Living In Mexico – The Expats’ Essential Guide

Find out what's it like living in Mexico as an expat: how much it costs, where to live, the pros and cons, the paperwork and whether Mexico can become your ideal home abroad.

Mexico offers varied culture, beautiful vistas, a good economy and contrasting lifestyles. If you are looking to relocate to Mexico, our practical and informative guide will take you on the right path.

Is Mexico a good place to live?

Yes, Mexico is quite a good place to live for expats. It attracts a wealth of nationalities – Britons, North Americans, Spaniards and other Europeans.  

Expats appreciate the low cost of living, good climate, and varied lifestyle to suit those looking for something different from the norm.

For retirees the country offers a great choice of locations to suit different lifestyles. There are bustling cities, remote towns and villages, mountainous or beach locations for a different, slower pace of life. 

The climate and diet may be advantageous for longevity, health, and wellbeing.  

If you are relocating from Europe or North America, you will find that the exchange rate to the Mexican peso can be rather beneficial to your pocket, and your money stretches further than back home.

Mexico is well-connected. Buses travel from North America through Mexico and beyond as far as Panama thanks to the Pan-American Highway. You can use it to drive your RV down from Canada or the U.S.

Mexico City, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Guadalajara amongst others have excellent flight links within Mexico, Northern America and Europe.

What is it like living in Mexico?

Living in Mexico can be somewhat adventurous as the country is so vast and there’s so much to explore. 

Living in Mexico
Zona Hotelera in Cancun – a long, beachfront strip of hotels, nightclubs, shops and restaurants.

The key is to connect with expats and locals as soon as you can as their input and advice can be invaluable.

Mexico is well developed. You could live quite a sophisticated lifestyle similar to that of the UK, or the United States as the same modern comforts are available in Mexico. 

However, if you are after a simpler lifestyle, with the basics in an off-grid location in a rustic country casa there are plenty of opportunities for this too. 

Mexico is known for its soap operas which have Mexicans and expats alike glued to their TV screens. 

The country is well endorsed by celebrities and the film industry too. Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber among other stars built a house in Los Cabos, Baja California. George Clooney joined them to set up a tequila company ‘Casamigos’.

‘The Night of The Iguana’ was filmed in Puerto Vallarta starring Richard Burton and Ava Gardner. Richard Burton and his wife Elizabeth Taylor built a house there which has been transformed into a hotel today.

Is it dangerous to live in Mexico?

Mexico has a preconceived image of being a dangerous country. However, it is a matter of taking precautions as one would do in any country

The Pacific coastal areas such as Puerto Vallarta and Puerto Escondido for example are known to be calm and tranquil with only petty crime.

On the Caribbean side – Riviera Maya, Cancun, Playa del Carmen are very touristy but also safe. Border towns such as Tijuana and Cuidad Juarez are somewhat notorious in terms of crime. 

Safety in Mexico is about being sensible and not walking alone through a deserted neighbourhood at night, or not driving in desolate areas. 

You will find that driving through Mexico is incredibly safe. The country has well-maintained highways with plenty of rest stops.

Be aware, observe and respect the local laws and customs and your experience will be pleasant. It is a good idea to always have your Embassy’s information at hand with you.

The pros and cons of Living in Mexico

Living in Mexico like in any other country has both positive and negative points. Let’s start with the positives.

The pros of living in Mexico

1. Climate

You will find that the weather is pleasant year-round and warmer than in some parts of North America or Europe.

Living in mexico
Amazing crystalline blue waters of the Tamul waterfall in San Luis Potosi.

The humid and tropical heat especially on the Pacific coast can be a little overbearing and takes some getting used to! A ceiling fan and air-conditioning can help a lot.

For cooler climes head to Mexico City or San Cristobal de las Casas or other elevated locations.

2. Good quality and low cost of living

You will find the standard of living is high and modern, with low day to day costs whether it is transportation, entertainment, grocery shopping or utility bills.

3. Mexican people are friendly and welcoming

Mexicans are very open-minded, warm, and friendly and are willing to always help, even if there is a language barrier.

4. Great cuisine, fresh produce

The country enjoys a varied cuisine, from regional tacos to the staple guacamole and international food. Fresh fruit and vegetables are in abundance and inexpensive.

5. Affordable healthcare

The healthcare system in Mexico is modern, impressive, and of high-quality standards. Also, it is cost-effective: you could see a local doctor for around $15. Pharmacies are everywhere and some are open 24/7.

6. Good connectivity

Air travel within Mexico is excellent with a range of local and international airlines. Flights between the USA, Canada and Europe are frequent, with many last-minute economy deals. 

