Everything You Need to Know About Moving to Mexico
If you’ve always dreamed of the expat life south of the border, keep reading. We’ve got all the scoop you’ll need to plan your new life down in Mexico.
I had no idea that I wanted to pack up my life and move to Mexico.
I had never included this possibility on a vision board and wasn’t dreaming of afternoon siestas and all-day margaritas. But a couple of years ago, my husband and I traveled to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and we fell in love…real hard.
It was then that we started planning our escape and figuring out how we could make this move happen for us. Here’s everything we learned along the way.
Do you Want to Move Full-Time or Part-Time?
Yes, you can go all in and decide to make your move to Mexico permanent but there are also lots of other options. Think about the lifestyle you want and what makes the most sense for you and your family.
We live in Mexico full-time now, however, we still own our home in Los Angeles and have no plans to sell it. We rent our home here in Mexico and Airbnb our home back in LA. We travel back every 3-6 months or so.
Do you want to sell your house and make your move completely permanent? Or maybe you want to spend half the year in Mexico and half in the United States? Do you want to buy a place in Mexico? Keep in mind, mortgages are extremely rare in Mexico, so if you want to purchase a home as a U.S. citizen, you’ll need all the cash in hand. The fun part is coming up with the travel/life combo that works best for you and your family.
Here's the Visa Scoop
As an American, you can stay in Mexico for six months (or 180 days) at a time with a "visitor's visa"—everyone over age 16 who travels to Mexico with a US passport automatically enjoys this option. You will be given this document before you arrive in the country (either via plan or at a border crossing). This means, you can make your plane reservation, grab your passport, pack your bags and there is no other official documentation required as long as you just plan to spend six months or less.
However, if you do plan to stay for longer than six months, the visa process in Mexico is fairly easy to navigate. You can choose to apply for a temporary visa, or a permanent visa (and you don't need to have a temporary visa before first applying for a permanent one). Learn more about Mexico’s immigration requirements here.
Your Expenses Will Likely Go Way Down
Depending on where you live in the States, chances are, you’ll quickly realize your expenses in Mexico will be way cheaper. If you live in a big city in the States, this is almost a guarantee.
Our monthly expenses here are about 50% less than they were in Los Angeles. This will, of course, depend on where in the country you decide to live. Much like the U.S., certain cities in Mexico are much more expensive than others. San Miguel de Allende, where we live, is one of those spots (mostly because there are loads of expats here). Mexico City and Cabo San Lucas also tend to be more on the expensive side.
Do your research ahead of time to see how expenses might look in the area you plan to move to. One of my fave spots to get good info is a Facebook group we joined called Expats Living in Mexico.
Speaking of expats, once you make your move you might want to connect with others from your native country or city. While it’s wonderful to immerse yourself in a new culture (and you’ll likely be doing a lot of that!), it’s also nice to make connections with those from home as you get settled. There are surprisingly vibrant expat communities now in many cities and towns throughout Mexico, and in our experience, it’s been very easy to make friends.
Think about some easy ways you might be able to meet up with new friends once you make your big move. Look on Facebook for local groups or organizations targeted toward expats. Sign up for a fun art or language class. Or you can even start your own group: think book clubs, game nights or even get-togethers like Game of Thrones watch parties.
Don't Drink the Water
As a rule, you do not want to drink the tap water in Mexico. While there are certainly some cities that have healthy, potable water available from the tap, it’s not as dependable as it is in the US. So your safest bet is to not take any chances and just drink bottled or filtered water while you're there.
Most hotels and restaurants automatically use filtered water, so it’s not something we make a practice of asking for because everyone does it. Many homes have built-in water filtration systems and if not, you can very inexpensively set up your home with bottled water. Almost all small stores or tiendas (even the small local ones) sell large jugs of water. As soon as you run out, you bring the jug back, and they recycle it for you and provide you with another one. Here is some more info on the water sitch there.
Knowing the Language
While you don’t have to know Spanish in order to move to Mexico, it certainly will make your transition a lot easier.
Language barriers do exist, of course, though they also depend greatly on where in the country you decide to settle. In our town of San Miguel de Allende, there is a very large expat population here. So many of the locals have learned English as a result. Since we moved I’ve been enrolled in Spanish language classes and also work with a personal tutor.
If you'd like to spend some time perfecting your Spanish ahead of time, some of my favorite resources are smartphone apps like Babbel, the Duolingo podcast as well as some great Spanish language shows on Netflix (Velvet, House of Flowers and Gran Hotel were a few recent favorites).
The Shopping Low Down
Getting used to shopping here in Mexico can feel a bit overwhelming at first. All-in-one spots like Target in the US are much less common here. So while there is one large main supermarket in our town, shopping often requires you going to a number of different shops: produce from the main market, meat from the butcher, chicken from another butcher, dessert from the bakery—none of this all-in-one stuff.
And while there are a number of things that are way cheaper in Mexico than they are in the United States (food, and taxis for example), other things are strangely more expensive here: linens for your bed, electronics and many pieces of home decor.
There are some comforts of home depending on where you are. For example, about an hour away from us in the city of Queretaro, there is a Costco, a Walmart and a beautiful big mall with stores like Zara and H&M Home. Even though we don't have a car here, taking an Uber there is pretty inexpensive, so we do our big shopping around one time a month.
How to Deal With Money
While you will be able to open a Mexican bank account (even without a temporary visa), you don’t necessarily need to. We kept all of our banking as is in the US and simply use our ATM card when we need to take pesos out. If you use this approach, try to set up your account with a bank like Charles Schwab, that does not charge ATM fees so that you can avoid all of those. This will also simplify your taxes at the end of the year. Without a visa, you are not legally allowed to earn money in Mexico, so we found that we haven’t needed a bank account here.
Comforts of Home
There are quite a few things in Mexico that are exactly the same as they are in the US, which will make your transition way easier. They drive on the same side of the road as we do, making car rentals pretty easy (and you are able to use your US driver’s license here). The plugs for everything are the same, so you won’t need adapters for any of your appliances. And American channels are usually available via your cable provider, so you can keep up with the Housewives or the news.
Staying in Touch
If you're positive that you want to ditch life in the US for Mexico, it's way cheaper to get a cell phone plan south of the border. However, if you are traveling back and forth, many US plans include free calls between the US and Mexico (so in our case just to keep it easy, we left things as is). Check with your cell phone provider before you go to see what's offered.
In terms of local communication, almost everyone in Mexico uses Whatsapp, so make sure to download that app and get familiar with it before you make your move. I use Whatsapp to communicate with friends, service workers, hotel concierges and everyone in between.
Test the Waters
Because of how easy it is to travel for extended periods of time as an American, it's a great idea to test the waters and try out different areas in Mexico you are interested in. There are so many factors to consider when making your choices: weather, local expenses, access to English speaking schools, etc. Renting a home or an apartment is super easy in our experience, so it's a great way to see where in Mexico might make the best fit for you and your family.