How to Move Abroad – Part II
This is a follow-up post to the article I wrote for Flexjobs.com, How to Move Abroad and Take Your Job With You.
I am writing this post from the patio of the Casita I am renting with my wife in Ajijic Mexico.
Why are we doing this?
The cost of health insurance, the unstable situation in Washington D.C. related to health insurance, and because we can.
My wife and I are over 60 years of age, self-employed and neither of us is eligible for Medicare yet.
I will cover technology, transportation and this time, the community in this post.
This part of an ongoing series. Please check out the How to Move Abroad and Take Your Job With You Series Page.
Basically, this boils down to 2 types of technologies: mobile phone and Internet connectivity.
I am a long-time AT&T wireless customer, and as a former Lucent employee (the first tech startup I worked for was acquired by Lucent), I still have a hefty discount on any AT&T plan. Rather than buy a separate data plan for Mexico, I upgraded to an unlimited data plan which includes all of Mexico. I will revert back to my original data plan after we return in a couple of weeks.
This has allowed me to take calls seamlessly. Calling U.S. telephone numbers, on the other hand, has been … interesting. If I dial from the keypad to the U.S. based number, it will not work. If I take the same number and enter it into my iPhone Contacts app and dial from there – it works. Very odd, but it works.
It has been very convenient to have access to data of all of my favorite apps on my iPhone. This was in sharp contrast to when I was in Cuenca, Ecuador, where I had only 3G access and the carrier changed every few blocks I walked.
Basically, I had all of the services I would want on my trusty iPhone 6s.
I have had yet another very interesting experience with the Internet in Ajijic.
I admit I am spoiled. I have Google Fiber installed in my condominium in Austin, Texas. Then again how do you define high-speed Internet access?
Ajijic is no different than the previous locations I have traveled to, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Cuenca, Ecuador, the Internet connectivity is years behind what we have in the U.S. To be technical it is VDSL which is a technology I worked with about 15 years ago. It allows Internet traffic to travel over old copper wiring that has been in place for years.
When I arrived at the casita we are renting, I tested the upload and download speeds and what I found was the download speeds of about 4Mb/sec was acceptable but the upload speeds of .2 Mb/sec was abysmal. This will not support a video Skype call and barely a Skype audio call. I am testing to see if it will support a Zoom.us call.
These types of speeds are acceptable for most of your basic Internet functions but they are unacceptable when you want to have a high-quality video call.
My next option to explore is run the video calls over my cell phone connection. AT&T does not let me create a hotspot and share my Internet connection with other devices. Skype will not connect my iPhone – Zoom will – but I have not completely tested that yet.
The concept of working virtual when you move abroad only works if you have a high-speed Internet connection.
Ajijic is very easy to get to from the U.S. compared to the other cities that we are exploring.
Ajijic is a 25-minute taxi ride from the Guadalajara airport. There are many flights from all over the U.S. We had a lot of choices of direct flights from the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) airport to Guadalajara that were all quite reasonably priced.
Ajijic is very walkable if you do not mind walking on cobblestone streets. Taxis and buses are quite accessible and affordable. We have found many expats who live here do own automobiles. However, we have also met many who quite happily live automobile-free which is something we are looking for.
This is one feature that draws many to this community. Expats either want easy ways to travel home to visit family or to return to the U.S. for healthcare.
When you move abroad, transportation back to your home country is absolutely critical.
Ajijic is a much smaller city, than San Miguel de Allende and Cuenca. Only about 15,000 people live here. According to Wikipedia, there are about 1,000 full-time residents and 700 snowbirds who come for the winter months. It is not an international tourist destination and, therefore, most of the tourists are local or are people exploring the area for retirement. The “feel” of the city is very different than San Miguel de Allende or Cuenca. It feels like a community (including the locals) seem to have embraced the expats and what they bring to the community.
The region supports a healthy expat community which varies from 10,000 to 25,000 but many are snowbirds and only live in the region during the winter. Depending on who you listen to there are anywhere between 500,000 to 1 million expats living in Mexico.
