Six years ago if you told me I’d be a legal resident living abroad in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico, I’d have never believed you. (*Follow me to find out about getting legal residency here in future posts)
I would have laughed hysterically. But, I never would have believed you.
Fast forward to an early morning in June 2014 and we were at Regan International Airport in D.C., with all of our belongings in just two bags each, getting on a flight to a country we had never visited, to start our new life in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
The Process of Moving Abroad
After spending 46 years in the U.S.A., moving over twenty times and living in seven different states, with an impending move to who knows where, in our future, we re-visited our twenty something-year-old plan of going rogue, somewhere… anywhere, other than the U.S. and we started our hunt for the perfect place to land with our two teenage daughters., who were 13 & 14 at the time.
We read countless message boards and travel sites, searching for our utopia with amazing weather, a strong economy with a low cost of living, artistic opportunities for our youngest daughter, writing workshops for our oldest, and above all else, safe. A rather tall order, but, because we are self-employed and can live anywhere there is a good internet connection, the world literally was our oyster!
The list of potential places included Istanbul, Turkey, Santorini or Corfu in the Greek Islands, the West Coast of Ireland, Japan, Thailand, Laos, Amsterdam, Guatemala, Scotland, The Cotswolds, Montreal, Toronto, Buenos Aires, Italy, Romania, Paraguay, Uraguay, and Columbia, as possibilities. I’m sure there were more, however, Mexico wasn’t on our radar. Much like many American’s, we too believed that the entire country of Mexico would be too hot, too many gigantic bugs and worse, far too unsafe.
We also batted around not having a home-base and traveling from one location to another, house-sitting. Then one afternoon in 2013 the Mr. sent me an email link to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I had heard of SMA but literally knew nothing of it. My initial thought was “HELL NO! I’m not moving to freaking Mexico! Besides, I don’t even know Spanish other than what I learned on Sesame Street, 150 years ago…. Which basically was counting to ten.
Of course, I would have run into a language problem with half of the other countries we considered, but this was Mexico!!! You know the place we’ve all seen on the nightly news, where it’s all murders, kidnappings, and drugs. Right?
The Mr. convinced me to take a look at the city, assuring me Mexico is a big country and this was a far different place than they show us on the news, so I begrudgingly did, even though I was positive I’d never agree.
Remember the great punk song from 81′ Never Say Never by Romeo Void? Yeah, it was my anthem of the 80’s when I was a bit more brazen…and before I had kids!
Well, I ate crow. I literally fell deeply and certifiably head over heels, in love with this magically medieval town and spent a solid year watching a webcam in the Centro jardin daily, soaking up as many photos I could, virtually drove around SMA on Google Earth, joined as many SMA Facebook pages and read dozens of blogs about moving to Mexico, San Miguel, and expats in Mexico, as I worked selling everything we owned. A few pieces of baby clothes and family photos aside, I sold twenty+ years of our lives in a matter of weeks. Shout out to eBay! Shipping furniture wasn’t a feasible option financially for us, not to mention the countless stories I read about expats belongings not making it across the border, even after using shipping companies. It happened to one of our friends here actually and he lost everything he owned at the border and he had to buy everything again. It made more sense to just donate and sell it all. I’m (mostly) glad we did. Still, there are those few pangs of missing certain things I had carted around with me since I was 14. Like my entire vintage punk vinyl collection. I guess most everyone has that.
It’s a very Zen moment when you have no possessions. I feel everyone should experience this at least once in their lives to fully appreciate all we have and to better understand, how little we truly need to flourish. The exception being a really good punk album!
I saturated my brain with every bit of information regarding San Miguel that I could. I’m fairly sure I know more about this town and its history than I know about my hometown of Portland, Maine.
I quickly discovered that I was completely misjudging an entire country based on a few bad dudes and poorly reported U.S. news. Guess what? I found a lot of people do this. While I won’t get much into the finer points of safety in Mexico, as there are plenty of articles from reputable, well-traveled folks that cover that; I will say that yes, there is crime, organized and otherwise, however, after doing the amount of research I’ve done on the numerous other potential cities we entertained during our search, I discovered there are a lot of corrupt people and organized crime in many other cities as well. Rome comes to mind immediately.
It’s a pretty simple equation. Where there is a drug or poverty issue, there tends to be more crime.
Here are links to a few articles, just for the sake of argument. It’s worth mentioning that I suggest looking at the statistics, there are over 71 million U.S. tourists who visit Mexico yearly versus Barbados at over 1 million or Jamaica at 10,000. Naturally, because it’s an affordable, warm and close to the United States.
