Thinking about moving to Mexico? I put together this list of pros and cons to help you decide whether or not living in Mexico is the right choice for you. Mexico is a popular choice for expats, digital nomads, and retirees. The country offers a low cost of living, beautiful scenery, world-class food, excellent weather, and high quality of life. Having said this, there are a few drawbacks you should take into consideration. Living in Mexico isn’t for everyone. I will address each benefit and drawback that I have encountered while living in Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and Tijuana. I’ll also outline some of the best places to live in Mexico and answer some frequently asked questions.
I also made this video to outline the main points of the guide
Pros of Living in Mexico
There is a lot to love about Mexico. In this section, I’ll outline the biggest advantages of living in Mexico as an expat.
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 or Canadian prices. Your dollars go much further in Mexico than in the U.S. or Canada.
How Much Does it Cost to Live in Mexico?
Prices vary from city to city and region to region. For example, the Baja Peninsula 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. It is possible for an individual to live a comfortable life on as little as $1000-$1500. A couple can live comfortably on $2000-$2500 in most of Mexico.
Your monthly expenses will vary by region. A few examples of different budgets for an individual living in different regions in Mexico include:
- Under $1000 per month- It is possible to live in Mexico on $1000 per month or less in many second-tier cities, rural regions, and small beach towns. For example, you could live in cities like Oaxaca, San Cristobal de las Casas, Durano, Puebla, Puerto Escondido, Queretaro, Guanajuato, etc. Generally, central and southern Mexico are the cheapest parts of the country. If you’re frugal, it would be possible to live on as little as $800 per month in some parts of Mexico. You would have to rent an apartment outside of the city center or live in a hostel to achieve this.
- $1500-$2000 per month- This is a good budget to live pretty much anywhere in Mexico. You can live comfortably on a budget of $1500-$2000 per month in large cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, and Tijuana. This budget is also suitable for some expat destinations such as San Miguel de Allende, Ajijic and the Lake Chapala area, Merida, Sayulita, Ensenada, etc. You could also live in popular beach towns and tourist destinations on this budget if you’re frugal. It’s also possible to get your budget down to around $1200 in the above cities if you’re frugal.
- $2000-$2500 per month- This is a good budget if you plan to live in a major tourist destination or beach town such as Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Los Cabos, Tulum, etc. These areas tend to be more expensive than the rest of Mexico. Generally, the Yucatan Peninsula and Baja Peninsula are the most expensive parts of Mexico.
Rent cost in Mexico
Lower rent is one main reason many people initially move to Mexico. In the US, the average cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment is just over $1200 per month. The average cost of renting a house is around $2000 per month.
In Mexico, the average cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment is about $500-$800 per month, depending on the city. You can rent a 2 or 3 bedroom home for $1000-$1200 in much of the country.
When you live in a high cost of living area, 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, the average rent costs about $600-$700.
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. Most people can reduce their rent by $600-$800 per month by moving to Mexico. That’s a nice savings.
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 $300 per month. The same room would probably cost $800-$1000 just across the border. For me, the savings was worth it.
Monthly utilities and bills cost in Mexico
- Electricity- $10-30 (200-600 pesos) If you don’t use much AC. Double that if you use AC often. This is usually billed bi-monthly.
- Water- $10-$20 (about 200-400 pesos) Usually billed bi-monthly.
- Gas (for cooking)- $30 (around 550 pesos).
- Internet- $25-30 (500-600 pesos).
- Cellphone- $30 (600 pesos) For this, you’ll get unlimited calls and texts in Mexico as well as about 30GB of data.
- Cable TV- $30 (around 550 pesos). You might pay a bit more if you want a cable package with English channels.
At the time of writing, the exchange rate for the Mexican peso is 20 pesos/ 1 US dollar. The Mexican peso has hovered around the 20/1 rate for many years at this point. It’s a fairly stable currency.
