Guadalajara is often overlooked by expats in favor of living in Mexico City and coastal destinations like Tulum or Merida. However, if you're willing to get under the skin of this vibrant and progressive city, you'll be rewarded with heaps of culture and an authentic Mexico experience like no other.
Here's my expat's guide to living in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Living Guadalajara — Things to Consider
If you're planning on living in Guadalajara, there are some key things to factor into your decision...
Is Guadalajara Safe for Expats and Nomads?
I lived in Mexico City before I lived in Guadalajara and I must admit that at first, I felt less safe in the latter. Guadalajara feels more gritty and less touristy, so my first few days of exploring the city center were done cautiously.
However, in reality, the city is a safe place for expats to be. As a solo female traveler, I just avoided walking around alone after dark and always used DiDi and Uber instead of hailing taxis on the street (as I would in other countries). Regardless, I always recommend you have health insurance while traveling for when and if accidents happen. SafetyWing is a great option for expats and nomads.
It's worth mentioning that Guadalajara is widely regarded as the center of Mexico's gay scene (it's affectionately known as GAYdalajara), so if you identify as LGBTQI+ as I do, you'll love how safe it feels to be 'out' in public.
Do You Need to Speak Spanish to Live in Guadalajara?
Wherever you are in the country (at least, in bigger cities), you'll often be able to find at least one person with some English. This is certainly true of Guadalajara and you'll find that a fair few people speak English in the tourist areas.
However, if you're planning to live like a local, learning Spanish will help you get the most out of your experience as it's much less common to find English speakers in non-touristic areas. After living in Mexico City where English is more widely spoken, this caught me off-guard and I immediately hot-footed it to an awesome Spanish school in nearby Tlaquepaque to brush up on my Español.
Better yet, start practicing before you make the move so the learning curve won't be too much on you. Mondly is a great and affordable app for language learners.
What is the Cost of Living Like in Guadalajara?
Guadalajara rent prices are lower than Mexico's capital and you can get a studio in the most popular parts of the city for around $700. If you're happy to live slightly further afield, rent will cost around $400 (or less if you're ok with having roommates).
Rent aside, Guadalajara is an extremely cheap city. You'll find that the sidewalk offers exciting dining options for smaller budgets, and the street food is fresh and delicious. You can also dine in restaurants and drink in cool cocktail bars without breaking the bank — from $3 fusion tacos in fashionable restaurants and matcha lattes in eccentric coffee shops to $6 margaritas in one of the top 50 bars in North America, Guadalajara is incredible for big-city options on a small-town budget.
What is the Climate Like in Guadalajara?
Mild winters and manageable summers make Guadalajara a great year-round destination. Although there might be a best time to visit Mexico based on what you want to see and do, if you move here, you'll quickly see the seasons are relatively mild here.
November to February are chilly and temperatures can drop to the low 40s. The heat starts rising in April and by late May it's often in the high 80s.
Rainy season provides a welcome break from the heat in July and August, but you'll frequently find yourself dodging huge ankle-deep puddles after heavy downpours.
Pack accordingly for all of the above and you'll be fine!
Is it Easy to Get Visas for Mexico?
Most expats enter Mexico on a tourist visa. In the past, it was standard to be given a six-month visa on arrival, but Mexican immigration officials have been cracking down lately. Now, it's possible that you'll only be given a few months or even weeks on arrival. So, if you're planning on staying a while, it's worth applying for a temporary visa.
This permit gives visitors the right to stay in the country for one year initially, which can then be extended. Although not an official digital nomad visa, this is the closest alternative if you want to live in Mexico and work online.
Deciding factors for the Mexican consulate include your monthly income. Mexican bureaucracy is famously tricky so it can be useful and cost-effective to hire an immigration lawyer to help get your permit. You'll find lots of great recommendations in the expat social media groups.
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How to Find an Apartment
The best way to secure a home in Guadalajara is to find an apartment after arriving. It's worth booking a hotel or Airbnb for a couple of weeks so you can figure out which area you like best before committing to a rental contract.
Lots of private landlords advertise their available properties and rooms with signs outside with their contact details. Spend some time wandering around, taking note of any places that you like the look of. If your Spanish isn't up to scratch, Whatsapp messages and Google Translate are an easier option than arranging viewings and negotiating rent over the phone.
Craigslist is another option, and I had success finding a room there when I first moved to Mexico. Facebook groups are also a good way to get leads on apartments and rooms to rent.
Be aware that some landlords will require proof of residency or ask for a Mexican guarantor before renting their place to you. If you don't have either, it's worth checking upfront whether this might be an issue. Offering a hefty deposit is one way around this, but it's not without its risks.
Best Neighborhoods for Expats and Digital Nomads in Guadalajara
The metropolitan area of Guadalajara is the third biggest in Mexico by population, and it certainly feels huge when you first arrive. Each neighborhood has its own unique vibe and you'll find that expats living in Guadalajara are usually passionate spokespeople for living in their chosen barrio.