Bus travel is extensive with a network of bus companies that serve every part of Mexico, the U.S, Canada and even Latin America as far as Panama

7. Beautiful beaches and picturesque coastlines

From the Riviera Maya – Cancun, Playa del Carmen to The Pacific coast beaches of Puerto Vallarta, or Puerto Escondido you can enjoy endless perfect vistas.

Living in Mexico
Akumal bay – a white sand Caribbean beach in Riviera Maya on the coast of Yucatan and Quintana Roo.

8. Expat communities

You will find many expat hubs such as Playa del Carmen and San Miguel de Allende for example. This can be reassuring when settling in and provide a sense of community, as many expat communities set up meetings and groups. 

9. Laidback lifestyle

A calm, tranquil and unhurried pace of life can be very beneficial for your health in retirement.

10. Good schools

There are high standard international schools in the main cities, with a mix of British, American, and European influences and culture offering the Oxford, Cambridge, Mexican and American curriculums. 

11. Affordable domestic help

It is very affordable to hire a daily housekeeper, gardener and maintenance person; the wages are around $16 per day of labour.

The cons of living in Mexico

1. The language

Locals speak a variation of Mexican Spanish, which may take some time to adjust to the expressions which differ from mainland Spain or other parts of Latin America. If you don’t want to learn Spanish, then consider living in a border city like Tijuana. Most of the people there will speak English.

2. Higher cost of properties purposely built for expats

New expat communities and house developments may cost quite a lot by Mexican standards. Newer developments are being quoted in U.S. dollars as opposed to Mexican pesos and are sometimes a reflection of the property prices in the U.S.A. 

3. Drinking water and water supply

Tap water is not considered safe to drink in Mexico.  People buy bottled water in supermarkets. Or you can use local water delivery trucks.

Living in more remote areas comes with a risk of having the municipal water supply only for a few days a week especially during the dry season. It is important to have a water storage tank on the roof of your home to store water.

4. Toilet paper and drainage

Depending on the location one cannot flush the toilet paper down the toilet in Mexico. In public places it is common to see wastebaskets by the side of the toilet to place the toilet paper. 

5. Crime can be an issue

As anywhere in the world one must be cautious. It is a question of common sense and some adjustments in your habits. Small thefts and pickpocketing do occur so don’t leave your possessions unattended.

6. Slower postal service

The post can be slower than expected yet reliable, especially in larger cities. There are numerous courier services though if a delivery time and date is an important factor.

How much money do you need to live comfortably in Mexico?

You could live comfortably on $1,500 per month (roughly £1,000), this could cover all the basics such as rent, food, internet, and general living costs. This, of course, very much depends on the location. 

Living in Mexico
A lovely beach in Puerto Vallarta with the Sierra Madre mountains in the background.

Mexico City is considered to have a higher cost of living than other parts of Mexico, however, it is still cheaper than the United Kingdom or the United States.  

According to Numbeo, a three-bed apartment in Mexico City will cost you between $510 and $1,000 USD per month. In the outskirts or in a more remote region monthly rent could be much less, say between $300 to $650 per month.

Utilities are cheap in Mexico. Electricity, water, and garbage services cost around $30 and electricity bills around $20 including the use of air conditioning. 

Unlimited broadband is around $25 per month. Prepaid cell phone costs are around 6 cents per minute.

Grocery stores, bakeries, local markets and supermarkets have reasonable prices. An average shopping bill for a couple would be around $350 a month.

Restaurants and dining out at local food court costs are around $5. Food aficionados looking to try international or a la carte cuisine pay around $25 for a 3-course dinner.

Bus travel is cheap at 25 cents. Taxis and shared taxis can be from $1 upwards.

In cheaper locations you could live on a budget for under $1,000 per month inclusive of all necessities.

Renting a rustic ‘casita’ can be a cheaper option than a new modern apartment.

Look for rentals and houses for sale in Mexican pesos, they might be cheaper than those priced in dollars. 

How to obtain residency in Mexico?

What options do you have if you want a long-term residency in Mexico?

First, you need to obtain a visa – a permission to enter the country. The tourist visa can be obtained at the border, all the others – in a Mexican embassy of your home country.

Mexico’s visas

There are different types of visa: 

A Visitor’s visa

This visa is for tourists, visitors taking business trips or exploring the possibilities of where to relocate. It is available at the border and is valid for 6 months.

However, it is common for expats to get this visa on entering the country, stay for 6 months, and then just leave the country for a few days and re-enter on a new tourist visa without bothering about permanent residency. 

