Chacras in Uruguay and Cuts of Beef

2017-11-1

Chacras and Real Estate           

Chacras are small parcels of farmland, starting at about 5 hectares. A hectare, to be precise, is 2.47105 acres. They’re not big enough to farm.

I was interested in buying one because a) they’re affordable and b) they are a reasonable way to get some money out of the U.S. and into something real in Uruguay. Farmland in Uruguay has a lot of appeal.

I read an article by Lee Harrison a few months ago about buying chacras in Uruguay starting at $45,000. The cheapest one I saw was priced at $50,000. It had cows on it because the current owner had adjacent land and used both parcels for his cows.

Initially, I was thinking that I would buy the cheapest chacra I saw, just to get some money outside the U.S. After learning from my friends that real estate isn’t moving very fast in Uruguay, I had a change of heart.

If I bought a chacra I didn’t really like and wanted to upgrade to a more attractive property in the future, it could take a long time to cash out the first property. I’m talking 5 years or more. My current thinking is that I’ll save up some more money and buy what I really want.

I have a new strategy for growing my wealth in the U.S. which I haven’t talked about yet. I’ll tell you about that when I have proven that this strategy works. I know that it is risky to keep all my assets in the U.S. longer, but I just don’t have enough to buy what I want in Uruguay yet.

The real estate agent who showed me the chacras is Noel de los Santos. His website is www.camposdeleste.com. He was very helpful and knowledgeable.

He shared some chacra investment strategies with me:

  • I could buy the cheapest chacra (5 hectares for $50,000) and make improvements to resell for a profit. Improvements are things like making a nice little pond, cutting down the brush, planting nice trees if there aren’t any, and repairing or replacing fences.
  • I could buy the cheapest chacra and just hang onto it while others make improvements to the surrounding chacras. Having nicer chacras near mine would raise the value of my chacra, although not as much as if I improved my chacra.

The property taxes are paid quarterly. He guessed they would be about $300/quarter on a 5-hectare chacra. I didn’t realize the taxes would be this much. It would be hard to do something with such a small parcel that would generate income to cover this expense. I thought hanging on to a piece of land would be almost free.

If I bought a chacra that I really liked, I could build a house on it in the future and live there. This is an appealing idea and another reason why I should wait to buy one that I really like.

I asked about the closing costs. The commission for the broker would be 3.6% and the fee for the notary would also be 3.6%, bringing the total to 7.2%. The notary (escribano) checks the chain of title back for 30 years. There is no title insurance.

It is not customary to get homeowners insurance if you own a home in Uruguay. I’m okay with that if the construction of the home is brick and/or concrete. However, it seems pretty risky if the home is constructed of wood. I don’t even know if insurance here would cover theft. Theft seems to be non-existent in Punta del Este and La Paloma. I like that a lot!

My friends have been monitoring some small houses in La Paloma. The houses have been on the market for years. This reinforces my decision to not rush into buying a chacra just because it’s the one I can afford. Since people pay cash for real estate in Uruguay, there doesn’t tend to be any urgency about selling anything. No one is desperate to get out from under payments.

Understanding the Cuts of Beef in Uruguay

There’s no such thing as a Filet Mignon or a New York Strip steak here in Uruguay (and not in Argentina, either). The butchers here cut their beef in completely different ways than our butchers in the U.S. Hence, they use completely different names for the cuts. That can make it very difficult to figure out what to order at a parilla or steakhouse.

From talking to Uruguayans and Argentinians, I have learned that the cuts that us North Americans will probably like the most (because they are similar to what we are used to) are the following: vacío, entrecote, picaña and lomo. Lomo is the most expensive cut.

I have had lomo and loved it. It was covered with mushroom gravy. I also had entrecote and liked that a lot. When I did a little research, I found that entrecote is actually not an Uruguayan cut. It is Argentinian, but they offer it sometimes here in Uruguay.

The real estate agent who showed me the chacras said I should get asado de tira. I tried it that night after looking at the chacras and I really didn’t enjoy it at all. It didn’t have any flavor and it was very thin and chewy.

Yours in prosperity,

Sophia Hilton (A savvy woman)

Sophia has Returned to Uruguay for Further Exploration

2017-10-25

I attended a conference in Punta del Este, Uruguay in March 2017. I never got around to writing about what I learned due to a heavy travel schedule. I liked Uruguay enough to return and am writing from La Paloma, Rocha, Uruguay now (October 2017). The2017 Offshore Investment Summit was a production of Banyan Hill Publishing (formerly The Sovereign Society).

When I attended the conference in March, I was pleasantly surprised by many things. Because of this and because I met a very nice couple who live in Uruguay part of the year, I decided to come back and hang out with them for a week. I wanted to see Uruguay through their eyes. They’ve been coming to Uruguay for 4 years during the North American winters.

They have chosen to stay in La Paloma when they’re in Uruguay. I’ll be in Uruguay for 13 days this trip and I am spending 8 of those days in La Paloma with my friends. I’m meeting their friends and seeing how they spend their time. October is still the off-season for La Paloma, as well as for Punta del Este, so things are still pretty sleepy or tranquilo here.

