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Top Expat Cities in Mexico
Warm weather? Check. Affordable cost of living? Check. Fascinating culture, lovely landscapes, exceptional cuisine? Check, check, check. No wonder Mexico draws in millions of expats. In fact, it is home to over 1.5 million Americans. That’s more than any other location in the world. If you’re looking for the ideal place to move abroad, there is no doubt that Mexico tops the bill. But the country is massive and full of diverse lifestyle options, so picking the perfect place to settle down is a challenge. And that is why we came up with this list. From quiet beach towns and historic cities to artsy neighborhoods and sleepy villages where you can live off the grid – here are the top expat cities in Mexico.
Playa del Carmen
Located along the Yucatan Peninsula’s Riviera Maya on the Caribbean coast, Playa del Carmen is known for its palm-fringed beaches, enchanting cenotes (natural wells or swimming holes), and rich coral reefs. It is a fantastic option for those seeking a laid-back beachside living. The weather is warm year-round, with May as the hottest and October as the wettest.
Though Playa is small, it has all the conveniences of a modern city. Most of the action happens in La Quinta Avenida, a three-mile beachside walkway lined with restaurants, shops, bars, cafés, and clubs. There are numerous rentals and apartments in town, with the downtown area popular among beach lovers. If you’re looking for somewhere quieter and more upscale, check out Playacar, an exclusive gated community on the south side of Playa del Carmen known for its posh residential villas.
The resort city of Puerto Vallarta lies at the foot of the Sierra Madre mountains along the Pacific coast. Since the 1960s, it has been a favorite destination for expats and retirees seeking warm weather, gorgeous shores, and a wide range of recreation options. As a beach city, most activities center on the water – sailing, boating, fishing, whale watching, kitesurfing, and parasailing. If you are not a water sports fan, you can try golfing, hiking, and biking in the Sierra Madre. Are you a foodie? The city has a remarkable food scene. Once a fishing village, many local specialties feature seafood, but it’s also known for its tacos and chilaquiles. A great way to explore the city is on a stroll along the Malecon Broadwalk, a mile-long waterfront esplanade lined with sculptures, restaurants, galleries, bars, and shops.
One of the pros of staying in Puerto Vallarta is that it has all the amenities an expat would need: shops selling international brands, good internet connection, efficient transportation, plenty of entertainment, and high-quality medical facilities. The Hotel Zone, Conchas Chinas, and Fluvial Vallarta are popular residential areas among expats. For something fancy, Punta de Mita, about 16 kilometers north of Puerto Vallarta, offers upscale living.
Located on Mexico’s Pacific coast, Mazatlán is a beautiful blend of breathtaking beaches, historical sites, and modern urban living. It boasts 21 kilometers of unbroken sandy shoreline traced by a seafront boardwalk, regarded as one of the longest in the world. Mazatlán is rife with resort hotels, hip restaurants, trendy bars, and specialty shops, usually concentrated around the lively Zona Dorada district. But for all its bustle, the city retains its chill and rustic feel. And unlike many Mexican beach towns, Mazatlán is not overrun with expats. So, if you’re looking for a calmer and quieter location where you can delve deep into the local lifestyle, Mazatlán is perfect for you.
Los Cabos is a municipality at the southern edge of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula and encompasses San Jose del Cabo to the east and Cabo San Lucas to the west. A 32-kilometer highway known as the Resort Corridor links the two cities. Lining this strip are luxurious resorts, championship golf courses, shopping centers, and premier beachfront properties. But while San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas are in the same region, they couldn’t be more different. San Jose, the municipal seat, is known for its thriving art scene, quaint boutique shops, gourmet dining, and generally slow-paced living. On the other hand, Cabo San Lucas is where all the action happens, with its vast marina, vibrant nightlife, various water sports, and sunset cruises. Los Cabos is a beach lover’s dream, so whether you’re drawn to the glamour of Cabo San Lucas or prefer the lowkey lifestyle of San Jose del Cabo, you’re never too far away from dazzling ocean views.
