12 In All/ How to Prepare for Long-Term World Travel/ Mexico

Everything You Need To Know About How To (Temporarily) Move To Mexico

Whether we realize it or not, we’re in the middle of a massive paradigm shift regarding the way we work and view productivity. For many of us, when quarantines were implemented around the world, “going to work” meant walking five steps from your bedroom into your office or living room. Over one year later, the verdict seems to be that most people love working remotely and actually feel happier and more productive (myself included!)

The pandemic has made us rethink our everyday lifestyle, and for those of us lucky enough to have the ability to work remotely, or for those of us lucky enough to even have a job throughout the pandemic, many are starting to rethink the concept of where we want to work. (By the way, for those of you who lost your jobs, I feel you. My career is in the travel and tourism industry, which was the first to be decimated when the pandemic hit, and I lost my job in February, just like millions of others. I was without work for nearly one year, so I empathize with you.)

Now “going to work” can look like waking up to the chirping of pleasant birds against a bright blue sunny sky instead of a harsh alarm against pouring rain and a dark, black winter sky. It can mean preparing and eating a leisurely breakfast from scratch and enjoying it by the pool in the sun, instead of grabbing an unhealthy ham & cheese croissant on your way out the door. It can look like starting your day at 10AM if you’re in another country in a time zone ahead of where your company is based, instead of 8AM when you haven’t quite woken up from your coffee yet.

If you feel comfortable enough to travel safely, you have at the very least, your home country, state or region at your fingertips. Many city dwellers (such as ourselves) are questioning why to stay put when there are other options available to us. Instead of being stuck in a small apartment in Seattle, for example, why not spend a month on the Olympic Peninsula in a larger home for the same price and look at views of calming water instead of your neighbor’s brown wall? Or better yet…why not move to Mexico?

Ever since Sasha and I met, we shared a common goal that we would someday live and work abroad, and leave Seattle for the six months of cold, grey, dark winters. I tend not to use the word “someday” because it’s highly passive, so here we are, five years later, living our dream, and it feels exquisitely surreal. Sasha and I both have the privilege to work remotely, so we decided to move to Mexico for several months! Now, I understand that not everybody can just pick up and move to another country for an indefinite period of time. If you have children who are remote learning, pets at home, elderly parents you’re taking care of, or perhaps a partner who is not able to work remotely, I realize that this may not be possible, and I feel very grateful to have this unique opportunity.

People have been expatriating to warm locations since the beginning of time, long before the word “expat” became a buzz word, and Mexico is no exception. In this blog post, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about moving to Mexico temporarily. It’s chock-full of helpful tips, including a pre-departure checklist before you leave your home country, and a packing list for the essential items you’ll need to bring with you when you move to Mexico.

I’d also like to make it clear that by no means am I any sort of expert on living in Mexico, especially after such a short time. I usually write these “what it’s really like to live in….” articles when I’ve lived somewhere for 5 years or longer (see my articles on What It’s Really Like to Live in Hawaii, and What It’s Really Like to Live in Seattle.)

My goal with this blog post was to take all the questions that we had prior to moving and answer them to the best of my knowledge based on what we learned, in hopes that it may help some of you!

Mexico has been one of few countries in the world to remain open to visitors during this time, because their government took the approach to attempt to save tourism and continue bringing money into the country, rather than shutting down and annihilating their economy as many other countries did.

Here are the topics I’ll be covering in this post:

  1. Pre-Departure Checklist
  2. Flights
  3. How Long You Can Stay In Mexico (without a visa)
  4. Choosing Which City To Live In
  5. Transportation (Should You Rent a Car or Take Uber?)
  6. Cell Phone Coverage
  7. Internet
  8. Selecting Long-Term Accommodation
  9. Grocery Shopping
  10. Food Delivery & Meal Prep Service
  11. Water
  12. Currency
  13. How Much It Costs To Live in Mexico
  14. Packing List
  15. Supporting the Local Population

Before I dive in, I’d like to address the concern that many of you probably have about Covid safety; some of you may think a move like this is selfish, and I respect your opinion. However, because I speak Spanish and am able to have deeper conversations about politics, values and opinions with locals, I can tell you that 100% of the Uber drivers, restaurant servers, hotel workers, housekeeping staff, etc., have all expressed how grateful they are to see tourists coming here and supporting their country’s economy, and that they prefer that over shutting down. In fact, most of the locals here don’t even seem to care about Covid, and the vast majority of them either don’t wear a mask or wear it incorrectly (below their nose.) So yes, come, but come respectfully and responsibly. Get a negative Covid test before arriving (even though it’s not required), and don’t go around partying without a mask, and you will be respected.

