The pros & cons of living in Guadalajara plus so much more!
Living in Guadalajara wasn’t on my radar until a trip here in May 2022 made me fall in love with the city. What was supposed to be a 10-day visit turned into a three-week stay, and when I finally left, I couldn’t stop thinking about Guadalajara.
When I moved to Mexico back in 2017, I never even considered living in Guadalajara. Looking back, that was a HUGE mistake on my part. Living in Guadalajara is a great option for expats and digital nomads who are interested in living in Latin America and looking for an alternative to Mexico City.
The capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco, Guadalajara is a modern city with an affordable cost of living relative to the United States. In addition to having its own international airport, Guadalajara offers big city amenities like public transportation, innovative restaurants, museums and a wealth of cultural events.
At the same time, living in Guadalajara is a chance to experience authentic Mexico—many of the country’s best-known global exports come from Jalisco including tequila and mariachi music.
Life in Guadalajara means the best of both world in Mexico. You can enjoy late-night street food or purchase a cup of fresh fruit first thing in the morning, but you can also swipe your credit card at a world-class shopping mall with designer stores like Cartier and Dior.
This guide is for foreigners, expats and digital nomads considering living in Guadalajara, Mexico. After reading this post, you’ll know about:
- Safety in Guadalajara
- Best neighborhoods for expats and digital nomads
- How to find an apartment in Guadalajara
- Cost of living (how much money do you really need??)
- Transportation and getting around the city
- Cons of living in Guadalajara
- & more!
Is living in Guadalajara safe for expats and digital nomads?
One of the most frequently asked questions I get about Guadalajara (okay, about Mexico in general) is how safe it is to live here. This is an understandable concern for anyone considering moving somewhere new to them.
Some people might answer this question with statistics that compare Guadalajara to other big cities. That’s one approach, but it fails to address just how relative safety is.
A while back, I was talking with a friend of mine about safety in Mexico, and she said something that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about: Every place feels safe until something happens to you.
Guadalajara is a BIG city. Crime happens here. However, if I’m going off my own personal experience, I feel safe living in Guadalajara. I feel just as safe here as I have anywhere else I’ve lived or traveled in the world.
How to stay safe living in Guadalajara
That being said, living in Mexico requires a degree of situational awareness that I’ve noticed many foreigners (particularly people from the US who haven’t lived in a big city) aren’t accustomed to. This situational awareness involves:
- Confirming the license plate of your Uber matches the one in the app before getting in the car
- Keeping an eye on your drink—especially open cocktails
- Watching where you’re walking for potholes, loose bricks & raised sections of sidewalk
- Sharing your location & ETA with friends (“text me when you’re home”)
- Looking both ways before crossing the street
One of the most common crimes in Guadalajara is phone theft. When I’m out walking in the city, I keep my phone zipped inside my purse—only taking it out briefly if I need to check Google Maps. You might think your phone is safe if there are no other pedestrians around, but a motorcyclist can come out of nowhere & snatch your phone out of your hand before you even realize what’s happening.
My other tips for staying safe while living in Guadalajara (Mexico in general) are washing your hands before you eat & taking extra care to clean any cuts or scrapes. Since you didn’t grow up here, you might not have had the chance to develop immunity to common bacteria. A serious infection is much more dangerous than getting your phone stolen.
What You Need to Know Before Moving to Guadalajara
Before moving here, there are a few things you need to know about living in Guadalajara. Some of this advice applies to Mexico as a whole while other tips are specific to GDL. My goal with this section is to share the things I wish someone would have told me before moving here.
Guadalajara is a BIG city
I’ve said this so many times in this post already that I’m starting to feel like a broken record, however, many foreigners fail to realize just how big Guadalajara is. Even after moving here, they stay in their little section of the city (usually Colonia Americana) & never venture out. While Colonia Americana is awesome in its own right, there’s a heck of a lot more to Guadalajara than just that one neighborhood.
If you’re thinking about moving to Guadalajara, I highly recommend exploring different neighborhoods to see where you feel most at home. Instead of jumping into a long-term lease straight away, rent Airbnbs in different parts of the city. Actually staying somewhere is a much different experience than just walking the neighborhood during the day.
What are the best Guadalajara expat neighborhoods?
I have yet to explore all the neighborhoods in the Guadalajara metropolitan area, but after living here for a year, here are a few of my favorites:
- Tlaquepaque Centro
- Zapopan Centro
- Arcos Vallarta
- Ladron de Guevara
- Santa Teresita
If you live in Guadalajara, I’d love to hear your suggestions for other neighborhoods to check out. Let me know in the comments below!
