Rudi van Vuuren is a serial expat who has lived in countries like Kazakhstan, Thailand, Canada and Mexico – just to name a few. After recently settling back in his home country, South Africa, he reflects on his life abroad. In this interview with Expat Arrivals, he talks about living in Cabo San Lucas and his experiences there. Keep up with Rudi's life on Twitter.
Read more about expat life in Mexico in our Expat Arrivals Mexico country guide.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: South Africa
Q: Where were you staying in Mexico?
A: Cabo San Lucas
Q: When did you live there?
A: From 2007 - 2009 we would sail to Cabo San Lucas twice a week on board a cruise line which shall remain unnamed.
Q: Was this your first expat experience?
A: Nope, I’ve been around the block more than once, you might say.
Q: Did you live there alone or with a spouse/family?
A: Just me, myself, and I.
Q: Why did you move; what did you do?
A: I had this once in a lifetime opportunity to join a casino on board a cruise ship as the casino marketing host, and jumped at it without a glance back.
Living in Cabo San Lucas
Q: What did you enjoy most about Cabo? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: Cabo is impossible to compare. It is basically a seaside resort town. The quality of life is definitely higher than in my home country, although the rural areas can become quite sparse seeing as it turns into arid desert as you head inland.
Q: Any negative experiences? What did you miss most about home?
A: The locals soon become disenchanted with expats who don’t maintain the “tourist” attitude. I missed my family most of all, I would say.
Q: What were the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: Using dineros! The local currency is valued very low, so I had to do a lot of mental gymnastics before I got to the right answer.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Was there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Mexico?
A: Long-term accommodation can be difficult to track down if you don’t speak Spanish. However, there would be times you got really luck with out-of-season resort rates. Cuisine was affordable and usually world class. I’d recommend using taxis only in the most urgent of cases, as that can cost quite a lot, even for a very short distance.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Cabo? What is your most memorable experience of using the city’s transport system?
A: Unpredictable! The taxi drivers were all very chatty and keen to take a person sightseeing, (heed my advice, don’t) the buses were crowded, but dirt cheap, often you could even ride for free. As for my most memorable experience, that taxi ride I warned against.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Cabo? Did you have any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: I never had any health issues. There was a local clinic that I never went to, the doctor there seemed well experienced and spoke a little English. For more serious cases there is a hospital as well. Medical costs were low, but I can’t really give exact figures.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Cabo or Mexico? Were there any areas you would advise expats to avoid?
A: Cabo is a beautiful place, but as it is, there are some back streets best avoided. As previously mentioned, unless you like donkey shows, don’t take up the amiable taxi driver’s offer of sightseeing.
Q: How would you rate the standard of housing in the city? What different options were available for expats?
A: Either super luxurious (can be quite pricey in season) to reasonably comfortable long-term flats in newly built high rises (five floors if I recall correctly). A person can live rent free if willing to crash on a local’s couch. I saw this happen more than once.
Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: The closer to the sea the better, the higher up against the coast, the more you will have to pay.
Working in Cabo
Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I would never take on the visa paperwork myself! It was all handled by the expert admin team aboard ship. I have seen the forms, and heard people talk of the process, and I would not go about trying it on my own.
Q: What was the economic climate in the city like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Economically speaking, the people are all stable, most own businesses and employ family as staff. Holiday resorts and schools are your best bets job-wise. Online job portals for the major hotels all advertise for positions in Cabo. One Google search is all it takes.
Q: How did the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Cabo or Mexico? Did you have any particularly difficult experiences adapting to local business culture?
A: Work gets done when it gets done. There is no ETA, only a promise of completion...eventually. This is usually not out of spite or malice, but rather timing of supplies and so forth which slows things down a lot. Also, don’t haggle too hard, if a local business won’t budge on a price then neither will the other establishments. Rather accept and attempt to renegotiate at a later stage.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant were the locals of foreigners? Was there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Did you ever experience discrimination in Cabo?
A: Everyone is welcome here! The festivals are a riot of colours and music, there is something for everyone. There is a slight expectation of frivolous spending, seeing as it’s a touristy town, but other than that it’s good.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: All you need is a smile. Even with zero Spanish, it’s easy to communicate with the locals and other expats alike. I guess its something in the air.
Q: Did you make friends with locals or did you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: I would say about equal amounts expat and local. My advice would be not to spend too much initially, many friends only remain while cash is flowing.
Family and children
Q: How would you say spouses or partners adjust to Cabo? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: It is a flirty scene, the youth are hot-blooded and outspoken. People dance and physical contact is inevitable. If partners are jealous, stay away.
Q: Would children settle in easily? What would the biggest challenges for them be during the move?
A: Kids settle in quick. There are other expat families to interact with. The incessant heat is probably the biggest challenge, keeping kids hydrated properly is essential.
Q: What are some good family attractions and activities in the city?
A: The options are endless, they have beautiful diving spots and activities that range from the extreme (quad biking) to the placid like touring a wine farm.
I personally liked hitting up all the coffee shops, such a fun experience.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: Schools seemed well equipped, with mostly classes in Spanish. I never paid much attention to that seeing as I didn’t need it.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Cabo or Mexico?
A: Brush up on your Spanish, especially pronunciation, the more you sound like a local the faster they will make you part of the community.
► Interviewed October 2019