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Chief of US/Mexico Border

As the granddaughter of a former Chief of the US-Mexico Border, it is no small irony that I, along with my retired firefighter hubby and our eight-year-old twins–burnt out on the consumerism-centric, rat race grind of life in Southern California–would immigrate to Mexico to create our lives anew. 

Departing from San Diego with nothing but a car and trailer full of the “essential belongings” that remained after selling, donating and tossing the rest, we headed South!

Shortly after our arrival to San Pancho, Nayarit, we received our Permanent Residents cards–having begun the process stateside at our local Mexican Consulate and with the assistance of a highly reputable, Puerto Vallarta-based legal liaison. 

Immigrate to Mexico

O’Grady Mugshots!

A DNA Kind of Love

From a very early age, perhaps even encoded in my genetics, I have had a deep love and respect for Mexico–her people, food and music…her allure and absolute reverence for community, history and tradition.

I often joke that if former lives exist, I was a salsa dancing latina in mine! 

Growing up just a half an hour away from the San Diego-Tijuana Border gifted me a bilingual/bicultural upbringing and thus an ability to move easily between both worlds. Speaking in both Spanish and English at school, work and play has always been my norm.

And without a doubt, my relationship with my Grandfather was one of the most significant influences in my love of and connection to Mexico. 

Grandpa, A.K.A. “Big Joe”~Chief of Us-Mexico Border

Always dressed impeccably in his signature crisp-collared Oxford shirt, ironed slacks and shined leather shoes–no matter the occasion–my “Big Joe” (as we affectionately referred to him) was a humble, bright, witty gentleman with no time or concern for nonsense. He was as tough as nails and lived his life to the fullest until the age of 94.

Chief of US/Mexico Border

He adored me, and I him.

A Living History Book

Sitting in his living room overlooking Mission Bay, he would speak to me of his many adventures, of his life on our family’s dairy farm in Chula Vista, of the beautiful horses in his care, and how at the age of 14 he left his home to become a cowboy on the last rancho that spanned the US-American border. 

Family historians state that he was the “Paul Revere of Chula Vista” by warning the Otay Valley on horseback of impending rain that ultimately ended up bursting the Sweetwater Dam.

I would listen in awe, taking mental notes of these precious conversations, knowing that I was bearing witness to a living history book. 

We would drive down to Rosarito Beach on weekends for an early dinner at El Nido and I would marvel with pride and joy at my Grandfather’s ability to conduct himself so eloquently in both languages and cultures. Sitting in front of the open, wood-fired oven where quail and lobster tails would cook, my Grandpa turned the ordinary into magic.

His affinity for conversation, charisma, thoughtful ways and sharp sense of humor made for a dynamic mixture that simply attracted people to him. It felt good to be in his company and I was lucky enough to be his granddaughter. 

Although my Grandfather passed before I began my teaching career, I know that he would have been so very proud that I had chosen to go into a line of work that shares the beauty of the Spanish language and culture with the youth of today. 

Family Shenanigans

My Grandmothers Mary & Elizabeth also had their own fair share of South of The Border Shenanigans and their stories were nothing short of hilariously entertaining–truly like something out of an I Love Lucy Show! This picture is of the two of them (in the middle) on a day’s outing in Tijuana…I can imagine the laughter!  

Immigrate to Mexico

Grandmary & Baba in The Middle. Can You Hear The Laughter?

Crossing The Us-Mexico Border

It comes to me as no great surprise that we find ourselves in a time when more and more people want to move to Mexico, looking not just for an escape from “politics” that defy reason and common decency, but for a reinvented, reinspired life where adventure is affordable and time and freedom are your most precious commodities. 

Life in Mexico WAKES you up from whatever slumber you might have previously found yourself in, RESETS your outlook and REMINDS you that true, mindful, engaged living results from paying attention and participating in a life of design.

I thank my beloved Grandfather for setting the bar high, for leading by example and showing me a love and respect for Mexico that is forever imprinted in my heart and has forever changed the trajectory of my life.

Mi Querido México, thank you for taking my family in, for welcoming us with open arms. These past eight years have been one heck of an adventure and we are better people for it. 

!Viva México!

