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An Expat Guide to Living in Merida, Mexico 

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Mérida, Mexico is the capital of the Yucatan state of Mexico and an up-and-coming travel destination that has gained a lot of recognition in recent years. In fact, Lonely Planet highlighted it as being one of their top cities to visit for 2022! 

I've been in love with Mexico and Mérida in particular for years and have since built my home base in the country. I just can't seem to get enough of it and while I'm tempted to hold tight to the secret, I have to let you know that living in Mérida is a dream come true.

Although far from the lesser-known gems of Central Mexico, inland Mérida is closer to a lot of the best beach towns in the country. This beautiful city is characterized by its opulent, grand colonial mansions and ornate, colorful houses.

Without further ado, let's dive into more details on living in Mérida so you can decide if it's the best spot in Latin America for you to move.

Short on time? Here's the cheat sheet:

💭Living in Mérida is a great choice for those that are looking for a big city that feels safe and small with plenty of things to do in and around it.

🏠The best areas to live are Central, East, and West Mérida, although many expats choose the convenience of North Mérida instead.

🛏️Start off by booking somewhere centrally located and easy to get around, like the Majestuosa Casa Boutique in Central Mérida until you find your long-term stay.

📚Make your transition easier and get a headstart learning the language with Mondly.

🏥Accidents happen so come prepared with nomad insurance, just in case!

☂️Although the Riviera Maya is full of great places to live,

☀️Mérida has become a popular destination thanks to the low cost of living yet high quality of life that the city offers.

Why I Love Living in Mérida

The city's central Yucatan location makes it a great base for getting out and exploring the wider Yucatan region, Mayan culture, and natural wonders. From here, you can easily take day trips to gorgeous Yucatan beaches, world-famous Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza, big coastal cities like Playa del Carmen and Cancun, and the other best places to live in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mérida is also increasing in popularity as a place to move to as an expat or as a digital nomad in Mexico.

Perhaps one of the main reasons for this is that Mérida is renowned for not only being the safest city in Mexico, but one of the safest cities in the entire North American continent. If living in Mexico City or Guadalajara isn't for you, maybe Mérida is a better fit.

More than 11,000 American and Canadian expats call Mérida their permanent base, as well as a plethora of people from other countries and cultures. As such, it is very easy to meet like-minded people and build a community here. 

Best Areas to Live in Mérida, Mexico 

a woman standing with her back to the camera facing an old church in Mexico
Soaking up the colonial architecture

Despite the fact that Mérida possesses a very welcoming, small-town vibe, the city is pretty large. It is home to a population of nearly 1 million people and is easily the largest city on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Given its size, these are the best areas of the city to live in from my personal experience.

Central Mérida

Most foreign expats tend to either live in the northern suburbs of the city or in the historic center, el centro. Opting to live in Central Mérida means that you can easily walk around to all of the main attractions, parks, restaurants, and coffee shops. 

A lot of the old colonial mansions in Mérida have been converted into restaurants, live music venues, bars, and boutique stores. They give this neighborhood a certain charm that isn't found elsewhere in the city. 

The colonial buildings are enough to make anyone fall in love but also provide a bridge to the rich history of the city.

So, if you want a real local experience without having to compromise on any home comforts from your own country, Central Mérida is a great choice. There are also a lot of mercados here (traditional Mexican markets) so you can shop for fresh local produce, fruit, and veggies that support Yucatecans, rather than at Walmart! 

‍📍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 Central Mérida is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Casa Tres Colibries: Enjoy a cute, colonial style studio with shared swimming pool and garden. Breakfast is included and is best if you'd rather eat local food because there's not much of a kitchen.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Majestuosa Casa Boutique: While the 2-bedroom house might look unassuming from the outside, it's a wonderful place to base yourself for a few days. Enjoy a full sized kitchen, outdoor area, and private swimming pool.
  • Luxury Stay: Casa Valentina: This 2-bedroom villa is what most dream of when they think of moving to Mexico. Enjoy Mexican tiles, design, and architecture in a home that might be hard to move out of.

