Mexico is cheap, warm, beautiful, fun, and the food is AMAZING. Best of all, their tourist visa lets you stay 6 months so you don’t need to worry about frequent border runs. In this blog, I’m taking a look at the best places to live in Mexico for digital nomads and expats.
I’ve spent almost a year exploring Mexico across two separate visits. The first time because I had an insatiable taco craving, and the second time because it was one of the only countries where the borders were open and I didn’t need to get a Covid stick jammed up my nose, or pay for expensive quarantine.
Aside from the incredible tacos, Mexico is an intriguing place. It’s filled with colour, rich cultural traditions, stunning cities, and amazing people. Unfortunately, it often gets a bad rap in the media because of ongoing cartel problems and violence. But while that’s one part of Mexico’s reality, it doesn’t paint a complete picture of this beautiful country.
Many parts of Mexico are ideal places to live and work. The cities on this list are affordable, safe, have a high standard of living, and have facilities to work remotely. Hubs like Mexico City and Oaxaca have good digital nomad communities too, so you won’t feel isolated.
Ready to dive in? Here’s my list of the best cities to live in Mexico.
How do I love thee, Oaxaca. Let me count the ways!
We touched down in the historic centre and stayed at Hotel Parador San Miguel for a few days when we arrived. Totally recommend it. After that, we spent the rest of our 6-month stay in Oaxaca city at Al Sol Apartments, which has the perfect setup if you’re a nomad, and is ridiculously cheap for furnished apartments with weekly cleaning and linen change. It’s usually booked out well in advance by return guests, so make sure you check before you arrive if you’re interested in staying here.
Oaxaca City is an ideal place for expats for many reasons. It’s one of Mexico’s most affordable destinations, with low-cost accommodation, transportation, and food. It’s flat, and easy to cycle or walk around.
Unlike seaside destinations, Oaxaca City has a relatively cool climate that may be more comfortable for some. Having said that, if you’re there in high summer, it’s a killer. Everything is concrete, and the city is situated in a natural valley, so it can be still and stifling. Make sure your accommodation has shady places, hammocks, or a pool – because you’ll need them!
There are many attractions like ancient pre-Hispanic ruins, waterfalls, and mineral pools just outside the city. Inside Oaxaca, there are stunning UNESCO World Heritage Sites to explore, beautiful artisan stores, delicious mezcal joints, and charming streets.
And the food….the FOOOOOOOD. There’s pretty much something for everyone. Plenty of markets if you want to experience local eating or cook for yourself, and a ton of hip, modern cafes, bars, and restaurants if you have a craving for cold brew coffee, pizza, pastries, and vegan food. Co-working and co-living spaces are available too – and there’s a nice Selina right the middle of town.
I felt Oaxaca was a very safe place to live in and walk around, but I was never out late, and never walked alone. Common sense can go a long way when you’re anywhere in Mexico.
A few things to keep in mind if you plan living in Oaxaca long term – the healthcare and infrastructure aren’t as strong as other places in Mexico. It’s also much easier to get by if you already know some Spanish, because there are fewer English speakers. But if you want to sharpen up your Spanish skills, it’s the perfect place. There’s a Spanish school in the centre which was recommended by lots of people I met during my stay.
Playa del Carmen
There is something magical about Playa del Carmen. I know a couple of other writers who moved there and never left – and after visiting, I can see why. This oceanside city is a popular tourist destination and retreat for digital nomads. You’ll also find a large population of expats who now call this place home.
Playa del Carmen has several advantages for people looking to relocate to Mexico. If you don’t speak Spanish, it’s easier to get around here than in other Mexican cities, as many locals can speak English. There are plentiful coworking spaces and cafés where you can set up shop and get to work, or socialize with other remote workers.
The city is considered very safe, and there’s no problem walking around the large and vibrant downtown tourist strip.
One of Playa del Carmen’s best perks is its proximity to the beach. Located on the Caribbean side of the country in the Riviera Maya area, the white sand beaches and postcard-perfect blue waters are a huge drawcard. Unfortunately that also means that many hulking beasts of hotels are located on the beach, which loses some of the essential Mexican charm – for me anyway.