In fact, it’s sometimes hard to find a restaurant to eat at. Many are only open during the high season. If my friends weren’t here, I would be concerned about starving while I’m here. I like to eat one good meal at a restaurant each day. My friends have rented a car, which makes it easy to get to places outside La Paloma and explore other areas.

What I Like About Uruguay in a Nutshell

Here are some of the things I learned and liked about Uruguay at the conference in March, with supplemental information from my friends.

  • Qualifying for residency is easy. I used to think that you have to have a high income or a high net worth to qualify for residency here. I asked a lawyer that handles residency and it sounds like even as little as $800/month income is enough to qualify. They want you to have enough stable income to be able to support yourself.
  • The income does not have to be from social security or a pension, although if it is, that makes it very easy to qualify. If you could show that you earn that much from work which you can continue to do in Uruguay, I think that would work. Likewise, if you have investment income, that would also be sufficient, I think, as long as it’s not something that’s short-term.
  • The other piece of information that really got me to sit up and take notice is that, once you qualify for citizenship, you don’t need to renounce your other citizenship. They allow dual citizenship!
  • If I apply for residency, I would get temporary residency the day I apply. I must live here for 6 months out of the year to get permanent residency. Then, it takes 5 years for a single person to get citizenship. It only takes 3 years for a married couple to get citizenship. There are other qualifications for citizenship and I don’t know what they all are. My understanding is that they want to see that you are assimilating. Proof of assimilation consists of having Uruguayan friends, and having a bank account, a doctor, and/or a dentist in Uruguay. There may be more to it, but I’m not going to make things up.
  • Uruguay is never involved in any world conflicts. You never hear about them in the news. Nobody wants to bomb Uruguay or create chaos here. I like that. I have no need to live in a place the is constantly a target for countries who want to disrupt those in power.
  • Uruguay has a low level of government corruption. Transparency International ranks them at 21 out of the 176 countries they ranked. For comparison, the U.S. is ranked at 18.
  • Uruguay has great farmland. There is a registry for all farmland which carries information about the type of soil and what it’s best for raising (e.g. crops, trees, or cattle). There is a huge aquifer beneath Uruguay as well as lots of water on the surface (as I saw when I flew into Montevideo from Bogotá).
  • The country has a higher population of cows than of humans. There are 4 cows per capita.
  • It’s easy for foreigners of European descent to blend in here. It was populated by Europeans. When I was waiting to take the ferry from Montevideo to Buenos Aires in March, people tried to ask me questions about the ferry. They thought I was one of them. I’ve never had that happen anywhere else.
  • It has had a solid middle class for a long time. This is not true of most other countries in Latin America. It’s nice to live amongst equals and not a lot of people who see you as a target for thievery.
  • It’s very safe in Uruguay, except for some parts of Montevideo. No one worries about their house being burglarized or about being mugged. There are a few parts of Montevideo where you must be careful after dark, but most of it is also pretty safe. I have not spent any time there yet.
  • When things are bad in their neighboring countries, it benefits Uruguay because then the wealthy people in those countries move assets and themselves to Uruguay. The real estate here does not have mortgages so prices are stable and there tends to be no foreclosures.
  • It has 4 seasons, but the winters are mild.

I looked at some chacras when I first arrived in Punta del Este on this trip. Chacras are small parcels of farmland (about 5 hectares). I will tell you what I learned in my next correspondence.

Yours in prosperity,

Sophia Hilton (A Savvy Woman)

A Modern Tale of Banking in Panama

May 9, 2017              

When I arrived in Panama, I simply wanted to fix my Banvivienda account so that the annual fees for maintaining my business entity could be paid from the account. As usual, the plan morphed into something else. My friend suggested that it might be better to move the business account from Banvivienda to Tower Bank and not use a checking account (since I don’t write checks against the account anyway).

I needed a bank reference letter to open the new business savings account at Tower Bank. That required a visit to Banvivienda. While there, I decided to pull out $10,000 from the business account to move it to Tower Bank. I was being charged $10.70/month to have the business checking account at Banvivienda…I was throwing money away.

Paying to Withdraw Money from the Account

Since I didn’t have any checks for the account, I had to speak to a customer service representative and request a bank check, which I took to the teller to pull out the cash. At the same time, I requested the bank reference letter. I was told it would be a few days before it would be ready. The bank check cost me $15.

My friend needed to go to the bank on a particular day the next week, so I held the cash until then.  When I went back to Banvivienda to try to close my business account and extract the rest of the cash, they surprised me by requiring  a letter from the President and Secretary of my company requesting the closure of the account.

It’s Not Easy to Close a Business Account

At the time, I thought the President and the Secretary of my company in Panama were people in my attorney’s office. So, I needed to request the letter from my attorney. That is the way the company was originally set up. To further complicate matters, a digital version of the letter via email would not work. The original letter had to be given to Banvivienda.

Being creative and seeking to avoid the need for a letter from the company, I asked Banvivienda about shifting all the money from the checking account to my personal account, which is a savings account. Then, they wouldn’t be able to extract $10.70/month from the account. The customer service rep told me that the account would then go negative and the bank would continue to pursue me to collect the money. Scratch that idea.

