So why did I move to San Miguel de Allende, and what was it like? Well, I do like the food — but it was for and about so much more.
First, before we get to that, let me show you where I lived with the images collected below in a slideshow format. Some of these photos are mine, and some were picked up from the real estate advertisement that lured me to look and rent. “The Kasbah” rocks a Moroccan style, while embracing a very Mexican courtyard preference. It was featured in this 2015 issue of Maison Créative. (The photos that look obviously staged are by Stephen Clement.)
As someone who has spent many years working for magazines spotlighting architecturally inspiring and beautifully decorated homes, I’m especially intrigued when I see something creative — like this place. And, so it became mine. For a while.
Not to be political, but a huge internal push to head south of the border resulted from skyrocketing healthcare costs in the U.S. I was in search of affordable healthcare. My Blue Cross/Blue Shield monthly premiums soared to over $800 a month with a $6,000 deductible. I try to do my part to keep healthy, and so I am fortunate in that regard. But, boy, that monthly sum was really gonna do a number on my wallet. And for what exactly? Some of you can probably relate!
So, I thought, why not find international insurance that covers me for both Mexico and the U.S. So, instead of spending around $10K this year for the sole privilege of having catastrophic coverage, I spent about $2,200. I earmarked my “savings,” if you will, to help finance a once-in-a-life-time experience of living outside the country. For a limited time period, mind you. It’s always been something I wanted to do. There you go: that was my rationale.
I’ve always been drawn to Mexico. Plus, I’ve also dabbled at learning Spanish in years past but without much success. I’m a bit slower with the process of learning now, but I am re-committed. Even now, as I resume my life state-side.
So, what can I say about living in Mexico? Wow! What a fabulous experience.
Imagine all of this as part of your daily routine . . .
. . . A rap-tap comes at your well-worn wooden door fronting a narrow cobblestone road that at times can drive in quite a racket. “Quién es,” you might ask? It’s the flower lady, bent over, carting a water bucket dwarfed by a tremendous, multi-colored bouquet of blooms standing tall, and wrapped and tied together by variety. Flores, señora? Cuarenta pesos — roughly $2.
. . . Sitting in the early quiet of the morning, perhaps with your hands cradling a cup of Joe. A huge exhale breaks the stillness, and the dogs throughout the neighborhood begin to bark excitedly. Colorful hot air balloons, exerting hot air for buoyancy, waft above your open courtyard home. Always a thrill.
. . . In the distance, there’s this melodic-like whistling sound. It’s drawing near and growing louder. There on his bicycle is the knife sharpener, alerting you to get your items out front — pronto.
. . . And not a day goes by that you don’t hear an obnoxious clanging that rattles both the mornings and afternoons. Soon you see un joven, a young man, who is delivering the signal to get your trash to the street — the garbage truck is on its way.
I was always slightly amused to read pleas from expats looking for the man whose craft is chair caning. Since he doesn’t have an office, he sits on various street corners — with chairs and supplies scattered around him. “Where is he; have you seen him today?” — people would ask on forums established specifically to help Norte Americanos.
Those are some of the things I already miss. Not to mention my neighbor, the burro. When he first kicked his way out of his house just across the way from me, I was quite surprised! He lives with León who straps a saddle of flowers on his back just about everyday and, together, they trot off to El Mirardor, a scenic overlook, to greet visitors. And sometimes I see them leading the way for wedding processions. León, a man with a generous smile, always gave me a friendly wave when he saw me on the sidelines.
And I have to mention the mojigangas, the giant puppets, that stroll El Jardin or dance down the street with newlyweds and their wedding promenades. Ahh, how I enjoyed theses hand-crafted beauties. All my visitors, if asked, would certainly comment on the thunderous fireworks exploding late in the eve as well as in the early morn. What did someone say? He thought he was under attack. Most likely, it was a celebratory event for a Saint.
I think a lot of people ask about healthcare; the quality and costs. And they also wonder about the price of real estate and day-to-day purchases.
I’m happy to report that I didn’t need medical care when I lived there. However, a visiting friend did break her leg. (They don’t call it the City of Fallen Women for nothing. Yikes.) Two ER visits, X-rays, cast, and crutches tallied up to be around $400. Her U.S. insurance didn’t kick in until she got back home and sought follow-up care. I just Googled the approximate cost if that had happened in the U.S. Nonsurgical treatment can total up to $2,500. That is without insurance. I got the feeling my friend preferred the care in her home state of Colorado. As a consolation, she admitted her Mexican doctor was muy guapo.
I spoke with a group attending a Mexican culture workshop about healthcare; I asked them what they thought. One man said he was forced to come to a place where he could afford his prescriptions, and this was/is it. The workshop leader explained that anyone could get government-offered insurance — even gringos. All you have to do is sign up. But the care is focused on providing preventive checkups; otherwise, it isn’t anything to write home about. If you are hospitalized in a government-run facility, expect to pay your bill in full. Otherwise, you aren’t released. Private hospital care, I’ve heard, is likened to five-star hotels.
The International insurance plan, like I have, promises to cover your needs if you landed in a private hospital. 100 percent, they say. Luckily, I didn’t need to test that. Of course, my policy requires advance approvals, whenever appropriate. And they do not cover preventive care the first year, which I find to be both odd and nonsensical. In the U.S. my international healthcare plan is fulfilled by United Healthcare — a 80/20 plan. To qualify for some international plans, note you have to live outside the country a minimum of six months. There may be some policies with less restrictions.
