We experienced a massive paradigm shift during the Covid pandemic 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.
Now days, “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 following 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, because you’ve decided to live in a time zone ahead of where you work, or you create your own hours for when you want to work!
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 (in fact, one of my favorite quotes is, “there are seven days in the week, and “someday” is not one of them”), 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 in school, 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, a packing list for the essential items you’ll need to bring with you when you move to Mexico, and a guide to which part of Mexico to live in.
I’d also like to make it clear that I do not claim to be an expert on living in Mexico. Even though we have lived in the country for six months cumulatively, 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 as a resource! Also, if you’ll be visiting Mexico, be sure to check out my Ultimate Guide to Visiting Mexico – Everything You Need to Know About Traveling To Mexico.
Here are the topics I’ll be covering in this post:
- Pre-Departure Checklist
- How Long You Can Stay In Mexico (without a visa)
- Choosing Which City in Mexico To Live
- Top Facebook Groups to Join For Resources in Mexico
- Transportation (Should You Rent a Car or Take Uber?)
- Cell Phone Coverage
- Internet in Mexico
- Selecting Long-Term Accommodation
- Grocery Shopping
- Food Delivery & Meal Prep Service
- How Much It Costs To Live in Mexico
- Packing List
- Supporting the Local Population
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:
- 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. If you’re employed, check with your HR department to ensure that your health insurance covers you abroad
- 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
- 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. Longer stays have become 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
- Stop your mail or have a neighbor check it for you while you’re away
- Call your credit card company to notify them that you’ll be living in another country for a period of time
- 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)
- Put your valuables in a safe
- Rent your car on Turo, or store it away in a garage
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!)
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 highly recommend joining Facebook expat groups, as they are invaluable resources. Read on for more resources on various cities and states in Mexico.
TOP FACEBOOK GROUPS TO JOIN
- Puerto Vallarta: Everything You Need or Want to Know (this group has the most members and has single-handedly been the best resource for us during our time living in the PV area. Literally anything you need or want to know, can be answered by this amazing group of people, from which internet provider to use, to which real estate agent is legit if you’re thinking of buying property, to where to find the best tacos in X neighborhood)
- Puerto Vallarta Digital Nomads (run by an awesome friend of mine named Taylor. She arranges interesting events and meetups, and this is a great way to meet new people and fellow digital nomads!)
- Female Digital Nomads (sorry boys, this is girls only. Also, this is not specifically for Mexico, but is a good resource if you’re working remotely)
- Expats in Mexico
- Digital Nomads Mexico
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. If downtown Puerto Vallarta (or PV for short) is perhaps intimidating to you, or you’re not a city person but still want to live by the beach, I recommend Bucerias, where we lived for half our time here. Bucerias is located 20 minutes North of the PV International Airport, and 45 minutes North of downtown PV. You can read more about this lovely beach town gem here: Why Bucerias is Our Favorite Place to Live and Work Remotely in Mexico.
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 – We spent one month living in PDC in December (peak season), and returned again the following winter. The convenience of living there as a digital nomad is highly appealing because of the easy access to food delivery right to your doorstep, beautiful beaches and great food. However, I found living in PDC to get boring after a while because it’s so small. There’s basically just the downtown area, which gets crazy during peak season and caters to drunk tourists and college kids, which just isn’t our scene. Because it’s such a tourist destination, I felt that the area was completely devoid of authentic Mexican culture because it’s so overrun with U.S. and Canadian expats. PDC is close to some beautiful sights along the Yucatan Peninsula for road trips and weekend getaways, but it just wasn’t for us as a long term place to live.
Tulum – Bohemian vibe that is more appropriate for a short visit rather than living long-term. In fact, I highly advise against even visiting Tulum anymore because of how run-down it has become. (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, higher altitude, cooler climate, and tends to be popular amongst older expats who are retired. Guanajuato is a University town, so there is a younger crowd there, but San Miguel de Allende (SMA) has an older population and a quieter, slower vibe. You can read more on my blog posts on A Weekend in Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende.
Guadalajara – big city, popular expat town. Read more: Top 15 Things To Do in Guadalajara.
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 can be quite slow. Check out my blog post on 12 Best Things to do in Sayulita and San Pancho is Your Hippy Dream Come True.
Mexico City – city living, high altitude, cooler milder climate, authentic culture, history and art.
Merida – quaint colonial living; safest city in all of Mexico.
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.
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.
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.
*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…
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:
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.
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.
Mexico uses the Mexican peso (MXN).
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
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)|
|Eye mask (some accommodations don’t come with sufficient curtains or blinds to keep out the light)|
|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|
|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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