Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ex-Pats In Mexico and Money

I just want to make it clear that when I talk about ex-pats, the comments are not about people who rv in Mexico or spend six months a year here.  An ex-pat has temporary or permanent residency. 

I read quite a few forums and blogs about ex-pats who live in Mexico.  One thing that always seems to come up is money. 

How do I get money transferred to Mexico?  
How can I pay my bills?  
Why do I get charged so much at the ATM for withdrawals?

The best way is to stop thinking like an American or a Canadian.   Why are you taking large sums of money out of an ATM to pay rent, groceries, gas, etc?   If you are a temporary/permanent resident you can have a Mexican bank account.   With a Mexican debit card you can do all of the above and it beats withdrawing money from an ATM two or three times a month which is expensive and not very savvy in terms of safety.

Also, with a Mexican bank account, you can also apply for a Mexican credit card.  Interest rates are extremely high, up to 35%.  However, in case your foreign card is declined and you are out to dinner, you can do charge the bill to your Mexican card and then pay before the month is over without interest.  Simple.

With a Mexican debit card you can pay at any supermarket, retail outlet, gas station, and the list goes on.  I've never had an issue with debit cards and fraud.  Credit cards, just once and it wasn't in Mexico as you may recall last month.  

My online bank account allows me to pay everything from home, utilities, groceries, cable tv, newspaper and grocery delivery, car, home and health insurance, even your school tuition. No need to take out cash or use gasoline to run around paying bills.  There is no commission charges in doing so either.  You can even set up monthly direct pay from your Mexican account for all of the above.

So, if you think that you can only pay by cash from your foreign bank account, think again.  Your social security checks can be deposited directly into a Mexican bank account as well.  Make life simple and forget all the myths and horror stories. You'll find that Mexico could even be one step more advanced than its neighbors to the north.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ecuador - A Dollarized Land

I haven't had the chance to post all week.  The publisher in Ecuador kept me busy all week.   I spoke at eight schools, each for an hour and a half, taking into account wait times, moving around the city, breakfasts and lunches with school administrators and strategy meetings over dinner with coworkers.  Oh, and I forgot, my conference with 150 attendees. 

Let's see where I left off.  I spent my first night at the Holiday Inn at the airport.  Very nice accommodations not to mention the wonderful Ecuadorian breakfast buffet.  I enjoy South American food as it includes rice for all three meals.  Nothing tastier than a mix of rice, vermicelli and local spices topped with two fried eggs and served with a wonderful dried chorizo sausage with a similar taste to a good salami.   The food here is very local and incredibly tasty.

School visits everyday were mostly religious schools.  The publisher I work for, with corporate in Spain, specializes in Spanish, English and religious texts.  The majority of my coworkers worked for a publisher that was booted out of the country because of anti-monopoly laws.   The level of teacher varies just like it does anywhere.  In some school districts in Texas not all teachers have a four-year degree but there are no other options in the area.  Some have master degrees and some only speak English as a native speaker and the school encourages them to take certification courses and then study a degree.

In 2000, the economy was in shambles.  The sucre, the national currency, was 20,000 sucre to the dollar.   The country made the decision to dollarize and now, there is no Ecuadorian currency except for a few coins that are used for parking meters, buses and the like.  All the U.S. coins and paper money is used in Ecuador.   All sucre above 25 cent coins is prohibited and really doesn't exist anymore.  People are paid in dollars, buy houses, food, clothing, cars and entertainment in dollars.  There's nothing confusing about being a tourist there when it comes to money.

The downside is that the cost of living is a bit higher.  Teacher salaries range from $350 to $1200 a month.  Very similar to Mexico so now you know what we earn and why our trips to the U.S. and Canada have an OUCH! attached to them.   The area of Guayquil looks pretty much like any Mexican city but with a coastal flair.  The wide and fast flowing River Guayas runs through the city.  Along the banks and in the sector of Samborodon live the rich and upper crust.  It's actually a city in itself and has wide avenues lined with upper scale shopping malls, restaurants, gated neighborhoods with houses ranging from $100,000 to $250,000.  Ecuador has a thriving economy and one that is similar to Mexico, up and coming.  The middle class is growing and there are quite a few Americans and Canadians who are now ex-pats living there.

