Last Updated on March 11, 2022 by Nellie Huang
We’ve recently moved to Mexico from the Netherlands, and I’m here to share my experience and personal tips on moving to Mexico.
In the past 17 years, we’ve lived in many parts of the world: from Singapore to US, Spain, UK and the Netherlands. When COVID19 hit, we felt it was time for a change again, especially since Alberto could finally work remotely full time. We wanted tropical weather, kid-friendly amenities and a large expat community — and Mexico’s Caribbean coast ticked all our boxes.
Mexico is a vast and diverse country, with SO much to explore: from pristine beaches to cloud forests, ancient pyramids to cosmopolitan cities. Plus, it’s easy to get a residency visa in Mexico and stay up to 4 years. Of course, Mexico is not some egalitarian utopia by any means. There are issues like poverty, crime, and drugs. Here’s a closer look at why we moved to Mexico (plus a guide on how to move to Mexico).
Table of Contents
- Reasons to Move to Mexico
- Warm, Tropical Climate
- A Change of Lifestyle
- Travel Opportunities
- Good Internet
- A Large Expat Community
- We Know the Language
- Easy Residency Visa Process
- Lower Cost of Living
- How to Move to Mexico
- 1. Get a Temporary Residency Visa
- How to Apply for a Temporary Residency Visa in Mexico
- Part A: Apply for Visa at the Mexican Embassy
- 2. Find An Apartment
- 3. Set Up Your Bank Account
- 4. Find a Job
- 5. Get Health Insurance
- 6. Get a Bike or Car
- 7. Learn Spanish
- 8. Make Friends
- Further Reading on Mexico
Reasons to Move to Mexico
Warm, Tropical Climate
We were honestly tired of the gloomy, dull weather in the Netherlands, so we chose to live on Mexico’s Caribbean coast for the lush tropical climate and fun beach lifestyle. It’s hot all year round here — the temperature rarely gets below 22°C (71°F). Sometimes it does get way too hot, but if that happens, we’ll just hit the pool or go to the mall. I’m an island girl at heart, and will always prefer warm weather to four seasons!
A Change of Lifestyle
Part of the reason why we moved to this side of the world was for a change of lifestyle: we wanted to spend more time playing than working. As Alberto has to keep his Dutch working hours, he’s up around 4.30am but he finishes work by noon. I’m also awake by 6am, and done with work by lunch time.
Then we head out for a cheap lunch (usually tacos or enchiladas), run errands or go for a walk. By the time Kaleya gets off school at 3pm, we’ll hit the beach, chill at our pool, meet friends or just hang out. Moving to Mexico has definitely given us the time freedom we always wanted.
We also like that there’s a huge array of fun things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula: from scuba diving off Cozumel island, exploring Mayan archaeological sites to swimming in cenotes (underground sinkholes) and visiting colonial towns like Merida and Valladolid. They are all within a couple of hours’ drive from Playa del Carmen.
There’s a highway system that connects the entire coast — it’s super easy to get to Tulum (1 hour), Cancun (1 hour), and Belize (4 hours) by car. Cancun International Airport also has flights around the world, especially to the U.S., Central and South America. I can’t wait to explore more of Mexico and visit El Salvador, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
What’s very important to us is that the Rivera Maya has reliable high-speed internet, which we need for work. Alberto is a programmer and has regular meetings online, so fast internet is a must. We now live in Playacar, a well-located community that has fiber optic connections that go up to 100mbps.
A Large Expat Community
We like living in a multi-cultural environment and being surrounded by international people. Since we moved to Mexico, we’ve already met many global citizens and like-minded people, who are all here for the same reasons.
We Know the Language
My husband is from Spain and I speak Spanish fluently (we lived in Spain for 7+ years). Our daughter’s strongest language is English, but she also speaks Spanish, Dutch and some Mandarin. Moving here has been great in helping her become more fluent in Spanish. She’s already improved her Spanish in just two months.
Easy Residency Visa Process
We decided to move to Mexico mainly because it’s easy to get a temporary residency visa that allows us to live here for 4 years. We won’t need to pay taxes to Mexico as long as we don’t work for a Mexican company. I will explain in details how to obtain a residency below.
