First, let me tell you I don’t believe in mistakes, only lessons. So the title of this article is bit out of character for me. However, the point is I want to share with you what I learned in my first year living in Mexico. What worked, what didn’t work and what I learned along the way from 15 Mistakes I Made After Moving to Mérida. Remember the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know?” Many times, until we are in a situation, it’s hard to plan or know what to expect. Actually, it’s impossible. Sometimes, many times, things don’t even come up until we are in the big thick middle of it! Also, hindsight is 20/20. Hopefully, I can help you make some good decisions to by learning from my mistakes.
So now, it’s time to reveal what really happened my first year in Mérida . . .
This article was updated in August of 2023.
#1 Sign me up to be a local, I’m ready
My plan was to start out in the North part of the city and then work my way down to Centro. That sounds like a great plan, doesn’t it? After all, I had stayed in Centro before when I visited on my research trip. Now, I wanted to see the other side of Merida…all – the – way – in – the – North. This meant I was the ONLY extranjero in the neighborhood. At first, I embraced it. But after only 7 days, I could not settle in and terminated the rest of my local stay.
- Starting out in a familiar place is best.
- I was too far from what I knew and could not walk anywhere.
- I had to take Ubers into Centro spending about 20 – 25 minutes each way. This was not efficient and in the end did not work out for me.
#2 Diet? What diet?
O-M-G! The food here is incredible. It’s a food lover’s heaven. Therefore, I completely strayed off of my eating plan to try new foods. I’m still struggling with my eating plan but working on it every day to get better and better. There are foods that I ate on a regular basis that I haven’t found here yet like Goat Milk Kefir. While I’ve enjoyed trying new things, I know getting back to my eating plan will be of more benefit to me. I follow the Eat Right for Your Type diet and it’s been a life-saver for me, literally. But this was still one of the 15 Mistakes I Made After Moving to Mérida.
- Stay with my original plan.
- Try only one thing (or one cheese) at a time.
- Take more time to adapt to new flavors.
#3 All hail to all-knowing Google
Ah, Google. The trusty resource that tells us everything. Google gave me addresses, business hours, reviews and more. But over and over again, Google came up wrong time and time again. I would arrive at a location during what I thought were the correct opening hours only to find the business had changed their hours, moved or shut down completely. Google relies on humans to update it accordingly. C’mon humans . . . help a gringa out.
- Call in advance, every single time.
- All-knowing Google is wrong (humans don’t update the information).
- I even call in advance even though I’ve been to the establishment before just to make sure they will be open when I want to come. There’s nothing more frustrating than to have your Uber arrive at a restaurant only to find it closed.
#4 No time to settle in . . . let the fun begin
I was very intent on going, doing, and trying vs. just being. Notably, I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy shop. All the pretty colors, new sights and fabulous sounds were both amazing and overwhelming. The more I saw, the more I wanted to do. The more I did, the more I wanted to see. It was a vicious cycle. One day I spent 8 hours just walking around Centro from one curiosity to the next. It became an unhealthy Hansel and Gretel trail. 15 Mistakes I Made After Moving to Mérida? Just give me the fun, excitement and magical vibration I’ve been missing for many, many years. Please and thank you.
- Catch my breath and take some time to just be; 3 – 6 months at a minimum.
- Mourn my old life recognizing where I’ve been, where I’ve come from and what led me to make this major, life-changing move.
- With the current situation, I am grateful I overdid it. Not knowing what I know now, maybe my intuition was pushing me to experience everything possible before the shutdowns occurred.
#5 Spanglish not spoken here
Understandably, my Texas Spanglish did not translate so great. While it was acceptable and recognized in touristy Mexico, in Merida it was absolutely unacceptable. Just the looks I received while speaking Spanglish could be a dictionary of memes. Because I was on the fast-track, I hired a private Spanish instructor. WHAT A BIG MISTAKE! Now, I think private Spanish instructors are great when they are legit. Unfortunately, the one I hired was a scammer. And, I got scammed BIG TIME. I justified the outrageous price to my dedication to learning Spanish as soon as possible. UGH.