I did a run through a supermarket and found that liqour, eggs, and meat pretty much cost as much in the U.S.  Eggs were $2.79 per dozen versus $1.20 or less on sale in Mexico.  Vodka runs from $8 a for a 750 ml bottle and up to the "no limit".  Stores are filled with Ecuadorian products, produce and appliances that are national products.  You see signs everywhere urging you to buy Ecuadorian.  

Regular unleaded is $1.48 a gallon.

Traffic is interesting.  There are no lines painted on the streets so there are, well, no lanes.  People just move around and make changes, turns and stops when necessary.  In the week of running around, and we covered a lot of territory, I never saw an accident.  With a population of 3.5 million the city runs smoothly.   It's a bit crazy the first day but you soon get a hang of it and find that water flows downhill and things just seem to work.  I have to say, when I arrived home this morning and drove through Monterrey, we live in a very modern and civilized country and people really follow the rules.  I have noticed this throughout most of the Americas, North America seems to follow rules, not that it makes things any better because Canada, the U.S. and Mexico have a myriad of issues.

This is a small sidewalk cafe that serves cebollado.  The owner, a young guy, is a Mormon and spent time in Utah.  He speaks excellent English and does a lot of volunteer work on his own to help the poor.  Very nice kid.  

People even eat cebollado for breakfast.  It's addictive and a very healthy, low calorie, low fat meal.

Food.  Incredible!  Nothing spicey or hot although they do use one particular chile but it's not common.  Ecuadorian cuisine is made from local South American produce from the tropics.   I had several tasty dishes and the two most flavorful and common are cebollado and bollo o bolon.  They are made from masa verde or green bananas that are not sweet.  They are made similar to tamales and wrapped in banana leaf.  They have fish or chicken in the midddle are the size of your fist.  They are delicious, I mean, you can't stop eating it.  Then, the cebollado is a soup made from ground yuca root and fish mixed with potatoes making it a creaming soup with the fish in chunks (albocore tuna).  I couldn't put my spoon down.  It is served with platano macho chips, so they are salted and crispy.  

My team in Ecuador.

A great group of teachers and we did a lot of group activities and shared ideas on teaching strategies.

My conference was one of the best planned.  My coworkers did an excellent job of sending out invitation, hand delivered to schools, making the arrangements for the ballroom I had and had a wonderful lunch for the teachers.   Teachers came as far as 400 kms to participate in my CLIC presentation.  It was a blast, they learned, laughed and took a lot of pictures.   

I've been invited back for two to four weeks over the next six months.  

The trip home comes tomorrow.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Trip To Guayaquil Ecuador

I have to apologize for not posting sooner but I'm on the run with work.  Monday evening I flew to Mexico City and arrived around 9 p.m.  I messaged for an Uber and he was there in a few minutes but airport traffic delayed my ride over 10 minutes although I could see him across the airport rotunda.

We had an interesting chat on the way to the hotel which was only a few minutes away.  He told me his experience shaking through the earthquake last month.  I related my stories of my friends whose apartments suffered minor and major damage.   CDMX as we now call it, is on the quick mend.  Funny though, tonight I saw on CNN (yep that fake news station) that people in Houston are still on standby getting their homes repaired from severe flood damage.  How could that be?  I don't see much about that or Florida in the news.

Checked in and walked down the street to Sanborn's where I had a delicious plate of enchiladas suisas.  Now, let correct that.  Sanborn's is the original for enchiladas suisas (swiss enchiladas).  That said, they were very good but they now have very stiff competition from their competitor VIPs.  If you've never been to either one, you are missing out.  The cleanest, tastiest food you can buy from a chain restaurant which I can't even say compares to a Denny's or Jim's.  It's the food, the ambiance, the culture.  Should you go to Sanborn's for an experience, make the Casa de Los Azulejos, which is just outside the zocalo or main plaza in CDMX.  It dates back to the 1500s and has quite a history.  You can check it on Wikipedia.  Tacos on the street aren't the only thing that makes Mexican food famous.