Even with a tourist visa, you can live in Mexico for up to 6 months. When the 180 days are up, exiting the country resets your tourist visa for another six months. On the tourist visa, you can usually:
- Rent an apartment
- Get an internet contract
- Open a bank account
- Register your kid in a private school
- Purchase health insurance
Lower Cost of Living
The lower cost of living in Mexico definitely appealed to us. Mind you, the Riviera Maya is not the cheapest place to live in Mexico, but it’s still more affordable than Western Europe or US. For a solo traveler, you can get a studio or 1-bedroom apartment in Playa del Carmen for US$600-1000.
We’re spending around US$1500/month for our 3-bedroom apartment (with pool, gym, beach club access, carpark) in an upscale family-friendly area, Playacar, and US$250/month for a private bilingual school where our daughter goes to. Keep in mind that you can spend a lot less.
Eating out in Mexico is cheap — with tacos or menu del dia (set lunch) for less than $3-5/person and restaurant dinners at $15/person including a cocktail/beer. The culinary scene here is fantastic, and we have the privilege of eatiing out often here.
Here’s a rough look at our monthly expenses (what we spend as a family of three):
- $1500 on apartment rental
- $100 on electricity/water bill
- $250 on private school for our kid
- $400 on dining out and groceries
- $30 on fiber-optic internet
- $100 on health insurance for all of us
How to Move to Mexico
If you are also interested in moving to Mexico, I’m sharing everything I’ve learned on how to make the move. For those who intend to live in Mexico for less than 6 months, skip to number 2.
1. Get a Temporary Residency Visa
Most nationalities don’t need a tourist visa to enter Mexico, and are allowed to stay in Mexico for 180 days. Here’s a list of nationalities who do not require a visa. Some leave the country on a visa run every 6 months or pay the $35 fee at the airport for overstaying their visa.
If you plan to stay in Mexico long-term, I recommend going the legal route and getting the temporary residency visa that allows you to live here for 4 years. You will not need to pay taxes in Mexico as long as you don’t work for a Mexican company.
Applying for the temporary residency visa is relatively easy — anyone can do it as long as you have an online/remote job with a minimum monthly income of US$2125 or investments/savings with monthly balance of US$35,400. Alberto applied for his visa at the Mexican embassy in Madrid, Spain, and he got the visa on the same day. Kaleya and I are currently in the process of getting our visas as his spouse and child.
How to Apply for a Temporary Residency Visa in Mexico
This involves two processes:
- A. Apply for a visa at a Mexican embassy at home
- B. Request your resident card at the Immigration office in Mexico
Part A: Apply for Visa at the Mexican Embassy
You will need to apply for the visa in the Mexican embassy BEFORE arriving in Mexico. You won’t be able to apply for it in Mexico, unless you have overstayed your tourist visa (I don’t recommend that as you risk being deported).
Try to make an appointment at the Mexican embassy at least 1 month before departure. You’ll need the following documents at the Mexican embassy:
- Visa application form printed on one page, double sided, properly completed and signed.
- Original and copy of passport: the page containing your photograph and personal data.
- 1 passport-sized photo (minimum: 3.2 cm x 2.6 and maximum: 3.9 cm x 3.1 cm) in color with white background. Applicant must not be wearing glasses or earrings in the photo and hair must be behind the ears. Pictures should be taken in a specialized photography studio.
- Payment of fees ($44) in cash for the issuance of the visa.
- Original and copy of bank statements with a monthly income greater than $2,125.50 USD for the past 6 months.
- Or original and copy of investments or statements of bank accounts with a monthly average balance of $35,425 USD for the past twelve months.
Part B: Request Resident Card at Immigration Office
Once in Mexico, you have to present your documents at the INM (Instituto Nacional de Migración) during the first 30 days of your entrance into Mexico. Be sure to make an appointment online as soon as you arrive (the earliest appointment we could get was 3 weeks later).
Getting our residence card in the INM Playa del Carmen has been a bit of a pain. Alberto has had to return many times just because he didn’t get something right. Just be mentally prepared for some chaos and inefficiency.
