No matter where I travel in Latin America, my mind always drifts back to Mexico. It has become the benchmark from which I compare all other countries in the region.
I've reflected a great deal on why I've come to love this place so dearly.
Sure, part of it is nostalgic bias; after all, this was the country that kicked off my interest in Latin America, as well as the first foreign country I've ever lived in.
But after having talked to what must be hundreds of travellers, it seems that others share my love for this country - I've scarcely met a foreigner that hasn't been impressed by what Mexico has to offer. Oftentimes, they are pleasantly surprised because - let's face it - Mexico doesn't have the best reputation.
So, without further ado, here's my attempt to put into words why I think Mexico is the best choice for expats in Latin America.
1. Best Value For Money in Latin America
Although Mexico isn't the cheapest country in the region, it is a place where you get a lot of bang for your buck. Its proximity to, and trade deals with, the United States, along with its business-friendly government, means that most of the products and services available north of the border will also be available in Mexico. Taxi services like UBER and delivery apps like Rappi and UBEReats have really taken hold here, making life very convenient. It also has some of the fastest Internet in Latin America, which is good news for any digital nomads looking for a place to settle down. Mexico's impressive and extensive bus and airline companies make domestic travel cheap and efficient. And, if you're into food, Mexico has you covered. Two Mexican restaurants ranked among the 50 best restaurants in the world in 2017, and its cuisine is known the world over. Basically, if you so choose, here in Mexico you can live with the same conveniences that you enjoy in Canada, Europe, Australia or the United States.
And all at a fraction of the cost.
So, how much does it cost to live in Mexico compared to the USA? Here's some data from Numbeo, a database of user-contributed information for cost of living. I've compared Mexico City with three large American cities.
In other words, if you're spending $5,712.63 in Seattle, $5085.02 in Chicago or $4,254.65 in Houston, you're spending $2110.36 in Mexico City to maintain the same quality of life. Not bad!
But, how does the cost of living in Mexico City compare to other major Latin American cities?
Let's take a look.
As you can see, Mexico City is more affordable than many other major Latin American cities. The only aforementioned city that is cheaper is Bogota. And, as you might expect, you'll get an even better deal in smaller Mexican cities, such as Merida, Playa del Carmen or Morelia.
Sure, countries such as Nicaragua and Bolivia are going to be cheaper than Mexico, but services and infrastructure are severely lacking - despite the lower cost, it's much more difficult to develop and maintain a comfortable life.
Countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Panama, while having the same or slightly better infrastructure than Mexico, are all significantly more expensive.
A strong argument could be made for Colombia being the country that provides the best value for money in Latin America, but as a smaller country, and with a population of less than half the size of Mexico, there are slightly fewer feasible options in terms of places to live (large parts of Colombia are difficult to get to by roads or commercial flights, or are too dangerous to travel to due to guerrillas and/or drug production).
Gotta give this one to Mexico.
2. Its Cultural and Historical Attractions
Latin America is full of rich culture and fascinating history. And, while I won't be getting into a cultural and historical dick-measuring contest by claiming that Mexico is any better than any other Latin American country in this sense, there is no denying that this nation has a ton to boast. It's got the Aztecs, who you can thank for chocolate, antispasmodic medication and the current calendar system. Or the Maya, who developed the most advanced form of writing in the Americas and had an impressive grasp on mathematics and astrology. Not to mention the Olmecs, one of the earliest complex civilizations in Mesoamerica.
Many structures from these ancient times have been well-preserved in Mexico, such as Chichen Itza, The Great Pyramid of Cholula, Uxmal and Teotihuacan.
The Spanish also left their mark when they invaded, constructing beautiful buildings and cathedrals, such as The Catedral Metropolitana in Mexico City, the Catedral Basilica de Zacatecas or the Catedral de Morelia.
Mexico pays tribute to its rich history at the The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, which hosts over 2 million visitors each year. It comes as no surprise that Mexico is frequently ranked among the countries with the richest traditions.
Mexican culture is famous all over the world. No other latin culture is as readily appropriated. Almost every major city has at least one Mexican restaurant, you'll hear Mariachi music all over Latin America, Day of the Dead masks and makeup are always a popular choice for halloween and you'll scarcely meet a person that doesn't know where tequila comes from.
But there's just something inescapably enchanting and addicting about Mexican culture. It gets in your bones.