An Example of a Monthly Budget for Living in Mexico
A basic monthly budget for an individual living in Mexico might look like this:
- Rent- $750
- Groceries- $200
- Transportation- $50
- Electricity- $30
- Internet- $30
- Water- $20
- Private health insurance- $120
- Entertainment- $100
- Restaurants- $100
- Clothing, toiletries, other- $100
This comes out to a total of $1500 per month. This would be a reasonable budget in many popular cities including Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Ajijic, or San Miguel de Allende.
You could easily cut some of the above expenses to reduce your budget. For example, if you cook all of your own meals or if you don’t go out much, you won’t spend as much. You can also find cheaper apartments in the $400-$500 range if you’re willing to live outside of the city center.
Alternatively, you may need to increase your budget in some areas. For example, you’ll need to budget for gas and insurance if you need your own vehicle. If you need to use air conditioning, you’ll need to budget more for electricity. If you want to fly to your home country regularly, you’ll need to budget for flights.
You might also choose to hire a housekeeper. 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.
The Visa Policy Makes Living in Mexico Long-Term Easy
Mexico makes it pretty easy to pick up and move there. There are options for short-term and long-term stays.
FMM Visitor’s Permit
When you enter Mexico, you fill out a form called Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM). This is a visitor’s permit. For 595 pesos (about $30) in immigration fees, you are permitted to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days at a time. After your 180 days is up, you can make a visa run to either Guatemala, Belize, or the U.S. and get another 180 days.
As long as you don’t plan to work in Mexico, you can stay in Mexico on a visitor’s permit. People have lived in Mexico for years on visitor’s permits. For more info, check out my Mexico FMM Visitors Permit Guide.
Recently, Mexican immigration began cracking down on visa runs. They are giving some travelers fewer than 180 days per entry. If you plan to stay in Mexico for more than 6 months to a year, it’s a good idea to apply for a residency visa.
Temporary Residency Visa (Visa Temporal)
Luckily, Mexico is one of the easier countries to get residency in. If you plan to live in Mexico long-term, you’ll need to apply for a residency permit. The process is affordable and straightforward.
There are two types of residency permits you can apply for: temporary and permanent. Most expats need to apply for a temporary residency visa first. Retirees can sometimes apply for permanent residency.
A temporary residency permit allows you to live in Mexico for up to 4 years. You’re usually granted one year initially, then you can extend the permit for 3 additional years. After that, you can apply for a permanent residency permit, which allows you to stay in Mexico indefinitely. Eventually, you can apply for citizenship if you choose. You must apply for your temporary residency permit at a Mexican consulate outside of Mexico. You can’t apply in Mexico.
To apply for a temporary resident visa, you’ll need to go to the Mexican consulate nearest you, fill out an application, and attend a simple immigration interview. The interview is conducted by Mexican immigration officials. They will ask you about your plans in Mexico and your finances. You will need to bring supporting documents to prove your income. You may need to get your documents translated in some cases.
Residency is easy to get but it does require proof of sufficient funds to support yourself while you’re living in Mexico. Currently, you need to be able to show an income of about $2600 per month. This could be from an online gig, retirement benefits, investments, or some other source. Alternatively, you can show proof that you have sufficient assets to support yourself while you’re in Mexico. Currently, you need to show about $45,000 in a savings or investment account. Another option is to own real estate in Mexico worth at least $350,000. These numbers vary slightly from one Mexican consulate to the next.
The temporary resident visa is issued by Mexican immigration (INM or Instituto Nacional de Migración). If you need help applying, you can hire an immigration lawyer for a few hundred dollars. There is also an application fee of around $300.
If you need to work in Mexico, you’ll have to apply for a work permit separately. This complicates the process. You can’t work in Mexico on an FMM or standard temporary residency permit. Some temporary residency permits do allow you to work. You apply for a work permit from Mexican immigration.
Permanent Residency Visa (Visa Permanente)
After living on a temporary residency visa for 4 years, you can apply for a permanent residency visa. Many retirees can apply for a permanent residency visa directly. This visa allows you to live in Mexico indefinitely. You never need to reapply. You can also apply for citizenship after 5 years.
