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Making It in Mexico

Merrie B. Weiss

Many people look down upon Mexico as a PT destination, for various reasons. It isn't a perfect haven--such a thing doesn't exist, so come to terms with that right now--but it does have much to recommend for those who want privacy, and a good chance of eluding the thought police from one's country of record. Let's take a closer look at the situation.

For those leaving the tyranny of the United States, Mexico is an easy travel destination. One may drive across the border, or fly in with few papers required--birth certificates for all travelers and picture IDs for the adults are all that's necessary. Driving in will render the party susceptible to numerous searches--and inevitably, shakedowns for fees (legal and elsewise)--that flying in avoids. However, flying leaves a more permanent record of one's travel, and a known landing point from which to begin a search. [Editors' note: See The Breeze's article on the US-Mexico border for more details on this subject.] On the other hand, flying in, particularly to a known tourist destination, can be quite inexpensive, and once in, it's easy enough to disappear into the country. Last, for those considering driving, note that the petroleum operations are owned by the government, and as is usual with a government monopoly, prices are high and service generally poor. The roads are also not kept in good repair, particularly between cities, so travel within the country can be interesting.

Disappearing, once there, is fairly easy, for two major reasons: Mexico is a large country, with vast stretches of largely unpopulated land; and its government quite inefficient compared to the US, Canada, and western Europe. Also, buses run between most major cities, and do not require identification with the purchase of passage, making it relatively easy to hide one's tracks. Mexico doesn't have a single bus company with national coverage, but a number of regional operators cover the country. ADO, Flecha Amarilla, and Pullman Morelos are among the most reliable of these and offer different levels of service, including some first class services as good as that on any airline.

Many cities have sizable English-speaking expat communities. These include Mexico City, Guadalajara, Cuernavaca, and Acapulco. Mexico City and Guadalajara are both large cities--Mexico City is among the top three most populous cities in the world--and have the attendant problems of overcrowding, crime, and grime. If you can become inured to city life, either of these is large enough to swallow you up and make it very difficult for someone to find you, provided you're careful about guarding your privacy. That includes being careful in the expat community, as well, something a number of PTs seem to forget. Expat is not the same thing as PT!

Another quite viable option for the more hardy among us is to "go native": disappear into the desert, or the mountain jungles. I've seen people making a living in both places, so I know it can be done (although I'm not entirely sure how, and I don't know how individuals accustomed to modern conveniences would fare). You'd also need to pass for native, or live like a hermit and have a trusted local act as your interface. Best not to count on that option until you've been there and done some scouting, at the least.

Assuming you are going to live in a populous area until you get your bearings, it's possible to maintain a rather nice standard of living on relatively little income. Currently the exchange rate is quite favorable to Americans--about 9.5 pesos nuevos per dollar. In many areas, particularly where tourism abounds, dollars are happily accepted at official rates or better, saving one the transaction cost of changing money. In other areas, dollars may be accepted--Mexicans generally seem not to have faith in their own currency--but you'll pay a premium rakeoff at each transaction. As is typical, prices are higher in and around large cities, with Mexico City and its sprawl being the worst. In southern Mexico, one may rent quite a nice house with a pool for the equivalent of under $200 per month. Food is likewise quite inexpensive. Most decent-size cities will have supermarkets (and Sam's Club is making its presence known as well), but the quality of their food isn't always the best, and the prices higher than you'll find at the mercado. Every city has its mercado--often an open-air market, sometimes with a central building with stalls--usually selling all manner of goods and services. Fresh produce, meats (not always refrigerated), poultry (your choice, live or pre-killed), cheeses, spices, clothing, piñatas, and of course, tortillas are available. It's a spectacle of sights and smells, and should be experienced at least once. Mexicans expect fresh food, and they get it; the quality of produce is better than some places in the United States. For those used to buying in bulk, however, even the supermarkets don't generally offer large packages of food items (Sam's Club being a notable exception). Most foodstuffs, even at supermarkets, don't contain preservatives and are sold with the expectation they will be consumed within a day or two; this is a country where a woman or servant goes to market virtually daily.

One may be able to live quite nicely on a fixed income, say, from a pension or interest from a successful investment. However, if it's at all possible that source could dry up, or the statist thugs block its transfer across borders, having a local income source is strongly advised. Depending upon your situation and comfort level, this might range from growing and selling produce to teaching courses in your home. Many people will pay handsomely for English lessons, for example, particularly from a native speaker. Computer skills are also sought after. Observe what's being offered in your area, and find ways to offer a unique twist on a good or service, or undercut the local price. Be certain to familiarize yourself with the market before you invest much time or effort into a particular idea, however; what may seem like a sure thing to you might not sail at all in Mexico, because of different customs or habits. For example, while restaurants are plentiful, "take-out" or other convenience foods are not yet widely accepted, because of the perception that such items aren't as fresh. It isn't uncommon for individuals in smaller cities--and even in better neighborhoods in some of the larger ones--to peddle their wares door to door.

The relative ease of entry, and very affordable cost of living are two of the primary advantages Mexico offers PTs. Another is a casual attitude toward the law, and bureaucracy in general. Mexican officialdom seems to love papers, permissions, fees, and stamps, so there's lots of regulations. However, most people shrug at them and work around them as much as possible. Bribes are not uncommon, and getting various documents through non-statist channels is possible, for the right price (again, less than one might expect). With the new president, Vincente Fox, it's possible that some of this bureaucracy might actually go away, but that's a long shot. Better to learn the fine art of "expediting" and accept it as a part of transacting business.

Perhaps the greatest disadvantage of a Mexican PT destination for Americans is the very strict firearms laws. Bringing one--or even related items, such as bullets--into the country is a serious crime. Purchasing one there legally is all but impossible, even for natives, and requires permissions, papers, and all the attention that a PT, even one with good fake ID, ought to avoid. Best to go with a black market purchase (but make sure you hide the thing well when transporting it, or you could be locked away for a very long time, with no appeal) or do without. As much as I admire and enjoy firearms, I enjoy freedom more, and in many ways Mexico offers more freedom than many first world countries.

If you prefer not to mix among the locals, living in an expat enclave in one of the aforementioned cities is another option. However, such a choice comes with higher risks. If someone comes searching for you, chances are good they'll begin in such places. Also, having others from the same country as you nearby increases the chance that you'll be caught out--perhaps by a news announcement on you, or by your own carelessness. Creating and maintaining a good cover, and your privacy, in such an environment is more effortful and intense. Still, this might be the best option if you know you won't be able to blend well and don't want a completely hidden lifestyle. If you're considering this method, determine as much as you can in advance of relocating, to minimize problems that could reveal you and your intentions.

Of all the countries I've visited over the years, Mexico is among the most appealing. The people are generally helpful and friendly, the food wonderful, and the climate warm, but not oppressive (unless you venture down into southern Mexico). It's a diverse place in many ways, making it a good choice for a PT hideaway. City or country, mountains or desert or ocean, Mexico likely offers as good a way for you to make a go of it as anywhere.

(c) 2000


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