These are the documents you’ll need to present:
- Online form, from the Immigration Offices’ website. It must have your signature.
- Formato básico, downloaded and completed.
- Letter requesting the canje of the VISA — which you need to write yourself in Spanish.
- Original and copy of the passport.
- Tourist card, the white paper given to you at immigrations.
- Payment of fees: 4,413 pesos or US$215 (for one year)*
*The canje procedure only allows the applicant to obtain a 1-year resident card. The next year when the applicant renews it, he/she can request a 1, 2 or 3 years card.
TIP: If you don’t speak/read Spanish, it’s best to hire an immigration specialist to help you with the process in Mexico. I hired Adriana Vela from Immigration to Mexico, who is bilingual and very experienced in this area.
2. Find An Apartment
If you’re planning a short-term stay in Mexico, renting is your best bet. Even if you plan to buy a property here, I would recommend renting for a few months first. We booked an Airbnb for our first month in Playa del Carmen, and found an apartment in two weeks.
Finding an apartment in Playa del Carmen is relatively easy, and rental is more affordable than in many cities in the US or Western Europe. In Playa del Carmen, you can find fully furnished studio or 1-bedroom apartments in Centro, with air-conditioning, gym and swimming pool, for $600-1000/month.
If you move to other parts of Mexico like Mexico City, Merida or Queretaro, you’ll spend a lot less. Some estate rental agencies request a job contract, proof of income or reference (guarantor), but our estate agent just asked for our nationalities and professions. We paid 1 month’s rent as a deposit, signed a contract, and moved in!
Here are some of the best housing websites in Mexico:
- Inmuebles 24 — One of the most popular housing sites in Mexico.
- Viva Anuncios — Another useful site that lists accommodations according to districts/neighborhoods.
- iCasas — Easy to use, read info about the listing and contact agents.
- Rentas Playas — This listing site is specific to only Playa del Carmen.
- Facebook Group: Rentals & Sales in Central Playa del Carmen — This was where we found our property listing. There are regular postings from estate agents.
- Facebook Marketplace — You’ll find the most listings here.
3. Set Up Your Bank Account
Technically, you don’t need a bank account in Mexico if you have credit cards from Revolut or Wise (many American cards also work). But none of the establishments here take my Dutch or Singaporean credit cards, so I decided to open a local bank account.
Many websites say that you can’t open a Mexican bank account on a tourist visa. That’s NOT true. Most major banks like BBVA and Santander require the CURP (a number you get when you have residency) to set up your account — Intercam is the only small bank I know that does not require that.
Opening an account at Intercam was super easy. You just need to bring the following documents to the bank, fill up a form and wait for them to call you (around a week later). You can then collect your debit card and online login details right away. The bank staff was very helpful and guided me the whole way on how to activate my card and login to the app.
Documents needed to open an account:
- Tourist card (the white paper you receive at immigrations)
- Account statements from your bank in your home country
- Electricity bill from the past month (proof of local address)*
*The electricity bill does not even need to be in your name.
4. Find a Job
Most expats I know move to Mexico with a remote job (including us). If you don’t already have a job, keep in mind that the salary here might not match up to what you might expect at home.
According to Salary Explorer, the average salary in Mexico is around 33,200 MXN (US$1,623) per month. Additionally, Mexico’s salaries also differ from one city to another. The average salary in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey is about 44,600 MXN (US$2,181), while it’s around 38,900 MXN (US$1,900) in Cancun.
Being bilingual in English/Spanish will be a big plus when looking for a job in Mexico. Many expats tend to teach English or work as a personal trainer, nanny or estate realtor. Along the coast, you’ll have higher chances of finding temporary work in hostels, bars and restaurants.
Check out the following sites for job listings in Mexico:
Register Your Business
If you’re a freelancer or you want to set up your own business in Mexico, the temporary residency visa will allow you to do that. It is not an easy process though, you will need to first find a legal representative.
Your lawyer will need to draft and sign a POA (Power of Attorney) and he/she can help you to register your company with the Public Registry of Property and Commerce. Email me if you’d like my lawyer’s contact.
