Summary of the interview:
Corinne is a French woman who has been living in Mexico for 25 years. What emerges from this meeting is passion: all the experiences that Corinne lives, she lives them with passion. Before arriving in Mexico, she had a computer company in Paris, but was in love with scuba diving. Over the years her passion for diving has taken over and she has travelled all over the world as a diving instructor.
After 6 months in Mexico, she saw the opportunity to open her own centre on the island of Cozumel, the only one run by a French woman at that time. This great adventure will last 15 years before she sells her structure. Today she runs a guest house in the jungle of Cancun where she welcomes both travellers to share her knowledge of the region with them, as well as abused parrots to treat them and give them all the attention and affection they need. At the same time she continues to work as a freelancer in IT and creates websites.
For nearly two hours, we were able to exchange and discuss a large number of points. Among them: Mexico’s advantages and disadvantages as an expatriate, property rights, Mexican nationality, opportunities to create its structure and hire staff, how the country and its inhabitants operate, etc….
Below is Corinne’s summary of her answers to specific questions and then the interview in its entirety.
The issues raised:
Can we start an entrepreneurial adventure in Mexico without any experience of the country?
According to Corinne, you have to come up with a good professional project that meets a real demand in the country. And an experience of Mexico before starting is essential to understand how the country and its people work.
Knowledge of the language is a great plus. And you have to be careful not to get caught.
What are the possibilities to work in Mexico?
Mexico is a country that is strict with the legal situation of foreign workers. There are several possibilities:
. Dealing alone with immigration to get a work visa in the country is quite complicated and can sometimes be lengthy. But it is a good option and the cheapest.
. Go through a lawyer, who will do the paperwork for you, faster, but much more expensive. Be careful to choose the right lawyer (there are often scams).
. The company that hires you can take care of the paperwork for you. But it must be registered with the immigration service, allowing it to hire foreign staff.
. Be self-employed by registering at the tax centre as a person. It is rather for people who work as freelancers and who do not need a structure or employees.
. Create a company. There are different statuses but it is quite simple to create. And this makes it easy for the company’s manager to obtain his papers.
Is it easy to employ staff?
Employing a Mexican person is quite simple because there is a large workforce. Charges are not a barrier to hiring and the minimum wage is low.
To employ an expatriate person, there are more constraints. As mentioned above, if you are not registered with the immigration service as hiring foreign staff, the person must be in good standing.
There is a certain maximum quota of foreign workers within a company.
The advantages of Mexico?
Mexico is a country full of resources and opportunities, there is really a space to create your own company here.
It should also be mentioned that in Mexico corruption exists, ranked 135th out of 180 in the world ranking of transparency of authorities, certain underground practices can sometimes facilitate certain procedures. These practices are common and should be reported.
Should we apply for Mexican nationality as soon as possible?
Mexican nationality facilitates some procedures, but it is not essential to set up a company and continue its activity. In Mexico, it takes two people to start a business, but both can be expatriates.
A Mexican partner, in some cases, may be useful or even indispensable. It should be noted that:
. An expatriate cannot own real estate in certain areas of Mexico defined by the 1907 Political Constitution (seaside and border areas).
. If the company needs to invest in real estate such as a room, land, house, or even a boat, one of the partners must.
. To buy a property on the coast or near the borders you need to go through a Fideicomiso (trust bank).
. An expatriate worker must renew his work permit every year with the immigration authorities, which is no longer the case when he takes Mexican nationality.
How to get a Mexican person?
Mexicans are quite curious by nature and above all very friendly. They will be happy to help you if you need them. Be careful, however, in tourist areas that are very popular with foreigners. Some locals may have a slightly different mentality and offer their help not out of altruism but out of interest.
Mexicans can also be very sensitive. The utmost respect and composure are required in Mexico, no matter the situation, because you risk robbing the person you are speaking to and getting nothing from them.
It should be added that in this country, the inhabitants are not really respectful of schedules and deadlines, they are less rigorous at this level than the Europeans.
But each person is different and you can also meet punctual and very serious Mexicans.
What place for ecology in Mexico?
Mexicans have not introduced ecology into education and there are still few people with an ecological conscience. However, they are not opposed to it. We simply need to raise awareness at this level by making them understand the interests.
Coming with your children, a good idea?
The Mexican school system offers two options: on the one hand, public schools where education is very rarely of quality, and on the other hand, private schools where the education received is of very good quality but at extremely high costs.
It is advisable to have a good financial base or the insurance of a sufficient income to go abroad with your children, if you want to give them a good education.
Mistakes to avoid?
To think in general that being French is enough to succeed in certain areas is the mistake to avoid.
For example, to open a French restaurant or give language classes. These are real professions that require know-how that must already be in place before arrival.
