Interview: Canadian Expat Michelle On Living In Tulum, Mexico

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Tulum is at the center of Mexico’s Ruta Riviera Maya, an area stretching from roughly Playa del Carmen in the north to Punta Allen in the south along the Caribbean, and extends inland to the Mayan ruins of Cobá. This area is easily among the most exotic and beautiful geographical areas on earth. Rocky coastlines intermixed with white-sand beaches and spectacular cenotes (crystal-clear swimming and diving pools), tropical jungles, and remnants of Mayan temples all compete for visitor attention. The following interview, conducted by Mike Anderson with Canadian expat Michelle Bradshaw, originally appeared in Overseas Retirement Letter as part of a full report on Tulum.

Mike Anderson: How long have you lived in Tulum?

Michelle Bradshaw: Since September 2009.

Mike: Where is “back home” for you?

Michelle: Calgary, AB, Canada.

Mike: You could have moved anywhere… Why Tulum?

Michelle: I fell in love with Tulum on a previous vacation.

Mike: What motivated you to leave home and start over somewhere new?

Michelle: In Canada the winters are downright cold. I have always been attracted to a warmer climate. While on vacation in Cancun I saw a Scotiabank (it looked exactly like the one I worked for in Canada)… and that planted the seed. I knew working outside of Canada was a possibility.

Mike: What are some features of Tulum that really appeal to you?

Michelle: The casual and laid back atmosphere. No one is in a rush and you aren’t overwhelmed with pressure… it’s all up to you. Mañana, mañana is always an option. It is a refreshing change from the Canadian lifestyle of dealing with traffic, pressure at work, cleaning, cooking, and trying to squeeze in a social activity all at the same time. Here my priorities are different; I have a balanced lifestyle with a little work, a little exercise (that comes naturally here), a lot of play, and a lot of rest. Every year in Tulum I get younger and younger and have the privilege to enjoy life more. I love what this move has done for me.

Mike: What are the downside features of Tulum?

Michelle: Personally, the only downside is being away from my daughter. She is in University in Canada and will work in Canada. I am thankful for the internet, which is efficient in Tulum. Others may be disappointed in the lack of shopping. You can drive about an hour to shop in Playa del Carmen or Cancun. I occasionally order items online to Canada and have a friend bring it when they visit. I am not a big shopper so it’s not a problem for me.

Mike: Describe the Tulum locals—are they friendly and tolerant? How are you treated as a foreigner?

Michelle: The locals are friendly and help when I ask for assistance. The more Spanish I know the better the interaction.

Mike: Compared to Calgary, how safe do you feel in Tulum?

Michelle: I honestly feel safer here than in Calgary. Back home there are many homeless people on the streets begging for money. I don’t see that here. There are always Tulum police around ready to assist in any way.

Mike: Why did you purchase a home instead of renting?

Michelle: Investment. I found an inexpensive house in a growing area; purchasing made sense to me. Now I am rent/mortgage free and only pay for electricity, water, internet, property taxes, and a trust account. They come to about US$300 a month.

Mike: How much has your cost of living changed since moving?

Michelle: I spend 60–70% less. Fresh markets help (and the lack of malls).

Mike: Does Tulum have the goods and services you need to live comfortably?

Michelle: Yes, you can find everything you need. You may not find everything you want but living comfortably is easy.

Mike: Have you needed healthcare services while here? How did that work out?

Michelle: Yes, I have had a sensitive stomach all my life. Since moving here I decided to further investigate what was wrong. I went to the Tulum Hospiten, which costs 600 pesos per visit (US$36), and within 4 days they diagnosed the problem and began treatment… I went to many doctors in Canada with no results. I will go back to the Hospiten for any medical troubles.

Mike: Are you satisfied with your access to health care?

Michelle: Truly satisfied. For small medical troubles, like a sore throat, you can see a doctor on the street for 35 pesos (US$2).

Mike: Are there many activities (physical, cultural, and social) in Tulum?

Michelle: There is always something to do here. Diving, snorkeling, swimming in the cenotes, fishing, paddle boarding, body surfing, biking, ruin climbing, backpacking, day tripping, sea shell or sea bean collecting. There are many festivals and parties here and restaurants and bars are plentiful.

Mike: What are some of your stand out activities here?

Michelle: Scuba diving, swimming in the cenotes, yoga, and visiting the ruins.

Mike: Do the expats and the locals socialize?

Michelle: We socialize. I have Mexican friends who are helping me integrate and learn the language.

Mike: What would you call the primary expat activities?

Michelle: Sad to say—but I think beach days, socializing, and drinking.

Mike: How much socializing is there among the expats?

Michelle: A lot, we like to stick together.

Mike: What have you done for work in Tulum?

Michelle: I came to Tulum at 43 years old, not exactly a retirement age, so I knew I had to work once I got here. Initially, I worked as a mortgage broker offering foreigners mortgages on Mexican homes. That didn’t last long. So, I began housesitting for a few people in my community… but I needed a better income. I started to write about my experience and how I prepared (over a course of 10 years) to move to another country. My daughter was young and I was waiting for her to finish school. I want to share my story, what I learned along the way, and how I reprioritized myself. It took many months of selling almost everything I had before my road trip to Mexico. I want to let people know how this experience has made me stronger and more capable… and about all the fun along the way.

Mike: What are the opportunities you see in Tulum? What products or services are still needed here?

Michelle: Tulum is an infant and has a lot of growing to do. I would love to see some Asian restaurants and more local stores (clothing boutiques, shoe stores, house-ware stores)… but I don’t want to see Walmart or McDonald’s. I am hoping it can keep its beatnik, casual atmosphere with barefooted and dreadlocked backpackers.

Mike: What do people do for online work from Tulum?

Michelle: Any virtual work or blogging. Some of the more popular blogs (Loco Gringo for example) have had more success by adding hotel booking options. Mexico will spark your creativity… especially when you’re comparing your new surroundings to your old ones.

Mike: What is your level in Spanish?

Michelle: I would say I speak 4-year-old Spanish. I originally lived in an expat community where I didn’t get many chances to practice, but now that I live in Tulum I have more opportunity to learn. It is very helpful if you want to live here.

Mike: What was the biggest challenge you faced after moving to Tulum?

Michelle: The language barrier.

Mike: What is magical or special about Tulum? What is the essence of this place?

Michelle: Tulum is calm. Your body and mind can rest. The distractions seem to melt away… I am able to make things happen faster here than in Canada. When I wish for something it comes very quickly.

Mike: Are you satisfied with your decision to move to Tulum?

Michelle: I love being in Tulum and I do not regret one minute of it.

Mike: What advice do you have for those looking to move to Mexico?

Michelle: Learn some Spanish and pack a suitcase full of patience. Things operate completely different down here… don’t expect things to happen the way it did back home. You need to adapt to your surroundings… pack the patience.

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to get the full story on this special place—including details like cost of living, health care, buying and renting property, visas and residency, and more—pick up a copy of our Country Retirement Report for Tulum, Mexico.

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