from the US, Canada, and Mexico. It’s a pretty awesome thing and, like you say, very different than from our neighborhoods where we pull into our driveways, open the garage door with our opener, pull the car in, shut the door, and get to know very few neighbors. That’s one of the many reasons why I love Mexico!

    • Q-Roo Paul | May 3, 2017 at 2:46 pm | Reply

      Yes, ideally you’ll have a blend of both; however, most of the expats that we know only hang around other expats.

  14. Robyn Conn | May 3, 2017 at 3:00 pm | Reply

    That’s so true! You never know who you are going to meet! Definitely would have been friends back in the states due to location jobs and kids. I love it People who want to meet locals need to volunteer somewhere. That’s what I did ! It’s great Robyn Conn

  15. So many great villages, towns, cities across Mexico you can live very well for a few hundred dollars or live a country club life style,, all depends on what money you want to spend NOT on how much you have to spend.

  16. Virginia Mallonee | May 3, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Reply

    I read an interesting comment on the term “expat” recently. The comment was that this term is generally used in reference to individuals from a relatively wealthier country residing in a less wealthy, or at least equally wealthy, country that is not their original nationality. When it is the other way around, an individual from a poorer country residing in a wealthier one, the term you see used most frequently is “immigrant.” I thought that was interesting, and in noticing articles I’ve read since seeing that comment, it is generally accurate. What that signifies I don’t know, but I think that description is generally correct.

    • Q-Roo Paul | May 3, 2017 at 3:25 pm | Reply

      I occasionally receive some criticism for using the word expat instead of immigrant. I usually respond that we are immigrants, emigrants, migrants, expats, and legal residents. We basically just chose the shortest one for our title. 😉

  17. Rocco and Carla | May 3, 2017 at 4:53 pm | Reply

    Love this Paul!! Makes us feel at ease with the transition of moving there. Hubby and I are always surprised at the hobbit lifestyle here (get home from work, open garage, park car, close garage)… it’s sad given we really enjoy the sense of community. Looking forward to meeting fellow expats in the near future! Any expats there with young children? Our 11 and 2 year old has been asking:). Thanks for another great post, Paul! Keep them coming… they get us even more psyched every time! Rocco and Carla

    • Q-Roo Paul | May 3, 2017 at 4:54 pm | Reply

      Yes, we have seen expats with children in the area. Of course, your kids will be meeting lots of local kids too 🙂

    • I would say that children have an even better time, because they’re not afraid to make friends with people that have different customs or speak a different language. I regularly see children from the U.S. hanging out with local children, and switching back and forth between Spanish and English! What better experience could you give your children?

  18. Francie K. | May 3, 2017 at 5:06 pm | Reply

    Really enjoy your articles. Retiring in 9’days!! Hallelujah can’t wit to get going and visiting places in Mexico. The real difficulty is trying to pick a place to start the adventure. For me the most important thing for me is having a beautiful place to snorkel and im price sensitive. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

  19. We have also experienced the friendliness in Mexico, but to clarify, our little city of Edmonton (pop 1 million +) in western Canada is super friendly. I’ve had some seriously meaningful conversations with total strangers in check out lines, while looking at products on shelves in the supermarket (sharing advice amongst three strangers) and lots of helpful opinions from other women while trying on clothes. You can tell an Albertan by how easily we chat with strangers. Just don’t try to cut in while changing roadway lanes. They won’t budge an inch!

  20. Rick & Flower Plourde | May 3, 2017 at 7:19 pm | Reply

    Very encouraging to know that our plans to move to Mexico will include a bunch of new friends. We are excited to meet our new kindergarten class…… Love all this valuable information you share with us. The months are counting down, we are almost there. See you soon !!!

    Rick & Flower

  21. Not only do we all suddenly become friendlier, we also have the time to spend with our new friends, be they other Expats or the locals. Time for friends was such a luxury back home.
    Continued thanks for a great read Paul.

  22. Thanks for the great article Paul. I dream of the days when my hubby and I can immerse ourselves in the friendly laid back Mexico life!

