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In this expat guide, we explore living in Mexico as an expatriate. Covering the essential details such as visa requirements, residency, working and the laws. Everything you need to ensure that your move is a successful one.
Mexico offers a fantastic opportunity to live in a country packed with a distinctive culture, heritage and a beautifully warm climate.
Let’s look a little closer at the experience of living in Mexico.
Table of contents
- Seven Reasons To Live In Mexico
- Visas and Residency for UK Expats in Mexico
- Best Places for Expats to Live in Mexico
- Cost Of Living In Mexico
- Healthcare in Mexico for Expats
- Schools and Education for Expat Families in Mexico
- Choosing Accommodation in Mexico
- Living in Mexico FAQ
- Other Expat Destination Guides
- Related Articles
- Questions or Comments?
With around 15,000 British citizens living in Mexico, the country has a relatively large expat community, thanks to the country being a popular retirement spot for Americans.
The choice of places to live is incredible, from UNESCO heritage sites such as San Miguel de Allende to the beachside paradise of Puerto Escondido.
Costs of living are an average 60% lower than in the neighbouring US and 50% less than in the UK, meaning that many expats can stretch their budget much further and enjoy local restaurants, cleaners and cooking help, and private pools in most gardens.
Mexico is also a great place to live with children, given the importance of family traditions. In addition, there are hundreds of cultural events, festivals and celebrations in the local squares, all of which welcome younger children.
Another excellent benefit for expats is that although you might dream of picking up your fresh groceries from the local farmer’s markets, there are all the modern conveniences you could hope for. That includes supermarkets (mainly US brands) and international coffee chains.
Seven Reasons To Live In Mexico
With international travel and employment now more accessible than ever, it’s worth taking the time to assess the benefits of living in any chosen country.
Mexico offers a blend of tradition and modernity, and there are several excellent reasons to make sure it’s high up on your shortlist:
- The US is right next door. While British expats will still have a long journey home, this proximity does mean that much of Western culture is evident in Mexican cities, and the culture shock isn’t as profound as in other more far-flung regions.
- Costs of living are low, including rent, medical treatments, food and utilities. Many expats can afford a better living standard on the same budget that would have been modest in the UK.
- Affordable housing is available almost everywhere. While ocean view properties command the highest prices, there are few areas where you’ll find homes at such a premium that locals are priced out of the market. Property taxes are also low cost.
- Healthcare standards are exceptional. You will need international health insurance or purchase a local policy on arrival, but you can find modern hospitals and clinics throughout Mexico.
- The landscape is astonishing. Mexico boasts world-class beaches and clean seas along its Caribbean coastline, beside the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Coast.
- Mexican culture is unique, blending indigenous populations to create a combination of Spanish influences, delicious food, social traditions and ways of life.
- People are friendly, everywhere. Don’t be shocked if a stranger wants to learn more about your life, the country you come from, or your national language. The lifestyle is laid back and relaxed, with most businesses closing for a siesta in the middle of the afternoon.
If you’re considering moving to Mexico but are concerned about the lack of foreign nationals, you needn’t be. Several areas are extremely popular with expats, and though many are Canadian or American, you’ll find an easily accessible community.
The biggest areas for expats include Lake Chapala south of Guadalajara, and San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato.
Visas and Residency for UK Expats in Mexico
The visa application system in Mexico is relatively simple. You can visit the country on a six-month tourist permit and can often exit and re-enter the country after this time to have the visa renewed.
However, you cannot spend a protracted amount of time in Mexico with continuous re-entries without needing to apply for residency or a longer-term visa.
Visitors will need to complete an immigration form and have at least six months remaining on their passport with a minimum of two blank pages.
To work in Mexico, you will require a work visa before you travel. It is not permitted to enter the country on a tourist visa and then apply retrospectively for a work visa once you’re already there.
Business visas provide 180-day permission to stay but are limited, and there are strict rules about what work you can do and whether you can collect payments.
Working Visitor Visas
This type of visa allows a stay for up to four years, after which time you can apply for permanent residency. To be eligible for a working visitor visa, you will need to:
- Secure a firm offer of employment with a company in Mexico.
- Apply from the UK before making any travel arrangements.
- Ask your employer to contact the National Institute of Immigration – with your birth certificate, a passport copy, your employment offer and marriage certificate if applicable.
When the application has been processed, you will receive a letter of authorisation. This letter needs to be taken to your nearest Mexican embassy to apply for a temporary residence visa. The permit itself usually takes just two days to be processed.
Retiring in Mexico is also simple, provided you have the financial means to support yourself and can evidence this.
The process involves applying in person at the Mexican consulate. Then, they can issue a Residente Temporal (temporary residence visa), which grants you status as a rentista, which means you are financially independent.
Once living in Mexico as a retiree, you can apply for a discount card that gives you a 20% discount on many services and local products.
For Mexican citizens looking to get permanent residency in the UK, look at our Tier 1 Investor Visa guide.
