The Ultimate Guide to Expat-Friendly Communities in Mexico
With 5,800 miles of coastline, 7 climate zones, nearly 30,000 archeological sites, a rich cuisine that stretches back thousands of years, and convenient to get to for most, it’s no wonder Mexico ranks in the top three expat destinations around the world. This wondrous country has it all: cosmopolitan cities, boho beach towns, and mountain villages perfect for retreat. If you’re thinking about calling Mexico home, there’s a lot to choose from! Take a look at our top picks below on the best expat-friendly communities in Mexico!
How to find expat communities in Mexico
Before you start your search, make a list of what you most want to get out of your Mexico experience. Is living in a thriving metropolis important to you, or would you prefer a quieter lifestyle? Are you determined to immerse yourself in the Spanish language or indigenous culture, or would you be happier surrounded by fellow expats? It’s easy for us adventure-lovers to fool ourselves into thinking we want a fully immersive experience, only to discover we really need regular yoga classes, green salads, and long conversations in our native language to feel at peace. It’s best to know this before taking the plunge. The good news is that Mexico has several areas that offer the best of both worlds!
As with all expats, you’ll need to consider how you plan to work and what visa is required. Although many digital nomads enter with the expectation of being granted a 180 day tourist visa and renewing as needed, on some occasions immigration officers have been giving as few as 10 days upon entry, with no renewal option. Check with the Mexican Embassy for requirements and procedure on obtaining a temporary or permanent residence visa. In some cases you may need to be sponsored by a Mexican company. Another option is to open a business in Mexico and obtain residency this way.
Facebook groups are the most common way of connecting to the expat community, and a good place to reach out to with questions before you move. Every town will have its own group (sometimes several), which can usually be found with a simple search. A few to start with are Expats in Mexico and Expats in Mexico City.
If you’re new to the idea of moving abroad be sure to check out the She Hit Refresh guide to living life as an expat for tips on what to expect and how to best prepare for living in a foreign country, no matter where you’re thinking of going!
A comprehensive list of expat communities in Mexico
Mexico is divided into 6 main regions (North, Central, the Gulf & South, Pacific Coast, Baja Peninsula, and the Yucatan Peninsula) with clusters of foreigners scattered throughout the entire country. No matter what kind of lifestyle you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it! Here are some of the most popular expat communities in Mexico.
Mexico City truly has it all. CDMX as it’s known is the fifth most populated city in the world and sits atop the remains of an ancient lake and the remains of Tenochtitlan—the Aztec empire—are still visible in the city center. With over 150 museums, endless art, theater, and music shows, cuisine of every type and price point, and the flight hub to the rest of Mexico and the globe, it would be difficult to ever feel bored here. But if traffic jams aren’t your thing, consider a quiet mountain town just an hour and a half away next…
This stunning pueblo mágico is within arm’s reach of thriving CDMX, but could easily be a world away. Tepoztlán is famous for its mountain-top temple to the God of Pulque—a prehispanic alcoholic beverage—and for its incredible food market. It’s as popular with the chilangos (Mexico City residents) as it is with expats. Here you’ll find yogis and healers of all stripes, along with an international array of artists.
San Miguel de Allende
Long one of the expat hotspots in Mexico, San Miguel is a 4-hour drive from Mexico City. This Colonial-era, World Heritage City set in the high desert is world-renowned for its thriving art community and incredible hospitality. There are enough expats here that you can get by in English, but Spanish language is still dominant, making this city a great place to immerse yourself in Mexican culture.
The capital of Yucatán is another colonial gem, but on a much grander scale. Mérida boasts universities, an international airport, a phenomenal culinary scene, and plenty of live music. Despite its large size the expat community is relatively small, which means you’ll be learning Spanish and living like a local in no time.
It’s a tropical climate and summers here are hot (ranging from 63°F up to 100°F) and humid. Fortunately, the city is a mere 22 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, so beaches are in easy reach.But what makes Mérida truly special is how close it lies to dozens of cenotes (natural sinkholes that allow access to underground streams), and ancient Mayan archeological sites (Chichén Itzá is only an hour and a half away). Fancy a vacation to the U.S. or Europe? Plenty of affordable flights are available out of nearby Cancún.