North Mérida

A lot of chic, upscale apartment complexes have been popping up throughout the northern suburbs of Mérida. When people refer to “North Mérida”, they are usually referring to the neighborhoods of:

  • Montes De Ame
  • Francisco de Montejo
  • Jaqueline
  • Montecarlo
  • Temozon Norte

These areas are very much gentrified and westernized and are more reminiscent of parts of the US than Mexico. In other words, there are several upscale gourmet international eateries here, as well as branches of a lot of American chain stores and eateries like Carls Jr, Krispy Kreme, Dairy Queen, etc.

What is better for you will depend a lot on your personal preference.

Expats living here typically are farther removed from Yucatecan culture and instead are motivated by a lower cost of living in a place that resembles their home country. It is important to note, however, that other parts of the city should not be ruled out. 

‍📍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 North Mérida is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Casa el Conquistador: Located on the southern end of Francisco de Montejo, this 2-bedroom house is small and simple but has everything you could need in a temporary home.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Torre Indico: Situated just next door to The Harbor Lifestyle Mall for all the comforts of your home country, this 2-bedroom apartment is in a high rise apartment complex.
  • Luxury Stay: Deluxe & Unique Condo: Want something cozier? This 3-bedroom apartment is better decorated to make you feel at home. Plus, the condo grounds offer a large park, playground, and swimming pool.

East & West Mérida

People find it hard to shake the perception that Mexico is a very dangerous place where they need to always be careful and aware of their surroundings.

While that can be true in certain areas, Mérida is a very safe city. There are no no-go areas here and yet most foreign expats tend to all stick to renting or purchasing their accommodation in either the center or the north. 

East and West Mérida are also perfectly good places to live.

Itzimna and Colonia Mexico are particularly charming areas, while Poligono and Las Brisas place you conveniently close to large supermarkets and shopping complexes. 

Better yet? Opting to live in these areas over the popular North and Centro means that you get more bang for your buck and often find properties that are substantially cheaper. Your day to day life here will also be more intertwined by the joys of living in Mexico.

‍📍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 East Mérida is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Tu Lugar en Merida: This affordable and pet-friendly apartment in Mérida is in Colonia Mexico and will put you in the perfect spot to get to know one of my favorite neighborhoods.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Bosqüa SmartAppt: Just a block from Paseo de Montejo, this trendy apartment is bright, fun, and uniquely designed, ideal for those seeking a certain aesthetic to accompany their life abroad in Mexico.
  • Luxury Stay: Casa Hacienda Itzimna: This wonderful place is more than just a house, it's a cultural experience. Stay in a piece of Mérida's history in this sprawling 5-bedroom in Itzimna.
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How to Find an Apartment in Mérida

Although there are a few property websites for the Yucatan Peninsula, they are not frequently used. The best way to find apartments and houses here is through Facebook.

As peculiar as it may sound, Mexicans themselves will find apartments this way. You can search for properties via Facebook Marketplace or via Facebook groups for a particular city. This isn't particular to Mérida, either.

Using Facebook is a common way expats and digital nomads all over the world find affordable accommodation.

Cost of Living in Mérida

You can expect to pay $200 a month for a small studio apartment just outside of the city center including all bills. Exact rates fluctuate depending on location and property type. 

It is not unheard of for people to try and charge foreigners substantially more than the going rate.

It will help if you speak Spanish and are able to bargain with them in their language. Don't know the language but want to learn? Start learning Spanish now on an app, like Mondly, then when you arrive, switch to in-person lessons to accelerate your skills.

If your Spanish isn't up to par, the best way to combat this is to sense-check what price you have been quoted with Mexican friends before agreeing to anything. If you don't know anyone yet, post the price in Mérida Facebook groups and ask the expat community.

How to Get a Visa to Live in Mérida, Mexico

a group of mariachis playing their guitars on a patio in Mexico
Enjoying the entertainment at Hacienda Santa Cruz

Travelers from most countries can stay in Mexico for up to 180 days on an FMM tourist visa. There is no advanced paperwork required for this. It is something that you can get on arrival. 

You just need to fill out a simple form on your flight into Mexico with details on where you will be staying and how long you plan to stay. Up until recently, a substantial number of people were living in Mexico on this visa and would exit the country every 180 days to renew it. 

The Mexican government has really started cracking down on this in the last year so if you want to join the other expats and live here long-term, it is imperative that you get the correct visa to do so. 

