Expat 101: How To Move Back Home

In August 2016, I moved back home to Toronto, Canada after four years living in Mexico City and traveling the world.

The transition was ... brutal. Financially, socially, and emotionally brutal. I made so many mistakes. So, I'm writing this post to help YOU, dear expat, not make all the mistakes I did. Or at least be a heck of a lot more prepared for the transition.

Here's my advice to prepare for a successful return home. There's a checklist at the end of this post but I wanted to touch on a couple of topics in depth.

At Niagara Falls with friends, shortly after we returned to Canada.

If You're Bringing a Partner With You...

I brought my Mexican husband back with me to Canada and oh brother, is that another kettle of fish. All I can say is, don't do in-country sponsorship if you can help it. Do the paperwork and get the spousal visa BEFORE you arrive home--it will save you a world of financial pain. And not just a temporary resident visa, get the permanent resident visa and the work visa before you get on that airplane.

Trust me. Whole other post on this is coming.


Set up in advance a cushy landing place for your return. To keep costs low, see if you can crash with family or friends until you have a steady source of income and your own place to live. It's inconvenient, but you need to save the dough. And you'll also give yourself breathing room to find the perfect apartment and job.

If crashing isn't an option, Airbnb is a great way to find a short-term rental where you can stay while getting back on your feet. Whether you want a private apartment or a cheap room, Airbnb delivers (if you haven't signed up yet, click here to get $25 towards your first trip!).


In an ideal world, you'd be able to score a job from abroad. But, most employers require an in-person interview. So, do the prep work. Update your CV and LinkedIn profile, plus your list of references. Update or create an online portfolio. Poke around at job listings to see what's out there. Contact friends or business associates at companies you want to work at and ask if any jobs will be opening up.

If you're freelancing, now's the time to shore up extra assignments to financially cushion the transition. If you're not freelancing or working remotely, if might be time to do it.

Here are some options:
(I'm going to write a longer post on this and I'll link to it here when it's up)

Miguel's first winter. In Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Depending on how long you've been gone, your friend circle might be smaller or less reliable. Contact your buds in advance and make definite plans to see them once you're back. You might even consider throwing yourself a "I'm back" bash at a bar or restaurant. 

You're probably in a tight financial situation, so suggest cheap hangout activities like meeting for coffee, working out together, going for a walk, visiting a free cultural event, or coming over to your place (if possible).

It's possible your friends could've ... vanished. It happens. People move away or their lives change. So, it's time to make some new buds. 

Check out your local YMCA for varsity sports teams. Sign up for a language or art class. Volunteer for a cause that speaks to you, whether that's rescue dogs, teen mental health, a community garden etc. 

Seek out people from your expat home on sites like Meetup.com (you'll probably want to practice your language skills anyway!).

It's awkward to make new friends but just remember, you did it abroad! And there always going to be newcomers at home--now it's your turn to make them feel welcome.

Physical Health

You may not have regularly gone to the doctor or dentist abroad. Depending on the situation in your home country, it might be worth it to get a physical and your teeth cleaned before you leave (I did all my dental work in Mexico and it was waaaayyyy cheaper). Stock up on any medications just in case you have trouble finding an equivalent or getting a prescription when you get home.

And definitely research your options at home. In my case, I had to wait three months to get my health coverage back in Canada. Depending on your health, planning for the transition can be really crucial.

You can still travel in your home country! We escaped to Montreal soon after we got back.
Emotional Health

Let me tell you, reverse culture shock is real! When I first came back from Mexico to Toronto, I felt like I was in a movie about someone else's life. The most random stuff felt bizarre, like how quiet it was, the absence of traffic, the different cultural practices and expectations.

I was shocked to remember, for example, how many people talk to themselves here. How severe mental health issues are so visible--people yelling and creating a ruckus. I'm not complaining, in fact it really sucks how many people don't get the mental health support they need in a first world country. It's just, you don't see that in Mexico.

So! Preparation is key. Make the first week back low-key. Don't push yourself to run around and see a million things and meet with a million people. Not only will you be overwhelmed, but the time change and jet lag aren't going to help.

Allow for lots of down time and give yourself the space you need to chill and recuperate. Try journalling, blogging, or talk to a therapist. Make time to shoot hoops or go for a run. Treat yourself to an amazing meal. Don't be stressed if you're sleeping more--your body is re-adjusting. Make a to do list and don't panic about it. It'll all get done eventually.

