Living in Mexico City: A Guide (For Digital Nomads)
Living in Mexico city long-term wasn’t in my plans.
After being booted out of my preceding expat city of choice, Medellin (not as exciting as it sounds, my tourist visa had just expired and it resets every calendar year), my intention was to go back to live in Colombia, once I was legally allowed to, 4 months later.
But that wasn’t meant to be and I ended up making Mexico City (also known as CMDX and D.F) my long term home for 3 years.
Mexico remains one of my favourite countries on earth and this guide is aimed at digital nomads who are looking to stay in the capital for the long term. By the end of the article I hope to give you a better insight into what life is like in CMDX, how and where to lay your sombrero and offer advice to whether this is the destination for you (or not).
Visa Situation For Living in Mexico City
Getting a visa to live in Mexico City is pretty simple for most nationalities. In fact, 70 countries can get into Mexico without needing to obtain a visa. However, they do need a tourist card called the Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM).
The beauty of the FMM card is that it only costs $575 MXN ($35 USD) and allows you to live in Mexico for up to 180 days (6 months!) After the 6-month time period is up, you’ll have to leave Mexico and get a new card before you can re-enter. You can apply for it online and once approved you simply print it out and carry the card with you. It should be completed within 30 days of your travel date.
Let me tell you something from someone who has been wandering around for a long time, as an expat and a traveller, this is a damn good deal. I don’t want to have egg on my face and call it unprecedented, as I could be wrong – but for what I know, 6 months on-entry is an incredibly kind offer from the Mexican government for tourists fortunate enough to be on this list.
Speaking of which, here is a list of the lucky 70…
Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estado Plurinacional de Bolivia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niue, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela.
What if My Country is Not on The Mexico Visa Exemption/Waiver List?
You will need to Google “Mexican Embassies Near Me” and write down the contact and address details of the results. Sometimes they will show up as “Mexican Consulate of (whatever destination),” or a synonym of that. You will need to call, or email to book an appointment and will need to bring along the documents required.
I really feel for you if you lost the geographical lottery when it comes to passports. I’ll never lose sight of how fortuitous having mine is, however I don’t have a 100% clean record with visa waivers, since the USA rejected me at first and I know from personal experience that these appointments can be stressful for you.
Hang in there, don’t forget your documents, dress up as nicely as possible, answer all questions politely (with a deep breath) and best of luck to you.
Temporary Residence Status in Mexico
If you wish to stay longer in Mexico, you’ll need to look at different Visa options.
The first is the Visa de Residente Temporal (Temporary Resident Visa), a renewable long-term visa that gives you temporary residency status. Upon issuance, you get 365 days which is then renewed for an additional 1-3 years. You’re also allowed unlimited entry/exit to/from Mexico with it. The visa can only be applied for at a Mexican consulate outside of Mexico, and you must show proof that you have sufficient funds or steady income to sustain yourself. This visa costs around $200 USD.
Permanent Resident Visa
The other long-term option is the Visa de Residente Permanente (Permanent Resident Visa), which is issued to those who plan on living in Mexico permanently and may eventually seek Mexican citizenship. The requirements to obtain it are more stringent than the Temporary Resident Visa, and most people will only qualify for it after spending 4 years on the temporary visa.
You can also go down the “I know a guy who knows a guy,” and pay a lawyer to do all the grunt work for you. So you better be ready to mingle if you want to be eligible for that option.
Weather in Mexico City
One of the biggest benefits to living in Mexico City is the warm climate. In the summer months, you can expect to have highs of 28°C (82°F), with the winter months averaging between 20°C and 24°C (68°F to 74°F).
The evenings can get surprisingly chilly, but for me it’s an extra thing to love about the place. Shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops as an option during the day and a smart, stylish warm jacket and trousers/shirts combo for any stylish places you may want to frequent at night – it’s like living a double life!
The dry season runs from October to May, with the rainy season between June and October. The city isn’t a stranger to rainfall every year, with an average of 12 days out of the summer months seeing 2.4 inches of rain challenging the locals’ daily living.
It’s important to know that Mexico City is sadly no stranger to earthquakes, the last big one being a 7.1 magnitude quake on 19th September 2017, spookily 32 years to the day since their last serious tremor.
This happened exactly 3 days after I left to travel throughout South America, talk about lady luck being on my side!
Many of the buildings had been designed to withstand quakes with more vigor and the city responds much faster to emergencies than it did since the tragedy in1985 (earthquake alarms are a common thing now).
However, it’s still something worth considering for those pondering their expat city options and whether the possibility of experiencing a natural disaster like this is a deal-breaker when it comes to living in Mexico city… or maybe just don’t live on the top floor of a high-rise apartment.
