Moving to Mexico: Transitioning from Tourist to Resident

Linda and I had vacationed in Mexico over 30 times before we finally ended up moving here full time in 2015.

Although we were very familiar with the Riviera Maya — at least from a tourist’s point of view — visiting a place and living there are two very different things. Moving to a new country is a huge adjustment and there is definitely a substantial learning curve to work through.

For those of you who are pondering making the move, I’m going to share some insight in to what you might expect if you move down.

The First Six Months

The first six months will likely be the most exciting, and at times frustrating period of your transition.

You’ll undoubtedly arrive eager to get established quickly (everyone does) and that’s where enthusiasm can easily turn into frustration. You’ll become aware that your timeline to get established (e.g. obtain visas, buy furniture, get bank accounts) is not realistic and everything is going to take much longer than you anticipated.

You’ll soon learn that when someone tells you that they will do it mañana it doesn’t mean tomorrow, it means someday. Don’t get frustrated…..just be patient and things will eventually get done.

If you don’t speak Spanish, that will only slow the process further and you’ll find yourself communicating through Google Translate and sign language.

One recent arrival from the U.S. told us that she felt like an infant because she didn’t know how to do anything and she couldn’t talk to anyone.

Depending where you move to, you might also feel a little lonely and isolated. That didn’t happen to us because we moved to an area with a substantial English-speaking expat population. Once we met one or two of them, they introduced us to dozens of other expats.

During the first six months, it’s not unusual for people to get a little discouraged and question their decision to move to Mexico. The important thing is to remember that this transition period is only temporary and that it will get better — much better, in fact. Just hang in there!

The Second Six Months

By this point, you’ll be getting into the swing of things and you have several tasks marked off of your to-do list. You’ll stop questioning why the milk and eggs are not refrigerated at the grocery store and you’ll be more comfortable in your new surroundings.

You’ll have more time to explore and find cool places outside of the tourist areas. You’ll be more relaxed in your surroundings and spend more time enjoying yourself.

After the First Year

Once you have a year under your belt, you should be well established in your new home, have several friends, and be receiving locals discounts at your favorite hangouts. You’ll probably have several local contacts on your Whatsapp list, including your doctor, and be offering advice to newly arrived expats.

This is when Mexico truly feels like home and you no longer question if moving to Mexico was the right decision.

Personally speaking, our second year was 100% better than our first — and the first one was pretty awesome.

Let’s Wrap This Up

When Linda and I moved to Mexico, we promised to give it one year before making the decision whether or not to stay forever. Of course, it didn’t take that long but that doesn’t mean that it was a seamless transition. We worked through the phases described above and it was all 100% worth it. We’re now working on our fifth year in Mexico and we couldn’t be happier.

If you’re planning on moving to Mexico from another country, it’s important to come with an open mind, patience and a positive attitude toward change — because you will encounter a lot of it.

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

35 Comments on "Moving to Mexico: Transitioning from Tourist to Resident"

  1. Great post, as always! People should keep in mind that this pattern (ie it gets worse before it gets better) exists with many (most?) other big changes in life.

    My family and I have moved several times in my career, both domestically and internationally, and it followed that same pattern you described. First there’s the “honeymoon period” where everything is awesome and new and feels like vacation! (Especially where you live, where many people actually do go for vacation!). Then there’s the “OMG, what have I done???!!” period, where reality sets in and you start realizing that things aren’t all unicorns and rainbows. But then – and this always happens – you hit the final phase, where you’ve learned to adapt to the new normal and things are better than when you started.

    Overall, the message is really important – it will be hard initially, but if you give it time it will absolutely be worth it! Very much looking forward to going through this myself down there in a few years 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your experience and your advice. 🙂

      • Michèle Favarger | October 29, 2019 at 2:43 pm | Reply

        We decided to spend a minimum of six months here and are pursuing our temporary residency. We are experiencing the usual challenges. One larger challenge is that I speak Spanish pretty fluently, and my husband is in the beginning stages so that doesn’t make it as easy equally connecting with the locals, but this too we shall overcome! Love your YouTube videos. So helpful to new Spanish speakers! Thank you to both of your from both of us!

  2. Lucille Zimmerman | October 26, 2019 at 7:41 am | Reply

    Muchas Gracias. Yes, the “OMG, what have I done?” moment. Not sure when mine came – maybe at about 3 to 4 months, a while after I had moved out of my Airbnb stay of 2 months and into my long-term rental. Although I had heard many times this moment would come, as it does for everyone, I forgot all about that in the moment! Eight and a half months in now……….si, getting much easier, but I still have things on my to do list that I had planned on having done much sooner – i.e, decisions regarding medical care, enrolling in a Spanish speaking class. This Post has been very helpful in assuring me I am on the right track.

    • Most new expats discover quickly that their projected timelines were a bit unrealistic and didn’t coincide with their learning curve. But that’s part of the fun and adventure, right? Well, at least the adventure…lol.

