Living in Mexico: Pros and Cons After 1 Year as an Expat

by wheretheroadforks

After spending the past year living in Mexico, I put together this pros and cons list to help you decide whether or not moving to Mexico is the right choice for you. Mexico is a popular choice for American and Canadian expats, digital nomads, and retirees. The country offers a low cost of living, beautiful scenery, world-class food, and high quality of life. Having said this, there are a few drawbacks you should take into consideration before making the move. I will address each pro and con that I have encountered while spending the past year living in Tijuana and Mexico City.

Pros of Living in Mexico

Mexico Has a Low Cost of Living

The biggest benefit of living in Mexico is the fact that pretty much everything costs less. Rent, food, transportation, and entertainment are all absolute bargains if you are used to paying American prices. Your dollars go much further in Mexico than in the US or Canada.

Prices vary slightly from city to city and region to region. Baja and the Yucatan Peninsula are generally more expensive than central Mexico. Large cities are more expensive than smaller cities or rural areas. Overall, Mexico is a pretty affordable place to live.

How Much Does it Cost to Live in Mexico?

  • Major cities monthly cost of living- You can live comfortably on $1000-$1500 per month in large cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Tijuana, or Puebla. You can get by on less than $800 if you’re frugal. 
  • Second-tier city, rural region, or small beach town cost of living- You can live comfortably on $500-$1000 per month in places like Oaxaca, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Escondido, etc. With a few sacrifices in terms of comfort and lifestyle, you could cut your living expenses below $500 per month and live relatively comfortably if you are on a tight budget.
  • Major tourist destinations cost of living- Places like Cancun, Cabo, and various other popular beach destinations are slightly more expensive. Expect to spend closer to $1500 per month in these areas. You can live on less than $1000 if you’re frugal.

For a step-by-step guide to setting up a detailed budget, check out my article: How to Make an Accurate Budget for Long Term Travel or Moving Abroad.

Mexican pesos and US dollars

The Visa Policy Makes Living in Mexico Long Term Easy

When you enter Mexico, you fill out a form called Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM). This is basically your tourist visa. For 500 pesos (about $25), you are permitted to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days at a time.

After your 180 days is up, you can simply make a visa run to either Guatemala, Belize, or the US to and get another 180 days. You may need to leave the country for a day before you can get a new FMM. 

As long as you don’t want to work in Mexico, you can keep making border runs for quite some time. This makes Mexico an ideal place to live for digital nomads or people who earn their living online as well as retirees. People have lived in Mexico for many years with just visitors permits.

For more info, check out my Mexico FMM Visitors Permit Guide.

After making multiple border runs, you may eventually want to apply for residency. One day, Mexico may crackdown on those who are living in the country on tourist visas. You don’t want to get denied entry. If you plan to stay for more than a year or two, it’s a good idea to get a temporary residency visa.

This document allows you to live in Mexico for up to 4 years. You have an option to apply for a work visa as well. Temporary residency requires proof of sufficient income. Temporary residency is also a path to citizenship eventually if you wish to pursue it. 

For more info on residency, check out this guide to Mexican visas from mexperience.com.

Rent is Much Lower in Mexico

This is probably the main reason many people move to Mexico initially. You can save a considerable amount of money on rent. In the US, the average cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment is just over $1000 per month. In Mexico, the average cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment is about $450 per month. That’s less than half of the cost. 

When you look at high cost of living areas, the savings is even greater. For example, in Los Angeles, the average cost of renting an apartment is about $2500 per month. In Mexico City, average rent costs about $500. That’s just 1/5 of the price. 

The view from my apartment in Zona Rio, Tijuana

The view from my apartment in Zona Rio, Tijuana

For most people, rent is the single largest living expense. This savings alone is enough to make moving to Mexico worthwhile for many expats and retirees. 

For example, for much of the past year, I lived in Tijuana and commuted across the border to the San Diego area for work. In Tijuana, I rented a room in a decent apartment in a safe part of the city for $200 per month. The same room would probably cost $800-$1000 in San Diego. In Mexico City, I rented a room on Airbnb for just $100 for a whole month. That’s a bargain.

Utilities and Bills Cost Less in Mexico

You’ll save a significant amount of money on your monthly expenses. A few examples include:

  • Electricity- $10-25 (185-460 pesos) If you don’t use much AC. Double that if you use AC often. This is usually billed bi-monthly.
  • Water- $10-15 (about 185-280 pesos) Usually billed bi-monthly.
  • Gas (for cooking)- $30 (around 550 pesos)
  • Internet- $25-30 (460-555 pesos) This may include a landline.
  • Cellphone- $10 (184 pesos) For this, you’ll get unlimited calls and texts in Mexico, the US, and Canada as well as about 3GB of data. 
  • Cable TV- $30 (around 550 pesos) 

The Beaches

Beach in Cancun

The beach in Cancun

In Mexico, you are living where others vacation. People travel from all over the world to visit Mexico’s world-class beaches. Both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts have something to offer for everyone including:

  • Surfing- Mexico has some excellent surf spots on the Pacific coast. Some of the best surfing is in the states of Oaxaca and Nayarit. 
  • Sailing- Learn to sail in the calm waters of the Carribean sea.
  • Sportfishing- I caught 2 eight foot sailfish off the coast of Zihuatanejo when I went fishing with my dad as a kid. It’s still one of my best memories.
  • Kayaking- Check out the Baja for some beautiful kayaking on the Sea of Cortez.
  • Diving and snorkeling- Excellent dive spots can be found around the gulf coast.
  • Relaxing- One of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen was in Cancun.

The best thing about the beach is that it’s accessible in less than a day from pretty much anywhere in the country. It’s also free entertainment.

