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One of the main reasons that I wanted to move abroad was to immerse myself in a Spanish speaking country to truly gain fluency in the language. I had no idea, at the time, however, that I would run into so many situations that had the potential to become much more difficult and problematic had I not spoken Spanish. I am still surprised when I see expats who have lived abroad for many years and don’t speak their adopted country’s language. I often wonder how they get by on a daily basis. And I know they are definitely missing out on the opportunity to really assimilate themselves into a foreign culture and enjoys all the benefits of that experience.

We already know the common reasons for someone to have a basic grasp of a language when traveling or living abroad, like avoiding tourist traps, making new friends, negotiating lower prices, etc. Instead of listing the obvious, I’d like to share scary 5 experiences that I have had personally, which may have gone very wrong if I wasn’t able to communicate in Spanish.

  1. Avoid Overpaying (the time the landlord tried to rip me off)

This has happened every time that I move apartments or homes, but this one time was particularly terrible. Upon telling my landlord in Mexico City that I was moving, she produced over a year’s worth of electric bills for the entire property. Then, she told me that I owed her $4000 pesos for electricity. This is a common tactic that landlords try when you are leaving, in an attempt to get more money from you. I was moving my things out, with the help of friends, when the landlord sat on my suitcase and refused to move. One of my friends offered to call the police and I accepted. They quickly came and I explained my side of the situation, in Spanish of course. We did not have a written lease for the room so the police officers ordered the woman to let me leave with my things and told her that I had no obligation to pay the electric bill.

  1. Medical Emergencies (the time I got a UTI)

Like many women, I suffer from periodic urinary tract infections (UTIs) which tend to creep up every 2 years or so. I felt one coming on in the middle of the night while I lived in Veracruz. I quickly hailed a taxi to the local Red Cross emergency room. Of course, none of the doctors spoke English, but luckily I had previously worked in healthcare recruiting Spanish-speaking patients, so I was able to explain my symptoms and that I had a history of UTIs. Within a few minutes, they gave me an injection of antibiotics, another for pain and a few prescriptions to continue the treatment at home. The total cost of the visit and medication was under $15, which would have been much more expensive in a private hospital if I needed an English speaking doctor.

  1. Dealing with the Police (the time I pressed charges on my fiancée)

During my time in Veracruz, I became involved with an amazing man and we had a wonderful 3-year relationship. He eventually proposed to me and we were ready to live our happily ever after until…. Carnaval…  (think the Latin American version of Mardi Gras). With enough alcohol in his system, I came home to find my apartment trashed for an unknown reason. He then physically assaulted me. I ran to our balcony as he blocked the front door. I asked the Mexican tourists walking in the streets below to call the police and they did. They showed up and arrested him on the spot and I was able to press charges against him. This required me to give a detailed statement in Spanish at the police station.

  1. Unexpected Issues (the time I lost my debit card)

Out of the blue one day, I received my United Mileage Plus statement by e-mail and realized I had enough miles for a free ticket to South America. I quickly booked a round-trip ticket to Colombia. It had 2 connections, which was fine because it was free. After going through 3 airports, I arrived in Colombia and went to withdraw money from the ATM. Unfortunately, my debit card was nowhere to be found and I didn’t have any backup credit card with me. I had $10 USD in cash and ended up begging a taxi driver to take me to a 24-hour currency exchange to be able to get some Colombian pesos. He then dropped me off at my Couchsurfing host’s apartment. He was nice enough to give me an extremely discounted fare in light of the situation.

  1. Immigration (the time my 3-month-old crossed her first border)

My daughter Sofia was born in El Salvador. When she was 3 months old we traveled for the first time. We took a bus to neighboring Guatemala to be able to get better airfare from that airport. At the El Salvador/Guatemala border, we were taken off the bus and the immigration officer explained that he could not stamp an entry stamp into her passport because she didn’t have an exit stamp from El Salvador (El Salvador does not stamp passports when traveling by land). I was arguing this point back and forth with the immigration officer and finally, he said that she would be allowed into the country but upon leaving we would have to pay a fine of about $30 USD. I had no problem with that and we got back on the bus. We were able to enter the country. I was later told that is a common ploy done at the border in order to solicit a bribe from traveling foreigners to get the passport stamp.

These are just 5 examples of many. So, as you can see, anything and everything can happen when you are traveling or living abroad. Gaining even a basic knowledge of the language in the country you are traveling will go a long way if you find yourself in one of these situations. Whether it’s the police, immigration officers, healthcare workers or locals, if you are in a foreign country it’s not a guarantee that people will speak your language. We are guests in their country and the burden is on us to learn and adapt, not them.

Have you had a similar issue in a foreign country? If so, share your experience in the comments.

If you are interested in learning Spanish or English, I provide online classes. You can learn more by clicking on the link below:

 

 

 

Family Getaway to Cancun for Under $250? Yes, It’s Possible!

This past weekend, we went to Cancun on a budget and managed to spend only $242 which included a splurge day on Isla Mujeres!

I have been traveling to Cancun over the past 13 years, since my first trip on my 18th birthday. I have stayed in all kinds of accommodations – from crashing with friends to $17 Airbnbs to $450 per night all-inclusive hotels – and every time has been amazing. I even lived there for a short period. But now that I have a 1-year-old, a vacation in Cancun looks a little different. I wanted to bring my daughter to Cancun for her birthday but we were on a tight budget. I decided to try and do a “family” style trip to Cancun and see how much it would cost.

Those of you who know me personally know that I am a single mom, but I had two willing participants who played the part of “daddy” for our family style trip. A close friend and my manny were happy to step in for the experiment (and free food and drinks) in exchange for helping me out with my daughter.

And yes, I know that it can be done cheaper, but with a toddler, my hostel days are over for a few years. There were also cheaper hotel options but we opted for one with a nice pool and location close to the local park and bus station. We also could have cut down on our spending, but we also wanted to enjoy the trip and splurge a little bit. So, we tried to balance our splurge day on Isla Mujeres with cheaper days in downtown Cancun.

