Americans living in Mexico — What you really need to know


Americans love Mexico. They travel to the large country at their southern border often. It’s one of the to international tourist destinations for traveling Americans, with 32 million visiting in 2017 alone. And it’s easy to see why, with the Gulf of Mexico on one end, the Pacific Ocean on the other, and a wealth of history, culture and fun to be had on land. Not to mention the food.
Americans are used to seeing Mexico as a vacation destination. They love the sun and beaches in Cancun and Acapulco. But what is like to actually live in Mexico as an American expat? What is different? What is unexpected? This article will educate those curious about moving to Mexico.

We’ll look at the following topics:

  • Why people want to move to Mexico
  • Mexican lifestyle — things you might need to get used to.
  • Basics of living in Mexico

Why people want to move to Mexico

Mexico has a lot to draw in American expats. One of the main reasons is that Mexico is the closest option to live in a sunny, temperate coastal community. Americans can easily find numerous options for living near beaches and waves and it’s a lot closer than the tropics or the Mediterranean coast. People love living in warm, bright places near the water. Mexico has that in spades. Since it has coasts to both its east and west, it has nearly 6,000 miles of coastline and around 500 beaches.

It’s not just the abundance of coastline. Mexico also has welcoming weather. Being further south than the US, it has a much warmer climate on average. Mexico is divided between a desert climate in the north, a hot, humid temperate climate in the mountainous central part of the country (location of the capital, Mexico City) and a tropical climate on the coasts. The areas around Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta on the western coast and cancun and the yucatan peninsula on the eastern coast are hugely popular tourist destinations for this reason.

Mexico has a much cheaper standard of living than the United States. For the past few years, one US dollar has been worth just under 20 pesos.¹ And it’s not just goods that are cheaper in Mexico. Labor is also much cheaper than in the US, so it’s quite possible that if you move to Mexico you could hire a maid, gardener, and even possibly a cook. Your dollar will go quite far.²

And there’s so much to spend your dollar on. The food is excellent, there are incredible meso-american ruins like Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan. The people are warm, polite, and helpful. Mexico City has world-class museums, and many areas have a hip nightlife scene.

For more information on moving to Mexico, check out this handy guide from Wise.

Mexican lifestyle — things you might need to get used to

The populace has a reputation for being friendly, open, and helpful.

Renting Poses Challenges

A lot of new arrivals to Mexico will want to rent, but that can be a tricky bureaucratic journey. When applying for an apartment in Mexico, most tenants are required to seek out the backing of an aval or fiador. This person serves as a guarantor. They are typically a property owner themselves, and are there as a type of insurance for the property manager, in case the renter does property damage or skips out on the rent. So in addition to researching a place to live, prospective renters will also need to research a reliable aval

Prepare for Bureaucracy

Mexico has a legendarily complex bureaucracy. Whatever you may need from Mexican government offices, just make sure that you have all of the required paperwork in multiple copies, that you give yourself plenty of time to get approval from government agencies and that you are patient. You may hear conflicting information from different officials and agencies, so be prepared to navigate that.⁴

Prepare to Pay In Cash

Many financial institutions in the US allow for direct debit of rent and mortgage checks. It’s convenient to have your rent just taken out of a bank account every month, and one less thing for you to think about. But many tenants in Mexico do not allow direct debit yet, which means you’ll likely have to pay your rent with a wad of cash.

There are other parts of Mexican life that are just a couple steps behind bleeding edge modernity. Most banking, for example, has to be done in person. Even setting up an online account or transferring money can require an requires in-person visit.⁴

Basics of Living in Mexico

Healthcare in Mexico

Mexico’s healthcare system has a strong reputation and is often cheaper than in the US. One does need to have a private insurance plan, though. For expats, there are a couple options. If you’re a foreign citizen with a job in Mexico, you can get healthcare through the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social (IMSS)

You can also patronize private clinics and hospitals for quicker and more personalized treatment, but of course that comes at a higher cost. An expat who has care through the IMSS can supplement that with this extra level of care.⁵

For more information, check out this article on healthcare in Mexico from Wise’s website and this article the Mexico’s healthcare system.

Cost of Living

Relocating to Mexico from the US can be significantly cheaper than relocating to Europe from the US. It’s much closer and you don’t have to cross an ocean. If you choose to ship your belongings from home, you’ll face much lower shipping costs as well. If you choose to buy most of your belongings again in your home country, you’ll be able to take advantage of how cheap goods and services are in Mexico.

While cost of living varies by location, a typical couple can expect to spend roughly $2,500 a month to live comfortably in Mexico. That means they’ll have enough to cover rent or a mortgage, but also have enough left over for dining out, entertainment, and some travel. For more information, see this article on the cost of living in Mexico and this article on the cost of retiring to Mexico.⁶

The table below tells you the prices of some basic goods and services in three different Mexico cities: Puerto Vallarta (Pacific side), Merida (Gulf of Mexico side), and the capital, Mexico City. The information comes from the site, which has the world's largest user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide.⁷

Mexico City Puerto Vallarta Merida
One-bedroom apartment (city center) $562 $533 $246
Meal for two, mid-range restaurant $26 $24 $18
Milk 1 litre $0.95 $0.85 $0.91
Pair of jeans $44 $41 $41

Mexican banking

Mexican banking — how complicated is it?

Mexican banking has been modernized with longer opening hours, telephone banking and of course, internet banking. However, Mexico still continues to have a strong ‘cash-based economy’, with people queuing in long lines to cash in their paychecks. The lines are longest around the quinsenas (every fifteen days), when employees get paid.⁸

While there are plenty of banks to choose from, each bank has its own processes, so you can’t assume the way one bank does something is the way another bank will. An expat trying to open and use a bank account in Mexico better come equipped with patience and a positive attitude.

For more information, refer to this TranserWise article on banking in Mexico.

Need to manage money in multiple currencies or countries? Wise could help

Banks often charge hefty fees for foreign and multi-currency accounts. And if you’ve already tried managing multiple accounts in multiple countries, you know it’s rarely simple.

Wise could help. With Wise, it’s free to open a borderless multi-currency account with no monthly fees. There, you can manage and send dozens of different currencies all from the same account. All around the world. (Likely, for a lot cheaper than your bank.)

Give it a try. Check out Wise today.

Mexico remains a prime vacation and retirement draw for Americans for simple reasons: it’s a beautiful country with stunning vistas, warm climate, friendly people, delicious cuisine, and vibrant culture. Now that you know what to expect as you settle in, and how to bypass some bureaucracy using Wise, there’s not much standing between you and a life in paradise.


  1. 9 May 2019
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  8. 16 May 2019

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