Are you considering moving to Mexico? The weather is good, the cerveza is cold, and and the living is cheap, so you’ve heard. I moved to Mexico six months ago, after living in India for five years. I did it with legal residency and set up a life here. I’m going to share how to move to Mexico, a complete checklist of things to do before/after you move to Mexico, and the cost of living in Mexico (in general, as it can range just like any country).
There are a lot of Americans living in Mexico and it’s not difficult to move here as a resident at a young age, self-employed, or if you want to retire in Mexico. There are several types of visas that you can look at to see which one will fit your needs best.
Expats in Mexico often come here for six months of the year and then go back to their home countries. Because you can get a six-month tourist visa for Mexico, if that is what you are planning, you don’t really need to go through the legal hoops of living in Mexico. If you want a home here, to stay long-term, to buy a car, or open a bank account, you’ll want to look into residency. Let’s get started!
Moving to Mexico: How to Move to Mexico
There are several things to do to move to Mexico and once you get here. I’ll start in the order that I did things when I moved here.
Visit Mexico: Choose a City to Live in, What Are the Best Places to Live in Mexico?
You need to come to Mexico first! Plan a trip, even if it’s just for a couple of weeks. You can look up the best places to live in Mexico, research them, and choose one or two to visit at a time.
Consider why you are relocation to Mexico. Are you looking for retirement communities in Mexico? Are you looking more for a laid-back beach town? Do you want a place with local vibes that is very different from home, or somewhere that is touristy and will have the amenities you love from your home country?
For me, I wanted somewhere that was safe, I could think about starting a family, a place I could buy affordable land or a home, and that had stores that I could get things I missed from the USA. I had been living in the jungle in India for years and was moving to Mexico to have a more “westernize” life. Not so much so that I wanted to be in Cancun or Puerto Vallarta which I had visited previously, and I didn’t want the tourism of cute beach towns like Tulum of Sayulita which I also visited, so I chose to live outside of Merida in the Yucatan. I am not a big city person, so ruled out Mexico City. Merida is a safe city, is hugely popular with expats (mostly retirees), and since it’s not too touristy, you can the real Mayan vibes here. I can live in the jungle in a village outside Merida (eventually, right now I’m in a rental in town while we look for land), and have the complete jungle vibes but still be to a Costco or Sephora in 15 minutes. The beach is about 30 minutes away as well. Many people like San Miguel, Guanajuato, Morelia, and San Cristobal.
I don’t know a LOT about Mexico. I haven’t had a chance to travel much here except 5 major towns so I have a lot more to see and am really happy with Merida as my base. It’s okay if you don’t know Mexico that well – you’ll have so much time to explore once you move here.
You’ll want to consider the temperature you can deal with here. It gets VERY hot in Merida, for example, and many people simply can’t bear it in the summer months when humidity also soars. I was used to this from India and didn’t mind it. Others will want a place that cools off a bit with more nature and mountains like San Cristobal de las Casas. You’re going to want to visit because sometimes online isn’t enough and you need to feel the place out a little bit. I use this website for weather comparison.
Other then temperature you want to consider how modern the place is, internet speed if you work online, if there is an expat community (if that is important to you), the crime rate, and the cost of living. You’ll spend more on rent in Mexico City and Tulum for example than Tijuana or Guadalajara.
Consider the Cost of Living in Mexico: If You Can Afford It and If You REALLY Want to
Want the real examples of the cost of living in Mexico? This website puts all major cities in order of cost of living and Mexico’s cities start at around the 400’s. While it’s absolutely going to cost you less in Mexico than the USA if you live how Mexicans live, you can still end up spending a lot in Mexico if you want to.
I live in Merida which is a big city in Mexico with 777,000 people but nothing compared to Mexico City’s 8.8 million. I pay $1,200 for my house here per month. Sound high? That is because it is, for Mexico. Most expats I’ve met here are renting for a quarter of that – but they don’t have a house as nice as mine. Some live in apartments, in small beach houses, or in colonial homes in Centro. I have a large 3 bedroom 4 bathroom house, with a huge yard a pool, that is dog-friendly, and in a very nice neighborhood of Benito Juarez. My rent includes a house-keeper once a week for a 8 hour day at $17 USD, a groundskeeper twice a week for $14, and a pool cleaner once a week for $14. Keep in mind, well these seem low, they are the normal rates here (which was built into my rent) and not something negotiated down. The minimum wage here for a full days work is under $5.
Friends in Tulum pay less in town and some pay more on the beach. Friends in Playa Del Carmen pay similar for a small two bedroom condo. The rent varies greatly in all cities and towns in Mexico just like in the USA. I lived in India before this, one of the cheapest places in the world for expats to live, and I paid $1,000 for rent while my friends paid $200 because I had an amazing villa and didn’t mind paying it. You get more for your buck in India and Mexico, both and it’s up to you if you want a cheap rent or the same rent and a kickass place you couldn’t have afforded in your home country. Do you want to clean your own house since you wouldn’t pay $120 a month back home for someone to clean? Or do you think $120 is a steal to not have to clean again? In India, a monthly cleaner would make closer to $60-70 a month to clean six days a week. In Mexico, it was basically double for ONE day a week – so we aren’t ready to splurge to have someone come daily, but still, it’s nice to have someone come once a week when in the USA it would probably be $50 for someone to come clean for the day if not more.