Mexican Cuisine is Excellent

While living in Mexico you get to enjoy one of the world’s greatest cuisines every day. On every corner, someone is cooking up something amazing. From fresh seafood to classic tacos to complex sauces, Mexican food has something for every palate. If you’re into street food, Mexico has some of the best in the world.

Because Mexico is such a large, diverse country, every state has a different style of food to try. Some of my recommendations are:

  • Tacos- Everyone’s favorite. Great for a quick lunch or snack. Tacos come in a variety of flavors including al pastor (marinaded pork), asada (beef), chorizo (sausage), lengua (tongue), cabeza (head), pescado (fish), and many more. For a list of the most popular types of tacos to try in Mexico, check out the article 25 Essential Tacos, Explained from Thrillist.com.
  • Mole- A complex sauce consisting of 20 or more ingredients. Recipes vary from state to state. Try several different styles as you travel around the country to find your favorite.
  • Tamales- Corn-based dough filled with meat, veggies, or even fruits. Tamales are wrapped in corn husks and steamed. They are a traditional holiday food.
  • Elote- Mexican style corn on the cob. This street food is served on almost every corner seemingly. It is usually steamed then topped with salt, chili powder, lime, mayonnaise, butter, sour cream, cheese, and more. This makes for a great snack.
  • Tortas- A Mexican style sandwich. Sliced meat and veggies served in a warm bun. These are great for lunch.
  • Tlayudas- A thick, crispy tortilla topped with refried beans, cheese, meat, and salsa. These are a specialty in Oaxaca.
  • Guacamole- Everyone’s favorite condiment. Different parts of the country have slightly different recipes. Try them all to find your favorite.

Tacos

After traveling pretty extensively around the country, I have to say that the simple street taco is still my favorite. In my opinion, Tijuana has the best tacos.

For my recommendation of the best taco stands, check out my Ultimate Guide to Tijuana.

Entertainment and Going Out Costs Less in Mexico

Entertainment is one area that can easily break your budget if you’re not careful. In the US, it’s easy to spend over $100 on a simple night out after dinner and a couple of drinks.

In Mexico, you can have a similar bar or club experience for less than half what you would spend in the US or Canada. Often times much less. The experience is more or less the same as back home. Lower prices mean you can go out more often and enjoy more entertainment options while living in Mexico

Some entertainment options in Mexico include:

  • Going to the movies- Movie tickets are very reasonably priced in Mexico. Spending Sunday afternoon at the cinema has become a tradition for me. Watching a new release Hollywood movie cost just 40-60 pesos ($2-$3). This is a killer deal. Back home, the same ticket would cost $12-$15. The experience is exactly the same except the movies have subtitles. 
  • Going to the bar or club- Going out for drinks is substantially cheaper in Mexico. You can buy a craft beer at a brewery for just $4-$6. The same beer in California would cost closer to $10. Your favorite international brands and cocktails are available as well. I would say that a drink in Mexico, on average, costs about half of what the same drink would in the US. In Mexico, most bars don’t charge a cover. If they do, it’s about $5 and often includes a drink. As an added bonus, clubs often stay open all night in Mexico. 
  • Going out for dinner- Restaurant prices are reasonable in Mexico. I estimate that on average a meal costs about 20% less than it would in the US. Street food is always an affordable option. you can enjoy a couple of tacos and a soda for less than $4. Street food in the US (mostly food trucks) is ridiculously expensive for what it is.

Healthcare is Affordable and Accessible in Mexico

The cost of healthcare in the US is insane. Many people are uninsured. Many are completely priced out of healthcare because costs have climbed so high. Even with insurance, a simple blood test could cost hundreds of dollars. Every year, Americans are forced into bankruptcy because of medical bills. Moving to Mexico is a great way to access affordable healthcare. 

In Mexico, visiting a doctor, dentist, or buying prescriptions is affordable for almost anyone. Even without insurance. I have made a couple of trips to medical clinics while living in Mexico. Once for an eye infection and once for food poisoning. On both occasions, I paid just 60 pesos (about $3) to see a doctor. Antibiotics cost just a couple of dollars. In the US, this treatment would have cost hundreds of dollars without insurance.

To read more, check out my extensive article: Healthcare in Mexico for Americans: Visiting a Clinic, Going to the Dentist, and Buying Prescriptions.

Even though healthcare is affordable, you will still want to have some kind of insurance while living in Mexico. At least to cover you in the event of a catastrophic accident. I like World Nomads. They can cover you in the event of an accident or medical emergency. They even offer plans for expats and digital nomads. Check out my travel insurance page for more information and a free quote.

If you’re working in Mexico, you may be eligible to get health insurance through the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social or IMSS. This is a system where the government, the employer, and the employee share the healthcare cost. 

You get to learn Spanish

If you’ve ever wanted to learn Spanish, living in Mexico gives you the perfect opportunity to pick up the language. The only way to become fluent is to jump in and immerse yourself. It’s amazing what you can pick up through day to day life. Some ways to speed up your learning include:

  • Practice speaking with friends and people you encounter- Have a chat with grocery clerks, waiters, bartenders, and randoms you meet on the street. It may be kind of awkward at first but it is a free way to improve your speaking and listening skills. Most Mexican people are friendly and happy to help you learn. 
  • Study independently with apps and audio courses- Duolingo and Memrise offer loads of free courses that you can do on your phone. As for audio courses, I recommend Language Transfer Spanish. This is, by far, the best audio language program that I have found and it is free!
  • Read in Spanish- Books, newspapers, magazines, menus, signs, etc. all help to improve your vocabulary.
  • Attend Spanish classes or hire a tutor- If you have room in your budget, this is the quickest way to learn. You could get one on one lessons with a decent teacher for around $10 per hour.
  • Watch TV and movies in Spanish- For beginners, children’s shows are great. They talk slow and use a limited vocabulary. As your comprehension improves, you can move on to watching some of your favorites in Spanish.