Time was running out; I only had 3 more days in Panama and I had doubts about getting this all done while there. I was going to have to bite the bullet and let them extract $10.70/month from my account until I could return and get the letter from my attorney. On the bright side, the reference letter to open the new account at Tower Bank was ready.

Opening a Business Account at Tower Bank

We left Banvivienda and went to Tower Bank to start the process of opening the business savings account there. My primary banker at Tower Bank was on vacation so we were directed to another banker whose English was not as good as my primary banker.

My friend advised me that I would be required to provide the articles of organization to Tower Bank so I sent them to the banker, who, unknown to me at that time, was on vacation. When I found out she was on vacation, I didn’t have my PC with me so I had to figure out, on the spot, how to send the document from my phone to the banker who we were now talking to. I got it done!

She happily received the reference letter from Banvivienda. She then said the President and the Secretary of the company would need to come in to fill out a bunch of forms! We told her we would wait and talk to my primary banker when she returned to the office Thursday. We were hopeful that I could simply get a letter from my attorney giving me the authority to fill out the forms for the account.

That’s as far as we got with that task on that day.

It’s Hard to Make a $10,000 Deposit in Cash These Days

Then there’s the matter of the $10K I withdrew from Banvivienda the previous week. I wanted to deposit it in Tower Bank before leaving Panama. It would have been nice to put it in the business account, but the account takes a while to open so it would not be open before departing. Therefore, I filled out a deposit slip to put it into my personal account with Tower Bank.

The bank clerk paused while looking at the computer screen. She walked away to talk to someone and came back. A banker came over and asked where the money had come from. I said I withdrew it from another bank in Panama. She asked for the receipt and I said I did not have it with me. I explained that I had withdrawn the money before the weekend and the receipt was at home.

She then made some phone calls and was able to process my deposit. She pointed out that I had a limit set of $400/month for the maximum amount I could deposit into the account per month. We later asked our primary banker if we could change the limit and were told that it’s based on my income. That amount doesn’t make sense based on my income, but my primary banker is going to look into raising it.

Success! The Business Account at Banvivienda is Closed

I sent an email to the attorney who set up my business in Panama and is the resident agent for it, explaining my dilemma. About 28 hours later, he responded with a letter from the directors (him and some other staff at his office) directing Banvivienda to close the account. It turns out I am the President and Secretary of the business so I was the one who needed to sign the letter.

I filled in the bank account number in the letter and printed it. I also printed a copy of a registry document my attorney had sent showing that I am the president and secretary of my company. This must have been the change that was made to the business when I was applying for residency.

I brought the letter and document to Banvivienda. The customer service rep had me sign the letter and she closed the account. I had already moved all the money out of the account into the personal account earlier that day.

I took another copy of the registry document to Tower Bank so that I would be able to fill out the forms for opening the business account there. This was on Thursday, and my primary banker was back from vacation.

A Savings Account to Earn Higher Interest at Tower Bank

My friend remembered that there is a type of account that you can open with $10,000 which will earn a higher interest rate. She thought that was a business account. We asked about it and learned that it was a special personal savings account that would pay the higher rate and you had to bring in new money to get the higher rate. My banker said the $10,000 I had deposited two days earlier would count as new money. Whew! She opened the account and moved the money over.

Opening the Business Account at Tower Bank

Next, it was time to start the process of opening the business savings account. I had some trouble figuring out how to fill out the forms so she just had me sign all the forms and said she would complete them.

Once I had finished with the forms she provided, I recalled that a form had been left out the previous year when I opened my first account at Tower Bank. I mentioned that, and told her it was a form related to FATCA. I had to send the original completed and signed form back to them last year, which costs money. I didn’t want to have to do that again.

She figured out what form I was talking about and brought a copy for me to fill out and sign. I have high hopes that there won’t be any delays in opening this account. I was told that a business account generally takes about 15 days to open.

The $10,000 Deposit Comes Back to Haunt Me

Later that afternoon, my friend got a phone call from my primary banker at Tower Bank. It turns out they still needed to see proof of the $10,000 withdrawal from Banvivienda. She said I could scan in the withdrawal receipt and send it via email so we wouldn’t need to make another trip to the bank.

When I got home and looked for the withdrawal slip, I couldn’t find it! I was trying to keep the paper laying around to a minimum. I had thrown away the withdrawal slip. So, I had created another challenge to be overcome.

It was too late to go to Banvivienda that day and I was leaving to return to the U.S. the following afternoon. I tried logging into my account at Banvivienda, but the account had been closed and I could not get a print out of the withdrawal that way. We determined we would go to Banvivienda the following morning as soon as the bank opened and request proof of the withdrawal.

The next morning, we were at Banvivienda 20 minutes after it opened. All my luggage was in the car. The customer service rep was very efficient and printed out a statement showing the withdrawal from the account. She also printed information from the system which showed that I was associated with the account, since it was an account in the name of my business.

We took these documents over to Tower Bank and it wasn’t open yet. I went back to the car to wait.  Spotting  the security guard inside the door, I got out and walked back to the door, intending to give the guard the documents. As I walked up to the door, the other banker who we had worked with to make the $10,000 deposit appeared at the door! I was able to give the proof to her and asked her to give it to my primary banker.