WARNING: Living in Mexico may cause extreme contentment and giddy-like happiness, whether mezcal-induced or not. 😉

Before considering a move like this, create a pre-departure checklist to help you stay on track and cover all your bases to be away from wherever “home” is for a while. Here are some important things to consider:

PRE-DEPARTURE CHECKLIST

  1. Arrange for health insurance that covers you out of your home country – I used Insuremytrip.com, which cost about $45 for my husband and me combined, per month. Be sure that your coverage includes Covid-related costs. If you’re employed, check with your HR to ensure that your health insurance covers you abroad
  2. Make sure your employer knows that you will be living abroad for a while and that there’s nothing against your company’s policy. Ask if you will be required to work from a VPN or if a secured network will suffice
  3. Rent your home – if possible and if you’re comfortable with it or could use the extra funds and don’t want your house to sit empty, consider renting it on sites like Airbnb, Trusted Housesitters, or HomeExchange. I noticed that people are actually moving around quite a bit, especially employees of tech companies who can work from anywhere. Longer stays are becoming more and more common, so if you’ve got an office and desk setup, especially with sit/stand desk configuration and monitors, this will be a huge selling point and you should highlight it in your listing
  4. Stop your mail or have a neighbor check it for you while you’re away
  5. Call your credit card company to notify them that you’ll be living in another country for a period of time
  6. If you take specific medications, make sure you have enough prescription to last you while you’re away (though you can get just about anything in the farmacia (pharmacy) here in Mexico)
  7. If you’ll be traveling with your children, ensure they have everything they need for distance remote learning
  8. Put your valuables in a safe
  9. Rent your car on Turo, or store it away in a garage

FLIGHTS

I recommend buying a one-way ticket so that you have the flexibility to come back whenever you need, and don’t incur any change fees or flight fare differences. This will also be great for those of you who fall in love with it here and never actually leave. 😉

HOW LONG CAN I STAY IN MEXICO WITHOUT A VISA?

If you hold a passport from any of the following countries, you can stay in Mexico for up to 180 days without a visa (that’s six months!) Just don’t lose the little piece of paper they give you when you arrive to customs! You’ll need that to exit the country!

WHERE SHOULD I LIVE IN MEXICO?

Ahh, the million dollar question. So you’ve decided you want to move to Mexico, now the question is…where in Mexico? This is a huge country with a vast and rich diversity of culture and environment. Mexico truly has something for everyone; whether you’re a surfer or a city lover, whether you prefer colonial living or living in a remote mountain village; whether you want to snorkel every day in turquoise waters, or you prefer dry desert, Mexico’s got it all. I recommend joining Facebook expat groups such as Digital Nomads Mexico or Expats in Mexico. There are also specific groups for each area, for example, Expats in Puerto Vallarta. Here are (a hand-selected) top 10 places to live as an expat in Mexico (based on my research as well as other expat recommendations whom we’ve met during our time here):

Puerto Vallarta – a paradise by the sea with both mountains & ocean

Marina Vallarta – 20 minutes North of Puerto Vallarta on the marina with a large golf course (this is the ritzier area and is one of the safest neighborhoods in PV).

Playa Del Carmen – Resort town

Tulum – Bohemian vibe (for more on Tulum, check out my blog post on The Controversial and Enchanting Tulum, and The Perfect Two-Week Itinerary Around the Yucatan Peninsula.

San Miguel De Allende / Guanajuato (just one hour apart from each other) – rich in culture, high altitude, colder climate
– Check out my blog posts on A Weekend in Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.

Guadalajara – big city, popular expat town

Sayulita or San Pancho – small, cute surf towns, one hour North of Puerto Vallarta. If you love surfing and small town hippy vibes, these are great options. The only downside for these two small towns is that the internet is very slow, so it’s not a great place if you are working. Check out my blog post on 12 Best Things to do in Sayulita.

Mexico City – city living, high altitude, colder climate

Merida – quaint colonial living

Oaxaca – the cultural thread of Mexico, and the foodie, mezcal, mole and chocolate capital of the country! Check out my blog post on 15 Awesome and Cultural Things To Do in Oaxaca.

TRANSPORTATION

This again will depend on which area of Mexico you choose to live in. Ubers are not available in some parts of Mexico (such as in Oaxaca where only shared cabs are available), and cabs can often be sketchy without meters or set prices. Our experience has been in Puerto Vallarta, where we take Uber everywhere and it is very inexpensive. For example, a 25-minute drive into the city (in traffic) costs around $5 – $8 USD.

