So much has happened in the last two months and I don’t have time to do a break down but I will when we settle. Unfortunately, right after my last post my wife and I came down with COVID that knocked us down for several weeks. Triple vaxxed and still, but I digress..
I have often looked to the universe for signs. Good, bad, indifferent, I have come to rely on signs to point me in the right direction. If it is meant to be, it will. If it isn’t, stop fighting and listen. We have gone from a dream, to a plan, to an action. We sold our home to friends during this crazy market. It has reaffirmed our decision and it felt so right. We have sold our cars without issue, donated, gifted or sold the rest of our belongings and the path has remained clear. We will be leaving Washington state later this week for a, ” farewell tour” to California to see my family before boarding a plane on a one way ticket to Mexico later this month.
I will update next month after we settle in. Until then-Saludos!
Also known as, Consulado de México. This is where you start the process of legally entering Mexico if you want to stay past the 180 day tourist visa. Obviously our intent is to stay for an undetermined amount of time. Could be a several years, could be forever. The one thing I can say with absolute certainty is the only thing that is consist between consulates is that their Visa requirements are all different. Covid has restricted some consulates to only serving people in their geographical area, as determined by them. Portland, for example, is currently only serving Oregon and southern Washington state. Other consulates, like Las Vegas, are serving anyone. We chose Seattle because A) that’s our closest office. B) They were only asking for 6 months of financial documentation (which was still 35 pages) and C) They were conducting the initial interview via Zoom. All good things. In my last entry, I had just been notified that we had been processed and they had offered us an interview date!
Fast forward several weeks, our Zoom interview went very well. We were asked questions surrounding why we chose México, what ties we had there, and other basic questions. While I was nervous about the interview, I knew our intentions were solid and reflected what they wanted to see in someone seeking permanent residency. It helped that we are homeowners there and had already established solid ties to friends and our community, I’m on our HOA board and we had made several trips down over the last few years. It also helped that my wife lights up every time we talk about México and what she loves about the people, culture, and of course, the food. We were approved for our Visas and I can tell you that I genuinely felt welcomed to Mexico. Our agent was extremely helpful and kind throughout the process. This is not a new feeling, most Mexicans are extremely kind and welcoming to foreigners in their country so long as you show some respect and leave the entitlement at the border. We then needed to appear at the consulate in person to have our fingerprints and photos taken. I returned the next day to pick up our actual visas. This is what it looks like, they place it in your passport. You have 6 months to enter México to finish the process at INM (Instituto Nacional de Migración/Immigration) and exchange your visa for your resident card. Once you enter, you have 30 days to start the process.
Depending on your finances, age, and intentions, you may be approved for temporary or permanent residency. The only difference is that temporary needs to be renewed, sometimes annually, for up to 4 years at which time you will have to roll it over to permanent or leave the country. The one upside to temporary (TP/Temporal Residente) is that you could bring a foreign plated car into México via a TIP (Temporary Import Permit) for a long as your visa is valid. Qroo Paul has an excellent blog with endless information about moving to Mexico. You can read the article here for more information on the ends and outs of bringing your car.
If you are offered permanent residency and have no intention of bringing a car, take it. Nobody wants to spend their time, money, or patience having to deal with immigration in Mexico. Further, if you are not fluent in Spanish (reading and writing) and don’t have a bunch of time, money and patience, I highly recommend using an immigration specialist to help you complete the process in Mexico. There are several throughout the country, search the Facebook expat boards for recommendations.
That’s all for now folks! Happy fall and safe travels.
I apologize to those of you who had been following along. I have dropped the ball. Life has been CRAZY this year.
Previously on, BBYODO, we had just returned from the Riviera Maya and purchased a home in Puerto Aventuras. I had a horrific diving accident at 100 feet that landed me in the chamber with the bends and I thought I would likely never dive again.