Accommodations: $30 per night at Xbalamque Hotel and Spa in downtown Cancun – $60 USD

Hotel from the street.
Inside the hotel.
Inside the room.
Pool area.

Friday (Arrive in Cancun at 3 P.M.)
• Lunch – 2 orders of tacos al pastor, 2 drinks $5 USD/$94 MXP
• Dinner – 3 slices of pepperoni pizza $2 USD/$36 MXP
• Life-sized remote control car for 10 minutes $1 USD/$20 MXP
• Drinks – 2 x 1 Margaritas $6.50/$120 MXP (tip $1.50)

I arrived with my daughter by bus around 3 P.M. My friend was waiting for us at the bus station and helped me bring her and our bags to the hotel. We had lunch at the nearby Parque de las Palapas, which has a huge playground for kids, a food court, a stage, live music and even more at night. Afterwards, we spent some time at the pool at the hotel before going back to the park to see the nightly entertainment.

Great park for children to play at.
The park is surrounded by cheap food options and tables to eat at.
My daughter can’t do much but she was able to enjoy the car while we controlled it with a remote.

Saturday (Trip to Isla Mujeres)

• 2 adult round trip tickets on the Ultramar Ferry $32 USD/$600 MXP
• 1 infant round trip ticket FREE
• Golf Cart Rental from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. $38 USD/$700 MXP
• Breakfast at the Mercado Municipal on Isla Mujeres – 1 torta de cochinita pibil, 3 pork tacos, 1 chicken taco, 2 drinks $8.50 USD/$155 MXP
• Lunch at a restaurant on Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres – 1 order of breaded chicken, 1 order of ceviche, 1 agua de melón, 4 alcoholic drinks $40 USD/$720 MXP (tip $8 USD)
• Dinner in Cancun at Parque de las Palapas – 1 order of tacos al pastor, 1 order of tacos de chorizo, 1 drink $6 USD/$104 MXP

Breakfast at the local market.

We were able to catch the 8:30 A.M. ferry to Isla Mujeres and immediately rented a golf cart. We had breakfast at the local market, which was delicious and cheap. We then did a self-guided tour of the island, going all the way to the south point before returning back to north beach. We arrived at north beach around noon and had lunch and drinks. We returned the golf cart just before 5 P.M. and took the ferry back to downtown Cancun.

On our self-guided tour at the southern point of the island.
We spent the afternoon at beautiful North Beach.

In the evening, we went back to the local park for dinner. There was a famous mime performing that evening but we didn’t get to see it. Unfortunately, my daughter was worn out from the day and went to bed around 9 P.M. so I decided to stay in the hotel with her. Otherwise, on the weekends the park has live music and performances for free.

Great prices for local food.
An order of tacos for $30 MXP at Parque de las Palapas.

Sunday (Morning at Mercado 28)
• Breakfast at a restaurant in the market – 1 order of consume de borrego, 1 order of tacos de borrego, 1 drink $7 USD/$134 MXP (tip $1.50 USD)
• Lunch at Church’s Chicken $9 USD/$170 MXP
• Miscellaneous purchases over the weekend (bottled water, juice, pre-packaged snacks, etc.) $16 USD/$300 MXP

The little Cancun sign at the market.

The next morning, my daughter and I went to explore Mercado 28. We met up with my friend for breakfast and toured the different stalls in the market. Then, we went back to the hotel to spend the rest of the morning by the pool, before checking out.

Mercado 28 has many affordable options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Total: $242 USD
And there you have it, a fun, family-style weekend in Cancun for less than the price of 1 night in most all-inclusive hotels in the hotel zone.
*I purposely did not include transportation in the estimate since it will vary too much for each reader. I live in Progreso, Yucatan so we arrived by bus for about $20 USD per adult each way. The exchange rate used to calculate US dollars was 18.5 and I rounded to the nearest .50 cents in dollars.

My Manny Experiment in Mexico

While domestic help is relatively easy to find in Mexico, I have a hard time keeping nannies since I only work part-time. Many of them leave when they find full-time work. It was just last week that I was speaking casually to a good male friend of mine who works at a local restaurant, as a beach waiter. When I found out the terrible salary that he makes, I told him to come work for me and he can make more money and be more comfortable. He already knows my daughter well, he is a dad to 3 girls and a boy, so he has plenty of experience and I trust him in my home. The very next day after this conversation, my nanny sent me a message that due to a medical issue with her child, she would not be able to work the entire week. I am a single mom with my sole income to support my daughter, so canceling a week of work is not an option. So, I put it out there to my friend and asked him if he could be my manny for the week. And he said yes.

This was a surprise in itself since Mexican men have the reputation of a “machismo” culture and there are still a lot of men who would look down on working in a domestic situation, but we decided to give it a try. After all, I was desperate as a single mom in a foreign country with no relatives around. My expectations were really low, I just asked him to keep her alive, but wow did I end up impressed by the end of the week.

He takes care of her at the pool.

For 4 days, we did this experiment and each day was filled with some kind of surprise. On the first day – he came to me while I was working holding her at arm’s length because she had a dirty diaper. I thought he was expecting me to stop working and to change her diaper but he was just asking where the diapers and wipes were. Then, you wouldn’t believe my shock when I finished work and slumped off to the kitchen to find food for dinner. It was immaculate. He cleaned! He took out the trash without asking! And then he made me dinner! Even my houseguest commented on what a great job he had done in comparison to my previous female nannies.

On day 2, I made him a special dinner to genuinely thank him for impressing me so much with his hard work and how well he takes care of my daughter. Again, once she was in bed, he was cleaning up and keeping himself busy. My bedroom was cleaned and he even organized my clothes. I was beginning to feel spoiled but there was more to come.

They eat dinner together.