My hotel, City Express, was on my complaint list earlier this year.  They are a super discount chain but one that was just not good enough to spend the night.  It was like staying in a hostel.   Well, things have changed and they have now created three different levels of their hotels and this one is brand new and meets or exceeds my expectations.  Imagine jets flying at a height of 10 stories and I'm on the forth floor of the hotel.  Never heard a sound all night or early morning not to mention the in-room amenities.

Slept in and checked out at 11:30 for my 2:00 p.m. flight.  Uber picked me up and we headed for the terminal just 3 kms away.  Uber charge was $4 U.S.  Checked out with immigration, headed to my gate and headed off to Panama.  The airport in Panama is called, Hub of the Americas.  It is one, long, and super extended duty-free shopping mall.  Once on board a great lunch with a very good red wine followed by an in-flight movie.  Arrived in Panama with 15 minutes to catch my connection.  I walked fast but didn't run.  Heck, if I miss it what could happen?  

The flight to Guayaquil was an hour and forty minutes with a very good hot snack and of course free drinks.  We arrived on time and my coworker was there to meet me and whisk me off to my room at the Holiday Inn for an excellent night's sleep.  

More tomorrow.  I have pictures but don't have a cable to download them.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Problem With Ex-Pats

As you all know, I'm a Mexophile.  It's in my blood and I will do just about anything to defend this great place that all of you live or rv in or certainly would love too.  But, there always seems to be some issues that people can't seem to overcome.

1)  Mexico is not the U.S. or Canada
2)  We have country specific issues
3)  We have a much newer and stronger electric grid than other American countries
4)  Poverty levels in numbers are the same in Mexico as in the U.S. (not per capita)
5)  We are not a country of immigrants
6)  We respect, for the most part, our large number of Native Americans and their languages
7)  We lack rv parks (It's really not a Mexican thing and it's a niche market that is slowly dying)
8)  We're not a bilingual country,  unlike the U.S. and Canada, so learning the language is a must
9)  We're a society that isn't big on suing people, aesthetics, or maintenance
10) Most U.S./Canadian immigrants come here because Mexico is cheap  (forget the fresh produce thing)

I am listing these things because I belong to a Facebook group called Ex-pats in Mexico.  It's truly a picture perfect example of ex-pats in the country.  They piss and moan about everything and never take the good parts of Mexico into account.  They have little knowledge of tax laws, employment and benefits and the how and why Mexicans live the way they do.  It's understandable.  How can you read, investigate or watch anything in Mexico if you don't understand the language, work here, study here or have family here.  I'm convinced it is the make it or break it for those who would really like to embrace the Mexican culture.

OTOH, few ex-pats in Mexico really look for or desire the true Mexican experience.  They want to live in an American compound, hang out in an rv park where they will rarely find a Mexican, they want to buy American/Canadian products (I truly believe that cheddar cheese is a religious sacrificial offering), they require English speaking handymen, housekeepers, storekeepers, and every other service that exists to speak English.  Sorry folks, it's not going to happen.  It's not the culture.  

I bring this up because I am leaving that group.  No matter what factual information, charts, webpages (which they can't read anyway) that I provide, they base their experience on a very small slice of Mexico.  For example, rvers that spend the winter in some small beach town (I can't stand the word village), where the services are limited, people live in palapas and collect crabs on the beach selling them to people in the rv park.  Few of these same people have ever visited Appalachia or the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, well you get the idea.  That's not to say that all Mexicans who live in rural or small beach communities fit into that category. 

Now that I've said this, please do not take this as a wide brush that paints all ex-pats with the same color.  In fact, we recently met someone in SMA who has fallen in love with Mexico and is here for many, many reasons.  Many of you who read this are also Mexophiles and love the country as much as I do  (like my long lost friends Sandy and Dennis). 

As a side note, I have found a secret friend.  His name is Danny.  He is a preschooler and has autism.  He is a truly wonderful person and brightens my day.  He sees me and says in English, "happy".   That makes me happy.   

