Moving to Mexico from the US
Mexico is wonderfully welcoming country that is safe and friendly for expats. Indeed, some would argue that aside from a handful of places, it’s safer to live here than in the USA.
Many people think of moving to Mexico for the spectacular coastline. With azure seas lapping both the Atlantic and Pacific shores and miles of unspoilt sandy beach, you really could have the paradise view you dreamed of. The cultural attractions are many and varied too. The Yukatan peninsula in particular is home to some exceptional ancient Mayan temples.
The cost of living in Mexico is also a major draw for expats. If you’re looking for somewhere to retire to for a better standard of living at lower cost, Mexico should be high on your list. And then there’s the proximity to the U.S. Direct flights to many cities in the USA mean that it’s cheap and easy to visit friends and family back home.
One thing you do need to consider is the language. Whilst English is widely spoken in major cities, to really settle in successfully it’s pretty essential to speak some Spanish. It’s well worth the effort, as Mexican people are some of the friendliest on the planet.
Popular Mexican cities
Mexico City is a vast, sprawling capital. If you’re relocating to Mexico for a job it’s highly likely that you’ll be based here. A city of over eight million people, it’s one of the most important financial centers in the Americas. Living here is likely to feel pretty similar to living in a large US city apart from the fact that Spanish is the language of communication. It’s a big, busy place and can feel a little overwhelming to new arrivals.
Guadalajara, the capital of the start of Jalisco is Mexico’s fourth largest city and it’s a strong business and economic centre. It’s also one of Mexico’s most cultural cities so it’s a great choice for expats. If you’re able to find work here or you’re location independent for your job, then it offers a nice balance between modern city living and cultural attractions.
Cancun is the big seaside city on the Yukatan peninsula and it’s a huge hub for tourism. If you work in this sector you may well relocate here when you move to Mexico. The lifestyle here is more laid back. It’s brash and glitzy and could be thought of as Las Vegas by the sea. Direct flights from here to many places in the US make it ideal for US expats who want to stay in touch with regular visits home.
Becoming a citizen of Mexico
Mexican tourist visas are issued on arrival. You simply fill in an immigration form. This type of Mexican visa lasts six months and is easy to renew, but it gives no right to work. Many foreigners who don’t need to earn an income live quite happily on these kinds of visa for years.
Temporary resident visas are typically the next step up from a tourist visa and allow you to stay as a resident of Mexico for up to four years. You have to be able to show a monthly income or own property worth a significant amount to qualify. If you also want to work, you need to apply for a separate permission to work visa, which requires you to provide proof of a job offer.
After this initial four year period, you have to apply for permanent residency status. This is a full Mexican working visa, offering many of the rights and responsibilities of a Mexican citizen including the right to work. It’s usually fairly straightforward to convert temporary resident status to permanent.
Acquiring full Mexican citizenship is a further process, but it’s not particularly complex if you already have permanent residency. Mexico allows people to have dual nationality too, so you can keep your US passport.
With an unemployment rate of around 4%, the economy in Mexico is buoyant at the moment, especially in the larger cities. Sectors where expats might typically find work include tobacco, chemicals, food and beverages, mining, textiles, iron and steel,. Most of these will require some pretty high quality qualifications and often it’s easier to find employment in Mexico before you leave your country of residence. This is particularly the case if you don’t speak Spanish. Other sectors that are experiencing growth include logistics and transportation and building.
A really handy fall back is teaching English. There’s always demand for native English speakers, particularly if you have a teaching English as a foreign language qualification.
House prices and renting
The cost of living in Mexico is much lower than in the USA, particularly when it comes to renting or buying property. Whilst a one bed apartment in New York could cost $2000 a month or more, a similar property in Mexico City comes in at around $500.
Buying property works out even better value. Typical housing prices in Mexican cities are five times cheaper than the equivalent in major US cities. In Mexico city you’d typically pay around $1500 per square meter compared to around $12,000 in New York.
If you’re planning to retire to somewhere on the coast, your money really will go a very long way when it comes to buying that dream villa with the sea views.
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Private schools in Mexico are generally of higher standard than state-funded local schools. Most expats choose to pay for their children to go to one when relocating to Mexico. Typically these international schools are found in the major cities and they attract a mixture of expat children and children from more well-off Mexican families.
Sending your children to a bilingual and bicultural school in Mexico makes a great deal of sense. Here they can learn in an environment that combines Mexican education with British or American systems. Choose a school that offers the International Baccalaureate course, as this is an internationally recognised qualification.
Popular schools include:
Fees vary, but they can be expensive. In terms of higher education, the most popular university is the National Autonomous University (UNAM), which offers useful courses focusing on language and culture.
Hospitals and healthcare providers in Mexico are of excellent quality. Many doctors do part of their training in the U.S. or Europe and speak English. Compared to the US, private health insurance is also cheap. It typically costs half or less of what you might pay back home.
Doctors’ visits and common medical procedures in Mexico, are similarly good value. Many expats simply pay out of pocket. Mexico City has some of the best private hospitals in the country.
Mexico’s cultural attractions are all wrapped up in its fascinating past. Sprinkled liberally across the country are large numbers of well preserved ruins. Fascinating pyramids from the Mayan and other Mesoamerican eras are a big draw on the Yukatan peninsula. World famous sites like Chichen itza and Uxmal are some of the most spectacular in the Americas.
There are charming old colonial Spanish towns too with ornate squares and pretty churches: places like Merida and San Cristobal de las Casas. There’s plenty for adventure lovers too. You can hike up volcanoes, surf wild breaks around Acapulco, ride across cactus strewn deserts in the north, and spot whales off the coastline of the Baja California.
Food and drink
Mexican food has long been a favourite for many Americans who have never set foot in the country. Sure there are burritos and tacos, but the regional flavors are far more varied and exciting than your typical Tex-Mex. Street food is a particular delight. Try dishes like barbacoa (slow cooked shredded lamb), birra (spicy lamb stew) and cabritos (roasted goat) for example. Fresh seafood on the coasts is always excellent.
Local beers are served extra cold. Aside from well known brands like Sol and Corona try Negra Modelo, Estrella and Modelo Especial. The liquor of choice is of course tequila. Mexican tequila is to be savored. It’s often aged for many years and more similar to say a fine whiskey.
In Mexico City you’ll find plenty of higher end dining too. Places like Pujolrun by super-chef Enrique Olvera, Biko with its Basque/Mexican fusion food. In Guadalajara there’s Alcalde. Chef Francisco Ruano trained at Noma in Copenhagen.
Mexicans love to party. Nightlife in Mexico runs the full gamut from sophisticated super clubs in Mexico city to sweaty corner bars where locals put the world to rights over ice cold beers. Tourist hotspots like Cancun and Acapulco feature nightclubs and bars that don’t close until dawn.
Mexico city offers sophisticated wine bars with sophisticated prices to match. Live music is a real attraction. Mariachi bands can be found strumming their stuff in bars in many towns and cities. There’s also a lively pop and rock scene. Mexicans are exuberant by nature and you might find yourself dancing by the end of the evening! Gay nightlife is restricted to the main cities and coastal resorts. The ‘Zona Rosa’ is the area to head for in Mexico city. Puerto Vallarta is Mexico’s gay capital.