Living in Baja
Living the dream! Another wonderful day in paradise…or? Living in Baja can be very rewarding but, it’s been proven time and time again, it is not for everyone.
The subject of living in Baja could take up a whole book, so we will take it in sections. This will be a continuing effort and I hope you won’t expect answers to every possible question. You must remember that everyone’s situation is different and that we cannot possibly cover all individual particulars. All we can do is try to offer the experiences of our staff and many friends who have lived in Baja for various lengths of time.
Moving to Baja – The Basics
First: I will assume that you have visited Baja many times. I will also assume, that if you are seriously considering a move, you have deeply enjoyed your time in Baja. Hopefully, you already have a favorite area picked out. The very first thing I am going to suggest is almost a no-brainer, but one that is often overlooked. Make sure you have visited your chosen area of Baja in all of the different seasons (hopefully more than once in each season). The climate that may seem perfect in fall, winter and spring may get a little harsh in the summer months. The area you have picked out may be susceptible to seasonally cold winds or extreme climate changes. Not everyone you talk to will tell you about the less pleasant idiosyncrasies of their area, and it is easily possible that you have missed them on each of your previous visits. Talk to as many local residents as possible, and be sure to grill them deeply on the local weather.
Water supply, electrical outages, Internet access, local healthcare, recreation facilities, availability of transportation (local and long distance, in case you need to get back home in a hurry), road maintenance and other things, that you take for granted elsewhere, are usually quite different in most parts of Baja. All of these are topics that you should have many intense discussions about, with local residents. If you have children, the schooling that is available locally will be a major concern. The quality of education, even in the many expensive private schools, varies greatly all over the Baja peninsula.
Second: Rent for a while!!! I suggest a minimum of four to six months, but a year makes more sense if you are considering a permanent move. There are a lot of furnished condos for rent all over Baja. I rented here for years before I was ready to make the full commitment to move permanently. Don’t jump in and buy a place and make a permanent move right off the bat…try it out first! It does not matter how many people you have talked to or how many great stories you have heard, remember everyone sees things through different eyes. The very things that your friends, or acquaintances love about living here may seem very nice in a friendly chat over cocktails. Until you have experienced those same things personally, you have no way of knowing what your reaction will be. Your experience in an area during a vacation is usually entirely different than the daily reality of living in that same place. Renting will also let you get a long-term look at the real estate market in your chosen area. You can window shop for a permanent residence the whole time you are renting. Be very careful about choosing a real estate agent, referrals from friends or local residents, may or may not work out. This can be one of the most important choices you will make before your move…approach it with great caution.
Third: (This should actually be #1) Learn some Spanish!!! I can’t stress this enough!!! On your visits, especially in the far north and the Los Cabos area, you may have enjoyed many vacations without so much as uttering a single word of Spanish (except maybe playfully). That is all well and good for vacations – not good when you are going to be living here full-time. Remember that you are not going to be living in a tourist-oriented hotel and you most certainly won’t be doing all of your shopping in tourist-oriented stores. Small things like talking to your maid, storekeepers, the handyman or your mechanic can become totally chaotic if you do not speak or understand basic Spanish. You can live here (many do) without speaking the language, but it is so much more rewarding (and life becomes much, much easier) if you are able to, at least, have simple conversations with everyone. You will also be surprised at how much the locals will appreciate your efforts…they will be more than willing to help you along. An amazing irony of the Spanish and English languages is that many (even simple) conversations will be understood as the complete opposite of what was trying to be conveyed. It’s the verbs. It still happens to me, and I have lived here for over twenty years (no, I am not fluent in Spanish, but I do manage OK).
Fourth: Take your time! Things have a way of moving a bit slowly in most of Baja…learn from it. You have made the decision to move to Baja…from now on, slow down, take your time. Quick decisions can come back to bite you – over and over. Go over, and over, all of the research you have done – include any family members who will be making the move with you. The more input, from all involved early, the better everyone will feel about this move. This is a huge step in your life (and that of your family) and you should think it over very carefully. If there are doubts, no matter how small, address them before you make your move – not after. Usually, taking a few more weeks or even a few more months will not have any negative effects on your new life, but hastily made decisions may have enormous consequences.
