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Moving to a New Country: What I Wish I’d Known

Note: I almost didn’t post this. I was afraid it came across as a bit negative, when negative is the last thing I feel about moving here! Still, since these are things I wish I’d known, quite a few of them deal with pitfalls I’ve inadvertently stumbled into. If I can help someone else avoid them, it’s all to the good. Just please know that I’d do it all again if I could, even with the mistakes I’ve made.

It’s now been almost four months since I arrived in Mexico with only four suitcases and three cats to my name. While I researched the heck out of everything before making this leap, there’s still quite a few things I wish I’d known before moving here…

1. When renting a place, get everything in writing. This probably seems like a no-brainer, but since we were renting from a close connection of a dear Mexican friend, we got a receipt for my security deposit (after many, many weeks of badgering) but not an actual rental contract. Unfortunately, this led to several things that I was told were included in the rent not actually being included. Mexico protects renters, but only if you have a contract that proves what you were promised.

2. Make sure you have your own meters for gas and electricity and know how to read/find them. This may only apply to Mexico, but it’s something I never would have known to do before moving here, so I’m including it in case it helps someone else. In my case, the gas tank is shared between my casita and the main house, which isn’t good. It means that if people rent the main house (something I was assured would never happen when I rented the place, but has since happened twice in less than four months), they could be using gas I’ve paid for. When it comes to electricity, I have to trust that my landlord is giving me the right bill, as I have no way of verifying this.

3. Veterinary care is much cheaper, but quality cat litter and food are not. It’s challenging to source good cat food and litter in my little town. Thanks to Amazon Mexico and occasional trips to bigger towns, I’ve been able to manage it, but the price of decent clumping cat litter is shockingly expensive (it’s also worth it — the cheap stuff makes the entire house smell pretty fast).

Winter is Still Winter…Just Different

4. Keep your jeans and fuzzy socks. This I’ll go into more in an upcoming blog post about what I wish I’d kept, but it gets colder here during winter evenings than I was anticipating. Thankfully, I did keep fuzzy socks and flannel pyjamas, but I really wish I’d kept a pair of jeans and some long pants. (I originally intended to, not sure what happened there.)

5. Take the advice expats give you with a grain (or entire bag) of salt. I’ve learned useful things from almost everyone I’ve met, but some long-term expats have had bad experiences, which in turn makes them want to warn the “newbies.” But hearing advice like “Everyone is out to scam you,” and “All the men here cheat,” (not true, by the way) was the opposite of helpful.

6. Don’t take basic necessities for granted. I was prepared for occasional water insecurity, especially in the summer, but I wasn’t prepared to have so many problems with water when I first moved here. In my first two months of living here, plumbers visited me at least fifteen times. It wasn’t unusual for me to have no running water. Sadly, for some, this is a normal way of life, but for a privileged Westerner, it was incredibly stressful. Thankfully, (knock on wood) that problem seems to have been resolved now, but a hot shower is still the Holy Grail. I don’t think I took water for granted before, but it’s precious to me in a new way now.

Bad (Or At Least Misguided) Advice

7. Don’t believe “whatever you want, you can get it in Mexico (or any other place).” This is probably true, with the exception of Hy’s Seasoning Salt (if you’re not Canadian, you probably have no idea what you’re missing out on), but it’s also going to cost you, dearly. If there’s something you really love and/or use a lot, like a particular kitchen tool, a cat toy, or a nice blanket, bring it with you if you can. Still, there’s no need to move your entire house down and set up Your Country Part II in your new home.

8. Also don’t believe “the easiest way to learn the language is through immersion.” I’m so glad I ignored all the people who told me not to work so hard on learning Spanish before I came! It’s not easy to learn a language by just moving to a place where most people are fluent in it, or at least, it hasn’t been for me. When it comes to directing an Amazon driver to my place, telling a plumber what’s going on in my house, or asking my landlord a million questions, my Spanish has been an absolute necessity. The more Spanish you know, the more confident you’re going to feel when it comes to making friends with locals and exploring your new home.

Spend Your Time Wisely – It’s Your Most Valuable Resource

9. Taking over two months to adjust and “acclimate” before starting to work again was probably the worst thing I did. Yes, it gave me more time and opportunities to try new things and meet people, but it also led to the blues and feeling aimless and worrying too much. If I’d created a work schedule shortly after I arrived, even if I’d taken some days off now and then, it would have been a lot better for me.

