Live Like a Local or In An Ivory Tower or Somewhere in Between – The Choice Is Yours at Lake Chapala Ajijic, Mexico

August 8, 2009

Live Like a Local or In An Ivory Tower or Somewhere in Between – The Choice Is Yours at Lake Chapala Ajijic, Mexico

There are three schools of thought among the expats who come to live in Mexico in general and here at Lake Chapala Ajjic as well.

Living Like a Local Well, not many ex pats here want to live “like a local”.  Even those who say they want to usually fall into the “In Between” camp.

The first hurdle if want to live like a “local” is to learn to get by rather well in Spanish”. I lived over a bank in a one bedroom efficiency cold water flat in Santa Terisita (a barrio in Guadalajara of working class Mexican people) for about a year while I taught English in a nearby language school.

Honestly it was a real challenge. Even simple things were not easy to do. Fortunately I already had some bi lingual friends in the area who took pity on me and helped me get situated… but I still had to struggle when they weren’t around. I wanted to live in the barrio because I wanted to see if I could support myself just by teaching English and not touch my pension.

Now, remember a teacher is very respected person in Mexico and like teachers everywhere they don’t seem to get rich, but are paid better than some. This was in 2001 and I earned approx. $5 USD an hour. I earned almost $500 USD per month and of course managed to spend all of it, but was not touching my pension.

I rarely went to a movie, I had no cable TV, I used cyber cafes to stay in touch on line, I had perhaps one fancy meal out a week (dates with Arcelia usually) and I studied Spanish and watched rented videos on my VCR. I loved teaching and I fell in love with Arcelia, but when not teaching or with Arcelia it was a tough go. Si, Sid y Arce Jan 09 005 Arcelia Lopez Grosvenor and Sid in 2005

To me, this was living like a local. While I valued the experience and learned a lot during that year and of course saved a lot of money I can truthfully say… Living Like a Local is Not for me.

Struggling to learn Spanish so I could try to figure out what was going on all around me, and being confused most of the time, trying to make friends and to find a place for myself in the community where families have known each other for generations and with no other English speakers around me (except at school), trying to learn the cultural nuances so as not to commit, as the French say, one faux-pas after another, was a real challenge.

Remember, unlike newcomers to Lake Chapala Ajijic I had almost no one to show me the ropes. In short, I don’t recommend jumping into the deep end of living in an all Mexican community. It sounds great, but it’s just not for the faint of heart.

Listen, this is the voice of experience speaking.

Blessedly, here at Lake Chapala Ajijic It’d be a very different experience, where you’d be surrounded by other people just like you, other people who’ve already done what you’re doing and who could offer a word of advice when you needed one. Chapala 745 Jan 6 3 Kings Day 002 Indeed, here at Lake Chapala, it can be possible to live the retirement life you may have dreamed of for decades, just exactly as you’ve dreamed it, only in a different country.

Here the American / Canadian dream of retirement is alive and well; it’s been fully exported. You can have a beautiful home of your own by the Lake or on the side of a lush mountain or somewhere in between, where most of us live, all without experiencing withdrawal. Hacienda home

Most new homes here are built to North American standards, with some even built by North American builders. First think retirement North American style, then think about the advantages of being an expat here at Lake Chapala Ajijic, Mexico. Ajijic and the area around Lake Chapala, Mexico, is the most organized and developed expat community in the world.

The Lake Chapala Society for example has about 4,000 American and Canadian members. The Mexican government estimates that nearly 20,000 expats reside full-time in the Mexican state of Jalisco, where Lake Chapala lies. In short, there have been many thousands of North Americans that have come before you. The Lake Chapala Society is over 50 years old and continues to function as a vast clearing house of information and comradeship.

Moving here, you could slide into a way of life not dramatically different from the life you left behind in the States …if you choose… or you could “Live Like a Local” or as most of us do you could pick and choose which parts of “Living Like a Local” you like and which parts of “Living Like You would in North America” you would not want to give up… like High Speed Internet which is available here.

Learning Spanish is a pleasant and worthwhile thing to do, but not a must survival endeavor like it was for me in Santa Teresita. You wouldn’t have to work to make a place for yourself among the local community, because this isn’t JUST a “local” community.

