Tips for Expats Moving to this Mexican Town
by Doug Bower
When we moved to Guanajuato we came car-less and have never regretted it. We came armed with two trunks, two suitcases, and our wits. We flew here from Kansas City on August 1, 2003 during Guanajuato’s rainy season.
We have encountered fellow expats who have moved to Guanajuato in a variety of ways. And, indeed there are various ways in which you can move here. Some, like ourselves, sell everything they own and come a little richer financially from the estate sale. Some elect to bring most everything they own at an enormous price and epic nightmare.
Which every method you chose, sell your stuff or bring it all with you, there are three major ways expats move to Guanajuato.
Driving To Guanajuato
Most expats choose to drive so they can bring their cars into Mexico. Why someone would want to bring their car into Guanajuato is something that eludes me but they do it. The different expats I know all have their reasons, some are the same and some are not, but no matter the motive, if you do it here is what you are up against.
Crossing the Border in Mexico on your way to Guanajuato
One of the joys of living in Mexico, that you will soon discover, is that no one seems to ever know anything about something vital and important like how much it costs for a FM3 visa, how to open a bank account, or crossing the border. What I mean is that you could talk to official after official and will be told all manner of stories and versions of the truth. That is just how it is in Mexico.
An example is that once we went to a bank to deposit to our Mexican bank account a royalty check I got from writing a magazine article. One bank official told us it would take two weeks for the check to clear. Well, two weeks passed and it hadn’t cleared. A second and third bank official gave us conflicting stories. This is a very common occurrence in this country so be prepared when you get to the border. You may do all manner of research in trying to find out what exactly you need to cross the border with your car only to find out a totally different story when you actually get to the border and try crossing.
Go, never call, to your nearest Mexican embassy and get a copy from them of what you need to cross the border. Ask to speak with an embassy officer and get them to write a letter as well as obtaining a copy of the law. Bring that with you when you try crossing the border. We know so many expats who crossed the border and had hell to pay. Some crossed with no problems and others took four days to get across with their car or truck.
The point is that when moving to Mexico you have to get into your head that hassle will be the operative word if you try anything that requires someone to know something official about anything. It also depends on where you make the crossing. Some border crossing are more responsible and competent than others—sort of.
So, since Mexico is constantly changing its mind about everything and then conveniently forgetting to tell those government officials who need to know, you need to be prepared as much as possible for the biggest run around of your life in bringing your car into Mexico.
You will need to obtain a car permit in order to enter the country. It is hard to tell you what you need for that permit since they are always changing the rules as I mentioned above. That’s why you need to check the websites I will give you at the end of this chapter as well as visiting the nearest Mexican embassy before attempting a crossing with your automobile.
Make sure your driver’s license is current. Any current license from America or Canadian will suffice. But make sure you haven’t overlooked the expiration date.
Also you need to make sure the car permit you obtain corresponds with your visa. If you have a six-month tourist visa don’t let them give you three month car permit. Check this and check this again!
You will have to buy Mexican car insurance before they will let you across the border. I have included some websites you can check for information. There will also be places at the border crossing where you can buy a policy. I have been told that these place will cheat you every which way they can and you will pay through the nose for the policy. The trick is to buy only enough insurance that you will need to get into Guanajuato and get settled. Once settled you can talk with a local insurance agent for better rates.
Make sure that whatever policy you buy to satisfy the border crossing officials that you have:
- The name and phone number of the insurance agent in case of an accident.
- Know the policy inside and out so that you know exactly what to do in the event you need to use it.
- Make sure you buy a policy with legal coverage. In the event of an injury accident, and it is found to be your fault, you will need a lawyer.
Arriving in Guanajuato
Guanajuato was built with pedestrian and livestock travel in mind. Though it has streets, this wonderful Colonial Mexican Town simply cannot accommodate the vast horde of cars that the locals, tourists, and expats try to stuff in it. There are too many cars here and you will see that upon your arrival.
When I was in language schools, one of my teachers told me that the government was thinking of limiting the amount of cars allowed on the streets. They do this in Mexico City. I do not know what came of this idea.
I know Americans expats who act as though their car is a part of their identity. They would never think of going anywhere without it. They bring in these gas-guzzling, environmental-destroying behemoths into Guanajuato, and soon discover that they have no where to park them. The houses here are Colonial style and are built right on the streets. There is often no place in front of the house to park the car. If there is, now get this, the spot is already taken, usually by a local, who has kept there for years without moving it.
I truly do not understand the motive for having a car unless you live in urban sprawl and cannot get anywhere safely without one. But, in Guanajuato there is no need for a car! And yet, the locals act as though they haven’t arrive in the modern world unless they can claim that they own a car. Yet, they will often park the thing on the street and rarely if ever drive it. It will sit there for years, collect dirt, with its owners never moving it. They never move it because they know that they will never be able to get that parking place in front of their house. But, the owner can boast to their car-less friends that “I have a car” as a status symbol.
Expats who move here discover that there are few houses with a garage or carport. They have to pay to store the car. It is as though they have to find rental housing for not only themselves but their car. The rentals facility for their car is rarely near the rental housing for themselves. You will have to walk, often great distances, or cab to where you will have to store your car! Now, what sense that makes I cannot begin to fathom but they do it. And you will too when you bring your car to Guanajuato.
Another issue with parking your car is that if you are lucky enough to find a free spot on the street and park it, your car will be in daily peril. We have seen this over and over again—buses here eat cars!
The streets, like I said, cannot accommodate all the cars. So the buses routinely take out cars when the bus drivers try squeezing past the parked cars. I have seen this too often to count. Buses will take out a car or two that is parked on the narrow cobble-stone street and just keep going as though nothing happened. Again I say, what sense that makes I cannot begin to fathom!
Unless you plan on going to the one and currently only Super Market, you will not be able to drive your car to the store to go shopping. The Super Market, Comerical Mexicana, has limited paid parking. Otherwise, you will not be able to jump into the car and pop off to the 7-11 for something quick. You will have to walk.
Bus Travel To Guanajuato
Though you may find this hard to believe, some expats move to Guanajuato on the bus. I know of at least two individuals who sold most if not all of their stuff in America and moved here on the bus.
Bus travel is nothing like it is in the United States. It is not only more affordable but immensely more comfortable. It is in fact the major mode of long-distance travel in Mexico. Whereas Americans drive or fly, Mexicans bus.
An example of the pleasures of bus travel is when my wife and I went from Guanajuato to Puerto Vallarta for Christmas in 2004. We took one of the luxury lines where you have to reserve you seats. They served us breakfast and a lunch on a bus that would put most business, first-class American airlines to shame. It was quiet, had a galley where we could serve ourselves unlimited coffee, tea, or water and two—count them—two functioning bathrooms!
This bus also was equipped with stereophonic music and first-rate movies! Can you believe that? You can watch a movie while traveling by bus in this country.
Air Travel To Guanajuato
Flying is another option you can have in moving to Guanajuato. This, of course, limits what you can bring in luggage. We pre-shipped some items to our new home before leaving the United States. Then we bought two trunks for which we were charged extra on the plane.
The time of year you try using this option will determine your costs. Had I know how wonderful the bus travel options was I would have flown to a border town and then switched to a bus to arrive in Guanajuato.
You should fly into Leon, Guanajuato. Do not fly into Mexico City and then take the bus. We would only suggest this for the most seasoned of travelers with an excellent command of Spanish.
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