How to find an apartment in Guadalajara
For a short-term rental (less than a year), your best bet is Airbnb, Facebook Marketplace or foreigner-friendly Facebook/WhatsApp groups. You can find rooms for rent as well as furnished apartments.
If you’re looking for something more permanent (a year-long lease), here are some helpful websites for your search: Inmuebles24 & Vivanuncios. I found our three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment using Inmuebles24. Friends of mine have had success using Facebook Marketplace.
In order to rent our apartment in Guadalajara, the landlord asked us to submit to a póliza jurídica. You can read what this special renter’s investigation entails plus get the scoop on other rental requirements in this post about how to rent an apartment in Mexico as a foreigner.
Check your privilege
In other places in Mexico like CDMX, some locals are frustrated with the influx of foreigners. Since Time Out named Colonia Americana the “coolest neighborhood in the world,” many worry an increase in cost of living and decrease in affordable housing options is imminent.
We have a responsibility to try to minimize potential negative effects on Guadalajara and its long-time inhabitants. In addition to remembering your privilege, here are a few ideas for how you can live in Mexico responsibly:
- Find locally-owned accommodation
- Learn Spanish (don’t expect people to speak English)
- Educate yourself on the history & local customs
- Spend $$$ in less touristy areas
- Break out of the digital nomad/expat bubble
You won’t be perfect (I’m certainly not), but what matters is that we keep trying to be better than we were yesterday. Keep an open mind. Remember your privilege. Stay curious.
Pros & Cons of Living in Guadalajara
If you’re thinking about moving to Guadalajara, if at all possible, I highly recommend that you plan a visit here first. Blog posts & YouTube videos can give you an idea of what to expect, but it’s difficult to know what a it’s really like (and how at home you feel) until you’re actually here yourself. Of course, living somewhere is different than visiting, but even a short test run is better than nothing.
For me, one of the biggest pros of living in Guadalajara is that the city is a blend of traditional and modern. It has a distinctly Mexican feel, and you can have authentic experiences like shopping at local markets. On the other hand, you also have access to top-of-the-line amenities like quality healthcare, state-of-the-art shopping centers & international dining options.
In this section, I’m sharing the pros and cons of living in Guadalajara (as I see them) to help you decide if the city ticks the necessary boxes for your new home in Mexico. Got questions about any of the pros & cons mentioned below? Please feel free to ask away in the comments!
Pro of Living in Guadalajara: Friendly People
Perhaps you’ve already heard how warm & welcoming most Mexicans are and that’s one of the reasons you want to move to Mexico. I’ve traveled all over the country and had the great fortunate to meet so many incredible people, however, if I had to give a “friendliest Mexicans” award, Guadalajara would be the winner sin duda.
In my experience, people have gone out of their way to help me and just been super nice. Tapatios & tapatias (that’s the name for GDL locals) are joyful. They like to smile and laugh and have a good time. Nobody is up 100% of the time, but for the most part, people love living in Guadalajara & that shows.
Because people come to Guadalajara from all over Mexico (and increasingly from all over the world) to study and work, there’s a constant influx of newcomers looking to make friends. Instagram is a great way to learn about upcoming community events and social gathering. While there are some English-language events and groups, knowing Spanish will make getting plugged in a lot easier.
Con of Living in Guadalajara: Landlocked
If you dream of living on the beach in Mexico, then Guadalajara just isn’t for you. It’s a three-hour drive to the closest beach in Nayarit and a four-hour drive to Puerto Vallarta. The good news is that those drives will be shorter once the new highway connecting Guadalajara to the coast is finished (whenever that may be).
Taylor (my husband) & I have roadtripped to the beach over half a dozen times since moving to Guadalajara. We always take the cuota (toll road) which is nicer than the libre (freeway) but pricy. It costs around $1,000 MXN in tolls each way.
For a closer body of water, Lake Chapala is an hour-drive south of Guadalajara. It’s Mexico’s largest freshwater lake, and the area is a popular weekend getaway from the city. Ajijic is one of the towns on the lake, and it’s home to a significant expat population including Americans and Canadians.
Pro: Public Transportation
Despite having lived in Guadalajara for a little over a year, I have yet to utilize the buses or the Sistema de Tren Eléctrico Urbano (Urban Electric Train System). SITEUR’s line 3 is very intriguing though. With 18 stations, it’s Guadalajara’s longest public transport railway line. This line connects the historic centers of Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque & Zapopan. You can even get all the way out to the Central de Autobuses.
The public transportation that I utilize most often (on nearly a daily basis) is Guadalajara’s bike share program. MiBici has stations all over the city & earlier this year, the city upgraded the bikes. An annual MiBici memberships costs $457 MXN (approx. $27 US). Once you get used to the flow of traffic, Guadalajara is a pretty bike-friendly city with lots of ciclovías (dedicated bike lanes) & relatively flat terrain.