When it comes to food, something like McDonald’s or Texas Roadhouse is going to cost the same, while a street taco could be .50 in some towns. You could live on cheap restaurants and local food on a budget or you could go to fine dining places that are $100 per person.
Compared to the USA, movies here will be $4-$6 with VIP seating, gas is the same price, used cars are the same price, Uber is a LOT cheaper, in general, local restaurants are much cheaper, groceries are about the same, booze is cheaper in restaurants but about the same in grocery stores. Novelty items, for example, a beach chair, pool float, Kitchenaid mixer, throw blanket, decor items, are MUCH more expensive. I tend to bring these types of things from the USA. I haven’t lived everywhere in Mexico, so this is about as much information as I can give in terms of cost of living. I know that I spend a lot here in Mexico, but that is because I choose to have a higher quality of life than I would have in the USA at the same price rather than the same quality of life at a lower price. You get to make that choice too, or fall somewhere in between.
Moving to Mexico is a process that takes some time in terms of residency, so really think it through and make sure you’re really up for a new culture that YOU have to fit into. Don’t just move somewhere because it’s cheap – you need to love the food, the people, the atmosphere, the holidays, the temperature, everything about your new home!
Remember that in your budget, you should put aside money for a couple of round-trip flights home to visit family, go to weddings, funerals, or anything else you might want to come home for. It’s an added cost of being an expat.
Tie-up Loose Ends at Home Before You Leave
Ready to make the move? Chosen your dream home? You need to make sure you are ready to leave your old one behind.
- Sell or rent our your house
- Sell or put your things in storage
- Cancel memberships: Anything you’re getting charged for monthly that you’d only use in the USA like that Cosmo subscription or gym membership
- Cancel your phone bill and unlock your phone
- Sell your car and cancel your car insurance or keep the car in storage and change your insurance to storage insurance
- Re-route your mail to someone else’s home or cancel it
- Get your banking in order (does your bank know you’ll be abroad?, does your card charge huge fees to withdraw money abroad, do you want a new bank?
- Taxes: make a mental note if you are still earning in the USA or online, you need to pay taxes still in the USA unless you give up citizenship.
- Do some last minute preventative health check-ups before you leave and while you have that $10 co-pay and great doctors who know your history. This is invaluable! Mexico does not focus on preventative care and you can pay $50 and up for a good English-speaking doctor for a check-up or dental cleaning.
- Say bye to family and friends
I go into more detail in a blog post I wrote about moving abroad when I moved to India you can read here.
Find a Long-Term Rental & Sign a Lease: Somewhere to Stay on Arrival & Choose a Date
Now that it’s real, and really while you’re doing all that, you should be looking for a place to rent out. I really like Airbnb and that is how I found my place now. You can also look at sites like Vivanuncios, Segundo Mano, or Mercado Libre, Inmuebles 24, among others. Usually, you can message through the website and sometimes they sneak a phone number in there you can message them on WhatsApp.
This article was one I wrote one month after moving to Merida, where I look back at finding my rental property, rates, places I looked, and more. Check that out!
You will want to find a place and either take it for one month online then meet in person to take a longer lease you can sign for – OR you can take a long lease online but keep in mind the realtors who set this up often take a ONE MONTH rent fee for themselves. This is why I found a place and booked just a month on Airbnb but then had an agreement with the owner that when we arrived, we would sign a long-term lease.
You will find the prices are set as “monthly” when you search by month on Airbnb.
Why take a lease? You need a lease with your name on it, which will be signed in front of a lawyer or notario. You will need this to later get a bill in your name so you can have “proof of address” which is very important to becoming a resident here.
Start Learning Spanish
Once you find a place and are just waiting for that flight out, things are pretty chilled, and it’s time to start learning at least basic Spanish. I used the free app Duolingo for six months to practice and bring out my high school Spanish that was hiding away. I later got Rosetta Stone, you can read my review of it here and get a discount code.
Are You Bringing Pets? Family/Kids?
If you are bringing your kids, you’ll have to find them a school here. I don’t know much about that except for the fact Mexico has great international schools that can cost around $200 or more per month even for little kids. You can’t put them in public school if they aren’t fluent in Spanish – well maybe legally you could, but then how would they learn anything?
For pets, I brought two dogs and a cat through the Cancun airport from India. Vets here are great and there are Petco’s and all kinds of pet shops to get anything your little one needs!
Get a SIM Card
Upon arrival, you’ll want a SIM card. You can pick them up in shops all over, even an OXXO. I recommend Telcel. It’s cheap and you can top-up credit yourself on your phone with an international bank card without issue. You need an “unlocked” phone to put in an international SIM, but most are these days.