Expats in Ajijic and the surrounding towns make up a larger portion of the population than the other locations we visited and, therefore, they have created a community within a community. Plus, best I can tell, the expats coming here in large part cannot afford to build million dollar villas but rather have much more modest abodes. These homes are still quite opulent when compared to the locals abodes but nothing like I experienced in places like San Miguel de Allende where multimillion-dollar compounds were not unusual.
We will be traveling to Boquete Panama early in 2018.
I also want to do a column on finances when you move abroad but continuing to do work back in the U.S.
I would really appreciate any comments on whether you find this useful.
To read the rest check out How to Move Abroad and Take Your Job With You Series Page.Marc Miller
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Great to hear your update. I guess we can all wait on the Internet access in Mexico and other Latin American countries. How is health care service in Mexico? My understanding is that healthcare providers in Mexico are trained in US medical schools.
Health care is quite good here. The North Shore of Lake Chapala has many US trained doctors at very affordable prices. Guadalajara has several world-class hospitals and is only a 30-minute drive away.
Thanks for the updates, Mark. I am fascinated and extremely interested in moving for retirement., although my wife is not on board (yet) 🙂
This is not for everyone and it definitely should be done by longer and longer test drives. We are here for 2 weeks and we will likely come back this winter for a month.
When we come back we will likely rent a car and explore doctors in the area.
Regarding the use of Skype. At least make sure you have it set to use port 443. Login, go to tools, options, advanced, connections use 443. Save, exit. Log back in and see if that helps.
Microsoft is slowly rolling out teams to work on this issue. Regarding keypad calls, Mexico stills tends to charge per minute, and of course that is going through slow networks.
Other tweaks are possible. We can go over that sometime, as they may be specific to hardware and countries. Enjoy Mexico.
You cannot change the ports on the iPhone app. I did figure this out as it was a setting on the iPhone Skype app blocking cellular usage.
I am not dialing calls but doing Skype to Skype or have people dial me on my Skype # which I pay about $60 per year for.
As someone that has never owned an apple product in my life, not sure if you use Skype for Business or Skype. This should have improved when Microsoft bought skype. It is still a security nightmare, I try to avoid.
Now with WhatsApp for audio, or even some video calling around the world, I pay nothing. I have recently helped them with encryption and security matters. It is pretty safe all around.
As you know, we both still watch money even if we have some. And I do make use of fiverr and Whats Up, freelancer.com helpers from other parts of the world.
If you find some good ones, it can be worth putting someone from Romania on a very low budget of money, or India, or Pakistan. A few dollars in those places goes far.
Assuming you have a good freelancer, I have spent hours going over having some of these people do work for almost nothing that someone in America would charge me thousands of dollars to do.
But also sort of helped WhatsApp with my side gig to my side gig, that is money laundering protection, helping a division of US treasury. Since I know Blockchain technology well, I have consulted to them about how to detect money laundering schemes. The use of WhatsApp is heavily used by people engaging in cryptocurrencies, and other investment type things. I know FOREX pretty well from years of studying this, previously being a broker too.
So, I stay within the US securities and exchange regulated markets and do well. As always, not something someone should dabble with unless they really know what they are doing. But I have helped shut down dozens of bogus exchanges in various places in and out of the US, helped FaceBook chase away hundreds of traders doing scams. Not for free. But doesn’t matter if someone disappears into the Dark Web, I find them.
Won’t get into the changing port on an iPhone. It is possible. But I will let that go for now. But the WhatsApp can be good. Might even beat that 60 dollar a year amount with Skype.
Hope all in Mexico is going your way. You know I have lived in places around the world. Mexico is just a country even I just won’t go to. Thought long ago I was helping get drugs out of Columbia, but they just ended up in Mexico. I guess as long as you have a strong area of protection where you are things are ok.
Just too many things can go wrong and someone ends up in jail or gets hurt. Stay safe my friend, Gregg
Thanks for adding to the conversation.
Your “perception” of Mexico is way off base. Most of the country is very safe and almost all of the violence is gang on gang. I am safer here in Ajijic than I am in Austin. That is backed up by facts and not perceptions.
Wish you the best. I obviously don’t have anything against Latino or Hispanic people. My wife in the past was from Panama. Good to hear that Mexico is safe.
Of course, the gangs are of concern. But then they run the country. Just one country I personally would not take chances on living. Although I know many people that have made the move to such a country.
