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William Russell blog - Living in Mexico an Expat Guide to Moving to Mexico - Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City

Living in Mexico: A Guide to Moving to Mexico as an Expat

Thinking about living in Mexico? Living in Mexico can be very enriching: you will enjoy amazing weather, wonderful nature and great food while most likely reducing your cost of living! However, you might have a lot of questions and need to prepare before moving to Mexico.

In this expat guide, we take a look at everything you need to know about living in Mexico. We answer the essential questions to help you decide if Mexico is right for you, including what makes Mexico great for expats, how to prepare and what to look forward to. We cover the practical details expats should consider before making the move, including upfronts and living costs, the visa requirements to live and work in Mexico, the Mexican tax system and where to live. Read below to find out what life in Mexico is really like.

William Russell blog - Living in Mexico an Expat Guide to Moving to Mexico - View of the Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun from the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico
View of the Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun from the Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan, Mexico / GETTY IMAGES

What to expect from living in Mexico as an expat

Moving and living anywhere new is bound to offer some unique challenges, and Mexico is no exception. Mexico has a long history of welcoming expats and foreign workers into its rich cultural heritage. It’s seen as an important gateway into world markets for many multinational companies within the tech, finance, advertising and HR industries. Popular job opportunities for expats can be seen within the financial sector, where local expertise is limited. Here’s a general lowdown of what to expect from life in Mexico.

How many expats live in Mexico?

According to the Mexican Government’s last estimate, there are roughly 127.5 million people living in Mexico. Around 1.1 million expatriates lived in Mexico as of 2020. Of those, around 700,000 were from the United States, making Mexico the #1 country worldwide for American expats. Mexico has the highest concentration of American expats living outside of USA.

What are costs of living in Mexico?

Your living expenses in Mexico will depend on the circumstances of your move, as your costs will be different depending on whether you move on your own or with a family with kids. A large number of Americans and Canadians move to Mexico because their dollars go much further. It all depends on the city you live in, the type of home you rent, your health, and your lifestyle.

Here is a summary of potential cost of living in Mexico in 2021, according to Numbeo:

  • Family of four estimated monthly costs are $1,668.78 USD (33,955.46MXN) without rent.
  • A single person estimated monthly costs are $465.28 USD (9,467.35MXN) without rent.
  • Cost of living in Mexico is, on average, 48.87% lower than in United Kingdom.
  • Rent in Mexico is, on average, 60.60% lower than in United Kingdom.
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What makes Mexico so great for expats?

Mexico is a fantastic place to live as an expat. With its incredible natural beauty and inviting culture, plus its up-and-coming industries and laid-back, semi-Latin, semi-European way of life, you’re sure to settle in quickly.

The culture in Mexico combines ancient Aztec and Mayan rituals with imported European traditions, plus a dash of contemporary western influence, to offer a way of life that is truly unique. Expect to take part in awesome festivals such as Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Mexico is renowned for its eating and drinking culture. Street food is popular in big cities: soft-shelled tacos bursting with fresh, local ingredients are a must-try. Tamales, huevos rancheros and barbacoa will also excite even the fussiest foodies. Mexico is also famous for its beer and, of course, its agave alcohols, such as tequila and mezcal.

Mexico is a sports-obsessed country. Association Football (Soccer) is by far the most popular sport, but Mexicans are also huge lovers of baseball, basketball and boxing.

Is Mexico safe for expats?

There is no denying crime is a major problem in Mexico. The country ranks 39th in the world on the global crime index, plus 18th in the world for murders.

As the gateway between Latin America and the United States, Mexico has played a key role in drug trafficking, which has allowed powerful drug cartels to seize power in certain regions. However, their aggression is usually targeted at rival cartels, which means expatriates are relatively safe.

That said, certain parts of Mexico should be avoided, especially if you work in high-profile sectors such as journalism, politics, or security/policing.

In short, yes, Mexico is a more dangerous country for expats than most, but so long as you do your research about the area you intend to live in, you should be safe.

How has Mexico dealt with COVID-19?

In Mexico, the first official cases of the disease were confirmed in February 2020, although some had already been reported weeks before. By the end of May, the number of infections in the country had already surpassed 100 thousand and in November it had reached one million, with the number of deaths nearing 100 thousand. The Mexican national vaccination programme started in December 2020 and is using the AstraZeneca, CanSino, Janssen (Johnson and Johnson) Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Sputnik V vaccines.