With a permanent residency visa, work permission is implied. This makes it easier to get jobs. It’s also easier to open a bank account or obtain a Mexican driver’s license. Property taxes are also reduced.
In order to be eligible for a permanent residency visa, you’ll need to show an income of around $4300 per month or around $170,000 in a savings or investment account. The requirements can vary from one Mexican consulate to the next.
For more info on residency, check out this guide to Mexican visas.
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.
There are beautiful beaches all over the country. Some of Mexico’s best beaches are located in Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen, Mazatlan, Sayulita, Tulum, and Cozumel. Some beach activities you can enjoy in Mexico include:
- Surfing- Mexico has some excellent surf spots on the Pacific Ocean. Some of the best surfing is in the states of Oaxaca and Nayarit.
- Sailing- Learn to sail in the calm waters of the Caribbean Sea or Sea of Cortez.
- 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 Peninsula for some beautiful kayaking on the Sea of Cortez.
- Diving and snorkeling- Excellent dive spots can be found around the gulf coast as well as Baja California.
- Relaxing- One of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen was on the Oaxaca coast. The beaches of Puerto Vallarta were stunning as well.
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 in Baja to classic tacos to complex sauces in Oaxaca, Mexican food has something for every palate. If you’re into street food, Mexico has some of the best in the world. You’re never far from a taco stand.
Mexico is such a large country with lots of diversity. Every state has a different style of food to try. Some of my favorite Mexican dishes include:
- Tacos- Everyone’s favorite. Tacos are great for a quick lunch, dinner, or midnight snack. Tacos come in a variety of flavors. A few of the most popular include al pastor (marinaded pork), carne asada (grilled beef), chorizo (spicy sausage), pescado (fish), cabeza (meat from the head), and many more. For a list of the most popular types of tacos to try in Mexico, check out this article.
- 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. The states of Oaxaca and Puebla are famous for their mole.
- Tamales- Corn-based dough filled with meat, veggies, or even fruits. Tamales are wrapped in corn husks and steamed. Tamales are a traditional holiday food in Mexico.
- Enchiladas- Flour or corn tortillas stuffed with meat, cheese, or beans and topped with cheese and a chili sauce.
- 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.
- Fresh produce- Mexico has excellent fruits and vegetables. You can enjoy fresh pineapple, papaya, or mango, or avocado year round. Prices are reasonable as well.
For more info, check out this list of some of the most popular Mexican dishes.
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 in Mexico. For my recommendation of the best taco stands, check out my Ultimate Guide to Tijuana.
Food is also cheaper in Mexico. Groceries cost less. I would estimate that I spend about 1/3 less on food than I do in my home country of the US.
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. You can save money by buying in bulk.
Restaurants are also significantly cheaper. For just a couple of dollars, you can nosh on some street tacos or a quesadilla. There are street vendors selling fresh and delicious food everywhere. For something a bit nicer, you can have a meal in a decent sit-down restaurant for about 20-30% less than the same meal would cost in the US.
On average, I spend about $150-$200 (about 3000-4000 pesos) per month on food while living in Mexico. 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.
Health Insurance and Healthcare are Affordable and Accessible
The cost of healthcare in the U.S. is insane. Many people are completely priced out of healthcare because costs have climbed so high. Even with insurance, a simple test could cost hundreds of dollars. It’s unaffordable.
Moving to Mexico is a great way to access affordable healthcare and dental care. In fact, Mexico has become a major medical tourism destination. Some hospitals even offer medical tourism packages. Most expats reduce their health insurance cost and healthcare and dental care costs by 30%-60% by moving to Mexico.
In Mexico, visiting a doctor or dentist or buying prescriptions is affordable for almost any expat. Even when paying out of pocket or paying with private health insurance. Prices are reasonable.
