Living in Mexico | A Gringo's Guide!
Updated: Jul 30, 2019
Before moving to Mexico, I found it challenging to find information online about living in Mexico and what life is like on a day to day basis for an expat with little to no Spanish.
Thankfully I wasn't just going at it alone, my decision to move to Mexico was for numerous reasons, but you could say my girlfriend being Mexican was definitely the driving factor behind my decision!
It definitely made life a lot easier at the beginning, I can't imagine the difficulties I would have had if I were moving here alone. I have now been living here for almost a year and have picked up a thing or two that I can share with you, hopefully making life that bit easier for you.
I'll share exactly what my life is like on a day to day basis, covering the pros and cons of living abroad and also reasons as to whether or not you should move here too!
What's life like in Mexico?
Life can be pretty great in Mexico, there's the hot weather, cold beers, long days and the friendliest people! That's the general answer I give when my family and friends ask me what is it like living here.
Apart from my really broad answer, there are so many other ways this question can be answered, and depending on who you are and what your intentions are, the answer will be different.
I'm currently living in Mexico City, not any beach town, small colonial city or border town, but Mexico City! Life here is vastly different to that of any other place in the country, while I have travelled and visited some beautiful places in Mexico, I have only lived in the country's capital for roughly a year now.
So with all of that said, I have covered different topics just below, all of which I feel may be relevant in helping you understand what life is like in Mexico for a gringo with little to no Spanish.
This was very important to me and should be for most of you gringos out there, while most people would care to know about other things such as jobs, healthcare and the standard of living first, all of which are important!
For me, knowing the climate was first on my list as I'm as white as it gets! Irish people just aren't built to be in the sun, when I was growing up, it rained almost every day, so moving to a country where I was going to be burnt alive isn't a great choice!
However, that wasn't the case! Just like any place in the world, depending on where you are in Mexico the weather can be vastly different, generally speaking, the weather is warm/humid and can get occasionally hot here in Mexico City, but I do manage to keep myself protected.
In beach towns like Cancun, Tulum and Puerto Vallarta, the weather can be significantly hotter! This is something you need to take into consideration if you are looking for a place to live, especially if you have the skin of an albino.
I would argue there are more opportunities here for foreigners than Mexican nationals, which is quite crazy! Even with minimal Spanish, you are likely to find a higher paying job than the average Mexican.
This is nothing to difficult to achieve considering the minimum wage here is only $5 USD per day, most people from first world countries would never accept a salary like that, it's practically modern day slavery!
When I first got here, I intended to teach English as I have experience teaching back home in Ireland, I thought it'd be a good fit. So after reaching out and making five or so applications to different schools throughout the city, It surprised me that I had actually heard back from every single one.
I had five interviews arranged literally only after being in the country for a month, and my job search lasted little more than a week, but I had five interviews, which was incredible! I went to two of them and ended up cancelling the other three as I found work online, which is super convenient for me.
The things to take from this are, schools and educational centres are always looking for native English teachers, there are jobs here for you. If you don't want to teach there are tons of different opportunities all over the country, there are jobs in resorts, hotels, restaurants and parks, all of which need and prefer English speakers.
When working in Mexico, there are also some essential things you need to know, that may or may not make working here be a dealbreaker for you.
The hours are longer, on average, 10 hours per day.
Your salary will most likely be less than what you are used to.
Very few jobs pay by the hour, fortunately, teaching English is one of them.
Most companies only give six vacation days per year.
You have to work hard with little incentive or reward.
Those are only some of the reasons I'm delighted to be working from home, if you have the cash or freedom to work from home like me, this can be a fantastic place to live!
Mexicans are some of the friendliest people I have met anywhere in the world! Everyone just seems to be interested in you and your story.
I have travelled all over Europe, lived in Ireland, America and now Mexico. I've always thought my home country had some of the friendliest people in all of the world! Most certainly in Europe anyway, there are so many places in Europe where ignorance and rudeness are just rife throughout certain societies.
I thought the American people were friendly and keen on knowing more about me, most people loved the fact that I was from Dublin, it was great meeting, talking and making new friends with so many people, but it still wasn't quite like home.
Only in Mexico, I found that the people here were more like the Irish than anywhere else I had been, even though the life, culture and heritage are vastly different, I was constantly reminded of home by how the people treated family, friends and strangers. Mexicans were genuinely some of the friendliest most giving people in all of the world, at least in comparison with the places that I have visited.
There's nothing quite like culture shock! You're sure to find some here, as I believe the Mexican culture to be one of the most unique and interesting cultures in the world today.