Check List

  1. If you have a foreign partner, get them permanent residency and a work visa for your home country first. Research process for bringing over kids and/or pets.
  2. Find a place to stay and negotiate exactly how long you can crash there.
  3. Estimate how long it'll take you to find a job at home and what your monthly expenses will be. Rent? Will you need to buy a car? Pay debts? Buy a winter coat? Save up. Take freelancing jobs, if possible. Research EI benefits or disability support if you think you'll need it.
  4. Book your flight.
  5. Post on social media announcing your return. Ask friends to look out for jobs/housing for you!
  6. Email your inner circle and make plans to hang out.
  7. Make a list of fun government-related stuff you'll need to do when you go back like renewing your driver's license/passport, notifying the tax office of your return, and researching health insurance options.
  8. Stock up on current medication.
  9. Research activities at home like informal language exchanges or classes. Mark in your calendar events to look forward to like concerts, street fairs, and getaways.
  10. Ship ahead anything you can't take on the plane, pack the rest.
  11. Take it easy the first week! Major life stuff happening.
  12. Change your addresses, get a local phone number and data plan, send out CVs, breeaatthhhheee.
**Please note, this list doesn't include tying up loose ends in your country overseas. Post coming soon!**

Check out this reading list:

How To Take the Bus In Mexico City

The bus system in Mexico City is reliable, safe, dirt cheap, and goes everywhere so you'll want to learn how to use it.

That said, it can be a bit intimidating the first time. I've got to scoop so you can stop taking all those Ubers, save money, and people-watch your heart out. And all advice has been vetted by native Mexico City residents, so you're getting the real deal.

Read on if you want to know EVERYTHING about taking the bus in Mexico City...


There are five types of buses in Mexico City:

1. Camion
A medium-sized bus. Usually green or purple. Runs on major streets/routes.
2.  Microbus (also called pesero)
Smaller bus that runs on more minor routes/streets. They stop frequently and can be quite slow.

3. Combi
Vans that take similar routes to microbuses but since they fill up quickly, they don't stop as much.
So it can be faster to take them.

4. Trolebus (or el trole for short)
Electric bus, runs only on a very few principal streets.

5. Metrobus
Bus with dedicated lane and stations.

This one's a bit of a doozy. There's no official bus route map that I know of for the camiones, microbuses, and combis. Ask a trusted friend or get ready to do some educated guessing. Apparently Google Maps now shows some transit routes, including bus routes. This link shows you how to get directions from Google Maps, including via transit. Lifesaver!

All buses have signs in their windshields. The sign will indicate the final destination of the bus and possibly some major points along the way.

For example, the Miguel Angel de Quevedo bus near Coyoacan in the south of the city either says "Tasqueña" (going east) or "San Angel" (going west). The sign may also say "Walmart" and "Mega," which are big superstores along the route. The MAQ bus generally runs along that main street but don't be fooled--it does divert, as do all other buses generally. 

Taking the bus works best if you absolutely know you're going to either the final destination or one of the stops mentioned on the sign. If you're going somewhere else, you'll have to chance getting lost (see the "getting lost" section below) so bank in extra time to get to your destination.

The Metrobus, on the other hand, runs in its own lane in the street. There's a route map and actual stations, so you can plan ahead.

The Trolebus also has a route map. Right click on the page and click "translate to English" for an English version (this works on the Chrome browser, at least).

  1. Camion: 5 pesos (4 pesos on selected routes like on Miquel Angel de Quevedo). There's a sign posted with the fares but feel free to ask the driver "Cuanto es?" He/she may ask you "Donde vas?" meaning: where are you going? This is because the bus sometimes costs more if you're going a longer distance. You can either indicate a cross-street ("Universidad y Division del Norte") or a major location ("Walmart").
  2. Microbus: 4 pesos, but can be more on longer routes (see above).
  3. Trolleybus: 2 pesos. Some trolleybuses are FREE. They should say "gratis" on the windowshield.
  4. Metrobus: 6 pesos.

Camiones, microbuses, combis, and trolebuses have their own dedicated bus shelters. However, you can flag a camion, microbus, or combi from anywhere along the route you please. Just stand on the side of the road and stick out your arm like you're flagging a taxi. Usually the bus will stop but if it's in a hurry or full it might just pass you by. For trolleybuses, you MUST wait in a bus shelter. It won't pick you up where ever.

Metrobuses have their own stations. You just stand on the platform and wait for a bus to pull up and for the doors to open. Generally, the stations are long rectangles in the middle of the street and buses run on either side (in different directions). 

You can tell the direction by looking at the digital signs on the front and sides of the buses. They function the same way as other buses in that they'll list their final destination. For example, Metrobuses that run on Insurgentes say "Indios Verdes" if they run north and "Caminero" or "Doctor Galvez" if they run south. 

The reason for different destinations is that some buses run the entire route and some only run part. Sometimes two routes can run on the same track, so a different destination can mean a different route. Carry a route map with you! Believe me, this is all not as hard as it sounds.


For camiones and microbuses hand over your money to the driver when you get on the bus. Sometimes the driver will have a "helper" who'll take your money instead and give you change if you need it--they'll probably sit beside or behind the driver and they'll let you know if you're supposed to give them the money. 

You can also enter the bus from the back door, but only if it's full at the front door. In that case, to pay your fare, just give your money to the person in front of you and say "le pasa uno, por favor" which means "please pass this." 