Shortly after we returned from Mexico in November, we began plotting a return trip to get the new house ready. We had hoped to close on our property in January but the seller lived in Colorado and the secretary of state there was backed up for weeks due to Covid. She need a letter apostilled so her attorney in Mexico would have power of attorney to sign all the documents on her behalf. We were able to do the same in Washington and it only took a few days. Our trip back to Puerto Aventuras and our new home had been booked for late February. Well, closing day in January came and went and we agreed to an extension to early February. That day came and went… at this point, we were becoming very nervous about the entire process. We had already wired all of our money to the escrow account set up by our agent and it wasn’t that we were concerned about that, we were concerned that the seller would fail to preform and we were already committed to this house emotionally and financially. Ultimately, the night before our flight, we agreed on a soft close. The form that we had been waiting for from the State of Colorado finally came the first week of March while we were there. SUCH a relief!
While we were down in February, I knew I was not ready to go back to diving. Instead, we made our way to Akumal and spent the day snorkeling with the Turtles in Akumal bay. By the way, there is a trick to avoiding all the people selling tours, etc. Go grab some breakfast at Lol-Ha where you can park close to the bay or consider visiting Akumal Dive Center to rent a locker or gear if you need it. From Lol-Ha, walk down toward the bay and slightly to your right. You do not need to buy a tour to swim in the bay but these rules are constantly changing. You do need to stay out of the roped off areas but there is still plenty of bay to explore on your own. Here is a greatmap with tips and tricks I found for Akumal bay. Turtles galore! Make sure you wear biodegradable sunscreen and don’t wear fins.
I am not going to lie, just having my face in the water with a snorkel was anxiety producing. At one point, I ended up leaving Lisa to do her own thing while I collected myself. I had no expectations of being able to go diving but I was surprised that just being in the ocean was PTSD provoking. This is not ok! The whole reason we chose the area of Mexico that we did was so we would have very easy accessibility to the ocean, diving, etc. It was about this time I befriended a woman named Robin who owns Aquanauts dive shop in Puerto Aventuras. I shared with her my experience and fears and she confidently told me that she would be ready to help me get back in the water when I was ready. Having the correct fitting gear and the right instructor were going to be the answer. She even offered to let me try out her own wing style BCD to ensure proper fit (Women, especially big busted gals don’t fit into standard BCDs…) and having a BCD with integrated weights was going to be a must for me but I just wasn’t ready in March.
July rolls around and we head back to Mexico. (see why I have had no time to blog? I can’t wait until I am no longer working full time and the move is over!) At this point, we had submitted 48 pages of documents to the Consulate and were awaiting an email regarding our residency applications. If you learn anything about Mexico from this blog, know that the only thing that is consistent is inconsistency. If you are thinking about applying for residency, I highly suggest you visit websites for each one within your area to see what they are requesting. Even if you give them everything that they are asking for, it is at their discretion whether you are approved or not and for what type. (permanent or temporal) The main Consulate website can be found here. Other important tip, you cannot start the residency process within Mexico! If you head down and fall in love with Mexico, you have to come back to start the residency process. Visitor visas are good for 180 days. While we were down, we received an email with our appointment date for our interviews for residency. Yay!!! We had not received any sort of confirmation that our papers had been received and the website states to not follow up with an email to check the status. It is a, don’t contact us, we will contact you, mañana, process. More to come on that later. By the way mañana doesn’t actually mean tomorrow, sometimes it does but it really just means later. So far, this experience has been an excellent exercise in patience, letting go, trusting the universe, and trying not to lose my hair in the process.
Circling back to what I had said about Aquanauts, I had decided that I was ready to ease back into some scuba gear, in a pool, and work with Emilio (DM) on skills and reestablishing my confidence. After a 3 hour session, I was feeling pretty confident. I was able to relax and enjoy my trip back in the water and I really just cannot say enough awesome things about Robin, Emilio and their whole staff. I wrote a pretty detailed review here. Safe to say, I am looking forward to buying my own equipment and many more dives with Aquanauts and grabbing a margarita or two with Robin! Until next time- Salud!