A few potential downsides to living in Playa del Carmen are that it can be swelteringly hot in summer, the cost of living is slightly higher than other places on this list, and you may not meet as many local people. It also has one of the fastest growing populations in Mexico – so expect things to get a little more crowded as time goes on.
Mexico City (aka CDMX) is where you’ll most likely end up when you’re flying in. I spent a few weeks here, and it’s somewhere I could definitely live long term. Despite the greater city having a mind-blowing population of 21,782,000 people (not a typo) – it doesn’t feel like a crowded place. If you can spare some time, grab an Airbnb and walk the city – it’s beautiful.
And the food is good. Like, really good. If you’re a meat or al pastor taco fan, you’ll love it here. The streets are dotted with hole-in-the-wall eateries proudly featuring bubbling cauldrons of mixed animal bits from tail to snout, and taco joints are everywhere.
Vegetarian or vegan? That’s no problem either, but if you’re strict on those dietary requirements, make sure you eat at solely vege cafes and restaurants, otherwise your food is likely to have touched lard or pork at some point in its culinary journey.
We had no problems with wifi during our Airbnb stays, but if you get stuck, there are plenty of work-friendly cafes – and there’s a Selina co-working space downtown too.
The historic city centre is a UNESCO heritage site, and within that is the Templo Mayor, an ancient Aztec temple that was only discovered in 1978. The juxtaposition of wandering around something so ancient in the very middle of a modern city is kinda crazy.
A stroll out of town will take you to Chapultepec Park. Arrive early and beat the queues into Chapultepec Castle which overlooks the park and its numerous monuments, museums, and the national zoo. If you’re an animal lover but aren’t into zoos – find the peanut cart at one of the main park entrances and spend a few pesos on a bag of nuts to feed the friendly squirrels hordes.
The National Museum of Anthropology is located in this park. It’s home to the famous Aztec calendar stone. I spent an entire day at this museum – it was right up there in spectacularness with the Cairo museum. So many weird, cool, and incredibly old artefacts.
Located on the Yucatán peninsula is Mérida. It’s a large city about 40 minutes from the beach. If safety is one of your primary concerns, you’ll feel at home in Mérida. This city has a reputation as one of Mexico’s safest destinations.
Since the city is expansive, you’ll find everything you need to live comfortably here. There are universities, museums, retail centers, and a wide variety of cafes, food, and bars. Ask around about the “secret” bars in town – they’re well worth tracking down. It’s a beautiful, walkable town and the public transport is great, so even if you’re not staying in the centre, you can easily jump on a bus and be there in a matter of minutes.
The city also has a large, international airport if you want to travel to other domestic or international destinations.
While the expat community here is sizable, you’ll have the opportunity to use your Spanish here. Some may find this to be an advantage, while others may find this makes life more challenging. I had no problem getting around Merida with my embarassing attempts at Spanish.
Mérida has a unique culture rooted in Mayan civilization. You can visit the Mayan museum – but I felt there wasn’t enough in there to make it a worthwhile trip out of town.
If you’re a science and history nerd, Merida is situated in the Chicxulub crater zone. This crater was formed when a chonky 10km diameter asteroid hit the earth around 66 million years ago, wiping out 75% of Earths plant and animal species. I spent a little too much time reading about mass extinction events when I was here, but at least I feel fully prepared now.
One of the most significant downsides to Mérida is its hot and humid climate, which can be uncomfortable for a substantial portion of the year. Many expats choose to leave the city around April for a few months and return when things cool down again.
An island off the coast of Mexico, Cozumel can be reached by a quick ferry trip from Playa del Carmen. We arrived there accidentally on the last day of the annual carnavale festival and it was CRAZY. 3 hours of wild floats, exotic dancers, bead flinging, family mayhem, surprisingly considerate street drinking, and banging Latino music. A+ would totally trade again.
Once the streets had been swept clean again, Cozumel reverted to its chilled out self. It’s…well…gorgeous. You can rent a scooter and easily ride around the island in about 3 hours, but you’ll need longer than that because everything is so picture perfect. Pristine white sand, beach bars, snorkelling, restaurants, wind-swept dunes and amazing houses are dotted all over the island. We stayed here for a couple of weeks and had zero problems with the wifi. We worked from home, but there were lots of cafes and bars with internet if you need a change of scenery.
