Sunday, June 22, 2008

Getting a Visa

So we found out that school starts the middle of August in Mexico and Dave has a business trip the beginning of August, so in order to be settled and ready for school on time, we decided it would be good to leave the beginning of July. We knew that we could live in Mexico on a Tourist Visa for 6 months, but we wanted a year. An FM3 Visa is what we want. So I went to the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake to find out about getting this Visa. After waiting behind only two other people for almost 1 hour in a hot, very crowded room with two toddlers, I explained what we wanted to do. The lady at the window called in another person, made a 15-minute phone call and then told us to come back another day, because she was only filling in for the regular person. I went back a few weeks later and the regular employee gave me a list of requirements for a Business or Technical FM3 Visa. This was only for Dave; the rest of us were supposed to enter on a Tourist Visa and upgrade after we got there. The requirements included an application, Passport, letter from the US company employing Dave (his own company), a letter from the Mexico-based company (there was none), proof from our bank that we had an income of at least $1000 per month so we would not be a burden on the Mexican government, 2 passport pictures and cash to pay the fee. So we gather most of these, except of course the letter from the Mexican company, and I take them up to make sure they are right before I send Dave up to apply. The consulate employee looks at the stuff and asks if I have the aforementioned letter. I explain again that we aren't being sent by a company, but just want to live there. She says she can't help us. We'll have to go in on a Tourist Visa and apply for the FM3 once we get there. This is disappointing, because you can bring a lot more stuff in on an FM3 than on the Tourist Visa. Plus, what if they won't give us an FM3 after we get there? With a bit of research, we learn it is possible, though not guaranteed and only as a last resort, to drive to the border (about 12 hours), exit Mexico and reenter to get another 6 month Visa. I would not be very thrilled about this scenario. But, prayer has been a part of our decision-making all along and we still feel good about going. But at least I won't have to go back to the consulate in SL again.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Dave's visit to Ajijic

After more research on Lake Chapala, we determined that a little town called Ajijic would be a good place for us. So now Dave needed to visit. I would have gone too, but we had just used about every available babysitter (ie: Grandmas and Grandpas, Cousins, Aunts and Uncles) for our various other trips this year. Besides, Dave is a little more picky than I am when it comes to where we live, so I trust him. So we booked him a flight for the beginning of May to have a look. We arranged for him to stay at the Hotel Casa Blanca. Here is a video Dave made of the room while he was there. He's going to hate that I put this on here.
video

Turned out that the owner of the hotel picked Dave up at the airport, and Dave learned he had moved to Ajijic from California. They talked a lot about Mexico, the schools and raising kids there. Dave really liked him.
We also arranged for Dave to have a tour of Ajijic with Judy King, a resident expert. She took him for 4 hours to see various neighborhoods, the schools, the marketplace, the Chapala Society Headquarters and to meet some rental agents. She and her assistant Pam have been extremely helpful with our follow-up questions and the newsletter is great.
Dave was also there over a Sunday so that he could attend the LDS church service there, meet some of the members, and get their input. The congregation is pretty small, but in a nice building. There were about 40 people there and they did a bilingual service. The first meeting, Sacrament Meeting, was translated and the other classes were split up into English and Spanish. About 1/2 the members are Mexican, the other 1/2 white. Dave recognized one of the men there and they figured out that Dave's Grandfather Arthur Browne served in the church with him in Arkansas. Small World! Another member of the congregation was a Rental Agent and she has been really helpful in finding us a place to live. (Though we haven't found one as of yet)
Another day Dave toured some of the schools and looked at rentals. Of the three schools, Terranova was the nicest, but also the most expensive. Roosevelt and Loyola were fine, and Loyola was the cheapest, so we picked it. We haven't registered yet but will when we get there. There is an entrance fee of $200 per family and $700 per student, then the tuition is $200 per student per month. Much more expensive than we had heard, but they've got to go to school and it would defeat part of our purpose in going if I home schooled. (plus we might not survive)
Dave took some pictures with his iPhone while there but they weren't very good representations of the town, so we'll take some when we get there and post them.
Overall Dave really like it there and felt like we could do it without too much stress or hassle. Ajijic here we come!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mexico research