William Russell blog - Living in Mexico an Expat Guide to Moving to Mexico - Mariachi Band Playing under Mexican Kiosk
Mariachi Band Playing under Mexican Kiosk / GETTY IMAGES

How is the political situation in Mexico in 2021?

Mexico is a federal republic composed of 31 states and the Federal District. Governmental powers are divided constitutionally between executive, legislative, and judicial branches, but, when Mexico was under one-party rule in the 20th century, the president had strong control over the entire system. The constitution of 1917, which has been amended several times, guarantees personal freedoms and civil liberties and also establishes economic and political principles for the country.

Mexico’s economy contracted by 8.3% in 2020 and even though the country’s GDP is on pace to bounce back and grow at 6% in 2021, public policy analysts, economists, and investors remain skeptical about President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s policies and plans for Mexico.

During the pandemic, Mexico’s exports have held up. Mexico’s exports tallied $418 USD billion in 2020. In other words, Mexico exported more than a billion dollars of goods and services every day in 2020. That’s a big improvement from 1994 when Mexico exported just $61 USD million dollars worth of goods for the entire year.

Do I need to learn Spanish to be living in Mexico?

In short, yes. Mexican Spanish is the first and, in many places, the only language spoken in Mexico. In fact, only around 12% of Mexicans speak English fluently. Some regions of Mexico City and certain areas popular with tourists are known to have higher rates of English fluency, but you will still need at least a basic grasp of Spanish to get around even in these areas.

Whether you want to mix in with other English speakers or want to get a feel of more authentic Mexico is up to you. Living in Mexico, you’ll have the choice of where you want to live and how comfortable you feel there. Luckily, in today’s world of information, you can easily do some research beforehand so you can nail down a few cities and towns you’d like to scope out on your visit. And even if your Spanish is limited, Mexicans are some of the friendliest and patient people you’ll ever meet. They’ll go out of their way to try and understand what you are trying to say.

What’s it like living in Mexico as an American?

Mexico has been traditionally renowned as a popular retirement destination for US citizens. But recently, it’s started to attract young professionals and their families, who are emigrating to work in Mexico’s rapidly emerging tech scene. Those working at large companies could still find themselves earning over 1,000,000 pesos per year ($50,000 USD), which can afford a very good standard of living.

On the downside, public spending is low in Mexico, so you won’t get to enjoy the same luxuries you may be used to in the States. If you’re planning to move to Mexico with children, you should be aware that education in Mexico ranks among the lowest worldwide – meaning you may want to consider sending your children to private or international schools.

The Mexican government allows Americans to stay for six months on a visa, which will give you a good start to get familiar with the country. This six-month visa is reset every time you cross a border and return to Mexico. If you won’t be leaving the country every six months, you’ll need to find a long-term solution. To show you’re financially stable, you’ll have to show the government that you earn at least $1,300 USD every month.


Attractive skull costumes worn by dancing Mexican girls

What is lifestyle like in Mexico?

Mexico has a very laid-back culture, and Mexicans are genuinely friendly. Many people report making positive lifestyle changes like walking more, eating healthier, socializing more, and learning to slow down since moving to Mexico.

If you’re interested in living the expat life, settling in Mexico is a great way to go. You’re most likely already familiar with the food and aspects of the lifestyle, so there won’t be an extreme culture shock.

With the ease of getting a traveler’s visa in Mexico, you can try out the country before committing to life there. However, once you settle in, you’ll be able to live a very comfortable life.

What is the weather like in Mexico?

The weather throughout the country is pretty different. A really great thing about this beautiful country is how diverse the weather is and at the same time how you can find your ideal year-round temperature. Most of the country has constant temperatures year-round. There are beaches, mountains, rainforests, and deserts in Mexico.

If you prefer cooler, mountainous temperatures, you’ll find a lot of cities to choose from. If you like hot and sunny days there are plenty of beaches that’ll be perfect for you.

High elevation cities like San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Ajijic, Chapala, Guadalajara, Oaxaca, Mexico City, and San Cristóbal de las Casas will experience cold nights during the winter months. But the temperature will seldomly drop below 40 degrees at night.