You can even give a bigger coin (like a 10 peso coin for a 5 peso fare) and the driver will pass your change back, which I find marvelous. People don't steal your money, or at least I've never experienced it, probably because it goes against standard Mexico City bus etiquette. 

For trolleybuses, there's a clear plastic canister by the bus driver to deposit your cash (coins only, no change given).

For combis, you pay at the end of your journey before you get out. About three blocks before your destination, pass your money through the front window and tell the driver where you got on and where you want to get off. Say "Subi en el mercado, bajo en la panaderia" (I got on at the market and I'm getting off at the bakery). Obviously, instead of mercado and panaderia you could say a cross street like "Universidad y Division del Norte."

If you're sitting at the back of the combi and you can't reach the driver, ask the person next to you to pass it up: "Le pasa, por favor. Subi en el mercado, bajo en la panaderia."

Only the Metrobus takes pre-paid cards. All other buses take cash only.

Metrobuses require a special card that you buy at Metrobus stations from the machine (the larger one that accepts bills, not the smaller machine that takes only coins). The card itself costs 10 pesos, plus your fare.

If you're in a rush and don't have a card, just loiter by the electronic charging machines, offer someone 6 pesos in change, and say this: "Te puedo pagar mi pasaje? No tengo tarjeta." Which means: "Can you pay my fare? I don't have a card." They'll probably nod, in which case you wait for them to charge their card and then follow them to the turnstiles, where they'll swipe you in.

If you have a card, just press your card on the screen on top of the turnstiles. If you need to fill up your card, there are two types of machines in each station: one that accepts only change and one that accepts both change and bills. The ones that accept only change are usually less busy. The trick with these machines is to rest your card on the screen and keep it there during the entire process--they are usually a little slow, so be patient.


You don't need exact change for the camiones, microbuses, and combis. Any combo of 1, 5, or 10 peso coins is okay. In a pinch, you could also use a 20 peso bill but anything higher than that is stretching it. The bus drivers usually don't have enough time or change for 50 or 100 peso bills (and forget about 200 or 500 bills, you'll get laughed at).

Trolleybuses require exact change because you have to deposit your fare in a receptacle by the driver. You can't ask the driver to give you change.

For the Metrobus, please see the section "How To Pay Your Fare" above.

  • Once you get into the bus, move as far back as you can. 
  • Because buses can get packed, it is acceptable to do a little light pushing to get out.
  • If there are two free seats together, feel free to take either the outside or inside seat. DF bus ettiquite says that if you're there first, you get to choose what seat you want. Latecomers will have to crawl over you to get the inside seat, and that's totally okay. If someone wants to sit on the inside seat, they will probably stand by you, looking at the seat. Or they'll say "con permiso," which means "excuse me."
  • In the combi, people tend to be very friendly (because you're all squished into a small space). It's customary to greet everyone when getting on the bus with a "buenas dias/tardes." It's optional to repeat that salutation when you get off the bus. People will be happy to give you directions/help you in a combi.

Getting totally lost on a bus is a rite of passage in Mexico City. Unless it's late and you're in an area with few people, you'll be fine. As soon as you realize you're lost, ask a fellow passenger for directions.

The safest person to ask is an elderly senora (woman), however she likely won't speak much English. In that case, ask a younger woman who will probably have at least a bit of English.

You can ask them something like: "Quiero ir a x (name cross-street, like 'Division del Norte y Rio Churubusco'). Como puedo ir?" which means, "I want to go to Division del Norte and Rio Churubusco. How do I get there?"

This unfortunately requires some Spanish to understand the answer. The driver is probably going to say something like "Baja aqui/en Division del Norte y toma el camion que dice 'Tasquena'." Which means, "Get off here/at Division del Norta and take the bus that says 'Tasquena.'"

Things not to do:
  • Ask the driver for directions, unless you're a guy and on a principal route. Not to freak you out, but like in any foreign country if you look different and say you're lost, you could be taken advantage of.
  • Stay on a bus, especially a combi (van), until everyone else gets off. The driver might say he'll help you and get you to your destination, but instead drive you somewhere else and try to sexually assault you. This has actually happened to people.
If you're lost, just get off the bus and stand by a business that's open like a taco stand or corner store while you figure out your next move. 

Get data ahead of time for your smartphone so you can use Google Maps to orient yourself. And definitely download Uber, which is super popular and affordable in Mexico City, to rescue you if need be. Oh! Get 150 pesos off your first two rides with this Uber promo code from my husband, Miguel (he's always the one who orders our Ubers because my smartphone is so old haha).

On the Metrobus, it's easy to backtrack. Just get off the bus, cross the platform and take a bus back where you came from. There are also guards at each station who can help you. Since you don't need to exit the guarded station if you get lost, you'll be safe if you lose your way.


Camiones and microbuses have buttons above or near the back door. Press it when approaching your destination, and the driver will stop at the next corner (or thereabouts). Your stop doesn't need to be a bus shelter, it can be any street corner you want.