Something to note about Ubers is that, unlike in the U.S. where the majority of Ubers are Priuses and in great condition, that is not the case here. I’ve gotten into Ubers that had clunky sounds, cracked windshields, dusty seats, or missing a bumper. One time I couldn’t even find the other piece of my seatbelt to click into, so I actually had my driver pull over and dig it out from underneath the seat for me. Always be sure that you’re riding safely. This actually makes me feel sad, because it likely means that the drivers can’t afford to fix their car, which leads me to my next point: it is highly appreciated to tip your Uber drivers in Mexico. There’s an option at the end of your ride to add a tip through the app, and you can select a custom amount, or pay them in cash.

RENTING A CAR

We rent a car every weekend (through Expedia) to go up to the North Shore of Sayulita and San Pancho where Sasha loves to surf and I enjoy a peaceful read on the beach, or a yoga class. Our favorite company to use here is Avis (pronounced by the locals as “Ah-vees”). Their customer service is top notch and their vehicles are always reliable. Stay far away from Budget, where we had a nightmare experience.

CELL PHONE COVERAGE

We have the T-Mobile International Plan, which I highly recommend. If you’re staying somewhere with spotty internet, you can connect to your cell phone’s hot spot, which is a good backup plan, especially if your job relies on internet. You can also get a local plan once you’re here. Telcel and Movistar are the main providers, but Telcel has the most widespread coverage.

INTERNET

Mexico is unfortunately notorious for slow internet speed and unreliable connection, but the larger cities tend to have faster internet than smaller towns due to the population size. I recommend writing to the hotel or host of your accommodation before you book, to ask them to send you a screenshot of the internet speed test. This should be a very common request during these times, and if they refuse to send it to you, they’re probably hiding something and I would move on, as you’ve dodged a (slow internet) bullet. Anything over 30 mbps download should be good enough for one person to work on, or 60 mbps for two people to be on video calls simultaneously. We always strive for at least 70 mbps download or higher.

ACCOMMODATION

Sites like Airbnb and Booking.com typically offer discounts for long term stays, and even weekly stays. If you’re looking to save money and have flexibility around which area of Mexico you live, I highly recommend signing up for sites like Trusted Housesitters or HomeExchange. Membership is around $150 per year, but you’ll easily recoup that in just a few days of accommodation.

Depending on which area of Mexico you choose to live in, you can easily find good accommodation for under $500 USD per month, or if you prefer something larger and in a nicer, quieter area like Marina Vallarta, you’ll find apartments more in the $1,500 – $3,000 USD per month range.

*TIP* – book your first week somewhere you think you may enjoy, and use that week to explore surrounding areas to ensure it’s somewhere you could see yourself staying longer term. Also use this time to vet the area; is it safe? Is it noisy? Is there a stadium close by that wasn’t mentioned in the listing with games that go late into the night? Does it smell like chemical bleach cleaner? Is your neighbor an opera singer who only likes to practice at night? Is there a mating cat below your window? Is the hot water virtually non existent? These are all things that you typically won’t find out until you’re physically there, so the last thing you want to do is lock yourself into three months staying somewhere that ends up not being what you expected. You can always extend your stay if you end up liking it, so long as there’s availability, and right now, I can tell you that nearly all places are desperate for bookings and will gladly extend your stay.

*TIP* – Many hotels or apartments will offer you a discount if you pay in cash directly to them.

Some people like to switch accommodation every month to change up their environment and scenery, but we preferred to stay put once we arrived because of how much stuff we brought with us to have a comfortable remote work setup, so moving around would be too much hassle. Plus, we found a place with fast internet and a king sized bed!! Neither of which are very common here in Mexico.

You know you’re settled in when…

GROCERY SHOPPING

Again, this will depend on where you live in Mexico, but across the country you will find OXXO, which is the local equivalent of 7-11 and are found on nearly every street corner. Here are some of the main grocery stores in Puerto Vallarta:

La Comer
Soriana
Chedraui
Sam’s Club
Walmart
Costco
– yes, there’s a Costco here! We couldn’t believe it! We had actually left our Costco cards back in Seattle, but we were able to go to membership services here in Mexico and get a temporary card printed for us.

*TIP* – If you prefer organic or natural body products, such as shampoo, soap, face creams, toothpaste, etc., stock up before you leave your home country because it’s very difficult to find natural body products here.