If you have not been to Oaxaca City, you have not experienced Mexico. No where else in the country offers such a spectacular array of art, crafts, music, dance, indigenous cultures, glorious countryside, colonial architecture, and a cuisine that easily rivals that of France and Italy. There are art showings, opera, mezcal tours, cooking classes, and talks and workshops galore to keep you entertained. While the expat community is strong here, Oaxaca’s indigenous culture is indomitable, tremendously welcoming, and easy to dive into. If you have questions on expat living in this city, a great place to ask is the Clandestine Oaxaca Appreciation Society on Facebook.
Tucked away in Jalisco’s lush Pacific coast is one of Mexico’s more famous expat havens. What began as a sleepy fishing village is now a thriving tourist destination replete with world class restaurants, resorts, and plenty of outdoor activities in the vicinity for those of an adventurous nature: hiking, biking, whale watching, kitesurfing, and more. It’s also considered one of the most LGBTQ-friendly destinations in Mexico.
PV as it’s called is a large enough city that you go without a car and rely on public transport and Ubers, and it hosts an international airport with plenty of direct flights in and out of the U.S. and Canada. Like Ciudad de Oaxaca, it boasts a glorious number of murals and street art, has a killer climate, mountains that beckon explorers, and an endless array of activities. The bonus: beaches!
Baja California Sur
The lower peninsula is booming right now—and for good reason. Baja California Sur (BCS) is the southern half of the peninsula extending down from California—its proximity to the U.S. makes it a popular destination for expats. The landscape here is unlike any other in the world: tropical desert mountain ranges that drop down to white sand beaches, a National Marine Park with World Heritage status, palm oasis, and canyons with prehistoric pictographs.
The shifting culture here reflects its geographic location: a blend of American and Mexican with a brush of the Wild West. Cabo San Lucas and neighboring San Jose del Cabo (together referred to as “Los Cabos”) hold an ever-growing number of resorts running the gamut of full luxury to affordable family get-away. Here you’ll find top-knotch hospitals, five-star restaurants, and pristine beaches along with bumping night clubs, horseback rides, and the best fish tacos of your life.
If you’re looking for a more local vibe, La Paz is only 2 hours north on the Sea of Cortez and host to its own array of maritime activities like snorkeling with whale sharks. In between the two cities are a number of small towns worth exploring, each with its own vibe: from the kite-surfers haven of La Ventana to Boho-chic Todos Santos and El Pescadero—a surfer’s paradise. While this area is the most expensive of Mexico’s expat destinations, it’s also one of the most difficult to find work in, so if you’re not a digital nomad, your best bet will be to enquire with resorts and real estate agents.
The Riviera Maya is a glorious coastal stretch that has long been popular with those looking for their paradisiacal escape. Like the Baja Sur Peninsula it’s a region that offers multiple destinations for expats.
- Puerto Morelos: Surprisingly, Puerto Morelos has managed to maintain its small town charm despite being backed up to the tourist monstropolis of Cancun. If you’d prefer the tranquility of quiet, beach-side living along with the conveniences offered by a big city, you need head no further south than Puerto Morelos.
- Playa del Carmen: For a livelier lifestyle, drive another 40 minutes south. Playa is the fastest growing city in Mexico thanks to its huge popularity with tourists with recreation and dining opportunities galore. There’s a thriving expat community and plenty of social opportunities. For help, join one of Playa’s expat social media groups.
Tulum: Tulum is the Boho-chic capital of Mexico with a well-deserved reputation. Its stunning white sand beaches, numerous cenotes, and Mayan ruins make it a true slice of paradise. Its popularity has exploded over the last few years with the foreign community, bringing in yoga studios and spas, fine dining, boutique hotels, full moon parties and an array of experiences for relaxing the body and opening the mind.
You can find cheap street eats and not-so-cheap internationally-recognized restaurants all within a six-mile radius. Tulum town is set back from the beachfront, and is easily navigated by bike. It hosts quite an international expat crowd with more Europeans than many other Mexican towns, but keep in mind that its rising popularity means rental prices are higher than most in Mexico.
9 things every expat needs to know before moving to Mexico
Mexico is one of the most expat-friendly countries in the world! It offers a diversity of culture and landscape matched by few others, an ease of travel, both domestically and internationally, top notch hospitals, and a world class culinary scene.
In the decades that Mexico has been receiving foreigners, companies catering to their needs and desires have flourished. You will find a host of businesses ready to help you with shipping, importing, visas, and more. Mexico plays host to over 1 million expats, with multiple cities offering an array of cultural immersion opportunities alongside more familiar home comforts. Your greatest challenge will be in choosing just one!