On day 3, he decided that he would also like to take care of my garden. I have been in this house for four months now and I have never bothered to do anything with the garden. It was very overgrown and looked terrible. I also don’t have a green thumb so the potted plants were pretty sorry looking. He went and bought the tools necessary and got to work. It became late so he decided to finish the next day.

Manny and gardener.

On day 4, I walk into my bedroom and see that they are both napping. I guess taking care of a toddler again was a bit tiring for him.

They synched up their napping schedules.

But he woke up in order to finish the garden before I even started working. My favorite moment that day was when I asked him to make her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and to cut it into squares and triangles. I should have specified four pieces but in the end, she ate most of the sandwich so his way worked just fine.

I’ve never seen PB and J quite like this but she ate 90% of it.

Overall, the manny experiment was a great success. Unfortunately, he is moving on to a new job and won’t be available to be with me permanently, but it has opened my eyes to the possibility of hiring male employees. In addition to babysitting, I received a chef, a cleaner, a gardener and a handyman all in one!

 

How My Rent Abroad is Always Under $200

I have lived abroad for the past 7 years, including in Mexico (Guadalajara, Mexico City, Veracruz and Cancun) and El Salvador (Quezaltepeque and Ciudad Delgado). I have never paid more than $200 for rent, so I am completely shocked when I see what other expats are paying. I have stayed in rooms for as little as $50 in Mexico City to a huge 2 bedroom apartment for $125 in Veracruz.  I currently live in Progreso, Mexico in my largest home yet, a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom rental which is $375 per month. I have a long term renter who stays in one of the rooms and splits the rent with me, so again, I manage to keep it under $200 USD. 

How is this possible? Below are some tips on how you can get the best rental prices abroad. A lot of it may seem like common sense. But, for people considering the move who have never been abroad, it will be very helpful.

  1. Speak the local Language

If you come to Latin America and do not speak Spanish, you are going to get the gringo price on everything from rentals to restaurant menus to taxi rides. Invest some money in Spanish classes BEFORE you arrive. It is also a matter of respect and you will be treated much better and notice a friendlier disposition from locals if you try to speak their language.

  1. Do not Rent from an online Website or Realtor

Anything that is posted online or comes from an English speaking realtor is way overpriced. If it’s in dollars, that’s even worse. I am a single mom and when I approached realtors in the area, several of them sent me homes over $1,000 USD per month, despite indicating my income limitations. Also, online announcements are often made by the same realtors and are overpriced, knowing that us “gringos” like to research and arrange a rental before arriving.

  1. Do your research on the Ground

There’s no way around this. If you want the best price, you need to arrive, walk around the area you like, knock on doors and call phone numbers. You will find much better prices dealing directly with the people who own the home. And in my experience, most of them are older and not technologically savvy. They won’t post an announcement online even though they can make more money off their rental. You can do this easily by renting an Airbnb or hotel room for a week or month while you do on the ground research. With an Airbnb, you also get someone local who can point out vacant homes and save you a lot of time and effort. I have a master bedroom with private bathroom for rent on Airbnb. For more information, click here

  1. Negotiate the rent 

In El Salvador, we rented a home in a gated community for $200 that was originally listed higher. I noticed that other homes in the same residential area were priced at $200 and told the landlord. She was happy to lower the price. Many rental prices are negotiable (this is where Spanish comes in handy even more!). This is especially true for areas with many vacant homes.

  1. Ask for Help

If you are beginning to learn Spanish and/or have a noticeable accent, ask a local to make the call. They will be able to negotiate on your behalf and get a more realistic price than if you call ­­­­yourself. If you don’t know a local, look for a bilingual taxi driver or waiter to help you out. Just remember to leave them a tip for their service.

  1. Make Local Friends

Before I found this house, I made friends with Rebecca from the lavanderia (who found my first apartment for me), a nice waiter on the beach and a couple who owned a nearby restaurant. They knew that I was looking for a home to rent and sure enough, the couple came through as soon as they saw that this house was for rent. They even called the number, got the price and arranged the meeting for us. In a small town like Progreso, everyone knows each other and trust is built on those relationships. Making friends with the locals will help you out in many ways.

I hope that this article has been helpful for those considering moving to Mexico. You will always find a big range of prices, especially if you are looking in touristy towns like Cancun, Puerta Vallerta and Playa del Carmen, to name a few. If you have any additional questions, feel free to comment below.

If you would like more information on moving to Mexico, please join the Future Mexico Expats group on Facebook. 

 

Cheap Flights: Fly into Mexico from $76 in June

How can a single mom afford to travel so much? Budget airlines that offer dirt cheap flights. To be even more specific, Mexican budget airlines. In the 7 years since I moved abroad, there are three companies that have grown and continue to expand their service to international destinations. They now serve large U.S. cities: Vivaaerobus, Volaris and Interjet. They are also continuously adding new routes in Central America.

Small prices but Big Improvements

When I first flew with these companies, over 5 years ago, they couldn’t accept my U.S. debit card online and the websites were all in Spanish. I remember having to book online, print out a voucher and bring it to the local Oxxo (7/11 style convenience store) to pay in cash. I had the opportunity to fly with all three of them in the past few months, on different routes. I have noticed several attempts to bridge the language barrier and appeal to international travelers. They are now giving instructions in English and Spanish and using bilingual flight attendants. Of course, their websites also have English versions and will accept all major debit/credit cards. Still, when I travel one them, I am usually the only foreigner. Why? Because most non-Mexicans don’t know about these airlines.

Why don’t you know about these cheap options?

They won’t show up if you search on many of the travel websites, like Google flights, Orbitz, Travelocity, etc. But if you are willing to put a few minutes into checking out flights on their direct websites, you can end up saving hundreds on your airfare. To give you an idea, I flew from Merida to Veracruz on Vivaaerobus in March for under $50 with a baby and luggage. I also recently flew from Mexico City to Guatemala City on Interjet for under $200 again with the same baby and luggage. Below, you will find some of their upcoming deals, what U.S. cities they service and certain travel tips that I have discovered along the way.