Get a Bill in Your Name
You can go to the electricity bill office, which for us (and maybe everyone, actually, I’m not sure) is CFE, and get the bill changed to your name. Take with you the following:
- The original bill in your landlord’s name
- You lease
- Copy of your lease
- Copy of your passport
They will change your bill over to your name and it takes a minute or two. Now you have proof of address. It can only be in one person’s name.
Shop for your home: memberships
Hopefully, you have rented a furnished home, but if you need to do some shopping and have stores like Costco or Sam’s Club nearby, you can go get memberships at a little lower cost than they are in the USA. Stock up on what you need there, Sear’s, Walmart, Chedruai, or Soriana and then chill out in your new home! You can even shop online from most of those places.
Tip: If you see something on Amazon MX compare that price to Amazon USA with the global search on and customs and shipping added in – if it’s a USA product, it’s often cheaper to buy from the USA. Example: I only found crappy $5 pool rafts here in stores, and on Amazon MX nice ones were over $50. I could get one from the USA for $20 with the customs fee sent here and it took three days. They deal with customs and estimate the fee. If the fee is higher than they have to pay, you get reimbursed.
You can get out and explore but if you’re dead tired, download apps like Uber Eats and Rappi if they are available in your town and get food delivered.
Get Health Insurance
Once you’re settled a bit, it’s time to start moving along in the getting “legit” process, starting with health insurance. I wrote a WHOLE article about it here that tells you the price, the places to get it, and how to read your quotes to know what things will cost if an accident happens or you get sick. I break it all down in detail!
You do NOT need to be a resident to get private insurance. You just need proof of address. You DO need it for national health care; all explained in the blog post.
Start the Residency Process
Time to do the needful, as the Indians say (can’t take the Indian out of me!). You will do step one outside of Mexico although it doesn’t have to be in your home country, it can even be in Belize. Step one is an interview. Step two is in Mexico, where you follow up with fingerprints and get your actual residency card.
I have a blog post that explains this entire process step by step including what can qualify you for residency, what paperwork you need, the prices, temporary vs permanent, and more.
Remember, while your residency is pending (part two in Mexico) you cannot leave unless you request an exit permit. Here is how you do that. I had to do it three times!
Buy a Car, Get Car Insurance & Register the Car
You can buy a car in Mexico without residency, however, you cannot register the car. While your residency is pending, I recommend looking for a used or new car and going ahead and buying it. You will have their stickers for how long it’s registered under their name (sometimes you have two years), and you can register it once you get residency.
You CAN get car insurance without residency and you should do this too, right away!
I bought a used Chevy Trax and registered it under my name. This blog post has full details about where to shop for a used car, how much they cost, what to look for when buying, how to check if it’s stolen, paperwork needed, and where/how to register the car.
Get a Driver’s License
Once you register a car in your name, you have ONE year to get a Mexican driver’s license. You DO have to take a test on the computer (either in English or Spanish) and then do a driving test. I failed my parallel once and had to come back, whoops.
This blog post has all details about what paperwork you need, where to go, how long it takes, and more. Remember, you need to have residency to register a car and get a driver’s license.
Open a Bank Account
Also once you have residency, you can open a bank account here. There are banks you can have accounts without residency but they are smaller banks I don’t recommend. For a big bank like HSBC, Citibank, or Scotiabank, you need residency.
This blog post tells how to open a bank account, what paperwork you need, and how to transfer money into the account from abroad.
Look for Land or a Home to Buy
You can be looking for land or a house from the get-go and I recommend doing so. Right now, I have done everything on the steps above and have a plot of land to buy with the money ready in my Mexican bank. You need to then get a notario who will deal with your agent to set up the paperwork for the sale of the land/house and check back to make sure it’s all legal and legit. If you live within 50 km of the beach, you have to buy your property through a fidecomiso which is a bank trust with banks like Scotiabank or Monex. You can get that started once you find land. Ask locals for a notario you can trust and which bank they recommend most in your area.
Ready to Move to Mexico?
This is where I’m at now and I will be writing a blog post soon about buying land here – and eventually probably several posts about building a house! We have met with an architect already and are looking for potential contractors. It’s all very exciting. We have been here for six months. Keep in mind, I’m very Type A and you don’t have to do all this or move this fast. You could get residency, rent a place, and Uber around for years. I like to do it all and get it done though! Ben, my boyfriend of six years, is the opposite and has done nothing on this list so far (here on a tourist visa) so it’s really not necessary to do it RIGHT away – eventually he will, and he only got lucky not doing it because it’s all in my name and we share. Point being, if you are here with a partner and only one of you wants to go through this that is a possibility. If you are both from the same country, you might as well go through it all together. He is from the UK, so we couldn’t do the process together as he needs to get some bank documents notarized from England the next time he is there to start his residency process. Wow, long post, but I hope this helps you in your plans moving to Mexico!
Is there more to moving? Maybe! These are the things I encountered on my move. If you are bringing things here from home across the border, you will need permissions to aviod customs and could encounter other things I didn’t on my move. It won’t be the same for everyone. Good luck!
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