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An Expat's Guide to Living in Mexico City

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Mexico City, CDMX, is an increasingly popular expat destination. Its reputation for amazing food, low living costs, and high quality of life means that folks are flocking to find out what all the hype is about.

As a digital nomad, living in Mexico has been one of my favorite experiences yet. There are few cities in the world that offer as many benefits to British and American expats (or any expats for that matter), and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Here's my expat's guide to living in Mexico City.

Living in Mexico City — Things to Consider

If you're planning on living in Mexico City, there are a few key things to consider. The answers to the following questions will likely let you know whether this is the right place for you...

Is Mexico City Safe?

Photo by Pyro Jenka

Mexico has a reputation for being dangerous, and most digital nomads and expats will likely worry about violence and street crime before arriving. As a solo female traveler, I was definitely nervous initially, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I've always felt completely comfortable.

I do take the usual precautions (no walking around late at night, not leaving my phone out, only carrying a small amount of money, and having a backup credit card stored somewhere secure), and that felt like enough to stay safe. Although it's a safe city, I always recommend having health insurance for when and if accidents happen. I highly recommend SafetyWing for expats and nomads.

What is the Cost of Living Like in Mexico City?

If you're wondering, can you live in Mexico City on $1000 a month, the answer is yes! However, on that budget, you'll need to share an apartment or look outside of the most central expat neighborhoods to have any hope of paying around $400 per month in rent.

For the most desirable barrios, expats pay upwards of $800 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, and that drastically increases if you want amenities like a gym or concierge.

Aside from rent, living in Mexico City is affordable on most budgets. Street vendors serve incredibly cheap and tasty meals for $1-2 and a coffee in a trendy cafe is around $3. Public transport and bike share passes are extremely low-cost, and even Ubers are affordable compared to many major North American cities.

Do You Need to Speak Spanish to Live in Mexico City?

Photo by Carlos Aguillar

My Spanish is intermediate at best and I didn't find myself struggling too much. In the more central, touristic areas, you'll find that like most big, highly populated cities in the world, lots of people speak English. Whether you're in a restaurant, taxi, or pharmacy, someone will likely have the language skills to assist you.

If you can only manage the basics, you'll be fine. However, taking Spanish lessons on Mondly before arriving in Mexico will enhance your experience more than anything else could. Once you've arrived, several language exchange events are running in Mexico City, which are great for practicing Spanish, meeting locals, and truly embracing expat life.

What is Mexico City's Weather Like?

The climate is one of my favorite things about living in Mexico City. The average daytime temperatures range from 55-64°F and there's not much variation through the year. The summers are warm without being uncomfortable like the tropical and hot weather in Playa del Carmen — another popular expat destination on Mexico's Caribbean coast — while the winters stay pretty mild.

If you're craving warm weather but want to avoid the crowds that Playa del Carmen attracts, living in Merida, Mexico might just be your perfect fit.

Although it does rain, showers don't tend to last too long in the city. Air pollution can be unpleasant from time to time, but no worse than in other major cities. The best time to visit Mexico will depend on your exact needs but know that somewhere in the country, you'll find your perfect weather.

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Is it Easy to Get Visas for Mexico?

Most expats enter Mexico on a tourist visa, and it used to be standard to be issued with a six-month visa on arrival. However, Mexican immigration officials have been cracking down during the past few years and it's increasingly common for visitors to be given a shorter visa (sometimes as little as a couple of weeks).

If you're planning on working while living in Mexico, applying for a temporary visa is the best way to go. This permit gives visitors the right to stay in the country for one year initially, but this can 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, and this figure seems to increase annually so keep an eye on it. It can be useful and cost-effective to hire an immigration lawyer to help with the process and you'll find lots of great recommendations in the expat social media groups.

How to Find an Apartment

Photo by Jeremy Lwanga

If you plan on staying a while in Mexico long term, you'll need a place to call home and a spot for your moving company to deliver your belongings. The best way to do so is to find an apartment after arriving. Book an Airbnb or hotel for a week or two so you can get to know the city's key areas before committing to a long-term let.

