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Mark My Word… Opportunities Abound!

Mark ArbourYL: 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.


 

 


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26 Responses to “Mark My Word… Opportunities Abound!”

  1. I really enjoyed your interview. You are lucky to be able to run a bushiness in such a nice place. The more spanish that you learn and try to speak, the more respected you will be by the locals.

    I do however have to reply to one statement that you made.
    “It angers me when people make statements that Mexicans are poor or peasants.”

    I agree, Mexico is on the right track, but I don’t think you will stay angry if you travel south from the Centro. More amazing than the amount of poverty is the attitudes of the people. Money don’t “drive” them. They have adapted and live life without the pressures that money brings.

    What you will find when you travel south is that a person can be happy without money. This is one of the most valuable lessons I learned, while in Mexico.

  2. Great article! I will visit Merida in the near future for sure and look at investments with Merida Capital Investments. This sounds like a diamond in the rough. mark sounds like a very positive person with so much experience. Thank you for the information.

  3. Hello YucaGringo,

    Your comments are welcomed and you have put my comments in a better context. Wealth can be measured in a number of different ways other than money and objects. I have travelled to several small villages. What they lack in monetary items they certainly make up with family and values!

    I agree 100% that there is more to life than money and living in Mexico and observing my surroundings I have learned that the Mexican culture and in particular the Yucatectan culture is much healthier pace!

  4. Great post.I have never been to Merida but I hope to visit soon.

  5. Mark Arbour brings a refreshing yet low glitz perspective to doing business in the Yucatán. However, Small is Beautiful, so let´s hope that we won´t be seeing an invasion of five million Stateside retirees. Saludos from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.

  6. What a wonderful article! Thank you, Mark, for sharing your thoughts, Khaki, for sharing the article with me and Working Gringos, for writing it.
    After my 7 months in Merida last year I want to live there! Have no business to start but I can run one!
    Back in Texas now but I left my heart in the Yucatan.

  7. Hello, I really enjoyed that informative article! I’m living in Vancouver BC with the highest snowfall right now that we’ve had in 44 years! However, I’ve been researching areas to retire or semi-retire in Mexico. A Mexican woman working in my dentist’s office suggested Merida. I’d like to ask a question about rentals. I’m living on a modest pension income and wonder what I’d need to pay in or around Merida for a simple one-bedroom suite. I’d be bringing my cat with me (in October) so would need access to the outside.
    Also, could anyone tell me if there is a music conservatory in Merida? I play amateur viola and would like to find others to play with in amateur ensembles. Is this likely in Merida? Thanks for any info’.

  8. Yucatan Living has been a vital source of information for me for several years and Marks interview really hits home. My wife and I toyed with the idea of buying all over Mexico after many, many trips, but after our first trip to Merida and the coast we were hooked. This site got me in touch with Tierra Yucatan Realtors and the next trip, we made an offer on a beach house in San Benito, which is now complete. Through our realtor who was fantastic we got hooked up with her husband, another expat living and working in Merida and then a great lawyer, which Mark is right, is the key. The locals are like none you have ever encountered if you have traveled Mexico; the warmest, friendliest and most genuine I have ever come across. We hope to find a place in Merida next. I have a large commercial contracting business in Texas and hope to be doing work as well in Merida to help the local economy as well.
    For people who have never been to Merida before, I recommend grabbing a bite to eat on the patio at night at Cubaro’s and you will fall in love, then hit Trotters.

  9. I am a Registered Nurse in cardiac care. I was wondering if anyone has contacts for jobs in this field in Merida Mexico. If so, please email me at astorey2006 [at] yahoo [dot] com. My husband and I plan to move to Merida in the next couple of years. Thanks.

  10. Amy, it is our understanding that it is practically impossible for an American in your field to get a paying job here. That is because Mexico does a fine job of training nurses and has more people than positions.
    Instead, you might consider (as most expats do when they come here if they aren’t retired) starting your own business. Perhaps an expat-oriented home care service, or something similar.
    Of course, we could be wrong. You might try contacting one of the larger hospitals in the area (like StarMedica) and asking them.