Same deal with trolleybuses, except you can only get off at dedicated bus shelters.

With combis, you have to tell the driver when you want to get off (see How To Pay Your Fare for more details).

Metrobuses have their own stops. The doors open, you get off, case closed.

Getting off a crowded bus in Mexico City is a bit of an art. The key is planning. I try to always sit near the back as close to the back door as possible. If I'm getting off soon or I know the bus is going to get super crowded, I stand right by the door.

If you're sitting somewhere and the bus gets hella-crowded, start making your way to the door as soon in advance as you can. A polite "con permiso" to your seat mate or whoever happens to be in front of you will clear the way immediately. People are generally very accommodating to your need to get by.

If you get to the exit and there's still someone standing in front of you, ask: "Vas a bajar en la siguente?" which means "are you getting off at the next station?" If they say no, they will move to let you by. If they say yes, then wait behind them.


I dealt with this topic briefly in the "Getting Lost" section. Buses in Mexico City are generally very safe but as in any big city, shit can go down.

Here are some tips to stay safe:
  • Keep your purse/bag close and in front of you. 
  • Don't put your phone/wallet in your back pocket.
  • Don't travel with your passport. If you have to bring it, buy a travel pouch to put around your waist.
  • Don't tell the driver you're lost.
  • Don't travel at night until you're familiar with the city.
  • Don't be the last person on the bus.
  • The first car of the Metrobus is for women only. Usually the seats are pink (haha) and there are guards at the stations to enforce this rule. I've never been touched on public transit but it happens. 
  • Try not to take the bus in the less-safe fringe cities of Neza, Iztapalapa etc. There's a higher occurrence of assault and robbery in these zones. Take an Uber or the subway if there's a station close to your destination (you don't want to be walking too much).
  • Moon Mexico City: highly recommended resource
  • Lonely Planet Mexico 14th Ed.: the definitive country guide
  • Get $25 in Airbnb credit if you sign up using this link. There are some great Airbnbs to stay at in Mexico City.
  • Get 150 MXN (or your local equivalent) on your first two Uber rides by using this link (thanks to my husband, Miguel). Uber is a great way to get rescued if you get lost on the bus.
Do you like taking the bus in Mexico City? What's been your experience so far? Have any more questions for me? Comment below!

How To Teach ESL: Books To Buy

Me, my parents (haha), and my students in Mexico City.
Teaching ESL is often the only job option for foreigners in Mexico City, or elsewhere in the world. And if you don't have a TESL certificate, it can be hard to know exactly how to teach your students. You can speak English, but you realize that teaching the language is a whole other ball game.

I've been teaching English as a Second Language in Mexico City for four years and I learned the hard wayby myself how to provide fun and productive classes for my students and become an ESL professional.

That's why I'm starting a series on teaching yourself how to teach ESL ... so you don't have to suffer like I did.

In the first installment in this series, I'm listing all the books that will make your life 100% easier. Don't spend hours making your own lesson plans, there are already tons of books out there that are thorough, effective, and actually fun. You can always add or subtract material as you like, but having a book keeps you focused and on track in your teaching.

  • Market Leader by the Financial Times. If you're teaching business English, this series is ESSENTIAL. I typically use the lower intermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced books. A beautiful mix of grammar, listening, speaking, and vocabulary exercises in each unit.
  • 50 Common Errors. If your students repeatedly make the same mistakes, this book is sure to have lesson plans and exercises to fix them.
  • American Accent Training. A whiz of a book that's perfect for advanced students who already have excellent vocabulary and speaking skills. Take your time to review the lessons in-depth before class because the techniques will be totally new to you. Guaranteed to impress even the snobbiest student.
  • Interchange. Looking for books to teach beginners or kids? This series starts with the most basic of basics and moves up. Perfect for getting new students to an intermediate level and preparing them for the Market Leader series, if desired.
Where do you buy them? I've included the links to Amazon. You can buy some of these books at the Gandhi bookstore chain in Mexico. You can also torrent these suckers but, yeah, it's illegal and all that jazz.

Up next: ESL websites with lesson plans and activities to supplement your books. Stay tuned!

What ESL books do you like to use with your students? Any questions for me or the community about ESL teaching? Comment below!

Things I'll Miss About Mexico

So! Our flight back to Toronto's officially booked for August 9th and we're madly planning for the move from Mexico City (also called DF). 

Of course, I've been getting nostalgic and thinking over all the things I'll miss/won't miss about Mexico City, and some of things I've missed/really haven't missed about my hometown of Toronto, Canada.