Expats can apply for permanent residency status on several criteria:
- After four years in the country as a temporary resident.
- If they have family connections in Mexico.
- Being financially independent with sufficient monthly income.
Permanent residency applications can take around four months to process, so it’s worth applying quite far in advance to ensure your status is secured before your temporary residency visa expires.
Best Places for Expats to Live in Mexico
For expats moving to Mexico, the choice of places to live is enormous. Many British nationals looking for a middle ground – large enough towns to offer the amenities they need but rural enough to feel immersed in authentic Mexican culture.
Here are some of the most popular places for expats to live in Mexico:
One of the top destinations for foreign nationals for over six decades.
This resort is built around Banderas Bay, with the main urban area surrounded by beaches and quiet countryside.
Costa Vallarta is very busy during the tourist seasons but has no activities, a beautiful boardwalk, and six good quality golf courses. In addition, the Sierra Madre mountains are nearby and an excellent spot for off-road adventures or a little quiet relaxation.
Puerto Vallarta has an international airport and several top hospitals, making it a hub of medical tourism.
San Miguel de Allende
A charming, Spanish colonial small town.
This town features small shops and homes in glowing pastel paints, focusing on arts and crafts and local traditional artworks. There are many international expats here, so many that you can get away with speaking English much more than in other regions.
The high-desert climate is warm in the day and cools at night, with around 140,000 people living in the town limits. Of those, approximately 10,000 are expats.
San Miguel does not have an international airport, but you can travel around two hours to León or one hour to Querétaro.
A large sprawling city of around a million residents on the Yucatán Peninsula.
Like San Miguel de Allende, Merida is Spanish colonial but more extensive. There are universities, notable businesses, museums and an international airport with direct flights to the USA.
The city is a half-hour drive from the white sands of the Yucatán Gulf Coast, and so an excellent option for professional expats looking to work for one of the Mexican corporations yet still be close to the beach.
The largest lake in Mexico and a hub for foreign expats in the country.
Lake Chapala is around 50 miles long but only 12 miles wide, and the surrounding residential areas are very popular with expats. Properties here are large, with traditional decor, and most families can easily afford cooks, maids and gardeners, given the living costs.
The town is around a mile high in altitude, meaning that the temperatures are a little lower but still warm and sunny.
Guadalajara is around 45 minutes drive, so there are great opportunities to live somewhere stunningly tranquil, within a commute to major business sectors and educational establishments.
Cost Of Living In Mexico
We’ve looked a little at the costs of living in Mexico, but a lot depends on where you live. The average living costs are around 12,000 to 40,000 Pesos per month (£433 – £1,444), including rent.
The below table shows some everyday expenses and the national Mexican average compared to UK prices.
|Expense||Average Cost in Mexico – Pesos||Average Cost in Mexico – GBP||Average Cost in the UK – GBP|
|Bottle of water||15.49||£0.56||£0.94|
|Cup of coffee||44||£1.60||£2.75|
|International schooling, per year||73,393||£2,656||£13,298|
|Nursery fees per month||3,338||£121||£938|
|Litre of fuel||20||£0.72||£1.26|
|Monthly public transport pass||400||£14||£65|
|Gym membership per month||577||£21||£31|
|Rent for a one-bed central apartment||6,965||£252||£750|
|Rent for a three-bed non-central home||9,731||£352||£966|
Averages show that:
- Rent is 64% lower than in Britain.
- Groceries cost 41% less in Mexico.
- Consumer prices are 51% cheaper.
It’s worth looking at whether you will earn a consistent income, receive pension income, or expect to earn a salary based on local averages.
In line with the lower living costs, the average salary in Mexico is also much lower than in the UK. Average wages after-tax are around 9,976 Pesos per month (£361) compared to £1,947 in Britain.
You’ll also need to check on what utilities are included if you rent a property in Mexico. Many apartments don’t have a letterbox, and so you need to check through any post left outside to ensure you’re picking up your bills.
The Comisión Federal de Electricidad provides electricity utilities throughout most of Mexico. If you’re running air conditioning, you can rack up a bill – if this isn’t paid promptly, your electricity supply can be shut off, which is less than ideal in the heat of the Mexican summer.
Healthcare in Mexico for Expats
One of the biggest concerns for British nationals considering a move to the other side of the world is healthcare – knowing that free NHS style services rarely exist anywhere outside of Europe.
It is essential to take out a health insurance policy before moving to Mexico. Hospitals are ranked out of five stars (similar to hotel rankings). If you have comprehensive health insurance, you will have access to excellent facilities and first-class medical care.
There is a public healthcare system, which works on three levels:
- The limited coverage system is open to unemployed Mexican citizens or legal residents or low-income people who do not make social security contributions.
- Mexico’s national healthcare programme is funded by contributions split between employees and employers. The system is called the IMSS, which stands for Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social.
- Higher-level healthcare is provided by private clinics and hospitals, all either paid for out of pocket or covered by Mexican healthcare insurance.