Many private landlords advertise their properties by placing signs outside with their contact details. Once you know which neighborhoods you're interested in living in, wander around and take note of any places that you like. If your Spanish isn't up to scratch, Whatsapp messages and Google Translate are handy alternatives to arranging viewings over the phone.

Craigslist is another way of finding somewhere to live. This is especially handy if you're looking to rent a room instead of a place to yourself. 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 will ask for a Mexican guarantor before they'll rent 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 Mexico City

Photo by Jezael Melgoza

Mexico City is a huge, sprawling metropolis and every neighborhood has its own distinct appeal. Where you base yourself will depend on your lifestyle, interests, and budget. Although Mexico City has a lot to offer the foreigners who decide to call this city home, another option is to live in Guadajara. I've lived in and really loved both.

The following are the most popular neighborhoods in CDMX for expats and nomads.

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.

La Condesa

Condesa is one of the most desirable places to live in Mexico City because it's a beautifully tranquil oasis in the heart of the city.

The wide, leafy boulevards give this neighborhood a distinctly European feel, and there are countless cafes, co-working spaces, bars, and restaurants to choose from. Condesa is also home to two of the city's nicest parks — Parque Espana and Parque Mexico — providing easy access to some peace and quiet when you need a break from the chaos of the city.

This is one of the most popular and affluent neighborhoods in Mexico City, so apartments are expensive and the market is competitive.

📍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 La Condesa is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Work & Relax: Enjoy a private bedroom and bathroom but shared co-working space, kitchen, and rooftop patio. 
  • Mid-Tier Stay: W* Panoramic: Floor to ceiling windows offer sweeping views of CDMX right in the heart of La Condesa.
  • Luxury Stay: Spacious Apt Live/Work: Enjoy a contemporary design in this pet-friendly apartment that’s ideal for remote workers moving to Mexico City.

Roma Norte & Roma Sur

Just east of Condesa is where you'll find Roma. This popular barrio is divided into Norte and Sur (north and south): Norte is home to some of the city's coolest bars and restaurants and Sur has a slightly more authentic Mexico vibe. If you're a foodie or a fan of hipster bars, you'll love being based here.

Rent in Roma is lower than in neighboring Condesa, and it's possible to find good deals here by walking around and finding 'for rent' signs.

📍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 Roma Norte or Roma Sur is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Charming Vintage-Style Penthouse: Located in Roma Norte, you’ll love the cozy vintage interior. 
  • Mid-Tier Stay: W* Modern: This pet-friendly duplex in Roma Norte is modern with high-end decor. 
  • Luxury Stay: Beautiful Apartment: Also in Roma Norte, this apartment is ideal for families moving to Mexico City. 

Juarez, San Rafael & Navarte

These three neighborhoods are to the direct north and south of Roma and Condesa and have seen a huge increase in popularity in the past few years. As rents rise, expats have started turning to these barrios for cheaper apartments without sacrificing the central location.

A bonus of living in these less gentrified neighborhoods is that the variety of street food stalls is incredible and you'll find plenty of traditional Mexican dishes to try. I'd recommend moving here for the tacos alone!

📍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 Juarez, San Rafael, or Navarte is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: W* Stunning: A beautiful loft with big windows and a great view, plus shared outdoor space and a gym.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Bright & Modern: This 2-level penthouse is located on a pedestrian street so you’ll enjoy quiet nights here. 
  • Luxury Stay: Magenta by Kukun Summ: This elegant lofted apartment has 2 stories of floor to ceiling windows, an indoor pool, and a fitness center. 

Polanco

Polanco is an upmarket neighborhood known for its high-end eateries and classy cocktail bars. The neighborhood is widely thought to be one of the city's safest which makes it a popular choice for families.

It's also home to some of the city's best galleries and museums, including the incredible National Museum of Anthropology. Polanco also borders Bosque de Chapultepec (the city's biggest park) so there's lots of green space to enjoy.

