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Ask an old gringo: Mexico City, Cancun and moving to Mexico

Marvin West

Almost all questions aimed at the old gringo come from outside Mexico. Through the years, most have come from the United States and Canada. Some from Europe. Two arrived from the Orient.

Either the locals already know it all or they're missing the limited benefits of my wisdom and experience. This sort of stuff can cause complexes.

Question: Newspaper and magazine articles make moving to Mexico sound so simple, even a caveman could do it. What are the realities?

Answer: Paperwork isn't all that complicated but there are hoops to jump through and basic financial requirements. Mexico gladly exports poverty but doesn't want incoming poor.

If you are really moving south, don't try to smuggle your homeland across the border. Come with the understanding that Mexico is different. Customs, rules and laws may surprise. Bureaucratic inefficiencies do exist. Some lines are illogical but you can follow the Mexican lead and be patient. Most tangles can be solved without an attorney.

Here are the basic rules: Rent before you buy. Have a health care plan in mind. Don't expect overnight delivery of anything. Mail is slow and sometimes no. Minimum Spanish language skills make living easier.

Mexico, for the most part, is not Broadway or Nob Hill or Bar Harbor -- but you'll find electric lights, indoor plumbing, decent to excellent roads, Wal-Mart and good people.

Question: Can it be true that the state government of Veracruz bought an insurance policy against natural disasters from Lloyd's of London?

Answer: Those Cruzers have keen foresight. They recently collected the equivalent of 11.2 million U.S. dollars for 2005-06 flood damage to roads, bridges, schools and hospitals. So, it took Lloyd's a while to validate the claim. No problem. Mañana is a fundamental Mexican truth.

Question: What's going on in Cancun? Anybody been killed lately?

Answer: Don't be so negative. Cancun has almost everything -- bright beaches, baby bikinis, exciting nightclubs, a steady flow of visitors who wish they were rich and famous and, yes, an occasional unfortunate passing.

Have you heard about the beauty festival featuring near-priceless perfumes - as in new Yu from China? Yu means rain and this stuff will soak you, $500 for a teeny, tiny vial.

The festival has something for everyone. While women are shopping at the false eyelash bar, men can get a free skin consultation. Think what that might do for Wisconsin dairy farmers.

Looks like you may have missed the pole-dancing lessons, chocolate baths, body painting and fashion shows at a couple of clothing-optional hotels for couples -- in Los Cabos and Puerto Morelos, south of Cancun. But, stay tuned. The old gringo has an energetic staff of young correspondents who help him keep up with glamor and glitter.

If you ask politely, maybe I'll tell you about the forthcoming Victoria's Secret theme party.

Question: My impression of Mexico City is crazy and congested. Now I hear there's a giant new skyscraper coming. Please tell me no.

Answer: Real estate investors, including Spanish billionaire Amancio Ortega, have blueprints for an 85-story building, 984 feet tall, glass and steel, overlooking historic Chapultepec Park.

So, how big is big? This scheme is shorter than the Empire State Building in New York but enormous for a dry lake bed that is already sinking an inch a year and that sometimes does the jumping-bean routine when earthquakes are playing in the neighborhood.

There are stumbling blocks in front of construction. Politicians must be persuaded to change zoning regulations. Stop laughing.

Question: I just heard on TV that 20,000 cars, stolen in the United States, move to Mexico each year. What say you?

Answer:< TV sometimes exaggerates. Beware of that TV stuff. My own survey says it's just 19,000 and change, mostly removed from California, Arizona and Texas to stimulate new car sales.

Seriously, this is serious business. If you pay in advance for satellite tracking, LoJack and OnStar can find missing vehicles, even in Mexico. That does not guarantee that whoever is using the car or pickup truck will give it back.

Question: Joel Berger, senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, says the forthcoming border fence will increase the risk of extinction for several species of birds and butterflies. Any reaction to this in Mexico?

Answer: Haven't heard a word but I do know that most Mexican birds and butterflies would be able to fly over -- unless the fence is really high.

I have heard complaints that the fence might inconvenience other migratory species, particularly people, Mexican jaguars and Sonora Pronghorns.

Question: What do you know about a Canadian manufacturing company moving to Mexico?

Answer: Companies come and companies go, some to India, some to The Philippines. Worst business story I've heard was Orange County, Calif., outsourcing the processing of traffic tickets to Nogales.

Comprehensive data -- driver's license numbers, birth dates and other personal information -- was flowing south so Mexicans earning less money could keep score and prepare past-due bills.

Angry Californians didn't say much about possible identity theft but protested that Nogales was an unreasonable distance to drive to get a parking ticket fixed.

Published or Updated on: September 1, 2007 by Marvin West © 2007
Contact Marvin West

Marvin West, mostly retired after just 42 years with Scripps Howard newspapers, is senior partner in an international communications consulting company. This column is from his forthcoming book, “Mexico? What you doing in Mexico?”  West invites reader reaction; his address is

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