From the safest places to live in Mexico to the best places to retire in Mexico on a budget, don’t miss this roundup of the best places to live in Mexico as an expat.
You’ve decided you want to move to Mexico, but it’s a big country: where specifically do you want to live? In this post, we’ll explore 11 of the best places to live in Mexico to help you make your decision.
With so many destinations to choose from, there really is something for everyone in Mexico. But even before you dive into this list of best cities to live in Mexico, take a moment to think about what you’re looking for in your new home abroad.
Having a concrete list of must-haves will help narrow down your search.
For example, when I was planning my move to Mexico, I knew I needed a stable and fast internet connection for work. That ruled out most small beach towns.
Of the questions every expat should ask themselves before moving to another country, one of the most important is:
- What sacrifices am I willing to make (and not make)?
In order to have a successful move to Mexico, you need to figure out what you absolutely must have to be happy and what you’re willing to compromise on in the spirit of adventure.
Don’t forget to research the requirements for getting residency in Mexico. While the 180-day tourist visa is generous, obtaining temporary or permanent residency in Mexico is that way to go if you want to make a home for yourself in this incredible country.
What is the best part of Mexico to live in?
The best part of Mexico to live in depends on what you’re looking for in your new home.
Hopefully, you already have a list of must-haves going, but in case you’re feeling stuck, here are a few questions to get the ball rolling:
- Big city or small town?
- Beach, mountains or desert?
- Do you want to be a part of a large expat community?
- Is your goal to immerse yourself in the culture?
- Are you happy to live in a tourist destination?
- What’s your monthly budget?
How much money do I need to live comfortably in Mexico?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions I get from readers and subscribers about living in Mexico. A lot will depend on where you live in Mexico and the standard of living you’re hoping to acheive.
Since 2017, I’ve lived in Querétaro, Mexico. While it’s not an expat hotspot, it’s still one of the more expensive places to live in Mexico. That being said, the cost of living in Querétaro is still very affordable compared to the U.S.
In my experience, $2,000 USD is more than enough to live comfortably in Querétaro, Mexico. With that budget, I’m able to travel frequently, dine out, afford the fastest interet, take Uber instead of public transportation and live in the city center.
That’s a very lax budget.
After calculating the cost of living expenses in Querétaro, I would feel comfortable living on less than $1,000 USD (perhaps, even less than $800 USD) although that would require me to pay more attention to my spending and wouldn’t leave much left over for savings.
Here’s another take:
According to Investopedia, most retirees can live very comfortably in Mexico City for less than $1,000 USD/month. That budget allows for a one-bedroom apartment outside the city center with money for groceries, utilities, personal expenses and public transportation.
Cost of living is very important, but it’s still just one of many factors you need to consider when deciding where to move in Mexico.
#1 Best Places to Live in Mexico: Querétaro
When I moved to Querétaro in Oct. 2017, I planned to live here for two years. Going on four years now, I have no plans to leave anytime soon.
Despite meeting much of the criteria for “best places to live in Mexico,” Querétaro is often left off of these types of roundups. Nearby San Miguel de Allende frequently overshadows it, or expats don’t think Querétaro is worth considering since the city is landlocked.
In this YouTube video, I break down the pros & cons of living in Querétaro Centro.
Keeping reading for the cliffnotes versions.
Querétaro is centrally located.
Querétaro is located pretty much dead center in Mexico. By bus, it’s approximately three hours north of Mexico City.
There are direct buses from Querétaro to the Mexico City airport which makes it easy to score the cheapest flights in Mexico back to the U.S. The city also has its own international airport.
The closest beach is Ixtapa which is a 5-6 hour journey by car.
Querétaro is one of the safest cities in Mexico.
If you’ve seen pictures or footage of Querétaro, then you know it has a beautiful historic center. There are many colorful streets, lots of flowers, and well-preserved colonial architecture.