San Miguel de Allende
Do you love the arts? How about architecture? Great food? San Miguel de Allende ticks all the boxes. This UNESCO World Heritage site is awash with baroque architecture, creative cuisine, flamboyant festivals, and a booming art scene. In the old city square stands the ornate Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel soaring above pastel-colored buildings and artisan markets. Flanking the winding cobblestone alleys are colonial-era structures, charming shops, quaint cafes, and food stalls.
San Miguel enjoys a high-desert climate, marked by balmy days and cool nights. But from January to February, the temperature can drop to below freezing. Many of the expats live in the historical neighborhoods of Centro and Colonia Independencia and the hilltop community of Balcones.
A cacti-clad desert, the rugged Sierra Laguna mountains, and the windswept sea merge in Todos Santos to create a breathtaking landscape. So magical is the town that the Mexican government called Pueblo Mágico. Inland are agricultural lands and fertile farms growing vegetables, chilies, papayas, mangoes, and avocados. The town center buzzes with activity with its handicraft shops, art galleries, countless restaurants, boutique hotels, and colorful colonial buildings. All sorts of artists, from writers to photographers to painters, gather in Todos Santos, inspired by the bohemian allure. It also brings in hikers, bikers, surfers, bird watchers, and other outdoor enthusiasts. The intriguing Hotel California, which opened in 1950, is one of the most iconic landmarks in town. Many people think it’s the hotel referenced by The Eagles, but there is no past or present connection with the band or the song.
Oaxaca de Juarez
Known for its diverse cultures, indigenous cuisine, Spanish architecture, and archeological sites, Oaxaca is a mix of the old and new. Colonial-era buildings and historical monuments blend with busy food stalls and vibrant markets selling handmade crafts and jewelry. Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountain range at 1,554 meters above sea level, Oaxaca enjoys a temperate climate. Outside the city is a vast landscape of rugged peaks, deep valleys, and secluded beaches that offer thrilling activities for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Oaxaca has a tight community of expats. Many are remote workers and digital nomads lured by the city’s low cost of living, ample lodging options, delicious food, and fascinating culture. Most live in the neighborhoods of Jatalaco and Xochimilco, a short distance from the city center.
Home to the most number of US expats in the world, Lake Chapala is the top choice for retirees seeking both excitement and relaxation. Apart from its low cost of living and safe environment, the region has a temperate climate that retirees enjoy. Because of the lovely weather, scenic hikes, golfing, and boat tours are among the top activities in and around the area. There are also frequent concerts, festive holidays, yoga sessions, cooking classes, and garden clubs.
Chapala, the largest town in the area, evokes old-world charm with its cobblestone streets lined with taverns, restaurants, cafés, and markets. Most expats live in Ajijic, about 29 kilometers north of Lake Chapala. In the village is an organized retiree community, where you can set up a lifestyle very similar to the one you had in the US.
Oozing with the charm of a traditional fishing village, Zihuatanejo is ideal for expats seeking a quiet and toned-down beach hideaway. The beauty of this city lies in its simplicity. True, there are sophisticated hotels and restaurants in the area, but Zihuatanejo has retained its small-town appeal. It is also one of the most budget-friendly resort cities in Mexico. Each morning at the beach, you can buy the freshest catch of tuna, grouper, or dorado from local fishermen who just returned from the sea. Its rich coral reef teems with colorful fish, sea turtles, and dolphins, making it a favorite getaway among avid divers and snorkelers. The city also offers catamaran tours, sunset cruises, and spinnaker flying.
Blessed with incredible natural beauty, Huatulco is easily Mexico’s best-kept secret. The area is a 123-kilometer stretch along the Pacific coast in the southeastern part of Oaxaca state. Huatulco encompasses several small towns, including La Crucecita, Santa Cruz, Chahue, and Tangolunda, all set in an ecological zone protected from future development. Its main draw is its pristine bays and beaches, many of which are only reachable by boat. Despite its incomparable beauty, Huatulco isn’t as crowded as other beach destinations in the country, such as Cancun and the Riviera Maya. It’s also not as glamorous, but it has all the modern conveniences for comfortable living.