The disadvantage of this is that it’s very difficult (or next to impossible) to open a bank account in Mexico with a tourist visa.

A Temporary Resident visa

It is valid from 6 months up to 4 years, issued initially for one year, after which it can be renewed. With this visa you can work, leave and enter the country as you wish.

To get it you need to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds or a steady income. After 4 years you can exchange your temporary status for a permanent residence permit.  

FM3 – the long-term non-immigrant visa

This visa gives you non-immigrant temporary residency status for an indefinite period or a fixed period, renewable every year.

It can be both lucrative and non-lucrative depending on what you are planning to do in Mexico. The application process and fees for these two categories differ.

As a retiree you would apply for a non-lucrative type.

You will need to demonstrate proof of steady regular income. As a rule, around $2,000 per month plus an additional $540 per month for a spouse will be enough. The income can be your investments, savings, dividends, incoming rent, or a retirement pension. 

FM3 does not lead to permanent residency, however it can be swapped into FM2 later if you want.

FM2 – the immigrant visa

If you want a long-term residency in Mexico or a citizenship, this is the right type of visa for you.

Just like the FM3, this visa can be either lucrative or non-lucrative depending on whether you are planning to work in the country or not. Applying for FM2 you will need to demonstrate a higher income than with FM3.

Living in Mexico
San Miguel De Allende, Guanajuato is rated as one of the top places to retire in Mexico.

Mexico residency card

When you arrive in the country with your newly issued visa, within 30 days you will need to apply for a Mexican Permanent Resident Card at the National Immigration Institute (Instituto Nacional de Migracion (INM)).

Many expats hire a “fixer” or immigration attorney to help them with the process. The paperwork is not easy and should be done in Spanish. It will cost you anything between $500 and $1,500, depending on your helper’s rates, but it’s worth it.

Infrastructure – internet, TV, phone, mobile 

Cable packages that incorporate internet and TV are available in most areas of Mexico, but it is wise to check the coverage first. Some packages also include free calls to other countries and unlimited calls within Mexico, the Americas, and Europe such as with Telmex and Cablevision.

Pay-TV services are available via cable companies and satellite TV providers Sky and Dish. Cablevision has a range of TV packages that include a fixed landline and internet services. 

Mexico has good and reliable mobile communications Telcel, Movistar, AT&T, Nextel, and Virgin Mobile. Also, 5G is starting to be rolled out through Mexico.

There are two options for mobile cell phone packages – 

  • Prepago (prepaid) – you can top up your balance at any convenience store or supermarket;
  • Pospago – contract plans for a period of 2, 24, or 36 months at a fixed monthly rate, including a free cell phone.

Wireless home internet is offered in rural areas where there is a lack of telephone lines and serves as backup internet during bad weather periods.

Taxes in Mexico 

If you have a home in Mexico and live there for the most part of a year, you will likely become a tax resident in Mexico. It means you will have to pay Mexican income tax that ranges from 1.92% to 35% depending on your income level.

If you set up a business in Mexico, you will have to pay Federal Corporate Income Tax at 30%.

Taxes on residential properties are a 2% acquisition tax, an annual property tax and a capital gains tax when you sell your property. This tax is based on the assessment value of the property which tend to be lower than the property’s actual market value.

The VAT is 16% in most of the country and 11% in border areas. It will show at the bottom of all receipts in Mexico.

Banking and bank accounts

To open a local bank account, you need to come to the local branch office in person and present your visa, ID, and proof of a Mexican address as well as an initial deposit.

Most banks will not allow you to open an account if you have a tourist visa.

Expats can open a basic, checking or deposit account which is useful if wages need to be paid in.

Some banks require a minimum amount to be always in the account and may specify how many ATM withdrawals are possible within a certain period.

US/Canadian citizens can open a bank account in US dollars as well as in Mexican pesos. 

Internet banking is widely available for Mexican bank accounts and can be a time saver as the lines at banks can be quite long.

Healthcare in Mexico

Mexico’s public healthcare system is funded through the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social (IMSS) and Seguro Popular – public health insurance systems. 

Living in Mexico
Boats are docked at the port of Loreto in Baja California Sur.

These 2 systems provide most medical services and prescription drugs. If you are employed in Mexico, you will be automatically enrolled in the IMSS and your contribution will be deducted from your salary. 

If you’re running a business, retired or self-employed, you can voluntarily enrol in the IMSS and pay an annual fee of approximately 7000 pesos (£280 or $370) per person. 

If you have some pre-existing medical conditions, the IMSS might apply waiting periods or exclude them. In some cases your application can be declined. 