Based on those images, you might think that Querétaro is a small town, but it’s actually a very big city. More than a million people live here, and it is growing. In fact, Querétaro the fastest-growing city in Mexico.
Despite its size, Querétaro is still one of the safest cities in Mexico.
In all the time I’ve called Querétaro home, I have never once felt unsafe—not even uncomfortable.
In my neighborhood (the historic city center), I feel safe walking the streets at night by myself. Since I don’t have a car, I regularly use Uber to get around. I would also feel just fine hailing a cab on the street.
Querétaro offers a high quality of life at an affordable cost.
Querétaro is by no means the cheapest place to live in Mexico, but it is still very cost-effective to call Querétaro home.
Just to give you an idea about the cost of living in Querétaro, our rent for our two-bedroom apartment in the historic city center costs $11,500 MXN ($569 USD).
As for the quality of life, Querétaro is known throughout the country as the Orgullo de México (Pride of Mexico). One example of city pride is how well it’s maintained. People who are visiting me from other parts of Mexico will often comment on the cleanliness of Querétaro’s streets.
Querétaro gives foreigners a chance to immerse themselves in Mexican culture.
If you’re interested in the typical expat retiree experience abroad where you live in a community with lots of other people from your home country, then Querétaro probably isn’t the city for you.
While there are clusters of expats in the city, it’s not a major expat community like some of the other places to live mentioned on this list.
After living in Madrid (huge tourist destination, huge expat city) it’s been a really nice change of pace to settle into life in Querétaro where I really feel like I’m a part of the community.
Between shopping at the market, speaking Spanish daily and just feeling at home in the city, this is really the experience that I envisioned for myself when I decided to move to Mexico.
Querétaro has a university atmosphere.
With so many universities within the city limits, there are a lot of students living in Querétaro and they help to give a really progressive, young vibe to the city.
It seems like every other week here, a new cafe or a hipster cocktail bar is cropping up somewhere. One of my favorite spots is Cervecería Hércules, which is a craft brewery located inside an old textile factory.
I’m not sure if this is just the people I know or if this speaks to the city as a whole, but I get the vibe that Querétaro is a very creative city. From artists to entrepreneurs, the city is home to people following their passions and building a life that they love. I find that such an energizing kind of thing to be around.
More Posts About Best Places to Live in Mexico (Querétaro)
#2 Best Places to Live in Mexico: Mérida
Understandably, one of the top concerns for expats moving to Mexico is safety. Based on crime statistics, Mérida has earned the title “safest city in Mexico.”
Like Querétaro, Mérida is a metropolis of nearly a million people. For expats interested in big city amenities, Mérida has universities, major corporations and museums.
Travel back to the U.S. as well as other parts of Mexico is convenient thanks to the city’s international airport.
Although Mérida is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, it’s important to note that the city itself is not on the water. The closest beach is in Progreso which is about 40 minutes away by car.
Mérida’s expat community is growing, but given the size of the city, you will have more need to speak Spanish.
#3 Best Places to Live in Mexico: Oaxaca City
Frequently touted as one of the most affordable expat cities in Mexico, Oaxaca City offers low-cost food, housing and transportation. The city is situated in the Sierra Madre de Oaxaca mountain range which means a cooler climate (by Mexican standards, of course).
This is a great city for nature lovers who only need to leave the city limits to enjoy a hiking trails, waterfalls and ancient Zapotec ruins. The nearby Pueblos Mancomunados are a hit with outdoor lovers looking for an off-the-beaten path adventure.
In need of some sand and sun? You can take an overnight bus to the coast or a seven-hour collectivo. If you’re prone to motion sickness, you might want to skip the winding highway all together and book a flight out of Oaxaca’s international airport.
Oaxaca City is growing in popularity among digital nomads. For more about what it’s like to live in Oaxaca, follow Susan of Brooklyn Tropicali (@brooklyntropicali) on Instagram.