In Mexico, it is a requirement to label food products if they’re GMO (genetically modified), or high in fat, sugar or calories. This is an attempt to encourage the local population to select healthier choices. So, when you buy junky food, be prepared to see this:

*TIP* – There are lots of outdoor markets all around the country, and there’s bound to be several wherever you choose to stay. Do as much of your shopping at the markets, because it supports local farmers and growers more directly than at grocery stores. By the way, the first time I saw the size of a papaya here, my jaw dropped. I was raised in Hawaii, where we have what I thought were normal-sized papayas (my favorite fruit), but this just takes it to a whole other level!! Yep, bigger than my head. Basically the size of a small child. Or a baby chihuahua. Without the fur.

FOOD DELIVERY & MEAL PREP SERVICES

I was surprised to find a vegan meal prep and delivery service (in Puerto Vallarta) called Freshplate. I’m sure there are many options in the larger cities in Mexico. Just Google “meal prep delivery services (name of city)” The way ours works, is they send us a new menu each week, and we select which items we’d like. We get 14 meals a week (for the two of us), which comes out to around $7 USD per meal. Because we work Seattle time zone hours, we’re done with our workday at 7PM, so by then it’s too late for us to cook, so this is a very convenient and economic option. I love that the food is healthy and minimally packaged. Everything comes in vacuum sealed plastic bags, so the food stays fresh for up to 12 days. Just pop it in the pan to heat it up, and voila! Done in five minutes. The chef of this company cooks for a yoga studio, and he personally delivers the meals to your doorstep!

WATER

Oxxo stores are found on literally every corner throughout the entire country of Mexico, and this is where you can purchase a 5-gallon water jug, which is the largest size you’ll find, so I recommend purchasing two to keep in your home at all times. Once they’re empty, you simply bring them back to any Oxxo, leave the empty one, and exchange it for a new one for a discount. The cost is 36 MXN, which is around $1.80 USD.

CURRENCY

Mexico uses the Mexican peso (MXN), and at the time of writing this post, the exchange rate is approximately .050, so $1 USD is approximately 20 MXN. This is good mental math that’ll take some getting used to, because you’ll have to divide everything by 20 to compute the amount in US dollars.

QUICK SPANISH 101:

Cash = efectivo
Coins = monedas
Credit card = tarjeta de crédito (or just “tarjeta” for short)
ATM = cajero
Change = cambio

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO LIVE IN MEXICO?

This truly depends on where you choose to live. A high-end luxury apartment on the ocean in Puerto Vallarta will be very different from a rented room in a home in Oaxaca. If you’re used to a more lavish lifestyle back home and want to replicate that here, you can absolutely live like a King or Queen on less than you would in (most) U.S. states or parts of Canada. Conversely, it’s absolutely possible to live on less than $500 USD per month in Mexico, but you can also easily spend over $4,000 USD per month as well. To give an example, I’ll provide some common costs you can expect to find in Mexico:

A pint of strawberries costs $2 USD
A bag of (6) avocados at Costco costs $3 USD
A massage on the beach for one hour costs $20 USD
A rental car (economy size) for one day costs $20 USD

A taco costs less than $1 USD
Cholula (hot sauce) costs $1 USD (as a comparison, in Seattle at Whole Foods, it’s $6.99)
An average dinner out for (2) people, including two drinks, two meals and tip, costs $50 USD at a nicer restaurant, and $30 USD or less at a casual restaurant

PACKING LIST

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. (You don’t need me to tell you to pack your toothbrush and underwear) 😉 This list is for items that may not be top of mind and you won’t realize you wish you had until you arrive. Of course, you can buy nearly all of these items once you’re here in Mexico, but many of them were just easier to already have with us. Many of the things on this list are specifically if you’ll be working remotely. This list is in alphabetical order:

Activated charcoal (in case of stomach bugs or food poisoning)
Adjustable laptop stands
Alarm clock, small travel size (I realize many of you prefer to just use your cell phone, but my husband and I have a rule of no cell phones in our bedroom)
Anti-itch cream / Calendula (for mosquito bites)
Basket for dirty laundry (the fold-down kind that fits well in a suitcase)
Beezwax covers (in lieu of plastic saran wrap for covering food you make at home)
Bialetti coffee maker (if you you love your espresso)
Electrolyte tablets (our favorite is Nuun)
Face masks & buffs
Headset & phone earbuds
Lumbar support pillows for your back (chairs can be uncomfortable, especially if your apartment does not have an office chair)
Mouse, mousepad & keyboard with extra rechargeable batteries
Netted laundry bag to wash smaller items (such as face masks, buffs, or bras for women)
Passport & drivers license
Pens & work notebook, post-it notes
Plastic bags
Reusable cloth bags (for groceries, beach bag, etc.)
Reusable metal straws (to reduce single-plastic consumption)
Reusable water bottles (refill from the 5-gallon jug you’ll buy from OXXO)
Rubber bands (I’m always surprised at how much these come in handy when we travel)
Tupperware (this one is huge! Even if you find a nice place to stay with a kitchen, they’re not always well stocked. Also, Mexico as a whole is not very environmentally conscious, so most restaurants put your leftovers in a styrofoam box for takeaway, which is the worst material for the environment, so I bring my own Tupperware. Yes, they think it’s strange, but I don’t care; if I can save a turtle, I’m happy.)

