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A Beginner's Guide to Living in Cancun

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It all started with two born and raised New Yorkers looking to get away from the gloomy and polluted city of Long Island. In 1995 my parents decided to take a family vacation to Cancun, Mexico.

Our first time in Cancun, we fell in love. We stayed for two weeks at the Las Velas Hotel which very quickly turned into a home. Playing all day in the water, drinking fresh coconuts under palm trees and just really getting accustomed to the laid-back lifestyle had us hooked.

What started out as a two-week adventure, quickly turned into a month and so on. We kept on extending our love affair that summer week after week. Eventually my dad decided that Cancun is where we would call home.

After living here for 25+ years now, I can surely call myself a local. Below I will be sharing with you my insider beginner’s guide to living in Cancun.

Getting Acquainted with Cancun

A woman who lives in Cancun smiling in a red kayak while kayaking in a lush lagoon.
Kayaking at Laguna Nichupte

Where Is Cancun?

Cancun is an island believe it or not, located on the waters of the Caribbean Sea. It lies just off the northeastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo.

You won't be far from other nearby expat hubs including Mérida and Playa del Carmen.

Cancun is one of the top tourist destinations in Mexico, welcoming over 9.5 million visitors each year. Renowned for its white sandy beaches, pristine waters, ancient wonders of the Mayan civilization, and lush tropical jungle with infamous cenotes.

Drawing tourists from across the globe, Cancun is the perfect blend of relaxation, adventure and cultural exploration. It’s a no brainer as to why someone would want to visit Cancun let alone live here.

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Is Cancun Safe?

Being a born American living in Cancun, throughout my whole life I have gotten this question. And honestly, I could say that it is much safer than many cities you wouldn’t blink about traveling to in the United States. For example, many places in Florida, New York, or even Alaska for that matter. 

I’m not going to lie, it’s easy to get into trouble if you are looking for it. I’m pretty sure that goes for everywhere in the world. In all the years I have lived in Cancun, there is not once I have felt I was in danger. I think it is a big misconception that people believe, but honestly with it being in the top tourist places in all of Mexico, safety is priority.

Regardless of if you're visiting Cancun or moving here, I do recommend having basic insurance. This will cover you in the chance of emergencies.

Living in Cancun is no different, as long as you use precautions as you would anywhere else, you’ll be fine. Most of the crimes in Cancun are linked to drug trafficking gangs and conflicts between the opposing groups. So, I would advise to steer clear of any involvement in these activities.

So, I can confidently say Cancun is safe to live and to travel for foreigners and locals alike. There is also a wonderful constantly growing expat community, where they will welcome you with open arms, if you decide that living in Cancun is for you.  

What Currency Is Used in Cancun?

A quiet sunrise at a beach in Mexico with a stork walking through the waters
Isla Blanca Beach Sunrise

Cancun primarily uses the Mexican Peso as its main currency. However, the dollar is still widely accepted and predominant in the tourism industry. If you are on vacation I would recommend exchanging to pesos because the exchange rate will vary from vendor to vendor and might not always be favorable.

Whatever you do, try to avoid changing your money at the international airport and try either the “Casa de Cambios” San Jorge or Eurodollar, those will be your best bet.

If you are living in Cancun, there are great options of bank accounts where you can have your money in dollars and pesos, making it very convenient. Usually banks like CIBanco or BBVA tend to have great exchange rates for card holders.

Do I Need to Speak Spanish in Cancun?

Speaking Spanish will certainly help you get around not just Cancun but other parts of Mexico, too. If you stick to just the Hotel Zone and the tourist area, you'll be able to get by with English as most locals here work in the tourist industry and are used to foreigners.

If you want to get outside of this bubble though, I recommend at least knowing basic vocabulary and phrases in Spanish. The more Spanish you speak, the more your opportunities will grow in making friends, having off-the-beaten-path adventures, and getting better prices at the market.

You'll learn best when fully immersed in the language but I recommend getting a head start and use language learning apps like Mondly to start practicing the language before you arrive in Cancun.

Cost of Living in Cancun, Mexico

I can say that the cost of living in Cancun has skyrocketed over the years. With Cancun being compared with the Mexican version of Miami. It has just grown so much over the years that there are so many new neighborhoods and up and coming luxury residential projects.

Living in Cancun the cost of living can range anywhere from $1,200 USD and up, the sky's the limit. It all depends on what area or neighborhood you are looking to live in and if having instant beach access is a must. More on my favorite areas in Cancun later on!

However, you can live a very comfortable life here in Cancun on much less than what you would in the United States for that matter.