  11. Excellent article and so inspiring. I am a business owner in Texas and run a staffing company that provides contingent and direct hire placement. Is there any value to opening a business as such in Merida? I am not up on the employment or labor laws but am sure they are very different to ours. Getting to Mexico is my goal but I am not ready to retire just yet so I would need to have a business to support myself.

    thank you for any insight you might have,

    Samantha Kool

  12. Hi Samantha,

    I can tell you where I see a demand from my personal experiences that might fit into your current work experience. There are more and more baby boomers retiring to this region. Many people in retirement are hoping for a more relaxing life and the construction of homes are different than North America. The heat is very intense at times and performing house work and gardening can be very demanding and pysically exhausting for most people but not to mention seniors. I see how hard my cleaning lady works and how physical the work is, and believe me I appreciate it!

    I think starting up a house cleaning company or a yard maintenance company would do very well in this region and there would be a strong demand. I know it has been very diffcult for me to find a reliable housekeeper and gardener. I know many of my Yucatecan friends also complain of the same issue.

    I think with your skills of recruiting workers and knowledge of customer service would make you very successful in this field.

    Sincerely

    Mark Arbour

  13. Dear Mr Arbour; are you looking for Real Estate Sales Representatives? I am currently licensed in the state of California. I have experience in recreational land and single family home sales. Fully bilingual with dual citizenship.Familiar with Mexican Banking Fideicomiso etc. I will be in Merida about the end of January… early february 2009. Please let me know if we may be able to have a meeting to further explore this request. Thank You ! Jose A Herrera

  14. Hello Mr. Herrera,

    Thank you for the offer. There are a number of real estate firms in Merida that may be able to utilize your real estate skills. You obviously speak English and I assume Spanish, so you would be an asset to any firm. At the present time our law firm and investment company does not sell real estate.

    We do invest and provide financing in real estate and provide full range of legal services.

    I will unfortunately be back in Canada when you are Merida but will be returning to Merida at the end of February for about 6 weeks. If you are still in Merida I would be more than happy to meet with you and discuss other opportunities.

    Sincerely,

    Mark A. Arbour

  15. Hi Mark,
    I love your enthusiasm and your advice to your other replies. I’m making plans to move, and the biggest stumbling block is continued income. I am an independent accountant for small businesses an individuals as clients. Some I can convert to a virtual status, but I would need to replace some clients. Thinking of expats, is there a need for this type of support, as well as administrative support? And are there any techies around to help me set up? I’d love to migrate out of what I do, but the move will be change enough and I really think I need to be there and learn the community before I make career changes. I have experience in real estate, retail management, the hospitality industry and artistic endeavors. Let me know what you think!
    Jenni

  16. Hi Jenni,

    Thank you for the kind words. I am sure that there are some ex-pats that will require tax filings back in the U.S. I know that there are many foreigners who operate a business in the Yucatan and I am sure that bookeeping/accounting experience would be an asset. I would think that many accounting firms would welcome an English speaking associate, who not only speaks English but understands accounting principles. There are also a number of property management companies that may be able to use your accounting/bookkeeping experience. There are many individuals that can provide you tech support. I think that there are many opportunities based on your past work experiences.

    Best of luck!
    Sincerely,
    Mark

  17. FINALLY !! I am now in Merida… Permanently…’till our father in heaven takes me home!

  18. Hola Mark and Working Gringos,
    I am a recent reader of your site but for the last two weeks I have been totally engrossed in reading the articles, interviews and comments. My favourite so far has been about the stovens, hilarious and charming. I have learned so much about the Yucatan; thank you for all the time you have put into making such a wonderful site.

    I too love Mexican culture and when I read through the site I feel that I am hearing from ‘my people’ and that I must come to join ‘my people’. Currently I own property in Huatulco where I am in the beginning stages of building a casita de la playa to share with friends and family. I hadn’t entertained the notion of working and I am too young to retire but having read Mark’s interview, I now feel inspired that perhaps I could work and move down earlier than I had thought. I am a Registered Massage Therapist from Vancouver. I tried to work many years ago in Baja but didn’t have my Hacienda papers so couldn’t really advance.

    With the projected wave of baby boomers do you think that Mérida could support another such therapist? I am also planning to certify as a teacher of English in order to have more to offer the community and also to provide another small income stream.

    Any advice or thoughts you have would be much appreciated.

    I am hoping to spend time studying Spanish in Mérida this winter when the Olympics are on in Vancouver and I am looking forward to experiencing the beauty and history of this fascinating city.

    Thank you for your time.

