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The 7 Best Mexican Cities for Ex-pats

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The diverse central American country of Mexico has become increasingly popular with holidaymakers, promising sun, sea, and self-discovery, along with a host of different experiences. The laid-back culture, friendly population, and varied climate are unsurprisingly appealing, but what if the vacation never had to end?

With digital nomadery on the rise, Mexico shines as an attractive option for ex-pats. In fact, over one million foreigners call the land of mariachis and margaritas home, 700,000 of whom come from the United States, making it the number one country for Americans outside of the States. Yet, with so many dreamy destinations to choose from, you might be wondering where you can find the best Mexican cities for ex-pats.

From the seaside towns to the colonial cities to the inland mountain communities, ex-pats dwell everywhere in Mexico, and we’re here to divulge all the best spots. If you’re looking to slow down, look around, and embrace a new lifestyle, settling in Mexico is the way to go. Let’s get into it. 

Puerto Vallarta

Mexican cities
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An international beach resort with all its original Mexican charm, Puerto Vallarta, located in Jalisco State on the Pacific Coast, was once a quiet fishing village that has seen rapid expansion since the 1960s. The bustling town has a city feel, punctuated with cobblestone streets, boutique shops, and a variety of restaurants and bars.

Puerto Vallarta is affordable, modern, and never lacking in entertainment. The urban area runs for nearly 30 miles along the Banderas Bay shoreline and there are plenty of properties available for rent and sale in the town and outskirts. The real estate market stretches from Mismaloya, just south of Puerto, to Punta Mita in the state of Nayarit on the northwest shores. This area is called Costa Vallarta and is a thriving ex-pat hub. 

Developed tourist infrastructure makes settling into a new lifestyle seamlessly simple. Wander the malecón that stretches along the seafront to downtown, get an eye full of the contemporary sculptures, spend a day on one of the various golf courses in the area, or escape the heat in the nearby Sierra Madre mountains. Puerto Vallarta is set to the backdrop of these rugged peaks and you can keep busy hiking, cycling, or swinging through the trees on a zipline tour. 

The Bay of Banderas also offers a host of different activities centered around the Pacific, from whale watching to sailing to dolphin spotting and kitesurfing. Still, we all know that expatriation is about soaking up everyday life and the slow pace of Puerto Vallarta is perfect for this. Along with good housing opportunities, settlers can enjoy state-of-the-art medical care thanks to rife medical tourism in the area, as well as low crime rates. 

San Miguel de Allende

Mexican cities
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San Miguel de Allende is a small gem in eastern Guanajuato, best recognized for its colonial-era and Spanish baroque architecture with highland surroundings. The vibrant arts scene, cultural festivals, and small-town charm lure in ex-pats, especially creatives, and the center of town is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site

San Miguel de Allende is just four hours northwest of Mexico City, perfect for those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of big city life without being too far removed from the capital. The temperate, high-desert climate of the elevated Sierra Mountains is also a welcome relief from Mexico’s tropical heat. You can expect warm days and cool nights throughout most of the year, and during January and February, temperatures have even been known to drop below freezing

The state capital, Guanajuato, is just an hour away, making daily commutes a possibility. Guanajuato is known for its craft market, outdoor bazaars, or tianguis, and indoor food markets, mercados. The San Miguel Writers Conference, hosted in San Miguel de Allende itself, is another pull factor to the town for artists and authors as the largest writers’ conference in Latin America.  

Of the 140,000 residents in the metropolitan area, it is estimated that around 10,000 are ex-pats. Foreigners tend to be concentrated in the historical Centro or Colonia Independencia neighborhood, intermingled with the locals. Or Balcones, at the top of a steep hill commanding breathtaking views of San Miguel de Allende, is another popular area for expatriates. 

Mérida

Mexican cities for ex-pats
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Like San Miguel de Allende, Mérida is a Spanish-colonial city, but that’s about the only thing they have in common. Mérida is a sprawling metropolis but one of the safest places in the country, placing it high up there with the most popular Mexican cities for ex-pats. 

Great universities, cultural monuments, large company bases, and its own international airport with regular direct flights to and from the US, Mérida has it all. The city is located in the semi-tropical Yucatán Peninsula, the same region where you’ll find the white sands and party paradises of Cancún and Puerto del Carmen. Mérida is just half an hour from the Yucatán Gulf Coast, but there’s plenty to do within the city limits.