I am more the type that likes cold weather. So, if I stay in the states I will eventually move to Colorado. Outside the US, it has to have mountains. Austin is pretty safe. Although I don’t watch the news, but never have heard of any crime in this town.
Now Houston where family of origin lives, that is about all I hear when I go visit there. I used to drive and do consulting at companies in Houston. These days work in with Ecommerce to high ticket clients that are in the US, Canada, and UK. It is all phone based, and will make a transition to group coaching after a few more months. For me knowing all platforms with over 20 years IT experience, it is different helping small size companies, but one out of five are not on the Internet at all. So I helped enough large companies in the past make millions, now I am sharing this knowledge with small companies. Stay safe. Gregg
Brynne VanHettinga says
Thank you for providing so much information about alternative livelihoods for those of us in the later part of our work lives. Also appreciate that you can give us a boots-on-the- ground perspective about life in specific locations. There is nothing like being there, and your suggestion to visit a place (and testing the technology infrastructure) before making a decision is a good one. It seems like the biggest trade-off may be between cost of living and amenities such as reliable communications and internet.
Here are some additional resources to help those who are contemplating a move abroad:
For those who may already be receiving (or planning to apply for) Social Security: You can receive Social Security benefits in countries that have social security agreements with the U.S. You can find a list of these countries here: https://www.ssa.gov/international/countrylist3.htm. (Mexico is not one of them).
If you are younger than full retirement age and work in your new host country for more than 45 hours (this includes both wage and self-employment income), you will have to report this to Social Security, or you could lose your benefits. Social Security has a publication with more detail about specific rules and requirements here: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10137.pdf
You will still have Medicare if you move outside the U.S., but it will not cover care received outside the U.S. You may opt to forego Part B, since you will likely be paying more than you will be getting. Mark’s suggestion to either plan to return to the U.S. for health care or figure out how to get health care in your new host country is spot on. Some expats may be eligible for national health insurance in their new host country, so this is also worth researching.
Taxes: If you remain a U.S. citizen while living abroad, you will still have to file a tax return in the U.S. The good news is that you can opt to take the foreign tax credit (Form 1116), which reduces your U.S. tax liability for each dollar paid to a foreign jurisdiction. Alternatively, you can opt to exclude foreign earned income (Form 2555) up to $102,100 (in 2017).
A study by the Boston Consulting Group (https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/human_resources_leadership_decoding_global_talent/) found that 35% of Americans are willing to move outside the U.S. for work, which is low compared to a world-wide average of 64%. However, the willingness to move for work is much higher among millennials (59%), who are having a harder time getting a secure footing in the job market. The same could also apply to older workers displaced from the job market, although there has been no specific study on this (that I know of).
At the height of the Great Recession in 2008, the one-millionth American established residency in Mexico. While Americans have been doing this for decades, the type of persons and reasons for moving are changing. In the past, Mexican expats tended to fall into one of three categories: retirees, corporate transferees, or individuals with troubled histories looking to make a new start. The newer expat is looking for things like lower cost of living (or better match between income and expenses), better public amenities, and a slower and more family-friendly quality of life.
Finally, any potential expat should keep in mind the volatility in Washington, and how this may affect one’s ability to return to the U.S. A friend who edits a newspaper in Somalia suggested that I consider working there, since with my credentials I would likely be living better than I currently am in the U.S. as an overeducated, underemployed (and older) professional. This fellow is highly educated and has lived and worked in both countries (i.e., I believe him). However, Somalia is now on a U.S. travel ban list as of October 18th of this year. Although one might hope a U.S. Passport offers some reassurance, I would not want to rely in this.
Mark, you are doing us a service by providing both information and a discussion forum for alternative livelihoods. As someone who has spent most of my working life in self-employment or freelance activities, I am accustomed to being scrappy and creative. More and more of us will have to find new ways of living and working—which will not make for an easy or painless transition, but has the potential to make us more free.
Look forward to hearing more about your ex pat adventures.
Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. You added a lot of value to the discussion.
You are correct that the people coming to Mexico and other countries south of the border are coming for different reasons than those that preceded us.
The instability in D.C. is both a reason to leave and stay. The Presidents recent tweets on NAFTA just improved the exchange rate in my favor.