Whereas beaches like Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and the like all have tropical and hot weather almost all year. The average daytime temperatures range between 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

What about retiring in Mexico?

Retiring in Mexico has its pros and cons. The country is notoriously low on the global tax scale, paying just an average of 3.4% of its GDP in taxes. That means retirees can expect to have far more spending power than they would in USA.

However, the downside of having low taxation is that Mexico’s public healthcare system is woefully under-funded. Healthcare spending in Mexico ranks among the lowest in all developed countries.

Retirement visas are easy to get, requiring only an application, proof of finances, and an interview with a consulate officer. Retirees don’t have to go through the temporary residency process at all and can become permanent residents as soon as the process is complete.

Do I need global health insurance to live in Mexico?

When you live and work in Mexico, you and your employer will make contributions to the state’s public healthcare system, which will entitle you to access free healthcare and prescription medication.

However, healthcare in Mexico is very often not the same standard as in the USA or EU. For this reason, having comprehensive international health insurance as an expat is a must. Private healthcare is important, especially when it comes to treatment for major illnesses. It will also give you better access to English-speaking medical staff.

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Top expat tips for living in Mexico

  • Ensure you have all essential documents and visas in place before departure
  • If you move with your kids, early application for school places is advisable
  • Have up to three months’ rent available upfront to secure a rental property
  • Look at life insurance and health cover that reflect your location needs. We have been supporting expats with international insurance for almost 30 years now.
  • Stay healthy, immerse yourself in the culture and take Spanish lessons.

How can I find accommodation in Mexico?

Where should I live in Mexico?

Expats tend to flock to the capital, Mexico City (Ciudad de México). With a metropolitan population of over 20 million people, this is not only the most populous city in North America, but also the largest city in the Spanish-speaking world and the sixth-largest city worldwide.

Another popular destination is the western province of Baja California, which, like its sister state in America, offers beautiful Pacific beaches and incredible mountains. The city of Tijuana straddles the US border with San Diego just over the other side, making it a popular city for trade and commerce.

If you’re considering becoming an expat in Mexico and want to know the safest areas, currently, rumor has it that Merida, Cancun, Tulum, and San Miguel are good choices. Larger cities, like Guadalajara and Queretaro, also have good reputations thus far. Remember, changes in safety status can happen quickly.
Natalie,
expat of 9 years in Mexico

You’ll also find other major expatriate communities in the coastal cities of Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco and Mérida. As you might expect, real estate is a little more expensive near the coast, but the pay-off is getting to live on either the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean Sea.

William Russell blog - Living in Mexico an Expat Guide to Moving to Mexico - Independence Plaza in the Old Town of San Francisco de Campeche, Mexico
Independence Plaza in the Old Town of San Francisco de Campeche, Mexico / GETTY IMAGES

Finding accommodation in Mexico

  1. Mexico is a huge country, so before you move you’ll need to decide on a city you want to settle in. Within those cities, you’ll need to research neighbourhoods to find one that suits you. The best way to do this is to spend some time living in a hostel or Airbnb while you get out on foot and look at property.
  2. Once you know where you want to look, speak to a real estate agent or search online to find a shortlist of properties you like. Nestpick and Expat.com are good places to start. The agent you work with should be able to help you view a list of suitable properties, complete the necessary paperwork and help you arrange to move in – which can be especially useful if you aren’t fluent in Spanish.
  3. Keep in mind to make sure you ask for proof that your property is earthquake-proof. This means asking about the age and condition of the building and the emergency evacuation procedure.
  4. You will also need an aval – a guarantor who will co-sign your rental agreement and agree to take on your debt if you miss your rental payments. This will typically need to be someone who lives in Mexico – your employer may be able to help you with this.

Jobs, visas and working in Mexico

Immigration system in Mexico

Mexico is one of the easiest countries to get a residency visa. The process is very straightforward and inexpensive. You simply have to prove you have enough funds to cover your cost of living and pass a simple immigration interview done at the Mexican Consulate nearest you. There are two types of residency visas: permanente or temporal (permanent or temporary). The main difference between the two visas comes down to income requirements and, in some cases, “retirement” age when you apply.

