Isaac Galvan remembers the exact moment he fell in love with Mexico.
The 23-year-old visited Querétaro, a bustling city in central Mexico, two years ago with his family and was instantly captivated by the city's pink, stucco buildings and friendly locals. "That's when I knew I wanted to move there," he tells CNBC Make It.
Galvan was born and raised in Lufkin, Texas by his Mexican mother and stepdad. Growing up in the small town "wasn't that exciting," he recalls, and Galvan spent most of his childhood building campfires, swimming in the lakes with friends and taking the occasional family trip to Mexico.
As Galvan got older, he yearned to connect more with his Mexican heritage and learn about his family's culture: his mother had grown up in Coahuila, Mexico and some of his relatives lived in Querétaro. Galvan had always dreamed of moving abroad and having a remote job, but he "wanted to explore other career paths" before taking the leap.
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Chasing the 'American Dream' abroad
After graduating high school, Galvan spent two years working 60 hours a week with his stepdad as a pipe-fitter in Texas's oil refineries, but he quickly realized the "unstable" work schedule wasn't the right fit for him.
He moved to San Antonio on a whim when he turned 20 to work as a real estate assistant and line cook, a hectic lifestyle that saw him living "paycheck to paycheck," he says, and left him with little free time.
But when the coronavirus pandemic hit in spring 2020, Galvan lost both of his jobs, and had to move back home with his parents. He decided to use that time off to finally pursue his dream of living and working in Mexico.
First, he researched what skills he could learn to land a full-time remote job and taught himself how to code through Code Academy, YouTube tutorials and other online resources. Then Galvan applied to open remote roles through Indeed Mexico's job board, and received an offer in February 2021 to work as a website developer.
With $3,500 in savings and his parents' blessing, Galvan packed his bags and moved to Querétaro in April 2021. Galvan considers himself part of a "reverse migration" of young Americans moving to Mexico and other less expensive countries in search of the "American Dream," an ideal of financial independence and comfort he says is difficult to achieve with a low-wage job, as living costs continue to spike in the United States.
Relocating to Mexico during the pandemic
Moving to Querétaro was "much easier" than Galvan expected: he found a fully furnished studio apartment on Facebook Marketplace and got approved for dual citizenship in Mexico with his mother's ID and birth certificate. His start-up costs included an airplane ticket from Texas to Mexico, a 4-night stay in a local Airbnb as he waited to move into his apartment, as well as the first month of rent and a security deposit for his studio apartment, which totaled about $1,095.
The biggest challenges Galvan has faced transitioning into his new life abroad have been setting up his Mexican bank account, driver's license, voting ID and buying a car, which took him about two months. "The process is much lengthier and slower than in the U.S., where you can get a car in one day!" he says.
As for the ongoing pandemic, Galvan says that Mexico is taking similar precautions as the United States to curb the spread of the virus, so living through the crisis in Querétaro "hasn't been hard." "When you go to a store, for example, people take your temperature and give you hand sanitizer," he adds. "Masks are also mandatory [in public places], so you feel much safer going out."
How he spends his money
Since moving to Mexico, Galvan has been able to boost his savings and make great strides in paying off credit card debt he accrued during the pandemic.
As a website developer, Galvan earns about $22,000 per year, a salary he says has been "more than enough" to live in Querétaro and start building wealth. His biggest expenses are his rent and car payments, which together are about $651 each month. The studio apartment and utilities cost Galvan about $403 each month, a living space that would have cost him a minimum of $700 per month in Texas. He saves about $400 per month, which he is putting toward a travel fund.
"It's insane that I can live on my own for much less than it would cost me in Texas," he says. "But living in Mexico is a lot cheaper than living in the U.S., which has allowed me to have a better quality of life." Galvan adds that he's able to spend more money in Mexico on traveling, eating out at restaurants and getting drinks with friends, luxuries he didn't have when he was working in Texas.
Another large expense Galvan has taken on is a six-month coding bootcamp offered by a local university, which he started in November and will cost him about $5,500 dollars. Galvan made an initial payment of $1,000 for the classes and is now paying about $750 per month. "These classes will lead to better job opportunities, a resource that I wouldn't be able to pay for myself if I still lived in the U.S.," he says. His long-term career goal is to become a software engineer and increase his earning potential.
Here's a monthly breakdown of Galvan's spending (as of September 2021):
Rent and utilities: $403
Car payment: $248
Health insurance: $15
Recreational travel: $100
'I am so much happier in Mexico'
After living in Mexico for nearly a year, Galvan says he doesn't see himself ever moving back to the United States. "It was definitely worth the gamble to move to Mexico," he notes. "I love it here, I am so much happier, more fulfilled and independent."
Most mornings, Galvan wakes up around 7:00 a.m. to exercise and eat breakfast before logging on to work at 8:00 a.m. He works until 4:00 p.m. and will spend his evenings walking around a local park or going out with friends to a bar or restaurant. Galvan met most of his friends through Facebook groups for expats like himself or through his church in Mexico.
The number one piece of advice Galvan would give to someone moving to Mexico is to learn Spanish so they can better understand how to sign a lease, set up a bank account, obtain a Mexican ID and other bureaucratic processes. Galvan speaks Spanish and his relatives advised him on how to find an apartment and open his first Mexican bank account. It also helps, he adds, to "be accepting" of the cultural differences between Mexico and other countries.
In five years Galvan hopes he is able to pay off his debt and buy his first home in Mexico. "Moving abroad has helped me save so much more and invest in my future," he says. "I want to inspire other young adults, or people who want to work online, to move to Mexico or a different country … you don't have to be a millionaire for it to be possible!"
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