Mexico City Miss List
  • Street food. Toronto has no idea what street food is. My waist line will thank me, though.
  • Laissez-faire rules. Drinking in cars? Okay. Sitting in the back of a pickup truck? Okay. Jaywalking? Okay. Overstaying your tourist visa? Okay. Flagging down a bus where ever you darn well want? Fine.
  • Affordable and accessible public transport. The city has an incredibly safe and well-connected transit system that's decently maintained and costs pennies. Just don't use it at rush hour. 
  • Year round spring weather. I am not prepared for Canadian winter again.
  • The ease of finding part-time work. If I need cash, I can always find another English class to fill the gap. And the per hour rate is better than minimum wage in Canada (about $12/hr).
  • La Comer grocery store. The best grocery store in human history. Maybe even better than Superstore.
  • Easy day/weekend trips. Mexico City has a major bus depot at every cardinal point and bus fare is affordable. Plus there are tons of getaways super close--mountains, forest, lakes, colonial towns, you name it.
  • Spanish. I love the constant opportunity to practice.
  • Tamales oaxaquenos. Every chilango knows the "tamales oaxaqueno" cart that trolls the streets with its distinct call.
  • Outdoor cafe culture year round.
  • Starbucks. Mexican Starbucks are palatial spaces perfect for freelancers. They have swagger, these Starbucks. And valet parking. ALSO CHURROS FRAPPS.
  • Public spaces. There are fewer restrictions on public space, meaning people can congregate in squares, parks, etc. without getting permits.
  • All the bookstores. They're fairly unaffordable, but nice to browse.
  • History. Thousand year old pyramid? Check. Frida Kahlo's house? Check. Giant stone cathedral? Check. Toronto is such a new city compared to DF.
  • Uber. Affordable. Everywhere. Excellent service.
  • Cheap cabs. And relatively safe.
  • Not paying taxes.
  • Grocery baggers. In DF, retired folks pack your bags for you for tips at grocery stores. And yes, they will pack your cloth bags too. They always seem to be having a good time meeting other people and chatting with the cashier. Better than sitting at home by far.
  • The manners. People always say "good morning" or "good afternoon" to you when you enter a shop. Nobody freaks out if you accidentally bump into them on the subway or even if you have to full-on body check them to get out of a packed car. People kiss you hello and goodbye. Mexicans have impeccable manners and, interestingly enough, people from bad neighborhoods have extra good manners.
  • The humor. Mexicans, generally, are a good-humored, light-hearted bunch. In a city of 23+ million, that type of temperment isn't just a nice-to-have, it's essential.
Mexico City Will Not Miss List
  • Cat callers. STFU.
  • The pollution. Actually, I barely notice it but other people are more sensitive to it than I am and complain of getting sick.
  • Trying to make friends with Mexicans who are too busy and have their own lives.
  • The organ guys on street corners. I HATE IT.
  • Mexican parties that last 12 hours. My introvert self cannot handle it.
  • Bills. If you don't pay, utilities companies will shut off your service the day after or even the day of.
  • Over-helpful sales people. There is no shopping in peace. This is one Canadian thing I can't get over: I want to be left alone when I shop. I don't want help. I don't want to talk to anyone. Please stop trying to help me.
  • Cops demanding bribes ... by stopping cars with outlandish excuses. I don't drive much but for people who actually has cars this must be a constant headache.
  • People calling me "brownie." No one can pronounce my name here.
  • The constant reports of corruption and murder.
  • People calling me "cold." I love the Mexican warm-heartedness, but that's not the only way to be.
Toronto Miss List
  • Free health care. Never had I contemplated before the luxury of having a family doctor who knows your medical history and actually calls you to check up on you AND YOU PAY NOTHING. Not to mention free mental health counseling. Never ever will I take this for granted again.
  • Shopper's Drug Mart. Translate this to Walgreens or Ulta or whatever for you Americans. In Mexico, there are either beauty stores or pharmacies. There is no wonderland that mixes both things, and sales are few. SDM is a paradise of vitamins and hair products and makeup and snacks and there are CRAZY ASS sales. I miss my 2 for $5 conditioner deals.
  • Health food stores. My inner hipster needs quinoa.
  • A waterfront. Mexico City has Lake Chapultapec. Not the same.
  • People who are not Mexicans. Mexico City is diversifying, but it is still very Mexican.
  • Brunch. But not the long line-ups.
  • The library system. Oh lordy. The book selection, the working space, the generous holds allowance, the proliferation of locations.
  • Having legal status that gives me tax benefits, ability to work anywhere, health care, etc.
  • The gay community.
  • The variety of peanut and almond butter you can buy. Mexico is not a nut-butter-eating culture. You're losing out, Mexico.
Toronto Have NOT Missed List
  • People who think evil condo developments/sushi-burrito-waffle-ice-cream-tacos/and other irrelevant stuff is the be all and end all of existence.
  • That people can't stand PDA. Mexicans are all about PDA. Babies are being made on the streets daily. I love it. Honestly, what's wrong with people liking each other in public? The world's a cold enough place.
  • The high cost of rent
  • The high cost of living
  • The high cost of transport
  • The high cost of breathing
  • The surly service. Get over yourselves, hipster baristas.
  • Men kidnapping women in vans at night (no joke). Sexual violence is more of an issue in Toronto than Mexico City.
  • White people who don't have non-white friends in the most multicultural city on earth (I need to be better at this too).
  • Compared to Mexico City, Toronto is ugly. Sorry Toronto. Spanish colonialism, while really bad for the Aztecs and other native populations, did leave some very nice architecture.
What are your favorite things about Mexico City? What do you miss about home (wherever you are)?