10. Don’t hang out with people out of desperation. This I should have learned from previous moves — just because you’ve met someone and they’re in the same place doesn’t mean they’ll make a good friend for you. I’ve met some wonderful people here, but others just weren’t a good fit for me, and I tolerated treatment and behaviour that would have been unacceptable to me back in Canada. I’ve learned it’s much better to have fewer invitations but feel happy more often.

Overall, this has been an amazing experience for me, and I love my little town and my new country. I’m going to continue to learn as I go, so I’m sure there will be updates to this post. I’m also thinking it will be helpful to write about the best and worst advice I received about immigrating, and the items I wish I’d kept.

What about you? Have you ever moved to a different country? What’s something you wish you’d known?

Got any questions for me? Ask me anything!

P.S. Wondering what the heck I’m doing here? Read this post!

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.

27 Comments

  1. Kimberly

    I’ve never even visited another country (besides Canada)!

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, Canada definitely qualifies as a different world from the U.S.!

      Reply
  2. Liesbet

    Thanks for the update and the tips, JH! I really enjoy reading about your personal experiences in Mexico.

    Moving to another country is never easy and comes with issues different than “at home”. And to be honest, you can only plan and “anticipate” so much. There will be bad experiences and I’m glad you are sharing them as well as the good ones (I aim to provide a realistic image of our lifestyle as well).

    Well, as you can imagine I can elaborate on many items to mention here. 🙂 But, let’s just restrict it to pet food. Maya has many allergies and she needs fish-based (salmon) quality food as she is allergic to chicken, which is in most foods.

    Anyway, in the US a 12kg bag costs $40. Mark researched which countries in South America have her brand (but slightly different ingredients) available. In Colombia, we paid about $70 a bag (still 12kg), in Peru $86 a bag, and – hurray – we recently stocked up in Chile for $57 a bag. The only other country that has it is Paraguay. No idea about the price yet.

    Imagine how much extra weight we carry and where we store these bags (we usually have three at a time) in our camper, haha.

    And, I also wanted to mention that the older I get, the more precious my time is, so I hate to spend it with people I don’t connect with or don’t have anything in common with. And that comes from someone who used to be super social and didn’t want to miss out on anything! I also understand your regret about not having a work schedule from the start. Now, it feels like you wasted some of those two months.

    I’m glad you’re figuring things out in Mexico and that you are happy with your move. And, with your new friends. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much for chiming in with your experience, Liesbet! You have a lot more of it than I do, and it’s good to hear I’m not alone with the pet food struggles. One of my cats has become a super diva who only wants to eat treats now. I’ve given up on finding them the super high quality, veterinarian-approved food that they used to have, and am just doing the best I can with what I can find. I asked my friend Julio what he feeds his cats, and he said leftovers! He said, “They eat what we eat.” I guess that’s one economical solution to the problem.

      Good point about time being precious. I don’t feel like those two months were wasted, but I think I could have avoided a lot of sadness and worrying if I’d started work sooner.

      Reply
  3. Jim

    Moving to another country regardless of how much research and advice from friends is always going to have it’s pitfalls.
    These you ony find out about once you’ve made the move!
    Most of what you say is just common sense but a huge undertaking like yours will only be resolved by time, and as you rightly say time is your most precious resource. Use it well.

    Reply
    • JH

      Maybe for you it’s common sense, but I read and researched so much before I moved here, and didn’t see a single thing about Mexico protecting renters but contracts being necessary, or about the gas and electricity meters. This is stuff that we take for granted in Canada, so I figured it was worth mentioning in case someone else finds it helpful.

      As for using my time well, that’s always the goal, but sometimes you only find out after the fact that a person wasn’t worth your time. 🙂

      Reply
      • JIM

        All true J.H.

        Reply
  4. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    You have to know the language because they will take advantage of you if you don’t! Glad you are managing now.

    Reply
    • JH

      I swear that isn’t true, Alex. People here are so nice, and so willing to help. In some cases, foreigners will always pay more, but if you think about it, it’s only fair. We make international students pay double the tuition of local students. In most cases, the people moving here have a lot more resources than the people born here, and Mexicans are suffering from foreigners driving prices up everywhere. I’m okay if I get charged more for a blanket at the market. 🙂

      Reply
  5. L. Diane Wolfe

    Good advice about not hanging out with someone just to hang with someone.