- Starting out in a group or class setting is more beneficial.
- Don’t pay for all the lessons upfront.
- Contract a well-known school or highly recommended instructor with referrals.
#6 I’m late, I’m late, I’m constantly late
Just like the Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, I’ve always been obsessed with being on time. Without a doubt, being on time can be nearly impossible to achieve in Mexico. There is almost always something unpredictable that occurs to cause a delay. From water delivery to a friendly neighbor to traffic to an issue with your Uber driver. Being late causes alot of stress for me so it’s something I’m still learning to deal with.
- Not putting so much pressure on myself to be on time.
- High level of communication to the other party is welcomed and respected.
- There are times when being late is just unavoidable and it’s okay.
#7 Who needs sunscreen?
With fair skin, I’ve worn high SPF sunscreen for many years when going to the pool or beach. What I didn’t realize was that I needed it for every day. Wearing shorts and short dresses for the first time in many years exposed my fair skin to harsh sun rays. The freedom of wearing these new types of clothing overtook my practical side. After only a few months, small red sun spots appeared all over my legs. A painful visit to the dermatologist remineded me that not only is suncreen important, it is necessary to avoid more serious conditions.
- Wearing suncreen daily is necessary.
- The climate, heat and sun in Mérida is very different and requires different care.
- There are times when being late is just unavoidable and it’s okay.
#8 Costco, Amazon, & BBVA are the same . . . not
Much to my surprise, Costco, Amazon, BBVA and other companies are run differently in Mexico than in the U.S. They all have their own division and are separate. So, what does that mean exactly? I had to open a new Amazon.com.mx account. Therefore, my U.S. Amazon prime account didn’t transfer to my Mexican account. They are different. I was unable to access the account I opened with BBVA in Dallas. The bank officer assured me they were connected but when I arrived I found out this is not the case. The same with Costco.
- More research may have provided better information.
- Sometimes, it’s difficult to know some of these things until you get here (like BBVA).
- There are different rules, ways and regulations. I’m learning more every day.
#9 Living 1 year in different areas didn’t happen
My original plan was to rent in different areas around the city to find out which area I liked best. During my first three months here, I had some pretty bad experiences with Airbnbs. Then COVID happened and I needed stablity, or so I thought. After only being here for 4 months, I decided to sign a long term lease that began June 1st. Just five months after my arrival. BIG LESSON!
- Staying with my original plan is best.
- Unknown circumstances cause anxiety and instability. This happens even in the best of times.
- Not letting fear take over carefully researched plans and processes.
#10 I fell in (and out of) love with colonial houses
There are only a few colonial cities in Mexico and Mérida is one of them. High ceilings, pasta tile floors, antique doors, pastel colors and beautiful stone walls contribute to the charm of the colonial houses here.
I fell in love with all this and thought living in a colonial house was my dream. It was so completely different than anything I’d ever experienced. Embracing it fully, I decided to rent a large colonial house on a short term lease.
WOW! Gorgeousness! BUT . . . . also old, not well maintained by the management company and only 3 air conditioners in the entire house (none in the living areas or kitchen). Maintenance problems, heat and taking an entire 2 days to clean the house took a toll.
- Gorgeous to look at but not to live in.
- High maintenance and utility costs are not budget-friendly.
- The prettier ones are too large for 1 – 2 people. Too much space to care for.
#11 Taking BAD advice
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and advice. But, and this is a big BUT, what is unknown is that person’s frame of reference, experience level and history. Ask 20 different people a question and you’ll get 100 different answers, sometimes not even related to your question. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed many opinions and judgement not on topic with the question asked. I’ll never understand why people think it is their right to pass unsolicited advice to someone. And, yes, I was a victim of bad advice . . . several times.
- Time and experience are the best teachers.
- Finding people that are trustworthy to turn to for help.
- Taking a pause and vetting the person giving the advice helps tremendously.
