Terry in Sayulita: "I enjoy the laid-back feel of the Mexican lifestyle"

Expat interviews
  • Terry in Sayulita
Published on 2016-04-07 at 00:00
Terry comes from Oregon. Following her stay in Mexico, Central America and South America for several years, she decided to move to Sayulita with her husband. She has now retired and enjoys writing books and blogs.

Where are you from, Terry, and what are you doing nowadays?

Before moving to Mexico, I lived in Ashland, Oregon with my husband, Jon, and our long-hair miniature dachshund, Bella. I was a Traveling Pharmacist, covering vacations and days off for other pharmacists during the summer and fall months. When the gray November weather arrived in Ashland, we would load up our motor-home and drive away, headed for six months of sunshine south of the U.S. border.
In the past year, we lived full-time in our motor-home, traveling around Mexico, looking for our perfect retirement home. Now that I have retired from pharmacy, I am writing books and blog articles. My first blog, "Zumba Mexico", turned out to be more popular than I expected. I currently write two blogs, "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico" and "Retirement Before the Age of 59".

Why did you choose to expatriate to Mexico?

After fifteen years of spending time during the winter months in Mexico, South America, and Central America, we found we preferred to return to Mexico. The warm climate and sunny skies, the mellow friendly people, the lower cost of living, and the close proximity to Oregon were some of the reasons we began spending six months each year in Mexico. For the past three years, when our Tourist Visa was about to expire and it was time to return to the U.S., we found that we didn't want to leave. We knew it was time to become Mexican residents so that we could stay as long as we desired.

As a US national, what where the procedures you had to follow to move there?

The first step in applying for Permanent Residency in Mexico was to go to the Mexican Consulate in the United States. We chose to visit the office in Tucson, Arizona as it was convenient while we were driving our motor-home from Mexico to Oregon. The procedure at that office was very organized and relatively quick.
Day One: We stopped in to gather information and make an appointment for the next afternoon to apply for Mexican Residency.
Day Two: We arrived at 1:00PM with the passport photos we had had taken at Walgreen's, 12 months of bank documents for each of us showing we had sufficient funds to support ourselves in Mexico, and Jon's letter from the Social Security Administration documenting his monthly payments. By 3 pm, our documents had been scanned into their computer system, we had been photographed and fingerprinted digitally, and our Mexican Visas were pasted into the back of our passports. We were told we had 30 days upon returning to Mexico to complete the application process.
The second step in completing our application for Mexican Residency could have been very complicated according to everything we had read about the procedure in Mexico. But we were referred to an agent in Nuevo Vallarta. She provides a wonderful service for a reasonable fee. We called her to make an appointment to meet with her. She printed the letters we needed for the National Institute of Immigration (INM), took our photographs, completed the other necessary paperwork, and walked the entire application through the INM. Two weeks later, we met her representative at INM where we were fingerprinted and signed our documents. Another two weeks and we returned to INM to receive our official Visas.

How long have you been in the country?

My husband, Jon, and I spent our honeymoon in Mismaloya, south of Puerto Vallarta in 1993. We fell in love with Mexico that week and for over 20 years we have spent many winters in various parts, always returning to the Pacific coast. After motor-homing in Mexico for six months each year during the past two years, living in RV parks in our search for our Mexican retirement home, we made the decision to purchase a home and move here. We moved into our casita in Sayulita in November 2015 and plan to live here for the rest of our lives.

What has attracted you to Sayulita?

Sayulita attracted us in so many ways, bringing us back year after year. It is impossible to name them all in a short paragraph, so I will try to summarize briefly. Our primary goal was to live on the Pacific coast in a bay area with sunny weather and ocean waves gentle enough to allow us to boogie-board, one of our favorite water sports. Sayulita met all of those criteria. The Sayulita bay is also protected enough that many days the water is perfect for paddle-boarding, another of our favorite pastimes. Watching the experienced surfers handle the larger waves is always good entertainment during the hour before sunset when we relax on the beach.
We wanted to find a family-friendly town, a place where our children would feel comfortable bringing our grandchildren for visits. The friendly locals in Sayulita welcome gringos into their town, making us feel safe and accepted.
A major factor in choosing Sayulita as our home is that it is a small town where we are able to walk everywhere we want to go, whether to the tiendas (small markets) to purchase fresh produce and staples, to the meat or fish markets, to the lavandería to have our clothes laundered, to Zumba or Yoga classes, to Spanish classes, and to any of the 100 restaurants in town. We enjoy going out for dinner three or four times each week.
In Sayulita we have so many excellent restaurants it will take us years to try all of them. Best of all, it is inexpensive to live in Sayulita so we can afford to go out for dinner this often. Another important factor for us is that the bus routes running north and south along the coast and inland to Guadalajara include Sayulita as a stop. We gave up owning a car when we moved to Sayulita, so we are glad that we can easily and inexpensively hop on a bus and go to Puerto Vallarta for a day of shopping or a weekend getaway. Plus, there is always something fun happening in Sayulita or nearby San Pancho, including parades and fiestas, surf competitions, wine, margarita, or food festivals, plays and Circo de Los Niños shows and much more.