Important Spanish Phrases For Living in Mexico City
It’s important to learn basic phrases for any country you travel to. Not only can they help you out in a jam, but they’ll also endear you to the locals for attempting to speak their language. Here are some simple phrases you should learn for getting the party started in Mexico City:
- Hola [oh-la] – Hello (informal)
- Buenos días [bweh-nos-dee-ahs] – Good morning / good day (formal)
- Buenas tardes [bweh-nahs-tar-dahs) – Good afternoon (formal)
- Buenas noches [bweh-nahs-no-chezz) – Good evening / good night (formal)
- Gracias [grah-thee-ahs] – Thank you
- Sí [see] – Yes
- No [noh] – No
- Por favor [poor-fah-vore] – Please
- ¿Hablas inglés? [ah-blas-een-gless] – Do you speak English?
- No hablo Español [no-ah-blow-ess-pan-yoll] – I don’t speak Spanish.
- Sin cebollas, porva [seen-sa-boh-jas-porfa] – No onions, please. (For poor bastards like me who hate the official food of Satan).
There are a number of language schools dotted around Mexico City, but I didn’t use any of them myself. My Spanish was already decent after living in Colombia, and dating a local lady who would shout at me in español, whenever I looked at another female of the species really upped my game.
I opted for getting to know locals and asking for freelance tutors, as I work much better one-on-one than in a classroom environment. So I’m afraid you’ll have to do your own due dillegence on Spanish language schools in CMDX, but it pays to learn the language here as it does in any country.
A lot of younger Mexicans in the capital speak in English (sometimes even with each other to look trendy) but it’s best to remember that most don’t, so go at your own pace and try to make an effort – Mexicans will and do appreciate this.
National Holidays in Mexico
Depending on what national holiday it is, they will possibly be drunk and dancing with friends, or eating with their families, visiting church and some absolute pros will be squeezing all three of those into one festive day!
- 1st: New Year’s Day: Like most of the Western world, Mexico recognises the 1st day of the new year (Año Nuevo) as a public holiday where banks, schools, government offices and most businesses are closed. It’s also a day to recuperate from New Year’s Eve (Nochevieja) festivities and practice some interesting New Year’s traditions for good measure.
- 5th: Constitution Day: Día de la Constitución takes place on the first Monday in February, and celebrates the ratification of the Constitution of 1917. Large parades are held all over Mexico on this day, and citizens also take this long weekend to spend time with their loved ones.
- 15th: Benito Juárez’s Birthday Memorial: This holiday commemorates the 26th President of Mexico and national hero, Benito Juárez, remembered as a reformer dedicated to democracy. He reduced the influence of the Catholic Church in Mexican politics, campaigned for equal rights for indigenous peoples, and promoted the defence of national sovereignty. What a guy, perfect bloke to raise a salty michelada to…
- 1st: Labor Day / May Day: Labor Day (aka Día del Trabajo) / May Day (aka Primero de Mayo) takes place on May 1st and is a federal holiday. It’s a commemoration of the achievements of the labour movement, and as a result, banks, schools, government services, and most businesses are closed for the day.
- 16th: Independence Day: Día de la Independencia is the day Mexicans celebrate their Independence from Spain. It’s one of the most important holidays in Mexico, with festivities including parades, live music, dancing, colorful costumes, flag-waving, home-cooked food, and fireworks all being commonplace.
October 31st-November 2nd
- Dia de los Muertos: Also known as “Day of The Dead,” this day is a beautiful, and often misunderstood festival where natives often get dressed up in what could easily be mistaken as halloween costumes in the West. Nothing to be intimidated by here though, it’s a profound festival with a genuine respect of life and a longing for those that have passed on. It’s down as a 2-day festival, but I found Mexicans usually get the party started on 31st October (they just can’t help themselves, any excuse to party). Mexico City is one of the coolest places to celebrate this electrifying commemoration, but venture to Janitzio Island if you’re looking for Dia de los Muertos without the ostentatiousness.
- 20th: Revolution Day Memorial: The third Monday of November is reserved to celebrate Dia de la Revolución, which commemorates the start of what became the Mexican Revolution, an armed conflict that lasted from 1910 to 1920. Celebrations are held and many people dress up as revolutionaries while participating in the festivities.
- 24th: Nochebuena: Ok, this one may be a little trickier than you first thought. Known as “Navidad” in Mexico, or “Christmas Day” around the world. This is of course an annual tradition to celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom Christians believe is the son of God. A myriad of Navidad festivities (candle lighting, church-going, Spanish carolling, fireworks) begins on December 12th and runs all the way through to January 6th. Officially, in Mexico, Christmas day is celebrated on the 24th of December as the real deal. This is also commonplace in most of Latin America, so make sure to pencil that one in and throw out a cheery “Feliz Navidad” on the most important day of Yuletide in your newly adopted country.
Wifi and Data For Digital Nomads Living in Mexico City
Us Digital nomads have most of our life online, so we need to stay connected at all times. Thankfully Mexico City is one of the top destinations for free WIFI, with an average speed of 21mbps.
When you land, Mexico City International Airport provides you with 45 minutes of free WIFI, and once you get into the downtown core, you’ll have over 13,000 access points at your disposal, including museums, public parks, plazas, and public transportation.