Mexico’s Climate is Excellent

The weather in Mexico is generally warm and pleasant year-round. In general, the weather is hot, dry, and desert-like in the north part of the country as well as the Baja Peninsula. Southern states and the Yucatan Peninsula are humid and tropical. Much of central Mexico is at elevation and offers a mild spring-like climate. This is the case with Mexico City. Pleasant breezes help to keep coastal cities cool and liveable.  

If you grew up in a cold climate like I did, you’ll love the weather in Mexico. No matter where in the country you choose to live, you won’t have to worry about enduring any more brutal snowy winters. No more getting stuck in the snow or shoveling the sidewalk.

Traveling Back Home from Mexico is Quick and Affordable

This point really only applies to Americans and Canadians living in Mexico. Traveling back home to visit friends and family is fast and affordable when compared with other popular expat destinations like Southeast Asia or South America. 

Budget airlines offer affordable flights between many major Mexican and American citie. For example, I have found flights between LA and Mexico City or Cancun for less than $100. Tickets to many major Canadian cities are affordable as well. The countries are very well connected.

Flights times between Mexico and the US or Canada are pretty short as well when compared to other expat destinations. Flying home takes just 3-6 hours rather than a full day. Plenty of direct connections are available as well if you’re traveling between major cities.

A few budget airlines that fly between the US and Mexico include:

  • Viva Aerobus
  • Volero
  • JetBlue
  • AeroMexico
  • SouthWest
  • Interjet

If I decided to live in another popular expat destination like Southeast Asia, for example, I couldn’t afford to visit home nearly as often. Round trip tickets between Asia and North America often cost over $1000. That’s not something that most expats can afford on a regular basis. Flights between the US and Asia takes over a day if you factor in layovers and the time change.

While living in Tijuana, I could simply walk across the border to visit friends and family in California. It doesn’t get more convenient than that.

Food is Cheaper in Mexico

Groceries cost less in Mexico. I would estimate that I spend about 1/3 less on food than I do back home. Mexican supermarkets are big, modern, and have an excellent selection. A few Mexican supermarket chains include Soriana, Chedraui, and Superama. Walmart and Costco also have locations in Mexico. 

Some of my favorite things to buy in Mexican supermarkets include:

  • Pastries and baked goods- I love getting the warm rolls right out of the oven. They work great for sandwiches or on their own. 
  • Produce- It’s a bargain. I eat a lot more fruits and veggies than I did back home, just because they are so much cheaper. For example, you can buy a beautiful papaya or whole pineapple for 10-20 pesos. Avocados can be found for 5-10 pesos each.
  • Cheeses- Mexico has some killer cheeses. Some favorites are queso fresco, queso Oaxaca, and queso Chihuahua.
  • Hot sauce- This one’s obvious. Mexico knows chilies and sauces. I always keep a few different bottles on hand. 
  • Pre-prepared foods- If you’re in a hurry, you can buy things like pizza, chicken, ceviche, etc in large markets. At the supermarket near my home, I can get 2 pieces of chicken, rice, tortillas, and a grilled chili for less than a dollar. Can’t beat that.

Restaurants are also significantly cheaper. For just a couple of dollars, I can nosh on some street tacos or a quesadilla. For something a bit nicer, you can have a meal in a decent sit-down restaurant for about 20% less than the same meal in the US.

On an average month, I will spend about $100-$120 (about 2000-2400 pesos) on food. That includes a few street food lunches and maybe one or two restaurant meals. I mostly cook for myself as I find it healthier and much more economical.

Mexican History is Fascinating

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan

For history buffs, Mexico has a lot to offer. The pre-colonial civilizations of the Aztecs, Olmecs, Zapotecs, Mayans, Mixtec, and others are absolutely fascinating. You could spend a lifetime exploring archeological ruins around the country. The largest concentration of these sites exists in the Yucatan Peninsula but you can find fascinating sites throughout the country. 

A few of the most impressive ruins in Mexico include:

  • Chichen Itza- Mayan ruins in Yucatan
  • Tulum- Mayan ruins in Tulum, Quintana Roo
  • Monte Alban- A Zapotec site located in the state of Oaxaca
  • Palenque- A Mayan site located in the state of Chiapas
  • Templo Mayor- In Mexico City
  • Teotihuacan- Near Mexico City
  • Ek Balam- A Yucatec-Mayan site located in Yucatan
  • Coba- A Mayan site located in the state of Quintana Roo

Mexican colonial history is equally as interesting. Many beautiful colonial cities exist throughout the country for you to explore and learn about the times. A few of the most spectacular Mexican colonial cities include:

  • Guanajuato- Located in Central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato
  • San Cristóbal de las Casas- Located in southern Mexico in the state of Chiapas
  • San Miguel de Allende- Located in Central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato
  • Oaxaca- Located in southern Mexico in the state of Oaxaca
  • Mérida- Located in the Yucatan
  • Puebla- Located in Central Mexico just south of Mexico City

Mexican Culture

Every country has a unique culture. I hate to say it but some are more interesting than others, in my opinion. Mexican culture is great. It is a unique mix of Spanish and Mesoamerican culture with aspects of other cultures around the world mixed in.

The food is great. The holidays are interesting and fun. People are open and friendly and happy to share their culture. Mexicans like to have a good time and are generally easy to be around. Overall, it’s a pretty chill culture.

CECUT (Tijuana Cultural Center)

CECUT (Tijuana Cultural Center)

Traveling Within Mexico is Easy and Affordable

As an expat, it’s nice to be able to explore the country that you’re living in. After all, that is a big part of the reason we move abroad.

Discount bus companies and airlines make traveling within Mexico pretty cheap and easy. Visiting the beach or exploring a different part of the county over a long weekend is easily doable on a budget. 