If your IMSS application has been declined you can either opt for the Seguro Popular or private insurance (although again, a private insurer will most probably excuse your pre-existing condition).

The Seguro Popular is a low-cost healthcare alternative that is available for anyone not enrolled in the IMSS or those who cannot afford private health insurance. Both temporary and permanent Mexican residents can enrol. The cost range goes from $0 to about $500 per family per year. The Seguro Popular covers all conditions.

The downside to Mexico’s public healthcare for expats is that everything is in Spanish and long waiting periods. Therefore private health insurance can be a better option. If you plan to travel back to your home country, you’d be better off choosing an international health plan to cover you in both destinations.

Here are a few examples of the costs without insurance;

A GP or specialist consultation or home visit: 350 – 500 pesos (£14 – £20, $18 – $25). 

Dental consultation: 400 – 1,000 pesos (£16 – £40, $20 – $50). 

Having a crown fitted: 5,000 to 10,000 pesos (£200 – £397, $252 – $504), 

Teeth cleaning: $28.00 (£22).

Where should I live in Mexico?

There are a variety of options: off-grid and remote villages, colonial rustic towns, cities or tropical beach locations – Mexico has it all!

Puerto Vallarta and surrounds

Known as The Mexican Riviera Puerto Vallarta situated on the Pacific coast. It offers a stunning contrast of a Sierra Madre mountainous backdrop against miles of golden sand beaches. 

This is one of Mexico’s fastest-growing cities and the influx of expats from all parts of the world has been increasing rapidly of late. 

The place is full of everything you need for a good life: amenities from shopping malls to local markets, long boardwalks with restaurants and hotels lining the coast. 

Lake Chapala

Lake Chapala and the surrounding area is home to the largest concentration of U.S expats worldwide along with Canadian and other nationalities. 

Living in Mexico
Chapala and the lakeside communities around it attract thousands of expats looking to either permanently retire or temporary escape the cold winters of the northern US and Canada.

Homes are designed in a Spanish style with gentle arches, hand-painted tiles and adjoining gardens that bloom year-round. The climate is lovely and mild without too much humidity.

Chapala is a charming town with cobblestone streets, cafes and street vendors. It also is home to  ‘Vista de Lago’ – a popular country club and golf course.

Ajijic and Chapala are havens for artists and writers. Expats and locals tend to meet on Wednesdays where there is a large outdoor artisan market that sells clothes, fruit, vegetable and fish, and household items.

The Baja Peninsula

The Baja Peninsula is home to 2 states: Baja California and Baja California Sur.

The whole peninsula has very strong ties to the U.S. Expats in “The Baja”  say that living there is a unique experience – it’s very Mexican while also quite close in many ways to the states. 

Because of this closeness, The Baja is where many Americans and Mexicans who worked in the U.S.A. choose to retire.

There’s a lot to do in Baja California. It is home to Baja 1000 and Baja 500 off-road races, Rosarito Ensenada bicycle races, and tours to watch the whales or go fishing. Then of course there is the wine festival. 

The climate is nice all year round and is the main draw for retirees. If you love the summer heat, you will do well choosing a coastal location. If you prefer cooler temperatures, just go up the mountains where you can find your ideal climate. 

Playa del Carmen and The Riviera Maya

This is a popular region on the Caribbean side of the coast. It is well connected and served by the international airport of Cancun. 

Living in mexico
Puerto Morelos beach, Riviera Maya.

Playa del Carmen is immensely popular with digital nomads who find that accommodation is varied, modern and plentiful from apartments overlooking the beach to more rustic houses in the outskirts. 

It offers a more relaxed lifestyle than Cancun which can be very touristic and high energy paced. Amenities are plentiful, from shopping malls to transport. 

Nearby Tulum attracts those looking for a country feel and a ‘get away from it all experience. It is an area of contrasts with a Caribbean feel. One can choose to live in the town centre or in the outskirts where it is quiet and peaceful.

San Miguel de Allende

Known as one of the prettiest towns in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende is a Spanish colonial town with houses in pastel colours. 

It has a rich arts and crafts tradition, with plenty of artisan markets. The town has benefited from the influx of investment and people in more recent times. It is rated as one of the top places to live and retire and has a thriving expat community. 

English is widely spoken here. You will also find that the climate is drier and there’s not much rain throughout the year.

Final thoughts on living in Mexico

Overall, Mexico has something for everyone and is an attractive place to live. 

Research in advance, consider all aspects of Mexican life, have several field trips to different parts of Mexico to get a feel for various locations, be open-minded, have patience and allow for a period of adjustment, – that’s the recipe for success. 

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