FACES OF EXPATRIATION – MEXICO
New York native Kimberly West is a woman who takes her passions and turns
them into profitable businesses. She is the principal owner of Magnum Opus Holdings, a company with a portfolio of businesses including Global Gastronome – a culinary travel enterprise, Magnum Opus Consulting – a technology consulting firm specializing in Microsoft Office 365 and SharePoint, and Magnum Opus Coaching Institute – an educational portal that provides coaching instruction. She has worked as a life coach for 15 years and a technology and business management consultant for over 25 years, with notable clients including Stericycle, MARTA, Microsoft, Bank of America and MarketWatch.
A seasoned expat currently living in Playa Del Carmen, we reached out to Kimberly to capture her expatriation story. Follow the conversation below to learn more about working and building a life abroad.
Where are you living abroad? Why there?
I live in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Previously, I spent time in Phuket, Thailand and fully intended to live there but I had a health issue and had to come back to the US. I chose PDC because of climate, cost of living, access to other countries and it’s easier for my family and older relatives to travel here than Thailand. I still travel the world extensively though.
Tell us about your journey to pursue your profession abroad?
I have been a serial entrepreneur since I was 14 and all of my businesses are portable. Currently, I own and operate a technology consulting firm, specializing in Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365. I also own a few online retail stores and a culinary travel business. I used to be a brick and mortar consultant. When I made the decision to travel more, I deliberately retooled my businesses so that I could travel. I had to put in automation and processes so that things ran smoothly. It required a total analysis and re-engineering of how I do business and taught me a lot. Ultimately it made me more efficient and allowed the opening of additional businesses. Now I have a process and can spin up a new income source in a couple of weeks instead of months.
How difficult was it for you to leave the US and live and work abroad?
Not difficult at all. Once you adjust your mindset, it’s pretty easy. I have always been a bit of a gypsy anyway. It’s friends and family that have issues. They worry about your safety, especially if you are female and travel alone, your health, etc.
What field do you currently work in abroad? What other countries have you worked/lived in?
I work in technology, retail, travel, and education. Adding coaching to that by the end of the year. I’ve briefly lived in Thailand, England, and Belize.
Would you make the same choices again and why?
Yes. Traveling and living abroad have given me an education and experiences that could not be had in the United States. Experiencing other cultures, food, music, history, etc. is the best education and road to self-actualization one can have. The cost of living has decreased for me significantly, and I have a better quality of life. I’m no longer a workaholic, make sure I get to the beach at least twice a week, dine out with friends, and am no longer concerned with ‘keeping up’ with anyone. There’s time to cultivate quality and meaningful relationships with people. My health has improved significantly because of lower stress and better access to organically grown food. Also, most Americans think they’re safe in their own little hamlets, but the truth is that the United States appears in travel advisories of several countries because of violence. Sometimes it’s safer outside the US than inside.
What challenges did you face professionally and culturally while working abroad?
Professionally, I would like to meet more of the entrepreneurial and technical community here. To do that requires trips to Mexico City which is not an area that I want to live in. There is a strong community of expats from all over the world here who are entrepreneurs, and we get together on a regular basis. Culturally, my fluency in Spanish was basic when I got here. Although there are a lot of people who speak at least some English, the gates of Nirvana open when you speak Spanish. Prices on goods and services magically decrease. Mexicans treat you with a different level of respect when you speak Spanish – as well it should be. We’re guests in their county.
What are three things you would advise anyone considering moving abroad?
- Research, research, research. Plan a site visit or dry run if you can.
- Keep an open mind and learn to become part of your host country’s culture and traditions.
- Learn to speak and understand (where many of us fall short) everyday conversational language in your host country.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned since leaving the US?
We truly are one. We all want the same things for ourselves, our families and our community. The other lesson is that you really can do anything
Are there any resources that would assist foreigners in acclimating to life in Mexico.
There are almost a dozen groups and pages on Facebook that are dedicated to the expat life in Mexico. Almost every region of Mexico is represented. There, you can meet like-minded people, find an apartment, furnish it, get your utilities turned on, find out dos and don’ts, and develop a social life. They’re pretty comprehensive. Locally, there’s a website called Everything Playa Del Carmen which has done a pretty good job of cataloging life here in PDC. Finally, I’m thinking about starting a guide for Black folks moving to PDC – we have our own little Wakanda down here, and there is a significant number of African Americans, from their 20s into their 60s living here. We even have our own realtor!
How difficult is it for a foreigner to find employment abroad? What does the process entail?
Since I am self-employed, I can’t answer that question fully. I do know that to work legally in Mexico a special visa must be obtained, and that process can take anywhere from 30 days to several months if you don’t have a sponsor. A tourist visa valid for up to 180 days is granted to Americans when they arrive here, but you cannot get a job with it. Many people have opened their own businesses or have a legal hustle.
How do race relations differ in Mexico vs. the United States?
Well, for one I don’t have to worry about someone calling the cops because of their idea of bad behavior by people that don’t look like them. The only people concerned about the police are criminals. As an African-American occasionally there is subtle racism but not often, especially if you communicate with people in Spanish. The little racism I’ve experienced has ironically come from white expats. However, there are Black Mexicans that have been marginalized and treated differently. That’s part of the culture I’m looking forward to connecting with and learning more about the history.
What plans do you have to return to the US?
None at this time, but that could change.
What resources did you utilize to assist you in preparing to move?
For both Thailand and Mexico I did lots of research on the area. I went online and googled everything I could on life in Phuket and PDC. Specifically, I was looking for a low cost of living, type of living, proximity to public or low-cost transportation, safety, amenities, things to do, cultural experiences and my personal favorite, proximity to water sports and a swimmable beach. I joined Facebook groups and stalked the questions that others had asked and engaged with a few expats already living there. I made friends with a couple of people that were born and raised there. I also found that I had FB friends living in PDC and that was a huge help.
What if any apprehension did you have about moving abroad?
Initially, when I was in Thailand, it was the distance and not being able to get to my parents (both in their 70s) in a timely fashion if something happened to them. Plus, I wanted to be a role model of sorts to my nieces and nephews. The language is also difficult because it is a tonal language. In Mexico, I didn’t have much apprehension.
What’s the best thing about living abroad?
True freedom. Freedom of not having someone else’s ideologies crammed down your throat every day. Freedom from a certain level of violence. Freedom from most microaggressions and propaganda. Freedom from stress and a capitalist society that’s really ruled by oligarchs. Freedom to unapologetically be who and what I am.