If you need data, you can pick up a SIM card at the airport’s Mobo shop or in the city at Oxxo convenience stores. AT&T Unidos, Telcel, and Movistar are the three providers, with Telcel providing the best coverage. A prepaid SIM card will cost you roughly $200 MXN ($10 USD) for 3 GB of data, unlimited social media apps, as well as unlimited texting and calling for 30 days. Remember to have your phone unlocked so you can use any SIM card with it.
Be aware that Oxxo will charge an extra $150 MXN ($7.50 USD) to activate your Telcel SIM card. You can save this money by activating it yourself.
Food in Mexico City
Another perk of living in Mexico City is you’ll have access to world-class cuisine dating back 9000 years, from the southern Yucatan Peninsula to the northern border of Baja California.
Restaurants are plentiful in such a huge and progressive city, as is the street food, which is a big culture of vendors and traditional markets, where you can eat for only a few dollars per meal, or go all-out fancypants and eat out in any of the multitude of posh places at your disposal.
Here’s a dirty little secret though… Think you like Mexican food? You might actually not like Mexican food, because you may never have even tried it. Or to be more clear, the famous Mexican food that we all know and love outside of Mexico is rather different to the traditional Mexican food in Mexico, it’s Mexican with a Western (“Tex-Mex”) twist.
But here’s the good news… Mexican food in Mexico is even better! (That’s not to say you won’t find me self-loathing, lost in a hungover chimichanga in a “fake” Mexican any time in the near future).
Dishes that are gob full of cheese on burritos and similar-looking wraps, repackaged with a fancy-sounding name is not what real Mexican food is all about.
Traditional Mexican foods consist of meats like chicken, beef, or pork, as well as rice, beans, and tortillas. Ingredients such as chili peppers, cacao, oregano, epazote, and cilantro are staples in Mexican dishes, which make them stand out from globalised Mexican food.
Tacos are probably the most famous dish they serve, and you can find them them pretty much anywhere in the city. Good news for celiacs/gluten intolerant people – the traditional tacos in Mexico are made out of corn, so by default they are gluten-free.
There is a heavy vegan scene in Mexico City too, they even have a couple of vegan supermarkets (my favourite being a franchise called “Mr. Tofu, which has all the best plant-based products from the US and Canada).
Here are some popular foods you’ll see when you’re in Mexico’s capital. Most of the below can easily be veganised with an array of substitutes for people like myself who don’t eat meat and there are veggie restaurants who do just that.
- Huaraches: Oval-shaped corn masa cakes stuffed with beans and then fried.
- Pan Dulce: Mexican pastries such as conchas (sweet bread topped with powdered sugar), cuerno (similar to a croissant), and picón (glazed doughy bread).
- Chilaquiles: A traditional Mexican breakfast dish of fried corn tortillas with salsa, egg, and your choice of meat.
- Pambazo: A Mexican sandwich made from pambazo bread. It’s dipped and fried in a red guajillo pepper sauce and stuffed with either papas con chorizo (potatoes and sausage) or just papas (potatoes).
- Tlacoyos: Snack food consisting of oval-shaped blue tortillas stuffed with black beans, requesón (a ricotta-style cheese), or chicharrón (fried pork belly/rinds)
- Mole Poblano: Last but not least for 2 reasons; Firstly, mole is Mexico’s national dish. Lastly, this one is my personal favourite. There are multiple types of mole dishes, this particular mole has chocolate and chili and a whole host of other delicious ingredients. Absolute heaven of a meal.
Currency in Mexico
The official currency of Mexico is the Mexican Peso (MXN). The word “peso” translates to “weights”, which refers to silver or gold weights. A single peso is made up of 100 centavos.
Paper money is available in denominations of $20, $50, $100, $200, and $500 MXN. Coins are in denominations of 20 and 50 centavos, with $1, $2, $5, $10, and $20 peso coins also in circulation.
ATMs (known as cajeras) are abundant in the city and will dispense pesos, although some provide USD as well. Be smart when using them, as card skimming is common in Mexico. ATMs attached to a bank are usually monitored with cameras, and will be your safest option.
Fees may also be associated when using ATMs in Mexico City (an extra $1 or 1-3% of the withdrawal amount), although some ATMs do not charge fees. Your home bank will likely charge you a “international withdrawal fee” each time you take out money and watch out for those pesky “non-sterling (or whatever your home currency is) transaction fees” when you’re spending with your card abroad. This absolutely rinsed me when I first left home and was unaware of the fact.
Depending on your nationality and eligibility, my travel resources section may help you to find a solution to this… as all those fees do add up to a hefty amount if you don’t plan accordingly.
If you’re looking to exchange money, banks will give you the best rate. While the airport has currency exchange counters, they generally offer the worst rates.
Setting up a Bank Account in Mexico as a Foreigner
If you want to bypass ATM fees and the general inconvenience of transferring money abroad when it doesn’t suit you, then opening up a bank account in Mexico City is the natural solution.
