7 Lessons I Learned About Money After Living in Mexico

Commercial trade between the United States and Mexico is very important for both nations.

  • Just in January 2016, the United States exported $18 billion in goods to Mexico.
  • An estimated one million American citizens live in Mexico.
  • In 2013, over 20 million U.S. tourists visited Mexico and over 14 million Mexican tourists visited the U.S., spending about $10.5 billion.

For three years, I had the wonderful opportunity to experience what it is to live in Monterrey, Mexico and learned several important financial lessons that I apply here in the United States. Here are the seven lessons about money that I learned after living in Mexico.

1. Invest in a College Degree

Founding Father Ben Franklin said it best: "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

My bachelor’s degree allowed me to land a teaching job at Prepa Tec, the high school system of the Tecnologico de Monterrey university system, which included a fully-funded sponsorship to complete a master’s degree in Education. I was able to complete a postgraduate degree with zero debt and boost my future earnings potential.

Given that the Millennial generation is much more interested in traveling abroad than older generations, I would advise my peers to invest in a college degree to combine a passion for travel with the opportunity to earn money. (See also: The 3 Best Jobs for Expats and Travelers)

It's worth mentioning that having at least a bachelor's degree increases your lifetime earnings by $1 million over those from folks with just a high school diploma, and increases your chances of better health, too.

2. Keep an Eye on Other Currencies

While living in Mexico, I had to keep a close watch on the U.S. dollar-Mexican peso exchange rate for several reasons. For one, I still had a checking account back in the U.S. and crossed the border several times for shopping and tourism. After a couple months of tracking this number, I learned how to simultaneously buy and sell currencies in order to profit from a difference in the price (also known as "arbitrage").

By keeping an eye on foreign currencies, you may be able to take advantage of many financial opportunities. For example, for the past two years, the U.S. dollar has appreciated against several currencies, including the Brazilian real, the Chilean peso, and the euro, making your foreign vacation plans much more affordable.

3. Review Your Employer's Benefits Package

Working for an educational institution may not sound as sexy as working for a hot startup. However, in my case, it offered me comparable benefits and perks. Established in 1943, the Tecnologico de Monterrey has over 30 campuses in Mexico and 13 campuses abroad. The size of this institution allows it to broker great deals for its employees, including layaway programs, discounts at retailers, and financial services at better rates. I had access to all gyms in the six campuses in Monterrey and was able to purchase a laptop at a discounted price through an automatic payroll deduction program.

Don't underestimate the ability of your employer to provide you better benefits and take a second look at what you're currently being offered. For example, your employer may provide you an online portal for discounted goods and services, such as electronics and travel options or individual investment advice offered on a one-on-one basis through your retirement plan. Particularly, take ownership of your retirement planning because nearly half of 401K plan owners don't know what their best investment options are.

4. Check the Fine Print on All Your Contracts

A credit card agreement, cell phone plan, or other type of contract can go further than you think. While living in Monterrey, I met several U.S. expats that would still use the same credit cards, cell phone plans, or insurance plans from across the border for several reasons. Here are some examples:

5. File Your Taxes When Living Abroad

If you were to choose to live in Mexico for three years like I did, your entire family would miss you a lot, particularly your good ol' Uncle Sam. He'd miss you so much that he'd ask you to still check in with him every year. Yes, all U.S. citizens and green card holders are still liable to file their federal tax returns, even when abroad.

Your worldwide income is subject to U.S. income tax, regardless of where you reside. The good news is that the IRS grants U.S. citizens and resident aliens living outside of the United States and Puerto Rico an automatic two-month extension to file their return (June 18th in 2016). The bad news is that you would still pay interest on any tax not paid by the regular due date of your return (April 18th in 2016). (See also: Filed an Extension? Here's What You Need to Know)

Because many countries have tax treaties with the U.S., research for applicable treaties, including tax exemptions for certain professions.

6. Make Your Air Miles Go the Extra Mile

Before I moved to Mexico, I had accumulated a lot of reward miles — but I had been unable to use them, because of various restrictions and confusing terms. So frustrating!

In Mexico, the process was a lot simpler, and I soon realized how much further I could travel with my existing air miles within Mexico and to South America. I was able to score a trip from Monterrey, Mexico to Guayaquil, Ecuador (roughly the same distance as a flight from New York to Seattle) for far fewer points for an equivalent trip within the U.S. (See also: 12 Travel Perks You Didn't Know Your Credit Card Had)

And there's more. You can also redeem frequent flier miles for additional items, including car rentals, hotel stays, magazine subscriptions, and VIP experiences.

7. Seek Additional Sources of Income

Before living in Mexico, I had a very traditional view on work: You only have one full-time job. Through my work at Prepa Tec I quickly discovered that lots more opportunities were available to me:

  • My native proficiency in Spanish allowed me to translate a couple of course materials at the college level to English;
  • My presentation skills enabled me to become an instructor for a graduate level admissions exam; and
  • My computer skills turned out to be great assets to create music sequences for an electro pop band!

While it may be counterintuitive, people with higher levels of education are more likely to have multiple jobs than those without. For those who aren't able to get a raise, or got the average 3% salary bump, or are looking to boost their budget or savings, secondary sources of income are a good idea. With the rise of the gig economy, there are many ways to make money online that are absolutely legit, including driving your car for Uber or Lyft or becoming a virtual assistant for Zirtual or Fancy Hands.

What money lessons did you learn after living abroad?

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