The last two years have been crazy for me, I was shocked continuously by different aspects of life abroad, firstly I had only ever travelled around Europe, so moving from small city Dublin to Chicago was the first of many adventures on my journey.
Moving from Chicago to Mexico was an even bigger shock! Life was so different in each place, I could understand if some people found it to be overwhelming, especially if you are moving to a country you have never visited before, but for me personally, I was enjoying travelling the world, learning new things and different ways of life.
Mexican culture really is a different story to anything I have seen though, you should prepare yourself if at all possible, the culture here will be vastly different from what you are used to in ALL ASPECTS!
The language, food, art, literature, music/dance, traditions, sports and fashion are all completely different from what you know, so arriving here without knowing anything about them may come as a bit of a shock to you.
I've prepared another article specifically for Mexican culture as it's is such a vast topic that is difficult to cover completely in this post, you can find the article right here!
Living Day To Day
People have routines that usually never change, even when living abroad! So living day to day will be different for most people, especially if you try to compare expats that are living in small beach towns to expats living in huge cities such as Mexico City and Monterrey.
Living in Mexico on a day to day basis pretty much consists of everything that my life was already like before, I didn't arrive here with bags of money and a plan of retiring, I need to work every day, I make a modest living and have the good fortune to now work from home.
Going to work
I wake up the same time every day and teach English for a few hours, depending on how many classes I get in that day.
The same can be said for most of the expats in Mexico City, I imagine a high percentage of expats are teaching English, albeit a little differently as most people will have to commute too and from work.
Commuting in Mexico City
Not that I'm trying to discourage you or anything, but commuting in Mexico City is a nightmare! The subway does be packed every hour of the day from Monday to Friday, and if you want to drive in downtown, forget about it!
You'll be hours in traffic, my girlfriend has to leave the home 2-hours before she starts work every day, the office is literally no more than 20-minutes away when driving with no traffic!
Shopping in Mexico City
There are more and more American/Canadian brands popping up here every year! You can easily find a Walmart, Sam's Club, Starbucks, Costco or Home Depot in any major city throughout the country!
Although these brands may exist, and give you that familiar feeling of home, it's just not where the majority of people do their shopping here, these brands may help you settle in a little bit easier when first moving here but, they can cost quite a bit more if you are on a Mexican salary.
I like to shop where most of the locals do, that's places like the local street market and supermarkets such as Sorriana, Bodega Aurera and La Comer.
For a week's worth shopping just for myself with everything like food, drink, snacks and toiletries, roughly runs me about $750 MXN ($40 USD), which is relatively inexpensive.
Getting out and about
I do like to get out, I can't stay locked up at home, working all day! During the week, I go out for a jog 2 or 3 times for nearly 2-hours a day, depending on how lazy I'm feeling.
There is a small mountain near my home, and I find it to be rather peaceful and quiet at the top, I can sit down, relax and take in the views all while enjoying some great me time.
When I do be out by myself, I often find many people looking or even staring at me, as I live in the less touristy area of Iztapalapa, and I noticeably stick out! In the beginning, it was a little bit intimidating having all of those eyes on me, but it's something I've gotten used to over time.
Cost of Living
This is not a straightforward answer of just yes or no, it really depends on the person's lifestyle, needs and wants. Yes, generally speaking, it can be cheaper to live here in comparison to the cost of living in most popular cities across the United States, Canada and Europe.
Life can be especially cheaper here in Mexico City, but if you are looking at beach towns or other touristy spots in the country, you can expect the cost of living to be significantly higher than the country's capital.
You can find some really nice apartments in Mexico City for next to nothing, if you are looking for apartments in charming neighbourhoods such as Roma, Coyoacan, Santa Fe or Benito Juarez, you will pay a little more, but nothing too crazy!
There are tons of sleek modern and stylish accommodation options in any of the trendy neighbourhoods above, you could spend anything from $10,000 to $30,000 MXN, ($500 USD to 1500 $USD) a month, depending on how luxurious you want to live.
I'm currently in the process of looking for a new place to stay myself, and I have managed to find some really nice apartments around the $15,000 MXN mark in popular tourist areas of the city, which really isn't too bad.
By nice apartments, I mean, spacious, stylish, easily accessible, provides amenities such as pool, balcony, courtyard and is safely located in trendy areas.
It is expensive to drive in this country, the cost of cars is almost going to be the same of that in the United States or other first world countries for that matter, this is mainly due to exchange rates and high taxes.
You may find second-hand cars cheaper, but It's not something I would consider, you never know what might be wrong with the vehicle.
