I get a lot of emails from guys asking what city or country they should live in or travel to.
I do my best to give feedback, but in reality this is a difficult question to answer: my idea of the perfect Latin American city is almost certainly going to be different from yours.
Sure, there are certain rules of thumb - I imagine the majority of my readers would prefer Colombia to Honduras, for instance, and I've yet to meet anyone whose fallen in love with Guatemala City or Managua. But there's no "one size fits all" principal that can be applied to travel or relocation.
That being said, I've noticed that certain cities and countries tend to attract similar kinds of people. There's a reason that Medellin is a digital nomad hub and La Paz, Bolivia is not.
There's a reason you'll see more homeless gringos in Bogota than in Panama City.
In this article, I'm going to explain how to go about finding the perfect Latin American city for you. If you are lost as to where to travel or live in Latin America, this should help.
Let's get it going.
First Of All: Learn About Yourself
Perhaps I know Latin America better than the average guy. But what I don't know is anything about you.
That's why, before you can know how to find your perfect Latin American city, you must know who you are and what you want.
Many people decide to live in another country to reinvent themselves; to create a new life in a place where they won't feel pressured to act in accordance with the expectations or preconceptions that have been placed on them throughout their lives. They want a clean slate upon which they can form an entirely organic personality. These people are on a journey of self-discovery; they don't quite know who they are yet, but they are trying to figure it out.
Other people decide to live in another country because they know exactly who they are and what they want, and their home country isn't meeting their needs. Perhaps they've never felt comfortable in their birth nation and are searching for a place more in line with their personal needs, wants and values. They're not looking to change or find themselves, but are looking for a place where they can more easily be themselves.
There is no right or wrong reason to go abroad, but before you book a plane ticket, make sure your reasons for doing so are clear to you. Take an hour or two to sit down and dive deep into your goals and motivations. Figure out your personality attributes as well as your values. Determine what motivates you, what makes you happy, what pisses you off and what kind of life you want to build.
Here are some good questions to start with:
Are you extroverted? Is it easy for you to meet new people? Are you the life of the party?
Are you introverted? Do you value your time alone? Do you prefer not to approach/meet new people?
Do you prefer order and consistency? Or do you thrive on spontaneity?
What are your main goals for Latin America? Cheap living? Beautiful women? Do you want to start a business and create an entirely new life for yourself?
Are you a big city person, or a small city person?
This last one...big city or small city person. Chances are you already know this. If you're not sure, I suggest going with a big city.
Big City vs. Small City
Before relocating to Latin America, it's important to have an idea whether or not your prefer large cities or small cities.
It took me awhile to sort this out.
As someone who's lived half his life in big cities and the other half in small, for a long time, I saw the value in both.
However, after years of traveling Latin America, I came to a somewhat counterintuitive conclusion:
If you're introverted like myself, big cities in Latin America are a far better option.
Long before moving to Mexico City, I spent a few months in smaller cities in Central Mexico (mainly Guanajuato and Leon). I found that, while initially people were more friendly in smaller cities, they were less inclusive.
Basically, they are more "cliquish" in smaller cities. It's hard to integrate yourself into a group of friends who have known each other since childhood.
Also, people in bigger cities are more open to meeting new people. Since many people in big cities have moved there to go to school or find work, many are in the same position as you. They actually want to meet new people.
This is less the case in smaller towns.
Another issue is that the lack of diversity in smaller towns means that it's harder to meet people with similar hobbies, interests and values as you. If you love building model ships and you want to meet people who are also in that game, you may have a hard time doing so in a small city like Antigua, Guatemala. But I guarantee you'll be able to find some folks in Bogota, Colombia.
And, even if you do manage to find a cool group of friends in a small town, your chance of expanding your social circle is less. If there's only 40,000 people where you live, there's really only so few new people you can meet, mathematically.
Now, there are exceptions. If your main priority is finding a wife and raising a family, smaller cities are infinitely better than larger ones. Same goes if your main priority is to escape the city and live a simple life in a small village. Also, if you're on an extremely tight budget, smaller cities will offer a better quality of life.
It's all about priorities, really. All about what you're hoping to derive out of life in Latin America.
But, sorting out what you want is one thing, but how are you to know which city will provide it?
Well, read on, ladies and gentlemen!
The "Big 5" Characteristics of Every City
As far as I'm concerned, there are 5 things you should consider of a city before deciding whether or not you may what to live/travel there.
These things are:
Cost of Living
Pretty self-explanatory - the approximate amount of money you'll need to live in your city of choice. Depending on your budget, you may have to cross some LATAM cities off your list (although it's doable, I wouldn't want to live in Santiago, Chile for less than $2000 USD a month, for instance).
Again, self-explanatory. The weather in your prospective city. Does it rain a lot? Is it unbearably hot? You can find just about any kind of weather that suits you here in Latin America.
