Earning Money From Art in San Miguel, Mexico
Three and a half years ago, Matt and Nicole Williams were working as salespeople in the natural food industry in Los Angeles. Their roles involved lots of travel—a source of significant stress owing to the famously congested freeways of LA. “We spent most of our time sitting in traffic between appointments,” says Nicole.
One night, while watching House Hunters International (a TV program that shows people relocating to another country and finding a home), they were inspired to consider a move overseas. The next day they made a six-month plan, as part of which Nicole proposed to her company that they create a new online position for her so she could work from anywhere.
The company went for it and not long afterward they flew to the South of France, where they spent three months living in a farmhouse. They couldn’t stay in France beyond this time because after 90 days they needed a visa, which they would have needed to apply for back in LA. “It was lovely, but we were ready to leave anyway,” says Nicole.
A friend mentioned San Miguel de Allende, a UNESCO World Heritage city in Mexico, and they decided to give it a try and booked a one-way ticket. When they lived in LA, the couple had side-gigs: Nicole made and sold jewelry at craft markets, while Matt built furniture and did photography.
When they arrived in San Miguel, Nicole researched the art scene and observed that while art classes for residents abounded, there were very few half-day classes designed for tourists. She liked the idea of boosting her income by teaching visitors how to make something personal using simple techniques.
Today, her venture, SMA Workshops, offers art, jewelry, metalsmithing, and fabric dyeing classes. Clients find her through Airbnb Experiences, TripAdvisor, and her website. She also gets referrals from people who enjoyed her classes. “I get a lot of moms and their teen daughters, and dads too, surprisingly—people who’ve always wanted to learn how to make jewelry and they finally make the time for it on vacation,” she says.
Nicole also makes her own jewelry, which she sells at her workshops and through a local store. She is looking to grow her business by developing a YouTube Channel and online courses on jewelry making and fabric dyeing. In addition, she and a friend write a blog, Luxepatriate, about San Miguel, which they are in the process of monetizing.
Matt, meanwhile, works full-time for a U.S. singing coach, a friend of Nicole’s dad, who offers courses online through YouTube. He manages the coach’s online presence, a role he is able to perform from anywhere. Matt is also a yoga teacher, but offers classes because he loves doing it, not for the money, which isn’t much in San Miguel.
They are much happier living in the city because they feel a strong sense of community. “In LA, we spent so much time alone in our cars, and everyone was so busy that we really didn’t see our friends and family that often,” says Nicole. “I love that in San Miguel I can’t make it from one end of town to the other without running into at least one person I know, and it often turns into a cup of coffee or drinks on a rooftop.”
Because the cost of living is much less than in LA, they’re able to slow down and enjoy life more. They pay $1,200 per month to rent a house with a rooftop terrace and a yard for their dogs. They’re also able to save a little each month, and could save more, but admit they don’t like budgeting.
A great advantage of living in San Miguel is being close to family. They can fly direct to Tijuana for about $100 or less roundtrip, walk across the border on the new bridge, and take the $24 train or bus to Orange County, California, where Nicole’s family is.
They love to travel, which they could never afford to do before. Since moving to San Miguel, they’ve visited Thailand, France, Italy, England, and Greece.
Matt and Nicole are thrilled they’ve found a sustainable lifestyle, but it’s the quality of life in San Miguel that they appreciate most. “I love the warmth and kindness of the Mexican culture. Coming to Mexico from LA was like walking into a big hug,” says Nicole.
Written by Louisa Rogers