For example, 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 80 pesos (about $4) to be seen by a doctor. In both cases, I was prescribed antibiotics, which cost just a couple of dollars. In the U.S, this same treatment would have cost hundreds of dollars without insurance.
Even though healthcare is affordable, you will still want to have at least a basic private insurance policy while living in Mexico. This will cover you in the event of a catastrophic accident or an unexpected illness or if you require more serious treatments.
Most expats end up purchasing private health insurance while living in Mexico. A basic private insurance policy costs around $1700 or 38,000 pesos per year. For more info, check out my article: Healthcare in Mexico for Americans.
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 part of Mexico’s public healthcare system. In this system, the Mexican government, the employer, and the employee share the healthcare cost. It is also possible for expats and retirees to enroll in the public healthcare system if they’re not working. They will have to pay an annual fee. This is cheaper than private insurance.
If you’re only planning on staying in Mexico for a year or less, you could just use travel insurance. 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.
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 learn Mexican Spanish include:
- Attend Spanish lessons or hire a private tutor- If you have room in your budget, this is the quickest way to learn the language. A skilled teacher can teach you the basics in a month or two and set you on the right track to becoming fluent. You could take a class or opt for one-on-one lessons. A decent teacher charges around $10 per hour for private lessons.
- 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!
- Practice speaking with friends and people you encounter- Have a chat with grocery clerks, waiters, bartenders, and random people 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 Spanish.
- Read in Spanish- Books, newspapers, magazines, menus, signs, etc. all help to improve your vocabulary.
- Watch TV and movies and listen to podcasts 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 is a big country with a diverse climate. There are deserts, jungles, mountains, and tropical beaches. Whatever climate you prefer, you can find it in Mexico.
The weather in most of Mexico is warm and pleasant year-round. In general, the weather is hot, dry, and desert-like in the northern part of the country as well as the Baja Peninsula. Southern states and the Yucatan Peninsula have tropical and hot weather.
Pleasant sea breezes help to keep coastal regions cool and liveable. In coastal cities such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Cancun, and Sayulita, average daytime temperatures range from around 80-90℉ year round.
Much of central Mexico is at high elevation. This is the case with Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Ajijic, San Cristobal de las Casas, and Queretaro. In these cities, you can enjoy a mild spring-like climate during the day with cool nights. During the winter, the nighttime temperature rarely falls below 40℉. You can enjoy amazing weather year-round in this region.
Mexico does have a hurricane season from June-October. This is something to be aware of if you plan to live on the Gulf Coast or Riviera Maya.
Traveling Back Home is Quick and Affordable
This point really only applies to Americans and Canadians living in Mexico. If you’re from North America, traveling back home to visit friends and family is fast and affordable when compared with other popular expat destinations like Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, or South America.
Budget airlines offer affordable flights between many major Mexican cities and American and Canadian cities. Mexico has plenty of international airports you can fly out of. For example, you can find round trip flights between Los Angeles, Dallas, or Chicago and Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, or Cancun for less than $200. Tickets to many major Canadian cities are affordable as well. The countries are very well connected.
Flight times between Mexico and the U.S. or Canada are also pretty short compared to other expat destinations. Flying home takes just 3-6 hours. To compare, traveling back to your home country from Europe, Asia, or South America might take a full day or more. Plenty of direct connections are available as well if you’re traveling between larger cities.
The quick and affordable flights allow you to travel to your home country more frequently. If you decided to live in another popular expat destination that’s further away, you may not be able to afford to visit home nearly as often.
A few budget airlines that fly between the U.S. and Mexico include:
- Viva Aerobus
Driving and Walking to Mexico
You can also simply drive between the U.S. and Mexico. This makes the move incredibly easy. Just load up your vehicle with your belongings and hit the road. You will need a temporary import permit (TIP) to drive your vehicle in most of Mexico.
You will also need to pay import tax on some of your stuff. If you plan to keep your vehicle, you’ll eventually have to import it and pay tax on it. You can import it for up to 4 years with a temporary residence vis a and TIP.