I had succeeded in spite of many obstacles.

Useful Information in Case you Want to Bank in Panama

I want to share this with you because I have not seen anyone else write about banking in Panama at this level of detail.   I believe you need to know this if you intend to open up a bank account there. I learned that every “i” must be dotted and every “t” must be crossed, especially when it comes to depositing a large amount of cash.

You also  must be able to give them an address in Panama to open accounts at Tower Bank. I am very lucky in that I have a very helpful friend who lives in Panama and allows me to use her address and her phone number for this purpose. She was invaluable, driving me to the banks for the countless visits we made. I am truly beholden to her.

I also want to share the name of my attorney with you. I am very pleased with him. He has been very responsive and reliable over the years. He is the attorney who set up my business and is the resident agent for it. His name is Jorge Sanchez and the company he works with is Panama Estate (http://www.panamaestate.com.pa/). I highly recommend him if you need an attorney in Panama to set up a business or assist with a real estate transaction.

I welcome your comments and questions in the comment section under each article.

Yours in prosperity,
Sophia Hilton (A Savvy Woman)

The Mexico Experience

February 22, 2017                

I dance Argentine Tango and asked about dance on a Facebook group for SMA a couple weeks before I left the U.S. I learned that they have dances twice a week. I’ve been to every dance since I arrived. I’ve heard that there are also places to dance Salsa as well as other styles of dance. In fact, there’s an Arthur Murray studio down the hill from where I live.

The Tango dancers are a very friendly crowd here. I feel comfortable with them and have not exhibited any of my usual signs of introversion around them. I have already been to dinner at multiple dancers’ houses.

Some things you don’t see in the U.S.

When was the last time you saw a line at an ATM? Have you ever seen a line of 15 – 20 people? I saw this many people in line on a weekend. It was at the Santander Bank right by El Jardin. People in these Latin American countries seem to accept that they have to wait in line for many things.

More than once, I have seen military police and municipal police with machine guns. Unless you’re in the military, you just don’t see that in the U.S. No one seems to mind or pay them any attention here.

One Saturday morning, I saw a lot of people on horseback gathering for what looked like a parade. Some guys had rifles slung over their shoulders. In the U.S., if you saw someone with any type of gun other than a policeman, you would start looking for cover!

Unusual Houses

There is a house up on a hill near me that looks like a huge white swan. I was un-aware of it until I had dinner at some friends’ house. Up on their top terrace, it was pointed out to me. Apparently, most people refer to it as a white duck, but I think it’s a swan. I did find an article online that says there was a lawsuit, but the article was from 2012 and I didn’t see anything more recent. I heard that the authorities weren’t able to enforce their claim that the house was not allowed.

When I was looking on Airbnb for a place to rent, I saw two very unusual houses for rent. They were both designed by the same guy. One house is a Batman-themed house and the other is a Dr. Seuss house. I just rode past the Batman house the other day when I was going to look at another house for sale. The designer worked on some movies that inspired him to create these “whimsical” houses.

Like in other Latin American countries I’ve visited, gorgeous, million-dollar houses are right next to abandoned properties that are in complete disrepair. I think the spread between the high-value homes and the low-value homes is more extreme here than in other countries I’ve visited.

I am also astounded by the size of compounds, estates and mansions I’ve stumbled upon here. There are some amazing and elegant places here. There’s a little dirt road I walk down sometimes to go into town. It’s barely wide enough for a car to drive through in parts and there’s a tree that bends over the road, making it look impassable. The largest estate I’ve seen so far is on this road.

Within a block of where I’m staying, there are a couple horses. A couple blocks further, there is a lot with chickens, including roosters. I know there are areas of the U.S. where people keep chickens in urban areas, but not like this. Trust me, the setup is not something you would see in an urban area in the U.S.

I welcome your comments and questions in the comment section under each article.

Yours in prosperity,
Sophia Hilton (A Savvy Woman)

Creature Comforts and Quality of Life in Mexico

February 15, 2017              

Heating my Apartment

I mentioned having one stand-alone heater in my one-bedroom apartment. It has a propane tank in it. On the nights when the temperature got down to 35 degrees (in early January), I generally ran it in the morning, starting from the moment I got out of bed until the outside temperature hit about 60. There’s nothing to hold the heat in the apartment overnight so it takes a while to heat it up once the sun comes up.

During that colder weather, I would bring my clothes over to the heater and get dressed standing right in front of it in the morning. The temperature inside my apartment in the morning reminds me of some fall/winter camping trips I’ve taken.

Now that it’s warmer (45 degrees at night), I run the heater much less and feel comfortable getting dressed in my bedroom.

The temperature in the morning discourages morning showers. I take my showers in the middle of the day. Anytime from 11:00am onward works well.

Shower Strategies

I’ve talked about taking showers when I’ve visited other countries and this is no exception. Here, unlike the other Latin American countries I’ve visited, they have hot water tanks that keep the water hot all the time. They do not use on-demand water heaters. Unlike in the U.S., these tanks are rather smallish.

This leads to some creativity when it comes to taking showers. The idea is to get the hot water heater to run just before taking a shower. That way, the water is as hot as it’s going to get. Mind you, this does not mean I get to take a long, leisurely shower. Once I turn the hot water on in the shower, it’s a race against time so that I can finish before the water gets chilly.