Some cultural highlights include the Plaza de la Independencia, which sits within the immediate vicinity of the Iglesia de la Tercera Orden with its white limestone facade and the fortress-esque mérida Cathedral. Both of these colonial-era churches were built using ancient Mayan relics from nearby temple ruins. You’ll also find the 16th-century Casa de Montejo, a mansion and landmark of the ornamental Spanish Plateresque architecture with its Gothic-Renaissance influence that can be spotted all over the city.   

mérida houses over 10,000 Canadian and American ex-pats among its population of almost one million. Most of whom settle in the Centro Historico or mérida Norte districts. The city comes close to having it all, especially as an ex-pat destination, with a perfect blend of culture, history, first-world comforts, entertainment, and lifestyle.  

Lake Chapala

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Now, this might be the first time Lake Chapala has popped up on your radar, but if you’re an ex-pat, retiree, or digital nomad, you’re sure to have heard of this thriving waterside community. Mexico’s largest body of freshwater, Lake Chapala stretches across the municipalities of Chapala, Jocotepec, Poncitlán, Jamay in Jalisco and Venustiano Carranza and Conjumatlán de Régules in Michoacán. Covering 1,100 square kilometers, it is not just a haven for nature, but Chapala town is the number one most popular Mexican city for ex-pats. 

The largest concentration of Americans and Canadians in the world, outside of their home countries, can be found here. The cobblestone passages, colorful gardens, lush surroundings, and an eternal spring climate have been calling ex-patriates to Chapala’s lakeside homes for decades. 

Chapala sits around the same altitude as Denver, a mile above sea level. January is the coolest month but temperatures still climb to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and above, while May sees average highs of 85 degrees. Sprawling Guadalajara with its population of five million is just 45 minutes away by car from Chapala, but residents are drawn to the laid-back promenades, cultural activities, and sporting opportunities in the town itself including English theater, concerts, golf tournaments, yoga, and hiking. 

The northside villages are increasing upscale in terms of dwellings and amenities, while Chapala town is the largest settlement with plenty of taverns, cafés, shops, and good-quality restaurants. Vista del Lago, a well-loved country club and community, is just 15 minutes outside of the town center. 

Chapala and Ajijic, another lakeside community around 5 kilometers west of Chapala, are also havens for creatives. ex-pats and locals gather every week at Ajijic’s huge outdoor market to share craft goods, hand-made jewelry, sculptures, clothes, and fresh produce. Tennessee Williams is also among Chapala’s notable former residents. The American playwright lived by the lake for some time during the late 1940s to work on his greatest work, “A Streetcar Named Desire”. 

Of the 20,000 ex-pats that now inhabit Lake Chapala, the majority are retirees, although digital nomad communities are on the rise. Chula Vista, Ajijic, Ribera del Pilar, and Chabala Town are among the most popular neighborhoods to buy and rent property around Lake Chabala.  

Puerto Escondido

Puerto escondido
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A tropical fishing village and resort on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Puerto Escondido has risen to notoriety over the decades thanks to its great nightlife, barefoot beach living, and most notably, great surf. Located in the state of Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido is just a stone’s throw from the bustling provincial capital, but the seaside town is well-loved for its own great variety of beaches, bars, and unspoiled reefs. 

The town is locally known as Puerto and served as a port for shipping coffee from the Oaxacan mountains in the 1930s. The sleepy, “hidden port” as it translates to, saw a huge tourism boom when it was discovered by surfers in the 1960s, and although still quiet and uncrowded most of the year, surf tourism is rife.  

The popular Zicatela Beach is best known for the world-renowned Mexican Pipeline break which is a bucket list wave for any experienced surfer. Zicatela is no stranger to pounding and temperamental breaks, capable of producing bone-crushing, tubular waves that aren’t for the faint-hearted. However, the neighboring La Punta beach and Carrizalillo beach offer smaller, beginner-friendly surf.   

Still, Puerto Escondido isn’t all about surfing. It might host some high-status competitions that attract international crowds, but even non-surfing ex-pats are lured to the straw-roofed restaurants, swaying palms, and market stalls of bohemian Puerto. El Cafecito is an especially popular spot with digital nomads and surfers, offering reliable Wi-Fi right by the beach, which can be patchy elsewhere in the remote town. 