~Katie 

Looking for an excellent read on US-Mexico Border Relations? Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and The United States Together  

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From Puerto Vallarta to San Diego

We arrived at the Puerto Vallarta Airport the afternoon of June 4, 2020, ready for our Volaris flight to Tijuana where we would then walk across the CBX bridge into the US.

In our eight years of living as Permanent Residents of Mexico and flying in and out of Puerto Vallarta numerous times, we had never seen the airport so empty as it was on this surreal, COVID-reality day.

Traveling from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego during COVID-19 (with Kids)!

Our temperatures were taken at various points prior to boarding and once again after landing in Tijuana–via both contactless forehead thermometers and thermal body scanners. At the check-in counter, ID’s and documents were placed up against plexiglass dividers to avoid hand-to-hand contact between agents and passengers. 

All employees were masked and gloved (the majority with face shields as well) and there were disinfecting mats and hand sanitizer stations throughout.

Once aboard, we were happy to see that the plane was not full, that there was spacing between seats and that according to this sign, the plane had been”sanitized”. Nonetheless, I got out our personal hand wipes  to give each of my kid’s and my area a good wipe down. 

All stewards and stewardesses wore face shields, masks and gloves. Drink and food service was limited to a small selection of bagged snacks and ice was not available. The flight was smooth, service was excellent and I can highly recommend flying with Volaris. Crossing the CBX bridge was a breeze, lines were practically non-existent and both Mexico and US agents were cordial and professional.

Return Flight to Puerto Vallarta

We returned to Puerto Vallarta from San Diego on an early morning flight (the only one that day) on June 20, 2020. The lines to cross the CBX bridge were long and the Volaris flight was packed. With reduced air travel and the domino economic impact, the airlines are clearly needing to limit the number of flights per day and fill the planes that do fly to capacity. At least that was the situation with Volaris on this particular day. 

Our return to Mexico was more stressful than the outbound flight due to the crowds. Most passengers were good about keeping their masks on, although several did have to be reminded by the stewardesses to please pull them up and over both the mouth and the nose. 

Traveling during COVID-19

Home Sweet Mexico Home

After a bit of a bumpy landing coming in over the Sierra Madre Mountain range, we were grateful to have wheels on the tarmac and see that not just The Reds’ Daddy was waiting for us at the arrival area, but our fabulous fluff ball Luna Love as well!

Traveling during COVID-19

We made it home safe and sound, showered off the travel and sat down to enjoy this view! 

Tips for Traveling during COVID-19

1. Check with the airline several times before your travel day to make sure your flight has not been canceled. 

2. Wear a mask (and be prepared with backups).

3. Wear a face shield if that is your preference/comfort level.

4. Bring your own anti-bacterial gel & hand wipes.

5. Eat & hydrate well before you board as food/drink options are limited–or bring your own aboard.

6. Breathe, remain patient and lead with a sense of humor and gratitude

While traveling during COVID-19 brings with it some new challenges and changes, for the most part it was a relatively easy experience.

For those of you that have also flown during these surreal times, what travel tips could you add to this list? 

Please feel free to share in the comments section below.

In Health & Peace,

Katie

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Immigrating to Mexico with Children, A Mother's Perspective

This is not normal.

I can remember being stuck in that kind of traffic in our Stateside lives—anxiously and impatiently tapping my fingers on the steering wheel, moving along inch by inch, so fed up with that being the “norm”, knowing in my heart that it didn’t have to be, and feeling so ready for a change.  

Breathing in toxic exhaust fumes and missing out on active, joyful engagement in life–on hold in bottleneck traffic–was not how we wanted to spend our precious, once-in-a-lifetime lives. I would take pictures from the dashboard of my car to the sea of bumpers in front and send them to my husband at work with the message, “One thing I will NOT miss”.

And I don’t, not one little bit. Family? Yes. Five-lane freeway traffic? No.

Thanks to creating a radical shift in our lives by moving to Mexico with our children in 2012, we no longer live under that paradigm of life in a 21st-century modern society.

Moving to Mexico with Kids

Since immigrating to Mexico seven years ago, we have gone from daily traffic congestion and the frequent witnessing of road rage to driving on jungle roads and 16th-century cobblestone streets. We have traded in mind-numbing, lost hours in the car to engagement in soul-enriching, meaningful activities of our choice. Time is precious. Spend it well.