While living in Tijuana, I could simply walk across the border to visit friends and family in Southern California. It doesn’t get more convenient than that.
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 and learning about these unique cultures.
The largest concentration of archeological 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. You’ll see cobblestone streets, beautiful churches, and spectacular plazas. Some of Mexico’s colonial towns are shockingly well preserved. A few of the most interesting Mexican colonial cities include:
- San Cristóbal de las Casas
- San Miguel de Allende
Mexico offers a unique mix of European, Mesoamerican, and North American cultures. It’s a very friendly and laid back culture. People are open and welcoming. Mexicans like to have a good time and are generally easy to be around.
The food and drink culture are also great. Mexico is known for its street food. Tacos are popular all over the country. Mexico also offers some great alcohol including beer, wine, tequila, and mezcal.
The holidays and festivals are interesting and fun as well. While living in Mexico, you’ll celebrate Dia de los Muertos, Día de la Independencia, feasts of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and more.
Sports are also a big part of Mexican culture—particularly soccer. Baseball and basketball also draw large crowds. Combat sports, including boxing, UFC, and Lucha Libre (Mexican-style wrestling) are also popular.
Mexico is a big country. According to the Mexican government’s last estimate, the population is around 129 million. It’s also a diverse country. There are people from all kinds of different ethnic backgrounds, social classes, and religions. Mexican culture varies greatly throughout the country.
Different regions have different food, holidays, and traditions. Lifestyles also vary. If you want a fast-paced life, you could live in one of Mexico’s large cities. For a slower and more laid-back lifestyle, you could live by the beach or in a rural region.
Culturally, Mexico is also fairly similar to other western countries, so you shouldn’t experience much culture shock when moving here. Chances are, you already have some experience with the food and language.
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 live abroad.
Discount bus companies and airlines make traveling within Mexico easy and affordable. 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 could easily hop on a 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.
For a bit more, you could pick up a budget airline ticket and visit a beach destination like Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, or Playa del Carmen. 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, Viva Aerobus, and Volaris.
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 International airport.
The Natual Beauty
Mexico is, undeniably, a beautiful country. From the rugged desert of Baja to the picturesque beaches of the Maya Riviera, beauty can be found everywhere in this country. A few of the most spectacular natural sites to explore 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. If you’re not into hiking, you can experience beautiful views of the canyon from a tourist train.
- Cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula- These unique geological features are basically sinkholes and caves in porous limestone that the peninsula is made of. 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. It’s a great place to go whale watching, snorkeling, or kayaking.
- 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. This is a great place for Scuba diving.
Cons of Living in Mexico
Living in Mexico certainly isn’t for everyone. In this section, I’ll outline the main drawbacks to consider before you make the move.
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. English isn’t widely spoken in most of Mexico. In order to communicate with your grocery clerk, plumber, or neighbor, you’ll need to speak Spanish. At least the basics. You don’t need to be fluent.
Getting certain things done without any Spanish is nearly impossible. For example, if you’re trying to rent a home, open a bank account, or put your utility bill in your name, you’ll have to either speak Spanish or have a translator.
Constantly struggling with a new language gets exhausting. You want to talk to people and interact but you can’t. Sometimes you get fed up and just want to speak your native language.
Even though Spanish is a relatively easy language to learn, it will still take years of study and practice to become fluent. It’s not easy to pick up a new language. Particularly if you’re older.
The good news is that Mexican people are generally very patient and understanding when you struggle with the language. Even if you speak Spanish at a beginner level, people seem appreciative that you are making an attempt to learn. Dealing with a language barrier is a struggle though.
There are some parts of Mexico where English is more common. For example in Puerto Vallarta, San Miguel de Allende, Playa del Carmen, much of Baja California, and many beach towns, you’re likely to hear some English. English is also pretty common in all of the border towns.
Getting Things Done Takes Longer
Life seems to move at a slower pace in Mexico. Things are also less efficient. There is also a lot of bureaucracy to deal with.