For example, if you are living in Mexico City and want to spend a few days at the beach, you can simply take a night bus to Acapulco or Zihuatanejo. If you’re looking to explore another Mexican city, you can easily bus to Oaxaca or Guadalajara. An overnight bus can carry you halfway across the country for $15-$60 depending on the route and how far in advance you book your trip.

Mexico Bus Travel Tip

The main Mexican bus company, called ADO, offers discounted fares if you book early online with a Mexican debit or credit card. If you have a Mexican friend with a card, ask if you can use it to book your ADO bus tickets. You can pay them back in cash and a beer for their help. I booked a ticket from Mexico City to Oaxaca for 270 pesos (about $14.) A full-price ticket for that trip costs over twice that amount. The savings is significant.

Budget Airlines

For a bit more, you could pick up a budget airline ticket and visit a beach destination like Cabo or Cancun. You can often buy return airline tickets across the country for $100 or less if you book in advance. For cheap airline tickets, check out Mexican budget airlines like:

  • Interjet- While you’re living in Mexico, consider taking a vacation to Cuba. Interjet offers affordable tickets between Cancun and Havana
  • Viva Aerobus– This is like the Ryanair of Mexico. I flew with them from Tijuana to Mexico City. The service was basic but the flight was on time and went smoothly. I can’t complain.
  • Volaris- Another low-cost Mexican Airline.

Mexico also makes a great base to explore other parts of Latin America. From Mexico City, you can often find good deals on flights to the Caribbean, and Central and South America. For more info, check out my guide to flying out of Tijuana airport.

The Natual Beauty

El Arco

El Arco, at the southern end of the Baja California peninsula

Mexico is, undeniably, a beautiful country. From the rugged desert of Baja to the picturesque beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula, beauty can be found everywhere in this country. A few of the best natural sites in Mexico include:

  • Copper Canyon- This area, located in the state of Chihuahua, features a series of canyons. Some are deeper than the Grand Canyon. Here, you will find some of Mexico’s most rugged terrain. It’s an excellent place for hiking.
  • Cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula- These unique geological features are basically sinkholes and caves in porous limestone. They are beautiful places to go for a swim and explore.
  • The Sea of Cortez– This area houses one of the most diverse aquatic ecosystems on earth. 
  • Pico de Orizaba- Mexico’s tallest mountain at 18,491 feet (5,636 meters). This dormant volcano lies between the states of Puebla and Veracruz.
  • Mesoamerican Barrier Reef- The second largest reef on earth after the Great Barrier Reef. 

Hiring help is affordable in Mexico

Even on a low budget, hiring someone to do the laundry and clean the house once per week is affordable. For middle-class families in Mexico, hiring a maid is common. You could even hire someone to cook for you if you want. This isn’t something that I would ever do because I hate being waited on but it is available at an affordable cost if you’re interested.

The Experience of Living in a Foreign Country

Living somewhere is a whole different experience from visiting for vacation. It’s an exercise in adapting. You create a whole new routine for yourself. At first, you feel lost and out of place. Everything feels new. Next thing you know, you have a new routine that is different from back home. Soon you become a regular at a bar, coffee shop, or market. All of a sudden, everything feels normal and you are at home once again.

I get bored after living in one place for too long. Moving around allows me to start over with a clean slate. Arriving somewhere new and learning the ins and outs of a city or country is exciting. It keeps life feeling fresh and interesting. 

Mexican People

People in Mexico are pretty laid back and easy-going. I found it easy enough to make friends. In general, people in Mexico are pretty similar to the people back home. We all can enjoy watching a game and drinking a few cold beers. The culture really isn’t that different, at least in the cities.

Cons of Living in Mexico

The Language Barrier

While you could survive in Mexico without speaking any Spanish, it won’t be very pleasant. According to this study, only 5% of Mexican people speak English. Outside of the tourism industry, most people speak either no English or very little. In order to communicate with your grocery clerk, plumber, or neighbor, you’ll need to at least learn the basics. 

Constantly struggling with a new language gets exhausting. I also hate having to ask someone to repeat themselves multiple times or talk slower. It makes me feel like I’m being an annoyance. With that being said, I always make my best effort to get my point across in Spanish. Mexican people are generally very patient and understanding when I am struggling with the language. 

Even if your Spanish is at a beginner level, people seem appreciative that you are making an attempt to learn. Dealing with a language barrier is a struggle though.

Getting Things Done Takes Longer and There is A Lot of Bureaucracy

Life seems to move at a slower pace and everything is just less efficient in Mexico. If you need to visit a government office for any reason, you may need to visit multiple offices, make copies, talk to several people, and come back three times to accomplish something that you could do without leaving your house back home. The system is complex and needlessly bureaucratic. 

Something as simple as opening a bank account could easily become a multi-day affair and could require multiple visits and stacks of documents including proof of employment and immigration.

If you need to get the internet hooked up in your apartment or get your car repaired, plan on waiting a week or more. Many times, packages take longer than expected to arrive if you order something through the mail. People like to take their time. Sometimes the delay is frustrating but I try to accept it as a cultural difference. 

Mexico is Loud

Bars and restaurants blast music into the streets. People drive cars around yelling advertisements and political campaigns through a loudspeaker. Car horns constantly honk. People party in their homes well into the early morning. Occasionally a band marches down the street playing as loud and proud as they can.

I know this complaint makes me sound like an old man, but I prefer silence. I don’t think I could ever get used to so much noise all the time. Luckily, I’m a heavy sleeper.

Service Outages Happen in Mexico

Sometimes the water or electricity goes out for a few hours or even a day without notice.  Occasionally the internet goes down. Usually, it’s just for maintenance but there is never a warning or explanation. 

