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.

Another move south

For years I’ve been moving my entire life south of the border, little by little. That is to say, if I can do it down here, why should I continue doing it from up there? That is what most Gringos living in Mexico do, it seems. They have many lifelines, or rather that’s how they think of their continued connections to the United States.

Some examples of my American disconnect is that I have no U.S. driver’s license. I have no U.S. bank account. I have no U.S. mailing address if you don’t count a mail drop I’ve kept for almost 20 years in Miami because, at first, I needed it, but I’m needing it less and less, and I anticipate canceling it in two more years. The only reason I need it now is to have a U.S. address on my IRA account at The Vanguard Group, a necessity.

Vanguard had no problem with my correct address here in Mexico till 2014 dawned, and the FATCA law was dumped on us by the inept Obama Administration, a move intended to crack down on drug dealers and money launderers but which hosed retirees living outside the United States more than anything.

Long story short, my U.S. bank, a California branch of Mexico’s Banamex, summarily canceled my account, and Vanguard looked like it was going to follow suit till I provided the Miami address. We opened an investment account at Mexico’s Actinver in my child bride’s name and, to minimize the tax blow, I’ve been transferring money little by little since 2014. I’ll be done next year, and the Miami address can be canceled along with the Vanguard account, which I’ve had for over 35 years.


Another move south? Says the headline up top. It’s a biggie for me. My Kindle committed suicide a couple of days ago, so I went to the U.S. version of Amazon to order another, which is what I’ve done since the dawn of Kindle. I’ve had about five Kindles, plus I also order my digital books in English from the American version of Amazon.

They balked at shipping the Kindle I wanted to my Mexican address in spite of initially saying it would ship to Mexico. Well, darn! I turned to the Mexican Amazon. I knew Kindles are available there, but would I have access to the thousands of English books for sale on the U.S. website? I suspected not. I was mistaken.

So my new Kindle is en route from Mexico City, and it will not only get to the Hacienda quicker, the e-reader and accompanying cover cost less than the same order from above the Rio Bravo even if it had been shipped to a U.S. address. This all puts a smile on my face. Another departure from America and its increasing craziness.

It will arrive on Monday. “Guaranteed!”

Amazon opened its Mexican version five years ago.

Three dry days

mount

IT’S GONE three consecutive days without rain here, and that’s mighty odd in mid-September. Has the rainy season ended early this year? I rather doubt it.

Most afternoons, after doing lunch at home, I go downtown to enjoy a nice café Americano negro with my Kindle while simultaneously admiring the beautiful babes who walk by. My child bride goes to, but she drives the Nissan because she does different things and comes home later than I do.

It’s not ecological. But I don’t care.

And I usually have my camera. Yesterday I spotted something I’d never noticed before in all the years I’ve walked by the same spot. The mountain in the mist behind the buildings in the top photo. How could I have overlooked that?

On arriving home later, getting out of the Honda, I shot the two photos below for no better reason than the scenes caught my eye, especially the wildly flowering aloe vera bush.

It does this every year. Lasts for a couple of months.

And the final photo shows my white roses. I generally roll my eyeballs at people who post flower photos on blogs because if you want to see flower photos, just do an internet image search, and there are thousands. Take your pick.

No matter. Here they are anyway.

I was inexplicably in a dark mood when I returned home, so maybe I subconsciously thought that snapping the flowers would boost my humor. I don’t think it worked.

I wonder if it will rain today. Cool things off.

vera
The tallest aloe vera blooms are about eight feet high.

rose
My measly white roses.

Getting stuff

ONE OF THE many adventures connected to living on the hardscrabble outskirts of town is getting stuff, mostly stuff in the mail.

parcelThere is no house-to-house delivery in my neighborhood. What happens is that all the mail for a certain area is dropped off at a central spot, which can be a small, corner grocery or it can be somebody’s home.

You then have to go there, the store or the home of some stranger, and ask for your mail. Of course, you have to know mail has arrived in the first place. Nobody comes and tells you. It’s a mystery-challenge.

I avoid the problem most of the time by having a post office box downtown, which is where 99 percent of my pittance of mail goes.

The quantity is small due in large part to not getting junk mail like one gets above the Rio Bravo. I wonder if that’s still a problem up there, like dinnertime phone calls. I don’t get those anymore either.

But sometimes I buy stuff from Amazon, the Gringo version. Amazon just recently opened a Mexico branch, which is great. Here’s the problem with ordering from the Gringo version, which I still do if necessary when what I want is not on the Mexican site.

You never know how it’s going to be sent. Regular mail or express mail like FedEx or DHL. Asking does no good. And the express services do not deliver to post office boxes, or so they say. Mexican magic can make it happen on occasion, but don’t hold your breath for that.

So putting the delivery address on the Amazon package is like Russian Roulette. If I put the post office box and they send it DHL, I’ve got a problem. If I put my home address and it’s sent regular mail, I’ve got another problem, though not so serious.

My main problem with the central drop-off here in the neighborhood is that I’ve never trusted it. It seemed like a black hole.

On rare occasions in the past, when I knew something had been sent to my home address, I would go to the fellow’s house where all the mail is dropped off, just over the railroad track, and ask. His wife would answer the door. Or, more commonly, no one would answer.

If the wife answered, I would ask if her husband was home. He never was. I would ask for my mail. She would know absolutely nothing of the mail.  It was her husband’s job, not hers.

Repeated visits to the home got identical results. No answer or an absolutely clueless woman. Living here can be challenging.

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered camera accessories from the Gringo Amazon. For some reason, I assumed it would be sent express mail, so I put my home address on the package. It was sent snail mail instead.

Even so, Amazon provided tracking.

This morning, I checked. It was delivered yesterday, four days before the promised delivery of Aug. 10, next Monday. Though it had been “delivered,” it was nowhere in my line of sight.

Here’s where it gets juicy. That man who gets my mail in his home, the man with the clueless wife, the man who is never at home?

That man is the man I recently hired to weedeat my lawn. This means we have a personal relationship, very important, and not just that. I pay him money. He is now quite interested in me. I have hooked him.

Living in this country is all about personal relationships, which is why Mexicans have the reputation of being so freaking friendly.

Personal relationships facilitate lives. That’s true most everywhere, but it’s more true here. It can even keep you out of jail.

* * * *

While writing the above this afternoon, the doorbell rang. It was the package delivered by my “mailman” who weedeats the yard and lives just two blocks from here with the clueless woman.

The label says it arrived by something called MRU Post. I have no idea what that is. I have never heard of snail mail offering tracking, but this arrived in the typical two-weeks time of snail mail. It appears to be a new sort of snail mail. A Google search provided no answers.

It pays to have a personal relationship with the mailman. He never used to bring stuff to my house. Now he does. We are connected.

He likes the weedeating gig. And I like getting my mail.

Relationships.