After finding we were leaning toward Mexico, I started research on the different parts of Mexico. First, I gave Puerto Escondido a look. Dave's client touted it as the best place to live in Mexico. He loved that it's on the beach, out of the hurricane zone and cheap. As I did my own research, I realized cheap is relative and with 4 kids, we would have to be in a house right on the beach in order for that to be a real benefit to me. Plus although it was out of the hurricane zone, it was also quite secluded. 3 hours from anywhere else, Oaxaca and Acapulco the closest big cities or recognizable places. It was also secluded by a mountain pass to Oaxaca and hundreds of speed bumps to Acapulco. It was important to me to be pretty close to an LDS Temple and the closest was in Oaxaca. The more I thought about it, I didn't feel like this was the right place for us. So I started looking on blogs and forums about other places in Mexico that gringos like us might like to live. Fairly quickly I came up with a list including Monterrey, San Miguel de Allende, Baja California, Lake Chapala, Puerto Vallerta. Lake Chapala and its northern shore towns were praised on many forums. I could find lots of information on it, it was close to Guadalajara (a large city), one hour from an LDS temple, 1/2 hour from an international airport, 3 1/2 hours from Puerto Vallerta, had 3 bilingual private schools, a society for expats, and rent seemed much more reasonable than the beach towns. It seemed pretty perfect for us. But I wanted Dave to visit before we made any decisions.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Researching our Short Term Home

So after we decided to take a year away, we had to decide where to go. In considering Dave's work we determined that he would need to stay in a similar time zone to the U.S. in order to keep his work schedule mostly the same. I didn't really want him working in the middle of the night. So this kept us mostly in the Americas. Next, we compared states that we were interested in for cost-of-living. We looked at North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Mississippi, Hawaii, Alaska and few others. We ruled out quite a few because the cost-of-living was too high. Then I started googleing rental property in a few other countries to see what rent might be there. I looked at Mexico, Quebec, Australia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Puerto Rico. I also checked out a few sites that offer house exchanges for educator sabbaticals. In the meantime, Dave emailed a client of his from Canada that lives in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico part of the year to get his take on Mexico. As I made a list of all of the many arrangements that would need to be made, it seemed almost just as much work to go to North Carolina as another country and not as much fun. So we were leaning toward foreign fields. As I looked at sites, Mexico kept coming up. Immigration laws seemed to be more flexible than some other countries. Most countries were much too expensive for us. We wanted to keep our house and rent it while we were gone, but didn't want to figure the rent into our budget, just in case. A dim hope was the opportunity to trade houses with someone, but we never did find anyone from France or Hawaii with a need to be in Utah for a year. Although we did get our hopes up when I found a family of 6 from Australia that wanted to take their family somewhere for a year, but when I contacted them, they had decided to get a pool instead. Gotta have priorities!
So after months of research, we had mostly settled on Mexico.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

How it all started

Many of you may be wondering where the Reeds got this crazy idea to go to Mexico. Well I'll explain our thought process here. First of all, good or bad I have to take credit for the idea. Dave and I, since we got married, have wanted to spend time outside of Utah. We love Utah for many reasons, but its homogeneous, almost all Mormon, sterile environment sometimes makes us crazy. We always thought (and this may still be true in the future) that we would move out of Utah for good, but in the couple of instances that we had the opportunity to leave, we just didn't know where to go. Where do you go when you can go anywhere? We've been drawn to Oregon, Washington and North Carolina at various times, but just couldn't actually leave.
So last year, Dave's company, eSpeakers, seemed to be coming to a point where we might be able to make a move if we wanted to. So where do we go? This time I felt like we had other factors keeping us in Utah. My parents are in Alpine, the kids have good friends here and I love my house. In contemplating a move, I wondered to myself "Why can't we just go somewhere for a little while?" I remembered a friend I had in D.C. whose family, the Eyres, lived in London for 6 months when she was young. But 6 months seemed too fast and too disrupting, so why not a year. A year would be a full school year, long enough to get to know the place, but short enough that the kids friends would most likely still be here when we got back and we could rent the house more easily. The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. So now to tell Dave. Dave thought it was a good idea too!
Immediately, we started researching. Where could we afford to rent and still keep our house? Where could Dave still do the work he needed to do without a weird schedule? Why not another country? Did we want seasons, cold weather, hot weather? What were the immigration laws for Canada, Mexico or South America? Could we drive, or would we have to fly? Where would we be safe? So many questions, so little time? Wait for my next post for some of the info we found.