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Cheaper Rent and Better Tacos: Why I Finally Left L.A. and Moved to Paradise (Mexico)

1:19 PM PDT on March 11, 2020

    [dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]round this time last year, my sister traded year-round sunny California days for skin-cracking Michigan winters. “I was never going to afford moving out on my own,” she says. “And eventually own property? Yeah right.”

    We’ve all heard this story before—friends and family slowly disappearing one by one, lured by mansions of sorts in places like Vegas, Texas, and Arizona. Blame the ongoing housing crisis, commutes requiring strategic podcast queues (two-episode minimum), and demoralizing daily decisions like, “groceries or gas?”

    Just, all of it.

    In a way, my husband and I managed to circumvent the common woes—when rents skyrocketed, we moved farther and farther from the center of L.A. When my writing job offered me work-from-home privileges, it relieved me of a nearly two-hour (one way!) commute to Santa Monica. And when my husband finally severed ties with a once-demanding, now-dying denim industry, he was able to strike out on his own in a whole new direction. 

    High rent, endless traffic, sinking industries…they were all in our purview as they are for many Angelenos, but we hung on. To actually leave L.A.? Nah. To be honest, most U.S. cities with a low cost of living didn’t appeal to us. I mean, we could pay less for gas in Fort Worth but then we’d have to deal with Tex-Mex food and, well, Texas.

    California is home in a way that many places can’t be—a deeply rooted Chicano culture and history of immigrant communities don’t just make L.A. more “colorful”, they make a brown couple like us (and our possible future children) feel safe and more welcome. I can’t say the same about my visit to Florida in 2016, where front lawns were littered with Trump MAGA signs or the Philly neighborhood bars that never welcomed people like my husband even though he lived there. It’s something that Californians of color in other states have complained about, like one couple in Idaho who got pushback for speaking Spanish. 

    Just last year, the National Survey of Urban Public Security (ENSU) ranked Puerto Vallarta one of the safest cities out of 70 surveyed. The reality is Puerto Vallarta has been a popular tourist destination since the 1960s, and the city has a vested interest in keeping it that way.

    And yet, we still wondered—is our only option to hang on to a semi-resigned version of L.A. life? Ride along until retirement, content to have jobs that help us pay down mortgage-rivaling student loan debt? Never really taking any risks—or living our deepest purpose—because any crack could rock the whole foundation? A quite literal catastrophic crack, too. (Looking at you, San Andreas Fault.) Some, like Gustavo Arellano, argue that leaving your home in Los Angeles or Orange County due to the mounting cost of living here is a form of “quitting California.” But that's not how we see it.

    We thought back to our vacations throughout Mexico, a place that always felt like home and where our dollar went a long way. What if we didn’t wait until it was too late to go after a different lifestyle, one that valued family over long hours and put the culture we grew up with front and center? 

    In L.A., steady and satisfied is all we can wish for. In Mexico, we can dream. 

    Puerto Vallarta, a paradise full of possibilities

    We first visited Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, together for our honeymoon in 2016. My sister gifted us a hotel stay in resort-heavy Nuevo Vallarta so we kept it more or less touristy, visiting nearby beach towns like Sayulita and driving to Puerto Vallarta proper to visit El Centro, the city’s historic downtown where many immigrants from Canada and the U.S. make their home.

    We wandered the cobblestone streets, charmed like most visitors and not wanting to head back to the resort. We found ourselves in a cozy bar on a small street, the sounds of Café Tacvba softly playing in the background.

    The bar owner welcomed us and insisted on making a special drink, quickly sensing what our choice spirit might be. The conversation was easy that humid night, honeymoon vibes carrying us through dreamy exchanges about a life less stressed and more fulfilled. It wasn’t the first time we talked about leaving L.A., and it wouldn’t be the last.

    The next day, in the middle of a jungle-meets-beach paradise, I wondered how I could write in Mexico. How my husband could make a living. How we could make a home.