Use social networks to take advantage of mutual support between expatriates, and establish contact with those who have been there for a long time and who have experience in launching projects.
Be very careful in your actions and surround yourself with trustworthy people so that you don’t fall for it.
Corinne, what is your background before you arrive in Mexico?
In France I had a computer company and I was scuba diving as a hobby during the holidays. I loved it so much that I graduated to become an instructor, be peaceful and do what I wanted to do by going diving. Having my own company gave me a little freedom to both work freelance with Club Med and for replacements in clubs or other. In addition I was diving in the most beautiful places in the world. The more passion I had for it, the less I wanted to live the Parisian routine of my company. Finally after a while the passion became such that I sold my computer company and left. Working in the diving field has allowed me to travel everywhere, Tahiti, the West Indies, the Maldives, the Red Sea, diving cruises everywhere, etc…. These experiences have taught me a lot about how all these diving centres work. Then one day Club Med called me to offer me another job in the West Indies. I refuse, explaining that I have already been there several times. And in a joking tone, I tell them that if they offer me Mexico, I leave right away because it’s a dream for me. A week later, I received a call from them offering me a 6-month job in Cancun and it will mark the beginning of my Mexican adventure!
How did you come up with the idea of doing business in Mexico?
As part of my 6-month job at Club Med, we used to do diving excursions with clients on the island of Cozumel. The dives were really beautiful with incredible reefs. During these excursions I realized that the divers were mostly American and Canadian, but there were practically no Europeans. So I thought it would be a good idea to open a diving centre on the island for Europeans. This opportunity came at a time when I had already travelled a lot and wanted to settle down.
So instead of returning to France at the end of my contract, I continued to dive in Cozumel to better discover the reefs. I have contacted hotels, to offer hotel/diving packages. Then I prepared a whole file explaining what I intended to offer customers, rates and so on. With this file I returned to France and went to visit all the tour operators specialized in diving trips, to propose them my offer. I was welcomed with open arms because finally they were going to be able to offer the destination Cozumel to their customers and work with a French diving centre. They all offered me the opportunity to work with them and my centre started very quickly and was a huge success. After one year I already had 7 employees, including 5 instructors and dive guides and I was able to buy my own boat that could accommodate 20 divers. In fact, I was just in the right place at the right time. I was alone in an important market. Today, competition from European centres is very fierce and it is not easy to make your place in this field.
Once the centre was launched, how was the next step?
I kept my centre for 15 years, everything was going very well and my centre was developing. Then I wanted to do something else because diving is a very physical and tiring activity, especially when you dive 2 to 3 times a day every day.
In addition to that, I had always wanted to open a guest house because I did not always like my clients’ accommodation. I wanted to offer them a complete package including accommodation and dives. So I decided to sell my centre and as I really like nature, I looked for a place in the area where I could open this house. I bought a piece of land in the middle of nature and gradually I built my house and a swimming pool, then a guest room, then another… Now I welcome visitors here and I also play the role of tourist guide thanks to my experience of the country.
Why didn’t you keep the centre while opening your guest house?
Because diving took me a long time! And that I couldn’t have managed the diving centre alone, diving every day and also taking care of my guest house at the same time.
And today your guest house is running well?
Yes very well, I welcome everyone all the time, but that also leaves me a lot of free time so I’ve gone back to my first love which is computers. I have continued to train over the years. So today, in addition to managing my guest house, I do freelance graphic design and websites, especially for the French community in Mexico.
Do you have the Mexican citizenship?
Yes, I have dual citizenship. I started the procedure alone quietly, waiting 10 years before asking for it, but it is possible to get it faster, especially if you marry a Mexican or have Mexican children.
I did it because it’s easier, to buy a house you can do it in your name. And you no longer have to pay for immigration every year and somewhere after so long it seemed obvious to me.
Did the fact that you travelled a lot before helping you settle in Mexico?
Of course my travels have given me experience! I was able to get the coupon from every place I went, but most importantly, you have to spend time in the country before you start. Someone who arrives in a country and sets up a business directly is not sure he will succeed. Already because the person does not know the country, he does not know how it works here. You really have to understand where you are to learn to discover it and adapt because it is up to you to make the necessary changes to integrate yourself into society. In my opinion, except if we have a hyper-concrete project with market research, everything we need to succeed and a real response to an existing demand in the area where we are located, an adaptation time is essential, just for the language. For 25 years I’ve seen some failures!
What mistake should not be made when you are an expatriate and want to start a project?
In my opinion, one of the mistakes is to think that because you are French you will be able to open a French restaurant or give French lessons. Catering and education are real professions with know-how.
Do Mexicans welcome expatriates who are embarking on a professional project?
Yes, they are rather welcoming. I had a slightly different experience because when I opened my diving center 25 years ago in Cozumel. The Mexicans really saw me as an intruder, coming to take their work from them.