For example, something as simple as opening a local bank account could easily become a multi-day affair. It could require multiple visits and stacks of documents including proof of employment and immigration forms. You may need to visit multiple offices, make copies, talk to several people, and come back three times to open an account. This is something that you could do without leaving your house back home. If there is an issue with your residency permit, you may need to speak with multiple Mexican immigration officials to get the issue sorted out. The system is complex and needlessly bureaucratic.
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 clubs 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 without notice. Occasionally the internet goes down. Usually, it’s just for maintenance but there is never a warning or explanation. People just accept service interruptions.
In general, these outages are not common occurrences but they definitely happen more frequently than you may be used to. 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. 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 a 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.
If you don’t speak fluent Spanish, you may also have trouble communicating with the landlord. In this case, you may need to hire an English-speaking real estate agent to help you out.
Renting a room is much easier. In most cases, you can just pay the first and last month’s rent and a security deposit and move in. It’s much less formal.
When choosing a property, it’s a good idea to ask about earthquakes. Many buildings have an evacuation alarm and procedure if there is an earthquake. Also, ask about the building’s age and maintenance.
It is also possible for foreigners to buy property in Mexico. This would be a great option if you’re planning to live in Mexico long term. Buying property in Mexico can be risky. There are also some limits as to what you can and can’t buy as a foreigner.
There are some advantages to buying a property in Mexico. Property taxes are pretty low. Mexican real estate can also be a good investment. If you choose the right location, there is a good chance that you make money on your purchase.
Banking and Bill Payments Can be Complicated
Setting up a bank account in Mexico is a bit of a hassle. You’ll need your visa, passport, and proof of address. Some banks even ask for references. In addition, you’ll probably need to speak Spanish or bring somebody with you who speaks Spanish.
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.
For short-term expats, it’s best to stick with an international bank account. If you’re planning on moving to Mexico long-term, then it’s worth it to open an account.
Paying bills is also a hassle. If you want to pay your electric bill, you may have to go to the company’s office. You must go to your apartment’s rental office and pay in person when rent is due. There may not be an online payment option.
This is mostly just an inconvenience. It takes time out of your day to physically go to these places. It’s also kind of irritating when the technology exists to complete all of these transactions online.
Mexico Has a Cash-Based Economy
Mexico’s official currency is the Mexican peso. You have to pay for pretty much everything in cash in pesos.
Banking and payment processing aren’t as advanced in Mexico as in the U.S. 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 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.
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. I expect more and more businesses will start accepting cards in the future.
Cultural Differences: 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 in much of Latin America, 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 met up with a friend for drinks. I didn’t leave home until the time we were supposed to meet. I still arrived earlier than her but at least I wasn’t sitting around for an hour.
Some Items are More Expensive
Living costs like food, rent, and activities are lower in Mexico. Pretty much everything else costs more. Mostly 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 U.S. On average, I estimate that these items cost 20-30% more. Some luxury or novelty items might cost twice as much in Mexico.
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 U.S. Walmart had the same set for about $10 cheaper.
If something expensive like your phone or laptop dies, you may save money by flying to the U.S. to buy a replacement. While living in Tijuana, I would buy all of my electronics and most of my clothing on the U.S. side of the border.
If you plan to drive while living in Mexico, your best bet is to buy a vehicle in the U.S. and 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 and then apply for another permit or import the vehicle and pay import taxes on it.
If you drive your vehicle to Mexico, you’ll have to buy temporary insurance for it. I recommend Baja Bound Mexican Insurance. Click the link to get a fast and free quote.
Food Hygiene Standards are Lower
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:
- Don’t 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. If you’re in doubt, don’t order fresh salads. The greens may be unwashed.
- 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.
You Have to Buy Drinking Water while Living in Mexico
In most of Latin America, tap water isn’t safe to drink. 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 buy drinking water. In Mexico, you can have 20 liter jugs of drinking water delivered to your home. The jug is called a garrafón. After you buy the jug, it usually costs around 40 pesos to fill it with purified water. You’ll also need to buy some type of dispensor for the water. This could be a simple hand pump. Buying water is a hassle and an added expense but is a necessity.