Tulum is a hugely popular destination for digital nomads and travellers. I wanted to check it out, so booked a few weeks stay at a very cool Airbnb.
What you might not expect is that Tulum is divided into two halves. The beach half with the hotel strip, and the central city part which is a long way from the beach, but is cheaper to stay in – and has the main shopping area. If you want to travel between the two – bicycle rental is recommended, because it is a long-ass walk. We walked it and almost died because it was high summer, saved only by regular cold beer stops at gas stations and corner stores.
We stayed in the city part. It’s cheaper and all the shops, supermarkets and hip Tulum-yrestaurants are located there. If you want to stay on the beachfront, expect to pay a lot more for accommodation.
As it’s an increasingly popular nomad destination, Tulum has great wifi, shops, bars, and food. Cafes to work from are plentiful, so there’s no shortage of picture-perfect places to liven up your work days.
Make sure you visit the coastal Mayan ruins, and take a swim in one of the many beautiful cenotes that are dotted around the outskirts of the city during your stay.
While Tulum wasn’t a place I wanted to live in long-term, it’s definitely worth a visit. It has a vibrant nomadic and alternative culture, so you’ll be able to easily socialize with like-minded travellers.
We stayed in Puebla for a month, as people I met on my travels said it’s a fantastic place to live and work from. It’s around a 2-hour bus ride from Mexico City.
The streets here are lined with typical Mexican buildings painted in vibrant colours, and as it’s an old city (and also a UNESCO protected heritage site) you can enjoy wandering around tiny lanes and cobbled streets on your way to the historic centre.
Visit the museum for a rooftop coffee and enjoy the view of everything – especially Popocatépetl, the live volcano just outside of Puebla. I still have no idea how to pronounce that.
There are festivals throughout the year here, including a spectacular Day of the Dead festival which draws huge crowds of tourists and locals from out of town.
Puebla is one of the best places to try molé poblano – a famous Mexican dish of smoky poblano peppers drowned in rich molé sauce. Spectacular!
The first time I saw Puerto Vallarta was watching The Love Boat on television back in…oh god, how old am I? I loved how sunny and exotic it looked, and never once considered that I might actually go there at some point in my life.
It’s a tropical beachside paradise nestled into lush greenery and looming hillsides, and people love moving here to work, retire, invest in real estate, or escape harsh US and Canadian winters at home.
Puerto Vallarta is ideal for someone who enjoys being surrounded by the familiarity of a large expat community, English speakers, and all the comforts of home that brings with it. It’s also one of the best places to retire in Mexico. But if you’re like me, this town might be too heavily shaped by expats for your tastes.
There’s enough stuff to do in Puerto Vallarta that you won’t get bored if you stay and work here for a few months. You can enjoy the sun-soaked beaches, and go whale watching, horseback riding, jet skiing, and more. There’s also a wide range of live entertainment – in English.
Puerto Vallarta has a vibrant nomadic and social scene with events and gatherings, exhibits and concerts happening on a regular basis – also in English.
Things to keep in mind about Puerto Vallarta are that the weather is constantly changing due to being on the west coast of Mexico. The pace of life here is very laid back, so it can be hard to get work done. Time is often a mere concept here, which can be refreshing for some people but confusing for others.
A small town on the Pacific coast north of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita has a population of around 2,500 people. Known primarily for its surf culture, it’s been a destination for wave-hunters since the 60s. Other visitors are attracted by the beach, local culture, fashions, super laid-back lifestyle. The population explodes in summer, so if you’re not a fan of crowds, stay here in the off-peak seasons.
It’s a growing digital nomad hub, so expect things to change quickly and prices to go up in this area. There’s a Selina here with fast wifi and coliving/coworking opportunities.
San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende is another great place to live if you want to find a robust expat community blended with local life. Some areas can get a bit touristy, but you can always find calm spots within the city to stay – which would definitely be my recommendation to you.