In general, these outages are not common occurrences but they definitely happen more frequently than in the US. If you need to get online for work, I recommend you find a cafe or restaurant near your home where you can get online if your internet goes down.

Renting a Home in Mexico Can Pose Challenges

When moving to Mexico, chances are you’ll want to rent a house or apartment. Buying is risky and living in a hotel or Airbnb long term gets expensive. The problem is that renting in Mexico is a pretty bureaucratic and complex process.

Most landlords require a fiador (sometimes called an aval). This is a third party that will guarantee to pay your rent if you default. It’s basically co-signer on your lease that acts as an insurance policy for the landlord.

Before renting, you may have to find a reliable fiador. These can be individuals or a company. They must own property in the state where you are trying to rent. This property is put up as collateral.

If you can’t find a fiador, you can buy an insurance policy that serves the same purpose. This is called a fianza. This policy usually costs around 10% of the annual rent. You will need to submit several financial documents and your work history in order to qualify. 

For more info, check out this article explaining fiadors and fianzas from Angloinfo.com.

One way to get around this requirement is to rent a room. In a roommate situation, you usually won’t need to sign a lease. The process is very informal. You just pay first month’s rent plus a month’s rent as a deposit and move in. All you need is cash. There no paperwork involved most of the time. 

Mexico Has a Cash-Based Economy

You have to pay for pretty much everything in cash. Banking and payment processing aren’t quite as advanced in Mexico as they are in the US and Canada. Direct debit, credit cards, and bank transfers are rare. In Mexico, you’ll pay your rent and utilities as well as restaurants, bars, shops, etc all in cash. Many businesses just don’t accept credit cards. 

This poses a safety risk. In order to pay your rent or a bill, you have to go to the bank or ATM and withdraw a stack of cash. Even day to day, you always have cash on you. If someone sees you withdraw thousands of pesos or just sees inside of your wallet, you become a target for theft. 

Always having to carry cash and a pocketful of change is a minor annoyance as well. In the US, I can pretty much live my life without ever having to touch cash. This isn’t the case in Mexico. 

Of course, some businesses do accept credit and debit cards. For example, I always pay for my groceries with my card. Many chain restaurants accept cards as well.

Banking and Bill Payments Have to Be Done in Person

In order to set up online banking or transfer money, you’ll have to go into the bank in person. This is the case with pretty much all Mexican banks as far as I’m aware. If you want to pay your electric bill, you have to go down to the nearest OXXO to pay it. When rent is due, you must go to the rental office and pay in person. 

This is mostly just an inconvenience. It takes time out of your day to physically to these places. It’s also kind of irritating when the technology exists to complete all of these transactions online. In the US for example, I could pay all of my bills from the comfort of my bed.

People aren’t Punctual or Reliable

I’m the kind of person that always arrives early. I get anxious if I’m running late. It’s just the way I was raised. This doesn’t work too out too well in Mexico. People tend to show up whenever they want. Particularly for informal meetings like dates or hanging out with friends. It’s not uncommon to meet up an hour or more later than planned.

I know it’s a cultural thing, but I find it incredibly frustrating. It’s tough to tell when it’s appropriate to show up. I am getting better at this though. A few months back I was meeting up with a girl for drinks. I didn’t leave home until the time that the date was supposed to start. I still arrived earlier than her but at least I wasn’t sitting around for an hour.

Some Products and Services Aren’t Available in Mexico

The best example of this is candy and snacks. US supermarkets have an incredible variety when it comes to munchies. Some of my favorite American snacks just aren’t imported to Mexico. Some are difficult to find. Sometimes they’re just too expensive. This Reddit thread lists some American treats that aren’t available in Mexico. 

Foods are also made to cater to Mexican tastes. I am not at all a picky eater, but it is nice to have some comfort food once in a while. Some common foods just taste a bit off to me. For example, Mexican pastries aren’t as sweet as the American version. The silver lining to this point is that I have discovered a few new snacks that aren’t available back home in the US. 

Some Items are More Expensive in Mexico

Living expenses like food, rent, and activities are lower in Mexico. Pretty much everything else costs more. Probably due to high import taxes.

A few examples include electronics, vehicles, appliances, luxury items, and furniture. Phones, TVs, laptops, cars, refrigerators, stoves, couches, etc. are all significantly more expensive in Mexico than they are in the US. On average, I estimate that these items cost 20-30% more. Some luxury or novelty items might cost 4-5X more in Mexico. 

If something expensive like your phone or laptop dies, you may save money by flying to the US to buy a replacement. While living in Tijuana, I would buy pretty much everything except for food on the US side.

If you plan to drive while living in Mexico, your best bet is to buy a vehicle in the US then drive it to Mexico with a Temporary Importation Permit (TIP). Unfortunately, this document only allows you to bring your vehicle to Mexico for 180 days. After that, you’ll have to remove the vehicle from the country then apply for another permit. 

When I went shopping in Walmart in Mexico for the first time, I was shocked by how expensive everything was. I wanted to buy new bedsheets. The US Walmart had the same set for about $10 cheaper. 

Food Hygiene Standards are Lower in Mexico

In Mexico, you have to pay attention to the cleanliness and hygiene practices of the places you get your food and drinks. To reduce the risk of getting sick, you should:

  • Not eat foods that have been sitting out in the open- The food was probably not kept at the proper temperature. This allows for potentially dangerous bacteria to grow and multiply. Flies and other insects also have access to the food if it’s sitting out. These can make you sick.
  • Avoid eating unwashed fruits and veggies- E. coli is a risk if foods haven’t been properly cleaned.
  • Make sure that foods are hot and thoroughly cooked- Undercooked foods can carry bacteria that cause food poisoning and other diseases.

I have gotten food poisoning of varying severity a few times while living in Mexico. Luckily, if you do get severe food poisoning and need antibiotics, it is easy and cheap to visit a clinic.