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.
Crime Rates are Higher in Mexico
Statistically, Mexico is a dangerous country. It’s one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America. Compared to other popular expat and digital nomad destinations, Mexico has a high rate of crime.
According to this article, there were over 15,400 homicides in the first half of 2022. This is down 9.1% from the same period last year.
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 working for the cartels in drug trafficking. Tourists and expats are generally not targeted. Violent crime is not common in downtown or in tourist zones because these areas are 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, phone, or wallet, 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.
To stay safe in Mexico:
- Keep your valuables secure- Store your phone, cash, and cards in a zippered pocket. Carry your backpack on the front of your body while walking through a crowded area. Consider using a money belt.
- Avoid walking around at night- The risk of getting mugged increases at night. Take public transit, a taxi, or an Uber to get around after dark.
- Try to blend in- Don’t dress flashy or wear expensive clothing or jewelry. This makes you a target for theives.
- Don’t talk with random people who approach you- There are lots of scammers, hustlers, and con men working in touristy areas.
- Learn about areas to avoid- Mexican cities vary by neighborhood. You could wander a few blocks into a dangerous area. Ask a local about places to avoid.
- Learn basic Spanish- Try to learn enough to ask directions or ask for help if you need it.
For more info, check out my guide: Is Mexico Safe? Avoiding Crime and Scams.
Police Corruption is a Problem in Mexico
If you live in Mexico long enough, sooner or later you will encounter a corrupt police officer. While you’re driving or walking around, a police officer could stop you, accuse you of a crime, and try to solicit a bribe. This is a common issue in many parts of Mexico.
The officer could stop you for any reason or no reason at all. After stopping you, they will accuse you of committing a crime such as speeding, public intoxication, talking on the phone while driving, drunk driving, illegal parking, or not wearing your seatbelt.
The officer may tell you that you are being fined and that you can settle the payment there and then in cash. They will tell you that you’re in big trouble if you don’t pay. They may ask for $100-$400.
If possible, you should avoid paying bribes. Insist that the officer give you a written citation or take you to the police station to pay. If that doesn’t work, you can negotiate. Usually, 500-1000 Mexican pesos ($25-$50) is sufficient.
You can’t always avoid paying bribes. An aggressive officer may demand that you hand over your wallet. In this case, they’ll probably take most of your cash. Some officers can also get physical. I have also heard of officers demanding people to withdraw cash from an ATM.
For more info, check out my guide to police corruption in Mexico.
My Experience With Crime in Mexico
Mexico is known as a high-crime country. While living in Tijuana, I was inside a bar during an armed robbery. I also 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 Mexico. I have never witnessed any drug-related criminal activity or experienced any violent crime.
I feel perfectly safe walking around pretty much anywhere during the day. Downtown and touristy areas are heavily policed all over Mexico.
Most cities have areas you’ll want to avoid walking around at night. Petty theft, pickpocketing, and muggings 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 while Living 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 in many other countries.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Interest rates are high. Most Mexican banks also won’t give mortgage loans to foreigners. Even Mexican citizens have trouble getting a mortgage.
It is possible to finance Mexican property through U.S. 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 and pretend you don’t speak any Spanish. They may give up. Alternatively, you can insist on going to the nearest police station if you know where it is. If the criminal becomes aggressive, you may have to pay.
- General overcharging- People try to overcharge you. This can happen in taxis, restaurants, hotels, and markets. Street vendors are also notorious for this. 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. Sometimes expats pay more.
- 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.
- ATM skimming- Criminals can install a device on the ATM that steals your credit card details when you insert your card. Before using an ATM, try to inspect the card slot for a skimmer device.
- Fast talkers, con men, and hustlers- These are usually guys who have been deported from the U.S. 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. They might try to sell you something. 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 U.S. 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. Fender benders are common. You’ll notice many cars have dings and dents.