“The city is the most visited border city in the globe; sharing a border of about 24 km (15 mi) with its sister city San Diego. More than fifty million people cross the border between these two cities every year. This metropolitan crossing makes the San Ysidro Port of Entry the busiest land-border crossing in the world. It is estimated that the two border crossing stations between the cities proper of San Diego and Tijuana account for 300,000 daily border crossings alone.” Wikipedia
While researching SMA, I found out that it’s referred to as the “Disneyland of Mexico,” the “Burlington of Mexico” or the “San Francisco of Mexico.” Take your pick. All of them are pretty accurate. It has one of the highest costs of living compared to most Mexican towns, so if you’re looking to really save money, this probably isn’t your place. However, many things are regulated by the government. Tortillas for instance. They are the same price, everywhere. But, that imported box of Triscuits will cost you dearly ($6.00 approx) and you may learn to do without a lot of American goods, muy rapido.
Rentas en San Miguel de Allende
When looking at places to rent, I was quickly overwhelmed at the vast differences in the rental homes and apartment costs and otherwise, comparatively speaking to the U.S. It really is all over the place here. You can find very luxe, modern homes in gated communities with amazing terrazas and jardins with fruit trees, a live-in housekeeper and full-time gardener if you want to spend close to what you would in a larger U.S. town. I compare it to Boston rents today. (2017) The difference is unlike Boston or NYC where a couple grand may get you a tiny, walk-up, 850 sq. ft. flat, here you’ll get a 4000 sq. ft., five bedroom palace.
However, you can also find rents that are quite affordable. Two different friends both rent pretty swanky casas in a gated, mostly expat community (Los Frailles) for about $1,000 USD. At home in a larger, suburban town something comparable would easily run $4,000 USD a month and it wouldn’t include the help.
Another friend of ours rents a three bedroom casa for under $350. USD (2017). I haven’t seen it personally, though she has expressed it’s a bit rough around the edges, even by Mexican standards. Here, that can mean VERY rustic. One rental we looked at had nothing in the kitchen, cabinets, sink or otherwise; and it had an outdoor bathroom. That was $400. USD in 2014, if I recall. We literally would have had to absorb the cost of materials and labor to get it up and running. No thank gracias.
On that note, something to keep in mind also with rentals here is that many don’t have what we American’s are used to for a kitchen. Some don’t have an oven or even a place to put one and some only have a stove top. I guess they don’t do a lot of baking here. Many don’t have a fridge either. You also likely won’t find any washer or dryer or dishwasher in your house. This can vary depending on who you rent from. Expats usually have the house more finished with appliances, then the local folks do.
Being that we’re over 6,000 feet above sea level, the weather here is quite temperate. We have some pretty hot, dry days, and the rainy season in the spring, where a mid-afternoon torrential downpour is to be expected, but generally, the weather is very agreeable to most people. I’ve heard it compared to San Diego’s climate. Days are between mid 70’s to low 80′ Fahrenheit and sunny.
Heating isn’t much of an issue here, with the exception being cold, rainy winter days, when it really can be surprisingly bitter and damp. Then we use propane heaters or propane fireplaces to take the chill off. You won’t usually see wood stoves, due to a lack of wood and its expense. During the hot, summer days the houses stay very cool, because of the stone and concrete construction of buildings here. Many have ceiling fans as well. However, our first place here was a three story casa and the master bedroom was on the top floor. We had a boveda ceiling with a cupola, which is very common here. What we didn’t anticipate was how hot it would get up there during the summer months because of the amount of sunlight that came in throughout the day.
The three story was where we started out. Our casa was in a different neighborhood, called a colonia. The casa was a three bedroom, three story home for $700 USD from an American expat, in Colonia Allende, which is considered to be one of the more “local” communities. Meaning few expats. In fact, we were the only gringos on our calle. But, that was how we wanted it. We had no desire to be shut into a community of American’s. That just seemed ridiculous to us. After all, we were here. We wanted full immersion into Mexican culture and its people.
We lived there for two years, had many grande fiestas and made some of our very best friends here in SMA, but found it to be too noisy, because of the many barking street dogs, constant building by a neighbor whose casa joined ours on one side, and the carniceria next door, processing meat for torta shops in town. We also had a lot of trouble with neighborhood kids stealing from our yard and throwing trash into our courtyard. Not uncommon, but something we never could have anticipated.
Currently, we rent a gated four bedroom home with a grassy yard and mature trees in a very safe and tranquilo community for $600.00 USD. (2017) BTW, as many of you can relate, that was my rent on my first pad in Portland, Maine in 1987.
It’s a far better sitch and we’ve made more really fantastic local friends.
