T-1 month until moving day! That's right: we are getting on a plane in just a few short weeks to officially start our Mexican adventure. Since deciding to take this leap back in October, we've learned a lot about a lot of things. Every major move comes with challenges, but moving abroad requires additional layers of paperwork, tasks, and to-do lists to make all the puzzle pieces fit together. One of the benefits of moving to Mexico City is the wealth of information available online from those who have paved the way before us. In fact, the US State Department estimates there are 1.5 million American citizens already living in Mexico.
A quick Google search for "moving to Mexico" pulls up thousands of useful blog posts and news articles that will help you get started (check out Mexperience, Northern Lauren, Eternal Expat, and Kinetic Kennons). Without ever needing to leave the comfort of our couch (and pajamas) we have successfully navigated perhaps the most complicated move we will ever make. However, there are a few knowledge gaps I've discovered along the way, and I want to make sure to fill them here.
The most relevant gap for us right now is the true financial cost of moving abroad. I've stumbled upon amazing resources discussing costs of living once we arrive in Mexico, but the fact of the matter is it's really expensive to get ourselves to Mexico in the first place. We were fully aware of this at the beginning, but now I finally have some real numbers to share with all of you.
Why isn't anyone else talking about the thousands of dollars it takes to move? I have a few theories.
1. Some people are moving for a specific job, which means they are probably getting relocation assistance. This is not the case for us.
2. Others are truly leaving/selling everything behind so their moving costs are relatively low. Also not the case for us. We are choosing to hold on to our condo and rent it out.
3. No one likes to talk about money. Except that I do, so we're going to talk about it here.
Below you will find a few tables outlining all of the costs associated with actually moving to Mexico. Not all of them will pertain to your situation, but I'm hoping our experience sets a realistic expectation of what money you need to set aside for any adventure ahead.
A few tips as you continue reading:
Unless you are planning to only move for a few months you are going to need to apply for something other than a tourist visa. Mexico has one of the longest tourist visa allowances at 6 months, but many other countries only allow US citizens a few weeks. I'll write a post or two later with much more detail on the actual visa options and processes, but know that any option in any country comes with costs.
After lots of research, we decided to apply for a Temporary Residency Visa, which allows us to stay in Mexico for up to four years, and also provides some residency benefits like permission to open a bank account and apply for a work permit. The process of starting the visa at a US Consulate was relatively simple, but completing the process is Mexico is overwhelming. Based on more research, and some helpful tips from other expats, we've decided to hire a lawyer to assist us once we arrive (we're using P&H Abogados). The additional $400 is worth it to us, however, there are certainly many people who have navigated Mexico's immigration system successfully on their own. For anyone wanting to go the solo route, this is a particularly helpful blog post.
As previously mentioned, we are holding on to our condo. We absolutely love it and fully intend on returning to DC in a few years. If this section does not pertain to you, please skip ahead. However, if you are like us, there are important and expensive pieces to the puzzle to take into consideration.
You will also notice a fee for obtaining our business license. Washington, DC requires all landlords to obtain a basic business license. Not all localities require this, but it's something you should research in your area. Other than the headache of navigating through local government red tape, and one too many trips to the Department of Regulatory Affairs, the process isn't too horrible. Luckily, our leasing agent is a pro, and was able to guide us in the right direction.
Now we finally get to the actual move. The cost of moving supplies adds up fast, especially if you're like us and don't realize how many fragile items have been hiding away in the second bedroom closet. A week does not go by that we don't order additional bubble wrap or packing paper from Amazon.
You will also want to consider how you will move your things, if you are indeed holding onto them. Will you move yourself? Or hire a moving company? There is a huge range in cost for this step, which also means it's a great place to reasonable save a little if you are willing to put in the extra time. We have done both in the past. Since we are transporting everything about 45 minutes away to a storage unit, and I don't trust myself with my nice things, we are paying My Truck Buddy to help us out. We had a great experience with them 2 1/2 years ago, and I would highly recommend them to anyone else in the Washington, DC area.
More than likely, you will have at least a few days between moving our of your home and getting on a plane. We are lucky that my grandparents live here, but if you don't have friends or family close by, you will need a few nights in a hotel or Airbnb.
Every move has hidden costs; expect the unexpected. One of our biggest costs was our initial visit to Mexico City in October 2018 (you can watch what we did here). While you can certainly move abroad without visiting first, I would recommend at least a short visit if your budget allows. You also can't forget about purchasing flights for the actual move. Start your flight search early, and check back frequently for deals. If you are moving to Mexico, don't forget to check Mexican airlines like Volaris, or Interjet.
And speaking of flights, can we talk about the ridiculous baggage fees? As you can see from the chart, we will be spending quite a bit just to bring our clothes (3-4 suitcases each). Before you purchase tickets, it's worth doing a little homework. You may find that a business class ticket is actually less expensive as they include 1-2 checked bags per passenger.
The final items in the chart are small things you may want to consider when budgeting for your move. Just like needing a few nights in a hotel before you leave, you probably need to eat out a little more, especially if all of your dishes are already packed. Plus...sanity. I've also been paying to start Spanish lessons through Live Lingua to give myself a head start. I'm a terrible language learner, so every extra lesson helps. I've had a wonderful experience so far, and already feel that just a few lessons will make things a little easier when we first arrive. Plus, I have David, who already speaks decent Spanish. The final piece on the list is a recent addition after I realized how many times a day I was paying for goodbye and thank you gifts. When you've lived in one place for a long time, and especially if you are leaving behind a job, there are lots of people you may want to say a special thanks to. For me, this included my amazing team at work, my acupuncturist, and a few neighbors. Nothing big, but small gifts add up.
So there you have it. A minimum of $5,795 (excluding leasing and management agent fees) just to get ourselves from Washington, DC to Mexico City. It's a scary number; I'm going to pretend it doesn't exist. This move could certainly be done for less, but this is how we've chosen to do it. I hope this information gives you a realistic idea of what to expect. Feel free to comment below with any of your real life experiences and associated costs with moving abroad. I'd love to hear from you!
Last updated 1/30/19
Walking enthusiast, kitchen experimenter, sports lover (watching, not playing), and future world traveler.
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