In large cities, traffic is pretty bad. During the morning and evening commutes, it could take hours to cross Mexico City, for example. Construction and maintenance are often done at inopportune times which make matters worse.
The exception is toll roads. Mexican toll roads are meticulously maintained. They are smooth, fast, and safe. When driving between cities, I recommend you take toll roads when available.
Foreigner Pricing and Negotiating
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. To avoid this, you just have to know what things cost before making a purchase.
Sometimes you have to negotiate to get the best price. Prices aren’t always set. This is common when buying from a street vendor.
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. Clearly, he was trying to rip me offf. 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 the local community. Even if I lived in Mexico for the rest of my life and learned Spanish fluently, I would still be considered a gringo, unfortunately.
You can still make friends. You’ll just never be considered a local. It is also pretty easy to integrate into expat communities around the country.
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. It is possible to integrate into the local community. 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 move to Mexico, you’ll probably want to travel a bit to get a feel for a few 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. There is a large international airport with connections all over the world. 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. There is also a large international airport. 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 living costs, a comfortable climate, and plenty of natural beauty. San Miguel de Allende is also very centrally located in Mexico which makes travel convenient. This is a popular retirement destination.
- Guanajuato City- Located in central Mexico, just 50 km from San Miguel, Guanajuato city is known for its colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, hills, and colonial architecture. This picturesque city has a great climate and a large expat community.
- 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 some organized expat communities. Just a short distance from the city, you can visit a number of spectacular beaches and fascinating Mayan ruins including the famous Chichen Itza.
- Playa del Carmen- This beautiful beach town is located on the Maya Riviera on the Yucatan Peninsula. It is famous for its spectacular beaches. Playa del Carmen is popular among younger expats.
- Ensenada- This is a popular choice for those who want to be close to the United States. Ensenada is located in the state of Baja California, just 65 miles south of the border. It takes about 2 hours to drive to San Diego. This is a great destination for seafood lovers and wine lovers. Ensenada is the home of the fish taco. It is also located 20 miles away from Mexico’s premier wine region, Valle de Guadalupe. The climate here is also excellent.
- 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 large expat community sits along the shore shores of the lake. There is a golf course and a popular country club. The weather is excellent year-round and a wide variety of amenities are available. A large international airport is located about an hour away. Lake Chapala and the surrounding area is a popular retirement destination. Particularly the city of Ajijic.
- San Cristobal de las Casas- This charming 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.
- Puerto Vallarta- This is one of Mexico’s most popular beach destinations. In Puerto Vallarta, you’ll find world-class restaurants, a golf course, a popular country club, and an international airport. There is a large expat population here as well. Puerto Vallarta is one of the top destinations for expats.
- 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, Tulum, and Cozumel. Here, can enjoy a tropical climate, high-end amenities, and beautiful views of the Caribbean Sea. There are also some large expat communities. This is probably the most expensive place to live in Mexico. It’s also the most touristy. For a more authentic Mexico experience, you might want to try a smaller beach town.
- Oaxaca- The city of Oaxaca is a popular destination for digital nomads. The city is beautiful and full of colorful colonial architecture. The surrounding area 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. It’s a great place to live if you want an authentic Mexico experience.
For more ideas, check out my guide: The Best Places to Live 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 living cost 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 or drive away from friends and family back home. There are also a wide range of expat communities that you can join to make you feel at home. This all makes Mexico an excellent destination for those who want to live in another country.
Having said this, Mexico is not the cheapest or safest expat destination. If you’re on a very tight budget, there are other countries in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe that are more affordable options to consider. These regions are slightly safer as well. If you prefer living in Latin America, there are other countries in the region that are cheaper. Colombia, Guatemala, Argentina, and Peru come to mind.
Overall, I have loved my time living in Mexico. I particularly enjoyed my time in Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, and San Miguel de Allende.
Are you living in Mexico? Share your experience in the comments below!