    My step-sister and one of my authors live in Mexico and they could’ve given you some positive advice.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Diane, but there’s been no shortage of advice, trust me! 😀 I’m going to do a follow-up post on both the good and bad advice I’ve received.

      Some things you just need to figure out for yourself. Especially since everyone’s experience is different. <3

      Reply
  6. Andrea

    Glad to hear you and your cats are settling in at your new home.
    My main question is how are you dealing with healthcare? We have big issues in Canada but we know we can access medical help without emptying our bank account.

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Andrea! As a resident, I’m covered under Mexican healthcare. It’s free. But there is paid healthcare available too, and it’s much more reasonable than what we’d pay in the U.S. or Canada. I’ve been looking into insurance plans for more serious issues, should they arise, and the cost is pretty prohibitive, but I’ve heard there are Mexican plans that are a lot better, so I’ll be investigating those.

      I’m still young, fit, and in good health, so Mexican healthcare is enough for me right now. A lot of Canadians come here to see specialists and get operations quicker!

      Reply
  7. Birgit

    My mom moved from Germany to Furney, BC and arrived when it was 50 below. She thought she landed in a barren wasteland. She decided to read a book to learn English but she picked “Of Mice and Men.”
    I think what you are doing is great and an eye opener in so many ways. I just spoke with a client who lived I. Mexico City for a year and loved it. Your trouble with water and the utilities makes me know how lucky we are. I’m enjoying your read.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hey, there were many times while living in Canada, I felt it was a barren wasteland.

      And yes, water insecurity is not fun. But, at the same time, I think dealing with these inconveniences and hardships is necessary sometimes. I don’t know about where you live, but it wasn’t uncommon for people to complain about everything where I was before. That is not the Mexican way at all. People accept things with a different kind of grace here.

      Too funny she picked “Of Mice and Men”! Probably just confirmed her original impressions.

      Reply
  8. Mark L'estrange

    Dear Miss Moncrieff
    I am so sorry to hear that you have experienced so many obstacles in your first 4 months, but fortune favours the brave and you are probably the bravest person I know for following your dreams and moving to another country with nothing more than your adorable fur-babies and your summer clothes. You really do put the rest of us to shame and I know that very soon you will look back and laugh at your initial stumbling blocks. Don’t go looking for friends, true friends will find their way to you, just keep being you.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Mark! I’m always open to new friends, and sometimes I have to be the one to make the effort–it’s all part of being the newbie!

      I really appreciate all the kind words. Thanks for all your encouragement and support!

      Reply
  9. Nikki B.

    So many things to think of! I am a huge planner, even for traveling, so I can only imagine how much I’d stress myself out if I moved to a different country. Or even a different state at this point. 😊 Sounds like a learning curve for sure!

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, stressful is a great word for it. But thankfully, it all ends up being worth it. Moving here has been one of the best things I’ve ever done, and it’s early days still.

      Reply
      • Nikki B.

        I am so happy that is the case and I hope it just continues to prove worth it and more and more valuable to your happiness. 😁

        Reply
        • JH

          Thanks so much, Nikki! As always, I really appreciate your love and support!

          Reply
  10. Catherine Cavendish

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, J.H. It is certainly a major challenge moving to a new country – not only when it comes to different language, cultures, food and customs but also the things you never think about. The devil really is in the detail as you have discovered. You think you have all bases covered and then…you can’t get decent cat litter!

    Reply
    • JH

      Exactly! Though I’ve found a way…it just isn’t cheap! 😀

      Hope you’re doing well, my friend. xx

      Reply
  11. Rebecca M Douglass

    Good tips! About language immersion… it’s a great way to gain fluency. But if you really want to learn well that way, you need a good base to start with. Studying like hell before you go was a smart move. Have a great time!

    Reply
    • JH

      Maybe it’s good for some, but it really wouldn’t have been enough for me. Plus, knowing some of the language gives you more confidence to speak in the first place. 🙂

      Reply
  12. Karen Gowen

    I’ve been here 4 years and probably ready to move book soon.

    Reply
    • JH

      Been where? Mexico?

      Reply

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