Some things are difficult while living in Mexico City, but thankfully opening a bank account isn’t too tricky at all. First of all, choose which bank you want to be a member of out of the following:
Then rock into any of them, dressed relatively nicely. This is a common theme I talk about on my blog in such situations. I’m not saying get dressed up as dapper as David Beckham at the Royal Wedding, just that showing up looking like a member of the down-and-out club might work against you.
Then bring along the following and also a copy of all of these documents:
- Your Immigration card
- Passport (if you have dual-nationality/2 passports make sure you bring the one you entered Mexico with you)
- Proof of Address in Mexico
- Cash: Most banks require 4-500 pesos to open your account and it will be added straight to your balance.
The best time to visit a bank in Mexico is just before lunch time, where it’s generally less busy. There is a ticketing system where you will wait for your number. The whole process of setting up an account takes around an hour.
Take note: The best time to NOT go to the bank in Mexico City is on the 1st and 15th of every month, as this is when Mexicans get paid and the place will be guaranteed to be jam-packed.
Cost of Living in Mexico City (For Digital Nomads)
The cost of Living in Mexico City is a tough one to give a one-size-fits-all answer, as every individual case is different. Admittedly, my budget backpacking days are over (it was somewhat of a short tryst anyway) and I cater more for people who are working on bettering their lives on all levels, including finances.
But sometimes you’re not quite there and there’s also the case of people who are doing well with money, but like to be very thrifty/tight with their spends. One of my best mates is living on a handsome income out there, there are months when he eats only street food and works his ass off online, outside of rent he lives on $200 USD a month.
I did the same when I first moved to the city. I was broke and my business was in serious trouble. I was struggling mentally and financially and I rented an Airbnb, sharing with a bunch of fucking bums.
It was only $300 USD a month though for rent and I hid away from that soul-sucking bum energy, lived on a few hundred dollars a month, knuckled down into some hard work and got my 5-figure a month lifestyle back by the end of the year, upgrading to a pimped-up studio apartment called “Capital Suites,” where the rent was $1200 a month.
Condesa and Roma Norta are both expat-friendly neighbourhoods, with studio/1-bedroom apartments starting around $600 USD/mth. You’ll find similar accommodations for cheaper in areas like Navarte, Roma Sur, Escandon, and Del Valle ($300-$500 solo living, $100-$300 with roomies). The longer you stay, the cheaper the price will be. Also, quite often apartments are unfurnished, so make sure you understand exactly what you’re paying for.
Once you find shelter, you’ll need to find food. You can save a lot of money by shopping at local markets like Mercado Medellin, Condesa Farmer’s Market, or at grocery stores like Superama. Street food is all over Mexico City, and it’s a cheap alternative if you’re tired of making meals at home.
If fancy-dining is your thing, then have no worries in this city – you will have an abundance of local and international cuisine, catering to your deep pockets and high-class palate.
Third on the list of importance for digital nomads is working online to keep your lifestyle going and growing. If you’re outfitting your apartment with internet, Izzi and Telmex Infinitum both offer high-speed fiber optic options for around $25 USD/mth. They may even include a phone and TV in a bundle package.
Due to the high volume of traffic in highly-populous Mexico City, a lot of digital nomads choose to work from home. However, there are still plenty that prefer the lively and sociable environment of a café or coworking space. On average, coworking spaces charge around $120 USD/mth or $12 USD/day. Reserved desks, private booths, and food usually all cost extra.
There are also some smashing cafes like “Coffice” on Plaza de Cibeles which charge by the hour, with free teas and coffees for duration.
As for getting around the city, you have your choice of Metrobús ($0.30/USD one way), the subway/metro ($0.25 USD), or taxis/Uber. Condesa and Roma are much more bicycle friendly… electric scooter options with Lime and Uber, Ecobici a great service and more bike lanes opened up all the time, in those heavy expat areas.
Overall, the cost of living in Mexico City; you can do it on from $500-600 in reality, a good life for $2000 and anything above that for the unapologetic ballers amongst us.
Safety in Mexico City
Mexico City (and the country in general) has a notorious reputation for being unsafe. Is this safety concern legitimate? Of course it is. Even though the crime rate is mainly due to gang violence, as opposed to the targeting of tourists, it’s not completely uncommon to be the victim of a late-night street robbery (my mate got his phone taken from him by 2 lads and got a black eye as a souvenir a few weeks ago).
I won’t sugarcoat things. You definitely have to keep your wits about you in Mexico City, and you shouldn’t put yourself in situations that invite trouble. There are areas you should avoid due to higher chances of muggings (ie. Tepito, Iztapalapa, La Lagunilla, Mercado Merced, Doctores, Ciudad Neza), and walking around alone after dark with valuables is generally a bad idea. If you’re going out at night, always take taxis/Uber and wait indoors until they arrive.
Pickpocketing and petty crime is the most common offence in tourist-heavy areas, so you’ll need to maintain a good level of situational awareness. Just be smart. Don’t flash cash or expensive goods.
Use ATMs in the day time if possible. Stay at reputable accommodations in safe neighbourhoods. Especially if you’re carrying a bag you can be a target, so stay vigilant. The police are super-corrupt too and can make up rules for on the spot “fines,” just stick to the usual large-city and travel safety suggestions, such as safety in numbers and become privy to the no-go areas and popular scams and you should be fine.