It’s a historic town that has plenty of charm and exciting festivals throughout the year, and it’s ideal for remote workers because there are many cafes and coworking spaces set up here already.
San Miguel is a very safe city with a low crime rate, and people I’ve talked to who live here feel like they’re a welcome part of the community. As it’s a relatively small town, people in this city tend to greet each other while out on the streets and are very polite.
Like many places in Mexico, you may need to adjust to the slower pace of life and lack of time commitments here. San Miguel de Allende has a strong “manaña” culture, where things get done when they get done, not on a set schedule. If somebody says they’ll meet you for dinner at 6, they might show up at 8. Or not at all. But that’s local life here. It’s kinda nice.
A harrowing 9-hour journey in a “vomit van” (local shuttle) or a night bus (slightly less chance of vomit) from Oaxaca will take you over the winding mountain ranges and down to the coast at Puerto Escondido. A popular destination for both nomads, and for people who live in Oaxaca and need some ocean time, Puerto is a great place to stay. While it’s still pretty touristy, it’s on a lesser scale than the Puerto Vallarta.
It’s mostly known for its beaches and nightlife. The town’s central beach is lined with palm trees bars. You can’t really swim here because of the insane surf, but it’s nice to sit on the beach and watch the surfers trying their best not to get smashed to pieces. For swimming you could try La Punta beach, which has slightly smaller waves.
Puerto Escondido gives you the option of staying in the main part of town, or grabbing a cab or bus to stay in one of the many smaller surfing and fishing villages that line the coast heading south. I recommend checking out Mazunte. There’s also Zicatela which hosts international surf competitions and is reknowned for the Mexican Pipeline surf break.
The people you’ll find here are typically surfers, digital nomads, backpackers, yoga lovers, and Mexican families on holiday. It’s a pretty chilled vibe, and it’s one of the cheapest places to live in Mexico on the beach.
A large lagoon area to the west of the town is popular for fishing and birdwatching – but be cautious of swimming here (or anywhere there’s a river close to the beach in Mexico). There are crocodiles lurking around in these areas, and that would be a crappy way to end your adventures.
This is a major city and one of Mexico’s most important cultural hubs. It’s the home of both tequila and Mariachi – olé!
As such, it’s easy to land here and start working and connecting with other remote workers and travellers. There are plenty of coworking spaces, including a WeWork and Selina.
Weather is subtropical here, so you won’t feel as stifled by the heat in midsummer as you might in Merida. There are plenty of gardens, parks, and forests to roam around in if you need a break, and a ton of stuff to do in the city on any given day. Food here has a wide variety of local and global, trendy cuisine.
If you’re looking to live in a fast-growing city with stable wifi, tons of stuff to do, and modern amenities – Guadalajara should be on your list.
This is a laid-back town on Mexico’s west coast. The first thing you might notice when you land here is how freaking clean it is. Everything is pristine in a way I haven’t seen since Baden Baden in Germany (which was super creepy in its manicured cleanliness, like I swear not even a leaf could fall in that town without someone having a nervous breakdown). For this reason, Huatulco has won numerous environmental awards, including one for its clean beaches and high environmental quality.
Being close to the equator, Huatulco has warm sunny weather all year, with a low risk of hurricanes. All of this makes for an appealing place to stay long term for nomads and expats wanting to get residency. It’s one of the most affordable beach towns in Mexico to retire in.
Although it’s a resort town, living costs are relatively low, and more affordable than say, Puerto Vallarta or San Cabo. As a growing city, importance is being placed on improving the infrastructure. A new hospital has been built to cater for the large expat community, and the international airport has expanded to allow direct flights from Europe. There’s also a new highway in progress to cut drive time from Oaxaca down to 3 hours.
San Cristóbal de Las Casas
San Cristóbal de Las Casas is an increasingly popular city for expats. It’s located in the border state of Chiapas. Although it’s popular for travellers, it’s not the type of place that attracts hordes of tourists.
It is a decent-sized city with a delightful small-town feel. There are colonial buildings, cobbled streets, and traditional marketplaces scattered throughout the city. If you’re looking for a place where Mexico’s indigenous culture shines through – this is it. You’ll see a mix of traditional handcrafts, handmade clothing, and many other goods in the markets here.