1. Safety: ”Is Mexico safe?” is a question we hear more than any other. And while it’s true that the country has a deep-rooted problem with cartels and corruption, the violence that occurs in Mexico is specific and targeted (unlike the random violence that occurs in other, more developed countries). As thrilling as the media makes it sound, it is extremely rare that a foreigner falls victim. Every country has its rules; here are a few simple ones to stay safe in Mexico:
- Don’t buy drugs from strangers,
- Don’t go wandering (cycling or hiking) through rural areas that aren’t popular recreation areas (definitely don’t take photos of marijuana or poppy fields), and
- If you want to be extra cautious, don’t travel through areas of known violence at night.
The vast majority of the Mexican population are some of the warmest, most generous and welcoming people you will ever meet. If you follow the basic street rules and connect with the locals you’ll discover a sense of community like no other.
2. Time: Life in Mexico does not run by the modern, western concept of time. It’s really about enjoying the ride, rather than getting ahead. Relationships matter more than efficiency. And bureaucracy? Well…let’s just say if you don’t arrive in Mexico with patience, you will learn it.
3. Family over career: Likewise, family and social life take priority over one’s career. Asking someone what they do for a living is not a common first question.
4. Diversity: There are 68 indigenous languages spoken in Mexico. Every region has its own food specialities; every town, its own celebrated Patron Saint (and accompanying festival). And in central and southern Mexico particularly, you’ll find differences in the native textiles, the arts and crafts, and the rituals. One could easily spend a lifetime in Mexico and only begin to scratch the cultural surface.
5. LGBTQ: Despite the country’s tendency towards a “traditional”, macho culture, Mexico has a number of cities that are quite LGBTQ-friendly. (And who defines “traditional” anyway? In coastal Oaxaca Muxes—indigenous transgender woman—have lived openly for centuries!). Puerta Vallarta tops the list of queer-friendly cities, with Cabo San Lucas and the Riviera Maya following. La Zona Rosa is the LGBTQ heart of Mexico City, and Guadalajara is considered to have the largest gay population. As of 2010 same-sex marriages are federally recognized (making Mexico a popular wedding destination for the LGBTQ community).
6. Diet: Mexico is not a country of frozen foods or specialized, processed health food. The diversity of produce in Mexico is astounding however, and if you know where to hunt out native ingredients, you can surely have a home-cooked, well-balanced diet. If you are reliant upon specialty products or love to dine out but have specific dietary restrictions, you’ll be most comfortable in a city that knows how to accommodate. Mexico City, Tulum, and BCS are all regions that are well-accustomed to satisfying the foreign palate.
7. Language: Most of the cities listed above have a strong enough expat community and/or influx of foreign visitors that it’s not necessary to know Spanish before moving. Many Mexicans in these areas are motivated to practice their English with you as they know it’s key to getting good work in the tourism industry. That said, knowing Spanish will make your life not only easier, but so much richer.
There are endless insights into Mexican culture to be gained that simply aren’t possible without the language. The best way to learn is full immersion. Find a class, meet regularly with locals, and practice speaking every chance you get. Mexicans are very patient and forgiving with language learners, so don’t be shy! (Pro tip: if you want to learn as quickly as possible, find yourself a lover that doesn’t speak English!).
8. Generous Hosts: Mexicans are truly some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Strangers will go out of their way to help you; strangers tell one another “buen provecho” (“enjoy your meal”) at a restaurant; the poorest of people will give you their last tortilla. It is also something of a cardinal rule to offer food and drink to any visitor of one’s home, so don’t be surprised to be wined and dined by your new hosts!
9. Visas: As with all expats, you’ll need to consider how you can stay in Mexico long-term, how you plan to work and what visa is required to do so. Although many digital nomads enter with the expectation of being granted a 180 day tourist visa and renewing as needed, on some occasions immigration officers have been giving as few as 10 days upon entry, with no renewal option. Check with the Mexican Embassy for requirements and procedure on obtaining a temporary or permanent residence visa. In some cases you may need to be sponsored by a Mexican company. Another option is to open a business in Mexico and obtain residency this way.
Mexico is one of the most expat-friendly countries in the world! It offers a diversity of culture and landscape matched by few others, an ease of travel, both domestically and internationally, top notch hospitals, and a world class culinary scene. In the decades that Mexico has been receiving foreigners, companies catering to their needs and desires have flourished. You will find a host of businesses ready to help you with shipping, importing, visas, and more. Mexico plays host to over 1 million expats, with multiple cities offering an array of cultural immersion opportunities alongside more familiar home comforts. Your greatest challenge will be in choosing just one!