As for ladies; please take note of the information provided below in this guide concerning safety on transport in Mexico City.
What Are Mexico City Natives Like?
Mexicans… you might be assuming that I clearly have a bitter, jaded and negative opinion on them after reading all that doom and gloom above, eh?
Hell no, Mexicans are legends. It’s just a minority of very bad people who have unfortunately put the country under a dark cloud and given it an eyebrow-raising reputation. I got the exact same kind of reactions from people when I said I planned to live in Mexico City as I did when I said I was going to live in Colombia.
And you know what; there’s no smoke without fire. I refuse to be one of these “there’s good and bad everywhere” cliche- throwing travel bloggers. Some places are simply more dangerous than others and I am no stranger to getting that message out there.
As people, Mexicans are lovely, warm and welcoming. It wasn’t rare for me to engage in small-talk with a lad in a local supermarket about football and get invited to a 5-a-side match with him and his friends that night.
Tinder dates… one woman took me to her granny’s 80th birthday party on the first meeting! Living in Latin America might not be as safe as living in Southeast Asia, but the trade-off is that this part of the world is the best place to make new friends, and that… is a thing of beauty (ok, maybe I’m not immune to cliches after all haha).
Best Neighbourhoods in Mexico City For Digital Nomads
Choosing a neighbourhood to live in Mexico City can be intimidating. There are 16 districts (called delegaciones), and inside each district are neighbourhoods (called colonias). In total, there are 350 colonias you could potentially live in. So which ones are the best for digital nomads? Here are 5 viable options:
Living in Santa Fé as a Digital Nomad
This is mainly for people planning to work with large Mexican companies who have offices there. I thought twice about putting it in for that exact reason, but I like to mix it up a bit and cover for all types of online workers.
Santa Fé is located on the western edge of Mexico City, it spans two districts (Cuajimalpa and Alvaro Obregon) and includes 10 neighbourhoods.
The history of Santa Fé was that of a sand mining town. Upon the industry’s decline, the government bought old mines and turned them into landfills. Development of Santa Fé didn’t happen until the 1980s, when there was a boom of high-rise buildings and shopping malls.
While skyscrapers are a defining characteristic of Santa Fé, developers have recently infused more eco-friendly areas into the zone, such as Parque la Mexicana and the Garden Santa Fé mall.
Pros of living in Santa Fé
- Modern architecture: Santa Fé has a lot of impressive modern architecture. The most notable are Torre Reforma, which is the highest skyscraper in Mexico City at 807 ft (246 m), and the Torre Arcos Bosques which resemble a pair of pants.
- Lots of shopping: Santa Fé is home to Centro Santa Fé, which is one of the largest malls in Latin America, as well as Garden Santa Fé, which is a stunningly designed underground mall.
- Good eats: Delicious food is everywhere in Santa Fé, from upscale restaurants to lively bars and affordable street food.
Cons of living in Santa Fé
- Few attractions: Due to its history, Santa Fé is more of a business zone and has few cultural/historical attractions compared to other neighbourhoods.
- Congestion: There are only 2 roads to get in and out of the area (Reforma and Constituyentes). While Sitio taxis and Uber can be used, they’re more expensive than neighbourhoods with reliable public transportation.
- No metro: As the town was built on landfills, there is no metro system here. However, a commuter rail is being built (Tren Urbano de Pasajeros Toluca-Valle de México) with plans to open in 2023.
- You will be disconnected from the city and 10km takes 2 hours to the main hubs, traffic en route (to and back) from Santa Fé during peak traffic jams can be nothing short of brutal.
Santa Fé is a good place to live if you are into high-rise life, fancy food, and places to shop, but its downfall is that it doesn’t have a strong cultural draw. Think of it as the Dubai of Mexico City.
Living in Santa Maria la Ribera as a Digital Nomad
Santa Maria la Ribera is located in the Cuauhtémoc district, just west of the city centre. It was created in the late 19th century as a place where affluent Mexicans could own country homes. Over time, the area became industrialized and middle-class Mexicans took over.
After the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, displaced residents from working class neighbourhoods began to move into the area. This led to an influx of homelessness and drug activity, which gave it a reputation as a tough neighbourhood, but it doesn’t touch the likes of Tepito.
More affordable housing was required, which led to the creation of large apartment buildings throughout.
Pros of living in Santa Maria la Ribera
- Cultural things to see: Santa Maria la Ribera’s history dates back to the 1800’s, so there’s some cultural sites here like the Kiosco Morisco, and the more modern Biblioteca Vasconcelos.
- Public transportation options: There’s multiple Line 2 metro stations, a Line B station, and connections to the Insurgentes bus line. 3 Metrobus routes provide fast north to south city access.
- Modern apartments: Developers have constructed modern apartment buildings and are fixing up old ones to help bring the city back to life.