  3. Robert Sterling | October 26, 2019 at 8:20 am | Reply

    I have a different perspective. My roomie and I moved on July, 2017 into a house I bought virtually sight unseen in Playa Del Carmen. I needed to retire and couldn’t afford to do so in the U.S. Neither of us had ever been to Mexico, except when I went to look at the house.

    In November we had to return to Florida for a couple of weeks. It would be great! We’d be staying with her daughter, we’d see all our friends (a very tight-knit group), and we were just in time for our favorite music festival.

    By our third day back in the U.S. we were asking each other, “How long do we have to stay here? When can we go home?”

    Three months in Mexico, and it was already home. Never a “what have I done” moment for either of us… it just keeps getting better and better. BTW, neither of us spoke Spanish!

  4. Michelle Mollner | October 26, 2019 at 8:33 am | Reply

    LOL Milk and Eggs! Had to chuckle, still can’t get used to that. Best decision we’ve ever made was moving to QROO! Would have been so much easier if we discovered your awesome blog before we moved! Thanks for all the great info. Now, whenever someone asks how we did it, I send them here!

  5. Hola,
    Thanks so much for your helpful posts. I have one , somewhat personal, question. Do you have children and/or grandchildren? How do you manage a life away from them and other family and close friends? That gets in the way for us. How happy would we be living without the ease of those relationships? I realize there are visits but …..

  6. We traveled to Mexico twice a year for more than 10 years before deciding to live here after our retirement. During our previous travels to Oaxaca we developed many close friendships that have made the move a bit less stressful. I’m not sure it would have been as easy to navigate the differences in culture, language and business without the help from our friends.

  7. Came to San Miguel de Allende 35 years ago with my family after I graduated from college. Even though we were fortunate to have traveled the world over, that vacation made a huge impact on me. I remember sitting across the street from some kind of postal service near the Instituto, and watched Americans come and go with their SS checks, etc. It was a quiet sleepy, beautiful town. I thought to myself, what if I just dropped off the planet here in Mexico? Now I am almost 4 weeks into looking for a long term rental, in my broken Spanish I try out conversations on the street not sure where they will go, and embrace the gentle, generous and open culture that is Mexico. Thank you for the encouragement!

  8. I’m so glad that someone referred me to your blog. We vacation here often and have often wondered if we could live here, at least for six months of the year. So, this winter, we are coming for one month, our longest stay yet. We know it’s not the same as moving but hope that if we gradually stay longer and longer, it will help us decide if a move is right for us. Cannot wait. Hope we cross paths in Feb and thanks for the great info.

    • I’m glad to hear that you’ve found the blog useful. Coming down for a month is a good idea to see if you can see yourselves living here for an extended period of time or even permanently. 🙂

  9. A Mexican friend told us that newcomers are much happier when they understand that the real translation of mañana is “not today”!!

  10. Always a great read and a great source of information for all. It is the “go to” for anyone contemplating a move or extended stay in Mexico!

  11. The laid back “Manana” issue is a hard one for stressed out “I want it now” gringo’s to overcome. I’ve been a business owner for 30 + years, and we just call that “BAD BUSINESS” or “unreliable”. I’ve noticed that the service in some restaurants in the area are not up to par with the USA, and I’ve discovered that it’s because they mostly hire family, and they never (rarely) fire family. In a restaurant in the US, those with bad attitudes and poor work ethic would be fired and replaced (Of course there are ALWAYS exceptions). I’ve worked with (Hired and employed) Mexicans (On H-2B work visas) for over 20 years here in the USA, so I know first hand about the family thing. As an employer we often couldn’t fire a worker without making his father, brother, cousin, ETC.. upset, so it had to be handled with kids gloves and we had to put up some sub-standard work issue and giving constant encouragement / prodding to the worker. Generally, it was other NON-RELATED workers that would complain about the worker being slow, or having a bad attitude.

  12. and BTW, I’ve owned my condo for almost two years now, and I still a haven’t gotten everything (utility bills) switched over to my name.. I have to rely on my PM and the utility co’s to do their part… YES, the ball has gotten dropped on more than one occasion. The only one we lack now is Z-Gas… They have been a problem. One of the bills just has to stay in the old owners name (She knows about this and is okay with it) unless we want to pay a ransom to get it switched over. UH. MM,, Solar Panels..

    • Ah, switching utilities over into one’s name is one of those things no one ever expects to be difficult when they first move down, but often is.

