Jan 202010

Notes from the Field
Date: January 20, 2010
Reporting From: Mexico City (DF), Mexico

My route to Panama has become quite slow and roundabout thanks to a bit of bad weather, I have the opportunity to once again put my boots on the ground in one of Mexico’s “most dangerous places.”

Ask a foreigner about Mexico City and you’ll get the “Good God don’t go there!” speech. After all, that’s where they filmed that kidnapping movie with Denzel (Man on Fire).

It’s funny how Hollywood and a few negative media reports can cause completely irrational levels of fear. The general public is a willing participant in spreading misinformation (thank you, Wikipedia) as most people who render an opinion about ‘dangerous’ countries usually speak out of total ignorance.

To put it plainly, stories of chaos and violence in Mexico are substantially overrated, just like Colombia. Mexico City, where I am presently, has the worst reputation in the country, but again, this is mostly hearsay and manufactured sensationalism.

Yes, kidnappings, drug trafficking, and violent crime occur in Mexico… just like they do in the US, UK, and Japan. But Mexicans are no more cast in the throes of criminal violence than the average Italian who goes his entire life without ever once seeing a mafia henchman.

Oh, and lest I forget, the ‘swine flu’ started here as well, further stirring the pot of falsehoods and misconceptions.

Here’s the bottom line– Mexico is one of the largest economies in the world and has an established, stable middle class. People do not hide in their houses from drug gangs; daily “OK-Corral style” shootouts do not occur; and there is no H1N1 pandemic.

My friend Jeff who lives on Mexico’s pacific coast recently had this to say in an email to me:

“You know, Simon, things in Mexico are definitely not how they appear in the American media. Mexico is a huge country and is as diverse as the US, so to paint the entire country with one brush is simply an exercise in futility.

Honestly I would think that Americans and Canadians are safer here than in their home country. I’ve lived in Acapulco for 2 years and haven’t personally seen or heard of ANY crime, including basic theft or anything.

When I lived in Vancouver it seemed that about once every month or two I’d have to scatter out of a nightclub with my head down as rival drug gangs shot it out… not to mention having my car broken into on nearly a monthly basis!”

Simon again. If you can get past the stigma, Mexico may be a viable option for you to plant a residency flag. Personally, there’s no way that I could live here in Mexico City– the endless urban sprawl grates heavily against my DNA, and a country this size has hundreds of better options to choose from.

Regardless of your preference, though, the benefits to Mexico are plentiful, particularly if you are from North America:

First, it’s close to home and has an established infrastructure. You can drive back and forth (yes, it’s safe), or choose to fly to/from several of destinations– Acapulco, Guadelajara, Oxaca, Cancun, etc.

It’s so close that when I used to live in Texas, I would even fly from time-to-time down to Monterrey just to have dinner; my favorite steak house in the world is located there, and the flight would only take about 35 minutes.

Second, the cost of living is reasonable. It’s not eye-poppingly cheap (go to Ecuador or Thailand), but you can do quite well in most cities for less than $2,000 (US) per month.

If you want to go high-end, premium properties on the coast list in the range of $3,500 to $6,000 per square meter– so a tier-1 ocean-view condo can set you back between $400,000 and $1.2 million.

Third, Mexico is already accustomed to a bit of social and political instability… whatever negative consequences shall occur down the road as a result of dwindling oil output and rising inflation will not cause a systemic failure– instability and economic challenge are nothing new here.

Contrast that with wealthier countries which have yet to undergo a widespread panic and collapse of confidence in its modern history. As strange as it sounds, you might find yourself better off in a society that has experience dealing with turmoil.

I’m often asked to compare Mexico to Panama, which frankly is a great question… I will save that for a future letter, but suffice it to say that they are different options for different desires.

Simon Black

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