    Kathleen

  19. HI Kathleen,

    I am quite confident that you could operate a massage therapy business. I know that more and more Baby Boomers are retiring to the Yucatan & Mexico in general but there are equally as many investors purchasing investment properties that are rented out. I am seeing more of these rental properties offering extra services like massage therapy, spa treatments, maid services, cooks etc to renters/tourists at these properties. They are marketed as in-home treatments/services. I am sure that you would need to adjust your treatment price as you would be competing with other RMT but your operating expenses would be less. You would need to keep in mind that most baby Boomers are on a fixed income. I think you could market yourself as a RMT but at reduced rates from the Hotel/Resort Spas and emphasize that you come directly to the clients home.

    I would be happy to share some other investment ideas that could assist you in retiring earlier and making your retirement dreams a reality.

    You can email me directly at: marka [at] meridacapitalinvestments [dot] ca

    As with any new venture you would need to market and promote yourself.

    Best of Luck!

    Sincerely,

    Mark

  20. I have met Mark and Miguel to inquire about some legal work that I needed for the potential purchase of my home in Merida. I am on a fixed income and have financial limits and needed more information about Merida before taking the plunge.
    I was very impressed with their professional but comfortable approach. They have so much knowledge of the Yucatan, great places to invest etc. and I felt very confident in hiring them. They respected me and my financial limits. Since my meeting I have worked closely with Mark and Miguel and have purchased my home and now live in Merida 6 months a year and I LOVE IT !!! Our business relationship has grown and I have now have invested with their company. Mark and Miguel helped me in so many ways and I would highly recommend them.

  21. Hello Tami,

    Thank you for the kind words. Miguel and I look forward to making your retirement stress free and comfortable.

    Sincerely,

    Mark & Miguel

  22. Dear Mark,

    My wife and I enjoyed your interview very much. We are currently living in NH and are also tired of the cold. I am taking an early retirement from several years as a school administrator and teacher,as is my wife. What are the prospects of teaching in the areas of science and reading,if at all? I am also an avid hunter and fisherman. are there any prospects in these areas? We look forward to hearing from you and good luck with your enterprise.

    Respectfully,
    Frank and Sharon Mellaci

  23. Hello Dr. Mellaci,

    I am quite sure that your vast teaching experience would be highly sought after. There are a number of private schools that teach English. I am quite sure they would consider both you and your wife as teachers. I am sure that there would be a huge pay cut for you but I am sure you are more interested in just getting involved and keeping yourself active. I am not sure if you speak Spanish but if you do not, you may want to find out if that is a requirement.

    I can tell you that it is extremely important for many of the local professionals that their children learn English. The fact that both you and your wife are formally eductaed as teachers in the USA would be an asset. I would think with those qualifications you could easily start up a private school if that was your desire but again I think you would want to be fluent in Spanish also.

    I am not a hunter so I cannot offer much insight on that topic. Merida is on 30 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico. I am not sure what the sport fishing industry is like there. I do know there are a few charter companies that do provide sport fishing. Cancun is only 3 hours away and they do have a much bigger sports fishing industry there.

    I wish you the best in your retirement.

    Sincerely,

    Mark Arbour

  24. Hunting in Mexico (particularly for foreigners) is generally not possible. Foreigners are forbidden to own or possess firearms or ammunition of any kind. Prison (not jail) sentences have been handed out for as little as a forgotten partially full box of .22 cal cartridges in the trunk of a car.

    Generally speaking, these prohibitions apply to Mexicans as well, although you will find villagers owning an ancient shotgun or rifle here and there. They like to hunt the tiny endangered Yucatan deer and various birds to supply meat for the table.

    I have hunted in the USA and I can tell you that the terrain in Yucatan is not very amenable to walking around in the brush. Rocks of all sizes and everywhere, huge sinkholes, unmarked abandoned wells, thorny trees, cactus and henequen, various poisonous snakes and a multitude of biting and stinging insects make hunting a less than attractive idea to me.

    Fishing would be a far more successful pursuit.

  25. WG’s rightly point out that hunting is possible. There are many restrictions and, for foreigners, mainly possible through registration through international groups. Bringing your own weapon is possible if pre-registered with the Mexican government and with express written permissions and thorough documentation.

    Otherwise, years in prison. It’s a chance I’m not willing to take, personally.

  26. Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve visited this site before but after browsing through many of the articles I realized it’s new to me.

    Anyways, I’m certainly happy I found it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back regularly!

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