This is an entire community of locals and NON-locals. You could wander into a restaurant here and very likely find a fellow savvy English-speaking companion. Someone you can share stories with about the bureaucracy at the department of immigration or the challenges of studying to take a driving test in Spanish because you want to (your USA or Canadian license is good here) not because you have to.

Retiring here at Lake Chapala Ajijic, you can make a comfortable life for yourself in a place that’s exotic, beautiful, safe, and very affordable without having to go local… unless you want to… and some folks do.

These folks may live on the South side of the Lake and only occasionally drive over to the North Shore when they get lonely for North American companionship.

You can  live here comfortably on less than $50 USD per day, including housing, food, transportation, entertainment, and in-country travel. You will not be eating just like a local either. You will be eating well, playing tennis, socializing, and travelling comfortably… if you want.

So, if as some people think … to live reasonably you must go local you can see that this just isn’t so. But remember, you still have the option of “going local” if that’s your thing. Here at Lake Chapala Ajijic, (with our established gringo community) you can enjoy the many of the benefits of being retired overseas, without leaving behind too many of the comforts and conveniences of American/Canadian suburban living.

Which is better?

Assimilating into the local culture or becoming part of the North American Dream in our unique area of Mexico? You get to decide !

The important part of this article is to let you know that you have a choice.

This is one of the most important and fundamental decisions you must make when planning for your retirement: To  go local, in between or not at all.

At Lake Chapala Ajijic the choice is yours. And… if you don’t care for your first choice you can change without having to relocate since here you have a choice.

I believe, in all probability, we are just what you’re looking for. That is …  off the beaten path, but not very too far off it. At Lake Chapala Ajijic, the weather’s great, the cost of living is low, and your life can take on  new dimensions.

You’d be retired overseas, enjoying many of the benefits, but still in familiar surroundings. You could shop at Wal-Mart or at the local street markets or both as I do,. Chapapa Area Nov 07 018

You can meet fellow ex pats for Bridge on Thursday evenings, and never have to look far to find a fellow English-speaker.

Now a word of caution:

If your dream prior to reading this article was a longing to experience life in Mexico by settling in a little fishing village or a small colonial city in the mountains where you’re the only foreigner in town, thinking that you would settle in among the locals and live happily ever after ….

I hope you now realize that while this choice is available to you here… it is by no means your only choice. There’s no absolute right or wrong answer to the choice question.

The important thing is to be honest with yourself from the start. If you choose the strictly “Go Local” route outside of the Lake Chapala Ajijic area you may well be on a path that takes you to a place you wish you had not gone down.

To learn more about Lake Chapala Ajijic and just how we live our lives here give me a call or send me an e mail. Just click on this sentence.

  • Erin Mc Nulty

    Great article, Sid! And good advice, too. Hope those reading it will appreciate and listen to what you have to say. I know this is true, having living a large part of my life in another country. I am one that would be an
    “in between-er”. No matter where we live, we bring our culture and our native language with us, and we must find a happy medium where we are most comfortable. Su amiga nueva!

  • Sid Grosvenor

    HI Erin, Thanks very much for your nice comments. MOst people just don’t realize how much our culture is a part of us. Sure, it’s great to experience other cultures and to celebrate the differences and yes, sometimes learn from them.

    But, as you say we have to find our own level of integration. The nice thing about living here at Lake Chapala Ajijic , Mexico is that we can easily choose different levels without having to move to another area of Mexico. I’m much more inegrated into the Mexican culture being married to a Mexicana and being in her culture a large part of the time and being integrated into her large family.

    I’ll never give up my own culture, but I have come to love Mexico and its culture… and since I do intend to become a Mexican Citizen (without giving up my USA Citizenship) I can stay put right here at Lake Chapala and make a successful transition to my adopted country and as a result become an International Citizen with two passports.

    I have friends here who are citizens of three or more countries. What a stimulating place to live.

    Thanks again for your comments. Siempre tu amigo, Sid

  • Linda Cloutier

    Thank you very much for that key little bit of information that we can use our Canadian license to drive in Chapala. Just to be absolutely clear – does this mean that we would not actually need to obtain a Mexican driver’s license?