2020 is almost over, thank goodness! I realize it has been quite some time since I have written anything- I think we all got sucked into the COVID abyss. While the end is coming to a year, 2020 has been full of as many ups as there have been downs. Big news!!!! We bought a place in Mexico! That’s correct, a place to call our own in the Riviera Maya. We made a trip down in November to complete our PADI Advanced Open Water dives since our training was about to expire and to check out some locations we had narrowed down. I will post separately about my horrid, near death experience with Seth Drabinsky through Seth Dive Mexico though you can read my review on TripAdvisor and his completely inappropriate and unprofessional response to it until then. I did find out the hard way that the healthcare providers in Playa are pretty top notch (for a gringo with money and good insurance) and I received better care there than I have ever in the US. I was treated by Playa International Clinic– Dr. Denise and my nurse Paula were amazing. Lisa was able to stay the night with me at the clinic in my room and they kept an eye on her for decompression illness and even fed her for free.
After spending countless hours on the computer to research areas, we narrowed our search down to Playacar, Puerto Aventuras, and Akumal. All of these areas are within 30 minutes or so from Playa del Carmen. We looked at several properties and were torn between a home in Playacar and one in Puerto. It was a very difficult decision but we went with home in Puerto. While Playacar is absolutely lovely, Puerto has it beat when it comes to snorkeling and a marina and it is about half way between Akumal and PDC. The beaches in Playacar are stunning but there is nothing to see in the water there. Puerto also has a variety of shops, restaurants, etc and was designed as an expat neighborhood. Don’t read that as expats just from the US, Puerto is like a giant Epcot center and right across the highway is where most of the locals live. We wanted something safe and in a gated community but what we did not want was a community that is filled with Americans. A big motivator in moving out of the country is to experience different cultures, people, and places.
I can tell you that buying in Mexico is not for the faint of heart, obviously. There is something about having the right realtor and attorney that can ease your fears but standing in your bank, wiring your 10% earnest money to an escrow account in Mexico takes some serious nerve. We are working with Marieke Brown, a very respected, straight shooting realtor who has talked me down a few times so far. We will be using our attorney to sign closing papers for us, I can say as someone who trusts no one, this is quite the experience. We will be back down several times (COVID/Vaccine willing) before our final move in 2022.
Flying during COVID was also something that caused a great amount of distress. There are tons of articles and studies surrounding COVID and the risk of contagion on an airplane. The risk is extremely low. We put on our N95s and sanitized everything. Alaska Airlines did a phenomenal job and I did not see a single person wearing a mask incorrectly and they blocked out middle seats. We were disheartened to see so many tourists not respecting guidelines once we got to Mexico. My biggest fear was what if we gave it to some poor local. They do not have the resources or hospital infrastructure to handle the COVID crisis. Read, Why Mexico is failing to confront the COVID crisis. With that said, I felt way safer in Playa del Carmen that I do here in Washington state. It isn’t a political issue for locals, they take it seriously. I just wished more tourist would have as well. We tested for COVID before our trip and then 6 days after we returned home. Side note- Mexico, at least the state of Quintana Roo, is very LGBT friendly. We felt extremely comfortable working with realtors, attorneys, etc. and have never felt discriminated against during any of our trips down.
I am sure most of my 2021 blog will be filed with the ups and downs of buying internationally and obtaining permanent resident status. Until next time, HanukkahSameach!! Stay safe and healthy.
We just returned from a 3 week whirlwind trip that included New York city to celebrate our wedding anniversary, Cartagena and Santa Marta Colombia and winding down in Playa del Carmen Mexico. If you have followed this blog at all, you will know that we have been looking for a place that fits our needs/budget so we can pull off an “early retirement.” Colombia and Mexico had been on the short list for sometime so this trip was a long time coming. I am going to break this into two separate posts as there is so much to cover. You can also check out the reviews I have left on Tripadvisor for more detailed information and places I have left out of this page 🙂
Colombia…wow. What a lesson in first world problems, humility, culture, food, and privilege. It is not like I went in blind. Colombia is a third world country and I expected a lot of what I saw. What I didn’t expect is how absolutely desperate people are there for food/money. I have been to plenty of locations where there are street hustlers, beggars, etc but the beaches in Cartagena trump it all. You will be asked several times a minute if you want, xyz and you will need to say no repeatedly and often times, that isn’t enough. Some of the vendors took no for an answer and would move on but several did not. It appeared to be especially true of female vendors who would offer a massage. They would start by asking you, telling you some story about starving children, you can say no repeatedly and they would persist. Often times moving into your personal space and touching you while stating you are so tight, you need a massage. When you continue to decline, some would say that because they touched you, you now needed to pay them, even if you never accepted the massage. We had to physically get up and leave. When I mentioned this at our hotel, the staff said that was unfortunately normal and that the beaches are just not safe. This is an absolute shame as the beauty of Colombia is unparalleled but you can’t go anywhere in Cartagena (Boca Grande is the area we stayed in) without actually being accosted.