Discovering San Miguel
Unique GMO-free and organic, locally grown fresh vegetables and fruits are readily available. And you can still buy a large bag of produce for under $3.00, a kilo of delicious freshly made flour or corn tortillas for $20. pesos ($1.12 – 2017) and get a gorgeous dinner out at a five-star restaurant, overlooking a Medieval mountain paradise for less than what you’d pay for lunch at any city restaurant.
Our favorite spot is Los Milagros. It’s super affordable and always delish! They have two locations, both in centro: One on calle Relox and the other directly in the jardin in centro. The jardin location also serves a darn good desayunos for well under $80. pesos, which always comes with a complimentary basket of fresh bread and pastries to start. A pretty traditional thing here, as I’ve found. At Los Milagros you can get a giant veggie, pollo or res burrito plate there for $80. pesos ($4.50 – 2017). I have yet to finish one. Their enchiladas with salsa verde are also delish! Bring some extra pesos for their delightful, whimsical art they have hanging to purchase all over the restaurant. It’s an affordable way to bring home a piece of San Miguel traditional crafts.
We adore their enchiladas and burritos but, the Mr. and I usually split a mocajate. It’s Mexican madness in a giant, sizzling hot volcanic stone vessel, piled high with peppers, Oaxacan queso, pollo or res and their gorgeous salsa verde. I highly recommend it! It’s their specialty.
A lugar donde único GMO libre y orgánicos, cultivado localmente verduras frescas y frutas están disponibles. Un lugar donde se puede todavía comprar una bolsa grande de productos para menores $3,00, un kilo de deliciosos recién harina o maíz tortillas hechas por centavos y salir una hermosa cena en un restaurante de cinco estrellas, con vistas a un paraíso de montaña Medieval por menos de lo que pagaría para comer en cualquier restaurante de la ciudad.
Que es la vida aquí en SMA.
Saturday morning organic market on Calle Ancha, next to Mercado Sano (another must visit market for everything delicious), is a very popular meeting place for the locals here in San Miguel. It’s a great blend of music, food and artisan crafts. You can find everything here from locally smoked salmon and quiche, freshly baked bread, pastries and artesenal cheeses and local organic in-season produce, to hand crafted wares.
El sábado por la mañana el mercado orgánico en Calle Ancha es un lugar de encuentro muy popular para los locales aquí en San Miguel. Es una gran mezcla de música, comida y artesanía artesanía. Usted puede encontrar que todo aquí de local salmón ahumado y quiche, pan recién horneado, pasteles y quesos artesanal y locales orgánicos y de temporada.
These beauties are rare fungi usually only found in Peru, however, there is one very special couple growing and selling them here! Look for them outside the Saturday market.
Estas bellezas son un raro hongos generalmente sólo se encuentran en el Perú, sin embargo hay un par muy especial crecimiento y venderlas aquí! Buscarlos fuera del mercado de sábado
It’s a super fun way to try new things and meet new friends!
Tianguis (Tuesday Market near Soriana, Liverpool y Auto Zone) is a traveling, weekly, open-air market, that sells new and used clothing, local produce, incense, used tools, plants, exotic birds, fresh fish from the gulf, and meats and housewares of all types.
We go frequently to score used U.S. designer clothing for $10. pesos. You just have to be willing to sort through mountains of clothes. It also puts into perspective, just how much clothing is discarded in the U.S. by manufacturers and citizens.
It’s staggering, however, if it brings you some solace, it becomes an affordable way for many madre’s here to make a living. They buy clothing at $10 pesos a piece and resell it all over the city on street corners or pop-up store fronts.
Unlike the U.S. police, the authorities generally don’t get their panties in a bunch over its local people starting a business without licensure. I wouldn’t highly recommend trying to do this as an expat however. It’s best to hire a lawyer and get legal if you’re going to plan on working here with the general public.
Tianguis (mercado del martes cerca de Soriana y Liverpool)
A favorite among the locals and definitely one of mine is Luna de Queso gourmet shop on Calle Ancha in Colonia Allende. It is a foodie’s heaven. They also have a second location in Centro.
You’ll find an amazing array of artesnal house made cheeses and cured meats. Cooking supplies for nearly all styles of food from Thai to Italian. Bulk spices and herbs, freshly baked pastries and bread, filo dough, wonton wrappers, curries, and sauces. Imported foods galore!
Es un favorito entre los lugareños, Luna de Queso tienda gourmet en Calle Ancha en Colonia Allende, gastronómica. También tienen una segunda ubicación en el Centro.
Encontrarás una increíble variedad de casa artesnal hace quesos y curados. Cocina suministros para casi todos los estilos de comida de Tailandia al italiano. A granel, especias y hierbas, pasteles recién horneados y panes, masa filo, envolturas de wonton, curries y salsas.