Cons of living in Santa Maria la Ribera
- Barrio bravo: With its close proximity to Tepito, it’s known to be a barrio bravo (tough neighbourhood), although its crime rate is still lower than some popular colonias.
- Homeless: Santa Maria la Ribera is rough around the edges, and they have a pretty substantial issue with homelessness.
- Limited options: Unlike other areas of Mexico City, your options are limited when it comes to historical/culturally significant attractions.
Santa Maria la Ribera is a colonia in transformation. While it does have a somewhat shady reputation, it’s slowly turning around into a place that’s affordable and safe to stay in.
In short, Santa Maria could be good for those on a budget and at the start of the journey to building their online empire.
Living in Centro Historico as a Digital Nomad
Centro Historico aka Centro (City Centre), is the beating heart of Mexico City. It’s home to historic landmarks dating back to when it was the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Centro revolves around Zócalo plaza, which is the 2nd largest square in the world, and can hold up to 100,000 people. It’s a bustling area of activity, with significant cultural and historical importance that can be explored through ruins, cathedrals, museums, hotels, and restaurants.
Pros of living in Centro Historico
- Big city living: Centro is never dull, and the vibrancy of this area ensures there will always be something for you to see or do.
- Easy to get around: You have all transportation options at your fingertips in Centro – buses, metro, taxi, Uber, and walking.
- Relatively safe: Centro is considered safe but it’s still recommended to not saunter around alone at night.
Cons of living in Centro Historico
- Expensive: Compared to other areas in Mexico City, Centro can be a bit more expensive.
- Overwhelming: If you don’t like being a part of the action, you may not want to stay here, as there’s a lot of noise and activity all the time.
- Pollution: With so much traffic comes a big problem with air pollution.
Centro is a must-see area of Mexico City, and if you like the typical big city way of life, you might find it to be the perfect place for you to live.
Living in Roma Norte as a Digital Nomad
Roma Norte is a trendy, expat-friendly neighbourhood in Mexico City, located 2 miles southwest of Centro. It was developed in the early 20th century due to overcrowding of the city centre, and has a European vibe to it. There’s a lot of beautiful architecture to be found here due to the Euro influence, and canopied trees line parks and plazas. Roma is an affordable colonia that borders Condesa (a similar neighbourhood), making for a large overall area for you to explore.
Pros of living in Roma Norte
- Easy to walk: Exploring Roma is easy to do on foot, as it’s not too big and getting from one place to another only takes a few minutes.
- Safe: It’s generally a safe area to live, although keep your wits about you at night.
- Tons of food options: Roma Norte is packed with endless cafés and places to grab a quick bite and it’s also a haven for vegans and vegetarians.
Cons of living in Roma Norte
- Devilish Seductions: More temptations for people like me who can’t say no to a cheeky beer/wine (or 2).
- Lacking “authenticity”: While it’s still Mexico City, it might not have that “authentic Mexico” feel you’re seeking if that’s your cup of tea.
- Pricey accommodations: The price of apartments here won’t break the bank, but they’re more expensive than other areas of the city.
Plainly put, digital nomads love Roma Norte, and it should be on your shortlist of places to live in Mexico City.
Living in Condesa as a Digital Nomad
Condesa is similar to Roma Norte in that it’s well set-up for digital nomads, trendy, and visually appealing. After years of decline, Condesa began gentrification in the late 1990’s, which has helped attract more tourists to the neighbourhood.
Parque Mexico is one of the main appeals here, filled with trees, ponds, fountains, and pathways. Condesa contains three neighbourhoods – Hipódromo, Condesa, and Hipódromo Condesa (not confusing at all) – and is easily walkable. It’s situated next door to Roma Norte, and is only a few minutes walk to Bosque de Chapultepec and El Ángel de la Independencia, one of Mexico’s most revered man-made landmarks.
Pros of living in Condesa
- Plenty to see and do: Cafés, bars, galleries, bookstores, and designer stores can all be found here.
- Exercise: Condesa is well-placed in Mexico City, allowing for you to easily walk to get where you need to go.
- Transportation: If you need transportation, there’s buses, the Metro, taxis, Uber, bikes, and even scooters at your disposal.
- Parque Mexico is unrecognisable on Sundays: you can hear a pin drop and the area is bereft of the usual chaos, making it a lovely area to meet a friend for a cuppa.
Cons of living in Condesa
- It’s in the earthquake zone: While the entire city is technically prone to earthquakes, certain areas (like Condesa) are more at risk due to it being built on soft ground on a lake bed.
- It’s Not Cheap: Affordable, but not extortionate. Being hip and living with the modern crowd comes at a cost, usually a higher one. You generally tend to get what you pay for.
- Too busy: Some people feel Condesa was much nicer and quieter before the explosion of cafés and restaurants brought in a busy and trendy crowd.
Most digital nomads would enjoy Condesa for its hip vibe, walkability and food & drink options.
