Latin America is a big, bold, bright, and completely unique region. I was lucky enough to live in Latin America for nearly 4 years and while I do get to go back often to visit my in-laws (my husband is from Bogotá), I dream of the day we'll move back to one of the cities on this list.
It's important to note that living in Latin America isn't like living in the U.S., Canada, Europe, or even Asia (OK, maybe a little like Southeast Asia strangely enough). This region is uniquely its own and that's really why it's so, so charming.
In general, from all of the places I've lived and traveled to within the region, locals have been incredibly welcoming and curious. The thing you have to realize is that people from Latin America love a good story. And you, looking, sounding, and acting so differently, are a good story. This is especially true for areas that don't tend to see many tourists. That means locals will stare, ask questions, and invite you to their homes even just minutes after meeting you.
This was jarring at first but once I learned Spanish and got accustomed to the culture, I welcomed it. I answered their questions, drank a lot of coffees with a lot of strangers, and welcomed invites that showed me the real Latin America.
But, ojo, it's important to do all of this with some common sense. In general, Latin America is not the safest region I've lived in. Petty theft can be common and even bigger crimes aren't really that unheard of. Living here does take a certain level of street smarts, especially if you're eager to get off the beaten path and really experience life in Latin America.
This isn't to say it's what the news paints it as; in general, I did feel safe living here. But did I feel as safe as I do now living in Europe? Not quite. Did this ruin my experience and make me want to leave the region in my dust? Not even close. It's just something I recommend you to be aware of before moving there.
So, now with that dose of reality, let's dive into the 6 best places to live in Latin America.
1. Mexico City, Mexico
Submission by Sophie Bellamy from Good Egg Digital Marketing.
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. Not only is Mexico City one of the best places to live in Latin America, it's also one of the best places to live in the world.
As someone who has lived all around the world, 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.
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.
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.
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 throughout 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.
There's so much to do in and around Mexico's largest city that it's impossible to get bored. With great food, plenty of parks, an immersive culture, and ease of travel to other Central Mexico destinations, it's no wonder Mexico ranks consistently as one of the best places to live in Latin America.
Visa Options to Live in 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.
2. Panama City, Panama
Panama City is home to around half a million people, so it's a big city without really being overwhelmingly so. Back when I was living in Latin America, Panama was my home for about a year. During that year, my home base was primarily Panama City. I did spend a month in Bocas del Toro, which is one of the best places to live in Panama, but otherwise was in the city when I wasn't working on the San Blas Islands.
If you're looking for a home abroad that blends modernity with old town charm, Panama City could be the best place to live in latin america for you. While that same thing could be said about Mexico City above, what makes Panama City stand out is that since the country is so small, you can easily get out of the city hustle and bustle and onto one of the most beautiful beaches in the world in an hour or less. You'll also have incredible jungles and small mountains at your fingertips.
Like many of the other cities on this list, Panama City also has a big expat community. Since there is no income tax on foreign-earned income here, it's been a nice little tax haven for a long time, especially for those coming from countries that only tax residents.
Similar to many countries in Latin America, you won't get 4 seasons here, instead you'll just get wet or dry weather. It's important to note that it's always summer hot in Panama City so only those that thrive in the heat will truly enjoy living here and for them, there will never be a bad time to visit.
Visa Options to Live in Panama
There are a few interesting visa options to live in Panama, just know that most of them will require you to hire an immigration lawyer to see it through. The most popular visa option has long been the "Friendly Nations Residency Program" that allows people from a handful of countries to apply for a 2-year residence permit that can then be extended to permanent residency.
Panama recently launched a digital nomad visa that now makes it even easier for remote workers to move to Panama without having to be under the radar on a tourist visa. This will give you 9 months to live in Panama City but you do have the chance to extend it if you're enjoying yourself.
Another common route to go is by teaching English in Panama. Do note though that many small schools and English centers will prefer to pay you under the table and not sponsor you a visa. The best chance to teach and get a visa is by working at an international school but this will require you to have a teaching degree from your home country. To teach English, you most likely only need your TEFL certificate.
Outside of these 3 options, it's also possible to move to Panama on a tourist visa. Most nationalities are given 3 months visa-free in the country but with a quick border run, you'll be able to reset your time with another 3 months. Do understand that this is not legal advice but just the reality of what many expats and digital nomads are doing.
3. Medellín, Colombia
Submission by Emilie Jones.
As someone who spent almost a year living just outside of Bogotá I personally much prefer life in Medellín, aka the City of Eternal Spring. The weather is perfect, the people here are amazingly welcoming and friendly, and the views are stunning here in the valley surrounded by powerful yet peaceful mountains.
While just like other countries in Latin America, living in Colombia does come with its ups and downs but living in Medellín has proven to have more ups to it.
The city has amazing nightlife, restaurants, coffee shops, organic/vegan stores, and basically everything an expat needs. While it's best to keep your wits about you while out and about and not to flaunt your phone, laptop, or other expenses, the city has some safer pockets to live in. El Poblado and Laureles are the best neighborhoods, in my opinion, to live in as an expat or digital nomad.
El Poblado usually attracts a lot of short-term tourists and tends to be a bit more expensive in terms of rent and prices when eating out. Laureles on the other hand has a bit less of the touristy vibe and a lot more local scene. I’ve noticed that a lot of people who end up staying in Medellín long-term usually move out to Laureles.
If you’re into hiking, you’ll also love this city as there are a couple trails within the city and endless hiking possibilities around the nearby mountains. Medellín also hosts lots of festivals from the famous flower festival in August to large music festivals and smaller artisanal workshops and markets.
Visa Options to Live in Colombia
I’ve personally worked here in Colombia as an English teacher and in Business Development and Customer Success for two different global companies. Lots of North American companies have smaller offices here mainly because of the cost of labor and time zone benefits, so there are more and more opportunities popping up for English speakers.