Con: Poorly Maintained Sidewalks
While I find Guadalajara to be much more walkable than Querétaro (the other Mexican city I’ve called home), the condition of many of the sidewalks could be a challenge for someone with limited mobility. I frequently see people with wheelchairs opting to roll in the street because the sidewalks are such a mess.
Why are so many of Guadalajara’s sidewalks in such bad shape? The city has a lot of trees, and while they help to make the city much more livable, the roots destroy the sidewalks. A walk to the corner store can feel like a mini mountain trek when you have to scramble up an incline or leapfrog across broken cement. It’s very important to watch where you’re walking when you’re out and about.
Across Mexico, Guadalajara has the reputation for having one of the best climates in the country. It’s a semi-arid, semi-humid climate with an average temperature of around 67 degrees F (19.2 degrees C). The vast majority of days here are sunny with clear skies.
The best months in Guadalajara (in my humble opinion) are February & November. You can expect cool nights & warm days. The worst months in Guadalajara are April & May as that’s when it’s hottest. We almost never use our air conditioner except during those two months.
Con: Rainy Season
If you’ve never lived somewhere that has a rainy season, let me tell you: it’s intense. In Guadalajara, the temporada de lluvias can start as early as June and last through October. It generally lines up with hurricane season. During this time of year, you can expect nightly heavy rain and high winds.
Even though it mostly rains at night, the days can be very gray. Day after day of cloudy skies is a little jarring when you’re used to so much sunshine. The worst part of rainy season, however, is driving in the rain. Many of Guadalajara’s most trafficked streets and roundabouts flood—this happens quite fast since the rain comes down so hard.
Unlike some Mexican cities that started out as pueblos and later exploded into cities, urban planners designed Guadalajara to service a large population. One example of this forethought is the number of parks in the city. Guadalajara has a lot of green space which goes a long way in making living here sustainable.
A few of my favorite parks in Guadalajara are Bosque de Colomos, Parque Alcalde & Parque Metropolitano. Bosque de la Primavera & Parque Mirador have some nice hiking trails that I hope to check out soon. As a newbie roller skater, I’ve also been exploring skate parks around the city. My favorite so far is Parque Montenegro near the airport.
If you’re thinking about moving to basically any city in Mexico, you need to take pollution under consideration. For the most part, industry takes priority in Mexico & environmental protections are lacking. While Guadalajara isn’t nearly as bad as Mexico City, the air pollution is still significant. Just this morning, I woke up to a hazy, smog-filled sky reminiscent of the cloudy days of rainy season.
The air quality is best during and just after rainy season (maybe I should have put rainy season down as a pro 🤔). During other parts of the year (for example, May), I experience something similar to allergies due to all the “stuff” in the air. In addition to smog, there’s a lot of dust from all the construction. To make things worse, there’s often mass burnings that happen in the spring & the smoke is no joke.
Cost of Living in Guadalajara
One of the most important things to consider when moving to a new place is the cost of living in your new city. That being said though, cost of living can vary greatly depending on your lifestyle. In Guadalajara, I know Mexicans who spends thousands of dollars per month, foreigners who live on less than $1k & vice versa.
To help you better understand the cost of living in Guadalajara, I wrote a very detailed post with my weekly, monthly & annual expenses. It includes that specifics of my lifestyle in Mexico which should help you to adjust accordingly depending on the things you do and do not generally spend money on. Find out how much I spend on rent, health insurance, groceries, dining out & more.
Because Guadalajara is such a big city, you can find options for every type of budget here. The more Spanish you know the easier it is to save money since you’ll be able to ask around for deals and communicate more easily with vendors.
Frequently Asked Questions About Living in Guadalajara
Before I wrap up this post, I want to take some time to answer the most frequently asked questions I receive from blog readers, YouTube subscribers & other inquiring minds about life in Guadalajara. If you have a question that I didn’t answer here (or elsewhere in this post), please feel free to drop it in the comments below.
Over on YouTube, I have a whole playlist of videos that I’ve made since moving to Guadalajara. Here are some of the most popular day in the life vlogs:
- A fall weekend in my life in Guadalajara, Mexico
- Where to eat fried chicken, drink wine & thrift in Guadalajara, Mexico
- The Truth About Living in Guadalajara, Mexico
- Tourist & non-touristy things to do in Guadalajara, Mexico
How do you find out about events happening in Guadalajara?
One of the things I love most about living in Guadalajara is that there’s so much to do here. My go-to follow for restaurant recommendations & upcoming events is Antiturista (@anti.turista). Every week, Antiturista shares a calendar of interesting events happening in Guadalajara over the weekend. The “Agenda Antiturista” is a mix of art expos, workshops, live music acts, speaking panels & more.