Deciding to Stay in Mérida Long-Term

You can enter for 180 days on a tourist visa to see if Mérida is the place for you. Although a tropical climate year-round, just know that based on when you decide to visit, your experience might be different. Between the dry and rainy season and your personal preferences of things to do, you might find the best time to visit.

Divide your time between different neighborhoods to determine which area you prefer. 

Do your best to stay in accommodation like something you would stay in if moved here. The difference will be palpable if you travel and stay in lush hotels in the heart of the city but move here and stay in a small apartment on the outskirts of town.

Once you decide you love it here as much as I do, it's time to apply for residency.

Applying for Mexican Residency 

If you decide that you do want to live in Mérida, you need to apply for residency from outside of Mexico. A few forms need to be completed and submitted to your Mexican embassy or consulate. The fee for this at the time of publication is $48. 

You also need to demonstrate that you have enough funds to support yourself. The precise amount asked for seems to vary from one state to another but they typically ask for $40,000 present in a bank account for at least 6 months. 

Unfortunately, it is not possible to work in Mexico on this visa. It is best suited as a digital nomad visa for remote workers with their own source of international income. 

You need to prove that you earn at least $2,000 USD per month from non-Mexican sources. If you decide to purchase a property in Mexico, you will automatically be granted residency and do not have to submit so much paperwork. 

Top Things to Do in Mérida, Mexico

Ancient Mayan statue in stone in front of a vibrant blue sky
Don't forget to embrace the Mayan culture!

Mérida, Mexico is a vibrant city with a buzzing social scene. Although there are plenty of great day trips to take from here, it feels like there is almost always some kind of festival, event, or museum to visit right in town, so you will never find yourself short of things to do. 

Not only is Mérida one of the best places to live in Mexico, it's one of the best places to live in all of Latin America due to what's in and around the town.

To narrow it down, these are a few of my favorite things to do in Mérida.

Explore the Yucatecan Culinary Scene 

There are enough excellent Mérida restaurants to keep you occupied for months. Food in this part of Mexico is very different from that in other regions and many popular dishes follow Ancient Mayan recipes! 

From street vendors to high-end restaurants, your belly will be plenty happy while living in Mérida.

Two must-visit restaurants to try traditional food are:

One dish to look out for is cochinita pibil. Think of it as the Ancient Mayan answer to pulled pork. To make it, pork is marinated with orange and achiote and then the meat is slow-cooked underground in a traditional oven known as a pib. Yum!

Take a Free Walking Tour 

An excellent way to get your bearings when you first arrive in Mérida is to take a free walking tour. The tour guide speaks both English and Spanish and departs the Plaza de Santa Lucia every day at 10 am.

You will stroll along the Paseo Montejo and discover the history behind the city's main sites and buildings. Of course, though the tour is technically free, there is the assumption that you tip your guide (and you should!) 100 pesos (around $5) is a good amount per person. 

Free walking tours are a standard offer in most cities around the world. Whether you're in Mérida or not, I suggest trying to find one of these tours to get the inside scoop on a place anytime you're new somewhere.

Experience Mérida by Night 

When the sun sets, Mérida really comes to life, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. There are several wine and cocktail bars here that prepare mouthwatering concoctions made by expert mixologists. 

Many of them use uniquely Mexican ingredients like mezcal and tequila in their creations.

La Negrita Cantina is a must-visit. Live musicians perform here almost every night of the week, and at weekends, everyone takes to the floor to dance salsa. 

Ready to Try Living in Mérida?

a woman standing between the pillars of a hacienda overlooking a courtyard
You'll love strolling these haciendas

With this, I hope you're more ready than ever to give living in Mérida, Mexico a chance. For me, it's been the perfect mix of great food, plenty to do, and a location that any beach-lover would be envious of.

With a big expat community and welcoming locals, it'll also be one of the easiest places to settle in and make some friends. Once you're living here, you'll quickly realize why more and more people choose Mérida instead of other cities in Mexico or other Latin American countries in general.

Still on the fence? At the very least, head on down to visit Mérida for 180 days and see for yourself what an incredible place this city really is and to decide for yourself if it could be your home abroad.

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