The walled city in Cartagena was absolutely beautiful and full of history and culture as well as little boutique shops. We experienced several vendors and children begging for money saying they were from Venezuela but it was nothing compared to the beaches.
We took a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta. After much research, we settled on Marsol for transportation. They picked us up (late but that was to be expected, it’s been my experience that almost everything runs on different time in Latin America) from our hotel and dropped us off at our hotel in Santa Marta. You need to text Marsol using Whatsapp to get a reservation. It was $50,000 COP (about $15 USD) per person and the van ride was ok. We scheduled a time slot where there was no stop in Barranquilla but it still took about 5 hours. This is where the biggest shock came. We chose to take the bus instead of flying because we wanted to see the land and area between Santa Marta and Cartagena first hand. After passing Barranquilla, you enter the small fishing town of Ciénaga. Until that day, I had never seen actual slums. Skid row in LA? Yes, small fishing villages in Belize? Yes. Ghettos, bad neighborhoods, poor tribal reservations, and my own research could not have possibly prepared me for what I saw on that bus ride. Children playing in pools of what I can only assume is contaminated waste water. Dogs, trash, rubble… and it went on for miles. Here is a good article that talks the death of Cienaga .
When we arrived in Santa Marta we could tell the vibe was different than Cartagena. The poverty didn’t seem as pervasive and the vendors were not as aggressive. We spent only a day in Rodadero which is considered the “ex pat” section and to be honest, we didn’t really care for it. The beaches are beautiful but it just seemed so cut off from the rest of the area. We did look at an apartment for rent/sale while we were there and were impressed with the location and value. The big advantage i felt Rodadero has over SM is the breeze! Nothing feels as good as the breeze coming down from the Sierra Nevada mountains on a very hot and humid day. I could totally see spending the day on a hammock on the balcony. Oh and if anyone is wondering, yes, there are lockers for rent on the beach! I searched forever for that info and never found any 😉
The beach in Santa Marta isn’t as pretty but the Marina is very nice. And lets be honest, after the experience we had with vendors, we weren’t going to be hanging out on the beach. While we were in Santa Marta, we found plenty to do besides hanging out on the rooftop bar/pool. The big adventures were trying to navigate the city and find the best restaurants. I think we were pretty successful, the food there was amazing! We really had a great time even though our level of conversational Spanish is minimal and practically no one in Colombia speaks English. We flew out of Simon Bolivar Airport south of Santa Marta to Bogota on Avianca where we connected to our flight to Cancun, also on Avianca. One of the most stressful parts of the trip was trying to navigate the airport in Bogota having arrived on a domestic flight and needing to make our way to the international terminal where there were literally no signs. We had to ask two different people and it involved a long walk, going down several flights of stairs, leaving the terminal we were in and walking a bit more to the international terminal. If you are planning to do this, allow plenty of time to get lost, get through customs and get to your gate. Both flights were pleasant, on time and without issues.