  • Sid Grosvenor

    Hi Again Linda, Yes, You would not need to obtain a Mexican Driver’s License. Most people who live here do not ever get a Mexican Driver’s License. Keep your questions coming about any aspect of life here at Lake Chapala Ajijic Mexico. Siempre tu amigo, Sid

  • Linda Cloutier

    Thanks for that reassurance, Sid! We were thinking of getting International Driver’s Licenses from our local CAA auto club. Do you think it’s worth it?

    And on an unrelated note, but something else that’s on my mind – I read somewhere that in some countries we would have to have a letter from the bank in our home country (Canada) in order to open a Mexican peso bank account. Is that true, necessary – or horsefeathers?



  • Sid

    Hi L.C. – No letter from your home bank is needed to open an account here in our area, You will need your passport and FM3 or FM2 or other Immigration document above a Tourist Visa.

    Very few people find it necessary to open an account here however since Mexico is a cash economy and checks are rarely used and the ATM’s work great. Some folks like the convenience of paying their recurring bills from a checking account (Electric, Telephone, etc.) on line. Bancomer is one of the best for this.

    I would not wast the time , energy or effort to get the so called International Driver’s License. That may be a good idea for driving in Europe, but not needed here in Mexico.

    Hope this helps. Siempre tu amigo, Sid

  • Linda Cloutier

    Thank you very much for the insider information, Sid. This will save us time when there is so much research to do and so many details to arrange.

    I read a few more articles on this site and really appreciate the valuable tips.



  • Keith and Zan

    Hi Sid… thank you so much for all your help with everything! We really appreciated your going ‘above and beyond’ in assisting us in our property search in the Ajijic/Lake Chapala area.

    You helped in ways no other agent would have so for that we thank you!!

    All the best and we will speak to you again soon.

    Keith and Zan Barnard

  • Sid Grosvenor

    Hi Keith and Zan,

    Thanks for taking the time to let me know how I’m doing. I certainly appreciate it. I look forward to helping you guys find your dream home here at Lake Chapala Ajijic.

    Siempre tu amigo, Sid

  • Carole Stern

    Hello Sid,
    When the weather turned and clocks put back, it is uncomfortably chilly in my house in the evenings. I have two fireplaces with gas rods in them – no cradles. Somehow, I don’t think lighting the gas is the answer.
    I’ve researched everywhere and nowhere can I find any information on the proper operation of a fireplace (here) and how to use it to heat effectively.
    I have read about vented and unvented logs you can buy at Superlake. I have seen ceramic log inserts but no idea how they work.
    This may be a good topic to address to folks as I said, no information is available regards typical Mexican fireplaces down here and how best to ward off the chill in mornings and evenings. Much appreciate an early response. Thx.

  • Sid

    Hi Carole, Thanks for your question. I rarely use my gas fireplace logs.

    It sounds like you just have the pipe with a key to turn on your gas. I would talk to the various vendors to help me determie just which type I wanted. There are ventless gas heaters which do not need to have a vent to the outside and then there are the type that need a vent.

    The cermanic logs are usually part of a gas log set. I’ve not heard of ceramic logs you just lay on a grate.

    Another heater that some folks use is a small oil filled radiator that plus into a wall outlet. I have on eof these which for heating I prefer over the gaslogs. No venting needed.

    I hope this helps. You may also try the other forum at to see if amnyone over thjere can be of more help. Sid.

  • Ruth Hill

    Good Morning Sid,
    Hot off the press, the Kindle has now gone global. Not only that but the new 6″ Kindle (global one) is only $259 which is $90 less than the one my daughter bought just a few months ago. Free shipping too, but probably only in the U.S. What a deal! Have a great weekend. Wish I were there, it’s only 19 degrees, feels like 7 where I live. And they say it’s only going to get colder.

  • Sid Grosvenor

    Hi Ruth, Thanks for the informative comments. I like the Kindle, but there are some competitors. Sony has a good one out and there are others. SO, don’t buy too quickly as it’s a new market. I’m waiting for the leader to emerge, but I sure will be tempted on my next USA trip to buy the International version Kindle.

    Thanks again for the great post. Well it’s been a little nippy here in the morning, (around 60 F I heard), but by afternoon it’s short sleeve shirt weather. Siempre tu amigo, Sid

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