For a foreigner to arrive, in addition to a woman (because Mexico is a rather macho country) in the rather closed environment of scuba diving, it did not please too much.
Some came to insult me in front of my students while I was giving my diving lessons on the beach “dirty foreigner go back to your country, stop taking our work from us”.
I have received many denunciations at immigration saying that I was working illegally when it was not true. But I stood up and finally over time it subsided and I was accepted and respected. Today in the region Mexicans are used to seeing many foreigners settle so there is no longer this problem. Mexicans are generally very nice and if they can help you they will.
What about the relationship between expatriates?
There is good mutual support on this side. On social networks, especially if you ask a question, you will quickly get answers. However, we must be able to distinguish between the two because there are sometimes wrong answers from people who have been in Mexico for a very short time and who think they know everything when they don’t. You have to know how to balance things out.
How does it legally work for an expatriate?
Immigration to Mexico is a little complicated. Anyway, you have to be in a legal situation to work here, but there are several formulas. You can be self-employed by registering at the tax centre as a natural person. It is rather for people who work as freelancers and who do not need a structure or employees. Then you can create a company under different statuses. It’s quite simple to create but you need a second partner. He may have only one share in the company and therefore have no decision-making power, just to say that there are two of us in society. But legally it’s mandatory. This person does not have to be Mexican. However, for the company to become a real estate owner, a Mexican is absolutely necessary. That’s also why it’s better to have lived in Mexico before starting your company to find someone you can trust completely. Beware of nominee companies. You can always create a company with two expatriates and then change the statutes by integrating a Mexican later, if necessary. This represents a certain cost and must be done with a lawyer and a notary. I had to make these modifications after a while, when I wanted to buy the boat for the diving centre.
But the time I had already spent in Mexico allowed me to have Mexican friends and to choose a trusted Mexican partner.
Do you have any advice for an expatriate who would like to settle in Mexico?
I would advise to get closer to other expatriates who have been there for a long time to get the right advice and especially the right warnings, people a little like me what (laughs).
We must also be very careful. For example, not all land here necessarily has a title deed (they are “ejidal”). Some huge lands belong to communities and are cut into plots for sale. So by buying this kind of property, even if the price is very attractive, we take a very big risk because we don’t have any property titles and when we are foreign it is even more risky. It is therefore possible that the same land may be sold several times to different people.
Are there easier things in Mexico than in France?
Yes, a lot of things are easier, it’s less stressful than in France and more relaxed.
Mexico is a country that offers many opportunities. There are many things on which the country is lagging behind and where there is the opportunity to contribute our know-how from Europe. The natural and tourist resources are incredible. All you have to do is set up in the right way.
It is true that here with a “small ticket” you can speed up and solve many things.
And you should know that often if you want to do things in good conscience and follow the procedure, as long as you haven’t given that famous “little note” you can wait a very long time before a situation unlocks.
How would you define Mexicans?
Mexicans are cool with schedules and deadlines. If something has to be finished for next Friday, we don’t always know if it’s this Friday or next month’s if you want! But they are very charming. We must still be careful because people who tend to be more easily offended, they are susceptible. Just make an unpleasant remark or get angry and you will no longer get anything from the other person. So I advise you to always keep your cool with them, never get angry even if the situation is right. Banging your fist on the table is never a solution here, although you often want to do it (laughs).
I would add that the mentality of Mexicans in tourist areas is different. They have realized that tourism regions are full of opportunities and therefore they tend to take advantage of them, and this often leads them to do things more out of interest than kindness.
Ecology is a subject that particularly affects us, do Mexicans have this awareness?
Not too much, generally speaking, Mexicans have a very poor ecological education, you only have to look at the roadsides to know that Mexicans pollute a lot. Now fortunately not all Mexicans are like that and some are very respectful. The country is very late, for example there is no sorting of ordaries but consciousness is beginning to emerge. It is not a rejection of ecology but above all a problem of education and lack of interest.
If you have children, is education accessible to expatriates?
There are public schools but they are rarely of good quality. To have a good education you have to put your children in a private school and it is very expensive very quickly so you have to plan a large budget. With salaries being very low overall, starting a business is one of the best ways to provide a good education for your children.
Is the management of a company’s employees complicated and expensive?
There is a minimum wage common to all professions but it is very low and no one could live on it. In the region people live a lot on tips.
It’s very easy to hire Mexican staff. But it is not easy to find the right staff, according to our European criteria.
It’s more complicated to hire expatriate employees. When you are an expatriate and want to work in Mexico there are two possibilities: the first is to manage on your own with immigration to make your papers but it is not easy at all; and the second is to go through a company that will make the papers for you. This option is not always possible because the company must be registered as hiring foreign personnel for the immigration service. In addition, there are quotas that prevent only foreign employees from being hired.