My character Larleen wants to be first this time...
On the fourth day of our May 2016 Puerto Vallarta, Mexico vacation, we knew we wanted to move there.
We picked up and moved from Chicago to Vallarta six months later, in December 2016.
I was totally prepared for the logistics of MOVING.
What I wasn't mentally prepared for were some of the differences of living in a foreign country once we actually MOVED.
The three most crucial things we discovered about moving to a foreign country.
I. Language Barrier
The first crucial item is the language barrier.
When we vacationed in Puerto Vallarta, many people that worked in the tourist areas can speak English and we knew many ex-patriots live in Vallarta.
We figured the majority of people in Puerto Vallarta could speak English - well, that turned out to a fallacy.
We wanted to learn Spanish, though the 6 months we had to prepare for the move were crazy busy. No time to also learn a new language. Here were some of the preparations:
PREP FOR & SELL OUR HOUSE
FIND A PLACE TO LIVE IN PV
DETERMINE THE BEST PATH TO DRIVE FROM CHICAGO TO VALLARTA
GET HOTEL RESERVATIONS FOR THE DRIVE TO MEXICO - find hotels that allow two big dogs.
WHAT KIND OF MONEY WOULD WE NEED FOR THE DRIVE - how many pesos for the toll roads.
LOGISTICS FOR OUR STUFF (this was the biggest project, even bigger than selling our house):
1) which stuff would be shipped to Puerto Vallarta and stored in Ajijic since our house sold early.
2) take to my parents house (where we would stay the last few weeks before the move) - couture collars & display for artist booth for the One of a Kind Show in Chicago.
3) work clothes for the last couple of months we'd be in temporary housing, but that I wouldn't be taking with me to PV.
4) clothes for the drive to PV, plus for a few days in case our shipped stuff does not arrive in time.
5) dog food & emergency medications for them, including storage of raw food in the car for several days of driving.
6) what stuff to sell - then sell it.
7) what stuff to give away - and who wants it.
PREPARE REQUIREMENTS FOR TEMPORARY RESIDENCY & REQUIREMENTS FOR OUR TWO GREYHOUNDS TO ENTER MEXICO
FIND TEMPORARY HOUSING FOR A FEW MONTHS SINCE OUR HOUSE SOLD EARLY.
MAKE COUTURE DOG COLLARS & LEASHES FOR THE ONE OF A KIND SHOW (i had already signed up for this show - I owned this business in addition to a full-time corporate job)
MAY THRU NOVEMBER- CONTINUE TO WORK FULL-TIME.
ATTEND CHOCOLATE ACADEMY - in case we purchased the artisan chocolate business and artisan ice cream business in PV.
BEGINNING OF DECEMBER - ARTIST AT THE ONE OF A KIND SHOW, total of 5 days
There's a LOT to do when moving to a foreign country, especially when you own a house, have animals, have lots of stuff and are attending an art show before you leave. Learning Spanish simply could not be our priority in the 6 months of prep time before moving.
The language barrier literally hit us when we entered the roads of Mexico in our car - we didn't know the Spanish word for 'free' - and ended up taking a 2 hour detour off of the toll road onto the 'free road'.
The first full day in PV, we had Carls Junior for lunch because it felt like home (yes, I was definitely home sick for awhile, especially that first day) - though we had to point at the menu board to order - most staff at fast-food restaurants do not speak English.
The toughest language barrier test was getting internet and cell phone service, as most of the employees do not know English.
ADVICE: learn as much of the language as possible before you move.
II. Daily Home Life
The second crucial thing about moving to a foreign country is to expect the daily processes of home life to be different. I didn't think about this at all before we moved - and it's not a big deal really - but had I known of the many differences I think I would have been more mentally prepared.
EVERYTHING was new and seemed different and it was daunting at first.
Where do we leave our garbage? Each home doesn't have a large garbage bin for garbage and another one for recycling like we had in Chicago. In Gaviotas, you leave the garbage bags outside on the sidewalk/street and the garbage truck picks it up every day (well, sometimes they don't pick it up). In Conchas Chinas, there are garbage cans in the neighborhood where you drop off your garbage bags, and it's picked up a few times a week.
There is no separation for recycling, though in some areas of the city, they have installed cans for recycling.