What has surprised you the most at your arrival?

The first time we arrived in Sayulita, I was so surprised at how friendly the locals were to us. We had arrived in our 29 foot Jamboree motor-home and missed the turn to the Sayulita Trailer Park. We ended up across the bridge into the narrow cobblestone streets of downtown during a high traffic time, towing our Suzuki Samurai, with no way to turn around. Jon hopped out to unhitch the tow car so we could back out of this mess.
While cars and trucks backed up behind us, motorcycles and horses wove around us, not a single person honked at us. Everyone waited patiently and calmly. We were the only ones tense and stressed out. In fact, a nice Mexican man approached Jon and told him he could show us a way to get to the trailer park without backing up. He hopped in his car and led Jon, driving the motor-home, to another place to cross the river, but there was no bridge! The man drove his car right through the water flowing over the rocky bottom and up onto a dirt road. I watched from the shore as Jon followed, holding my breath that the motor-home wouldn't get stuck as it rocked and rolled across the riverbed.
When Jon reached the dry road safely, the Mexican waved goodbye out the window as he drove away. A nail-biting arrival in Sayulita had just turned into a warm welcome to this friendly village.

Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation which are available there?

Sayulita is a combination of a tourist town, a retirement community, and an Ejido (a village with land communally owned by the people), an interesting international mix. There is no shortage of short-term and long-term rentals, ranging from bungalows to grand homes. The Sayulita Trailer Park and Bungalows, a nice development on the beach, was our home until we were able to find a casita that fit our needs and our budget. Real estate tends to be expensive compared to many other areas we have visited in Mexico, but the other costs of living here are low enough that we can live very comfortably on our minimal retirement funds.

What are the local labor market's features? Is it easy for an expat to find a job there?

Expats who settle in Sayulita create their own niche if they choose to work. Since this is a tourist town and a retirement community, there are many opportunities to provide services. I see expats involved in a variety of businesses from wedding planning to craft sales, from tour guiding to restaurant ownership. Artistic folks create and sell their specialties, including jewelry, clothing, paintings, and sculptures. Writers, like me, find Sayulita a peaceful place to settle at the computer and let the imagination run. Sayulita seems to foster creativity.

How do you find the Mexican lifestyle?

I enjoy the laid-back feel of the Mexican lifestyle. Life moves at a slower pace here and I have found myself settling into this simpler, relaxed manner of living. Also, the custom of "live and let live", i.e., each person is responsible for himself and for minding his own business, creates a peaceful community. I believe this lifestyle is healthier, both physically and mentally. In fact, when I return to the United States to visit, I find myself overwhelmed by the way everyone there seems to be in such a hurry, both driving and living their lives. It is disruptive to the inner peace that I achieve living in Mexico.

Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?

Yes, I feel very comfortable living in Mexico. Jon and I chose to live in a small Mexican-style casita, rather than a condo or an American-style house. We wanted to live simply the way most Mexicans do and we enjoy it. We live in the barrio, the Mexican neighborhood, rather than a gringo development, so that we can experience real Mexico, and our neighbors are a pleasure. The only adjustment has been learning to sleep through the sounds of roosters crowing and dogs barking at any hour of the night, but that is real Mexico and we love it!

What does your everyday life look like in Sayulita?

Our typical day starts with opening all of the doors of our home and letting in the fresh air of our garden and the sounds of the barrio. Then we settle in on the patio or at our desk with a cup of coffee, both areas providing a colorful view of bougainvillea, palm trees, and other tropical plants. Three or four mornings a week, we walk a few blocks to attend a 9 am Zumba or Yoga class.
On our way home, we stop at Don Rudolfo's or another tienda (a small market) to pick up supplies. Then we cross the street to Carniceria Tranco's for meat and specialty deli items or to the fish market for mahi-mahi or shrimp for dinner. The produce truck comes to our corner several times each week, so we buy fresh vegetables and fruit every couple of days. Some days, we fix a quesadilla for lunch with left-over rotisserie chicken we bought earlier from the pollo rosticería across town.
After I wash the dishes by hand, dry them and put them away, I do some writing or gardening and Jon putters around the house, usually fixing something that needs his handyman skills. Later in the afternoon, we head out for a walk on the beach with Bella, our dachshund, or take our boogie boards the four blocks to the bay to catch a few waves. The sun is warm and the water is refreshing.
After this kind of busy day, I usually suggest we save the meat we purchased that morning for the next day and go out for dinner. There are so many good restaurants in town, we can't resist going out three or four times each week. We stroll downtown, passing tourists from around the world, local vendors selling their wares, and an abundance of pharmacies, stores, galleries, and restaurants before we settle on our restaurant choice for the day.
After an enjoyable meal and glass of wine, often while being entertained by local musicians, acrobats, and indigenous people performing dance in full costume, we stroll back home along the cobblestone road to our casita. A perfect day.