Daughter Horseback riding in San Pancho

If one of my jobs as a Mother is to facilitate and nurture the emotional well-being and development of my children, then moving to Mexico with our kids has been one great step towards that endeavor.

Children Playing in Pool

We immigrated when our twins Liam and Mairead were eight years old, during the middle of their third-grade year. Patience, planning and having the right legal liaison at our side paid off and within three months of our arrival, we became Permanent Residents of Mexico.

Baja California, Our First Mexico Home

Our twins were seasoned travelers prior to our move to mainland Mexico, having spent the first eight years of their lives adventuring back and forth between San Diego and Baja California. Frank’s firefighter schedule and my school teacher’s allowed us blocks of time off together as a family and we took full advantage of them to head South!

 

Immigrating to Mexico with Children, A Mother's Perspective

 

Mairead and Liam fondly referred to their Baja home as their “other home” and Mexico forever became ingrained in my children’s hearts as a place of fun, discovery and family connection. 

Adiós San Diego

Aside from the inevitable emotion of parting ways with our loved ones, the move itself and the preparations leading up to our departure from San Diego were relatively easy as it was something we were ready for

Immigrating to Mexico with Children, A Mother's Perspective

We arrived in San Pancho, Nayarit on a Friday, and that following Monday our previously homeschooled twins began their first ever five-day-a-week program at the former Escuela del Mundo. Surrounded by tropical trees and open green space, our children experienced freedom and discovery like never before.

Immigrating to Mexico with Children, A Mother's Perspective

While the Spanish immersion of their new school was a bit of an initial challenge for The Reds, they acclimated rather quickly, having been exposed to Spanish in a border city and by their Spanish-Teacher Mom for the first eight years of their life in San Diego. Even without that advantage, we all know how sponge-like children’s brains are, and if given the opportunity, are able to assimilate and adapt with great ease. I do believe they were the only Mairead and Liam their classmates had ever met, and their new friends and teachers warmly accepted them and made great efforts at learning and pronouncing their unique, Celtic names.

Immigrating to Mexico with Children, A Mother's Perspective

From San Pancho to Sayulita

After Escuela del Mundo in San Pancho, Mairead and Liam went to Costa Verde International in Sayulita, Nayarit—a neighboring village just 10 minutes down the main jungle road, famous for its bohemian, surfing culture. Moving to another school was indeed another change and adjustment for our children, but one that they embraced wholeheartedly with the amazing, trusting, positive attitudes that they approach most things in life with.

Located a few blocks from the beach, Costa Verde is a bilingual, multi-cultural school that focuses on environmental sustainability and the advancement of ecological responsibility in Mexico…and surfing! In fact, surfing was part of their PE program!

Immigrating to Mexico with Children, A Mother's Perspective

Mairead and Liam continued to explore, discover and develop their own sense of community and connection within the larger context of our family’s move to Mexico. Their language skills progressed and improved to where at this point, a year or so into our relocation, they could easily flip back and forth between English and Spanish.

From Coastal Mexico to Central Mexico

After a year and a half of coastal jungle living, we were ready to experience another part of Mexico and set our compasses on something completely different. Sight unseen but with lots of research, we chose San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato in the interior of the country. San Miguel de Allende was the first municipality to be declared independent from Spanish rule, and as such, life here is steeped in history, culture, national pride with one festivity after another

Immigrating to Mexico with Children, A Mother's Perspective

Our children are learning and growing in a loving, nurturing and intellectually stimulating environment of freedom and growth, with two hands-on parents who are no longer trying to keep their heads above water to survive in the rat race.

Immigrating to Mexico with Children, A Mother's Perspective

A Life Without Limits

They see a life without limits, that anything is possible, that dreams do come true and that carving one’s way in this diverse world is achievable. Our children have witnessed their parents reinvent themselves from Firefighter and Teacher to Solar Designer and Freelance Writer. They have gone from being monolingual homeschoolers to bilingual life learners, interacting with the world around them with their bicultural perspective. 

Moving to Mexico with Children

We O’Gradys embrace our re-invented, re-inspired lives south of the border and give thanks daily for Mexico’s warmth, hospitality, graciousness, and generosity…for welcoming and adopting us and inviting us to feel at home.

Moving to Mexico with our kids has been an undeniable adventure that continues to shape the trajectory of our lives, and we are forever grateful.