Mexico’s budget airlines

Vivaerobus 

Service from: Houston, Texas

Vivaaerobus currently only flies out of Houston, but has extensive routes within Mexico if you plan to visit more than one city.

Best Upcoming Deal: Houston to Monterrey any Sunday, Monday or Friday in June for $76.55 (including 1 carry-on and 1 checked-in bag).

Travel tips: Vivaaerobus operates similarly to Spirit Airlines. They are a no-frills carrier. Expect to pay more if you are traveling with several pieces of luggage. They have three different fair rates: light, basic and smart. Each includes different amenities like additional luggage, preferred check-in and boarding, seat selection, etc. They have limited service from the U.S., but once in Mexico they have many route options at the cheapest prices.

Volaris 

Service from: Over 20 U.S. Cities, Ontario, Guatemala City and San Jose

Volaris has the largest presence in the U.S., serving many major cities and is expanding into Central America.

Best Upcoming Deal: New York City to Mexico City on June 26th for $111.13.

Travel Tips: Sign up for the VClub if you are planning to travel round trip or more than once with this airline within the year. If you pay in pesos, the Vclub costs $500 MXP pesos ($26.71 USD according to today’s exchange rate). However, if you pay in dollars, it costs $49.99. *One note: If you are traveling with a baby, Volaris is the only airline of these three that required an additional payment for infant luggage. This included a stroller, car seat and carry-on diaper bag. The other airlines checked my stroller for free at the gate.

Interjet 

Service from: New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas and several cities in Latin America (including Cuba).

Interjet services a few major U.S. cities, but also Cuban cities and Guatemala City.

Best Upcoming Deal: Miami to Cancun on June 26th for $123.02.

Travel Tips: The light fare option does not include a checked in bag. It is an additional $25 USD for a checked in bag. Often times, you can choose the Optima fare category for the same price or just slightly higher. This option comes with additional benefits. You can choose your seat and are able to change the passenger name or your flight for a discounted rate ($35).

ALWAYS SEARCH IN THE LOCAL CURRENCY

Additionally, you should note that to get the best deal, search in the local currency. The following fares were in pesos and converted to dollars at the current exchange rate of 18.68 pesos to 1 dollar. The difference in the peso and dollar fares ranged from $6 to $33 for the same flight. If you are flying round-trip and/or with other people, that money can add up quickly.

To continue saving on these budget airlines

All three of these companies have sales and promotions all the time. If you are a frequent traveler, it is worth it to sign up for their e-mail alerts. Vivaerobus sometimes has flights up to 90% off (at $300 pesos, just over $15), Volaris and Interjet up to 50% off. Either way, they are basic and cheap airlines that will get you to your destination for a fraction of many other companies.

These were just some of the specials that I found for the month of June. July and August are the high season for American travelers to Mexico, so there are few deals to be found during those months. Of course, if you look ahead to September through December, you will find even better prices in the low season.

 

Online Teachers: Make More Money Being Effective

Online teachers are popping up everywhere as the demand far outweighs the supply. This is one of the quickest ways for a native English speaker, or Spanish or Chinese, etc., to find online work and, if they want, to begin traveling. Teaching online offers the flexibility to work from home or abroad while gaining a stable income. It is also particularly attractive to people like me, a single parent and/or a stay a home mom with a young child that I would prefer not to put in daycare (I couldn’t afford it anyway!). I also enjoy the freedom of being able to work wherever I want, as long as the internet connection is stable and fast.

But what about licensing/certification/degrees?

Yes, in a perfect world, all online teachers would have degrees, certifications and/or licenses, but there simply are not enough qualified teachers to fill the demand. Countries like China, Japan, Russia and those in the Middle East will pay top dollar for effective online teachers. But what does an effective teacher mean exactly? In my opinion, it is one that will help the student improve his/her language skills in each and every class.

One of the biggest mistakes that amateurs make, upon becoming an “online teacher”, is that they think they are being paid to have a conversation. While this is a ploy often used in recruitment advertisements (i.e. “Make Money by Speaking English!), there is much more to being an online teacher. In fact, I have gained a number of private students who come to me from other teachers. Their biggest complaint is that the teacher expected to chat for the class and had not prepared anything formal.

Tips for being an Online Teacher

Here are some hints and tricks to make your online teaching as successful as possible so that you can retain students long term:

  • Prepare: You need to prepare a lesson plan as if you were a teacher in a classroom. Even conversational lessons need to have a list of vocabulary to focus on and at least one grammar point. Sometimes online companies will provide lessons for you, but you still need to take a few minutes to look through the materials and make 2 – 3 backup activities that you can if you finish early. It is easy enough to create a role-play based on almost any material to keep the class going and provide additional practice.
  • Dress Professionally: Yes, one of the benefits of working as an online teacher is that you can literally do it in your underwear. But from the chest up, you need to be presentable if you are on camera. If you work in a hot climate, like I do, make sure to have acceptable shirt or blouse nearby to put on for your classes.
  • Environment: Although this is a great job for a stay at home parent, you need to make sure your environment is appropriate. Students don’t want to hear crying babies or toddlers or to be constantly interrupted during their classes. If you have young children, I would suggest scheduling classes while they are asleep (which is possible with the time zone changes in many parts of the world). You can also enlist a mother’s helper, to play and entertain them while you work (this is what I do), or you can work opposite your partner’s schedule… but either way, children and other interruptions, like televisions, pets, and traffic are distracting to the student.
A quiet environment is a must for online teachers. Voices, noises, pets, traffic, etc. can all distract and frustrate the student.
  • Correct: Students need to be corrected as much as possible. You will have to figure out when it is appropriate to immediately correct, or when to wait until the end of the activity (for example, reading a text), but you should try to correct the students as much as possible. It is even better if you can record the new vocabulary and pronunciation mistakes to include in the after class feedback. Correction is even more important for adult students, who want to see progress in their learning with each class.
  • Visual Aids: According to the Multiple Intelligence Theory, there are several types of learners. The majority are strongly inclined towards visual learning. In an online class, you can use an interactive whiteboard (I use http://www.realtimeboard.com) and/or screen sharing to help increase the visuals. You can also use this to point out corrections and pronunciation errors. Repetition of the words will also reach auditory learners. Sometimes students need to repeat a work up to five times before they can say it easily and you should be aware of that and be patient with them.
Use colorful visual aids to introduce new vocabulary. You can find plenty of examples on Google image search.
  • Adjust your Speech: You will need to speak slowly and clearly for even advanced learners. What seems like slow motion to you may be overwhelming to them. They will need time to absorb the information and think of a response. Speaking slowly helps to give them that chance without a misunderstanding or a long, awkward pause while they think of an answer.
  • Feedback: All students should receive some type of feedback following each class. It is important for adult students, and parents, to see the progress that the student is making. Feedback can come in many forms, but generally, you can prepare a report (even from a template) which includes new vocabulary from the lesson, grammar points, advice and perhaps homework assignments. I choose to send an e-mail that contains the materials used in class, screen shots, lesson notes, and homework.

