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Expat Exchange - 10 Tips for Living in Mexico
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Tulum, Mexico

10 Tips for Living in Mexico

By Betsy Burlingame

Welcome Home Mexico
Welcome Home Mexico

Summary: Is it safe to live in Mexico? What should I bring with me to Mexico? How can I find a home? Expats offer advice on these and other topics.

Meeting People in Mexico

"There is so much to do here and lots of people who speak English. The locals are very friendly. There are always exceptions but we have been very happy. It is a noisy country and there is dust. There is a theater group, a community choir, an art society and a multitude of clubs, restaurants, live music that you will recognize," explained an expat in Lake Chapala.

"The language is fun to learn, the food is great, a lot of people I've met are really special and I've made some friends, although it hasn't been easy. They are a close-knit culture with their families and don't accept gringas very willingly, but I'm okay. There are astoundingly beautiful places that I could never see the like in the States," shared an expat living in Guadalajara.

"MazInfo Yahoo Group and Sunday get-together, MazAmigos get-together, several ladies and mens lunches held weekly, Tourist Aide volunteers, Amigos de los Animals shelter volunteering, La Vina church, Friends of Mexico, American Library, discussion groups, exercise and dance classes, karaoke nights, walking the Malecon (seawalk), reading the Pacific Pearl and Maz Messenger magazines for activities schedules," suggested an expat in Mazatlan.

An expat in Manzanillo said, "We have two groups to meet other ex-pats. One is for couples, they meet weekly and go to dinner. Their name is Thirsty Thursdays. The other is a ladies lunch group. we meet once a month at the restaurant El Tablau, at 1 pm. Everyone is welcome and we generally have a speaker. From these two groups you can learn about the charities and opportunities in Manzanillo."

Finding a Home in Mexico

"This is a cash economy so it had to be a house I could afford. They have an MLS listings here so I could check out everything. I contacted a realtor and he helped weed out houses that had issues or less than savory neighborhoods. I wanted city water, a pressurized/filtration water system and city sewer. Many houses are on septic so I knew that I might have to make a compromise there. We had 14 houses on the final list. We bought the second one we had looked at and we paid cash. And it is on city sewer. We live in a single family dwelling that shares side walls with my neighbors. It is 2 story with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Houses are made with brick or cider block with a skin coat of concrete. Many houses have beautiful, lush gardens with indoor/outdoor living. We chose not to have one. Many people have maids and gardeners but it was not in our budget. Square footage of houses include covered porches so be aware of that. We looked at one house that a porch was 1/3 of the square footage which left very little living space," described an expat in Lake Chapala.

"Right now a condo on the beach with 2-3 bedrooms can be purchsed for as low as about 150,000.00 US dollars. This is a buying opportunity. We also have a beautiful house on the beach with 4 bedrooms for 869,000.00 US dollars. It is the perfect time to take advantage of our low prices," explained an expat realtor in Manzanillo, Mexico.

"We live in a large home one town over from where my husband works. I think the type of housing one chooses depends on the expat. Some are single and would rather live modestly and pocket the excess money from the monthly stipend they are given towards housing. Others have families and need/want more elaborate housing. I don't know any expats living here who aren't working for a U.S. company. This isn't the type of area people move to on a whim. They are sent here for work. The costs are a little less to about the same as the U.S. (to rent). The locals have realized they can get more for their properties because they are dealing with petroleum companies who are willing to pay. And, I think there was a housing shortage for a while. The house is nice though. We pay about usd $1800.00 for about 3000 sq.ft. You can rent cheaper places but you will generally end up with problems (leaking roof, older appliances)," said an expat in Comalcalco, Mexico.

"Puebla is a big city and neighborhoods vary. Ask the locals at Starbucks, the hip restaurants or at a local bar in the nice hotels for advice on the better/safer places to live. They are very well informed and friendly. The nicer places to live do require a lease, so come prepared with a proof of employment or job offer letter, a bank statement (you can get a Mexican account after you can present a lease), passport, visa and best of all if you have a local reference that is trusted above all. You will need a lease to begin internet, phone and electric service. Hot water and cooking gas comes in the form of gas. Yes GAS only! Your neighbors can help you with the number of the company that services your neighborhood. I live in a 300 year old historical neighborhood that is very exclusive. There are many expats from Germany, France and other countries in the city that mostly live in very modern, new houses. My home is rare to obtain even by the locals. I asked around at work, drove around the neighborhoods by taxi and by chance while exploring a neighborhood on foot I saw a For Rent sign on a very appealing hacienda. I knocked on the door and the owner rented it to me on the spot," advised an expat living in Puebla.