Any particular experience in the country you would like to share with us?

Watching the children play outdoors and listening to their laughter while they play games has been one of our favorite discoveries in Mexico. We watch them gather in front of our house to play marbles in the dirt for hours. They play soccer in the sports field as well as on the beach and in the plaza. An impromptu game of circle volleyball using a soccer ball, but no net, can last for an hour and generates good-natured joking and laughing. We are reminded of our own childhood when we played outside with friends for hours until our moms called us in for dinner in the evening.
We realized that most Mexicans live a healthy, balanced life, allowing plenty of time in their day to day life for play and for family. We are learning from the Mexicans to let go of our obsession with productivity and work, to spend time every day having fun.

What is your opinion on the cost of living in Sayulita? Is it easy for an expat to live there?

Jon and I live on a fairly tight budget, yet we find that we can live in Sayulita for about half of what it would cost us in Oregon. We still can afford to go out for a nice dinner several times each week. Our utility bills are extremely low. For example, our electricity bill averages about $35 U.S per month and water is currently US$ 12 monthly. Because the weather is moderate, we don't need to heat our house and only need air conditioning at night during the warmest months of August, September, and October, so power use is minimal.
Our property taxes are very low, less than US$ 100 per year compared to over US$ 2,000 per year for our small condo in Ashland. We donate US$ 30 per month to ProSayulita, an organization that supplements government funds for trash pick-up, town and beach clean-up, public safety, as well as many other services that make Sayulita a pleasant place to live. We believe it is very affordable and easy for expats to live in Sayulita.

How do you spend your leisure time?

Jon and I spend much of our free time with activities that improve our physical and mental health. We attend Zumba and Yoga classes, we boogie-board and are learning Stand Up Paddleboard. We take walks on the beach as well as through the hills of Sayulita. We enjoy reading books on our Kindles and watching Netflix movies (yes, we get Netflix in Mexico now!). Sometimes, when we have family in town, we even take advantage of some of the tourist activities available in the area, such as the Chica Locca boat trip to Marietta Island.

What are your favorite local dishes?

Our new favorite dish is Huachinango, Red Snapper, deep-fried whole and seasoned with herbs or garlic and butter. It took me many years of living in Mexico before I agreed to try this dish because it is typically served with the head on and the eye staring up at you while you eat it. I found the appearance very disconcerting, as many gringos do. Not only that, but you are supposed to eat the crispy skin. Once Jon talked me into trying it, I really enjoyed it and am now game for ordering it at various restaurants to experience new ways of seasoning and cooking it. I highly recommend Huachinango, deep-fried or grilled and seasoned with garlic and butter.

What do you like the most about the country?

That's an easy one - the warm, sunny weather. While many people enjoy spending the cooler winter months in Mexico, we find that it is very pleasant in Sayulita from November through July.

What do you miss the most about your home country?

We miss seeing our family. We visit my mother, our three children, and our four granddaughters during August, September, and October when we return to the United States and occasionally when they come to visit us in Sayulita. When Sayulita's rainy season begins in August, we look forward to flying to Oregon and traveling around the state in our motor-home to visit our family.

What has motivated you to write your blog and your book "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico"? How does it help?

I have been amazed and saddened at the fear of Mexico that has spread in the United States. The media has focused on negativity in reporting about Mexico and has given American people an unfair impression of Mexico, especially in regards to safety. The main reason I decided to write my blog and book "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico" is to spread the word that Mexico is a wonderful, safe, and healthy place to live and travel. As in any country, including the U.S., travelers must use knowledge and common sense about visiting cities and states with high crime rates. I hope the experiences that I shared in my book about traveling throughout Mexico helps others have a more positive view of this country. I hope my book will help more foreigners, especially Americans, consider Mexico as a place to vacation and maybe even to live.

Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in Mexico?

I would recommend that before anyone decides to expatriate to Mexico, they live there for at least one year on Tourist Visas (FMT) to be certain that they enjoy it as much as they think they will. In addition, I recommend that they rent furnished living quarters or in a motor-home for at least a year before they decide to buy a home in Mexico. If they still love Mexico after living there for a year, applying for Permanent Residency allows them to stay as long as they like, not just the 180 day period that a Tourist Visa allows. When we repeatedly found that our 180 day Mexican Tourist Visa was close to expiring and we weren't ready to return to the United States, we knew it was time to become residents!

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to publish my second book, "Retirement Before the Age of 59" in the next few months. I will continue to write my blog, "Healthy Living and Traveling in Mexico" as I discover more about this wonderful country. Jon and I plan to continue to travel in Mexico, including day trips to nearby Puerto Vallarta and a longer visit to Guadalajara. I am working on my third book which will be my first fiction novel. "Retirement Before the Age of 59" is really about retiring from my career as a pharmacist so that I could be free to pursue my second career, being a writer. For me, the beauty of being a writer is that I can write anywhere, so why not in Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico, where it is warm, peaceful, and my office is open to my garden!

Share your expat experience!

Contact us to be featured in the Interviews section.