Monday, October 16, 2017

I'm Blocked!

That could lead you to believe one of several maladies.  This one happens to be writer's block.  I've been working on my presentation for Ecuador and I got a bit stuck.   Sure, there is a myriad of webpages, Wikis, books I've read, personal and teaching experience and more but once in awhile it requires a time out.  

This is my time out.  I'm presenting CLIL.   You can go look it up if you want and discover that it is a very broad subject and its interpretation is even more than that.  There's soft CLIL, hard CLIL and a list of CLIL acronyms in between.  That may be gibberish to some of you but to me this is what I do. 

Now for my break.  We came, we saw and we conquered.  The drive to San Antonio was long, tedious, but fun as we yuked it up along the way as Little Bit slept for seven hours.   When we arrived to the house I called the police and the locksmith.   The police were witnesses to the locksmith opening the door to the house to make sure there were no belongings in there and if a security alarm should go off there wouldn't be patrol cars out front with guns drawn. 

The house was filthy dirty to put it mildly.  We decided not to spend money on a hotel since the power was still on.   We packed an air mattress, pillows, sheets and blankets along with coffee service for the mornings and our favorite music.  The first order of business was to clean a room and the bathroom so we could work from there.  We chose the living room as it was the cleanest and of course the one bathroom the house has.  Yes, this house dates back to 1956 and then, three bedrooms and one bath was the in thing.   We cleaned up as much as we could and hit the hay.

Friday, I headed off to the CPS which manages the power and gas.   They closed the tentants' account and then informed me that there was a $334 deposit I had to pay based on usage.  Who in the heck spends $150 a month on electricity?  We cringe when the bill comes in at $40 for a two-month billing.  Anyway, I wasn't a happy camper and she began to get personal about the tenants and  why they used so much power and abandoned the house.  She asked me where I was from and the conversation turned to speaking in Spanish.  We finished the deal and I asked her, "Can the deposit be paid in payments without interest?"  She said, "don't worry, I've waived the deposit".  Yes!

The rest of the day and Saturday was spent on cleaning and more cleaning.  Trash everywhere, cigarette burns on the carpet in one bedroom and dog poop in another.  It was obvious it was done purposely as they dumped the cat litter box on the floor as well.  Pigs.

It was a great weekend, we worked as a team and got it done.  Now, we need paint and to re-tile the bathroom shower.   The house has a new roof and a new central A/C so that is a great selling point.  Other than filth and trash it wasn't all so bad.  They violated the lease by smoking, having pets, and renting out an additional bedroom.   Had they left the place clean, kept in touch with me, they would have received $1000 minus any minor repairs.  Too bad.

We came home Sunday afternoon and both of us with back and leg problems.  Not from the work but from that damned air mattress.  Thank goodness for rvs.  

Sunday, October 8, 2017

It's Not Going To Be Easy

This week won't be easy.   I have a list a mile long of things to do.  The house in San Antonio is high priority.  I never heard from the tenants after we gave them a very warm and friendly notice with a juicy offer even though the lease is expired.  I got a call from our neighbor that they packed up and moved.  I've attempted to contact them to no avail.   We will be going there towards the end of this week in hopes the house was left in good condition.  We are meeting with a lawyer to do some deed changes and also with the realtor to sign the agreement.  I'll make arrangements to get the place cleaned up and painted so we can start showing the house a.s.a.p.   It's been a long time coming and it will sever one more tie to the U.S. 

I'm trying to be positive about it but you just never know what to expect.  They are a wonderful couple who, as of our last visit in January, kept the house pristine and in order.  Some things have occurred over the years but we never said much as it was no harm done.  

The house was built the year I was born so it has some negatives but those are covered in clauses for older homes.  It has the new roof, new central A/C, new wiring 10 years ago but it has the original 50s bathroom and kitchen tile.   Spend on one end and make a little on the other so we will just sell it without any remodeling unless repairs are involved.

I'm not very good in these situations until I'm in there and working.  It's this lead up to period that keeps me awake at night.  Yes, I know, wasted worry. 

