Mark My Word... Opportunities Abound!
YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and from where did you move?
Mark: My wife and I moved from Barrie, Ontario in 2001. It was not a hard decision when you consider that we get on average 13 feet of snow per year.
YL: Why did you move?
Mark: To get away from the cold Canadian winters, and to experience life at a slower different pace. We were a little tired of the corporate hustle and bustle. Also, we were fortunate enough to be successful in business and life offered us the opportunity to retire young. We had been travelling to the Yucatan for several years and fell in love with both the area and people from the onset.
YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world?
Mark: We both found Merida to be a very clean, romantic safe city to live in but ultimately, it was the people that made the difference.
YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the right decision?
Mark: We purchased immediately and bought our dream home. Yes, it was the correct decision. We wanted a home that was big enough to have our family and friends visit us.
YL: In what part/neighborhood of Merida do you live and why?
Mark: We live in Montes de Ame in the North. We wanted something that was close to major shopping and the beach. We were also looking for a larger property and we required secure parking. Also, I wanted new construction and was tired of renovations.
YL: Do you still own multiple properties in Merida?
Mark: No. We have one property in Merida and two close to Play del Carmen
YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here? If not, why not?
Mark: I realized very early on that Mexico is a land of opportunity and had a huge developing middle class which could open up business opportunities for us. Mexico reminded me of Canada in the 1950’s. I knew I was too young to retire permanently so I would need a business to keep me active. We initially started off purchasing properties and flipping them, which eventually led to me develop an investment company and become a partner in a local law firm in Merida.
YL: What are the most interesting things about living here for you?
Mark: I am a history buff and I love the rich culture and history here.
YL: What do you absolutely love about living here?
Mark: The people and culture. The pace is slower and family and friends are valued.
YL: What do you miss from your "former life"?
Mark: Friends and family but we have lots of room for them to visit.
YL: What don’t you miss from your "former life"?
Mark: The daily stress and pressures. Life here operates at a different pace.
My wife always tells me I am a different person in Merida versus the person I become in Canada. Oh, and did I mention the snow?
YL: What is your favorite local food?
Mark: I love the cocinita, the slow cooked pork that you usually find being sold on Saturdays and Sundays. I eat it on a bun. It is delicious and from what I understand, they cook the meat underground for several hours. It is so tasty and tender… it melts in your mouth.
YL: What is your favorite time of year here and why?
Mark: November to March. It is dry but not too hot.
YL: Where do you take guests who visit you here to show them something really special?
Mark: The ruins and the downtown night life and culture.
YL: The last time you went out to dinner, where did you go and why?
Mark: Trotter’s. It is by far our favorite restaurant!
YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?
Mark: Merida has culture and industry. It is not a city that relies on tourism. It has lots to offer tourists but it is not on the radar screen for major Airlines and tour operators. I prefer that.
YL: Do you have friends from the local community or do you pretty much hang with the expat crowd?
Mark: I have several Yucatecan friends. Most of our socializing is done with locals. As I mentioned earlier, my best friend is my business partner here in Merida. I first met him on a professional basis, and hired him as my lawyer. I was so impressed with him that eventually we formed two new companies and became business partners. He often refers to me as his brother and I certainly feel the same.
YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here? How is it different from doing the same thing in your country of origin?
Mark: I still own a business in Canada where I help people avoid bankruptcy. I recognized huge potential for investment opportunities in Mexico. I was very well established in assisting Canadians who had fallen on hard times but I also knew many Canadians with money. I decided to attract these people to different investment opportunities in Mexico. It would provide them with above average secure returns but also benefit the local Mexicans. I could see how difficult it was for local Mexicans to obtain reasonable financing for houses, cars etc. I felt it was a win/win for both sides.
YL: Do you find it more or less difficult to make a living here than in your country of origin?
Mark: There are different challenges when you are in a different country. I think one mistake most people make is comparing their home country to the new country. I have learned not to try to enforce my Canadian values here. My motto is “When in Rome…”!
YL: Are your work habits different here?
Mark: No, I work long hours no matter where I am. I have the luxury of conducting all my business on-line, telephone etc. I find I put in many more hours now but it never feels like work! And I love what I do, helping people succeed.
YL: Did you speak Spanish when you moved here? Where did you learn Spanish (if you did)? Is the language barrier a problem for you in your daily life?
Mark: I did not speak Spanish and I still don’t. I try my best. People here smile at me and somehow, we communicate. My business partner and his wife both speak English and many of their friends who are now our friends also speak English. I personally have found that many people here want to learn English, so I am encouraged to speak English with them. I was home in Canada for the summer months and my partner even sent his 12 year old daughter to live with us to learn more English. I honestly do need to sit down and take some Spanish lessons; it is just hard to find the time.
YL: What interesting Spanish word or saying have you learned lately? What does it mean and how did you learn it?
Mark: I have never understood why people answer the phone with Bueno!. I thought bueno means “good”. I guess I am the only person who answers the phone by saying Hola!