An expat living in Puerta Vallarta shared, "There are a few neighborhood guides online, including on insidepv.com, with pictures and video of the areas. It's relatively easy to choose where you want to be, because Puerto Vallarta is divided into 5 distinct areas- Marina, Hotel Zone, Centro, Old Town, Mismaloya. The marina is pricey, surrounded by a golf course and yacht slips, fine dining and art galleries. The hotel zone is a strip of resorts and modern shopping centers. These two areas resemble southern California or Florida. Centro is downtown Puerto Vallarta where the famous malecon boardwalk is located- loud, popular with tourists, fast paced Old Town Puerto Vallarta is slower paced, trendy, more traditional with cobblestone streets, residences, bars/clubs- this is also the popular gay area and has become quite stylish. Mismaloya is farthest south with different areas along the way, marked by "the crescent beaches." This area is lush in tropical jungle and lined with villas and luxury condominiums overlooking private beaches and the ocean."

Cost of Living in Mexico

"Much lower. We pay our property taxes and water yearly. Our taxes are $699 MX and water is $1000 MX per year. Electricity is expensive in Mexico but still less than the US and is paid every other month. We have our propane tank filled on the off month and runs about $1600 MX for 2 months. Phone and internet is $600 MX per month and that is with unlimited long distanse. We have satelite which comes out of Canada. They have grocery stores that carry US products but it is imported and therefore expensive. Produce, eggs, meat, chicken and fish is amazing and reasonable. You can pay as much as you want or as little as you have for a house and find something to fit your needs," said one expat living in Mexico," said one expat.

"Much lower. I moved here from New York where my rent was close to 3,000 USD for a loft. My rent now is around 700 USD for a very nice 1 bedroom. Inland, apartments start at $100-$300 USD for decent apartments. To be near the beach however, expect to pay no less than $600 for something decent, and around $1000 for something really nice. Utilities are unpredictable but inexpensive for the most part. I work for InsidePV.com so I have at least 2 computers running all day, and occasionally run the air conditioner. This runs me about $35 USD per month. If I run the air conditioner regularly, the bill can easily jump to double or triple," explained an expat in Puerto Vallarta.

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SJB-Global is a top-rated financial advisory firm specializing in expat financial advice worldwide, offering retirement planning & tax-efficient solutions with a regressive fee model. Our clients benefit from their country’s most favorable tax environment by utilizing the efficient investment vehicles we offer. Our commitment to quality service is reflected in our stellar reviews, with over 300 testimonials boasting 95% five-star ratings.

What to Bring When You Move

"We brought a lot. 9000 lbs. I would bring the things that make me feel good about my home. (personal things, art) In Manzanillo the sea air is hard on good art and metals. So I would think twice about bringing things of huge value that you want to leave in your family. If you love them and just want to enjoy them, bring them. Electronics, like computers, that you want in English you should bring. If you are a gourmet, bring your pots and pans, bring what it is that you love. Everything else leave," explained one expat living in Manzanillo.

"I wish I had brought more electronics, books, and computer software. All are easily double or triple the price in the US. This includes computers and pc accessories, cell phones, stereos, tv's, books, and magazines, etc. I also wish I would have brought a dehumidifier- they are impossible to find here but absolutely essential. Quality cosmetics, beauty products, and health products are not available here and what is, is limited or made with locals in mind- for example, products for dark hair and skin tones or health shakes made from a local cactus. Comfortable furniture - beds, sofas, and chairs are usually hard as rocks here with rough fabrics. What I could have left are most of my designer clothing and high heels- cobblestone streets ruin shoes and humidity eats fine fabrics. It's not uncommon to go to your closet and pull out a shirt with mildew on it after even a week," advised one expat living in Puerta Vallarta.

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Learning Spanish

"But if you want to fully enjoy the experience you will want to learn their language so that you can be a part what's going on around you and stop having your eye's glaze over when they start talking to you," advised an expat living in Ajijic.

"I had no knowledge of the Spanish language before moving. I am presently enrolled in Spanish language classes 5 days weekly. It's fun and it certainly helps to become and to feel more a part of the community," explained an expat living in Tequisquiapan.

Life in Mexico

"Fresh food -- veggies, fruit everywhere. Street markets that have everything you need, and the smell of cooking. People saying "buenas dias" and "buenos tarde" when passing on the street. No one's in a hurry, except macho jovenes in their cars, and then it's only to the next tope. Tequila and basic Mexican home cooking. The craftsmen and women, who still make items as their parents and parents before them did, and the fact that chicken wire has so many uses," shared an expat living in Lake Chapala.

"The broken sidewalks, the falling bricks of ancient, beautiful but decrepit houses, the protruding live electric wires, tree branches and glass cases of electric meters, that all do their damn best to discourage you from indulging in reveries while walking," described one expat.

"[I appreciate] The love of family. The societal urge to celebrate everything and anything possible. The pace of life. The priorities of day to day living. I love the way we greet each other. I like the impromptu-ness of life here," explained another expat.