Fifth: Look for an area where there’s a good education system K-12, especially if you have kids or are planning to. Education is very important and you’ll want the best for your children. Try to find a place to live near a school, preferably within biking distance. There may be days where you’re unable to take your kid to school and they’ll have to get there on their own! When looking at neighborhoods, ask around and check out the local schools if you can. It’s always good to visit the school while it’s in session as well so you can get a feel for how education works in Baja. Additionally, check around and try to be near schools that offer extracurricular activities such as band or dance. Your kids will want to explore their talents and they’ll need the opportunities to do so. You’ll also want to find schools in safe areas. Crime still exists, however with the right community surrounding a school, your kids will be safe travelling to and from with minimal danger of getting jumped. Finally, find a school that fits your checklist. Schools may vary on areas of performance, such as a school having an exceptional football team to a school that has an award winning band. Play to your kids strengths and try to find them the best school while still staying safe.
Sixth: employment. If you’re planning on living in Baja, it’s important to have an income while you’re there, especially if you’re renting. Before you move, check with your current employer to see if it’s possible to work from home and in a different country. This will allow you to keep your job while you’re establishing your roots in your new home. If it’s not possible, try to secure a job in Baja as soon as possible. It’s imperative that you create a steady income as quickly as you can. When you’re looking for a place to live, look for areas that will provide an easy commute to your workplace. Waking up at 5 amto drive 75 miles to your location isn’t exactly ideal! Baja has thousands of different jobs ranging from mechanical and construction work to officer and management work. Baja also offers plenty of job opportunities with all the tourism it gets. Check with locals about different businesses and see if you can find a job that suits you.
Seventh: Safety. When looking to settle down in Baja, you should avoid moving to places where there is a lot of crime. Dangerous areas such as the border line should be avoided due to the high gang and violence in the region. When you’re looking for your future home in Baja, make sure to do extensive research on the area. Oftentimes you can search the local news for any crime reports and talk to the local police station. You can also research specific cities and learn more about the gang/violence activity in the area. Generally, the more south you go, the more safe it is. Be sure to research your area of choice as much as you can before deciding to rent or buy a home in that area.
Eighth: City size. Before you settle on a place, be sure to consider the size of the city/area that you’re moving to. The size of the city can affect traffic, quality of air, safety, education, and even sleeping in! Bigger places will usually be louder and have much more traffic than a smaller city in the countryside.
Ninth: Entertainment/amenities. While you’re living in Baja, you’re definitely going to have some spare time. Live in a place that fits your style of a leisure/recreational activity. For instance, if you enjoy hiking in your free time, you’re not going to want to live in a city center. The bigger the city, the more there is, however smaller cities offer a more personal experience. Be sure to research the area and ask the locals about the activities you can do outside of your work schedule!
That said…I hope I haven’t scared you too much. There are so many positives to living in Baja – most foreigners who live here absolutely love it. But again, it is not for everyone. That is why I suggest renting for a while, if all is well, take the plunge. While you are renting make extreme efforts to explore all aspects of daily (non-touristic) life in Baja. If all is not what you thought it would be, all you have lost is some time. I know of quite a few people who have moved to Baja without doing enough research or spending enough time here before their move. Many chose to move back after having sold their home in the north and had to undergo the whole process again. I also know many people who have lived here over twenty years and never think of moving back.
Note: The Internet has made living in Baja much easier than it was not that long ago. Online banking means that you can do so many things from Baja that used to be a major hassle to get done for anyone living here. Money movements, credit card payments, paying other bills that are still due back home, newspaper and magazine subscriptions – all taken care of easily – via the Internet. Email, chat, personal webcams and instant messaging, all put you easily in contact with your friends or business associates back home. In the Internet age, with certain professions, it is possible to work in your home country via Internet and still live in Baja…what a world!
When you have made your final decision that Baja is going to be your new home, that’s when the fun really starts. In our next installment, we will talk about what is involved in your actual move to Baja. Purchasing a home, practical ideas, local requirements and immigration rules are some of the things we will discuss, as well as the physical moving experience (household goods, etc.). We will also discuss getting your vehicles and all of your toys to your new home.