As the pandemic has propelled millions of Americans to quit their jobs, many of them are fleeing the states to pursue their business dreams in other countries. If you are one of those entrepreneurs itching to break your US shackles, but haven’t decided on a destination, Michelle Wedderburn-Waters shares how San Miguel de Allende stole her heart, why the city is ripe for Black entrepreneurs, and why you should consider making the move.
Those who aren’t House Hunter International fanatics may have missed the “Meet Me in San Miguel de Allende” episode that chronicles her journey to find a home in the magical city with husband, Darryl, and son, Micha, a short four years ago.
Today, Wedderburn is the founder and CEO of Afro Expats, a travel and Mexico relocation company. This year she launched two more business ventures: The Journey Retreat, which offers holistic healing retreats for women; and Casa ELM Boutique Guesthouse, a luxury home created for travelers to rest and bond with other aspiring expats. But let’s start from the beginning.
Why did you choose San Miguel de Allende as your expat home?
My husband and I considered other countries like Costa Rica, Italy, and Panama, but in the end, Mexico made the most sense in terms of economics and how amazing life is here. We knew San Miguel has been an expat hub for decades, so after we finished our research trips to several places in 2017, it wasn’t difficult to decide what would be best for our family.
We chose San Miguel because it’s centrally located in Mexico with easy access to the US. We love the comfortable year-round climate, the mountains, and the fact that it was an easy transition from the US into this new country, new language, and culture.
Why is San Miguel de Allende the perfect place for new Black residents and business owners?
Though we have other Black businesses thriving in San Miguel – such as a co-working space, short stay rentals, and furniture stores – there are still things the city lacks, and plenty of opportunity here for people who have the passion, skill, or desire to share their talents.
For instance, we are in desperate need of someone who understands our hair, texture, and products, so hair stylists and braiders should definitely plan research trips to explore those possibilities. As well as soul and Caribbean food restaurateurs, musicians, artists, and other creatives. The options are endless. Come pioneer with us.
Through Afro Expats, you’ve helped over fifty clients travel or relocate to Mexico. What led to your decision to provide this service?
Afro Expats was birthed out of a need to share a realistic picture of what life is like in Mexico, through our lens. I wanted others who looked like me to know that Mexico receives and accepts Black people. I had always enjoyed my visits and extended stays in Mexico in the past, but I also knew that other people – who had only visited briefly, or had never been at all – held a lot of misconceptions about Mexico.
Once we relocated, I quickly realized that I wanted to show those people just how large and beautiful, how rich in culture and tradition Mexico actually is. Afro Expats became the place for me to shine this spotlight on the country. To show that San Miguel and other surrounding cities are viable options for Americans seeking refuge in another country.
Through our Afro Expats community, those who may be thinking about the move are able to see for themselves that a quality and fulfilling life is possible here.
Afro Expats was up and running, what pushed you to jump into not one, but two more business ventures?
I wanted to create a retreat space in San Miguel from the beginning. My background is in property management and short-term real estate, so I always thought that would be my only path to entrepreneurship in Mexico. But Afro Expats was birthed first and though COVID put my retreat hosting and guesthouse plans on pause in 2020, I continued pursuing them because I knew that it would give people interested in visiting, or possibly moving here in the future, the perfect opportunity to try the city on.
I looked into renting local hotels and other accommodation spaces, but those options didn’t work cost wise. And I wouldn’t be able to customize or make them into the oasis space I envisioned for my guests. Last November, I had an epiphany and started to comb
Los Frailes, an established San Miguel neighborhood, in search of a home that met my expectations. When I pulled up in front of what is now Casa ELM, my heart skipped a beat, and within a few weeks the house was mine. Now, I’m able to host San Miguel relocation tours, extended stays for future expats, and women wellness retreats. This multi-purpose space came right on time. I am thanking the universe.
Most important advice for Black entrepreneurs looking to set up shop in San Miguel de Allende?
Learn the language, this is key! Also, set yourself up for success. The Mexican government is protective of its people when it comes to business and earning, so be sure you are aware of area business practices, requirements, and regulations. And integrate with local residents. Find people you can work with, learn from, and hire to help grow your business.
Be sure to get involved with a charitable cause or give back, via your time and finances. It is important to not overlook your success without seeing where you can help. And always walk with grace.
This interview has been condensed for brevity.