On top of getting a car here in Mexico, there are numerous other things consider.
There is the cost of tax/insurance, gasoline, road tolls and car maintenance, of those things to consider the only one that might be cheaper for you in Mexico would be car maintenance.
Can you also drive on these roads they are terrible! Mexican drivers can also be pretty dangerous as most don't abide by simple traffic laws.
You can commute around Mexico City for pennies! It really depends on where you are going and how you want to get there, but the cost of buses, subways, metro buses and taxis are all considerably cheaper than most places across the United States.
Most of the public transportation starts around $5 MXN (20¢ USD), which is nothing if you think about it, if you want to take a taxi or Uber, you could expect to spend somewhere around $100 MXN ($5 USD) for around a 30-minute drive or roughly 12 km.
I previously mentioned I spend on average $750 MXN per week on my shopping for food and other necessities that I need to get me through the week.
This is relatively cheap, however, If you are to look at other things, like clothes, furniture, home appliances, smartphones or other computing devices, you can expect to pay a pretty penny, the cost of these kinds of items generally don't change from country to country.
You can take small weekend getaways or day trips at minimal expense, this also seems to be the most popular way of taking holidays here in Mexico.
Most companies don't give many days as a holiday, and the days people usually do get during the year need to be spread out, so for most of the people working here, a one or two week vacation would be almost impossible in Mexico.
The most expensive part of taking a day trip or weekend getaway is usually the transportation, taking a flight or bus is generally more expensive here, and as for driving, you can expect to pay a decent amount in road tolls if you are travelling long distances.
Accommodation, food, drinks and excursions in Mexico will run you next to nothing, I took a weekend getaway not so long ago to the beautiful colonial town of Taxco, I stayed in a nice hotel with a pool overlooking the city, ate and drank well, and enjoyed touring the city, all for a cost of $2500 MXN ($130 USD).
The previous cost does not include transportation, we chose to take the bus, and this was by far the most expensive part of the trip, it cost me $600 MXN per person each way, so it was $1200 MXN for transportation to and from Taxco, departing from Mexico City, that's almost half the cost of the entire trip.
Do you need to speak Spanish?
Surprisingly, not so much! I mean some level is needed as you will need to communicate in some way or another, it's not always good to rely on your phone for talking to locals.
In places like Cancun, Tulum or Los Cabos, the majority of the people will speak English as these are hugely popular tourist destinations, there are some areas in Mexico City which are the same, and will have English speakers, but only a small part!
You should brush up on basic Spanish to help you communicate better with the locals, a little bit of Spanish will go a long way when ordering in restaurants, buying in shops and talking with taxi drivers.
You can learn basic Spanish with little to no effort on your behalf, there are tons of free apps out there that will help you learn common phrases and sentences.
Some apps on the ios and android store that I like are Duolingo, Memrise and Rosetta Stone, all of these apps have free versions which are more than sufficient enough to teach you basic Spanish.
Is Mexico a Paradise?
Straight up no! Mexico is definitely not a paradise, it's far from it! While there are some fantastic beach towns, resorts, tropical terrains and beautiful wildlife, I would still not consider it to be a paradise.
Most of the tropical beaches and resorts are limited to highly popular tourist destinations, these resorts can be vastly overpriced, and the beaches are usually flooded with tourists all year round, this is not what I would consider a paradise by any means.
There are some places in the country that more near to a paradise than Cancun, Tulum and Los Cabos. Locations like Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, Campeche and La Paz are only a few to name, while these locations are beautiful and less touristy than the previous mentions, they still don't go without their own problems.
The pros and cons of living in Mexico.
There are some great reasons for you to live in Mexico and there also some not so great reasons, here is a list of the things I do and do not like about living in Mexico City.
Cheap amazing/delicious food!
Cheap rent and luxurious apartments.
Perfect weather all year round.
Amazing friendly/generous people.
Learning about new cultures and ways of life.
Terrible air pollution.
Poor working conditions and pay.
Minimal vacation days throughout the year.
Unbelievably busy traffic.
Safety Misconceptions, affecting tourism.
All of these reasons can be elaborated on, but I'm going to keep it short and sweet as they pretty much speak for themselves.
So to end it of, living in Mexico has its ups and downs, for me the pros far outweigh the cons at this moment, this may be due to the fact that I'm working from home and not actually commuting to work every day, or the the fact I love the weather, beer and well pretty much everything else!
Although I love living here, it's definitely not for everyone! I hope this article gave you some insight into what life is like in Mexico, be sure to check out my other articles as most are currently focused around Mexico.