SUPPORTING THE LOCAL POPULATION

Being able to live or travel in Mexico for any amount of time is a great privilege, especially if you’re earning a U.S. salary, because your dollar goes a lot further. The minimum daily wage in Mexico (as of 2021) is 142 MXN, which is around $7 USD PER DAY. If you have the means, tip more than you normally would back home. The locals appreciate it so much, especially right now when people are struggling because of lack of tourism, which equates to lack of work.

Support locally whenever and wherever possible, and remember that cash is still king here, because many places have to pay a surcharge to use a credit card machine. If you don’t already know some basics in Spanish, learn some words and phrases before you arrive. At least make an effort to speak the language of the country you’ll be living in. A little effort goes a long way and is truly appreciated by the locals (unlike in France where they expect you to speak fluently or not at all). 😂

And if you’re conversational or fluent in Spanish, good on you! You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much locals will open up to you and share their thoughts and feelings, and some really great conversations will stem from that trust. The overall vibe I got (besides unbelievably friendly and eager to help), is that they are appreciative of foreigners and love tourists, especially when they make an attempt to assimilate to the local culture.

Do you have any questions? Pop them into the comments section below. Or, if you’ve spent some time in Mexico, what was your experience like? Where did you live and what did you think?

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Moani Hood
    February 10, 2021 at 8:13 pm

    Lisa, this post is sooo good! There is so much helpful information here. You’re making me want to move to Mexico. If only we could! (Dogs, husband’s job, etc). Maybe in five years though (*crosses fingers*). I’ve been practicing my Spanish for the future!

    • Reply
      culturalfoodies
      February 10, 2021 at 8:18 pm

      Aww, thank you so much, Moani! You and Micah would love it here soooo much! The mezcal, the beer, the food, oh my! It’s a foodie’s paradise. You could consider Trusted Housesitters for someone to look after the pups while you’re away! But I totally get it, that’s a really long time to be gone. Maybe just try it for a month! 🙂

  • Reply
    Inez & Robert Posadas
    February 12, 2021 at 9:19 am

    Hi Lisa. Thank you for the very helpful article. I have a question regarding the car rental insurance. How were you able to get the car rental company to accept coverage through your credit card? I’ve never had any car rental companies (& we’ve tried pretty much all) accept the additional insurance coverage through my credit card. They always claim that it doesn’t cover when literally it says it in black & white & I even show them. Thanks.

    • Reply
      culturalfoodies
      February 13, 2021 at 8:39 pm

      Hi Inez and Robert! This is a great question. We’ve found that the only rental agency that allows us to use our credit card insurance, is Avis. We had a letter prepared (in Spanish) from our credit card company, but they never actually asked for it. The only caveat is, they take a hold of $2,500 USD until you return the car with no damages, but they release it in 2 – 3 days, so as long as you don’t need that money for anything, it’s fine, and they’ve always released the funds on time. Other companies like Budget (stay faaaaar away from them, they’re terrible!) said that they will absolutely not rent us a car if we don’t take their insurance. I’ve also heard from locals that if you don’t take the local insurance and you get into an accident, it can be a nightmare to sort out, and if you’re not a local citizen, you have no rights. This is a risk, but the insurance is just so ridiculously expensive (often over four times more than the cost of the car itself!) so we’re just extra cautious. Hope this helps!

  • Reply
    gratefulgypsies
    February 12, 2021 at 11:07 am

    Awesome post guys, especially since you’re so new to town! We’ve been living in PV for 6 months a year for 4 years now and have traveled extensively around the country. You definitely paint an accurate picture of what it’s like living here. Cheers!

    • Reply
      culturalfoodies
      February 13, 2021 at 8:34 pm

      Thank you so much Sasha! Such a compliment coming from you. You guys have such excellent content on your blog; I’ve already bookmarked San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca and noted all the things to do for our future weekend trips there! 🙂

  • Reply
    Stefan
    February 13, 2021 at 7:06 am

    Nice read… great to see pictures of our neighborhood in PV.

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