    Moving from L.A. to Mexico is...doable?

    Fast forward four years later. Trump in full swing. My husband’s L.A.-based clothing gigs in manufacturing—done. Me? Still writing from a laptop that easily fits in your average carry on.

    After doing some research and revisiting Puerto Vallarta in 2019, life for two Angeleno Mexican-Americans in Jalisco seems more than plausible. Anytime we’d want to come back for a visit, we could easily hop on a three-hour flight to LAX for less than $300 roundtrip. Plus, the road to residency is much smoother for Americans like us whose parents were born in Mexico. And the culture shock many immigrants from Canada and U.S. complain about on forums—loud chickens in the morning, endless fireworks, a less-structured system—doesn’t sound so unfamiliar to us. We’d be acclimating as pochos reversing the immigration pattern but juggling divergent worlds is in our DNA.  

    There are many, many reasons why we are ultimately deciding to leave L.A. and heading to Mexico. Here are just a few you might consider if you’ve ever thought about saying goodbye to California:

    A two-bedroom apartment in a decent area will run you around $600 a month. 

    Because Puerto Vallarta is an American and Canadian immigrant-heavy- and tourist-heavy town, the rental market can get pretty unwieldy. If you stick to crazy-luxury rentals targeting vacationing snowbirds, you’ll end up paying L.A. prices (or worse). But if you think more like a local and check out Mexican rental sites like Vivanuncios and Inmuebles24 (or go apartment hunting by foot), it’s easy to stay in the $300–$800 range. That’ll get you within a short bus ride to the hot spots (fun to visit but best to avoid come the high season, in my opinion). Compared to L.A.’s average rent of $2,527, the pennies saved each month can go a long way, and you’d be saving on everything else, from healthcare to Uber rides at nearly one-third the cost.

    If you have a parent born in Mexico, you qualify for dual nationality.

    This is a big perk, people. By declaring nationality through a parent, you can bypass the temporary or permanent visa application process altogether, clearing you of minimum income and residency requirements (or the need to return to the U.S. every 180 days if you’re staying on a visitor permit). It also gives you the right to work and own a property outright, as opposed to securing a trust through a Mexican bank that’s held by the government, which is what foreign residents have to do. Overall, there are fewer hoops to jump through with this built-in benefit for U.S. citizens born to a Mexican parent.  

    Puerto Vallarta is consistently ranked as one of the safest cities in Mexico

    Every time I book a trip to Mexico, a co-worker asks with exaggerated concern, “Is it even safe to travel there?” Let’s be real—even our own Mexican parents play up the fear factor when talking about any city other than their hometown. I won’t downplay the violence that terrorizes many Mexican states, but that’s not the whole picture. Just last year, the National Survey of Urban Public Security (ENSU) ranked Puerto Vallarta one of the safest cities out of 70 surveyed. The reality is Puerto Vallarta has been a popular tourist destination since the 1960s, and the city has a vested interest in keeping it that way.   

    The Puerto Vallarta food scene is booming

    Since my husband plans to enter the restaurant business, we had to figure out if Puerto Vallarta was the right fit for us food-wise. We knew PV had tacos and mariscos covered—two of our faves—but the food and drink situation is so much more dynamic than that. You’ll find chef-driven establishments like Tintoque, which was listed in the 2020 Guía México Gastronómico as one of the 120 best restaurants in all of Mexico. Salud Super Food rivals any Westside juice bar (but with fresher fruits), Monzón Brewing serves up some of the best West Coast IPAs south of the border, and you can even get your sushi or ramen fix when cravings hit.

    In the end, when making a huge life change like leaving your L.A. home—and deciding between Ohio or Jalisco, Pickerington vs. Puerto Vallarta—ask yourself this: When the karaoke bar is about to shut down and they can’t get that one guy off stage, would you rather hear his heartfelt rendition of “Sweet Caroline” or “Volver, Volver”? I know my answer.

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