A smiling family in front of a tropical background
photo illustration by maclean’s

Why One Edmonton Family Moved to Mexico

“Our new home is cheaper, warmer and buzzing with Canadian expats”
Sean Murphy

July 9, 2024

When the pandemic hit, my wife Jasmyne, our two young kids and I were living in Edmonton. After months of restrictions, we were feeling burnt out by the endless news cycle and tired of being stuck inside. We became afraid that Canada might follow other countries and ramp up restrictions to the point that we’d have to schedule times to play outdoors. Playgrounds and public facilities were already closed, and we didn’t like how it stopped our kids from engaging with the world outside of our house.

We decided to move to a different country that had not yet closed their border, and Mexico appealed to us. It was on this side of the Atlantic, and it’d be more affordable for us because the Canadian dollar is stronger than the Mexican peso. Moving there may sound like a radical move, but we were well-positioned for it. My wife and I were seasoned travellers: we met in 2012, when I was working for a travel company and gave her a guided tour of Thailand, and we travelled through Asia and the Middle East. I also run the Relocationist, a travel consulting brand that helps people relocate abroad. By the time the pandemic hit, we were back in Edmonton, but this time as nomads without a house or a car, renting a condo on a month-to-month lease. That made it easy to rebuild our lives elsewhere.

In December of 2020, we booked one-way plane tickets to Puerto Vallarta. We rented a three-bedroom apartment in a village called Bucerias, a touristy hub on the Pacific coast, for $1,300 per month. It’s Little Canada: we call it B.C.-erias because so many people from British Columbia live there. In Mexico, my wife continued to work part-time with a travel company based in the U.S., and she brought me on board: I handled website development and content creation while Jasmyne managed bookings, designed itineraries and built relationships with tour guides. 

We adjusted quickly. Compared to places in Asia and the Middle East, life was surprisingly familiar: I remember driving into Puerto Vallarta and passing a Home Depot and a Walmart, thinking, did we really leave Canada? After a year, we had adopted three dogs, were expecting a third child and developed aspirations to have a little family farm. We moved away from the gated community and rented a two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot house for $1,400 per month on an acre of land nearby. Since moving there, we’ve welcomed a child, adopted a fourth dog, and bought a herd of sheep, 30 chickens and a horse. I also changed my job: I work two weeks on, two weeks off now as a field operator at an oil plant in Fort McKay, near Edmonton. My company offers a travel allowance that helps me cover some of my plane fares.

Our lifestyle is unconventional, but it works—as of now, we have no plans to leave Mexico. Living here is cheaper. As a family of five, we keep our basic living costs under $5,000 per month: that includes rent for $1,400, transportation, fuel, food, cell phones, internet, utilities and other incidentals. We’ve calculated that the same in Edmonton would cost us around $7,000. That being said, inflation has also hit Mexico, and it’s a double-hit because the peso has gained a lot of value in recent years. The days of going to Mexico for 50-cent margaritas are mostly gone, and restaurants cost the same here as they do in Canada, but you can still find cheap food stands here and there that sell dollar tacos.

Many Canadian expats who live in our neighbourhood decided to stay here because they saw a financial opportunity to start a business and build a community around it. Some have gone remote at their jobs back home, while others have launched new ventures. A friend of mine opened a souvlaki restaurant; another founded a boxing gym. A real estate agent from the St. Catharines and Niagara area now practises in Mexico after obtaining a local licence; a former bakery owner from Toronto now operates Palma Bakehouse here in Bucerias. For us, the big win is that living here allows us to work less, spend more time with our kids and live more simply. We are more present in our kids’ lives, sometimes spending long afternoons outside with them, because we don’t have to work so much to afford a good life. In Canada, we could not have afforded to have my wife be a near-full-time mom, or to buy an acre of land and a hobby farm.

I also like how this new life is affecting our kids, who are now eight, five and one: they run around our property, sometimes barefoot, ride horses and play with the animals. They are learning Spanish and have made friends with the neighbour kids, who often sell popcorn, carnitas or whatever their grandmother made that day from their yards. We feel a sense of community that was lacking in Canada, where it has become common for people to spend all day inside. I find that digital distractions may be eroding a sense of community in Edmonton and across Canada. I get it: if you can shop, order food and even find love from your phone, then what’s the point of leaving the house? But I don’t think that way of life was good for us. At times it felt like when our kids played outside in Edmonton, they were the only ones around; and years of encouragement to stay home and isolate yourself only worsened things. And sure, Mexico embraces technology, but it still retains a communal lifestyle, where people spend more time outdoors with their neighbours. It’s a “raised by the village" mentality that I felt we could no longer achieve in Canada.

Living in Mexico was never on my bucket list, but I have become a fan of this place: the medical system is decent, we have access to low-cost airfare, Amazon deliveries come quickly, and then the no-snow winters are a bonus. Beyond having to re-learn to deal in physical cash and going through the process of finding services like a butcher, a bank and contractors, the culture shock was minimal. We have planted our roots here deeper than I ever could have imagined.

But, of course, living in Mexico is not perfect. We do not have a police force to rely upon, which opens the floodgates for petty crime. We have had contractors scam us out of deposits, and others say they’ve fixed an item, accepted my payment and then left before I find out that they actually did not fix the problem. We’ve had our trampoline stolen, and my wife had her purse robbed at a Starbucks. Then there are the summers, which can be unbearably hot and reach well into 40 degrees.

In the end, though, the trade-off is worth it: Mexico has allowed us to slow down and live more relaxed lives. I will always be proud to be Canadian, but I maintain that you learn a lot about a country when remove yourself from it. Maybe one day we’ll come back to Edmonton. For now, we’re happy where we are.

—As told to Alex Cyr