Final Thoughts for online teachers

While this is not expected to be your certification as an online teacher, I hope that the previous points will be helpful to your new career. Successful online instructors are ones that provide value to the student and show them that they are advancing and learning more with every class. Also, as a final note, smile! You want to show the student that you are enjoying your job and the time you spend with them.

In my next article, I will be writing about communicative activities which can be used in the online classroom in order to get students speaking in the target language. Stay tuned!

Mexico: Living at the Beach on $800/month

One of the first questions that people ask before moving abroad is how much money they should expect to spend per month. And the answer is always, it depends. Which is true. This post is specific to the country of Mexico, which right now has a favorable exchange rate for those who are making dollars. But it still depends on the city, location within the city, the size of the dwelling and lifestyle factors. There seems to be two types of expats that relocate to the developing world; those who want to live like a king and those who want to blend in with the locals. I am definitely the latter.

That being said, I do enjoy eating out a couple times a week, and I love my margaritas on the beach. I’m sure we could slice the budget down even further by giving up those luxuries, but I’d rather not. I decided to relocate with my daughter to Progreso, in the state of Yucatan, Mexico. It is a small beach town. There is a retired ex-pat population and cruise ships stop here 2 – 3 times per week, but other than that, it isn’t a big tourist destination, which is exactly what I wanted. It is about 4 hours by bus to Cancun so we are also close enough to a major airport and a tourist hotspot if we want a little more adventure.

Progreso is a small, quiet and relaxing beach town.

Our Expenses in progreso, mexico

Rent: $200 USD monthly for a furnished studio apartment with separate kitchen and bathroom. Utilities (electricity, water, cable, and internet) included.

Part-time nanny: $35 per week

Food: $30 per week ($25 at the grocery store and $5 at the market)

Well baby visit: $20 once a month

Vaccines: free

Formula and Diapers: $16 per week

Transportation: $3.50 per week. (I take a taxi to the supermarket at the entrance to the town once a week.)

Laundry service: $3 once a week

Spending money per week: $57.50 for eating out, buying clothes, medicine, etc.

Personal Insights on mexico

As you can see, we don’t spend much money at all compared to living in the U.S. Mexico has always been a bargain for expats, but even more so recently. The exchange rate, which is nearly 20 pesos to 1 dollar, helps save a lot of money monthly, especially on formula and diapers. I also make my own baby food with fruits and vegetables from the market and a blender.

One of the biggest money savers is that we don’t need a car. Our apartment is located 2 blocks from the beach and 4 blocks from the town’s market and supermarket. Everything is within walking distance and my daughter loves to go for walks in the stroller. Our other entertainment is the beach, which is free.

Her stroller is our main mode of transportation, even on the beach.

And although she isn’t quite ready to play at the parks, there are plenty of them around. Overall, Mexico is a very family friendly country and you can find children playing in the streets and at the parks well into the night.

There are plenty of free parks for kids and some have exercise equipment for adults.

I try not to eat out every day, but when I do want to treat myself to a margarita, they run about $3 at the beachfront restaurants and food is $5 – $8 per plate. If I go to eat at the market, meals are $2 – $3.50. At the end of the week, I always have spending money left over.

Additionally, if I were a single person, I would be spending just $576 monthly, as the nanny, pediatrician and baby items run about $224 per month.

To make sure you get the best deal possible when you move to mexico or abroad

  1. Learn the local language. If you don’t, you will end up paying much more for housing.
  2. Rent a hotel room or Airbnb for a few days. You will find the best rental prices by walking around and looking for “for rent” signs.
  3. Ask the locals (The lady that owns the laundry mat found our current apartment for us).
  4. Weigh the pros and cons of the location. You may pay more to be downtown but if you save on a car payment, gas, maintenance and insurance, it may be worth it.
  5. Ask your landlord about throwing in appliances and/or furniture. Mine was able to lend me a gas stove and propane tank so I didn’t have to purchase one myself.

Do you have questions?

I hope that this has been helpful to you if you are considering moving abroad. If I have forgotten anything or if you have a question, please comment below.

If you are considering moving to Latin America, I provide online Spanish lessons. You can find more information about them here.

Note: Prices are in USD and have been calculated at a 20 pesos to 1 dollar exchange rate. The actual rate at the time of this post was 19 to 1. In recent months the peso has fluctuated between 18 and 22 to a dollar.

 

Budget Travel: 5 Reasons Why You Should Consider Veracruz

The Port of Veracruz is the oldest city in the Americas. It is full of history, culture and amazing people who will become your lifelong friends. I used to call it my home, and it took me a few years, but I final made it back for a visit and am pleased to see that many things haven’t changed. These are my top reasons why you should consider visiting Veracruz on your next (or first) trip to Mexico.