Originally, I was washing the breakfast dishes just before taking a shower. This empties out enough of the water that it triggers the water heater to turn on. Recently, though, I only had a few dishes and didn’t run enough water out to trigger the heater to start. I didn’t want to waste water and run it long enough to get the heater to turn on so I turned up the temperature on the water heater to get it to run.

So, I’ve changed my standard operating procedure. I turn the water temperature to cool until I’m ready to take a shower. About 10 minutes before taking my shower, I turn the temperature back up to make it hot and the water heater turns on and heats up the water! Voila!

Once I get into the shower, I turn on enough cold water to make it comfortable. As time goes on, I gradually reduce the amount of cold water as the hot water gets cooler and cooler. By the end of my showers, I have the cold water turned all the way off, just to keep the water warm enough to stand in.

Just this week, I have discovered that it provides for more comfortable showers if I turn the water temperature up to be even more “caliente.” I have to add more cold water to keep from scalding myself, but the burner turns on sooner once I start using the water and that keeps the water hotter during my showers!

Maid Service and Laundry

My apartment gets cleaned once a week. I was also given 3 large bars of soap when I checked in, which should last my entire stay. My hostess gave me some croissants and a 4 liter bottle of water to start.

I have to pay for my hostess’ maid to do my laundry. I could take it to an external place myself and save money. I might do that in the future. I pay 200 pesos for a single load. I heard that there are lavenderia’s nearby that charge 35 – 70 pesos per kilo. That would be a good savings over what I pay now, but I’m willing to pay for the convenience right now.

Communications

The stability of the Internet here leaves something to be desired. It’s fine if you just need to check e-mail occasionally or go online to look something up once in a while. I find it quite tolerable, except when I’m participating in an online meeting and my Internet connection keeps dropping. One day when I was in a meeting with my trading coach and another student, every time I tried to participate, my connection would drop. It was a most frustrating experience.

My mobile phone carrier is T-Mobile. I know there are carriers with better coverage, overall, and I may switch in the future. So far, I’ve been satisfied with my coverage in SMA. I’ve had calls dropped a few times, but was generally able to re-connect within minutes. I had one very bad call with my brother that didn’t get dropped, but his voice was so choppy that I couldn’t understand him.

There are still more observations and stories that I’ll be sending out soon, so stay tuned.

I welcome your comments and questions in the comment section under each article.

Yours in prosperity,
Sophia Hilton (A Savvy Woman)

The Art of Grocery Shopping in Mexico

February 8, 2017           

The Quest for Bottled Water

As is generally the case in the Latin American countries I’ve visited, there are a LOT of little stores that have a very limited selection of items. Many have cold drinks and lots of snack food. I went to these types of stores to buy water before I found a better solution. Now I have huge bottles of water delivered. You need a dispenser for them; my neighbor helped me out with that.

Before I was getting my water delivered, I found a place near my apartment that sold cold 1.5L bottles of water for 11 pesos, which I thought was pretty good—that’s about 50 cents. Then, another day, I got really lucky and found a 5 liter bottle at the absolute closest store for only 16 pesos! Clearly, the cost of water varies widely.

Boutique Grocery Stores

I’ve found places to buy organic food. It’s pricier than conventional, of course, but it’s nice to have the option. There’s a weekly organic market on Saturday mornings, too. There are also a couple of stores that are open all week that sell exclusively organic food – Natura and Via Organico. Via Organico also has a small restaurant that serves organic food.

Natura is the first grocery store I went to upon my arrival in San Miguel. It looks like a “boutique” grocery store. Instead of the shelves being crowded and overflowing with cans and jars, this store has a few bottles of olive oil and coconut oil sitting on the shelves as if they’re decorations.Boutique tiendaAll I can figure is that they don’t have the resources to buy enough to fill the shelves so they buy what they can afford and what they believe they can sell. Natura always seems to be busy and they do have a plentiful selection of produce.

I also saw this in another store (not organic) I’ve stopped in a couple times. It just seems to carry things that come in jars and bottles. I found mayonnaise and ketchup there.

The Challenge of Finding Pickle Relish

These days, no other salad dressing appeals to me like Thousand Island dressing does. I found a bottle here, but was not very impressed with it. So, I decided to make my own since I learned that it’s pretty easy to make. The challenge for me was to find all the ingredients. I found the catsup, mayonnaise and vinegar at various little stores. The sweet pickle relish was the biggest challenge. I had to go to “La Comer” for that, after scouring the rest of the stores in the city for it and not finding it.

Another thing I noticed at a couple of the small stores is they wipe the dust off your purchase as part of the check-out process. They did this to a bag of potato chips at one store and a bottle of water at another store. It’s nice to see this level of customer service.

How to Avoid Getting Traveler’s Diarrhea (at least in Theory)

When you come to Mexico, drink bottled water or other purified water. It’s okay to brush your teeth with tap water, though.

I have been eating salads every day. I started out with organic greens, which is the same stuff in plastic  containers I was buying in the U.S.