Living in Mexico City: Why I Chose it (As a Long-Term Base)
As stated in the introduction, living in Mexico City was not in my immediate life plans. With my Colombian tourist visa coming to an end, I desperately needed to a place that ticked these boxes:
- Spanish-speaking nation
- Long-Term (3 months plus) visa option
- Good Wi-Fi
- Sun on a daily basis
- Good gym scene
- Expat setup
- Country with cool day trips and overland access to other countries
- Decent vegan scene
All of these are of course personal to me, but some of these items will tick boxes for others, so I just thought I’d throw mine out there in case it helps other people out looking for similar things.
Getting Around Mexico City
Mexico city has a size of 573 square miles, which is 105 square miles larger than New York City. Translation: It’s a beast, and you’ll have to figure out how to get around the city if you want to see it all. Here’s the best ways to move through the delegaciones.
No introductions needed here, most of us know that Uber is a ride-hailing app that you download to your phone and perform some sort of smartphone black magic, where a person finds you and takes you to your destination, like a knight in shining armour.
I hear from friends living in Mexico City right now that there has been some extra competition with apps such as Didi, Beat and Cabify. I will say this though – Mexico City is the place where I have had the best Uber experience in the whole world, with a reliable Uber always a stone’s throw away from me.
Oh, and they also have Uber Eats there too!
Location: Download any of the above onto your phone from the app store.
Cost: Price varies depending on where you’re going, but an average trip is around $60 MXN ($3 USD).
Pros: Affordable, safe, fixed rates, private transportation, can link it to your credit card for cashless transactions.
Cons: More expensive than public transportation.
Turismo and Sitio Taxis
Outside of Uber, Turismo and Sitio taxis are the services you should go with if hiring a car. Unlike the libre taxis (Nissan Tsurus/Sentra), Turismo and Sitio taxis aren’t metered, so you’ll pay a flat rate for your trip. They’re generally called for you by your accommodation/restaurant, which are assigned specific taxis. Sitio stands are also located around the city where you can wait for an official taxi to show up.
Location: Arranged by your accommodation.
Cost: Prices are negotiable but they usually charge around $250 MXN ($12.50 USD) per hour.
Pros: Private driver/car, safe, drivers are excellent guides.
Cons: Most expensive way to get around Mexico City.
If you’re looking for a cheap way to efficiently get around the city, the Metro is for you. Twelve lines run through Mexico City, and there are 9 cars per train. Mexico City also has designated women only parts of the tram (they have a pink placard), to make women feel safe from any form of sexual harassment (there are also pink, women-only bus options).
I once accidentally walked into the women-only part of the tram and of course was red as a beetroot when one young lady told me what I’d done. All the women were really sweet as they knew it was an accident, so they spared my blushes and directed me to the male carriage.
I know an uncomfortably high amount of women who have been victims of an unsolicited feel-up on public transport in Latin America (hence there sadly being a reason for the existence of these safeguards), which is certainly something to be aware of, ladies.
Tickets are purchased at the station’s ticket booth and the Metro operates Monday to Friday 5am to midnight, Saturday 6am to midnight, and Sunday 7am to midnight.
Location: There are 195 stations in the city.
Cost: $5 MXN ($0.25 USD) one way.
Pros: Can bring you all around Mexico City for very cheap. Rides are smooth, fast, and clean.
Cons: Is very busy (4.5 million people use it daily), can get hot and muggy in the carriages, is a prime area for pickpockets and thieves.
This is no regular bus system, it’s an advanced bit of transport that boasts its own car lane. However, it can get very crowded, as it only costs $6 MXN ($0.30 USD) per trip. To help alleviate the strain of human traffic fighting for traffic, the Metrobus was created.
It’s a red bus that predominantly runs up and down the 29 kilometer Avenida de los Insurgentes, the longest street in the city. The Metrobus has 7 lines, and its own designated lane so it can travel faster than most of the traffic on the road.
Location: Stations are on Avenida de los Insurgentes, but it has some east to west routes including to and from the airport.
Cost: Requires a Smartcard costing $16 MXN ($0.80 USD). Each trip is $6 MXN ($0.30 USD), and an extra $30 MXN ($1.50 USD) is charged for airport runs.
Pros: Cheap, fast, efficient, reduces Mexico’s greenhouse gas output, is more accessible for those with mobility issues than the Metro, connects the airport to central Mexico City as well as points of interest.
Cons: Can be just as crowded as the city’s regular buses.
Nightlife and Entertainment in Mexico City
After a long work week (or long work day) it’s nice to unwind, and Mexico City has plenty of nightlife options to help you recharge.
- Bars/Clubs: If you are in need of a place to let loose, you can ask locals “Dónde esta la fiesta hoy?” (Where is the party today?) for a quick recommendation. Bars and clubs are literally all over the city, with some of the most popular being Jules Basement, Pata Negra, Bang Bang, and Gin Gin.
- Salsa Dancing: If you’re into salsa dancing, tearing up the dance floor in Mexico City is a must-do. Check out the Salon Los Angeles (the city’s leading dance hall since the 1930s), or Mama Rumba in Roma.
- Live Music: If you prefer to experience live music, there’s plenty of spots to catch Spanish music and jazz, namely Zinco Jazz Club, Bar Jorongo, and Plaza Garibaldi (Mariachis).