When You Don't Want To Go Back To Where You Came From

Me, on my ever-continuing quest to look Toronto-cool
For the first year or two of living in Mexico City, all I wanted to do was go back to Canada. I struggled with making friends, with adapting to the culture and learning to speak the language.

I liked Mexico. I liked the food and my new boyfriend Miguel and the freedom of being able to pursue my writing in a much more affordable city where a few ESL classes could free me from financial worries. 

I appreciated the fact that I'd been able to pick up and move to a totally different place, to experience living in a different country, just like I'd always wanted to do. I'd achieved something big, something good.

But that didn't stop me from longing for my built-in community in Toronto. I mean, I was a transplant there too from Nova Scotia, an eastern province in Canada. I'd already fought like the dickens to make friends, build a professional community, feel at home in the city. It seemed more than crazy to give that all up.
I miss the random stuff I used to get up as part of my job at Penguin Canada. This was a book launch for a teen novel.
Flash-forward to almost four years later after moving to Mexico City. My husband and I are now planning on moving back to Canada. I want to begin the process of getting him permanent residency so we'll have no problem getting him into Canada in the future.

My husband also has dreams of opening a Mexican restaurant, or being otherwise involved in the burgeoning Mexican food scene in Toronto. As a charismatic guy with a real talent for making connections and impeccable knowledge of the cuisine, I think he could make a real go of it.

But what about my reasons for going back? I feel like I should and yet inexplicably, suddenly, I feel immense resistance to returning to my proverbial home.

First, I really feel like I should have health care. I'm thirty-two and so far have lived in Mexico without health insurance. I'm blessed with physical health and any mental health problems have been tackled with a combo of cheap talk therapy, expensive (and rare) visits to a psychiatrist, and an ongoing diet of Prozac.

But, part of me wonders if I shouldn't have more access to preventative health care. That I should have a family doctor who's responsible for monitoring my ongoing health and who knows my history.

Second, I feel like I should be a fucking adult already. Okay, let me explain. Being in Mexico as an expat, at least for me, is kind of like thinking of adulthood as a big fluffy bed that you just jump up and down on while cackling with glee.

Your rent is cheap. You don't need to get an office job. You can hire a cleaning lady. There are a million places to stuff yourself with the best food you've ever had and more alcohol than you ever need. Your schedule is flexible and inevitably you make friends with other expats with limited responsibilities and lots of time.
Adulting as hard as we can. With my husband Miguel.
Not to say that I've pissed away the last four years drinking beer and napping the day away. I built first a freelance writing business and then my very own fiction writing business, where I self-publish books under three names in three genres for profit on Amazon.

I'd have never had the opportunity to do this in expensive Toronto, where the pressure to take a day job to pay the bills is much stronger.

Is it that? That I'm afraid that the independence I've cultivated in DF will be robbed from me in Toronto? That I'll be constantly worried about money again, forced to take part-time office work, left with less time and energy to build my writing business?

Am I afraid to going back, as if this represents a return to normalcy (Which is exactly why I left in the first place ... I don't want to live a normal life)? That I'll fall back into the same routines, the same life? And with travel restrictions on visa applicants, we'd have to stay in Canada for a while. No vagabonding.

I want to see Miguel experience life in Canada. That'll be gratifying all in itself. And I know he'll force me to see more of the country and do new things.  But me? Eh, been there done that.
Miguel in Toronto enjoying one the few snowfalls he's experienced in his life. It's November, so don't ask me why he's shirtless and wearing flip flops.
There are options. We could move to another city. I'm studying French right now (it's a life-long goal of mine to become fluent). I'd love to live in Montreal, where incidentally life is cheaper, to work on my French. But I'd miss out on the writing community in Toronto that might be able to help with my career.

Or we could just go back for a month or two and then fuck off somewhere else. I'd love to do a long trip again, though money is a consideration. My savings aren't huge and Miguel still hasn't found a way to support himself through remote work (though we're building an erotica business that we hope will help with that).

Who knows which way the wind will blow us. All I know, is that when I moved to Mexico City I made a commitment to live a more creative life: in how I make my money, in my relationships, and in where I choose to live and what types of possessions I decide to burden myself with.

So even if we do go to Canada, and stay for a while, I doubt anything about the arrangement will be conventional.

Are you struggling with the idea of returning home from expat life? Did you already do it and what happened? Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz. I'm reading this right now and I'm really mulling over the idea of "big" and "small" thinking.
  • Moon Mexico City. The guidebook I know and trust, for those of you thinking of moving here.
  • The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. Just read it and currently fueling my wanderlust. The author goes trekking into the far reaches of the Himalayas. Just as much a spiritual as a physical journey.