For most expats, the process of applying for a resident visa in Mexico starts outside of Mexico at a Mexican Consulate. Once you schedule an appointment with a Mexican consulate, the consulate will usually give you a list of requirements and paperwork needed for your interview. During your interview, you will be asked by Mexican immigration officials things like how you plan to cover your expenses in Mexico, if you receive a pension or social security, whether you are gainfully employed, how you earn a living, and what your reason for wanting to live in Mexico is. The cost of getting a residency visa in Mexico is around $300 USD if you decide to process it by yourself.

However, most people choose to hire an attorney or facilitator to hold their hand through the process. Because some of the paperwork is in Spanish, you might want to work with someone who can help you make sure you are filling out forms correctly. Besides, you have to translate certain documents like a marriage certificate into Spanish, and Mexican Immigration will only accept this from a certified translator.

If you do decide to hire an immigration lawyer or facilitator, prices will vary depending on which services they include. But you can expect to pay anywhere from $400-$700 USD (plus any immigration fees at the time.) It is 100% well worth the money to ensure your process is smooth and you don’t waste time and money doing things the wrong way.

Jobs and working in Mexico

With a fast-growing technology sector, Mexican companies are constantly on the lookout for professionals who can help them market, sell and distribute their products around the world. Sales roles for English speakers are therefore abundant. Check out our guide on how to find a job overseas , and a list of most popular jobs for expats. There’s also Mexico’s booming tourism sector. If you can see yourself as a leisure manager, tour guide or hotelier, Mexico could be the place for you.

You will need to apply for a job and a work visa in advance of travelling to Mexico.

  • Ask your employer to send a letter confirming your job offer and salary, which you should take to your local Mexican consulate in exchange for a temporary work visa.
  • Take this visa to your local immigration office within 30 days of arriving in Mexico to have it upgraded to a permanent work visa.

What is a good expat salary in Mexico?

Expats with a few years of experience in a professional occupation can expect to earn a good wage in Mexico. Someone working in Mexico will earn an average gross salary of $28,316 USD a year, $2,360 USD monthly, or $13.63 USD an hour.

However, according to Salary.com, the average expat salary in Mexico is $42,732 USD as of April 08, 2021, but the range typically falls between $34,566 USD and $50,894 USD. Salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills, the number of years you have spent in your profession.

How to open a bank account in Mexico

Opening a bank account in Mexico could be difficult if you don’t speak Spanish, which is why we recommend looking into online global banking options first. However, if you are planning to live in Mexico for a long time, you’re probably better off opening a local bank account.

To do this, go to a branch with documents proving your eligibility to live and work in Mexico, such as:

  • Your visa
  • Your passport or another form of ID, such as a local driving licence
  • A copy of your tenancy agreement, house deeds and/or utility bills addressed to you within the last three months.

Note that many banks in Mexico also ask for character references. Your employer, friends or neighbours may be able to help you with this.

Taxes for expat in Mexico?

Taxes in Mexico include income tax, VAT tax, property taxes, and more. You can get a general idea of how much tax you’ll pay when you live in Mexico, but there is a lot of variation in the rates depending on your circumstances.

Income Tax in Mexico

Income tax on personal income depends on how much you earn and your residency status. Mexican residents pay income tax on all of their income, regardless of where they earned it. Non-residents living in Mexico are only taxed on the income they earn in Mexico. To give you a broad idea of income tax rates, residents can pay anywhere from 2 to 35%, while non-residents and people on a work visa will pay between 15 to 30%.

VAT Tax in Mexico

Value-added tax (or VAT) is the amount of tax added to the sales of local goods and services, like sales tax. In Mexico, this rate is a standard 16%. This rate is different for goods like alcohol, tobacco, and fuel.

Real Estate and Property Tax in Mexico

When you buy property in Mexico, you will have to pay a 2% acquisition tax when you receive the deed. Buyers also pay 5 to 8% in closing costs. As a homeowner, you’ll pay a quarterly property tax that is roughly 0.1% of the property’s value. If you’re using a property for rental income, the money you earn will be taxed at a 25% rate.

