6 November 2018

Michaela Sirbu - Expat in Mexico

Michaela Sirbu - Expat in Mexico

We’ve had the chance to talk to Michaela Sirbu, a Romanian expat who has moved to Mexico alone. Ms Sirbu, who has been living there for over eight years works as a real estate agent. Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: Originally from Romania, then lived in Canada for 27 years before moving to Lake Chapala, Mexico, in 2010.


Q: What made you move out of Romania?

A: Romania was a communist country when I escaped across the border in 1982. I applied to emigrate to Canada and was accepted.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I am now living in Ajijic on Lake Chapala, Mexico. I happened to come across a person who mentioned Lake Chapala as “a beautiful, healthy place to live with great climate” so upon further research, found 'Focus on Mexico'. I attended the Focus on Mexico week-long conference with 11 other potential expats who were there to get acquainted with Lake Chapala and what the area offers. I was so enamoured with the region that I put my home in Canada on the market immediately upon return and moved to Ajijic a few months later.


Q: How long have you been living in Mexico?

A: I moved here in 2010, so it's been just over eight years now.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I moved to Mexico alone as a single woman. Three years later, I met another expat who was scouting the area. We fell in love, moved in together and have been living happily ever after since.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I left Romania (where all of my family members still reside) back in 1982, so it's been 36 years! I have always stayed connected with my family and friends. Over the years I’ve made a number of trips back to visit, and now with the age of modern technology and free communications, it is easier than ever to keep in touch with family and friends back home and in Canada.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: The Mexican people are the kindest and most family oriented people I have met. Rarely a day goes by when someone doesn't extend me some kind of courtesy or greets me with a smile.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Mexico? How did you manage to find a social circle there?

A: Lake Chapala is one of the largest expat communities in the world. It was easy to make friends even as a single woman, as there are many who live here. I now have a mix of expat and Mexican friends. It was easier for me perhaps than for other expats because I could learn Spanish quickly, but Spanish was not essential in this town as so many Mexican people speak English.


Q: How does the cost of living in Mexico compare to your home?

A: I spend approximately a third of what I spent in Canada and lived a far more exuberant and active lifestyle than I did in Canada.


Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: A cup of coffee with unlimited refills is about 30 pesos or $1.60 USD in a restaurant. A “fancy” coffee with almond or coconut milk cost 50-60pesos.


Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: 60-70 pesos, $3.60 USD (lunch); 90-120 pesos, $5.80 USD (dinner)


Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: 150-200 pesos, $9.75 USD (lunch); 200-350 pesos, $15.25 USD (dinner)


Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Wine from a store, 75 pesos and up, $4.15 USD; from a restaurant, 150 pesos and up, $ 8.30 USD


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account in Mexico?

A: In the Lake Chapala area you need to be a temporary or permanent resident to open a bank account. Only a handful of banks actually open accounts for temporary residents right now. Do your research to find out which bank is best for you, depending on the products and services you need – e.g. a bank card that you can also use to make online purchases.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: The visa process is fairly straightforward, and the people at the Immigration office in Chapala are very helpful. Some of them speak enough English to help through the process; some do not. If you can’t be bothered to wait in line and fill the paperwork yourself, there are local lawyers who specialize in Immigration Visas who charge very little and do it all for you. I have done it myself and speaking Spanish helped.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Mexico is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: Healthcare services can vary widely depending on what you need and where you choose to go. There are two public Mexican Healthcare services that you can use. One is free, and the other requires insurance for a relatively small fee. These two systems are similar to the Canadian socialist system with long wait times. There are a variety of private policies which you can purchase or self-insure, pay as you go. The private sector services provide the best care which rivals any health care system in the world and at excellent prices. My yearly check-ups at a clinic in Guadalajara, a veritable battery of tests, cost as little as $40-$60 USD.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in Romania or Mexico? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: Healthcare is such a personal thing (based on age and personal health) that it is difficult to comment on this. For instance, I still have coverage from my working life with the Government of Canada so I did not purchase any extra insurance. My partner, however, has chosen to self- insure.


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Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Mexico? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: Once my house sold, I decided to store my contents for a year or two to make sure I’d enjoy living in my new country. I bought a new, large vehicle, and drove it to Mexico with a friend. Six months after, I was convinced this was my new home country/area, so I decided to move the contents myself to the border with Mexico in a U-haul truck. At the border, a Mexican mover took over the load since U-haul vehicles are not allowed into Mexico.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: Dealing with my Canadian vehicle. If I could choose again, I would not have brought it into Mexico; I would have bought a Mexican plated vehicle.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Mexico?

A: The biggest pros for the area are the exceptional, year around climate (rated number 2 in the world by National Geographic Magazine) and the cost of living. Negatives....well for me there are none. However, some may find the lack of enforceable regulations a little disconcerting. And if you are from the United States, don't always think that you are going to sue someone. It's a little of the Wild West in Mexico, and that’s the freedom that I enjoy: not everything is laid out, and I don’t have to “paint between the lines”.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: People in this vast expat community have brought their interests and hobbies, so there is no shortage of activities, services, and experiences that one can have. There are more known clubs here than I’ve ever heard about in Canada! There are groups who hold activities together, such as a classical music group, a singles’ group, garden club, etc. etc. Whether people visit the large, cultural City of Guadalajara, the nearby towns, pyramids, the thermal baths, ruins, country camping and fishing, shopping, kayaking, hiking, etc., there is an abundance of activities in the area and something for everyone.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: This is truly one of the best places in the world to live, and I’ve lived in a few already. I am always open and willing but this is hard to beat.


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Come with an open mind and heart and a sense of adventure and you'll do just fine. Don't come thinking that you are going to change the ways of Mexico because you will fail. Also, don't come if you are only looking for a cheaper place to live. With the “good”, embrace the balance – the things you may not like or appreciate. Once you learn to accept what you cannot change and immerse yourself in the area and the culture, you may end up liking it.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Mexico?

A: There is a lot of material written about living in Lake Chapala as it has been a popular expat location since the 1950's. For current information, you can check out the many Facebook pages available, as well as my own website and Facebook page 'Retire In Lake Chapala'. It features over 68 blogs and growing, all about the local expat lifestyle, restaurants, renting, healthcare, owning property, things to do and so much more.