Where are the mailboxes? Houses and businesses do not have mailboxes - maybe a few do, I just haven't seen them. That's because the Mexican postal service is not efficient - when I say not efficient, I mean that if someone in a different country or even the same country sends you mail, you may get it in 4 months, possibly 5 months, possibly never.
Where do they leave your mail since there are no mailboxes? Wherever... maybe stuck in your gate, on the sidewalk in front of your house, on your doorstep, near the gate of your building.
The addresses here are also not always in sequential order, and google maps cannot always find your address.
Gas for the House
Gas for the house is a big propane tank, which is refilled by a gas company.
What normally runs on gas here... the stove/oven and the on-demand water heater.
The first time our gas ran out, we panicked - we had NO IDEA what to do and figured it would be days before we could get hot water or use the oven. Fortunately we contacted an ex-pat neighbor who told us the company to call. They came out the same day to refill our gas, and then you pay them cash.
Is the internet reliable?
It's... mmmm.. pretty good... it does fluctuate often as far as speed.
The internet company that we utilize is the largest in the area, and is notorious for not responding to your needs until several tries. They give you a time/day that they will come to your place, and then you wait all day - and they don't show up. You have to call several more times. Finally you have to go to the office in person, and just maybe you'll get another appointment where they actually do show up.
There are now a few other internet providers, just not sure how reliable they are.
When we moved to Vallarta, it took us 6 weeks, that's right folks - 6 WEEKS to get internet at our home! We had to go to Starbucks or a restaurant every day just so that we could use the internet to do the necessary research for items we needed in Vallarta, as well as catch up on email.
By the time the internet company finally came out to our home, they told us that fiber optics was not installed to our house and the landlord had to install that first before they could install the internet.
One day soon after, I heard a noise outside... tap, tap, tap tap.
A man was using a small hammer-like tool to remove each cobblestone in front of our house, all the way to the corner where the fiber optic needed to be run... about a 100 yard line of cobblestones were removed for the optic line to be installed.
Food and Essentials
Where do we shop for food and essentials? Once you find a grocery store, you'll realize that they do not have many of the brands nor products that you're used to having at your fingertips in the U.S. Who knew that I couldn't buy soft quilted Northern toilet paper in Vallarta? Do I have to have that brand? No, not really... it was just my go-to for toilet paper... fragrance free and oh so soft!
There may be specialty stores in the city so there's a lot of shopping at different small stores to get items. And many of those specialty items are much more expensive to buy here than in the U.S. because of import and tax fees.
Amazon may deliver a few items to you in Mexico - but for the most part, you'll need to ask people to bring special items you want when they visit, or when you visit your home country. And it's like Christmas when you get those items!
I realize now that I took for granted how easy it was to buy what I wanted in the U.S., with tons of choices of brands/organic options.
I was surprised that I would care about certain brands... here're just a few items that I love that I cannot buy in Vallarta...
filiz turkish tea, zum laundry soap, all-cotton clothing, quilted northern toilet paper
III. Immune System
The third crucial thing you must know about moving to a foreign country is about your immune system. Do everything you can to strengthen your immune system before you move - and if you can, take it easy the first couple of years - don't do too much.
Once we arrived in Vallarta, we were told that it may take a year for your body to adjust to the new location/climate.
Your body may get sick more often - your immune system is adjusting to a totally different climate location on earth, water treatment system, culture - which has different types of bacteria and bugs.
Todd and I both had stomach issues for the first year and a half - which was something we rarely had in Chicago. We also had a few colds that lasted quite a long time.
Part of the reason our bodies were weaker was probably because we also bought two businesses one month after we moved - so our stress level just tripled because now we had to figure out not only how to live in another country, but how to run two businesses. We didn't have much time to relax and for the first couple of years worked normally 6 days a week. The summers slowed down because of less tourists, but that was also our time to figure things out, make improvements, remodel, etc.
The best thing that EVER happened to me in regard to my health (and that of my pups) is finding a naturopath in Puerto Vallarta and I've learned incredible things about natural health and my body.
There you have it, the 3 crucial things you should know about moving to a foreign country.
It's a super exciting time and it can also be overwhelming... the more information you know ahead of time, the more comfortable you'll be when you move.