Experienced Expat Advises Others to Learn Spanish When They Retire in Mexico

I read the piece in the Globe and Mail about your book and just ran across your blog. I haven’t read the book yet but, since you’re married to a Mexicano, I assume your standard advise to Canucks and gringos is LEARN SPANISH!

My wife and I moved to Mexico 15 years ago from Calgary. We lived in the Lake Chapala area for two years, then moved to Mazatlan. Before we moved we studied Spanish for two years, then took it in Chapala and did some brushing up here as well. My wife, being a woman (and therefore being smarter) is close to fluent. My conversational Spanish is quite good.

But time after time we encounter expats and snowbirds who refuse to take the time to learn to function in Spanish. That is not only inconsiderate (some are the same Canadians and Americans who complained about all of those ” foreigners” in their home countries) it can be dangerous. What if they get into an accident and need medical help and none of the caregivers speak English?

But perhaps one of the best reasons is, since the expats and snowbirds are mostly on some form of fixed income and need to be careful with their money, learning Spanish will help them with “budgeting”. You certainly know the old expression “there are gringo prices and there are Mexican prices”. If you can function in Spanish you have a better chance of getting the “Mexican prices”.

Finally, learning a new language (or making a noble effort, in my case) keeps the brain functioning. All kinds of studies have shown that the mental exercise involved in learning a new skill wards of dementia.

So, number one “retire to Mexico” (or Panama or Ecuador etc.) tip is to learn as much Spanish as you can. I know it has saved us many thousands of pesos and dollars over the years.

We are fortunate, in that, although we were quite young when we retired to Mexico (52 and 47) we had very decent savings (we had sold a business and paid for our two daughters’ post-secondary educations). But, as many have pointed out, it is not free to live here. Prices have risen quite significantly for everyday items over the years, such as groceries (as they have in Canada and the U.S). Once again we are fortunate in that regard, because we ended up getting jobs we can do on-line (my wife is an accountant and I’m a freelance journalist), so we haven’t had to dip into our savings for years.

Neither my wife nor I have regretted the move and we never plan to move back to Canada. We like to visit, mostly to see grandkids, but a visit is all it will be. With today’s amazing Internet-based communications options, such as Voice-Over-Internet-Telephony, Skype, IPads, Facebook etc., digital media access, the grandchildren, daughters, other relatives and friends are a click or a call away. What an amazing change from when we first moved here!

Mexico is a fascinating country, with an incredible variety of climates, wildlife, and a rich culture. Too many Canadians and Americans make the mistake of becoming expats or snowbirds in coastal resorts and never travel to the colonial cities. In doing so they’re missing a European-type experience, but at Mexican prices (once again, knowing Spanish makes travel easier).

There are cultural differences, of course. Why else move to another country? If you’re looking for a Tim Horton’s on every street corner, hockey arenas, curling bonspiels and other Canadiana in your retirement years, stay in Canada (ditto for Americans, only substitute Dunken Donuts, high school and college football and softball). If you want to wake up most days and experience something you could not experience in your homeland, come here. But learn some Spanish first.

Jim Bentein

Leave a reply

To protect home-sweet-mexico.com against spam, each post is reviewed. Therefore your comments may not appear immediately. Remember to check back later to see if someone has replied to your comment.