#4 Best Places to Live in Mexico: Puerto Vallarta
One of the most established expat communities in Mexico, Puerto Vallarta has been attracting foreigners for more than 60 years. With the beautiful coastline, plentiful outdoor activities and reliable infrastructure, it’s easy to see why.
If you plan on traveling back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. (or having lots of friends come visit), Puerto Vallarta’s international airport makes travel easy and affordable.
Is quality healthcare a top priority? Puerto Vallarta boasts several top hospitals that can provide you with top-of-the-line medical care.
In Puerto Vallarta, it’s easy to connect with other foreigners so you can celebrate holidays from your home country. Search on Facebook for expat groups to connect with other American citizens living in Vallarta & gather for a special Thanksgiving in Mexico.
#5 Best Places to Live in Mexico: San Miguel de Allende
It’s impossible to talk about expat communities in Mexico without mentioning San Miguel de Allende. Of the approximately 140,000 people living in the metropolitan area, some estimates place the expat community in San Miguel between 20,000 and 25,000 foreigners.
Located in the heart of central Mexico’s Bajío region, this colonial city is one of the most picturesque towns in the entire country. The high-desert climate means warm days and cool nights for the majority of the year.
Because of San Miguel’s popularity among foreigners, the cost of living is significantly higher than in other parts of Mexico. The city is also a popular tourist destination which can drive up prices.
However, if you’re looking for a place to live in Mexico where you can get by just speaking English, San Miguel de Allende is a good option. Expats looking to immerse themselves in the local culture and use their Spanish on a daily basis might want to look elsewhere.
#6 Best Places to Live in Mexico: Lake Chapala
One last major expat community in Mexico for this roundup: Lake Chapala.
When you visit Mexico’s largest lake, you’ll find one of the largest concentrations of U.S. expats not just in Mexico but in the entire world. There are a number of towns along the coast of Lake Chapala with Ajijic being one of the most popular among foreigners.
Situated at approximately the same altitude as Denver, Lake Chapala has a pleasant climate year round. In January, you can expect temperatures in the low-70s (Fahrenheit). In May, temperatures get up to the mid-80s (Fahrenheit).
The communities around Lake Chapala are largely self-sufficient, but if you’re craving the city, Guadalajara is only 45 minutes away by car.
#7 Best Places to Live in Mexico: Huatulco
Many “best places to live in Mexico” lists focus heavily on the Rivera Maya, but living in Mexico is a lot different that vacationing here. Pacific coast cities such as Huatulco are worth considering for a long-term stay in Mexico.
Originally a fishing village, Huatulco is home to around 56,000 residents. The expat community isn’t huge but is still around 1,000 people.
Before hitting the beach, you can get some exercise along one of the large public walkways and promenades. In recent decades, the government has made significant investments in the city’s infrastructure. Huatulco has some of the best water treatment facilities in Mexico.
Even though it’s small compared to other cities on this list, Huatulco still has its own international airport with direct flights to the U.S. and Canada as well as other parts of Mexico.
#8 Best Places to Live in Mexico: Mexico City
When I first moved to Mexico, I swore I could never live in Mexico City. But the more time I spend there (it’s only three hours from Querétaro) the easier it is for me to imagine calling it home.
Many foreigners write off living in Mexico City before they even visit, believing it’s wholly unsafe. However, high crime rates are limited to certain areas, and some of the safest places to live in Mexico are neighborhoods in Mexico City such as Roma, Condesa and Polanco.
Plus for retirees and older expats, Mexico City has some of the best hospitals in Mexico.
Digital nomads feel right at home in Mexico City with its many cafes and co-working spaces where they can set up office. Like most capital cities, there are a lot of transplants from all over the world which makes meeting people easy.
Especially if you’re considering moving to one of Mexico City’s trendier neighborhoods, it’s important to note that the cost of living in Mexico City is more expensive than in other places on this list. But for a slightly higher price tag, you get access to world-class restaurants, fabulous shopping and over 150 museums.