Here you have the option of getting groceries at local markets, taking the bus at $1 USD per ride and you also can have the option of someone helping you around the house at under $20 USD per day. All these little conveniences can definitely help balance out the cost of living.

Cost of Rent in Cancun

A woman living in Cancun walking towards the camera in a black bikini on the beach in front of a row of hotels
Playa Forum in the Hotel Zone

Rents can widely differ from one area to another. This will probably be your biggest expense when living in Cancun. There are great and safe neighborhoods that are super affordable and family friendly, it all really depends on how close you would want to be to the beach.

Beachfront properties are at a premium. And it's also worthy to know that for foreigners to buy beachfront property you have to go through a process called “Fidecomiso”. If you are looking to rent, these get snatched up quickly and you can look forward to signing a six-month minimum lease.

Here's a general idea of what you can expect to pay for rent in Cancun:

  • $500 USD-$800 USD for a very small two-bedroom home or apartment unfurnished in downtown Cancun around 15 minutes from the city center
  • $1,500 USD for a beachfront two-bedroom apartment in a quiet beach area 10 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Cancun’s city and 20 minutes from the Hotel Zone
  • $2,000 USD and up if you are looking for luxury properties in the new developments
  • Up to double that for homes in the Hotel Zone

Cost of Grocery Shopping in Cancun

There are so many convenient grocery stores and local markets located all over Cancun. The local markets tend to be much less expensive with all the produce being local. You can spend anywhere from $80 USD to $100 USD a month shopping locally for one person.

If you are opting more for grocery stores such as Walmart, Costco or Chedraui, you can look to spend a little more like $200 USD-$300 USD a month per person.

Cost of Eating Out in Cancun

There is a very large variety of great restaurants in Cancun. Everything from a local taco joint or “cocina economica” to a high-end restaurant in the Hotel Zone.

Eating locally is very inexpensive and you can expect to spend $8-10 USD for a hearty meal per person. You can count on freshly made tortillas and traditional Mexican dishes with the water of the day that changes daily.

Cancun's Hotel Zone however is a whole other story! Meals can be just as expensive as one of the big cities in the US. They can run anywhere from $50-$300 per person. This also depends if you decide to have a drink or two, that’s where the prices tend to rise the most. 

Best Areas to Live in Cancun

A woman who lives in Cancun posing in the Caribbean Sea in Mexico
Ocean View in Xalmar

Living here for over 25+ years, I have been able to experience a couple different neighborhoods. Here neighborhoods are called “supermanzanas” and are by number. It’s actually quite confusing, so most areas are just named by references.

There are so many great areas to live in Cancun, it’s hard to go wrong. Although, as we mentioned above the premium areas come with a hefty price tag.

Trying different neighborhoods, there are vacation rentals available all over Cancun and in all the neighborhoods I'll mention below. This is a great way to get to know the area and meet people to see if this is the right place for you to live in Cancun.

Depending on where you decide to live, you might be able to get everywhere by public buses or you might choose to rent a car or eventually buy your own.

By the way, you'll notice the places I recommend you rent to get a feel for each neighborhood are on Vrbo, not Airbnb. Personally, I like Vrbo because you're able to cashback on each stay that you can then use on your next trip. Whereas with Airbnb, there are no rewards for users. But if you still prefer that platform, most rentals are on both Airbnb and Vrbo.

Supermanzana 15 | 17 | 18

These “supermanzanas” basically make up a neighborhood, they are conveniently located walking distance to the main mall Plaza Las Americas or now more popularly known as Plaza Malecon in downtown Cancun and great to grab local transportation.

These are older homes, as this is one of the main neighborhoods in Cancun. You will be walking distance from Walmart and Costco. Living in Cancun, I actually grew up in this area.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in one of these supermanzanas is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Un Pedacito de Arena: Get the basics more than covered at an affordable price.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: King + Queen + Pool: You'll feel as if you've stepped into your own villa when you book your stay at this oasis with a pool.
  • Luxury Stay: Casa Mar y Amor: Moving to Cancun with your family? This spacious house will have plenty of room for your family and a large private pool and patio.

El Table

El Table is a great lagoon side neighborhood, also walking distance to the main mall and Plaza de Toros. It is the best location for easy access to the Hotel Zone.

The apartments in this area tend to have beautiful views of the lagoon, greenery and even some animals like birds and coatis. Great for nature lovers.  