Surrounding the city are plenty of places for a day and weekend trip. You’ll find beautiful rainforests, mountains, waterfalls, and historical sites around San Cristóbal. These include places like the Mayan ruins at Palenque, Agua Azul, and Bonampak.
A few things nomads and expats should keep in mind is that infrastructure and hospital systems aren’t as strong as the rest of the country. Water-borne parasites are also common here, so you need to be extra vigilant about drinking water, eating salads from restaurants, and rinsing any fresh fruit and veges you buy.
While the photos below depict what everyone thinks Cancun looks like, this is just the tourist hotel strip. Cancun central is a decent bus ride away, and is actually a great little town. We stayed there for a couple of weeks, and only ventured down to the beach area once. Which was all I needed.
As luck would have it, it was spring break at the beach. So like any intrepid, overaged travellers from New Zealand who discover valuable cultural information like this – we had to find a hotel that was doing spring break stuff like you see on the movies. Bikinis, beers, pools, vomit – we wanted to see it all.
We managed so somehow sneak into a hotel complex despite looking nowhere near 18, and not having the regulation 250 rainbow-coloured all-access wristbands. It was everything I expected. And worse. I got tapped on the shouilder by security and told to put my camera away, so I have no photogrgaphic evidence of this. Which may be for the best.
While reading lists like this are a good place to start your Mexican travel adventures, it’s important to plan out your journey and be flexible with your expectations of each place – especially if you’re working as well. Before you commit to moving to a city, you should give it a trial run for a few weeks to see if it lives up to your expectations.
Remember that living in a place as a nomad is a lot different than vacationing. I thought I’d love Tulum. I didn’t and I’m really glad I didn’t book long term accommodation there.
Thanks to Mexico’s generous tourist visa, you can try living and working all over Mexico for six months without needing to do border runs or apply for a longer term permit. If you can, travel around and check out a few different places to see where you feel most at home. The city you end up choosing might surprise you.
Are there any places I’ve missed that I should check out next time I’m in Mexico? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Rachael is a full-time digital nomad and freelance copywriter for B2B and SaaS companies. She’s worked with brands like Unbounce, Biteable, Datacom, Viddyoze, and Owler.
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- TRAVEL TIPS AND RESOURCES
- Find cheap flights
I use Kayak, Skyscanner, and Expedia to find the best deals on flights. This often means flying late night or early morning – so if you’re working remotely, make sure you plan around this.
- Book accommodation
I always use Booking.com for my first stop in any city. These tend to be hotels, so it’s easy for your taxi or Uber drive to find them, which is a huge relief if you arrive in a strange city at 3am after a 19-hour flight and just want to sleeeeeep. For longer stays, I use Airbnb (always, always filter these listings by superhosts and make sure to read the reviews before you book), Hostel World to book budget stays, and VRBO (the new challenger to Airbnb – way less fees and great accommodation options),
If you’re a pet lover, you can stay FREE in a local house anywhere in the world with Trusted Housesitters. I’ve used this a couple of times and it was awesome. If you travel long term and miss the companionship of fluffy friends – borrowing other people’s pets (and saving $$$$ on accommodation at the same time) is a huge win.
If you need a rental car, I recommend RentalCars.com or Kayak to find the cheapest options and compare companies.
- Travel Insurance
Yes. You need it. I recommend both SafetyWing and World Nomads to keep you and your gear protected. These companies have monthly policies specifically for digital nomads and long-term travellers. I’m currently using SafetyWing, as it’s one of the only companies that covers travellers for COVID-related issues right now.
- Book a tour
I’m not big on guided tours, but I check out Get Your Guide and Viator to find must-see places in every new city I go to. If you love tours, these are the two top sites to search for and book tours around the world.
- Luggage storage
Stuck in that awkward zone between two accommodation points – or waiting all day for a flight? Stasher has 1,000 locations in 250 countries that you can store your luggage in while you go out and do fun stuff. Because carrying everything you own with you all day is not fun.