William Russell blog - Living in Mexico an Expat Guide to Moving to Mexico - Colourful view of the Dead skulls at street market in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Day of Dead (Dia de los Muertos) concept
Colourful Day of the Dead skulls at street market in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico / GETTY IMAGES

Cost of living and moving to Mexico

$2,000 USD monthly in Mexico is enough for a couple to cover the essentials and have enough money left over to have a house cleaner 2x/week who also cooks and does laundry. Your dollar goes a lot further here. You’ll be able to afford higher-end homes, restaurants, traveling, a live-in helper, and other amenities. Mexico offers a lifestyle for everyone and every budget.

Depending on where you decide to live in Mexico, you could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month on essential expenses like rent. This is especially true if you compare the cost of living in Mexico to most of the USA, Canada, or Europe. The cost of your relocation will vary based on your and your family’s requirements, however, as a minimum, you should expect to have budgeted these costs upfront:

  1. Rent: $800 USD
  2. Groceries: $200 USD
  3. Electricity: $30 USD (near the beach will be 4x more)
  4. Netflix: $10 USD
  5. Internet: $25 USD
  6. Entertainment and Eating Out: $50 USD
  7. Public Transportation: $30 USD
  8. Car Insurance and Maintenance: $50 USD

Healthcare and insurance in Mexico

According to several world health publications, Mexico ranks above many countries regarding healthcare quality and accessibility. And if you talk to any expat living in Mexico about their experience with healthcare here, you’ll get overwhelmingly positive feedback about their experience. Most expats pay an average of $20 USD (without insurance) for a visit with a specialist and about $30 USD for full teeth cleaning plus whitening. If you have insurance, you can expect to pay less or nothing.

If you have private insurance, medical care is often covered at no cost. Living in Mexico will quickly save you money on medical care. Plus, if you are coming from the US, most pharmaceuticals are over 50% less expensive in Mexico than in your home country.

There’s even a whole industry focused on medical tourism in Mexico. People worldwide travel to Mexico for medical procedures because their travel expenses and medical care are cheaper than the same procedure back home with the same quality. Most hospitals offering a variety of medical tourism packages will even pick you up at the airport, arrange for your meals and hotels, drive you to and from the hospital, and a nurse a few times a day.

Medical care in Mexico is practiced with the patient in mind: doctors spend the necessary time with their patients without rushing their consults and most people count on having their doctor’s direct phone number in case of follow-up questions. Plus, it’s unheard of to have to wait in Mexico to get treated. If you have the money to pay for your procedure or consult, you can usually be seen in a matter of days not weeks.

Whether you decide to pay out of pocket, get private health insurance, or go with the public healthcare system, you can rest assured that treatment in Mexico is not only efficient but very affordable. We still highly recommend having at least a basic private insurance policy since more serious treatments like cancer, kidney failure, or heart problems can get pricey when you are paying out of pocket.

Your handy “moving to Mexico” checklist


Before moving

    • ☐ Have you received a job offer? Do you have this job offer in writing?
    • ☐ Have you applied for a working visa at your local Mexican consulate?
    • ☐ Do you know where in Mexico you would like to live? Have you searched for a place to live?
    • ☐ Do you know anyone in Mexico who will be able to help you down the line?
    • ☐ ¿Cuán bueno es tu español? How good is your Spanish?

Moving

    • ☐ Have you found a place to live? Do you have a guarantor who can countersign your rental agreement?
    • ☐ Have you been to your local immigration office to upgrade your working visa to a permanent resident visa?
    • ☐ Have you visited a local bank in order to open an account? Remember your passport, rental agreement and character references

Settling in

  • ☐ Have you considered taking out global health insurance for yourself and your family?
  • ☐ Have you looked at schools in your area? Try asking other expatriates for recommendations
  • ☐ Have you started to make the most of your new life in Mexico? Have you tried the local street food, visited the Mayan temples and experienced the incredible white sand beaches?

Finally…

Be prepared!
Living in Mexico is an exciting and rewarding prospect. There’s so much culture to be discovered. To truly make the most of it, make sure you do as much preparation as possible. As world leaders in providing comprehensive global health insurance to expatriates like you, if you’re looking for the ultimate peace of mind, speak to William Russell today to see how we could insure you and your family.

Ready to start your new life in Mexico? We hope this article plus our handy checklist gives you all the information and resources you need for your move.

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