You Have to Buy Drinking Water in Mexico

In most of Mexico, the tap water isn’t safe to drink straight from the tap. Most of the time, the water is treated by the municipal water facility and is safe to drink after that treatment. The problem is that the water passes through old pipes that may contaminate the water with heavy metals and bacteria. You never really know unless you have the water tested. 

To be safe, you’ll want to either buy bottled drinking water or have jugs of water delivered to your home. This is a hassle and also an added expense. I have drunk tap water on a few occasions and haven’t gotten sick. It’s better to err on the side of caution and just drink purified or bottled water in Mexico.

Tap water is fine for some purposes. For example, cooking and making tea or coffee with tap water is fine as long as you let the water come to a boil for at least a minute to kill all bacteria. You can also brush your teeth and bathe with tap water without any issues.

For more info, check out my guide to drinking water in Mexico.

Tip: Filter your own water. This can save you some money and can keep plastic water bottles out of the landfill. When I travel and while living abroad, I use the Sawyer Mini. This portable water filter allows you to filter tap water or water from a lake or river, and use it for drinking. For more info, check out my full review of the Sawyer Mini.

Police Corruption is a Problem in Mexico

If you live in Mexico long enough, sooner or later you will encounter a corrupt police officer asking for a bribe. Maybe they pull you over and accuse you of drunk driving. Maybe they stop you on the street and claim that you broke some nonsensical law. Whatever the case, they’re fishing for a bribe.

The amount that you have to pay depends on where in the country you are and the crime you’re being accused of. Usually, 500 pesos is sufficient. Some parts of the country are worse for this than others. 

Crime Rates are Higher in Mexico

Statistically, Mexico is one of the more dangerous countries out there. Compared to other popular expat and digital nomad destinations, Mexico has a high rate of crime. According to this article from Reuters, there were over 14,000 homicides in the first half of 2019. While it sounds like a lot, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is dangerous for expats and digital nomads.

The majority of violent crime in Mexico happens in just a handful of regions. At this time, Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa, or Tamaulipas are considered to be the most dangerous states. Crime mostly happens in working-class neighborhoods and among a specific group of people. I’m talking about people dealing in drugs or organized crime. Tourists and expats are generally not targeted. Violent crime is not common in downtown or in tourist zones because they are heavily policed.

As an expat, your biggest worry when it comes to crime will be petty theft or robbery. If you leave something valuable sitting out, like your bicycle or phone, it might get stolen. If you walk through a deserted area after dark, you could get robbed. Luckily, these types of crimes are avoidable if take a few simple precautions. 

For my detailed analysis, check out my guide: Is Mexico Safe? Avoiding Crime and Scams.

My Experience With Crime in Tijuana

Tijuana is known as being a high crime city. During my time living here, I have been inside a bar during an armed robbery and had my phone pickpocketed on the street. Luckily I got it back. Those are the only two instances of crime that I have experienced in almost a year in the city. I have never seen any drug-related criminal activity.

In general, I feel perfectly safe walking around pretty much anywhere during the day. Downtown and touristy areas are heavily policed all over Mexico. With that being said, some cities have areas that you’ll want to avoid walking around during the night. Petty theft, pickpocketing, and muggings do happen. By taking some basic precautions, you can reduce the risk greatly.

For more information on safety, check out my article: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime.

It’s Nearly Impossible to Finance Large Purchases in Mexico

If you want to buy a car or home, you will likely have to do so in cash. You can’t easily get a mortgage or car loan like you can back home. There are a couple of reasons for this. Interest rates are incredibly high. Most Mexican banks won’t give mortgage loans to foreigners. Even citizens have trouble getting a mortgage loan.

It is possible to finance Mexican property through US banks but this is rare. Most mortgage companies won’t want to take on the risk of owning international property. If you want to buy a house and you can pay in cash, you will transfer the money into an escrow account. An attorney can help you facilitate the transaction. 

Dealing with Scams

While living in Mexico, you’ll encounter a scam every once in a while. Most of the scammers target tourists who don’t know any better. As an expat, you’ll learn how things work pretty quickly which makes identifying a scam much easier. 

A few common scams to look out for in Mexico include:

  • Fake police scam- Someone approaches claiming to be a police officer. They inform you that you broke the law and offer to settle the matter right there and then in cash. You know this is a scam if you haven’t done anything wrong. The best thing to do is to play dumb until they give up. Alternatively, you can insist on going to the nearest police station if you know where it is. If the scammer gets aggressive, it may be best to offer them some cash. It’s not worth risking your life over $20. 
  • General overcharging- People try to overcharge you for everything. This can happen in taxis, restaurants, hotels, and markets. The only thing you can do is to know what things cost and negotiate hard. If someone is blatantly ripping you off, take your business elsewhere.
  • Taxi scams- If you don’t negotiate the fare before accepting the ride, the driver charges you more than the going rate. If you’re lucky, they charge you 20% more. If they’re predatory, they could demand 10X the going fare. You must negotiate a fare before entering the cab or just use Uber. You can also insist that the driver use the meter if the cab is equipped with one. 
  • Fast talkers- These are usually guys who have been deported from the US for committing crimes. They speak excellent English and use this skill to run a number of scams. They begin by approaching you acting like a friend. Sooner or later, they’ll try to get money from you. They may tell a sob story and beg for money. Maybe they offer to show you a nice restaurant where they get a commission. If someone approaches you on the street speaking English and acting friendly, just walk away. 

For more scams, check out my article: 25 Common Travel Scams, How They Work, and How to Avoid Them.

Traffic is Heavy and Road Conditions are Poor

If you’re not used to driving in developing countries, driving in Mexico takes a bit of getting used to. Overall, the road conditions aren’t as good as in the US and Canada. You’ll find potholes, unmarked speed bumps (topes), and narrow lanes.

