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Interview with Ellen and Jim – American expats living in Yucatan, Mexico

Updated 4 Feb 2010
Ellen and Jim Fields are living large on the splendid Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. They have been here for eight years and counting, run an expat services company (Yucatan Expatriate Services) and publish a fascinating account of their lives and the region at their online magazine Yucatan Living.

Read more about expat life here in the Expat Arrivals guide to Mexico, or read more expat experiences in Mexico.

About Ellen and Jim

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: San Luis Obispo, California

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Merida, Yucatán in the San Sebastián/L’Ermita district

Q: How long you have you lived here?

A: Eight years

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?

A: My husband and I moved with our 16-year old daughter at first. She returned after six months to finish high school in San Luis Obispo, and we remained here.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?

A: We moved for many reasons… we had lost our jobs in the dot-com bust, and we lived in a small town. We tried to start a business, but it was right after 9/11 and nothing was happening. We had high expenses, and we were going to have to move anyway to get work… so instead of moving to a big city in the US, we decided to make an adventure out of it and move to another country.

About Mexico

Q: What do you enjoy most about Merida, how’s the quality of life as an expat in Mexico?

A: The quality of life is very high here. Low crime, lots of culture, a growing economy, international expat population, generous and welcoming Yucatán population, more cultural events than anyone can go to, lots of music, dancing, beautiful architecture, great weather, and no earthquakes. Ever. Occasionally we get a hurricane, but you have a few days warning about those, and since Merida isn’t on the beach, it’s not a problem.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?

A: It’s a city, and it can be noisy at times. I miss the mountains… there are no mountains here.

Q: Is Mexico safe?

A: Safer than anywhere I have ever lived (New York, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo).

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?

A: Most expats like the Centro for the colonial homes. There are a lot of more modern suburbs in Merida and it is expanding all the time. Also, twenty minutes away are various beach cities on the Gulf of Mexico. There are expats all along the coast there.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Mexico?

A: You can live in a one-room palapa or a palace… it’s all here.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?

A: We mix with both expats and Yucatáns. The Yucatáns are very welcoming, and more and more of them speak some English.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

A: Yes. Too easy. Our social schedule gets out of hand sometimes.

About working in Mexico

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?

A: No, we started our own company. Mexico loves that, and it’s not hard to do.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?

A: The economy of Mexico seems to be growing. It was going great for a while, and then disaster struck. World economic disaster, swine flu (and special reporting from the US Media blaming it on Mexico) and the narcotrafficante violence (which hasn’t been a problem in Yucatán), but that isn't reported. The media paints Mexico with a broad brush… according to them, the violence happens “in Mexico” and so people avoid ALL of Mexico. Ridiculous. It’s like avoiding Los Angeles because there was a murder in New York.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?

A: More laid back. No one gets upset if you are half an hour late to an appointment. Many people go home after lunch for a siesta and come back and work at the end of the day.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?

A: No, we did it ourselves.

Family and children in Mexico

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?

A: We all suffered culture shock. For the first six months, we spent a lot of time at home, watching the American channels on television. But we also ventured out, explored and the more we did that, the more comfortable we felt. Now, eight years later, it feels like home.

Q: Did your children settle in easily?

A: No, our daughter was 16 when we brought her here, and it was a tough age to move. She wanted to graduate with her high school class, so we sent her back to live with friends and do just that. She loves Mexico and visits when she can, but she hasn’t moved back since then.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Mexico?

A: Fabulous. The doctors are good, and have usually spent some time in the States. They take time with their patients. There are four private hospitals in Merida, and they are good. One of them is great. The dentists here are excellent.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?

A: Tons of advice… More than we can impart here. That’s why we write a website!

~ Interviewed February 2010

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