  13. When I met my husband in Cancun and we fell in love, we were both open to where we would live. He offered to try living in USA so he went for it. He handled the transition very well, but at the end of his first year he shouted out” how happy he was that he made it through the first year”. He said he had almost turned back a couple of times. Hopefully his experience will help me as we look at moving to Mexico this coming year. I think the most important thing is to make friends and reach out to people . People are good and getting emotional support is key to happiness during the hard transition moments. The biggest differences are: in USA we have rules and penalties for everything, people are more jealous and individualistic, less compassionate and empathetic. In Mexico people are nice, forgiving and very authentic and like to share. I have learned so much by living with him. Loyalty to family and friends is a big part of the culture. And I thought I was “Mexican” because my parents are from Mexico. Truth is I am acculturated and need to tune into the values in Mexico when I move.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience and good luck on your move to Mexico this coming year. I’m sure with the help of your husband you’ll transition more easily than most to Mexico life. Keep us updated from time to time on how things are going.

      Take care.

      Paul

  14. Tamara Cardenas | October 26, 2019 at 1:16 pm | Reply

    I’ve been living in Mexico (on and off) since 1991 when I discovered Bahias de Huatulco. Working in the States, always preparing for my permanent move which I did 3 years ago.. Your solid advice, Spanish lessons and excitement are awesome. Admittedly, there have been times were I had to reel it back in, take several deep breaths and remind myself why all those years ago I dedicated myself to moving, living and embracing my new life. Never give up ya’ll! Enjoy every minute and when it gets to be too much – mezcal and cerveza –
    Viva Mexico!!!!!

    • Thanks for the positive feedback. I means a lot to me whenever someone says that they found the blog and/or Spanish lessons useful in their move down. It makes this whole hobby blog thing worth continuing. 🙂

  15. Good for you guys!! I’m originally from Mexico but live in Canada. Hope you guys enjoy my country more then I can. Great to hear good comments about Mexico… Disfruten!!

  16. Gracias Senor! for your input… Hasta manana…

  17. My husband and I have been living in Mexico for over 13 years now. There are a couple of other stages that you will go through. We love it here, but have had times that we have questioned “to stay, or to move on” (not necessarily to go back!). 1) When something bad happens (we have had our home robbed twice) you wonder what your limits are – “What could happen that will make us want to leave?”. 2) When something changes (good or bad) at home, you start to think maybe you are missing out by being so far from family, or we could be more helpful if we were there. Examples are grandchildren, family health problems, etc. 3) Once you have been in a place for a long time, you see a lot of changes – people you have become good friends with move on, your exciting adventure can become “routine”, development and more expats constantly arriving change your town. So far, out decision has been that the great outweighs any negatives, and we still are loving our lives here. One day, who knows, we are always up for an adventure.

    • Hi Kathi,

      Wow, 13 years is a long time. Thanks for sharing a little bit about your own experiences. I’m sure many of our readers will find that useful as they adjust to Mexico life.

  18. Hi…Next week, I shall be moving to Mexico, I have been living in Chiang Mai Thailand with my wife for 3 years, we decided to move to Mexico in January this year, but we needed to do it in an orderly way and planned to move on the 23 July, but tragically, my 68 year-old wife died on 02 June 2019 whilst we were on a weekend break in Hanoi Vietnam. I promised I would take her to Mexico and that, I will do on 05 Nov, I, and my wife’s dog, Addie, will land in Cancun late 05 Nov, we will spend 6 days in Puerto Morelos, 7 days in Tulum then 3 days in Valladolid before eventually arriving in Merida where I intend to settle, I have two lady friends in Merida who have kindly organised for me, accommodation for 3-4 months, staying at a large house with a recently widowed gentleman in his mid 80’s, just 3 years older than me, I have lost 2 wives in 5 years and shall be looking for new friends in Merida which has a wonderful social life.
    Moving country is not as traumatic as people fear, take life as it comes, roll with the punches and be flexible, don’t look for a replica of what you had in your home country, mix with Mexicans, learn from their culture, change is part of the big adventure, the Libra in me makes me cherish the good things that come my way, I embrace life. Fortunately I am very fit, 178cm, 68 kilos, vegetarian, ready for any physical or mental challenge, and, on my own, being a British Australian from Queensland I embrace that change as part of my new adventure.
    Cheers Bryan

    • Hi Bryan. I’m so sorry to hear that you’re wife passed away. I’m sure that will make the move to Mexico more difficult, at least emotionally if nothing else. From your post you seem like a very resilient person who follows his own advice of being able to “roll with the punches and be flexible.”

      Good luck on your Mexico adventure! You’re coming at a great time. We haven’t had any problems with Sargassum and the beaches are beautiful.

      Paul

  19. No truer words have been spoken. We arrived Jan 24th 2019. To close on our newly constructed house on Jan. 28. The house wasnt officially delivered to us untill June 27th. And we closed on Sept. 19th. Lol. Our finger prints for our temp. Visa’s were taken on May 20th. Still no Cards. Our brand new Fridge failed on July 27th. The new replacement was delivered today, Nov. 2nd 2019. I have had to move from a type A personality to a Type X .. Lol. However we wouldn’t change a thing. We Love Tulum, and our community. Your Blog has made the transition much smoother. For that Galen and I Thank You and Linda for your Guidance.

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