The rules of the road are followed a bit more loosely as well. Other drivers turn or merge without signaling. Drivers use their horns frequently to notify other drivers of their presence. Illegal maneuvers are common. 

In large cities, traffic is pretty bad. During heavy the morning and evening commute, it could take hours to cross Mexico City, for example. Construction and maintenance are often done at inopportune times which make matters worse. 

Earthquakes Happen in Mexico

This is mostly just an annoyance but could be a problem if you happen to be in the wrong place during the ‘big one.’ During my time in Mexico City, I experienced multiple minor earthquakes. The apartment where I was staying had an alarm that would go off just before the shaking began. The city has some kind of early warning technology.

When the alarm went off for the first time, I was home alone and didn’t know what it meant. I heard everyone in the whole apartment complex rushing out of their apartments all at the same time. I followed the crowd onto the street. We stood around waiting for a moment then the shaking began. About 20 minutes later, the earthquake and aftershocks were over and everyone just went back into their homes like nothing happened.

After the first earthquake, I decided to just stay in the apartment for the next few. None of the earthquakes that I experienced caused any damage but it was a bit unnerving feeling the building sway while I was on the 5th floor. I figured, the building has been standing for several decades. What is the chance that it will collapse while I’m living there?

Foreigner Pricing

Occasionally, a seller tries to charge you more just because you’re a foreigner. This is common with taxis, apartment rentals, restaurants, and street sellers. They figure that you don’t know the going rate so they can get away with overcharging. You just have to be careful and know what things cost before making a purchase.

I was once looking to buy a pair of cheap plastic flip flops when a guy tried to charge me 500 pesos (about $25). I just walked away laughing. Clearly, he was trying to scam me. The going rate for cheap sandals is about 50 pesos ($2.50).

Always Being an Outsider

Even though Mexican people are generally welcoming and friendly, I still feel like an outsider at times. I don’t think I could ever fully integrate into society. Even if I lived in Mexico for the rest of my life and learned Spanish fluently, I would still be considered a gringo, unfortunately.

In large American, Canadian, or Western European cities, you have people from all over the world living and working together. Even if someone has an accent or comes from a different country they can still integrate and eventually be considered a local. I feel like that would never really happen to an expat living in Mexico.

Where to Live in Mexico

If, after reading the pros and cons, you have decided to make the move to Mexico, you have a big decision to make. Where in Mexico do you want to live? The country is incredibly diverse both geographically and culturally. Do you prefer the beach or the desert? Do you prefer a modern lifestyle or something more traditional? 

Before you pack up all of your belongings and make the move, you’ll probably want to travel around a bit to get a feel for a few different cities. After settling on one, you may want to live there on a trial period for a month before making the commitment to move. 

A few of the most popular Mexican cities for expats include:

  • Mexico City- For expats who don’t want to give up anything in terms of convenience or comfort, Mexico City is probably your best choice. In this world-class metropolis, you’ll find some of the best restaurants, museums, shopping, and bars in the country. Mexico City is surprisingly affordable as well for being such a large and developed capital city. 
  • Tijuana- This is a great choice for expats who want all of the benefits of living in Mexico without moving too far from the US. Tijuana is close enough that you can commute to work on the US side of the border every day. After work, just cross back to Mexico. This is a great way way to save some money. Living in Tijuana costs about a third of what it costs to live in San Diego. You can take advantage of many of the benefits of living in the US at the same time. For more info, check out my guide: Living in Tijuana as an American.
  • San Miguel de Allende- This beautiful little colonial city is located in central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato. Here, you’ll find a large, established population of American expats, low cost of living, a comfortable climate, and plenty of natural beauty. The city is also very centrally located in Mexico which makes travel convenient. 
  • Guanajuato City- Located in central Mexico, Guanajuato city is known for its colorful buildings, hilly streets, and colonial architecture. This picturesque city has a great climate and a large expat population. 
  • Guadalajara- This second largest city in Mexico is located in the state of Jalisco in the western part of Mexico. Guadalajara offers an excellent climate, a large population, and a strong economy. This is a great choice for those who want to live in a big city.
  • Merida- This large city of almost a million people is located on the Yucatan Peninsula. Here, you’ll find beautiful tree-lined streets, a tropical climate, and an organized community. Just a short distance from the city, you can visit a number of spectacular beaches and fascinating Mayan ruins including the famous Chichen Itza. 
  • Baja California Sur- The southern portion of the Baja Peninsula is an excellent choice for water-loving expats. Nearby the city of Loredo on the beautiful Sea of Cortez you can find the UNESCO site Bahía de Loreto National Park. Here, you can experience world-class diving, fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, and whale watching. A few hours down the coast, you’ll find the state capital city of La Paz which offers a laid back expat experience. If you’re looking for luxury, head down to the end of the peninsula to Los Cabos.
  • Lake Chapala- Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Chapala lies just 45 minutes south of Guadalajara. Here, you’ll find Mexico’s largest concentration of expats. A variety of expat communities sit along the shore shores of the lake. The weather is excellent year-round and a wide variety of amenities are available. This area is particularly popular among retirees. 
  • San Cristobal de las Casas- This town, located in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, is popular among backpackers and hippies. You’ll also find a thriving expat community here. The weather here is excellent and the town has all of the modern conveniences that you could need. One drawback to San Cristobal is that it is incredibly touristy. It almost feels like a Disney version of a Mexican town. 
  • Puerto Vallarta- This is one of Mexico’s most popular beach destinations. Here, you’ll find world-class restaurants, golf courses, and dining as well as an international airport. There is a large expat population here as well. 
  • Riviera Maya- This is the most touristy area in all of Mexico. It is also arguably the most beautiful. The beaches here are some of the best in the world. The main cities in this region include Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. Here, can enjoy a tropical climate, high-end amenities, and beautiful views of the Carribean. This is probably the most expensive place to live in Mexico.
  • Oaxaca- The city of Oaxaca is a popular destination for digital nomads. The city is beautiful and full of colorful colonial architecture. The surrounding region is full of culture and interesting sites to explore. Just an hour by bus from the city, you can check out the beautiful geological site of Hierve el Agua. The biggest draw here is probably the food. Oaxacan food is famous all over Mexico and even internationally. This is one of the most affordable cities in Mexico. 