#1. It’s Still Undiscovered by Tourism Standards

You won’t find a huge expat community or hear English all around you in Veracruz. I know it sounds strange that one would consider this a positive, but think about it. Foreign tourism raises the prices of everything from hotels to taxis, to restaurant bills. This isn’t to say that Veracruz doesn’t get any tourists. It is quite a popular destination for Mexicans. Foreigners that come here tend to be the adventurous types, the young European backpackers, and couchsurfers or those who have frequently traveled throughout Mexico and Latin America. They often want to immerse themselves in the Spanish language. They don’t come for the all-inclusive, drink until you throw up experience that happens so often in Cancun, the come for an authentic dive into Mexican culture, food and experiences.

#2. The Beaches are Great for Swimming

Veracruz is situated on the Gulf of Mexico. You won’t find white sand and crystal clear water here, but the beaches are still worth enjoying. The water is very calm, with hardly any waves, and you don’t have to worry about undertows or going in too deep. The beaches here are perfect for families, especially with young children and for swimming, which isn’t true for many beaches (I visited Hawaii a few years back and was very disappointed at how dangerous the ocean was and never actually ended up getting in it.). You will find them filled with families and children of all ages. I was very happy to be able to bring my 4 month old into the water for the first time here, without being in fear of a wave knocking us over.

My baby’s first time in the water. She loved it!

If you go to Playa Villa Del Mar in Veracruz, you can eat and drink on the beach at a number of beach front restaurants. Vendors will come by and sell local souvenirs, snacks like fruit and peanuts and boat tours.

Playa Villa del Mar is the most popular in the port.
You can enjoy fresh guacamole and a margarita on the beach.

If you prefer a more relaxing beach experience, you can head a few miles south to Boca del Rio, a wealthier town next to Veracruz. The beaches are less crowded and you won’t be bothered by any vendors. But, you will have to bring your own chairs and umbrella.

The beaches in Boca del Rio (in front of the Fiesta Americana and Camino Real hotels) are much less crowded.

#3. How Incredibly Cheap it is

Remember that since Veracruz is mainly a tourist destination for Mexican people, the prices reflect that. In addition, right now the dollar to peso exchange rate very much favors American dollars. It changes daily but is close to 20 pesos to 1 USD. While this makes all of Mexico more affordable, it is especially true for Veracruz, which isn’t dependent on American tourism and doesn’t change its prices based on the conversion rate. For example, when I lived here 3 years ago, the peso to dollar exchange rate was 12 to 1. Now it is nearly 20 to 1 and I am visiting the same restaurants and attractions and paying the same prices despite the weaker peso. Essentially, I am almost paying half for things than what I did when I lived here.

To stay here, you can easily find mid-level accommodations for $30 – $50 per night. If you are on a budget, there are hotels and Airbnb options for under $15 per night. Since it’s a smaller town, you are never too far from the beach no matter where you choose to stay. (I have been staying in an Airbnb rented room for the last month, which cost me $9 per night. It is located 2 blocks from the beach, 2 blocks from the market and also 2 blocks from a local convenience store. It also comes with amazing roommates who are happy to show me around and cook authentic, Mexican dishes as a bonus!)

#4. The Food

No doubt the food is my favorite part of visiting Veracruz. I think I have gained 10 pounds at the point of writing this article. Taking advantage of the exchange rate, you can find options on the beach starting at $5. Fresh seafood dishes might run you $7 – $10. But, if you go to the market or economic restaurants off the beach, you can expect to pay at least half of those prices.

In the morning, you can choose between street tacos (5 for $1) or even from a decent restaurant/eatery for a little more. Other typical breakfast dishes in the area include picadas, empanadas and quesadillas. They are accompanied by a bottle of Coca Cola or freshly squeezed fruit juice.

My large breakfast quesadilla and freshly squeezed orange juice from the market.

For lunch, my personal favorite is a type of food called comida corrida. Comida corrida is homemade food, made by Mexican mothers and grandmothers, just like they would in their own kitchen. You get an entire meal package for one price. For example, the meal typically includes a soup starter, a main dish (you can choose from several options which change daily) with rice and/or beans and/or salad, tortillas, salsas and a drink. Some places will even include a small dessert. Prices range from about $2 – $3. This meal is served usually between noon and 3 to 4 PM.

By far, my favorite food concept that exists.

At night, tacos are everywhere. My favorite are tacos al pastor, which are pork tacos cooked on a turn style. They are topped with onion, cilantro, pineapple and habanero salsa.

Tacos al pastor from the restaurant in front of my accomadation for $2.

I typically spend about $7 per day if I eat out all three meals at the local market and restaurants. Occasionally I’ll splurge at the beach or a nicer restaurant but it never costs me more than $10 for a meal. I’ve discussed with my local friends how we could eat on less than $5 per day easily, but it would require a little more walking to get away from the beach area where I am staying.

#5. The Attractions

This is something that the city has improved on in the last few years. In its main beach plaza, they have a small aquarium with an educational dolphin show. They offer swimming with the dolphin options from $25 for the baby option (unfortunately mine was too young to do it) to $50 for the best package. There is also a wax museum and a Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum in the same shopping plaza. I purchased a 3 attraction adult pass for about $13 total and was not disappointed.

If you are interested in a more historical option, there are El Tajin ruins just a few hours north of the city. You can purchase bus tickets in the ADO bus terminal with buses leaving at least every hour.

The dolphin show was short but educational and fun.
Frida Kahlo at the wax museum.
Ripley’s museums are always fun and interesting.

And Lastly…

Having spent almost a month already in the city in Veracruz, and living here from 2012 to 2014, I was surprised to learn that people think it is dangerous. It’s important at this point to distinguish between the state of Veracruz, which is quite long, and the city of Veracruz often called “el Puerto” or the port. I can tell you personally that el Puerto is very safe for foreigners and locals alike. While there are issues in some of the smaller cities in the south, dismissing a trip to Veracruz, based on those incidents would be like not visiting San Francisco because of something that happened in Los Angeles. But, if you are the type to be scared off by sensational news stories, travel in Mexico probably isn’t for you anyway.