I did go to a dentist in San Miguel. A friend gave me his name; he had received rave reviews from the expat community. I just wanted a new night guard, though. Nothing serious. It cost me $75; whereas, in the U.S. I’ve paid between $300 and $600 for such. Another expat had to have a root canal and crown. $600 total here. And she was quite pleased with the results. In the U.S.? The price range for a root canal is $300 to $2,000, according to Google results, and $500 to $3,000 for crowns.
Speaking of expats — I think many cities/towns/pueblos that attract expats also have groups of people who have launched online forums, Facebook pages and such to help one another adapt to new ways of living. In San Miguel, it is called the “Civil List,” which I found to be of great help. And if I needed info on something, I’d post the question.
What do things cost in San Miguel?
I only rented but as I browsed through the real estate ads, I didn’t see that many bargains in San Miguel proper. They seemed comparable to U.S. prices. I am sure there are some “deals,” but they may fall into the category that you get what you pay for. Or they might be extreme “fixer-uppers.” My friends paid cash way back when; I don’t know what the procedure today entails. Maybe someone who reads this knows and can share some insights, yes?
Property taxes are far less than what I paid when living in Colorado — and I thought that was an attractive bonus there. I think my friends said they pay less than $100 a year for their house in San Miguel. And because the construction materials don’t burn, they don’t have insurance on their home.
Labor is less expensive here than in the U.S., for sure. So, if you do get a redo or want to build in the country, or opt for living in a smaller out-of-the-way town, then I’m betting you dollar goes far.
Here’s a random list of items and the prices in San Miguel:
1 quart-equivalent Milk 15 pesos or 80 cents
Dozen eggs 36 pesos or $1.92
5 pounds, Epsom Salt 290 pesos or $15.50
Toilet paper, 12 rolls 69 pesos or $3.60
Paper Towels, 6 rolls 42 pesos or $2.24
Dishwasher Detergent, 10 tablets 18 pesos, 96 cents
Small head of cabbage, 4 small avocados, 4 yellow mangos, 3 large bananas, 4 small oranges, 4 limes, 4 pears 130 pesos or $6.95
Lunch of large grilled chicken breast, garlic mashed potatoes, steamed veggies (broccoli and zucchini — at restaurant 113 pesos or $6
5 Gallons of filtered water 37 pesos or $1.97
Breakfast (trendy place) — an open-faced sandwich on English muffin with goat cheese, a fried egg, and spinach, accompanied with a few grilled potatos and asparagus, and a small lettuce and tomato salad. 180 pesos or $9.60
Internet service (no TV) 599 pesos or $32
Electric bill (no AC/heat) 263 pesos or $14
Propane gas (2-3 months’ worth) 1,200 pesos or $64
Maid service 60-80 pesos per hour ($3-$4)
My house rental (2bedroom/2bath), furn. $1,100 U.S.
Speaking of household bills, my rental had no AC. No ceiling fans. In each of the bedrooms, kitchen and office were gas heaters. And there were two fireplaces; one wood, one gas. My stove was gas. I had a smallish refrigerator and a washing machine. No dryer. The dishwasher, which was electric, didn’t work. Most households do not have dishwashers or dryers — or AC. They are something of a luxury item. And if you go crazy with electricity, you will pay. BIG time, so I hear. So, the people here live conservatively.
It does get quite warm — or damn hot, as a girlfriend sprawled on my loveseat said one afternoon — during the summer days. After all, remember, San Miguel is closer to the sun at 6,200 feet elevation. Mornings are sublime, cool and crisp.
If you do rent — or buy, be sure to check out the cross-ventilation in the house, especially if there are no ceiling fans or other cooling devices. Otherwise, you will likely suffer in the months of April to July in particular. At least that’s how it was for me in the evenings during that time period. With no breeze coming through your windows, it can get uncomfortable, stifling.
Because I had no car, I walked to the markets and bought only what I needed for a couple of days. My rental was located on a steep hill, so it was like carrying a huge load up a mountain. To put it in perspective. Exhausting. Ask anyone who visited me. It turned out to be a good thing, since my grocery bill didn’t get overloaded with extraneous stuff — as what tends to happen when I shop in the U.S.
I had filtered water delivered by the gallons about once a week. I took in about 25 to 30 gallons, or gaffones, a week. I cooked with it, drank it, gave it to my dogs . . . .
When you hire domestic help, Mexican law stands on the side of the workers. When I left, I paid my maid severance. I gave her two months’ salary, knowing that it’s typically three months’ pay for one year of service. You also are required to pay for a certain amount of vacation each year, along with designated holidays.
The rainy season typically begins in June. It was late this year. It rained randomly and rather infrequently. Here’s a video clip of my street from an afternoon shower (my mother suggested I stay away from this flash-floor river, which is what it resembles):
Regardless, of the time of the year, walking on these cobblestones can be slippery or treacherous. When you come, to live or visit, be care. Wear hardy soled shoes.
I’d be remiss not to mention the little old women — and men — you find begging on the streets. If you come to visit or live, share your spare change with them. They get no “social security.”
I’m closing with a video shot from the top of my terrace, listening to the church bells chime, looking toward La Parroquia on one lovely morning: