Imagine going to Mexico City as a tourist and getting robbed by the cops for a few hundred dollars.
Or being an expat and ending up having someone break you into your apartment with a gun to steal you stuff.
Or perhaps you get residency and purchase property down in Latin America – only to have some criminal group or corrupt politician steal it from you somehow.
As everyone already knows, Latin America isn’t necessarily the safest area of the world.
Though, in my time living here so far, I have only been robbed once by the police and that was it.
And I’m sure there are plenty of foreigners who have spent an even more significant time here without too many problems.
Because in the eyes of some foreigners who have never been down here, it might look like some shithole where you will instantly be shanked in the kidney the second you step outside the airport.
And believe me, in all seriousness, I met someone in the States who believed that was what would happen if they showed up to Mexico.
Not even joking on that one.
That was an interesting conversation.
But, on the other hand, I have met foreigners who will tell you that Latin America is the safest region of the world and nothing bad happens here!
The land that has drug cartels, crazy corrupt governments, known for civil conflict in various parts, crime in general, corrupt police, etc…
Is the safest region of the world.
The types that say this are, in my experience, usually far left leaning tourists who have only spent a month down here and are working at some “save the world” NGO.
But I digress.
The truth is that the danger you will face here will basically come down to if you are doing….
Or stupid shit.
Also, mix in a bit of bad luck in case that happens to hit you – sometimes it might.
And, of course, that is an entirely another topic for another day – the things that can put you most at risk for being a victim of crime down here.
But that’s not what this specific article is about necessarily.
Instead, it’s more about one obvious aspect that will increase your chances of being a victim of crime or a scam…
And that is how deep your roots get in Latin America.
Let me break it down what I mean by that in basically 3 different types of people…
This is the type of foreigner who is here on a very short period of time…
Maybe 6 months at most but quite possibly only a few weeks even.
This type of foreigner shows up to Latin America and will probably be at some hotel or Airbnb.
Something well established.
Taking Uber everywhere..
And only hanging out in the more touristy spots that probably have more police presence.
With maybe only a week of being down here..
Or however his or her short period of time is…
They are probably not going to be a victim of crime.
Though, on the flip side, this person often brings with them no Spanish and possibly not much experience in this part of the world.
So those factors would make it more likely that they could get scammed or robbed.
After all, read this article here by Colombia Reports…
Where it goes into greater detail at how residents and tourists in Medellin are at greater risk of being drugged by scopolamine.
Which is a drug that can be used to help the criminal rob you basically.
Now, given that residents are staying here longer term, I’d say they have more risk of this than tourists.
But there are sex tourists who come down here and they get drugged and robbed I would believe more often than the general group of tourists given who they choose to hang out with.
Prostitutes and other relevant characters who might try to rob a foreigner.
But either way – I would say the greatest risk to a tourist is getting that ol’ gringo pricing for stuff.
Where they get charged more than the locals due to their lack of Spanish and lack of experience down here knowing what the local prices are for things.
Mixed in also perhaps with their preference for certain types of services that Airbnb that charge more than what you could get at a local apartment.
In worst case scenario, maybe they get robbed once in a while but the risk is lower for them than residents I believe again due to the roots issue.
Official & Non-Official Residents
Now official residents are obviously people who went through the process of getting temporary or permanent residency.
Then you have folks who do not have official residency but basically, in a non-official practical sense, they are residents in my eyes.
Where they may not have official residency…
But they are spending more than 330 days out of the year basically outside the US per year…
And they might be hopping around between two or three different Latin countries of their choice.
Say Colombia for 6 months and the DR for 6 months.
Or Mexico for 6 months and then you leave Mexico for a day or two and come back for another 6 month visa.
Or however they do it.
But basically they are residents to Latin America in some sense.
And are very different from stereotypical tourists in that they have maybe even a decade or more of living down here.
They often speak Spanish in my experience (though not always).
With plenty of friends in whatever city they spend the most time in.
It is less likely they are living in an Airbnb and more likely they have a contract with some apartment…
Now, with these folks in general…
I am seperting them from the final and third group below – which is people who make very deep investments into Latin America.
Those investments being starting a business, getting a house, having children and a family down here, etc.
Even though there are people who have done those things and are residents.
The two need to be separated.
These are just folks who only spent a more significant amount of time here beyond just a few weeks.
I’m talking years to maybe over a decade and more.
So time is the investment here basically.
And also the other things these folks are more likely to do – such as apartment contracts for example or making local friends.
All of which are more likely to increase your exposure to being scammed or robbed down here.
Not saying those things are bad but it is the obvious truth.
Where you make local friends who are a bit sketchier than you realize and try to scam you.
And there’s plenty of scammers down here.
To maybe an apartment owner fucking you over.
For example, in Mexico City, as you can read here, it’s quite common for scammers to ask you to send a deposit for the apartment to secure your place for it basically.
You send the money.
They block you and run off with it.
Just how it is.
And, of course, with more time spent here, the more likely you will be robbed by the police like I was here.
Or maybe some desperate individual will try to rob you in the street.
Whatever it may be.
But, it should be said, that these folks really don’t have that much investment into Latin America.
No purchased property.
And no children or family.
So the exposure is still quite weak here in the grand scheme of things.
I know plenty of people who live like this also.
Because, as we will soon discuss, there are plenty of folks who become hesitant in taking the next step in making deeper investments into this part of the world.
Because, at least from the people I have met, those deeper investments do expose you to more risk.
And in a region where corruption is rampant and the rule of law is not as strong as elsewhere…
That is a bigger risk.
A bigger risk to losing a shit ton of more money or possibly having your life threatened.
Which is perhaps why some folks that I know prefer to keep their roots into Latin America to be more minimal.
Such as one guy I know who never even gets residency and basically hops between Colombia and the DR constantly.
No purchased property.
Just living the nice life earning money online and enjoying beaches and big booty Latina women.
So his roots down here, aside from the time aspect, are obviously a bit smaller.
But let’s go into then the final group to mention.
The Foreigners with Deeper Roots
Sometime ago, I was reading some articles of this website called MyLatinLife about starting a business in Latin America.
The articles go into pretty decent detail about some of the challenges of doing so and reveal some of the headaches involved.
Headaches that you may not necessarily experience starting a business elsewhere in other areas of the world where things are done more efficiently.
And some Latin countries are nicer for doing business than others...
As you can read here.
And, of course, the author of that post isn’t the only person who has had issues with starting a business in Latin America.
Where you can read here about this case of an extortion against a business in Guatemala that left 1,300 people without work.
And keep in mind crimes against businesses -- extortions and other crimes -- are not uncommon in various parts of Latin America.
Then there’s this video I saw on Youtube years ago of this guy who started a business in Colombia and got himself some business partner.
In the end, he ended up losing about 20,000 USD because the Colombian business partner was able to steal it from him.
Business closed and he never got his money back or any justice against the guy.
I believe the video was taken off the internet because the guy closed his Youtube account but if I find it, I will post it here.
Then there is this article I found here about a couple who decided to leave Mexico after about 20 years of living there.
Some of the issues they came across were….
Over a 20 million Mexican pesos and more being stolen from foreigner bank accounts in Mexico as you can read here…
To property such as hotels and beach properties being stolen by corrupt politicians as you can read here…
To their own property having issues with squatters and not being able to fix the issue, among other issues, as you can read here.
Then you have other issues with expats owning property in Latin America, such as this article here going into real estate scams in Colombia.
Of course, no country is perfect.
But it’s articles like the one about that couple leaving Mexico after 20 years that got me thinking about something that was obvious before…
Which we will get to in the final section of this article below.
My Own Experiences
Out of these groups, I fall into category #2 – the unofficial resident as of this writing.
I never started a business down here.
Not even a local job down here employed by a local.
And definitely no property that I own.
On the surface, I am simply a “tourist” as of this writing even though I have about 5 years in Latin America.
But I don’t even have a local phone number either – just my American phone.
The only roots I have ever established down here are…
- Having apartment contracts.
- Having local girlfriends (and plenty of hookup friends, but hey, who is to judge).
- The time spent down here.
- Having some friends down here also.
So, in the grand scheme of things, I’m not very exposed.
If I wanted to, I could leave Mexico right now and go anywhere I want in the world.
Well, ok, not anywhere..