However, over the weekend, I went to the organic market that takes place on Saturdays. I bought a big head of green leaf lettuce and a bag of spinach. I made one salad from that before going to dinner at some friends’ house.

My friends told me that when you eat raw produce that grows in the dirt (i.e. not up in a tree), you must always disinfect it with a solution that contains iodine. This is because growers sometimes use untreated water to water the crops. I got a little freaked out and made myself feel slightly sick when I heard that.

Disinfecting Produce You’ll Eat Raw is Essential

So, I went to La Comer again, the next day, and bought the disinfecting solution. It’s now a nightly ritual to soak my greens, tomatoes and apples in the solution for 15 minutes. I know, the apple is over-kill, but one cannot be too safe. Another option would be to peel the apple.

Well, I missed something because I did get traveler’s diarrhea at the end of my second week in San Miguel…not a pleasant experience, for sure. I’m going to blame an under-cooked hamburger I had 2 days before getting sick. I started disinfecting my produce 4 days before I got sick, so I don’t think produce caused my illness.

Since getting sick, I learned that there are some great doctors in SMA who speak English as well as some European languages. I’ve been told that they even make house calls for only 300 pesos (about $15USD). I didn’t need to see a doctor, but it’s nice to know where to find good ones if I ever need one.

There are still more observations and stories that I’ll be sending out soon, so stay tuned.

I welcome your comments and questions in the comment section under each article.

Yours in prosperity,
Sophia Hilton (A Savvy Woman)

Colorful, Bougainvillea-covered Houses

February 2, 2017

My Attraction to San Miguel     
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Things I really like about SMA are the sunny skies and intense sun. I also enjoy the colorful houses, one next to the other, covered with flowers. There are beautiful houses with vibrant colors and bougainvillea readily visible to anyone walking down the street. I appreciate that they are not hidden behind gated communities, but can be found everywhere.

Well-kept high-end houses are right next to empty or neglected houses. There are tons of artists here and plenty of stores if you’re in the market for art or just like to look.IMG_5733 small

The Climate 

I arrived the first week of January and it was winter here. Temperatures dropped down into the 30’s at night and rose up to 65 or 70 during the day. The only heater I have in my apartment is a small propane space heater. My hostess said she would show me how to start it, if I wanted. When I just arrived, I thought I could dress warm at night and early in the morning, and that would suffice.

Well, these masonry floors and walls do not hold any heat from the day, it seems. Talk about cold; during my first full day, I was sitting and working at my computer wearing yoga pants, a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, and a fleece vest. I also put a blanket over my lap and sat on my hands whenever I wasn’t typing. I was chilled to the bone until I finally went out into the sun around 4:00 that day.

After that, I started using the heater every morning and some nights, before going to bed. It was only cold like that for about 1 week. Now, it only gets down into the 40’s at night and that makes a huge difference.

I also try to go for a quick walk before noon to get my blood flowing and get warmed up. At my apartment, the sun shines in at the right angle around noon. Surprisingly, if I open my door and sit in the doorway, I can actually get too hot. The sun is very intense, but as soon as you get in the shadows, it can be very chilly.

Someone I met here described the climate like this: it’s like we get all four seasons each day. I think that is pretty accurate.

Getting around on foot

They have real cobblestone streets here. Most of the streets where I’ve been walking are made of rounded stones with concrete around them. They are VERY uneven and require your full concentration when walking to avoid twisting an ankle. Sometimes, the tires on cars actually make squeaking sounds when turning corners on the cobblestones and it’s not because they’re driving at a high speed.IMG_5689 small

The sidewalks are better (flatter and less treacherous), but there are often obstacles to walking on the sidewalk. Sometimes, they’re too narrow and sometimes there are trees occupying most of the width of the sidewalk. One also has to watch out for holes in sidewalks, drop-offs, steep stairs and driveway slopes.

One day my first week, I was walking down a sidewalk and there were some small piles of gravel on the sidewalk. I thought it was kind of strange and stepped between them. Then I realized why they were there. I was now standing on wet concrete! It wasn’t so wet that I sunk into it, but I hopped off to the side immediately. I have yet to go back and look to see if I left foot-prints in the new sidewalk.

I’ve written about the astounding number of women who wear very high heels in other Latin American countries such as Panama and Costa Rica. You don’t see it much here. I think the cobblestone streets discourage that. I did see a woman wearing spiked heels one day. I was walking behind her on the sideway, which was pretty flat. I kept watching her ankles wobble and hoped they would remain strong and healthy.

I can walk into the center of town, referred to as “El Jardin” in about 20 minutes. It’s mostly down-hill going into town and uphill coming back. Combine that with the fact that I’m at 6,000 feet and I figure I’m getting a pretty good workout. On top of that, I’ve been walking to get groceries quite frequently and carrying them back. One day, I had a particularly heavy load spread between two bags and the total weight was 17 pounds. It took me about 25 minutes to carry them home!.

There are ex-pats all over the place here. Whenever venture out, I pass some. Most of the wait staff in restaurants speak English. They cater to the expats here, for sure. Most of the restaurants have menus in English.

There are still more observations and stories that I’ll be sending out soon, so stay tuned.

I welcome your comments and questions in the comment section under each article.