Here are my own personal favorites...
This barrio was named the coolest neighborhood to visit in the world in 2022, and living here is the top pick for most expats and young people. This central spot gives great access to all the city's hippest eating and drinking spots, and for now, it also retains its authentic edge (although gentrification is sadly having an impact on this).
If your budget doesn't quite stretch to Americana, check out Santa Teresita, Ladron de Guevara, and Arcos Vallarta for nearby spots with cheaper rents.
This upmarket neighborhood is close to the financial district and is a safe and peaceful place to call home. Green spaces are generally lacking in Guadalajara but Provi (as the locals call it) has two beautiful parks to enjoy in the warmer months. Midtown Mall is also located here and is one of the city's most impressive places for shopping, dining, or catching a movie.
I spent my first three months in Guadalajara living in Providencia and loved it. But ultimately, as a solo traveler with limited Spanish, I wanted to be closer to the tourists and foreigners I'd met so I moved to Arcos Vallarta.
If you want to skip the expat crowds and immerse yourself in culture while living in Guadalajara, check out Centro Historico. Many people stay here when they visit Guadalajara because it puts you at the heart of the action while giving great insight into 'real life' in Mexico. Street food here is next level, and you'll also be close to museums, galleries, and some of the best nightlife.
Less foreigners live here, so you'll likely be able to find a house for a lower price. I personally didn't feel quite as safe in this part of town, but friends living here told me they felt utterly secure once settled in.
Situated on the west side of the region, Zapopan is technically a different municipality within the greater metropolitan area of Guadalajara. However, it's a great place to live so is worth considering as an option. Cobbled streets are a pleasure to walk around and explore, and there are endless food and drink options on offer without having to venture into downtown GDL.
This is also where you'll find Parque Metropolitano, one of the biggest parks in Guadalajara. If you appreciate living near green spaces, Zapopan is a great option.
How to Get Around in Guadalajara
The wider Guadalajara area is huge, but plenty of transport options are available to help visitors get around quickly, safely, and affordably.
The public transportation system isn't as user-friendly as Mexico City's, and when living in Guadalajara I didn't use it much (and neither did any of my expat amigos). If you want to give it a go though, you have a choice of buses and metros. The metros mostly cover suburban areas and are used by commuters, and the buses have better routes for tourists but are usually jam-packed and not always on time.
I personally used Uber and Didi rideshare apps whenever I was traveling a larger distance because it's so cheap and convenient (beware: the city's rush hours are brutal so try to time journeys outside of those hours). For shorter distances, I signed up for the MiBici government bike-share program and made use of the wide network of bikes and cycle lanes.
It's worth noting that it can be difficult to get an Uber or DiDi to collect you from the international airport. I had many cars cancel on me when flying in and out of the city. It's quicker and easier to use the official taxi rank, and you can confirm your destination and pay with a credit card at the booth inside the terminal before you ride, making it easy even if you don't speak Spanish.
What to Do in and Around Guadalajara
Living in Guadalajara is never boring and there's plenty to do without ever leaving the city limits. It's also perfectly positioned to enjoy some of my other favorite places in Mexico. Don't miss out on these best things to do in and around Guadalajara:
- Go tequila tasting... in Tequila - the home of tequila is just an hour away and makes a fantastic day trip or overnight adventure. The first time I visited I did it as an organized tour and the second time I took the public bus with friends (both options are FUN). Tequila is also part of a World Heritage Site, so you can claim to be visiting for cultural reasons rather than just for the booze.
- Plan a beach adventure - Guadalajara is perfectly positioned for a beach getaway, with multiple options a short bus or plane ride away. Puerto Vallarta is my pick for resort-style fun and Sayulita attracts a cool crowd with its chilled vibes. However, tranquil San Pancho is my personal favorite.
- Stroll in Bosque los Colomos - strolling in this gigantic park will have you feeling like you've entered a different world when compared to the concrete jungle that is Guadalajara. Make sure you find the Japanese garden — it's beautiful.
- Visit Lake Chapala - Mexico's largest freshwater lake is another great escape from the city. I recommend hiring a car so you can explore the many surrounding towns near Chapala for an authentic taste of Mexican life.
- Check out Expliatorio on a Sunday evening - the plaza in front of Guadalajara's cathedral is where I spent many of my Sunday evenings. There are dozens of food stands including great vegan and vegetarian options, plus stalls selling traditional folk art and Mexican souvenirs. You might even be lucky enough to hear some live mariachi music while you're walking around!
Is Living in Guadalajara for You?
Living in Guadalajara, Mexico is great, and it quickly became one of my favorite cities in Latin America (if not the world). It's an affordable base that's perfect for expats who want to experience a slice of authentic Mexican life while enjoying great value for money.
This gritty, charming city will win you over as soon as you step off the plane, so all that's left to do now is to book that flight!
Hero photo by Roman Lopez.
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