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.

Phones and mail

WATCHING A MOVIE on Mexican Netflix recently, I noticed Sissy Spacek had a mountain of mail she had extracted from her mailbox. Lots looked like junk, including an announcement that she may have won $10 million.

letterIt made me think: How glad I am not to get that stuff anymore. No junk mail, no sales calls on the phone either. You know, just when you’re sitting down to supper, those annoying calls.

I remember.

Here is the mail I get in my post office box: A very occasional note from The Vanguard Group. Once a year, the Social Security Administration tells me what I’ll receive in the upcoming year. Once a month, my corporate pension administrator sends me a note telling me what I already know — that I received another monthly payment.

All payments come electronically to my Mexican bank.

We also contribute automatically from the bank account to a high school girl in Guadalajara via Children International. That bunch is fond of sending letters asking for more, more, more. It’s the only thing that appears in my mailbox that could  be called junk mail, but I put up with it because it’s a good — if naggy– outfit.

A couple of times a year, I get a box of vitamins from Puritan‘s Pride.

That’s about the full extent of my snail mail. I don’t check the PO box often. There’s no residential delivery by the postal system to our backstreet Hacienda. I installed a mail slot in the front gate before learning this.

We don’t have a land-line telephone, just two cells. One — mine — is what I believe is called a disposable phone above the Rio Bravo. It’s what criminals buy to communicate temporarily with each other or with their victims. I don’t throw mine away. I’ve had it for many years. I can call and text, but nothing more.

I have no “plan.” I buy time, via my bank online, when I need it. Ditto for my child bride’s cell. The last time we drove across the Rio Bravo — in 2008 — both phones stopped working.

phoneHer  cell is a tad fancier. It has a camera. But she is so low-tech that something more elaborate would be a waste of money. Mostly, she does text messages and the occasional call.

Her phone was a hand-me-down from a sister.

Sales pitches via our cells as as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth. Land lines are available in Mexico, of course, and I hear that folks with them sometimes get unwanted calls, often scams or extortion attempts.

I don’t see the need for land lines these days. Seems old-fashioned, a waste of money.

We do have Skype. It’s a very convenient service even though the website is a disaster that was designed by a team of nitwits. No matter. The interface works well enough. I like Skype, which I use almost exclusively to call Vanguard. I also used it to call my bank in California, but they canceled my account in July, so …

Skype costs about $50 a year. Sometimes we call Mexico City.

I wonder if Americans still get junk snail mail and annoying sales pitches by phone when they’re trying to eat.

… if they still are told they may have already won $10 million.