If you ever live in Mexico, you'll see exactly what I mean.
3. Accessible; Good Infrastructure
On my first few trips to Mexico, I was blown away by how modern it is. I was expecting a third world shit hole in the way you might think of Africa when you see news clips of it from North America. Instead, I was surprised to see progressive cities with open spaces, a decent number of middle and upper class citizens and things generally working the way they should. When I first rolled into Mexico City, I was even more impressed - you wouldn't be at fault for mistaking large parts of the metropolis for an American city. You've got an extensive transit system, brand-name shops, tons of parks, a stunning combination of modern and colonial architecture, a dynamic nightlife scene, delicious food stalls and a sense of safety and security to go along with it.
And other parts of the country aren't far behind. In fact, there are probably a dozen cities in Mexico that I'd be legitimately happy living in. I can't say the same for any other country in Latin America.
You'll rarely have trouble getting cellular or internet service in the country (many long distance buses have Wi-Fi), the highways are in good shape and you can fly to any one of a handful of Mexican cities or one of its many beautiful beaches for under $100 on one of Mexico's domestic airlines.
Day-to-day things generally work as they should. You can pay your bills and rent at a bank or bank machine, getting a SIM card only requires your passport, food is available everywhere (as are taxis and public transport), the power doesn't go out too much and you can get things like gas and water delivered right to your door. Yep. In general, life flows pretty smoothly.
Of course there are poor people in Mexico that have trouble accessing these things. It's one of the more unequal countries in the region and many are struggling. But, as long as you're moving down here with at least $1000.00 a month, you'll find that the infrastructure is more than enough to keep you living.
The only countries in Latin America that are better infrastructure-wise than Mexico are probably Chile, Panama, Argentina, Uruguay and Costa Rica. But you'll have to put up with a much higher cost of living for only slight improvements if you opt for any of these countries over Mexico.
4. Its Tourist Visa is Among the Most Lax in Latin America
If, like I have, you've ever tried to live in a Latin American country without a residency visa, you'll know it's a pain in the ass. For instance, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and, most recently, Peru, only allow tourist to stay for 6 months out of a calendar year before they have to leave for another 6 months before being allowed to come back.
It's hard to feel like you're living in a place if you're forced to be out of the country for half a year.
Sure, you could overstay your tourist visa and break the law, but when you do decide to finally step on to another country's soil, even if it's simply to visit your family back home, you'll be hit with a big fine, lots of questions and you may even be banned from the country for awhile.
Huge downside if you ask me.
Mexico, on the other hand, grants you six months upon arrival on your tourist visa and, so long as you leave the country before that six months is up (even if it's only for a day), they'll hand you another six months upon your return. It's that simple. This is a big advantage for foreigners. It effectively makes it possible to live in Mexico on a tourist visa as long as you take a vacation every six months.
If you check out my post on US Visa requirements in Latin America, you'll find that Mexico is one of the few countries that expats can live in - hassle-free - on a tourist visa.
5. Its Culinary and Nightlife Scene is Among the Best in the Region
Do you like to eat and/or party? If so, Mexico is one of the best countries to do it in. Mexicans love to party. I mean they really love it. Almost every major city will have a ton of options for going out any day of the week. Not only that, but foreigners come to Mexico to party. Tijuana, Playa del Carmen and Puerto Vallarta are filled with tourists from all over the world looking to have a good time.
However, if you're going to live in Mexico, I suggest partying with the locals.
Monterrey, Mexico City and Guadalajara all have a dizzying number of bars and clubs. Hell, even smaller cities like Puebla, Guanajuato and Queretaro know how to rock. One of my favourite things about the rumba in Mexico, however, is not clubs and bars, but house parties. Goddamn, do these people know how to throw a house party! I can't count the number of times that I've been generously invited to someone's family's holiday home or someone's apartment for a bash. These have ranged from grubby student housing, to middle-class apartments to million-dollar homes in Mexico City's most affluent neighbourhoods (OK, OK, that last part only happened once...but I'll never forget it!). Mexicans are some of the most hospitable people on earth, and they're always happy to include you in a good time.
And the food! Fuck me, the food will make your balls (or vaginas...) tingle. This is not a good place to go if you're on a diet because there is outstanding food quite literally on every corner. Whether you're eating a $2 plate of tacos or dining at a world-renowned restaurant like Pujol or Maximo Bistro, you can pretty much count on your plate being good. Wash it all down with some mezcal and you'll be in heaven.