They have a fun and private patio in their new location where you can enjoy a delicious and hearty breakfast or lunch served alfresco. They have incredible breakfast sandwiches on freshly baked bagels and a wide array of different lunch options, from a Greek platter of fresh hummus and stuffed grape leaves and many various sandwiches.
I’ve been told by many their reuben is epic!
Tienen un patio privado y divertido en su nueva ubicación donde puede disfrutar de un delicioso y abundante desayuno o almuerzo servido al aire libre. Tienen sándwiches de desayuno increíble en bagels recién horneados y una amplia gama de opciones de almuerzo diferentes, desde un plato griego de humus fresco y hojas de parra rellenas a muchos bocadillos varios.
Los Burritos on Calle Hidalgo has the BEST fresh flour tortillas in town and has a full restaurant that serves burritos, tacos, and fajitas for under $50 pesos a platter. It’s a great place to people watch and see the making of harina tortillas, as you have lunch. All the locals go there. Bring your Spanish and an appetite! Also worth mentioning is their amazing fruit water that comes with the platters. It’s refreshing and light alternative to Coke’s or cervezas.
Los Burritos en la Calle Hidalgo tiene las mejores tortillas de harina fresca en la ciudad y dispone de un restaurante completo que sirve tacos, burritos y fajitas para bajo 50 pesos un plato. Es un gran lugar para ver la gente y ver la elaboración de tortillas, como tienes almuerzo. Todos los lugareños ir allí. ¡Trae tu español y un apetito! También cabe destacar su increíble agua de la fruta que viene con los discos. Es refrescante y ligera alternativa a la de coque o cervezas.
Tortas are these super tasty sandwiches made on crusty rolls. They are filled with vegetables, chilis and meats for under $30 pesos (2016). Some of the best tortas can be found at Ignatio Ramirez market in Centro.
Algunas de las mejores tortas pueden encontrarse Ignatio Ramirez mercado en Centro.
Michelada’s. Seek them out.
Bloody Mary meets cerveza.
deliciosa Michelada!!! $30 pesos
Carnita Bautista in Col. Allende on Calle Guadiana is a magical place where you can have a freshly roasted pork torta on a crusty roll with the best salsa verde in all of San Miguel for just $15 pesos / .76 USD (2016). They also make amazing gorditas and tacos. Beer and refrescos are served in this semi open air restaurant. Just as a side note to the new folks there, if you want all white meat and not the “extras,” ask for “lomo.”
Easy street parking. Not open evenings.
carnita Bautista en Col. Allende en Calle Guadiana es un lugar mágico donde se puede tener una torta de cerdo recién asado en un rollo crujiente la mejor salsa verde en todos los de San Miguel por sólo $15 pesos/.76 USD (2016). También hacen tacos y gorditas. Cerveza y refrescos se sirven en este restaurante al aire libre semi.
A favorite of ours is Ignatio Ramirez Market in Centro. A large “mall” of local wares, leather goods, home decor, flowers and food. This is where many local San Miguelians shop for the week.
My other work is interior design and event design with my company Sanctuary Design Studios. Recently, I had the pleasure of Alma Victor Events assisting with floral arrangements for the San Miguel Food Festival 2017, an internationally acclaimed event, and we purchased all of our flowers exclusively from Ramirez. A number of flowers we purchased was well under $100.00 USD and would have easily been enough for a small to medium sized event.
You can buy floral arrangement wares like oasis here, but they will also create lovely arrangements for you as well.
Ignatio Ramirez market is open 7 days a week.
Look at all the flowers and fruits we bought here!
Ignacio Ramirez mercado en el Centro. Un gran “mall” de alimentos, flores y productos locales
A giant bouquet of fresh roses can be as low as $80 pesos!
On our bucket list is this gem less than an hour from San Miguel. The Pyramid Cañada de la Virgen.
Built between 540 BC and 1050 BC as a calendar aligned with the stars for planting and harvesting. The Biblioteca in Centro offers bus trip tours for a very reasonable price.
Construido entre el 540 a. C. y 1050 a. C. como un calendario alineado con las estrellas para siembra y cosecha. La Biblioteca en el Centro ofrece viajes en autobús hay pesos muy poco.
Many of our good friends here in SMA, take full advantage of the low-cost bus fares and air fares within the country.
There are tons of quaint beach havens, some very populated, some not so much. It depends on your vibe. Do you want a chill, hippy spot, or a seaside party town?
Puerto Vallarta is a safe and comfortable (wi-fi) overnight bus ride away! Under $90 USD!! Check out Bajiogo here in SMA for specials and tickets.
A place to make all your dreams come true!
¡Un lugar para hacer tus sueños realidad!