Saludos,

~Katie

For more about our family’s immigration to Mexico: Moving to Mexico with Children, A Father’s Perspective

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For more information on Moving to Mexico with Kids, feel free to email me at [email protected]

 

 

 

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Mexico Tourism Tax Refund

Mexico Tourism Tax Refund

If you are a Permanent Resident of Mexico and travel by air to, from and through Mexico, you are eligible for a refund of the Mexican Tourism Tax included in the price of your ticket–usually in the $25.00 to $30.00 USD range-within 12 months of the ticket issuance.

Each airline has their own procedural requirements for applying for the refund so you will want to check with your carrier for their specifications…but whether traveling as an individual, a couple or a family, those total amounts can really add up and it is absolutely worth taking the time to apply!

I recently went through the process with both Alaska & Delta Airlines and will walk you through my experience with each. I hope the information is helpful and paves the way for you to get your refund(s)!

Alaska Airline

With Alaska Airline we used to simply request a tourism tax refund form the ticket agent when checking in, fill it out right then and there and then receive the refund within a couple of weeks. But the last few times we have flown Alaska, we were instructed to apply online. I got onto Alaska’s online chat and the agent instructed me to do one of the following (I did both for good measure):

1. Fax to #206-392-7587:

  • Passenger’s Name as Appears on Ticket
  • Confirmation Number
  • Ticket number
  • Copy of Both Front and Back of Mexico Permanent Resident Card 

or

2. Mail All of The Above Documentation to:

Alaska Airline
Refunds Department
P.O Box 68900
Seattle, WA
98168

I was told to expect the refund in 7 to 10 business days.

Last Summer’s Alaska Airline Round Trip from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego (times 4!) 

Mexico Tourism Tax Refund

Total Refund Due: $116.08 USD

Delta Airline

For Delta Airline, I was first directed to fill out a form online but the system wouldn’t accept my ticket number and prompted me to call their 1-800-847-0578 number. The agent took all of my information (full name, ticket number) and then, while still on the line, sent me an email asking me to reply with attached copies of the front and back of our Mexican Permanent Resident Cards. Easy Peasy! We are due the refund to the credit card used for the purchase within seven business days.

Our Recent Delta Airline Round Trip from Puerto Vallarta to Salt Lake City (times 4!) 

Mexico Tourism Tax Refund

Total Refund Due: $115.60 USD

According to both Alaska and Delta, there are also other circumstances (citizens, diplomats, infants under age of two, transit/transfer passengers) in which a Mexican Tourism Tax refund is given. Again, please check directly with your own individual carrier for their specifications. 

I hope this information has been useful and puts a few dollars back into your pocket to be used for more fun and adventure!

Do you have any experience in getting your Mexican Tourism Tax back? If so, I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Saludos,

Katie O’Grady

Others that have written on this topic:

How to Get a Refund of The Mexico Tourism Tax by TEX MEX EXPATS 

How to request Mexico Tourism Tax refunds for airline flights by citizens and residents by Yucatan Times

*Please protect yourself and your loved ones with an Expat Travel Insurance Policy & Carbon Monoxide Detectors

 

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The Roof Is on Fire! 7 Tips for House Maintenance in Mexico

The Roof Is on Fire! 

It was our first big summer storm since our return to the jungle from San Miguel de Allende. The lightning came cracking down over our house like an arrow landing a bullseye, resulting in my jumping at least a foot into the air and one of our rooftop AC compressors catching on fire! 

Fortunately for me, I am married to a firefighter and knew that our family (and my nerves) were in good hands. Although it was a lightning bolt from the storm that caused the fire, the downpour is what extinguished it. Glass half full, no?

Thanks to ingenuity and the reuse and repurpose culture of Mexico, the wires were changed out and the AC unit spared! 

7 Helpful Tips for House Maintenance in Mexico

The Power of Lightning!

Jungle storms can be powerful, messy and destructive. They are equally exciting, cleansing and replenishing—popping out dense, lush, canopies of green and a multitude of ecosystems that thrive inside of them—reminding one of the absolute  magnificence of Mother Nature.