Yours in prosperity,
Sophia Hilton (A Savvy Woman)

January 24, 2017

I Didn’t Look Much Like an Experienced Traveler upon my arrival at the Queretaro Airport

This story is funny in hindsight, but it wasn’t at the time.

I had just deplaned and was standing in line for immigration. I had filled out the immigration form on the plane, but then everyone was handed a customs form while standing in line. This was a bit awkward—trying to fill out the form while standing in line with nothing to write on.

Once I finished that task, I watched people as they were waived through by the single immigration agent. They walked up to another person and were directed to put their luggage on a conveyer to be X-rayed. When the luggage came out the other side, they were assisted in lifting it onto a counter and the customs agents opened the luggage and rummaged through it.

Then they were sent on their way and left through some sliding doors.

It turned out that all the people I watched had only carry-on luggage. They had no checked luggage. Well, that realization didn’t strike me at the time. When my turn came, I followed the same routine I had seen everyone else go through.

I noticed a large family standing to the side after finishing with immigration and before going through customs. I assumed they were waiting for other members of their family. This should have been my clue that they were waiting for their checked bags.

Once the customs guys finished rummaging through my carry-on luggage, I walked through the sliding doors, expecting to see baggage claim. I didn’t see it and it clearly was not there. Of course, it was over by the family I saw standing and waiting.

It is Possible to miss Baggage Claim in Queretaro

I tried asking the security agent outside the sliding doors how I could get my luggage. A nice man who spoke English and Spanish helped me figure out what was going to happen. One thing that was not going to happen was I was not going to be let back inside.

I had to wait until everyone from the flight had been processed. Then an American Airlines employee took the lone suitcase sitting on the carousel to the customs agents so they could rummage through it.

Even after this was completed, the suitcase sat on the floor, out of my reach, while the AA agent walked back and forth completing other tasks. Once he did bring the suitcase outside the secure area, he questioned me about why I left my suitcase on the carousel and then checked my claim ticket.

So, if you fly into the Queretaro airport, don’t expect it to be like flying into Chicago or Los Angeles. It’s very small and compact. Be sure to claim your checked luggage after you go through immigration and BEFORE you go to the customs guys.

Ground Transportation

Since I arrived late on Friday in Queretaro, I stayed in a hotel there. I didn’t want to take the shuttle that goes to SMA at night. I wanted to see my surroundings during the drive.

When I booked the hotel, I thought it was close to the airport. It advertised that it had a free airport shuttle. I called the hotel the night before I left Chicago to see how to catch the shuttle. I was told that the shuttle driver wasn’t working that day so no shuttle would be available.

I tried to set up the shuttle to pick me up the next day from the hotel and learned that it only does pick-ups from the airport. So I was on my own to get to SMA from Queretaro.

Once I arrived at the airport, I checked the price of a taxi to get to my hotel: 430 pesos. Then I fired up my Uber app and requested a ride. It only cost me 228 pesos (about $11.50 USD)—a much better deal that the taxi.

I couldn’t believe how far away the hotel was. It was about a 30 minute drive and that wasn’t because we were sitting in traffic. I talked to the Uber driver about taking me to SMA the next day and we arranged for him to pick me up the next morning at 10:00am. I was ready and waiting outside the hotel at 10:00am and he never showed up.

So, I fired up my Uber app again. A different driver accepted my request and I was on my way. It only cost 312 pesos, which is currently about $15.60 USD. I couldn’t have taken the shared shuttle for that low of a price! During the ride, I felt an emotion well up inside me. I felt connected to the land and the people. It felt real.

Seeing My Apartment for the First Time

My apartment is part of what I would call a “compound.” Upon my arrival, as I was being led through the courtyard of this compound, I saw hummingbirds and many beautiful flowering plants. There’s a lime tree and a huge flowering plant in the smaller courtyard that I see through my window. This immediately lifted my spirits.

I have a lot more observations and stories that I’ll be sending out soon, so stay tuned.

I welcome your comments and questions in the comment section under each article.

Yours in prosperity,
Sophia Hilton (A Savvy Woman)

 

 

Why I Decided to Check Out San Miguel de Allende

January 19, 2017

Let me explain why I decided to explore San Miguel de Allende (SMA) as a place to live in the future. I had heard about this location from a Mexican woman living in Boquete, Panama several years ago. She told me there is a huge ex-pat population there. From what I’ve found online, as well as what the “Mexico expert” at the Retire Overseas Bootcamp told me, it sounds like there may be more than 10,000 ex-pats living in the SMA area.

Large Ex-pat population

I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I certainly want to experience Latin American culture, but it’s also easier to figure out where to find things that ex-pats are used to having if there are many ex-pats to talk to. The presence of many ex-pats means that more items are being imported to service their tastes. In addition, the characteristics of the area are appealing to ex-pats.

The elevation of SMA is about 6,000 feet. Therefore, the days don’t get too hot and the nights are cool, but not cold like Chicago in the winter. I love the mountains, much more than the beach. If I want to see water, there is a lake in the SMA area and I love mountain lakes.

