Every week, I answer dozens of emails from people interested in moving to Playa del Carmen. While I am always happy to give my point of view....my perspective on life here as a foreigner.....I thought it might be fun and informative for "Life's a Beach" readers to get to know some more of the folks who have made the big leap into expat life. We began a series of interviews with local business people and families who have moved to Playa del Carmen whose journey may be of interest to those still in the planning stages or even those just dreaming about it. Unlike other expat interviews found on the web, we know all of these people personally. If you are planning to move to Playa del Carmen, they just may be your neighbors! We may not necessarily see eye to eye with everyone we interview but each of these interviews will be published unedited and in their entirety. As such, I imagine that this particular series will be interesting to follow and prompt quite a few comments and questions.
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This Expat Interview, the first for 2013, features Susan de Lima. Susan moved to Playa del Carmen at almost the exact same time as we did. She was one of the first people we met here in Playa, back in the good old days at Captain Dave's on 10th. We have been friends ever since, celebrating our successes and lamenting and laughing about the bumps in the road along the way. Susan is the owner of UNO Events and Catering and most recently opened UNO to Go. She is also the Head of Operations for Taste of Playa.

Susan De Lima Expat InterviewAbout you

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: The amazing country of Canada

Q: Where are you living now?

A:  Playa del Carmen

Q: How long you have you lived here?

A:  Since 2004

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?

A:  No, but I did make the move with a dog

Q: What made you decide to move here?

A:  Many reasons....Canada is great but where I am from very cold! Due to genetics, my body does not respond well to cold climates so this seemed like the perfect place to be. My employers in Canada started a program that allowed employees to take up to a year leave of absence and return to their job. Say no more! I applied to the program and left for a year, never to return.

Q: What did you do for a living back home? What do you do here?

A:  I was a prevention education consultant in my last job. When I relocated to Mexico I knew that this was not going to be something that I could continue here. I followed my passion for entertaining and cooking to become an event coordinator and caterer. More recently, I expanded this to provide my clients with home cooking to take away.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your new hometown? How's the quality of life?

A:  I mostly enjoy the beach lifestyle and the fact that I now know all my neighbours and then some! Playa del Carmen, although growing rapidly, is still the quaint "small town" place that I grew to love when I first came on vacation over 15 years ago. It is a friendly, safe atmosphere where you really get to know people.

Q: How's the quality of life? Is it what you expected or have you been surprised by anything?

A: I am most surprised of how little one really needs. Downsizing from a large home to a small condo seemed daunting at first. "What about my stuff?!" Guess what, you don´t really need very much too really enjoy life and living. Bikini and sarong (sunscreen too!) and you are good to go. I have found an increase in the quality of life; especially from being around others who are doing the same.

Q: What have the downsides been in your move? The biggest challenges?

A:  I would say language has been the biggest challenge. I believe it is completely up to yourself to immerse yourself in the language and culture but in Playa it is very easy not to as most people speak English. Through having a business and a desire to learn about the culture and language this has been a positive challenge. There are bureaucracies that prevail but I believe that is true in any country. Some are funny, some are ludicrous and always a topic of conversation among expats.

Q: What do you miss most about home?

A:  To be honest, not much. When you live in a beautiful Caribbean place there is no shortage of visitors. I would say I miss my friends and family most from Canada but in all honesty I probably see them more with better quality of time since moving here!


Susan de Lima taste of Playa

About living here

Q: Which are the best places to live in this region as an expat?

A:  Close to the beach! I have only lived in what is known as central Playa del Carmen where there is easy access to the beach, shops, restaurants and bars.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodations?

A:  Depending on your budget very nice accommodations can be found here.

Q: What's the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

A:  I find it comparable to Canada. Quality clothing is expensive here and any products that are targeted to foreigners. Going out, in my opinion, is about the same to many places that I have traveled to.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare by cost and quality?

A:  Being Canadian, many believe that we have the best healthcare in the world. The average Canadian pays immensely for this service which is seriously flawed. I have embraced private insurance and feel that the cost and quality is amazing. I recently had Lasik eye surgery with great success at less than half the cost in my country.

Q: What are the locals like? Do you socialize mainly with other expats or do you have a lot of Mexican friends?

A:  The locals are friendly and nice. A good majority of my socializing is done with expats, however, through the years many Mexicans as well. Playa del Carmen is a somewhat unique place where even most of the Mexicans are not from here so you have a melting pot of foreigners living here and Mexicans from the entire country. This allows for interesting cultural conversations!

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

A:  Yes....could be a personal thing!

Q: Do you find Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya safe?

A:  Yes but within reason. I feel safer here than in many cities probably because so many people know each other here. That being said, it is a city which will have a certain level of crime.

Susan deLima Expat Interview 

About working here

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?

A:  It took several months to obtain my working visa and starting a corporation. It was done with relative ease.

Q: What's the economic climate like in the city. Is there plenty of opportunity to work as an expat?

A:  Business appears to be good and a constant stream of new ones opening. In my experience, I don´t believe there are many opportunities to work as an expat (except in teaching) unless you start your own business.

Q: Was it difficult to start your own business?

A:  Not really. There are specific companies that assist in this for a fee and to me invaluable.

Susan deLima Playa del Carmen ExpatQ: Tell us about your business, UNO Events and Catering, and how it came to be?

A:  During my leave of absence from Canada I knew that I did not want to go back but faced the reality of what would I do here?! I actually hosted a pool party bbq which I catered myself. Due to the friendly nature of Playa, someone brought a friend who property managed many vacation rentals who loved my food. Thus my business was born!

Q: What differences have you found between doing business here and back home? What was the most surprising difference, either positive or negative?

A:  I have never had a business...always an employee so everything is new for me!

Q: What do think it takes to be successful here?

A:  I believe, like anywhere else, hard work


And finally...

Q: Is there any specific advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?

A:  Network, research (blogs, websites, books), volunteer, LEARN SPANISH

Q: Have you ever considered moving back to your home country and if so, why?

A:  Nope

Q: What brings you the most joy and keeps you here?

A:  The ocean and quality of life