On April 16, I made my choice to leave the United States because I felt unsafe as a Black person in the US.
This decision came after months of burnout, exhaustion, near-daily panic attacks, and fear. I watched the news — racial injustice, violence, the insurrection at the Capitol — and just felt more grief and rage, which is nothing new.
Eventually, my health took turns for the worse from the levels of stress and anxiety I was under daily. My Google search history became overwhelmed with “safest cities for Black Americans” and “top cities for expats.”
So my partner and I took the leap and relocated to the second safest city in North America and safest city in Latin America — Mérida, Mexico. Here are some things that surprised me about the process:
Choosing a destination wasn’t as hard as I expected
Becoming an expat can seem scary, but with proper planning and research, it wasn’t actually that difficult.
For starters, I knew I wanted to move somewhere safe, warm, and affordable with access to high-speed Internet so I could run my expatriate consulting business.
I wanted peace and freedom with the ability to go out and have some fun, too. So I turned to Mexico.
Bloomberg’s 2021 Best Places to Live for Expats also ranked Mexico as one of the top three countries to live in due to the cost of living, quality of life, and ease of transition.
It’s also important to consider the quality of medical care, the current political climate, and visa requirements while you search.
The next biggest step was choosing our “out date,” when we’d finally move.
YouTube was a great starting point for learning more about the places we looked into
Seeing vlogs and videos from locals allowed us to see the perspective of people who are already in our potential destination. They also helped show us what the day-to-day looks like from a non-tourist perspective.
We also searched for videos like “apartment hunting in Mexico” to get an idea of what life as an expat entails and what we should look out for along the way.
There are a lot of legal documents needed, but temporary visas can be helpful if you’re not sure of your final destination
Mexico has very relaxed visa laws, which made it easier for us to make our exit. That said, some countries have hefty costs associated with their visas that can make the process both lengthy and expensive.
You can also visit Mexico from the US without a visa, which is a good option if you want to get a taste of the country without committing entirely.
If you’re decided on living in Mexico for the long haul you can apply for a temporary-residency visa while in the US. This requires a little more work to get, but it allows you to stay in the country for up to four years.
A few months of downsizing helped prepare us to leave
Even though I made a quick decision to move, I was able to do so after months of becoming more intentional about my budget and how I utilized my extra income.
A common rule of thumb is to save at least enough to cover one year’s worth of expenses in your destination country. What surprised us the most about this process is how quickly we met our savings goal by downsizing our current lifestyle.
We were able to sell a lot of our belongings, which sped up our exit plan
Once we determined our out date, we began downsizing and filling our garage with things that were no longer a priority.
We separated the space into two halves — things to keep and things to sell. This was initially a daunting task, but Facebook Marketplace was the greatest tool in rehoming some of our favorite items.
We were also able to create additional income, which sped up our exit plan.
In a matter of weeks, we added nearly $5,000 to our Mexico savings account. As the excitement began to take over, it became easier to get rid of more items.
In order to avoid exorbitant rental car charges, we sold our vehicles two days before our departure date. We tried a few dealerships, but Carmax gave us the best offers and we were able to add another cushion of cash to our savings.
We also bought a cheap storage unit to keep our personal items, like family photos, in until we find our forever home.
The most expensive part of the process was paying for our oversized luggage
Since we utilized the cost-free tourist visa, the most expensive part of moving was our oversized luggage, which cost us an extra $300.
But learn from our mistakes — most of the things we brought probably could’ve been repurchased at a significantly lower cost once we arrived at our destination.
It can be extremely helpful to prioritize the things you can’t live without instead of little luxuries you may use down the road.
We had to swap our debit cards and unlock our phones before leaving
Many debit cards charge a foreign transaction fee so we opened an account with Charles Schwab because they don’t.
We also had to make sure our phones were unlocked and able to be fully functional in Mexico. We often use our cell phones for translations, directions, and to share our experiences on social media so it was important that we’d be able to use them at any time.
Booking Airbnbs helped us get acclimated with the city and figure out which neighborhood we wanted to move to
In many cities, it’s wise not to search for your home until after you’ve arrived so that you can explore the different neighborhoods and determine which area will best meet your needs. The market can also be fast-paced, so the places you find online might not be available by the time you arrive.
We reserved an Airbnb prior to our arrival which allowed us to find local realtors who could show us what options were available.
It can also be helpful to rent an Airbnb you potentially see yourself living in. Sometimes hosts offer long-term leases that can be negotiated for a lower cost than what’s presented online.
By not immediately jumping into a lease, you can determine if you can see yourself in the city for the long term.
Sometimes your final destination will change
We’ve taken this opportunity to truly explore the country and decide for ourselves what we want our life to look like.
Mérida is beautiful and we thought we’d stay there for a while, but we realized we wanted the feel of a larger, metropolitan city instead. Now, we’re headed for Mexico City.
The most important lesson of our journey so far is knowing it’s OK to change your mind.