Mexico City is also one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly cities in Mexico.
The Mexico City airport is the busiest airport in Latin America with affordable flights not just to the U.S. but all over the world.
For more about what it’s like to live in Mexico City as an expat, check out my friend Laura’s blog Eternal Expat.
#9 Best Places to Live in Mexico: Guadalajara
If you like the idea of living in a big city but aren’t sold on Mexico City, Guadalajara could be the place for you. The largest city in the Mexican state of Jalisco is home to more than 5 million residents.
For a relatively low cost of living, you can enjoy a variety of trendy restaurants, bars and social activities. Nightlife is concentrated around Avenida Chapultepec and the historic center which makes bar hopping a breeze.
Many say the museum scene in Guadalajara rivals that of Mexico City. You can look forward to immersing yourself in history, art, culture and architecture.
When you get tired of sipping tequila in the city, the beach is only four hours away.
#10 Best Places to Live in Mexico: Sayulita
Big cities or, even, large towns aren’t the right fit for every expat. If you prefer a quieter way of life, check out one of Nayarit’s most beloved beach towns: Sayulita.
Located approximately one hour north of Puerto Vallarta, this chill surf spot is perfect for people who want to slow down and sip an ice-cold cerveza while enjoying the playa. The people are friendly, and the area has low crime rates.
Sayulita is popular among retirees for its affordability, but as more co-working spaces crop up, digital nomads are settling here and living out their fantasies of working from the beach.
#11 Best Places to Live in Mexico: Puebla
Before Taylor and I decided where we wanted to live in Mexico, we nearly chose Puebla over Querétaro. I’m happy with our decision but still think we would have liked living in Puebla.
Mexico’s fourth-largest city, Puebla is located three hours east of Mexico City. Two giant volcanos (Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl) separate Puebla from CDMX. Popo is still active and last erupted in June 2019.
Hiking is a popular activity in Puebla, and if you’re up to the challenge, you can summit Iztaccíhuatl.
The colonial downtown has over 5,000 historic buildings including a 16th-century cathedral. Th church is nice, but my religious experience in Puebla came when I tried mole poblano for the first time.
Because of the size of the city, quality medical care is available and you can find English-speaking doctors. The closest airport is 45 minutes outside the city.
What is the safest place to live Mexico?
When going through the cities on this list of best places to live in Mexico, I specifically referenced safety in a few of the descriptions.
Please don’t think that because I didn’t mention safety or low crime rates in the city you’re most interested in calling home that means it’s not safe. Many (if not most) expats and Mexicans alike feel safe in the cities mentioned on this list.
The safest place to live in Mexico is wherever you’re committed to maintaining situational awareness.
That just means knowing what the heck is going on around you which is good practice wherever you’re living in the world.
Final Thoughts on the Best Places to Live in Mexico
One of the biggest mistakes I see expats make when they move to Mexico is failing to recognize just how big Mexico is.
The places on this list are far from the only places in Mexico where people have found happiness and built rewarding lives for themselves. Just a few of the places I’ve seen on other roundups include:
- La Paz (I wrote a whole blog post about living in La Paz, Mexico!)
- Playa del Carmen
Lists of “best places to live in Mexico” are a good place to start, but before you commit to moving to a city, you should give living there a trial run to see if it lives up to your expectations. Remember that living in a place is a lot different than vacationing there.
Thanks to Mexico’s generous tourist visa, you can try living in Mexico for six months without needing to pursue temporary residency. If you can, travel around and check out a few different cities to see where you feel most at home.
The city you end up choosing might surprise you.
Share your thoughts on this list of best places to live in Mexico. Is there anything you’d like to add? Are there any cities I should have included?
Leland W. Warner, III says
Good afternoon Alex!