We went diving with Caribbean Pro Dive while we were in SM and had a great experience diving at Tayrona Park. It was just the two of us with the divemaster and a photographer. We left from the marina in a small dive boat and they provided snacks and water. Two tank dives with equipment was $180,000 COP (about $52 USD) Later that week we took a sailboat excursion back to Tayrona to spend the day at the beach. Similar vendor issues but they took no for an answer much more readily. The sailboat trip was booked through Tripadvisor- Tayrona Bay Sailboat Trip
Final thoughts on Colombia…. It was an experience of a lifetime, it really helped shape my perspective. The people there are mostly friendly to foreigners though Lisa caught a handful of dirty looks. I am not sure if it was because of her looks (blonde/blue) or? I did not catch a single one though maybe I am more oblivious. Most people assumed we were travel partners, and the one time someone asked for clarification they were genuinely shocked when I said she was mi Esposa. I would definitely go back to Santa Marta to visit though I think it is safe to say we have ruled it out as a possible future home. Mexico on the other hand…. More to come!
It’s been awhile since I have been able to write. Unfortunately, my life doesn’t slow down despite my desire to spend more of my time daydreaming about where we might land in a few years.
It’s been a hectic few weeks; I am training a new class of CASAs (Court Appointed Special Advocates for children removed by the state) and that will roughly take up the month of April in conjunction with everyday work and life. We spent last weekend in Vancouver BC where we experienced the most amazing P!NK show and we are trying to unpack our things since we decided to pull our home off the market and pursue early retirement abroad instead.
With all of this going on, I managed to map out our upcoming trip and purchase our airline tickets and it goes a little something like this… SEA to JFK to enjoy New York City and have some really good food and unparalleled entertainment for our anniversary, JFK to CTG where we will spend 1 night in Cartagena, rent a car the next morning and make the drive to Santa Marta where we will spend 5 nights, SMR to BOG where we will spend 2 nights in Bogotoa, just checking things out, BOG to CUN to spend 7 more nights in Rivera Maya and finally CUN to SEA to be back in time for Thanksgiving. Fun side note, you can fly intercountry in Colombia for about $25 USD so while it is a 4-5 hour drive from Cartagena to Santa Marta, we are choosing to do that to see the the coast. Who knows, there may be some amazing beach town we drive past that we would never have known about otherwise! We are then flying from Santa Marta to Bogota for $25 where we will spend a few nights and then take a direct flight from Bogotoa to Cancun. We are not checking any bags so we can travel pretty freely and not have to worry about delays through customs, lost luggage, etc. I picked up a pretty awesome Travelpro carry on size suitcase on clearance at Macy’s that will easily hold everything I need to bring with me as well as my own snorkel gear. I was able to book the above itinerary for less than $1,500 per person using mileage points, perks, hotel reward points, etc.
I have never planned out a trip this extensive and I am sure some thing will not go as planned but that is all part of the experience. You may wonder why we are spending more time in Mexico since we just returned but if you’ve read my previous blog posts, we have decided to keep the Riviera Maya area open as a possible retirement location. Akumal, Tulum, Playa del Carmen-they all give off a mystical feeling. The Mayan culture, the beach, the people, the food, the cenotes… they call my name. The downsides to Mexico vs. Colombia on paper is rather extensive though. The medical care is not as good as the States and Colombia is significantly better than both. Cost of living is on par with Santa Marta though that is only if you are willing to swap an ocean front condo in Santa Marta for one that isn’t in Mexico. Residency is easily established in both. Mexico has really developed a reputation for being quite unsafe these days and that’s true even in Rivera Maya but of course, Colombia has its own sordid history but history is the key word. There are still plenty of travel advisories for both countries, check before you book! Common sense is your friend. There are plenty of places in the states, especially Seattle that I would not walk around at night and alone. Upsides for Mexico, English is much more widely spoken than in Colombia and its a 6 hour flight home instead of a 12 from Colombia. With that said, I have always felt like a flight is a flight so whether you are a 2, 6, 12 or 18 hour flight away, it is still just a flight. 🙂 Since we aren’t exactly looking for another America just in a cheaper location, I am not sure that part of Mexico would even give me the foreign experience that I want.