I think it will be easy to make friends in SMA with such a large ex-pat population. I have learned that, culturally, it’s just easier to have relationships with people who were raised in a similar environment and culture. I hope to makes friends with some locals, also, but I know it’s not easy because conversation cannot flow as easily. Every word, every sentence requires concentration and therefore, a lot goes unsaid.

More Pro’s and Con’s

The one down-side of SMA is that it’s not that easy to get to. There are two airports to fly into that are within an hour and a half by bus. And then there’s the Mexico City airport, which is about 3 ½ hours from SMA by bus. The distance from airports is not ideal for doing a lot of traveling, but I believe I can adjust to it.

Interestingly, I could drive my car into Mexico and use it here, as long as I don’t get permanent residency. With temporary residency or a tourist visa, I can use my car with U.S. plates! And, a tourist visa is good for up to 180 days! From my experience, that’s a very generous amount of time for a tourist visa. In my experience, most tourist visas are only good for 90 days.

Although there are places I could live in Mexico that have a very low cost of living, SMA is not one of them.

Finding an Apartment to Rent During the High Season

At the Retire Overseas Bootcamp, I learned that the busiest season in SMA is January through March. Many snowbirds come down during that time and join the huge ex-pat population that lives there year-round. They also have an influx of ex-pats from the southern U.S. during the summer. These ex-pats come down from places like Texas and Arizona to get away from the summer heat.

Because the high season starts in January, I decided I had better find a place to stay sooner rather than later. I was very lucky and found a one-bedroom furnished apartment to rent for $750/month. According to my neighbor, the deal we have is unheard of in SMA. He’s been living in another unit in the same house for a year.

The price-point I found is easy to find starting in April, but not during the high season. I was expecting to have to pay as much as $1500/month for January and February so I feel very lucky to have found this place.

First Impression

My first impression of SMA is that it is awesome. There’s nothing like coming from Chicago in January to make you appreciate a sunny 75-degree day.

I have a lot more to share about my first impressions of San Miguel de Allende so stay tuned.

I welcome your comments and questions in the comment section under each article.

Yours in prosperity,
Sophia Hilton (A Savvy Woman)

Sophia is on the Move Again – 6 Countries in 4 Months

January 10, 2017

Sophia here. I’m traveling again so I’ll share my experiences and insights with you as I go. Here is an overview of my travel plans through April 2017.

Cabo

I welcomed in 2017 in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. This was purely a vacation. I am not considering living there.

I looked at some real estate while I was there, just for practice. I can only buy one property and Cabo does not meet my criteria: I want a property that would be a good rental property and also be in a place where I might want to live when I’m done exploring.

San Miguel de Allende

On January 6, I flew to Queretero, Mexico and then traveled by land (Uber) to San Miguel de Allende (SMA). SMA is located in central Mexico in the mountains. I first heard about the large expat community in SMA when I visited Boquete, Panama. I think that was in 2012. I will spend about 2 months here this winter.

I rented a small apartment through Airbnb. It’s very basic, but it meets my needs.

A Bootcamp I Attended in November

I attended an International Living (IL) workshop in November in Las Vegas. It was called the Retire Overseas Bootcamp. It solidified my resolve to check out central Mexico. I’ll write more later about why I chose to spend this winter in SMA.

Lisbon, Portugal and the South of Spain

After spending 2 months in SMA, I will visit Lisbon, Portugal for work. I’ll be there for about 4 days and then I’ll travel to the south of Spain.

I’m going to the south of Spain for a trading seminar. My trading coach relocated from Bariloche, Argentina to Benalmadena, Spain (a town near Malaga) about a year ago. He’s hosting a seminar for his students in March in Benalmadena. I’m excited about finally getting to meet him in person after working with him remotely for 3 ½ years.

Punta del Este, Uruguay

I’ll spend a week in Benalmadena, even though the trading seminar will only last 3 days. I had a few extra days before it was time to head to Uruguay for an Offshore Investment Summit in Punta del Este. The summit is hosted by the Sovereign Society.

I’ve been curious about Uruguay since I first heard a presentation about it in 2009. It sounded too expensive for me then, but it stayed on my radar. It has been referred to as the Switzerland of South America. I’m not sure why, but I figure it’s worth a further look.

I will be flying to Montevideo from Malaga, Spain. That is not a common route. My air travel will take 29 hours. Then, I’ll need to take some form of ground transportation to get to Punta del Este from Montevideo. I expect this trip to be a bit exhausting.

I will spend a full week in Uruguay, with a few days to relax before the summit. After the summit, I will head to Panama via Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Returning to Panama

There are only a couple of airlines that have routing from Montevideo to Panama City. The flight times were not to my liking and it was expensive. I saved almost $300 by flying out of Buenos Aires.

I’ll spend a long day riding in a bus and a boat to get from Punta del Este to Buenos Aires, but I’ll get to see more of the country this way. I also like riding on boats. I’ll spend one night in Buenos Aires before catching a direct flight to Panama.

I expect to spend 3 or 4 weeks in Panama. By then, the winter will be over in the U.S. and I can come back to work with my brother on getting our new sports bar going.

I’ll be writing more soon about each of the adventures I just outlined.

I welcome your comments and questions in the comment section under each article.

Yours in prosperity,
Sophia Hilton (A Savvy Woman)