Every foreigner arrives in Mexico with their own expectations of what life will be like here. We live in San Miguel de Allende and your experience here will be different from other areas in Mexico because of the large population of Expats. Communicating in San Miguel de Allende is fairly easy because most people you interact with in stores and restaurants speak some English, but beyond communicating, there are going to be many differences to adapt to. Some people adjust easily to a different culture and others will find the differences more challenging to live with.
If you arrive in Mexico with no Spanish under your belt, you will find day to day affairs such as finding and renting a place to live, setting up your cable for TV and internet, even paying your electric bill difficult at first. If you are lucky you will connect with English speaking locals who can walk you through the process of settling in. If you have an issue with your electric bill, you are unlikely to find an English speaking employee at the CFE office to help you, so it’s best to visit the office with someone who is bilingual.
The neighborhood where you end up living might at first seem strange and not what you expected. If you’re living in a traditional Mexican neighborhood, even one with expensive homes, you will likely have neighbors with homes that appear under construction, yet never move towards completion, or if they do, very slowly. You could live in a lovely colonial home with modern appliances, have a pool, air conditioning, etc paying rent of $2000.00 US (considered expensive) and your neighbor’s home might not have glass in all its windows. You will also notice vast differences in wealth between expats, well to do Mexicans, and people you pass in the street, and maybe this will make you uncomfortable. Wealth and poverty both exist and the divide is very evident in San Miguel de Allende.
Mexican culture values respect and kindness. If you smile at you neighbors and greet them with buenos dias, or buenas tardes as you pass in the street, they will almost always return the same friendliness. Your friends in Mexico may also have a very different sense of time and punctuality. I’m an American expat and I still frequently get it wrong when arriving at a social event. A coworker of mine invited me to her birthday party at 1:00 pm, and was very surprised to see my husband and I arriving at 1:05. “People won’t be here until after three” she laughed, “go sit by the pool and make yourself comfortable.” Our American friends tend to arrive precisely on time or even early so some planning is required when hosting mixed groups.
Living in San Miguel de Allende is fantastic, and we love being here. The culture is exciting and there always seems to be a celebration or event, gatherings with friends, concerts, great restaurants to explore, and day trips to take. Some people arrive and on day one they are already shopping for a home to purchase in San Miguel de Allende, or at least rent. We recommend you take your time and discover if living in Mexico is right for you, especially after the initial fascination and newness wears off a bit. As much as you might love the striking colonial architecture, and delightful culture, San Miguel de Allende and Mexico are different from other countries in the world, and you need to decide if it’s right for you.