How Do I Renew My Mexico Tourist Visa?

Belize's Caye Caulker. A wonderful place to renew your visa.
Believe me, this is a question that has kept me up at night over the past three and a half years that I've lived in Mexico City.

Despite the fact that I've been here that long and even married a Mexican citizen, I still have a tourist visa! Why? Well, I don't want to pay for a proper visa or do the paperwork. Plus, I love the chance to travel every six months (the Mexican tourist visa is for 180 days or approximately six months).

I've had absolutely no problem getting my visa renewed by leaving the country. Foreigners can essentially live in Mexico without hassle, the rules are that lax. If you want to legitimately work in the country, though, you're going to have to get a work visa.

Another thing: is is a myth that you can get your tourist visa renewed within Mexico. You have to leave Mexico to get a new tourist visa. You can't get a new visa or even get it extended within Mexico.

Another hot tip: you can overstay your visa and pay a $35 USD fine upon exit. I haven't personally tried this, an American friend told me she did it without problem. I'm trying this option right now, so I'll report back how it went. Leaving the country, even with cheap flights, can be expensive.

Now that's out of the way, where can you go to renew your visa?

1. Belize

God, I love Belize. You can get a cheap flight to Cancun and then take a six hour bus ride to the border. This is not a cheap or easy option, because you still need to take a bus to the border. And once you're there, you should stay 7-10 days to really experience this country. Go to Caye Caulker, Orange Walk, and San Ignacio. I've also heard that people have gone to the border and tried to return to Mexico immediately, but were denied a visa upon re-entry unless they stayed in Belize for at least 48 hours.
Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is one of my favorite places in the whole world.
2. Guatemala

Also a great option if you want to get some traveling in. Get a cheap flight to Tuxtla Gutierrez, then overnight in San Cristobal de las Casas an hour away. Then take a bus to the border (about three hours) and go onwards to Huehuetenango, Xela, and Lake Atitlan/Antigua if you want to. The land border at Ciudad Cuahtemoc/La Mesilla is super relaxed--though you're not going to want to spend any time in La Mesilla (on the Guatemala side). I'm not sure how long you have to stay, since I've always traveled in Guatemala for at least a week.

You could also fly into Guatemala City, though it's hard to find a good deal. I did this once and this was the only time I was questioned upon re-entry--the Mexican official asked me if I was living in the country. Generally, I think land borders are more relaxed than customs at airports, especially the Belize and Guatemala borders (I can't account for the US).

My husband Miguel and I love Guatemala.
3. United States

I've never done this because, as a Canadian, I'd rather go to Central America than the U.S. Also, I always find it a hassle to deal with U.S. Customs whenever I have stopovers in Texas or Florida. I'd rather not tangle with American officers. Also, an American friend of mine told me she was frequently questioned, even when going home on holiday, because they thought her living in Mexico was sketchy, for whatever reason. 

This is why I've never done a U.S. border run. Technically, you could get a cheap flight to Monterrey and then take a three hour bus ride to Nuevo Laredo (Laredo, Texas is on the other side). Even better would be to fly to Tijuana, because you can just walk over to San Diego. Or find a cheap flight to Miami.

How long do you have to stay? Some reports online say you can just cross over for a couple hours and come back. Personally, I wouldn't chance it. Go to Tijuana and enjoy a weekend in San Diego.

4. Go Home

 Potentially very expensive but after six months, why not? A very legitimate way to renew your visa.

5. Other Places

Browse Kayak Explore for cheap flights to other destinations. Personally, I've always wanted to go to Colombia. Cuba is another possibility or Costa Rica. Take this opportunity to see a new country!

**Need a place to stay while you're traveling? Click this link to go to AirBnB 
and get $25 USD in travel credit on me!**

What are your experiences getting a new Mexican tourist visa? Comment below!

How To Stay Safe Teaching English in Mexico City and Abroad

You're going to go teach WHERE?
In my opinion, not enough attention is paid to staying safe when you’re a female ESL teacher in a foreign country. My experience has specifically been in Mexico City, but you could probably apply the basic rules almost anywhere.

I want to note that many ESL directors/business owners are men. And these men usually don’t understand why you’re being so cautious. They don’t fear rape and harassment like women do. That is not their lived experience. So they will be skeptical about why you, for example, don’t want to meet at their house.

Fuck those guys.

It is so much more important to stay safe than to put some clueless man at ease. Sure it may be awkward when you insist on meeting at Starbucks. He may be ticked off, thinking you’re assuming he’s a rapist.

But you know what? Any man who doesn’t understand your point of view, is not going to be a good boss. He’s not going to look out for your welfare and he’s not going to be considerate. Move on.

1. Don’t Go To Someone’s House for a Job Interview

When I first arrived to Mexico City, the owner of a small ESL business asked me to meet him at a certain address for an interview. So imagine my surprise when that address ended up being an apartment building in a semi-sketchy neighborhood. I rang the bell anyway. He came down. I asked him if this was an office building. He said it was his house. So, I just backed away, muttering excuses.