The Port of Veracruz is located in the middle of the state.

If you have any questions about the Port of Veracruz, I’d be happy to answer them. Just comment below or contact me by e-mail.

 

The 5 Must Have (and cheap!) Products When Traveling with an Infant

It’s not easy to be a minimal packer with an infant. But it is possible. My daughter, Sofia, and I started our journey when she turned just 3 months old. She was born in El Salvador. It took us a few weeks to straighten out her paperwork with the American embassy, get her American passport and then her first round of vaccines so we could begin traveling abroad. The vaccines weren’t a requirement but I just felt more comfortable with her having at least one round. Since then we have gone to Guatemala City, Cancun, Progreso (Yucatan, Mexico) and now we are located in Veracruz. We have been traveling for 6 weeks so far and although I thought that I had thought of everything… there are things we have had to pick up along the way. Although it’s tempting to buy secondhand walkers, baby gyms, and bouncers to keep her occupied, we always travel on budget airlines (think Spirit), and so packing light is a priority. To keep our travel cheap, and avoid additional luggage fees, and in the spirit of being a minimalist, I have been very selective in what I have packed and purchased for her.

*FYI: This blog will be updated as we continue to travel and discover new finds that make life easier for baby and myself.*

#1 A Foldable Travel Bed

There are two options for this and I own both of them. One way to avoid overloading your luggage is to leave the pack and play at home. My daughter isn’t crawling yet and is very happy to co-sleep with me in the same bed. There is the regular co-sleeping travel bed (if you are traveling to an area that doesn’t have a mosquito problem) and the one with a mosquito net over the top if you decide to go the tropical route. Right now we are using the 2nd option, as Veracruz is very hot, humid and full of mosquitos. But the best part is that this travel bed is foldable and barely weighs a thing. I also flip it over and use it as a tummy time mat and when we go to the beach, I throw a lightweight sheet over the mosquito net to keep her in the shade as she sleeps. As you can see from the pictures, this option is best for newborns to babies about 6 months of age

Travel bed with mosquito net.

Her improvised tummy time mat.

#1 – Non-Tropical Option

#2 – Mosquito Net Option



#2 Chair to High Chair Converter

This is my favorite purchase so far. I bought it when we arrived in Veracruz from the US Amazon website. I realized that as we went out to eat with friends, my daughter would feel out of the loop and bored in her stroller, which keeps her located lower than a typical restaurant table. In order for her to join the “action”, I needed something else… but she isn’t quite ready for a regular restaurant high chair and many places abroad don’t even offer them, so I came across this converter. It has harness straps so it is more supportive than a typical restaurant grade high chair, and can be used with almost any chair. The best part is that is folds up very small and can be tossed into my purse (I don’t even carry a diaper bag). This product is recommended for babies up to 35 pounds so I know we will be using it for a while.

This cover converts almost any chair into a high chair.

My baby is able to use it at 4 months old. And it goes up to 35 pounds.

 

#3 Manual Food Puree Device

I spent a great deal of time in the Mexican Walmart viewing my options for making my own baby food. There are the obvious choices, blenders, and food processors, but they require electricity. We are often on buses or airplanes and even in restaurants at times there is not a nearby wall outlet. Plus, I wanted something small that could be carried in my purse/diaper bag. I found this gadget which resembles a large garlic press. You put the food into the bottom part and it smashes it by connecting the handles together. It comes with a spoon to feed the baby directly from the device and a cover to save any uneaten food. I love this because it means when we eat out, or even at home, my daughter can have the same exact food as I eat. No extra preparation and if we are on an airplane/bus/in rural Mexico I can easily mash up some food for her on the go – without electricity. This does mean that I have to eat healthier but I am willing to make that sacrifice for her.

The on the go food pureeing tool.

Nuby food masher.

The product that I have seem to only be available in Mexico. Here is the link to the Nuby Mexico if you happen to be in the country.

Below is the 2nd choice that I was considering. It’s slightly larger but it is also a great option. It has a bowl and separate masher. It comes with a spoon and lid to save the leftovers.

#4 Mesh Feeder

When I originally planned this big international trip for my baby and myself, I did it at a specific age. I wanted to avoid the teething stage. And well, don’t you know it, the week we get to our first Airbnb in Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico, she starts teething (at 4 months!). I was so happy that I happened to throw a mesh feeder into the duffle bag “just in case”. This has been one of the most valuable things for us as we travel. I can stuff it with ice so she relieves the pain on her gums, and also gets a little extra water (In tropical climates, the doctors recommend giving infant a few ounces of water each day because of the heat. I understand that this is not usually recommended in the U.S.), and even try out some new foods. The mesh part means that she has to mash the food completely before it exits the feeder, so basically, she is making a puree herself. You can put small pieces of frozen fruit for hot summer days or soft, cooked vegetables. She has been using it since she turned 4 months when the doctor gave the go-ahead to start eating actual food but she is just getting the hang of how to hold it herself now. I still have to help her a bit but she loves it. Also, I have found that in restaurants, the waitstaff is more than happen to bring me ice or small pieces of fruit to put in her feeder. It makes for a better dining experience for everyone.

This is a lifesaver at teething time or on very hot days.

#5 Foldable Bathtub

At home, we use a fillable bathtub which allows her to be immersed in the water. But on the road, I wasn’t about to bring that huge plastic tub with us, so I found this option. This bathtub folds up nicely, is made of mesh so it is very light and it also serves as a chair to feed her in and a beach chair (under very close supervision of course since there are no securing straps). Bathtubs themselves are very rare in Mexico so I end up filling up a large bucket with water and using a cup to “shower” her with the water

Her “bathtub” which also doubles as a place to feed her and her beach chair.

*Disclaimer: The above are affiliate links from Amazon which means that I get a percentage of the sale for referring you to the product. However, these are all products that I have purchased and we use as we travel. I try to find inexpensive items that will be useful for as long as possible to stay within our budget.