A Few Other Reasons...
Touched on this just now. But I'll say it again - Mexicans are some of the most hospitable people on earth. Some of my best moments in the country were having daily chats with the old dude that had a street stall on the road I lived on, or randomly ending up crashing at a stranger's house after a night of hard drinking on the town. The next day we'd all go for breakfast and it'd be like we had known each other for years. You can always strike up a chat with someone in Mexico and usually have a few laughs.
But that's not to say there aren't bad people here. From coast to coast in Mexico, I've also had people try to fuck me over. Steal from me, rip me off, toy with me etc. It does happen quite a lot here, especially in tourist destinations. On the whole, though, you'll be dealing mostly with good-natured and welcoming folk.
The weather in Mexico is yet another positive attribute.
Whatever type of weather you're looking for (apart from numbingly cold) you can find. Central Mexico (Mexico City included) will have spring-like temperatures year round, which is generally the preference for most people.
However, if you're missing the snow, you can check out Chihuahua or Toluca in winter and you just might see some. If you love the heat, hit up Mazatlan, Tulum or Mexicali.
If, like myself, you're coming from the cold and rainy Pacific Northwest, the weather in Mexico will not disappoint - I've never heard anyone complain on this front.
Put any worries to rest.
If you're entertaining the idea of starting a business in Mexico, the government makes it easy. Last year, it ranked top among Latin American countries for ease of doing business.
The women (sort of)
So, how are Mexican women?
Well, they aint the best in Latin America...but they aint the worst, either. Women in Colombia are noticeably more attractive. Argentine girls are better on the whole. Brazilians got 'em beat as well. I'd say they're tied with Panamanians and slightly better than Chileans and Peruvians (this is not scientific).
However, there are a few cities in Mexico where the women are truly impressive. Monterrey and Guadalajara being two of these cities. The average in Mexico City is also being bumped up due to a large presence of Argentine, Colombian and Venezuelan girls.
The fact that Mexican women aren't the hottest in the region is no reason not to live here. Trust me when I say that there are plenty enough hot girls to go around.
For more information about Mexican women, check out this post:
For more information about where to meet them, check out this one:
Noise is a fucking problem here. At first, I was into it. Made the place feel alive. Much different than where I came from in Canada, which felt, well...dead.
But after six months or so of this shit, you do get sick of it. There is music playing at all hours of the day, car horns honking, recordings blasting out of boom boxes attached to bicycles and trucks and people talking and laughing very loudly. Some neighbourhoods in the country are of course quieter than others, but there is rarely any refuge from the incessant noise that characterizes Mexico. The noise is worse here than most other Latin American countries.
Traffic and pollution
Mexico City has the worst traffic in the goddamn world. No, seriously, it does. And the pollution in the capital and the surrounding areas is serious. It will cover your house in a strange film, and you will get a chest infection or a skin rash if you spend enough time here. Monterrey and Guadalajara, while better, are still bad. If you take your health very seriously, big Mexican cities are not the place to live.
That being said, in smaller cities and beach towns, the worst pollution you're likely to encounter is exhaust fumes. But chances are you'll have to go to the big bad city at some point and if you do, you may be wheezing.
And there you have it, friends! A few reasons why I think Mexico is the best country to live in Latin America. I like to think I made a good case, but of course your best country will depend on personal preferences.
Colombia is also a strong contender, but its overall seediness, bad food and unfavourable tourist visa make it difficult for me to consider living there longterm. Probably the best country in LATAM to visit, not to live. It's also a place I'd never want to do business. Everything else is great, though - if they had a more favourable tourist visa, I'd be torn between Colombia and Mexico (if I'm being honest, I sort of get off on the seediness :) ).
For me, it really comes down to balance. While Mexico isn't the best country for things like attractive women, infrastructure and safety, it does well enough in all the quality of life categories that are important to me; from a comprehensive standpoint, it is a solid country to call home.
Thanks for reading!
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
For a few great articles about Mexico's capital, check out these from Mario Favela:
***If I piqued your interest, I've got a few more articles about Mexico...
For more information about some of the many great cities in Mexico, check out the Mexico city guides.
Want More Information About Latin America? Check Out My City Guides