Bacocho, Brisa de Zicatela, and La Punta are popular ex-pat neighborhoods. La Barra also offers great opportunities for buying land, with its own collection of local businesses and markets in the near vicinity. 

Tulum

Tulum
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Offering the perfect blend of beachside luxury and fascinating ancient history, Tulum is one of Mexico’s most popular holiday destinations, but it’s also becoming an increasingly popular choice with ex-pats. The town, located on the Caribean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula is best known for being where well-preserved Mayan ruins meet dazzling white sands and Instagram-worthy beach clubs. 

El Castillo, the tallest and most imposing stone building of the Tulum settlement, rises dramatically from a rocky cliff set above sugary sands and turquoise sea. El Castillo dates back to around the 10th-century and visitors can explore the extensive archaeological site for around 84 pesos ($4 USD). 

Still, Tulum is certainly not lacking in bohemian appeal outside of its historical sites. The growing community of ex-pats, locals, and tourists retains its backpacker origins with yoga practitioners, massage therapists, and hedonistic retreats scattered all around. The central town of Tulum is just a stone’s throw from the warm Caribean Sea, and around 80 miles south of Cancún. Plenty of condos, homestays, and villas have cropped up in recent years as Tulum’s popularity has grown. It’s no longer an undiscovered gem but the bustling streets and renowned nightlife leave little to complain about. 

You can enjoy tropical weather all year round in Tulum, with average highs of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The Caribbean lifestyle here is unsurprisingly lusted after. Although arguably less authentic than some Mexican cities for ex-pats, Tulum maintains a small population and hippie charm, with slightly higher prices but good investment opportunities. 

Huatulco

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With white sand Pacific coast beaches, secluded resorts, inland waterfalls, and lush coffee plantations, Huatulco is a popular cruise-ship port and thriving ex-pat destination. The region is home to nine different bays, including Santa Cruz with its bustling beach promenade and nightlife, as well as Tangolunda Bay which plays host to several upscale resorts and its own golf course. 

The main area of Huatulco is a FONATUR development, run by the government’s national trust fund for tourism and growth. It was chosen 30 years ago as one of five destinations with incredible developmental potential and the small town is still emerging with great success. Of the small 56,000 population, around 1,000 are thought to be ex-pats, a number which is ever increasing. 

You can traverse from one end of central Huatulco to the other in less than ten minutes, but you’ll still see great contrasts across the former fishing village. Public walkways and promenades dominate the beach front with minimal surrounding businesses, while plentiful restaurants serve up global cuisine around the central Plaza in the inland community of La Crucecita. 

Water sports and activities are very popular here, including fishing, snorkeling and scuba diving. Huatulco even hosts several fishing tournaments throughout the year, the biggest being the Torneo de Pez Vela Huatulco, or the Huatulco Sailfish Tournament, which attracts professional sporting fishermen from around the world. 

The lifestyle in Huatulco is highly desirable and the ex-pat presence can be felt throughout the town, with foreigners offering a large contribution to the community feel. You can expect dry sunny weather from October through to February, making Huatulco an appealing destination for winter sun. Although, average temperatures remain in the mid-80s all year round.    

Where do most ex-pats live in Mexico?

Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, and its surrounding area is home to the biggest ex-pat community in the country, and the highest concentration of Americans and Canadians anywhere in the world, outside of North America. Monterrey is often considered Mexico’s most “Americanized” city thanks to its wealth, but Lake Chapala remains a more popular option for retirees. Over 20,000 ex-pats inhabit Lake Chapala and its surrounding regions. 

Where is the safest ex-pat community in Mexico?

All of Mexico’s ex-pat communities tend to be among the country’s safest districts, hence their popularity with western foreigners. mérida, Lake Chapala, Puerto Vallarta, and Tulúm are considered extremely safe for ex-pats and tourists, with the entirety of the Oaxaca, Yucáta, and Jalisco States all being largely free from cartel control. 

How much does it cost to live in Mexico per month? 

One reason Mexico is so popular with American ex-pats is the price comparisons. Foreigners can live quite comfortably on $1,000 a month, and even much less, with locals maintaining tighter budgets. Rent can vary between $300 and $800 a month if know where to look, and most ex-pats report spending between $600 and $2,000 a month for all their expenses in Mexico. This makes the country, on the whole, around 50 to 60 percent cheaper than the US.