First, health treatments in Mexico are affordable; hence it is a top destination for US expats who cannot afford surgery or care at home.
Most public hospitals are in the larger Mexican cities; therefore, you will need to travel to seek help if you live somewhere more rural. There are some rural clinics, but these often cater to many people and can have very long waiting times.
Expats living in Mexico and employed by a local company are eligible to receive public healthcare subsidies. Still, most will opt for private insurance as the standards and queues are substantially better.
You can compare health insurance prices from several providers – some of the most popular include Cigna and IMG.
Private hospitals employ world-class staff, and all will have English-speaking doctors and nurses on hand.
Not all private hospitals will provide all treatments covered by insurance but may issue a treatment invoice for you to claim a rebate back from your insurance provider.
You can find pharmacies all across Mexico, and many prescription medicines are very cheap.
You can dial 911 to request a public ambulance service for emergencies, but these are not always available. The alternative number is 066, but again this isn’t continuous and so having private cover with emergency care provision is highly preferable.
Make sure you get the correct expat healthcare insurance and cover while travelling or living in Mexico.
Schools and Education for Expat Families in Mexico
Public schools in Mexico are free for expat children, but all lessons are taught in Spanish. So if you need a school that teaches in English, you’ll need to budget for a private placement.
Education is mandatory from three up to age 18. The school year is similar to that in the UK, starting in August and running to July.
The schooling system is managed by the Secretaría de Educación Pública (the SEP) and has strict standards. These dictate that all public schools are secular, free, and have to meet minimum quality standards.
International schools have freedom about whether they teach any religions, which language lessons are taught, and what fees they charge.
However, these are significantly cheaper than private school tuition costs you’d expect in the UK.
The average is around 73,393 Pesos per year, per child, about £2,656 per annum.
Choosing Accommodation in Mexico
Most expats in Mexico will rent an apartment or home, but you will need to know Spanish to negotiate (or risk being charged over the odds).
Rental agreements require a guarantor, called an aval, who must be Mexican. Therefore, you will need to request assistance from a friend or employer to rent a property.
If you want to purchase a house or a new car, you must pay cash up front. Unfortunately, there are no mortgages or car finance plans here, even if you are a legal resident and have a Mexican bank account.
The vast majority of banks will not extend credit to a foreign national. Therefore, payments for properties or cars need to be placed in escrow. The funds are then forwarded to the seller when the transaction is completed.
Living in Mexico FAQ
Yes, if you are moving to Mexico, you’ll need to speak at least some Spanish. This is the national language and is used by 92% of Mexicans.
Many children do speak English as a second language, and it is commonly practised in businesses. However, many day-to-day interactions will be in Spanish, so it’s essential to learn the language.
Life in Mexico is much cheaper than in the UK, although that may be relative to your income. For example, a one-bedroom apartment in Mexico City costs around 9,000 pesos a month (about £325).
The equivalent cost for a similar location in London would be closer to £1,500. Utilities are also much lower cost than in Britain.
To find work in Mexico, you will need a temporary or permanent visa alongside a work permit before you can take up any position.
If you’re seeking employment, you will need to have a decent level of competency in Spanish to work for most businesses, although this is less crucial in tourist sectors.
Some of the most popular roles for British expats include:
Teaching English as a foreign language (abbreviated to TEFL or TESOL – teaching English as a second language). The Mexican government launched an initiative in 2009 called the Programa Nacional de Inglés en Educación encouraging more public schools to offer English classes. Hence, there are often vacancies for native English speakers in the public education sector.
Corporate roles in manufacturing and financial industries. There are some large employers in Mexico, and given that the economy is the second-largest in Latin America, just below Brazil, there are several multinationals. Most corporate headquarters are in Mexico City.
Local roles are varied and can include real estate jobs, tourism sector employment and retail positions, often without any minimum Spanish requirement when catering to foreign travellers.
Mexico is often thought to be a dangerous country, but that depends on where you live and how you travel. There are bandits on some rural routes, so travelling by bus across long distances is usually inadvisable.
However, regular life in Mexico is distant from the stories about drug cartels we often see depicted in the media. There is also a buoyant tourist industry with around a million American expats and half a million Canadian nationals living in Mexico.
Most people residing in Mexico will never encounter serious crime, provided they pay attention to any areas considered a no-go zone, which is often reported on the news to ensure the safety of citizens.
One reason so many international expats choose Mexico is the vast amount of choice regarding where you live. The areas around the Riviera Maya can be hot and humid but offer a tranquil coastal lifestyle.
Regions such as San Miguel in the highlands are a little cooler, although still sunny and warm. There are occasional cool nights in the winter, but usually comparable to a spring day in the UK.
Mexico is covered in mountains, rainforests, beaches, colonial cities and tropical beaches, so there is a climate to suit everybody.
Other Expat Destination Guides
Make sure you read the guide on moving abroad before you decide. In addition, you can find other country guides following the links below.
Below is a list of some related articles that you may find of interest.
Questions or Comments?
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