Great article and I think your advice about visiting a few different cities before settling on a more permanent place to call “home,” is spot on. One may have trouble making a final choice because each city or region has different things to offer. The cuisine alone varies throughout Mexico’s various regions! Ideally, I would like to live around Mérida during winter and Querétaro in the summer. That way I can enjoy each city without enduring extreme heat or cold. I don’t need an expat community because I am fluent in Spanish and I have several friends from my youth when I lived in Tampico. I am drawn to Mérida because of its closeness to Mayan ruins. I am fascinated by the ruins, the history, its people and cuisine. Mexico is so rich in archeology, history, customs and culture. It is fascinating and best of all, the people.
I look forward to someday meeting you and Taylor over a drink and great conversation.
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
Thanks for reading & sharing your plans for where you’d ideally like to live in Mexico, Leland. I love your idea to spend half of the year in Mérida & half of the year in Querétaro. Best of both worlds! While I love having Querétaro as my home base in Mexico, in the future, I’d like to spend one month out of each year living near the beach. I’m partial to the Oaxacan coast. So glad to have connected with you, Leland. I always appreciate your thoughtful responses ?
Raymond Payne says
I chose Puebla after visiting and investigating several other states. My second choice would have been San Cristóbal de Las Casas in the beautiful state of Chiapas. My deciding factors were the size of the city and its rainy weather.
The things I liked most of about Puebla are its rich cultural atmosphere and it’s closeness to Mexico City. Although it is the richest area of Puebla, I chose the Lomas de Angelópolis neighborhood near the city of San Andrés Cholula, a colonial gem. I do struggle with Spanish but with all the smartphone applications I get by quite well. I live in a high rise condo close to shopping etc. I don’t know if there is an expat community in the State, but to be honest, I want to live in a Mexican neighborhood whether it be rich or poor. I come from Florida, where your next door neighbor is most likely to be a snowbird or a tourist. I like to follow the philosophy of… when in Rome. I enjoy reading your posts and will continue to do so.
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
When in Puebla, Raymond! Thanks so much for reading & taking the time to leave such a thoughtful response. It was really interesting to hear why you chose Puebla & I know your insight is really going to help other people deciding where to live in Mexico. I also found your second choice city very interesting since I nearly put San Cristóbal de las Casas on the list. It’s a city I have yet to visit, but it’s number one on my list of places to see in Mexico. Thanks again for sharing your experience in Puebla, Raymond!
Hello Ray, i accidentally found this website and your post. Are you still in Lomas? my parents travelled there and loved it much. We are from Germany but living in FL…
Debra Barnum says
Your videos and blogs about Mexico are among the best of the best! This article is chocked full of so much useful information. I am excited to know that it is indeed possible to live in Queretaro for $1,000 USD or less per month! The affordable cost of living is one of the main reasons I will be moving to Queretaro, Mexico. I like your advice about exploring various cities before settling into one and I might just do that with Queretaro being the first stop on my list. I like that it will be easy to pack up and move with minimal belongings whenever I feel the need.
Debra Barnum recently posted…11 Important Things to Know Before Moving to Mexico
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
Thanks for reading & taking the time to leave a comment, Debra! Yes, I highly encourage you to make a list of a few different places to live in Mexico that fit your list of must-haves and spend a few weeks in each. Queretaro isn’t the cheapest place to live in Mexico, but I think you get a lot for your money living here (very high quality of life for still an affordable cost of living compared to the U.S.). As you said, it’s so nice to be able to pack up and try somewhere new when the urge strikes. I am looking forward to some long trips around Mexico myself once it is safe to do so. Queretaro is a great home base thanks to its central location in the country.
San Cristóbal? Nah, you might as well choose Antigua, Guatemala instead.
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
I have heard good things about both San Cristóbal & Antigua!
SC was extremely underwhelming for me: cold, dirty and poor.
I spent last winter in Puerto Escondido (Oaxaca) and it’s expat scene is booming… the only problem is the internet.