He looked pissed that I just took off but you know what? Him being pissed was way better than the remote chance that something bad would happen in that apartment.

Because it could. Once his door closes on you—anything could happen.

2. Don’t Go To Someone’s House for an ESL Lesson

Entitled business dudes will just assume that you’d be happy to skip over to their house to give a lesson. This is a world of no. Even if a reputable school has set up the appointment, chances are they don’t know this guy at all. They may have had a 15 minute interview with him but what does that really tell you about a person?

There are so many other safe third spaces to have class. Starbucks is ubiquitous and popular in Mexico City. Or you could visit their office. Or they could come to your apartment (if you have roommates, though this could be a risky move. I mean, now they know where you live).
Places like Cielito (the Mexican Starbucks) are a perfectly good option for classes.
Some students will give you flack that they don’t have time to travel and it would be so much easier if you’d stop being a pussy and just come to their house. Well, you don’t have time to be shut up in a room with a random stranger. Nobody got time for that.

The only instance when I will break this rule is if the guy is recommended to me by someone I know and trust. Even then, I’m picky about this. If the guy is just an acquaintance or work colleague, I still insist on meeting someone else. 

Your friend might insist that he’s “a good guy” and even get offended that you doubt them, but let’s get real—how well do they know this person? Probably not very well. Intuition that “he’s okay” is not hard fact.

I don’t fuck with my safety, people.

3. Nobody Gets To Drive You Home

Chivalrous students may offer to drive you home, especially if they’re leaving the office. Believe me, this is super tempting because the idea of facing the DF transit system after a long class might seem worse than hell on ice skates. You might even have a good rapport with the guy and welcome the chance to chat.

Here’s me being a killjoy again: don’t get in that car.

I speak from experience. I got in a car with a guy I’d just met in DF and even though nothing happened, he behaved in such a creepy way that I never made that mistake again.

Probably everything is going to be fine. But what if he doesn’t drive you home? He essentially has you captive in that car. Don’t take the risk. Make a polite excuse, put in your earphones, and brave that subway.
Yeah I wouldn't want to get on that crammed subway car. But better the devil you know...

4. Know Where You’re Going

I’ve turned down a bunch of classes because the location wasn’t safe. Unfortunately, an ESL boss might try to send you to a bad neighborhood at a bad time of night because they just want to make a buck off you.

So get a second opinion. Ask a local about the neighborhood or Google it in a pinch. Make sure the transit to get there is safe. The subway/buses/Metrobus are fine in DF but some buses in Mexico State can be dicey. Make sure if it’s at night there is a safe way to walk to the location from transport.

And make sure that it’s safe to walk from transport to your house at night (I learned this the hard way when I lived in El Centro in DF. I was coming back from class late and a homeless guy tried to attack me because my apartment building was on a dark, deserted side street. Man I had bad luck when I first moved here).

5. Boundaries

If you’re teaching in Mexico, some guys are going to treat private English lessons as a dating game. It’s an easy way to get access to foreigners and many of the teachers are young women. If a student is interested in you, of course he’s going to invite you for dinner after or to go out dancing on the weekend. Accept this invitation and he’s going to assume you’re interested in him. Trust me on this.

I had one creep-tastic student who would follow me after class to Subway where I’d grab a bite to eat. Uninvited. He invited me to his birthday and I stupidly went. I did invite the guy I was dating however. And you should’ve seen the student’s face when I showed up with another guy. This was not a friendly invitation.

You think you're just grabbing pozole together. He thinks he's on a date
Even if the guy is cute and you have a good rapport, if he’s significantly older he may just be interested in you as a plaything. A lot of guys with big corporate jobs may see you as a fun dalliance that can easily be ended—something they’re entitled to with all their money and big fancy job. I mean, it’s your life, but go into it with open eyes.

I knew one girl who taught a guy at his house. He had an important position in an American multinational. Things got romantic and because she was really young, she fell for him hard. And because he was older and not looking for anything serious, he treated her like garbage. A world of pain ensued.

A final note…

Listen, I don’t mean to scare the living crap out of you. Much of teaching English is fun and safe and fine. You teach at an office or a school or Starbucks and you may get some creepy vibes, but mostly it’s all cash money and grammar.

That said, you’re in a foreign country where you may not know many people, you don’t know who to call, and you don’t know the language/rules. And believe me, dealing with the police in a place like Mexico is an exercise in disaster, especially if your Spanish is bad. They may not believe you or not care. Really.

So stay on the safe side. Carry a cell phone. Let someone know where you’re going and when you should be back. Ask them to call you at a certain time to check in. Don’t let your desire to please people or make money trump your safety. There is plenty of work in Mexico City, so don’t take shitty stuff that makes you feel unsafe.

What’d you think of this post? Have any tips of your own? Comment below!


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