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in El Table is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: 12th-floor water-view apt: Get great views from all rooms, an outdoor pool, and a gym when you go for this 12th floor apartment.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Lovely apartment with pool: Enjoy a clean space with high-end furnishes. Get a pool, ping pong table, and communal areas that'll help you out when making friends.
  • Luxury Stay: Beautiful modern house: Another spacious option for those moving to Cancun with their families, this house comes with everything you could need plus a concierge service to really add a spark to your everyday life.

Puerto Cancun

Puerto Cancun is the most exclusive and high end residential in Cancun. When I say exclusive, I mean expensive.

Here you have your luxury mansions and high-end residential buildings like SLS, and Shark Tower. You can definitely look to pay a premium to be inside this neighborhood.

Puerto Cancun has a golf course, outdoor mall, marina and most condos are ocean view. You can also benefit by being technically in the Hotel Zone. 

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Puerto Cancun is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Air-conditioned apartment: The views from the rooftop pool overlooking the turquoise water of the lagoon will instantly make you forget all your worries.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: 4BR/Rooftop Bar/Pool: This cozy villa has plenty of room and a private rooftop, complete with your own bar. A great option for a group of friends all dreaming of living in Cancun.
  • Luxury Stay: Private Rooftop Pool: Enjoy a 5 minute walk to your own private beach when you stay at this luxury house rental with its own plunge pool.

Av Huayacan

I personally haven’t lived in this area but this is the newest addition to Cancun.

Av Huayacan has brand new gated communities, up and coming restaurants, malls and access to grocery stores. Most schools are in this area, so it’s focused more on families.

Prices are more affordable for larger homes, and you can expect to take 15 minutes to get to the entrance to the Hotel Zone.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Av Huayacan is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Centric Condo: Enjoy the peace of mind of a gated community in this family-friendly condo with a swimming pool.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Vista Panorámica: Enjoy a resort-like environment in this brand new building, completely with a rooftop view, gym, and undisturbed views of Quintana Roo.
  • Luxury Stay: Teyra: This 4-bedroom house has a private pool and secluded backyard, ideal for your kiddos to run and play.

Av Nader

Av Nader, is the best place to live if you don’t have a car. Public transportation is literally steps away in every direction. It’s a quaint little neighborhood with up and coming local restaurants and shops.  

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Av Nader is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Lovely Loft With Pool: This modern loft apartment has a small pool and is in the perfect location to enjoy Cancun by foot.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: La Casa del Perro Rosa: Enjoy a funky interior with a game room at this beautiful Cancun apartment.
  • Luxury Stay: Cozy single story house: Don't want to deal with stairs? This house will give you the space you want, without having to climb up and down all day.

Things to Do in Cancun

A view of Mayan Ruins in the middle of a lush jungle in the Yucatan Peninsula
Mayan Pyramids in Uxmal

The main reason I have stayed in Cancun for so long is the access you have to a variety of unique things to do.

Living in Cancun, you can act like a tourist whenever you want. Making a visit to the beach at sunset a daily ritual or an adventure in the Mayan jungle hunting for cenotes can become your favorite weekend activity.

The list goes on and having other beautiful destinations at your fingertips such as Puerto Morelos, Akumal, Tulum and even Bacalar is such a perk. You can travel so much here without breaking the bank.

Having beautiful weather all year round is just the cherry on top. There's really no best time to visit Mexico, as there is always something going on.

Getting a Visa to Live in Mexico

If you are just visiting Cancun it’s worthy to know that citizens of the United States, Canada, and most parts of Europe can stay in Mexico for up to 180 days visa-free. If you are looking to stay any longer than 6 months, then a visa is required.

The only documents Mexico requires is a valid passport for a minimum of 6 months and a valid debit or credit card. You will have to fill out a FMM or Forma Migratoria Multiple form, also known as Mexico Tourist Card when you land. You can also complete your FMM form up to 30 days before the flight to Cancun.

The Mexico Tourist Card can only be used to enter Mexico once, so you would have to leave the country and complete the process over again for another 180 days. We definitely recommend dipping your toes in the water and trying Cancun out for 6 months and then you can go from there.

As of now, there is no digital nomad visa in Mexico but they do offer a Temporary Residence Visa that many digital nomads use who want to stay longer in Mexico without the hassle of border runs.

Will You Try Living in Cancun?

Mexico is easily one of the best places to live as an expat or digital nomad and with so many great cities and towns to choose from, it's no wonder why.

While many people skip over Cancun assuming it's just a vacation destination for tourists, living in Cancun will open up a whole new view of the island. Cancun offers much more than what the media portrays it as and is a fantastic place to live comfortably on the Caribbean Sea.

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