YL: Are you a Mexican citizen? Do you plan to become one?
Mark: I have an FM-3 presently and I anticipate applying for my FM-2.
YL: Have you traveled much within Mexico? If so, where and what has been your favorite location to visit? What did you see there that you liked so much?
Mark: Yes I have been to the interior, the Caribbean Coast and the West Coast, but by far Merida and Yucatan state are my favorite. There are many great memories for each region, too many to list in this interview.
YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?
Mark: Definitely welcomed. It is an integral part of their culture.
YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico? Of the Yucatan?
Mark: Obviously very good since I own two Mexican corporations. Mexico has the 11th largest oil reserves in the world; every week you here about North American manufacturers moving plants to Mexico and they have 2nd largest tourism industry in the world. It is estimated that over 20 million baby boomers will retire to Mexico in the next 25 years. I would say I am very bullish on Mexico.
YL: What do you think the future holds for real estate in Merida ‘s Centro Historico, and in the other areas around Merida?
Mark: I believe there is no growth for the Centro, but prices will only continue to increase in the center of the city. It is the foreign investors who are taking on these renovation investments. The historical architecture is in high demand for foreigners. I believe as the middle class grows, the north will continue to expand. You can clearly see that there is tremendous infrastructure being invested in the north with several new malls, hospitals and highway expansions.
YL: What are some changes you are hoping for in the city in which you live? Do you see any progress towards these changes?
Mark: I hope to see more of a competitive market develop in Mexico in general. It is happening slowly because traditionally it has been a country controlled by monopolies. I think as the government opens up opportunities for more competition, the quality of life will improve for more Mexicans.
YL: How do you think the current worldwide economic crisis is going to affect the Yucatan?
Mark: The entire global economy is being impacted by the current financial crisis. The Yucatan is no exception. It relies on tourism which will experience a downturn. I personally feel that the media is creating more doom and gloom than is actually happening. I find North American news agencies tend to report more of the negative news and avoid all the positive news. I constantly hear how this current financial crisis is being compared to the Great Depression of 1929 when unemployment ranged from 28% to 40%. The fact is, in Canada and the USA the unemployment rate is currently at 6-7%. That means that 94% are still working. I prefer to look at the glass half full.
There is no doubt that Mexico relies heavily on the USA; it does export more than it imports. I feel the USA will pull out the recession first, which will benefit Mexico. The Mexican economy is much different than the economies of Canada and the USA. In Canada, for example, people rely heavily on credit and banks, whereas in Mexico it is still a cash society. 50-70% of the work force is still paid cash and banks are not used to the same extent as they are in Canada or the USA. I do not think the average Mexican will be affected the same way the average American or Canadian will because of this.
YL: How do you think the continuing influx of expats from Canada and the US into the Yucatan is going to affect this area, both positively and negatively?
Mark: I have heard it estimated that 20 million baby boomers will retire to Mexico in the next 25 years. I think it is safe to assume that 25% of them will retire to the Yucatan Peninsula, which would be approximately 5,000,000 people. This will create many more jobs in the construction and tourism industry, but it will also have negative impacts on the environment. I think that the Mexican governments (Municipal, State & Federal) need to plan for this growth. If they do plan for this growth and develop the appropriate infrastructure, they can limit the negative.
YL: Is now a good time for an expat to start a business here? And if so, where do you see the most business opportunity, other than real estate?
Mark: Absolutely! I think the sky is the limit. My advice would be look at where you came from and look at where you are. The Mexican people are no different than Americans and Canadians; they have many of the same wants and needs.
Mexico has one of the fastest growing middle classes in the world. It angers me when people make statements that Mexicans are poor or peasants. The fact is there is tremendous wealth in Mexico but there is also tremendous poverty. The gap is closing and the middle class is growing yearly. That is a huge market, and there are numerous opportunities to cater to that market. I also think that with so many baby boomers coming close to retirement, there will be a huge demand in that demographic group in business areas like retirement homes, medical care, support workers, seniors clubs, Medical tourism, learn Spanish, translation services… just to name a few.
YL: What are your plans for the future here?
Mark: Work hard and enjoy the city and the culture.
YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone buying property and/or planning a move to the Yucatan?
Mark: Obtain a good lawyer. This is why I started one of my companies with my partner who is an excellent lawyer.
YL: If you could say something to all the people of Mexico, what would you say?
Mark: As your country develops and grows, never forget your roots. Your country is full of history and culture. Please do not sacrifice this for future growth.
Mark Arbour and his wife Tami spend half the year here in Merida, and half the year in Canada. Mark has two businesses here now: Merida Capital Investments, which provides investment opportunities for people who have money by providing financing to Mexicans who don't have enough. And MCI Legal Services, a local law firm geared towards foreigners, specializing in real estate transactions and FM-3 applications. You can find out more at his two websites, MCI Legal Services and Merida Capital Investments.