Rents typically match the high-class vibe of Polanco, but if you've got the budget, this neighborhood is a great option.

📍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 Polanco is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Polanco Lovely Apartment: Enjoy a shared pool, gym, and spacious outdoor areas while staying on budget. 
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Beautiful Apartment: This building is ideal for families thanks to a kiddie pool and children’s play area. 
  • Luxury Stay: Capitalia WOW Loft: With a completely green view and a large outdoor space, you’re right in the middle of Polanco but will feel much farther away. 

El Centro

Centro, or downtown Mexico City, has a reputation for being a dirty, dangerous, and undesirable place for expats to live. However, there are some significant perks to picking the city center as your home. Everything you need is within walking distance, and there are fantastic transport links for getting to other parts of the city.

Rents are also much lower in the historic center and there isn't as much competition, so you're likely to get more for your money.

In terms of safety, the area is definitely more rough and ready than Condesa, but I never felt unsafe there and in my six months in Mexico City, I didn't hear of other expats having any safety issues.

📍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 Centro is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Downtown Design Loft: This studio apartment is newly remodeled and the building offers a swimming pool, gym, and laundry. 
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Penthouse in Centro Historico: If bright spaces with plenty of natural light are your thing, you’ll love staying at this penthouse. 
  • Luxury Stay: 2BR Historical Suite: Enjoy plenty of charm and great views of Old Town from your private balcony. 

How to Get Around in Mexico City

Photo by Filip Gielda

Mexico City's public transport system is fantastic and is, in my opinion, better than any other system I've experienced in Latin America. The subway is the largest of its kind in Latin America and is simple to navigate, but can feel a little sketchy at night if you're alone. The MetroBus city buses are an excellent above-ground option that operates in a dedicated lane to avoid the city's notoriously bad traffic.

At the time of writing, both options are 6 pesos (around 34 cents) per ride, which must be paid for with a smart card. Cards can be purchased or topped up at stations. And, both modes of public transport have separate carriages for women, making it much safer for female expats.

Uber and DiDi are both cheap and reliable options if you'd rather travel by car, and you can hire electric scooters and mopeds via apps in the more central neighborhoods.

However, my personal favorite way of traversing the city is by bicycle. There are fantastic bike lanes throughout a lot of the city and despite the craziness of the traffic, I always felt safe cycling around. EcoBici is the city's official bike-share program, and there are stations all over the city. It's easy to sign up on the website and the app is great for finding stations wherever you are.

Fun Things to Do In and Around Mexico City

Photo by Carl Campbell

There's so much to do in and around Mexico's largest city that it's impossible to get bored. Here are some of my favorite ways to spend a day exploring and soaking up Mexican culture.

  • Xochimilco - hire a colorful boat and cruise the waterways while enjoying floating food and drink vendors and mariachi bands. The atmosphere is super lively and is a must-experience activity if you live in or visit Mexico City.
  • Ciclovia - every Sunday morning, Paseo de la Reforma (one of the city's main roads) is closed to traffic so Mexican residents and tourists can cycle, skate, or jog through the city. There's no better way to shake off a tequila hangover!
  • Bosque de Chapultepec - this huge park is the lungs of the city and the perfect escape from air pollution. Check out the zoo and the castle or hire a bicycle and explore.
  • Eat & drink - whether you book an official food tour or explore the city's eateries alone, no trip to Mexico City is complete without feasting on as many tacos as possible. Then, head to a mezcaleria to wash it down with a traditional tipple.
  • Lucha Libre - Catching a live Mexican wrestling show is a wild way to spend an evening. Tickets can be bought at the door of Arena Mexico.

When you're itching for a break from the city life, there are a lot of great Central Mexico cities to visit for day trip or weekend getaway.

Will you Move to Mexico City?

For expats, Mexico City offers an affordable place to live and all the comforts and conveniences you could ever need. And, as I did, you'll find that the only real danger is that you'll never want to leave.

Hero photo by Bhargava Marripati.

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