Another expat said, "I appreciate the "family unit" the most. It mirrors the way things must have been with early migration to the U.S. during and after WWII. I love the ingenuity of the Mexican people. I enjoy seeing their appreciation when you show enthusiam for a job well done. I love that the women cook everything from scratch....little if any pre-cooked foods. Most of all, I truly enjoy the simplicity of life. I find I have a smile on my face most of the time. No Drama (except for the novelas)! Life is good."

Saying "No" in Mexico

"Saying "NO" for a Mexican is difficult, so a "YES" not always means "YES". If they are trying to explain that something cannot be done, it won’t be done even if you get a "YES" at the end. A "Maybe" can be translated as "NO"," explained one expat.

Safety in Mexico

"Narco cartels and the resulting territorial violence is more than challenging -- it's scary when it gets close," said an expat in Lake Chapala.

"Don't move here! I was nearly kidnapped. The cartels have made this place way too dangerous! I fled this place to save my life and the life of my husband and lost everything! You have to be insane to consider living in Mexico these days," exclaimed one expat in Tijuana.

Another member in Cardenas, Tabasco said, "Mexico is changing rapidly in regards to safety. I would live in larger cities where it is easy to blend in. In small towns you stick out like a sore thumb. I built a store in Poblado 20, Cardenas, in the state of Tabasco. Everything was fine the first year. Now the cartel is moving in. It has become very dangerous from a kidnapping standpoint and we are leaving. I am going to Ciudad del Carmen. In the small poblados and countryside, there are no police. There is no one to report a crime to. And if there are police, no one to solve it."

"I live in a small colonial town called Tequisquiapan, in the state of Queretaro. There is virtually no crime here. One thing one ought to remember...this is a poor country, with many unemployed men looking for ways to make a peso or two. If you have beautiful, expensive jewelry leave it in your home. If you flaunt your wealth someone will feel entitled to a portion of it. Use common sense," recommended another expat.

An expat in Saltillo explained, "I've been living here for nearly 10 years. While I do still love it here, all the bad press about Mexico isn't just a pact with the devil to keep dollars out of Mexico. It really is dangerous here. But I realize that geography has a lot to do with that perspective. I live in Coahuila (Saltillo), and my in-laws divide their time between Mexico City and Morelos. We now joke that Mexico City is the safest place for us to be. *sigh* Had you asked me last year, I might have agreed with many of you about the bad press. Now, unfortunately I've got to admit that it's deserved (in part--I haven't been to the US in over a year, so I don't know exactly what they're saying there). However, the reality is that I am getting tired of checking Twitter every time I want to leave the house, in order to find out if they're shooting up wherever it is that I want to go. A silver lining is that friends seem to reach out more, emailing and calling on the phone warn us to not leave our houses when they find out that "stuff" is going down. We still walk around downtown, commenting how much we like it here (Saltillo). Then we have to add, "but it's such a shame that they're shooting at us." Sometimes we can forget about it, but it's a big "but."

Violence and safety concerns in Mexico seem to vary greatly by region. Read our article, Crime in Mexico: Where are the Safest Places to Live in Mexico? for a better look at this topic.

Schools in Mexico

Expat Exchange members have submitted reports about numerous expat schools in Mexico - many in Mexico City -- Westhill Institute in Mexico City, Greengates School in Mexico City and many other reports about schools in Mexico.

Parenting in Mexico

An expat parent described parenting in Mexico, "Mexico is a much more spontaneous place, with lots of last-minute changes and invitations. We have had to learn to go with the flow more than we had to at home. We've had to re-gauge when to hold firm and fast to the rules, and when to give them some wiggle-room, since this is a new context. We are also now immigrant parents, with a culture gap between us and our now very Mexican son. Before our move we shared a culture much more fully. There is also now a culture gap between us and our son's friends, school, etc. All new dynamics that did not exist at home."

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.

Welcome Home Mexico
Welcome Home Mexico

Welcome Home Mexico
Welcome Home Mexico


Dec 19, 2013 10:12

Singularly the most informative article I've read. Succinct with excellent links. George

Apr 21, 2017 11:42

HI; Good information. How do I find out about shipping some household goods. Who is a reliable mover that is affordable thanks

Aug 26, 2018 12:40

As of September 2018; can ANYONE who has lived in Mexico for at least 3 years or more (preferably), actually tell me what are the top 3 SAFEST places for an American to retire in Mexico and why?? I see there is A LOT of bad press about Mexico but I REALLY want to know what is fact vs fiction. Thanks

Tulum, Mexico

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SJB Global

SJB Global is a top-rated financial advisory firm specializing in expat financial advice worldwide, offering retirement planning & tax-efficient solutions with a regressive fee model.
Learn More

SJB GlobalSJB Global

SJB Global is a top-rated financial advisory firm specializing in expat financial advice worldwide, offering retirement planning & tax-efficient solutions with a regressive fee model.
Learn More

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