Final Thoughts: Pros and Cons of Living in Mexico as an Expat

Overall, Mexico is an excellent choice for expats, digital nomads, and retirees to live. The food is first class, the cost of living is low, the people are friendly, and the country is naturally beautiful. Due to the geographic location, Mexico is an ideal choice for those from North America due to the convenience of living just a short flight away from home. 

Having said this, Mexico is not the cheapest or safest expat destination. If you’re on a very tight budget, you may find Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe to be more affordable. These regions are slightly safer as well. If you prefer Latin America, there are cheaper countries in the region that are worth looking into. Colombia, Guatemala,  and Peru come to mind. Overall, I have loved my time living in Mexico. 

Are you living in Mexico? Share your experience in the comments below!

More Mexico Guides from Where The Road Forks

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10 comments

Big Willey March 10, 2019 - 11:35 am

Wow, great post. It sounds like the average American would need to take a couple of classes to learn to live in most parts of Mexico. Your cons brought up points I had never thought of. Mexico sounds like a nice place to visit not sure if I’d wanna call it home though.

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wheretheroadforks March 10, 2019 - 11:53 am

There’s definitely a bit of a learning curve when moving there. After a while, it just feels like home though. Knowing some basic Spanish would make the whole process much more smoothe.

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JazzCookie August 2, 2019 - 9:21 am

It’s not for everybody. Most of the pros are about the cheaper cost of living, a good thing. But for some of us the cons are related to work and the activities that make up our lives. Hanging out with ex-pats talking politics or playing pickleball are not for us all. Heading back to the states when the lease is up. Good memories of local people down here and plan to visit whenever I can, but this is not my life permanently.

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wheretheroadforks August 2, 2019 - 3:15 pm

I agree with you. Really, the only reason to live in Mexico as an expat is to save money. For a person who is on a tight budget like myself, living in Mexico allows me to afford my own apartment, the ability to work less, and the opportunity to go out to bars and restaurants more often. I can also put more money away for retirement. Living in the US is so expensive that it’s limiting for people who don’t earn enough. For a middle-class person with a decent salary, the US is hard to beat. Mexico just doesn’t offer the same quality and availability of services, activities, and work opportunities that are available in the US. Making friends is also a challenge. Living in a foreign country is a nice experience but I couldn’t live in Mexico forever. I do enjoy it though.

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P j August 5, 2020 - 12:22 pm

The u.s and canada are so expensive and more locals are flocking elsewhere . Mexico would make sense as it has a great welcoming ambiance for foreigners.excellent food,cheap transportation,etc

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wheretheroadforks August 5, 2020 - 5:01 pm

I agree. Mexico is the most convenient country for American and Canadian expats to move to. The main benefit is the lower cost of living.

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Bob September 27, 2020 - 10:02 pm

Fabulous content you”ve put together here. You could easily sell it as an ebook. Maybe you do already. But a couple of corrections are needed. You can use your Find option to locate these sentences on this page.

“It takes time out of your day to physically to these places”
should be
It takes time out of your day to physically go to these places

“Not eat foods that have been sitting out in the open-”
shouldn’t have a dash, rather a colon (:) or nothing as one is in bold and the text afterwards isn’t. The reader clearly sees the separation.

For water one solution is to first disinfect it with chlorine/bleach, then filter the that. Or use a water distiller (uses a lot of electricity/generates a lot of heat/a little noisy, or a Reverse Osmosis system – especially if the water is free. Its silent, much less expensive than distillation because it doesn’t use any electricity and generates no heat. The membranes/filters cost about $50/yr for a single users because you don’t have to replace them all at the same time, especially if you take care of the pre-filter carefully. In India they put water in clear plastic containers in the sun and let the UV light sterilize it. Wouldn’t help with heavy metals though. In some areas solar stills are used. Silent and can generate hot water during the day – just when you probably don’t need it!

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wheretheroadforks October 2, 2020 - 10:43 pm

Good water filtration tips.

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Bob September 27, 2020 - 10:17 pm

Another idea that would be very useful is how to live securely in Tijuana. Say you like nice things and have tens of thousands of dollars of stuff in your place and insurance is hard to come by in Tijuana. The solution is a fortress like abode, probably not a house as its too vulnerable. Rather an apartment with good security where you’ve replaced the door with something rather impregnable. Your comment on the cost of luxury/technological items in Mexico being high goes so well with using the US for your source of quality items and Tijuana for the source of day to day items; the best of both worlds. But what about import tax into Mexico? The way people talk about sailing across the border going south it sounds like they couldn’t care less who is bringing in what. If that’s true one could bring in goods, use them for a while and sell them in Tijuana for a better price than they could be sold in California though they might be a lot harder to sell in Tijuana due to less available income for non-essential items.

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wheretheroadforks October 2, 2020 - 10:38 pm

There is an import tax. I believe it is 16%. Some items are exempt and you can apply for something called a Menaje de Casa. This is a document that allows you to import some household items tax-free when moving to Mexico. Some people just load up their car and drive across without declaring their belongings to avoid the tax.

As far as bringing high-value luxury items, I wouldn’t recommend it but I think you have the right idea about security. The high rise apartment buildings all have 24-hour security guards and cameras to protect your belongings. There are also gated communities with security if you prefer to live in a house.

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