We are very excited for our trip to Colombia and the reason we aren’t staying longer is the fear that the humidity will be so oppressive that we will want to take Santa Marta off our list. If we do, that doesn’t mean Colombia is out. We want to spend two nights in Bogota on this trip just to see and feel the capital, we would not consider residency there but we want to return for at least a week long trip to Medellin and it’s surrounding areas for that purpose. Our stays in both countries will be research so that means that while we will likely dive and enjoy the beach, the whole idea is to rent a car, drive around, look at properties and neighborhoods at night as well as during the day. This isn’t a, sit on my rear and have a server bring me food and drinks all day while enjoying the Caribbean sun poolside, trip. The idea of being in Colombia thrills me. The people have a reputation for being extremely kind and open to foreigners and there is something uniquely empowering about forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone and submerging yourself in another culture especially when you don’t share a common language.
Though not why you would think. I have been extremely inspired over the last year or so to really listen to my inner voice and pay attention to what the Universe is trying to tell me . We had put an offer in on a house that we didn’t love but thought it would be a good investment. After a few bumps, and the sellers thinking they should have listed it for more, we walked away from it. We had already said that we would accept what was meant to be and clearly, that purchase wasn’t it.
Since I have almost always been self employed, I have no pension. I have a few small retirement accounts but nothing huge. My retirement plan has always been to sell my home and downsize. The falling through of our most recent financial venture has spurred some pretty interesting ideas. Kids are almost all grown, I am not getting any younger, I would like to retire from my rather emotionally draining and somewhat PTSD triggering , though very rewarding and at times, cathartic, career while I still have some physical get up and go and certainly before I end up being totally jaded and dead inside. I would also like to finish my second book but have decided I can’t tackle that while in my current profession. Lisa is almost at her 30 year mark at work, shes been there since she was 20. I’m sure you see where I am going with this.
We have decided to check out what Colombia has to offer us as expats. We are going to visit the Caribbean coast of Colombia from Cartagena to Santa Marta in November. Nothing has been decided yet, obviously, but my research on Colombia has proven to be very promising. It is very easy to obtain a resident visa, their universal health care is quite good, they even have a Johns Hopkins hospital in Bogotoa. The WHO ranks Colombia #22 in the world, easily beating out the USA at #37. Oh, and it is cheap. Really cheap. The cost of living index in Santa Marta is 74 compared to 196 in Seattle. If you were interested in buying a 2/2 new condo on the beach in Santa Marta, you could do so for about $100,000 USD, about 3.2m COP . The Colombian Peso is very weak against the dollar and has been for years.
This blog is all about living life to the fullest and this is me, putting my money where my mouth is. For those of you who are wondering about the safety of Colombia, the days of Pablo Escobar are long over. Sure, there are places you probably should go alone or after dark but that is true even in my little town in the PNW. The Government in Colombia is set up very similarly to the US-three branches of government, a democracy, an elected president, etc. Colombia has a tragic history but it is one of the most beautiful,safe, and biodiverse countries in the world. It is also one of the best countries for Expats, continually ranking in the top 10 according to International Living, beating out Spain and Portugal. Colombia is one of the most LGBTQ friendly countries in Latin America and same sex marriage has been legal in Colombia since 2016.
No really, people say it all the time. It’s not some paradox that needs to be examined. According to a 2015 study published by the WHO, the average age of death for a woman in the USA is 81. I’m not going to say life expectancy because those final days (months, years?) for many people and their families is anything but life.
What being, “brave,” means is unique to each individual. For some it means pushing outside their comfort zone enough to say hello to a stranger on the street. To others, it can be jumping from an airplane and everything in between. What is important in this journey is that you do what you feel makes you brave, not others. If it feels slightly uncomfortable, then you’re doing it right. Bravery isn’t a title given to someone who’s a scuba instructor, a skydiver, or an 8th grade science teacher. For those people, that is every day life. What might make them uncomfortable (and brave) could be trying the new special of the day at their favorite restaurant. It’s stepping outside your comfort zone to experience all that life has to offer. It’s pretty simple, no risk, no reward.
This blog is for my fellow humans who want a little more from life. I hope to share my adventures and inspirations with you so that you too may never look back at the end and have more regrets than life experiences.