  23. Karen Knapp | May 3, 2017 at 10:09 pm | Reply

    Our experience on the west coast of Mexico is exactly the same. We all start over with a level playing field. People are accepted at face value, no judgements are based on your financial status. It is one of the things I love most about living here – 11 years now.

  24. Just wondering. What do you think? Would people come to say hello even if you are coming from Romania? Any chance not to be absolute lonly there? Are there expats coming from other countries than US and Canada ?
    We intend to move in QRoo in less than one year

    • Q-Roo Paul | May 4, 2017 at 5:12 am | Reply

      As long as you can speak English, you’ll fit right in with the expat population. Our expat friends include Russians, Italians etc.

      • I have to share a recent experience that I had with one of our neighbors, who is from Russia, and her mother, who was visiting from Russia. I said “Hello”, and her mother only spoke Russian, so she just smiled but didn’t respond. The daughter quickly jumped in as a translator, and I had a nice “conversation” with the mother, as the daughter sat between us, serving as the translator. Though I could see the feeling of frustration from the Mother that we couldn’t communicate directly, I could also tell that she was very happy to speak with someone else besides her daughter or son-in-law. So, anything is possible!

    • We have been going to Quintana Roo for 20 years. Our local friends are from Holland, Italy, France, Germany, Canada, England, Scotland, Australia, Belize and several South American countries as well as the US and at lest five different Mexican states. We love the cosmopolitan atmosphere and would be happy to add a Romanian to the list. So far as I can see, people from everywhere are welcome on the Mayan Riviera.

  25. Niederegger Maria | May 4, 2017 at 6:07 am | Reply

    Thanks for your articles.If everything going well,we are moving in December 2017 to TAO.Maybe to the begin we are snowbirds. how is it the rent a care there?

    • Q-Roo Paul | May 4, 2017 at 6:13 am | Reply

      Car rentals can get expensive. The key is to try and negotiate a lower price for a longer rental. We were able to do that with Easy Way Rent-a-Car when we first moved down.

  26. Jo Flowers | May 4, 2017 at 7:52 am | Reply

    Most expats, with the exception of some, do not really live in Mexico. They live in isolated American or Canadian “outposts”, i.e., gated communities shut off from the Mexican village in which they reside. Most do not learn Spanish and cannot even greet someone or read a menu in Spanish and they certainly do not know their Mexican neighbors (but most of them don’t even have Mexican neighbors). They are really expats and they don’t really intend, in their hearts, to live here most of their iives. And they don’t. The average stay is 4 years. That’s why I consider myself an immigrant, not an expat.

  27. Ethel aka Fran | May 4, 2017 at 8:55 am | Reply

    Paul, this sounds like a good life. We had similar experiences with friendly people in southern Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. As much as I would like to move, Bob is always concerned with my medical issues and available medical care for me. Also, I have to avoid the sun and as much as I like the beach and water and used to do a lot of sailing, now I have to avoid being outside except in early morning and after dark. Bummer!! So much for the ‘golden years!’ We travel by car everywhere we go and have some wonderful Mexican friends in Texas which we hope to visit again soon. Enjoy every day in what sounds like paradise! Ethel aka Fran

  28. I agree that the terms expat and immigrant generally are not interchangeable.
    Expats imply a shorter than permanent residency and lack of integration into the culture and generally speaking, the move to the other country was not for reasons of finding employment or opening a business.
    Immigrant of course, would be the opposite of that – a plan to stay permanently, to become part of the culture (more or less) and to seek financial opportunities….but hey, a rose is still a rose lol

  29. Lisa Luong | May 4, 2017 at 6:41 pm | Reply

    Love your blog. I’ve been following you and really look forward to reading any new articals you wrote, so inspiring and yet very humble. I always love Mexico, the people and their culture. Thank you for taking your time prescious time to write these articles. I really look forward to living in Mexico someday soon.

    • Q-Roo Paul | May 5, 2017 at 8:55 am | Reply

      Thank you for following the blog and taking the time to comment. It’s always nice to get positive feedback.

  30. Another great read! Thanks and we can’t wait to get down there permanently!! Your info is priceless.

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