Probably not North Korea.
And as I was talking with a guy who also lives in Mexico City down here…
Who started his own business in Latin America.
And, in his words, “I semi realized it when trying to run a biz in Lima. When you actually have to get things done down here using or relying on local institutes, you immediately see how shittier life gets.”
And, as I said before, most guys I know personally don’t invest too much down here.
Be it have children or buy property.
Either because they are young and haven’t had kids yet or the money to buy property…
Or because, as one guy I know who hops between the DR and Colombia….
They simply come to the conclusion, from observing the risks other expats have faced, that the risk isn’t worth it.
When it comes to my personal opinion on this matter….
I do believe you can definitely make deeper investments into Latin America without having a terrible time like someone stealing your property or 20,000 USD that you invested into some business down here…
And there are people down here – plenty of them – who have made those type of investments and didn’t get fucked over.
From what I have seen, it depends on how smart you were with your decisions…
As it is easier for criminals to scam or rob you down here, you do need to be more on your toes about the decisions you make than in the US relatively speaking.
And also, in part, it depends on how much bad luck you are having.
Like the person in this article here that I referenced that was having all sorts of bad luck from what I read.
On top of that, it needs to be said that obviously not all of Latin America is the same.
There are some areas, from my understanding, that have better rule of law and property protections.
Like Chile or Uruguay for example.
And you also have other countries where, from what I understand, organized crime is not as bad as it is in say Mexico…
But there are still lots of corruption and things are not as formal as say Chile or Uruguay…
Places like Paraguay or maybe Nicaragua.
Personally, I am, as others I know are also, very hesitant to ever purchase property in my life in Latin America.
Not only because I am not sure if that money would be better invested into something else instead (meaning a general hesitancy to deal with home ownership anywhere in the world)….
But also because of the organized crime element and the corruption element that is an issue in quite a far areas of Latin America from what I have seen.
When it comes to a business….
Well, keep in mind I am not a business owner and never have had a business.
But I am self-employed.
From what I have seen, I don’t think I would ever start a business down here unless the targeted consumers that I am marketing towards are foreigners from developed countries like the US, Canada, England, etc…
For a lot of reasons – enough that it deserves its own article.
And when it comes to starting a family…
Personally, I wouldn’t start a family in any country down here unless it was in a relatively safe place like Chile or Uruguay for example.
Argentina is not bad either but their tax system is murderous enough from my understanding.
Though there are other areas of Latin America, like Peru, that, from the outside, seem good enough.
In that while corruption might be a bigger issue there, it doesn’t seem like organized crime is anywhere near as bad as some other places like Mexico or Colombia.
And obviously not as bad as Venezuela.
So even a Latin country that is relatively speaking poorer than Chile, Uruguay or Argentina could work well enough in my opinion as long as the organized crime element isn’t too severe.
And I say that knowing that, yes, you can raise a good family in a place like Mexico where obviously organized crime is much worse.
But being someone who has never been a father before up to this writing….
Even though I love Mexico and have been here for 3 years now….
I simply couldn’t see myself having a family here because it feels so much different when you are now conscious of the safety of your own children instead of yourself.
Just, as an instinctive level, I don’t think I could ever be comfortable trying to raise children in a place like Mexico or Colombia.
Even though I feel it could be done well enough, I wouldn’t want to take the chance.
I’d rather do that in the US and take them there if I had kids here.
Or go to a relatively safer country like Chile, Uruguay, Argentina…
Or even a place like Paraguay that is not as developed as those places but I feel would be a lot safer than say Mexico.
Though corruption would still be an issue.
But as I said before in this article here…
For me personally, I am most likely to settle down long term in Chile as of this point…
Not necessarily because of the issue regarding deepening my roots into Latin America…
But also because of a more natural interest that I have in that country given its beauty in the countryside and the history of Chile also.
But that won’t happen for a few more years until I get the desire to explore the rest of Latin America a little more off my chest.
Either way, those are my thoughts on this topic.
Something interesting to think about – especially for those who are thinking of living in Latin America long term.
It is something you will want to consider in my opinion as you consider your future down here long term.
Hope you enjoyed the article.
If you have any of your own comments on this matter, leave it below in the comment section or message me on Twitter here.