Slowmadding CDMX


One of my oldest friends from my youth moved to Mexico City after she finished university. I would visit her and we’d have adventures together. On one trip her mom was also visiting from Spain and we explored all the amazing spots in the region. The Zocolo at the center of the city, Frida Kahlo’s house in Coyoacán, the pyramids at Teotihuacan, museums, and so much great food. She eventually moved back to Spain after thirteen years. What remained for me was a deep fondness toward Mexico City. I thought… I could live here.

Then Covid hit. Our kitchen in San Francisco was ground zero for a fast and dirty mobilization as the work from home thing kicked in. The table became the home office, the Amazon box processing zone, the bicycle repair station, and absolutely everything except a proper kitchen table. What had always been a very pleasant and functional one bedroom apartment became a place I didn’t enjoy living in anymore. For months I kept trying to get things organized, but at the end of every day there was a new pile of stuff in the place I had just cleaned and sorted. Eventually things settled down and were less chaotic. But by then a new pattern had emerged. Dinner? Let’s get Chinese food around the corner. Guests? Noooooo. I relinquished my claim on the space. I stopped caring about it.

The “solution” presented by just about everyone at the time was to put on your big boy pants and move to the suburbs like a grown up. “Think of the joy of a generously proportioned home with a yard!” The thing is, neither of us have ever wanted to live in the suburbs. We like being in the city. We also like being in the country. The stuff in the middle just isn’t for us. I look at a cul-de-sac and I get depressed. Rural properties just about everywhere were both hard to find and suddenly ridiculously expensive. What we wanted was to stay more or less where we were, but with a bit more space.

We approached our trusted real estate agent, explained our needs, and she patiently showed us all kinds of properties around the city. But even during the worse moments of the pandemic getting even a tiny bit more space was going to cost an enormous amount of money. We kept running the numbers. While we “could” theoretically manage a jumbo mortgage if we liquidated everything… that was insane. The options presented to us were limited. We were going to have to give up on life in the kind of walkable mixed use neighborhood we love in order to get the price down. We weren’t interested in that.

Enter Mexico. We started the process of securing legal residency at the Mexican consulate in San Francisco. Most of the tricky part was getting the correct documents from various American government agencies. There was the official notorized marriage certificate from the state capital in Sacramento, renewed American passports from the feds, and so on. Once we had all our papers in hand the Mexican authorities processed us in one day. There were fingerprints, a criminal background check, and proof of solvency. We paid $51 each and we were in and out faster than a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. You don’t need to be rich to immigrate to Mexico. You just need to prove you won’t cause trouble or be a burden. The average middle class American can meet the basic requirements. Once in Mexico City we attended our appointment at the immigration office and were issued our residency cards. $250. In order to navigate the system we paid a Mexican lawyer to smooth things out for us. $700. So for about $1,000 each we were good to go in three weeks.

Here in Mexico City we’re currently renting a 2,000 square foot / 186 square meter apartment. Two really big bedrooms each with a private bath. A third full bath next to the office. A generous living and dining area. A proper kitchen with a laundry room. And a wide terrace overlooking a quiet street lined with jacaranda trees. Mexico City has the same year round climate as Honolulu. And we’re paying less for this than our one bedroom place in San Francisco. It’s a classic arbitrage.

Read the rest of this piece at Granola Shotgun.

Johnny Sanphillippo is an amateur architecture buff with a passionate interest in where and how we all live and occupy the landscape, from small rural towns to skyscrapers and everything in between. He travels often, conducts interviews with people of interest, and gathers photos and video of places worth talking about (which he often shares on Strong Towns). Johnny writes for Strong Towns, and his blog, Granola Shotgun.

Photos: by the author.