Instagram is my primary resource for staying up to date with what’s happening around Guadalajara. Here are a few of my favorite accounts to follow:
- Guadalajara Secreta (@guadalajarasecreta)
- Guadalajara Connect (@guadalajaraconnect)
- Lopa (@lopalibreria)
- Siendo Juntas (@siendojuntas)
- El Mono Silabo (@el.mono.silabo)
Does Guadalajara have its own airport?
Yes, Guadalajara has its own international airport. It’s located about 30 minutes from the city center, but it can take a bit longer to get out there depending on the traffic. I recommend giving yourself an hour.
The airport is relatively small, and I’ve always been able to get through security quickly. If you’re a temporary or permanent resident, know that the immigration kiosk is located at the end of the airline check-in desks. You must stop there to get your passport stamped before going through security.
I usually take an Uber or Didi out to the airport. The fare costs between $200-300 MXN. You can call an Uber or Didi to the airport to pick you up, but you might need to walk a bit to meet them. The airport sometimes fines rideshare drivers so yours might ask to meet you somewhere other than directly in front of arrivals.
Can you drink the tap water?
Just like most people we know (foreigners and Mexicans alike), we do not drink the tap water in Guadalajara. Instead, we drink from five-gallon jugs called garrafones. Bonafont (one of several drinking water companies) delivers right to our building. Each garrafón costs $50 MXN—we usually go through two a week.
We also use the garrafón water to make coffee, tea & any water-based recipes like soup. For washing produce & boiling pasta, we just use tap water. I also use tap water to brush my teeth while at home in Guadalajara, but if I’m traveling elsewhere in Mexico, I use bottled water.
Do you need a car to live in Guadalajara?
Personally, I don’t think you need a car to live in Guadalajara. As someone who works from home, I can easily get wherever I need to go using a combination of MiBici (city bike share program), Uber & my own two feet. If you’re going to being working outside your home, I highly recommend mapping out your commute before signing a lease.
My husband & I did buy a car shortly after moving to Guadalajara. It’s something we’d been talking about for awhile, and unlike our place in Querétaro, our apartment here has two parking spaces. During the week, the only time we really use the car is for grocery runs. On the weekends, it’s nice to have for excursions outside the city & roadtrips to the beach.
In this post, you can read all about our (slightly nightmarish) experience buying a car in Mexico plus what I wish I’d known beforehand.
How much Spanish do you need to know to live in Guadalajara?
If you think I’m going to tell you that you don’t need to know Spanish to live in Guadalajara, you’re reading the wrong blog. Like I said in the “Check your privilege” section, learning Spanish is a huge part of living responsibly in Mexico. Please don’t be one of those people who come to Mexico and expect people to speak English.
Of course, everyone learns at their own pace, but the important thing is that you make an effort. The more Spanish you know, the more at home you’re going to feel living in Mexico. Many people do speak at least some English (a lot of people here speak excellent English), but if you want to make friends with locals, the best way to do that is in Spanish.
As far as going to the doctor or dentist, it’s easy enough to find English-speaking medical professionals. I suggest asking in expat/foreigner Facebook groups (search “expats in Guadalajara”) for recommendations.
What do you love most about living in Guadalajara?
You’re going to make me choose just one thing?! Throughout this post, I’ve mentioned many different things I love about living in Guadalajara, but one that I haven’t touched on yet is the Vía Recreativa.
Every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the city closes downs some of its biggest thoroughfares to cars so bikers, skaters & pedestrians can enjoy them. Prioritizing wellness & community, the Vía Recreativa is a social program done right 👍🏼
Even if you’re out cruising the streets on your own, it feels like you’re a part of something. Guadalajara isn’t a perfect city (no city is), but many of the people who call it home value diversity & inclusion. The Vía exemplifies those values as it is a place for la convivencia (coexistence).
Final Thoughts on Living in Guadalajara
I’ve said A LOT about what it’s like living in Guadalajara, Mexico & hopefully based on my experience, you have a better idea of what to expect before moving here. Guadalajara is a city full of life where it’s easy to get plugged in and find your people. I’m so happy with our decision to move here & can see us being happy in Guadalajara for years to come.
If you’re thinking about moving to Mexico, be sure to download the free Move to Mexico Quickstart Guide. The 30+ page PDF guides includes a step-by-step move to Mexico checklist with explanations for the most important tasks like researching Mexico’s residency requirements, organizing your finances & finding temporary housing. You’ll also get my top apartment hunting tips and renting in Spanish cheatsheet!
If you have any questions about living in Guadalajara or are looking for specific recommendations in the city, ask away in the comments below.