 

Teach English Online for up to $22/hour

I am writing this post as a follow-up to the previous article on “The Best Jobs to Work Online (while you travel!)”. So many people have inquired about how to teach online that it only made sense to expand on it. So, if you are thinking about teaching online, are looking for online work or are new to teaching and don’t know where to go next, then this article is for you.

WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE ARE SUCCESSFUL AT TEACHING english ONLINE?

To teach online, you need to be friendly and patient. Your students need to feel comfortable in order to learn from you. This means they cannot see you flustered or annoyed if they are not understanding something you say. Expect that you might have to explain it in another way or use the vocabulary in an example sentence so that the student understands. As a teacher, you should speak in a slow, clear voice and a neutral tone. And of course, be prepared to smile for hours on end.

If you are teaching for a European or Asian company, you will have to consider the time zone difference. Teaching Chinese students means a 12 – 15-hour time zone difference if you live in the states. This often means very early morning hours (sometimes in the middle of the night) in order to teach at the peak evening times in Asia. Some companies will also require you to work weekends, which are also considered peak days for classes.

Above all, online teachers need to be punctual and reliable. Many companies have very strict policies on no-shows and/or lateness and often won’t tolerate more than two or three instances before terminating your contract.

DO YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE?

You may think you need to have teaching experience to teach online. Not necessarily. You will find hundreds of online English companies popping up all over the world, but the biggest demand is from Asia. There are plenty of companies willing to take native speakers (and non-natives who speak fluently!) and train them to teach online. They will also provide you with pre-made lesson plans. If you can, try to emphasize any relevant experience on your resume that may include training, working in daycares or other childcare settings and being a parent (many of the fastest growing companies teach Chinese children). Since they will provide you with comprehensive training and lesson materials, and the demand for native English speakers is far greater than the supply of experienced ones, you can easily get hired if you have the right personality. However, keep in mind that your compensation will correlate with your lack of experience and/or qualifications. With these companies, you can expect to make $8 – $10 an hour. This is still an excellent option for those interested in working while they travel internationally or stay at home moms who cannot afford childcare. These schools are usually very flexible about time off because you will be assigned class time slots with new students each time, and another teacher can easily cover your lesson time. Examples of these companies are Tutor ABC, Education First and Open English (see below for application links).

Companies that teach Chinese children are among the fastest growing and hire the most teachers.

if you already have experience teaching online

Other companies, usually the better-paying ones (between $10 – $20 an hour), will require experience. They may also ask the teacher to create their own lesson plans instead of providing pre-made materials. That being said, if you are unsure of what to put into a lesson plan, you can always start out at one of the lower paying companies to get your feet wet, and then move up once you feel comfortable as an online English teacher. And again, to keep in mind that while these companies pay more, they do want a larger commitment on the part of the teacher. You will probably be teaching the same roster of students, which gives you the chance to build a relationship with them, but on the other hand, it makes it more difficult to take time off. It can also take a few weeks or months for you to build up a steady roster of students.

SHOULD YOU BECOME CERTIFIED?

Just because you can become an online teacher, doesn’t mean that you should without getting some type of formal teacher training. Yes, companies usually provide their own training, but you may want to consider getting a teaching certificate. Trust me, that as a person who hosts teacher training sessions, you can spot an untrained teacher very quickly. I actually receive a good amount of new students from other teachers who they say seemed unprofessional or didn’t have a plan for the class.

the benefits of certification

A teaching certificate will help you understand the basics of the English language, as well as learning theories, how to make lesson plans and activities which you can use in the language classroom (in-person or online). This is much faster and less complicated than a degree. There are several types of English teaching certificates, and while many will say that the CELTA is the best in the industry, I assume that people seeking online work are usually not in the position to take an in-person, extended course, nor afford it financially. If this is the case, I would encourage you to pursue a TEFL (Teacher of English as a Foreign Language) diploma. This will be accepted by the vast majority of online schools/companies that require them. You can do one in person in several major U.S. cities, or take an online course in as little as a few weeks. You will also have a better chance of getting hired with a higher paying company if you obtain this certification.

EQUIPMENT / SET UP

There is a lot to be prepared for if you want to teach online. To begin, you need to have the appropriate hardware, which includes:

  • A recent laptop or desktop computer
  • A USB, quality headset
  • A camera (most laptops have one built in)
  • A strong internet connection (companies typically require between 2 and 10 MBs)
  • A LAN cable if your company requires a hardwired internet connection
  • A backup internet source (a mobile hotspot, local internet café, neighbor or family member’s home, etc.)

You don’t need a top of the line computer to teach online, but do invest in a quality headset that connects via a USB port.

A professional place to work

But you will also need to consider the teaching environment that you have available. You want to make sure that:

  • You are working on a table, desk or another steady surface
  • You are sitting in front of a clean, light colored wall or another background
  • You are appropriately dressed (students will typically see you from the shoulders up, so a nice shirt or blouse is fine)
  • The area is well-lit
  • Your area is free of distractions, such as noise from the television, children, dogs barking, traffic and other interruptions

A TRAVEL NOTE: One of the best parts about teaching online is the freedom to travel the world. But, keep in mind that you need to keep up the standards listed above, especially the strong internet connection. I recommend renting rooms locally, from Airbnb or homestays to get a better internet connection than you would in a hotel or motel.

RECOMMENDED COMPANIES TO START TEACHING ONLINE

It’s difficult to make a comprehensive list of online companies as new companies are opening daily, but here are some of the most common, that are often hiring. You can visit each site to see specifically what they require from applicants:

*Note: Salary information was obtained by present and past employees, as well as recruiters, and should be verified directly with each company.

RECOMMENDED WEBSITES to find jobs to teach online

Thank you in advance for reading the information from this article. Even though this particular one focused on teaching English online, you can also find the same opportunities if you speak another language. There are sought after online positions for Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, German, Russian and French teachers as well. If you have a question or want to add another company or website to the list, please use the form below to leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you have to say.