Abandoning America

I left America on January 19, 2000.

I did it on an airplane from Atlanta with just two suitcases. The future was an open book I had yet to read or write. A murder mystery, a romance, an historical tome? I had no clear notion. But I was sick of the past, and that can make even a cliff look sweet.

Most Americans who relocate south, from what I read on the internet, do it halfway. They return often, and their minds remain up there, which is understandable. Most arrive in Mexico as the un-young, having already packed one mode of perception into their hearts and heads over a near-lifetime.

I have slowly chipped away at my American connections. Today, I have almost none.

First, in 2002, I married a Mexican who does not speak English. I quit speaking English almost entirely. Then, in 2005, I became a Mexican citizen and won a Mexican passport.

More on passports down the line. In 2009, I made my last trip above the border. I don’t anticipate making another.

Financial institutions

In 2014, my U.S. bank — Banamex USA in Los Angeles, an outpost of Mexico’s Banamex, an account I opened before leaving Houston — abruptly dumped me due to Obama-era legislation called FATCA.*

My sole bank now is Spain’s BBVA, previously Bancomer BBVA. When I arrived in Mexico, I had four U.S. credit cards. They have fallen by the way due to various problems. My credit cards now are BBVA.**

Though I no longer had a U.S. bank, I had IRAs at the U.S. investment firm Vanguard, which had no issue with my living in Mexico, but with the advent of FATCA, that abruptly changed.

I quickly switched my address to a Miami mail drop so Vanguard would not cancel me like Banamex USA did.

I opened an account at Actinver, a Mexican investment firm, and put it in my wife’s name. In 2014, I began slowly moving Vanguard money to Actinver. Moving it slowly reduced the annual tax bite. I finished the switch just this year, so I closed the Vanguard account.

I have no financial accounts now in the United States.

Paypal

I had a PayPal U.S. account but, yet again, things started getting dicey due to FATCA. I canceled my PayPal U.S. account and opened a PayPal Mexico account using my Mexican passport and linked to my BBVA account and credit cards. Works great.

Passports

In 2016, my U.S. passport expired. I considered not renewing, but I did it for some goofy reason. I am now good till 2026, when I’ll be 82. I will not renew it at that time, so bye-bye U.S. passport. My Mexican passport will take me anywhere except the United States.

Amazon

I read a lot, entirely on my Amazon Kindle. When Amazon opened a Mexican outpost a few years back, I opened an account there too, but with a different registration. I continued buying my books at the U.S. site because there were few English books available on Amazon Mexico. That has now changed. There are thousands.

All too often, BBVA takes issue with my credit card on Amazon USA, and I have to phone the bank to straighten it out, which is very complicated due to Mexican banks’ hysteria on security issues. They are so hysterical that they inconvenience their customers more than the fraudsters. BBVA is not alone in this.

The bank did it again last week. Oddly, I buy things with the same credit card on Amazon Mexico with never a hitch, so I reset my Kindle and registered it with Amazon Mexico on Sunday. I lost some books in that process, but I’ve purchased three more.

Identical books often cost more on the Amazon Mexico website, but I don’t care. Bye, bye, Amazon USA.

—–

Do I miss America?

Considering the idiocy happening up there, not much.

When I think fondly of my American past, it usually focuses on my youth and adolescence on our family’s farm in southwest Georgia. I lived there fulltime until I was 7, and I continued to visit often into my early 30s when my parents sold it all.

The best memories, however, come from early on, walking through cornfields, looking across vast vistas of peanuts and cotton on the 540-acre farm, paddling the rowboat on Wavering Pond amid tall cypress trees, the walk down the field in front of the house to a narrow creek hidden among trees, the red-clay roads, my grandfather’s Ford pickup truck and gray tractors, the goldfish pond in the yard.

My grandmother’s 15 or so cats, and the dog named Pepper. The general store three miles down the dirt road where everyone was nice.

Frigid, winter mornings before the blazing, kitchen fireplace, eating eggs, grits, fried cornbread and redeye gravy. The main meal at noon with lemonade or iced tea beside vegetables and beef or chicken grown and raised just beyond the screened-porch door.

Willie the maid, Cap the bourbon-boozing handyman, and my pistol-packing grandmother’s real-life ghost stories.

But you know what Thomas Wolf said, and it is so.

—–

*FATCA is a law passed during the Obama Administration that purports to crack down on money-laundering. What it does primarily, however, is to clobber Americans living abroad by placing onerous paperwork on financial institutions with American customers with foreign addresses. The financial institutions often choose to just cancel those accounts.

**Interestingly, your credit history does not cross the border, so you must start fresh here. Whether you were a deadbeat or a stellar risk above the border, it means squat in Mexico. When you get a credit card from a Mexican bank, it will begin with a very low limit, and you take it from there. My limits now have been raised far higher than I need. Mexico has a credit bureau.

4 thoughts on “Abandoning America

  1. I’m assuming you don’t want to, but you could probably open a U.S. bank account if you wanted to. Though I haven’t opened one in years, the last one I did open was entirely online and via mail. I’ve never set foot inside any of their buildings, and they’ve never laid eyes on me.

    You might find this service useful: http://www.wise.com. I just opened an account there too. Makes moving money around in various currencies cheap and easy.

    As for the final FU, at least you live in an unpronounceable neighborhood. I’ll bet you managed that without even planning it.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Roma Sur, CDMX
    Where I am increasingly contemplating the hassle of straddling the border.

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    1. Kim: You might be surprised at how difficult it is now to open a U.S. bank account without having a U.S. address. Used to be fairly easy. That Banamex USA account I opened just before leaving Texas was done by mail. I never set foot in Los Angeles, but after NAFTA nailed me in 2014, I discovered it is a whole, new world, bankwise, in the U.S. I have since discovered a bank in Laredo, Texas, that caters to Mexicans, that will let me open a U.S. dollar account with a Mexican address, but one has to go to Laredo physically to do it. Not possible online to get it started. And I know about TransferWise, but I do not need it. It’s all moot now. BBVA does everything I require. I am okay.

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  2. It is ironic that you wrote on this topic. I have been pondering the same issue this week.

    When my frequent trips north for a special reason are over, I may not venture across the border other than to catch connecting flights to other points exotic. My recent trips north have been less than pleasant with the hatred that seems to lard every social discussion. I used to think access to things to buy was a tradeoff. But it no longer is since Amazon will deliver everything I need right to my Mexican door.

    I wish there was a way to buy out my pensions, especially Social Security. I would take the money and be happy not to bother them again — though none of them has been troublesome lately.

    Having said that, I am too hard-wired to be anything but an American. I will always be an outsider in this Mexican village. And that is fine with me. I am not looking to cut any national ties. I am happy to be an American immigrant to Mexico. For me, that is good enough.

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    1. Señor Cotton: It’s been years since I thought I needed something only available up north. But those days are long gone and, as you say, Amazon can send whatever to my front door, making it easier than ever.

      As for angry social discussions, I don’t think you can blame America for that. Blame Americans (and Canadians at times) anywhere you find them, even in your village, which you have mentioned in the past. It’s the people, not the dirt on which they stand, though, of course, there are a whale of a lot more of them above the border than down here.

      You are an outsider in your town? Of course, you are. Mexicans and Americans are far too different. Assimilation for us here is out of the question.

      As for cutting national ties, I would renounce my U.S. citizenship in a heartbeat were it a simple matter, which it is not. So I’ll just leave things as they are.

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