One of the toughest decisions one can make is to leave your homeland. But, The US has changed so much for the worse and the moniker of ex-pat is not scaring me. But, WHERE? I’m in San Miguel at the moment and really not feeling it. Dusty! Found a condo in Puerto Vallarta but is it too touristy there? Help!
TIMOTHY S SEELEY says
LAKE CHAPALA LOOKS LIKE A NICE PLACE TO RETIRE
Stephen Fosdick says
Thanks for this article. I’m planning a 3 month visit to Zipolite in October. I’ve rented a number of AirBnBs (one week each) just to see what I like best.
I’m also practicing to be a bar tender. I’m not sure what I have to do to work legally in Mexico, so I need to do some research, but I think being a bar tender will be a great way to meet new people (both locals and tourists) and to practice my Spanish.
Thank you for all the info, I do appreciate it.
Dave Ross says
Thanks for this Alex. I am a little late to this party but no doubt it will keep on going. I just watched the 10K Q&A. In my very early research I have many similar cities. I too wondered about San Cristobal and even Campeche (it looks quite beautiful) but Queretaro and Oaxaca City intrigue me most at this time. I have been to Mexico City and while I was apprehensive I quite enjoyed it. Also been to San Miguel de Allende and Puerto Vallarta and both are great.
Diane Jahn says
Thank you for the great information! We are thinking of moving to Mexico. We have a dog and want to know if that is a problem for us.
Thank you .
Great information for a possible move.
I visited Puebla last winter and it was so much fun and never felt unsafe there. I was born and raised in NYC and felt that it was much safer than that. Great food and a lot of fun options just outside in Cholula. Food was very cheap to go out and eat and uber rides were so affordable.I lived like a tourist for three weeks and spent $500 for two. Just an educated guess but if you live a little bit more like a local you will have no trouble with $1200 and still have some fun.
Do you have any information about Morelia?
Do many expats live there? Is it safe? Culture?
Joshua Roig says
I loved reading your post, “11 Best Places to Live in Mexico” and seeing the accompanying video on your experience in Queretero. Your energy is infectious! My wife, our ten-year-old son, and I will be moving to Oaxaca summer 2022. Our teenaged son may join us and study there or continue his university studies here in Los Angeles. My wife grew up in Oaxaca and after thirty years living in LA, she is anxious to be reacquainted. We will continue to look out for your posts & videos. It’s a HUGE transition for me and my sons, who’ve only lived in LA. Connecting with people like yourself will surely provide much needed comfort.
This is awesome! My bf and I moved from Canada to Playa del Carmen, but are moving to Oaxaca in a few months as well! I’m sure it’ll be great!
What would you say about San Cristobal de las Casas?
Thank you very much for taking the time to put together such an informative blog! For ex-pat living in Mexico, how do you handle banking and access to your money? Do you open a Mexican bank account and use that to pay for rent, food, etc? Or maintain your credit cards/bank account from back home and somehow access them in Mexico? I am trying to plan logistics and was wondering what makes the most sense.
Great list! Having lived in Mexico City for a couple of years in my 20s, I can say that it’s one my favorite place to be. The people, culture, food, sights and diversity of things to do is what I like about it most. I’m itching to move back there when the time is right. Polanco is my favorite neighborhood.
What would you recommend for small town / rural living? Somewhere I can be off-grid, with a moderate climate (compared to south-west Canada). I would like to continue raising chickens and goats.
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
I would look in the central highlands. Perhaps the area surrounding Queretaro out toward the Sierra Gorda. Perhaps something near Jalpan de Serra?
c j hadley says
i am looking to go to mexico for 2 months jan/feb. I have looked all over. Sayulita was my first choice but rentals are higher than Canada.
This is the issue where ever I look.
How do you live on 2000 or less if rentals are so high?
are there any decent websites that I am not finding?
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
For longer short term stays, one tip is to try to make a deal with an Airbnb host off platform. That could be tough in Sayulita though because it’s such a popular time of year to be there.