5. Get Health Insurance
Most foreigners don’t get health insurance when they move to Mexico, because it’s so affordable to go to the local doctor or pharmacy. You can do a full body check up for $70 or consult a doctor for less than $10. At the pharmacy, you can get all kinds of medication, from antibiotics to Adderall without having a prescription.
However, if you do face a serious health condition or require surgery, the medical bills can chock up to $50,000 or more. Having personal health insurance can save you from massive bills if you fall sick or get into an accident.
The cost of the health insurance depends on your age and type of coverage. If you’re in your 30s or 40s and you want full coverage, expect to pay between $600 and $1,500 USD per year. We have our health insurance through Grupo Nacional Provincial (GNP), the largest private healthcare insurer in the country.
6. Get a Bike or Car
Depending on which city in Mexico you’re moving to, you’ll need to decide how you want to get around. If you’re in towns like Playa del Carmen or Puerta Vallarta, most people get around by taxis or colectivos (mini vans). You can also get a second-hand bike for less than $100.
We wanted to buy a car so that we could drive Kaleya to school and explore the region on weekends. Buying a used car in Mexico is pretty straightforward — but banks won’t give loans to foreigners, so you’ll need to pay cash upfront. I wouldn’t recommend buying from individuals, as there are lots of stolen cars and it’s hard to trust who you’re dealing with.
We bought our 2016 Volkswagen Beetle from Safe Cars Cancun for US$9500. The owner, Noe, is an honest man and we trust him. To purchase the car, we needed to pay a US$200 deposit, then pay the balance by bank transfer. Once he received the full amount, he delivered the car all the way to us in Playa del Carmen.
Technically you can buy a car in Mexico as a tourist, but you should get a residency visa before buying and registering a vehicle as you will be required to provide a CURP number at some point. When buying a used car in Mexico, make sure the car comes with the following documents:
- tarjeta de circulación (the car’s tax identity)
- factura original (the original invoice)
7. Learn Spanish
While there are lots of international expats in Mexico and English is widely spoken here, you won’t fit in and integrate unless you speak some Spanish. When I was living in Spain, I did an intensive course with 4-hour classes daily and I picked up the language in one month.
What I’ve observed here in Mexico is that if you speak Spanish, you won’t get treated like a gringo. That means you’ll be paying reasonable prices (instead of jacked-up gringo prices) and locals are more likely to let you in on their tips and favorite haunts. I noticed that because I speak Spanish and look a little Mexican, locals are really friendly to me.
There’s no shortage of language schools in Mexico — I definitely recommend doing 2-3 hour classes daily. If you already speak a certain level of Spanish, try to make friends with locals, do language exchanges, and speak Spanish when grocery shopping or ordering food at a restaurant.
8. Make Friends
Mexicans are such sociable creatures, so make the most of your time here and mingle! I’ve met many people through Facebook, and also made friends with our neighbors and other expat families through kids’ clubs and fun activities.
There are meetup groups for almost every town in Mexico. The best places to start are Facebook and Meetup, where you can connect with like-minded people who are share the same interests as you (like food or books). Also check out the bulletin boards at your local bars and restaurants — many of them offer special nights centered on language learning or sporting events.
Here are some of the best expat groups in Mexico:
- Expats in Mexico — a huge Facebook group that covers the whole country
- Foreigners & Expats in Mexico City — a big group focusing on CDMX
- Expats in Playa del Carmen — the biggest expat group on Facebook
- Mexpats Club — a mid-sized, friendlier group
- Mommy Mafia — a parents’ group for Playa del Carmen
- Digital Nomad Crew Playa del Carmen & Tulum — suitable for young digital nomads
- Playa Bites — a foodies’ group sharing best eats and restaurants
Further Reading on Mexico
That’s about it! I hope this guide has been useful to those who are moving to Mexico. If you’re planning to move to Mexico, please get in touch with any questions you may have.
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- My Recommended 2-Week Mexico Itinerary
- 5 Days in Mexico City
- Day of the Dead in Mexico City
- 20 Cool Things to Do in Valladolid, Mexico
- 35 Fun Things to Do in the Yucatan Peninsula
- 15 Things to Do in Cozumel, Mexico
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. if you book a stay through one of my links, I get a small commission at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thank you for your support!
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