The rainstorms also provide an opportunity to identify where exactly more silicone is needed inside the house, such as around the collection of leaking windows at the base of a 20-foot high boveda ceiling! Tall ladder anyone? Those first few falls on our slick marble floors were not so fun (especially after back surgery!) and made us delay not in tending to this issue ASAP.

Keep a tall ladder and supply of silicone on hand!

The jungle wasted no time in welcoming us back and reminding us of the fortitude, sense of humor and determination one needs to both survive and thrive here. Yes, there are prices to pay for living in paradise folks!

The following 7 Tips for House Maintenance in Mexico are based upon our own personal experiences from our seven years in country. I hope you find them useful and that they help you to maximize your enjoyment and minimize your frustrations.

1. High-Quality Roof Sealant

Ensuring that the roof of your home has been properly sealed and therefore protected against leaks and moisture intrusion should be a top priority. We learned the necessity of this the hard way when our San Pancho rental grew large circular mold spores from the outside in after our first rainy season there. A disgusting and unsafe “inconvenience” to say the least and one that a layer of paint would not remedy! Needless to say, the roof had never been sealed. 

Hire a reputable company to assess the roof’s condition and if needed, to powerwash it prior to putting on a quality sealant that has not been watered down.

7 Helpful Tips for House Maintenance in Mexico

What a difference a powerwash can make! The Before and After in Progress!

There are various types of impermeabilizantes (sealants) available. Spending a bit more to ensure a quality result is well worth it. We went with an eco-friendly, waterproof one believing it best to have maximum protection considering the amount of rain we receive here on the coast of Nayarit. 

2. Air Conditioners Serviced

Have all AC’s serviced at least once every six months. The filters should be cleaned of mold/dust/debris and the electrical panels checked for any unwanted critters that can wreak havoc. Apparently electrical wires are a delicacy to geckos—ridding your AC’s of them is far easier than having to replace the entire unit, trust me.

3. Over-The-Bed Mosquito Nets

Screens on all doors and windows are not just a luxury but an absolute necessity lest you want to share your home with mosquitos, spiders, geckos, scorpions, iguanas and stray animals. Additionally, these over the bed mosquito nets  are must-haves and will allow for peaceful, uninterrupted sleep ( ie. no annoying buzzing in your ear!)

7 Tips for House Maintenance in Mexico

Mosquito-Free Sleeping

4. Drain Covers

If you want to avoid golf ball-sized cockroaches and sewer smells, you’ll want to get some of these

The Roof Is on Fire! 7 Tips for House Maintenance in Mexico

5. Moisture Absorbing Bags & Room Dehumidifier

Jungle equals hot and humid for at least 6 months out of the year! Ventilate your home as much as possible unless you want  fur to grow on your clothes, shoes and other household items. Using these moisture absorbing bags inside closets and other closed spaces helps to absorb excess humidity and to protect your items from musty odors and mold. 

7 Helpful Tips for House Maintenance in Mexico

 

These room dehumidifiers work really well too.


6. Polarity Tester for Electrical Outlets

Make sure your outlets are grounded and wired correctly with a polarity tester or hire a qualified electrician to do so.

 7 Tips for House Maintenance in Mexico

Just Say No To Electrical Fires!

7. Carbon Monoxide Detectors

If you’ve been following us for any time, you know why we recommend carbon monoxide detectors for both home and travel safety. We recommend placing one in every bedroom and next to any gas-fueled appliances such as a stove, clothes dryer, hot water heater, fireplace and freestanding gas heater.

 7 Tips for House Maintenance in Mexico

Carbon Monoxide Detectors Save Lives

These are our Tips for House Maintenance in Mexico.

Do you have any that you could add? Please feel free to share them in the comments section below. 

Saludos,

~Katie O’Grady

Reader Tips for House Maintenance in Mexico:

Arturo: For the summer months it is highly recommended to put your clothes in airtight bags or vacuum sealed bags so that mold doesn’t grow in them especially if you skip town. I highly recommend doing this process with your shoes because if you don’t, the soles will disintegrate completely from the salty air and humidity.

Margaret: Keep all your food in the refrigerator, even if you wouldn’t normally, especially fruit. Clean up your kitchen messes as soon as possible to deter unwanted scavengers and never ever ever let your kids eat in the bed unless you want… ANTS ANTS EVERYWHERE! (And they bite). Even with screens and drain covers, if you leave food out they will find you.

 

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