If you manage to get a job with one of these international companies they usually sponsor your work visa and it’s often good for 1-3 years with the option to renew.
If you happen to come to Colombia as a digital nomad doing remote work, you're in luck! Colombia offers a digital nomad visa that allows you to live and work online for 6 months of the year. The visa is valid for 2 years though so you can spend a total of 1 year in the country but only at 6 month intervals. For those that want a home base but still plenty of time to travel nomadically, this could be a great option.
4. Santiago, Chile
Santiago is the capital of Chile and sits nestled between the Pacific Ocean, the Andes Mountains, and fantastic vineyards. While Santiago lies in a valley, neither on the coast or in the mountains, you do have easy access to both. And not just any mountains, some of the most iconic mountains in the entire world with epic hiking trails in the summer and skiing in the winter.
Keep in mind that since Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are swapped for those coming from the Northern Hemisphere.
Alongside being the epicenter for politics and finance, Santiago has a big arts scene. This means plenty of street art, trendy bars, restaurants, and cafes, and great museums.
Making friends shouldn't be too difficult thanks to the thriving expat communities. Since so many international companies have hubs in Santiago, there are a lot of English-speaking expats moving to the city.
Living in Latin America can come with a lot of hurdles but living in Santiago is like doing this in easy mode. You'll still face some of the stereotypical struggles of life in Latin America but Chile is known as being the safest and most economically stable country in the region.
Visa Options to Live in Chile
The most common way for expats moving to Chile to get a visa is through their work. If you're hired by a company to live in Chile, they should sponsor your work visa giving you a Temporary Resident Visa.
This resident visa is really a catch-all for all foreigners living in Chile legally that don't yet have permanent residency status. This includes employees, family members of Chileans, people born in Chile, retired people living on passive income, and students.
5. Mérida, Mexico
Submission by Melissa Douglas from Mexico Travel Secrets.
Mérida, Mexico is the capital of the Yucatan state of Mexico and an up-and-coming travel and expat destination that has gained a lot of recognition in recent years. This beautiful city is characterized by its opulent, grand colonial mansions and ornate, colorful houses.
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 quaint traditional towns like Izamal.
Perhaps one of the main reasons that Mérida is growing in popularity is that the city 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.
6. Lima, Peru
Submission & photo by Sharon from I Travel Peru.
Lima, the capital of Peru, is a large and modern city that offers many reasons to be considered a great option for living abroad.
One of the things that I like the most about living here is that it's next to the ocean. It's perfect for walks along the boardwalk, surfing, and enjoying beautiful sunsets.
Lima also has some of the world's best restaurants (including the current #1 restaurant in the world) so it's a paradise for foodies. From high-end restaurants to small, very local eateries, there is always a new place to eat out and explore.
The best places to stay in Lima are the neighborhoods of Barranco and Miraflores, which are where foreigners usually stay. These are lively areas, facing the boardwalk, with a local vibe and plenty of shops and cafes. Street art, local markets, and vibrant nightlife in Barranco, or the more laid-back, chic vibe of Miraflores, reflect the diverse experiences Lima offers. You can also find co-working spaces in these neighborhoods.
If you enjoy nature, there are many options for day trips from Lima. For further exploration, destinations like Machu Picchu and the Amazon Rainforest are just a short flight away.
Although Lima is more expensive than other parts of Peru, being the capital, it's still much cheaper than most locations in Europe and the USA. This means that rentals are also relatively cheap. So while you might not be able to easily find a long-term rental as a tourist, there are plenty of Airbnb apartments on offer for very affordable prices.
Visa Options to Live in Peru
Until recently, there weren't many straightforward ways to move to Peru without being employed by a Peruvian company. But from the end of 2023, Peru has launched its new digital nomad visa, which will come into effect very soon. Once the visa is in full swing, moving to the country of your dreams will become easier than ever.
How to Decide Where to Move Abroad
Moving to Central or South America can feel like an intimidating step, especially if this will be your first time moving abroad. One of the biggest steps to moving abroad, and also the most necessary to actually go, is choosing where in the world you'll call your home.
It can feel like a huge decision and one that if you mess up, you can't take back. Here's the thing though: nothing you do when it comes to moving from one country to another has to be permanent. You're allowed to go back home or start over in a new country if it doesn't work out or just because you want to.
Once you feel more confident and ready to make your decision about where you want to live in Latin America, think about these things to help narrow down your options:
- How long do you want to stay in country X?
- Where can you get a long-term visa or residency permit?
- How important is it that locals speak some English? It's important to know that with the exception of Belize, Latin America speaks Spanish. From my experience, few locals speak English, unless you're in a touristic area. So if you want to live in Latin America, I highly recommend you learn at least the basics of Spanish. I love learning languages on the app Mondly.
- What type of weather do you really want to avoid? And likewise, what type of weather would you really love?
- What lifestyle are you most eager to have? Laid back, cosmopolitan, access to nature, interesting culture, etc.
- How far away from your home city/town do you want to be?
- What cost of living can you comfortably afford?
If you're having trouble deciding which of these Latin American countries to call home, take some time to answer these questions first. Having clarity on your priorities will help you narrow down which city or town is best for you.
Where Will You Live in Latin America?
From Mexico to Chile, there are a lot of fantastic places to live in Latin America. This list really just scratches the surface of the possibilities that await.
While I do think there are plenty more fantastic places to see and visit in Latin America, the cities and towns chosen for this list were based not only on their beauty but their quality of life for foreigners and the ease of getting a visa outside of just border runs.
So, after all this, where will you choose to live in Latin America?
All photos by depositphotos.com unless otherwise stated.