- Beer Drinking: Beer drinkers can spend their downtime exploring the craft beer scene (especially in areas like Condesa and Roma). El Deposito, Escollo, and Biergarten are a few to check out.
- Cinemas: A night out at the movies is always a good way to unwind, and you have plenty of options in the Roma/Condesa area (Cinépolis, Cinemax, Cineclub Condesa).
- Bowling: Bowling is a fun activity that you can find in Mexico City as well. Santa Fé has Royal Bol and Alboa Prime Entertainment Hall (inside Garden Santa Fé mall), which also includes pool tables, a sports bar, dining, and foosball tables.
- Gyms: If pumping iron, or sweating away on the cardio machine of your choice is more your kind of fun then take your pick out of this lot: Room Fit Studio Roma Norte, Promahos BJJ & MMA, World Gym, Go! Fitness…seriously, there are too many to list. Whether you want an old-school Rocky gym, a fancy modern one, CrossFit or MMA – finding a gym is the least of your worries (and it also has its fair share of calisthenics parks too).
Medical Care in Mexico City
Having access to affordable medical care is important anywhere you visit, and living in Mexico City is no different. It’s vital to have some form of medical insurance in case you need to see a doctor.
There are 80 hospitals in Mexico City that care for 20 million+ residents, and the top expat hospitals are Centro Médico ABC, Star Medica, Angeles Group Hospital, and Hospital Español. Costs vary depending on which hospital you go to and your condition. In general, an emergency room visit can set you back between $350 and $500 MXN ($15 and $25 USD), while a basic doctor’s consultation costs around $400 MXN ($18 USD).
It’s important to note that sometimes even with medical insurance or travel insurance, you need a credit card before they will even treat you, even in the better hospitals.
If you’re not sorted yet for travel insurance; check out my comprehensive report on why I switched to SafetyWing, where I explain why they are the best digital nomad insurance on the market.
Grocery Shopping in Mexico City
The main grocery stores you’ll find around the city are Superama (Condesa), Sumesa (Roma Norte), and City Market (there are an abundance of Walmarts in most areas). American-style membership stores known as hypermarkets are also present in the form of Sam’s Club (Santa Fé) and Costco (you will need a membership card for these two).
If you’re staying in Centro, your best bet is Mercado de San Juan, which is a historic traditional market that sells just about everything. La Merced is a good option too and Cornershop has a decent reputation as a delivery service.
Supporting local vendors is always encouraged, as they put money directly in the pockets of locals while providing you with fresh food. Traditional markets can be found all over the city:
- Roma Norte: Mercado El 100, Mercado Roma, and Mercado Juárez
- Condesa: Mercado Colima
- Santa Fé: Santa Fé Market
- Santa Maria la Ribera: Mercado Bugambilia
- Centro: Mercado de San Juan
Of course, if you live far from a grocery store you can always use Uber Eats and Didi, also Rappi are an all-around hero, providing food delivery and also doing a supermarket run for you!
Why I Am No Longer Living in Mexico City (& Would I Go Back?)
Not too many moons ago I wrote a blog post called: Why I’ll Probably Buy An Apartment in Mexico City.
However, I ended up buying an apartment in Chiang Mai instead. So what’s the deal? Am I just full of shit? Was I ever really considering going back to live in Mexico long-term, or was I desperate for Mexico-related content to appease mis amigos Mexicanos?
I meant every word of what I wrote back then. I bought in Chiang Mai because I have always felt a strong, nostalgic pull to the city. It was love at first sight for me, I lived in Chiang Mai about 5 years before I lived in Mexico City and after feeling tired from a decade of long-term travel, with no concrete, deep-rooted plan, I forced myself to make a big decision while travelling around the Middle East; go back to live in Mexico City, or Chiang Mai.
It was the end of a 2-year trip and I was completely done in. Mentally and physically exhausted, I returned to what I affectionately refer to as “Changers” and… I just knew. This was the place for me, and so I pushed the button and made the purchase within a month of aggressive house-hunting.
The fact that Chiang Mai is a lot safer than Mexico City was a significant, contributing factor towards my decision. I grew up as a young man constantly looking nervously over my shoulder, not feeling safe, which is incredibly taxing to your central nervous system – I don’t really have that concern over here, it’s quite literally a safe haven for me.
However, there is a twist to this tale…
One of my big life goals is to make enough money to build and own a big, sexy house in Chiang Mai AND own an apartment in Mexico City. As much as I love “Changers,” it has this annoying thing called “smokey season,” where the illegal burning of crops makes our city one of the most polluted cities on earth for a few months.
Ideally, I’d like to up sticks during this period and spend some time in Mexico City. This plan is laced with a bit of irony though; as Mexico City is not exactly known for having clean, pure, air.
There are other reasons for me wanting to go back and spend some time there, I have good friends in CMDX and I miss them (I’m getting soppy in my old age). I’m pretty sure I will be living in Mexico City again some day in the future and I hope my article helped you to make a decision.