#12 The PESO is king in a rental contract
This is the BIGGEST MISTAKE from 15 Mistakes I Made After Moving to Mérida . . . The fluctuation of the dollar to the peso can be dramatic. Actually, during COVID the exchange rate was almost $25 pesos to the dollar. It was at this time I decided to sign a long term rental contract. I’m going to blame it on COVID brain because I signed my rental contract in U.S. dollars. This would have been fine if I was paying my rent from my U.S. bank account. Unfortunately, I was paying from my Mexican bank account and it hurt.
- Never, ever under any circumstance sign a rental contract in anything other that pesos.
- Get out of the habit of doing the U.S. dollar exchange rate.
- Rent costs are relevant. Don’t listen to what others pay, what is expensive and what is cheap. Make sure it’s relevant to you.
#13 Small items are important to budget for too
I budgeted for large items but didnt’ budget enough for small items (step ladder, extra kitchen towels, pots & pans, organizing items, etc.) I knew after being in Airbnbs for almost a year, I wanted to purchase my own things. Small beds, uncomfortable furniture, and poor lighting just did not contribute to my comfort level. I made a budget for all the large ticket items such as furniture, mattresses, bedding, dishes, silverware and appliances. I never even considered this until I began writing this article on 15 Mistakes I Made After Moving to Mérida.
- Door mats, pots and pans, kitchen utensils, step ladders, and housefuld items can make a huge dent in your bank account.
- Small items are also harder to budget for because you just don’t know what you are going to need until you need it.
- Making an inventory list before I left Dallas would have helped tremendously.
#14 Tried to compensate for all the bad tippers
Believe it or not, there are still people here that believe the going rate for tipping is 5%. Honestly, I was shocked. However, the more people I asked the more tipping averaged out to about 8%. WOW . . . I can’t even begin to express my thoughts. Here’s a little, teeny tiny secret about myself. I tend to be a rescuer at times. So, started my rescue journey by wanting to be a “good” American and tip top dollar, whether the service warranted it or not. I learned very quickly this was NOT a good practice. I could not compensate for all the bad tippers.
Consequently, one time I overtipped the trash guys when they picked up all the boxes and debris from one of my moves. Now, I thought this would be the final move but it wasn’t. Thank goodness I wasn’t in that house too long or I’d be broke! In fact, every time they came by to pick up my regular trash, they would ring the doorbell for a tip. They continued to do this and I continued to ignore them. One week, they decided they wouldn’t pick up my trash and I had to call the trash company to report them. Yet another one of the 15 Mistakes I Made After Moving to Mérida.
- Learning how, when, who and what to tip is a priority upon arrival in Mérida.
- Don’t expect to receive the correct change to tip appropriately. Ask for specific denominations.
- It’s not my responsibility to compensate for the reputation of bad tipping Americas, Locals, Europeans or any other nationality.
#15 Killed my U.S. cell number too soon
Wanting to reduce expenses, I had read on some expat forums (yep, there’s that again), that it was possible to port my number to a Google voice number. Unfortunately, I didn’t do a ton of research on this and just looked at the cost savings. I went through all the steps to get it transferred following the instructions carefully. Unfortunately, I never was able to get it transferred even after seeking out tech help. There was some glitch in the system and it wasn’t possible. Double unfortunately, I had already requested to terminate my Verizon account. What I forgot was all the accounts attached to my cell number that now I couldn’t access. Several of them don’t allow a google voice number as it is not recognized as a cell number. Rats . . .
- Update all accounts with new number before terminating old number.
- Downgrading my service might have been a better option.
- There was a lot of unanticipated freedom from this process and not sharing my new number with everyone. Kind of refreshing to start over.
Final Thoughts on 15 Mistakes I Made After Moving to Mérida
Interestingly enough, as I was writing this article, it occured to me that in a way I was trying to prove something to myself. I wanted to prove that I could do this – I could make this move and I sacrificed some things that were importnat to me. Privacy, a kitchen, my own space, familiarity. I made it harder on myself that it needed to me. I had nothing to prove to myself. So there you have it . . . totally transparent and willing to admit to my
mistakes lessons learned. 😉