I'm ordering some odds and ends for the rv and some clothes for winter.  Still not ready for a color change.  I bought a nice white pull over and it stayed in the bag in the trunk of my car for over seven months until last Friday when someone said, "if you're not wearing it don't let it go to waste".   

Dee mentioned a Roadtrek she saw at CW.  We saddled up yesterday to go look at a van.  It was a Ford extended van, 15 passenger.   We're thinking of doing our own conversion.   I would need someone to do the wiring but the rest we can do little by little.  The high top would have to be purchased and installed.  

The next few days I'm getting the VW ready for the trip to San Antonio.  Tire balance and rotation, oil change and antifreeze.  I'm thinking we're leaving Thursday afternoon.   

More this week.  

For those of you who aren't on Facebook, check out a company called Battlefield Vegas which is one block off of the Las Vegas Strip.  They offer fun and games with automatic weapons, army tanks, army helicopters and missiles all for $400 U.S.  I found them on TripAdvisor, Google, and GoogleMaps.   Sorry folks, I feel for those that lost their lives but you can't have your cake and eat it too.  The greater the population, the less freedoms one can have and more rules are needed.   

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's Been Awhile . . .

Sunrise on the road to Reynosa.

It's been awhile since my last post.   I've been busying traveling but it's not rving.  A big difference.  I'm pretty beat and it took the weekend for me to catch up.  Here's a quick rundown of what I've done.

Did  I mention our U.S. credit card was compromised?  If I did here's a repeat.   Two weeks ago Sunday I received an email saying I needed to call the bank.  Turns out, there were charges from Thailand, Malaysia and Zimbabwe.   The operator told me that MasterCard had been hacked.  

I had to go to Dallas anyway a week later so I made arrangements to pickup the credit card at a bank branch.  It's getting harder the longer we live in Mexico to get things done in the U.S.  Not sure what will happen the next couple months after we sell the house and have no mailing address.  I know I can open a mailbox to pick up mail here in Monterrey with a U.S. address but that's an expense and a pain also.  We don't receive much anymore anyway.

Went to Reynosa the following Saturday morning and made it to the bank early.  I activated the card and off I went.  I spent the night after some CostCo shoppping (they don't sell our Vitamin C in Costco Mexico).  Sunday I had breakfast at the hotel and headed for the airport.  No big deal and the flight was pretty empty.  I picked up the rental car and off I went for the next for days to three Texas cities; Stephenville, Forney and Joshua.   Rotten little shits, I hope nobody there reads this.   Talk about dumbing down.  Another story for the campfire.   

I've been told before that I am preaching to the choir.  In this school, they purchased the church across the street to use as their auditorium.   It was cushy but there was no singing.  I couldn't joke about it either as we can't mention religion or politics in front of the students.  Communism?  I wanted to tell my pirate joke and asked beforehand.  It was rejected as it was possible one of the students may have a family member who is missing a limb, a hand or an eye.   Oh brother.

I arrived in McAllen late Wednesday night, spent the night and headed home early Thursday morning to heavy flooding.  The highway was closed for a bit because and underpass was flooded and the water went down pretty fast.  I don't take chances even though many cars made it through.  Once outside Monterrey it took me over an hour to find a work around.  As a side note, my Google Maps on my Samsung cellphone beats the heck out of our TomTom GPS.   I did all my trips in Texas and found work arounds here to avoid flooded roads.

This month begins working on the sale of the house in San Antonio.  I'm sure we will be spending a few weekends there getting the house ready and signing the papers.  The average sell time in the neighborhood is 44 days and at very good prices.   Let's hope it's quick and easy.

I went out to the rv and did some cleaning yesterday.   The refrigerator has one shelf above the veggie drawers that is a sheet of plastic.  Cheap and ugly.  I'm looking this week to replace it with a piece of tempered glass.  Also the mini-blind in the kitchen is shot and the paint is worn off from rubbing and the drawers in the bedroom dresser need new slides.  That's what I'm working on now besided my trip to Ecuador at the end of this month.  Three long and fast days.  Too bad I can't stay and do some sightseeing.