What are crime rates like in your prospective city? Is it safe? Or will you feel on edge leaving the house. Crime statistics can be misleading. Some cities in Latin America have high rates of violence due to gang activity, but relatively low levels of street crime. In some, it's reverse. Others have a bit of both. And, a handful of cities are as safe or safer than cities in the United States.
What are the people like? Friendly? Accepting of foreigners? What's the dating scene like? How are the women? All these I'd file under culture.
Is there running water? Are the roads paved? Is the Internet reliable? How about the public transit system? Is there Uber? All things to think about.
Depending on your priorities, the importance of these characteristics will vary. For instance, if you're on a tight budget, the first thing you'll probably want to look at is cost of living followed by, perhaps, safety.
If you're a young, single male, you may focus on culture. Things like the dating scene and friendliness of locals.
If you're looking to start a business in a Latin American country, you may want to put the microscope on infrastructure, to ensure that your venture has the potential of running smoothly.
It all comes down to you and what you value.
Luckily, all this information can be more or less reliably discerned via the Internet.
Order the above characteristics from 1-5 on a scale of importance to you and do some research.
Check out my site, Internet forums, Expatistan, Numbeo, etc. and you should be able to paint a pretty reasonable picture of the above 5 characteristics for most Latin American cities.
Of course, you'll never know for sure until you go, but preliminary research should at least help you narrow down some choices.
My Personality Profile
Since all this is pretty abstract without examples, I thought it'd be fun to talk a little bit about my personality and then go over some of my top choices for cities to live in Latin America and why.
If you find that your personality is similar to mine, perhaps you'll like these cities as well.
If your personality is different...well, you still might like these cities. But perhaps for different reasons.
The point of this is to give you an idea about how to think about all this picking a city business, nothing more.
Here we go.
I am, without a doubt, an introvert. I don't feed off the energy of others and I'm never the life of the party. I have no qualms about living, travelling or spending long periods of time alone. I can go days without speaking to another person and be perfectly comfortable.
I'm cool with just having half a dozen or so close friends. I don't feel the need for any more than that.
I wouldn't say I'm shy, but I use words sparingly.
I'm not great at approaching people, but I'm socially adept. If someone meets me, they generally like me. But I'm not too keen on meeting new people with the intention of making them my friend.
I occasionally approach women during the day - like in a park or coffee shop - but I could never be one of these "day game" people who approaches 10 girls or more a day.
That all sounds like a goddamn nightmare to me.
Let's see...what else.
Although I'm not particularly outgoing, I do like to go out and explore different areas of a city. And, on the whole, I'm more interested in culture and society than I am in, say, outdoor activities like hiking the backcountry, rafting down rapids or zip lining.
I'm pretty relaxed. It takes a lot to get me angry, and I don't think I've ever really been "offended" by anything. If a vendor or a taxi driver tries to fuck me over here in Latin America, I'll let him have it - I won't mince words - but I don't let it ruin my day or take it personally.
In other words, I'm pretty agreeable and not too neurotic. Moderately open to new experiences (only really if they fit my interest). Introverted. Probably on the mid-to-lower end of conscientiousness (I lack discipline in several areas of my life, and am pretty flexible when it comes to plans/lifestyle).
So, based on all that, and taking into consideration the 5 characteristics every one should think about before living in a city...
Here are some of the cities I found would be a good fit for me to live in.
My Top Picks For The Best Cities To Live in Latin America
Mexico City - No surprise this is one of my top picks - I live here, after all. And there are a few reasons it suits me well. First, the Mexican people are extremely friendly and welcoming. As someone whose not very outgoing, this is good news. It means that - in spite of my introverted nature - I can still meet people and make friends rather easily. Second, there is a dizzying amount of things to do here in Mexico City. You'll never get bored. From cultural, historical and architectural attractions, to world-class restaurants and nightlife, nearby beaches and mountains getaways, there is always something around here to keep you busy. Third, it's incredibly value for money. I always say that a city of this size with this much to do, shouldn't be this cheap. But it is. As a single individual, you can live a decent life here with $1500.00 USD a month. In a similar sized city like Sao Paulo, you'll pay nearly twice as much.
Bogota - I liked Bogota for the same reasons I like Mexico City. Colombians are just as friendly and welcoming (probably even MORE, actually) as Mexicans. Again, as someone who's not so outgoing, this helps. Although there's not quite as many attractions within the city as Mexico City, there are plenty of nearby options for weekend getaways. And it's CHEAP. Even cheaper than Mexico City. I'd venture to say that a single man could make due here with around $1300.00 USD a month. Compare that to nearby Panama City, where you'd need twice as much money to have the same quality of life. The fact that the city is chalk full of beautiful women is another plus.
Lima - I won't lie: I didn't like Lima at first. But after a year in the city, it started to grow on me. I think about it often. Lima is probably the Latin American city where the people reminded me most of myself. Initially, they are slightly more reserved than Mexicans and Colombians, but once you get to know them, they are cool people. In fact, I felt that I got along with Peruvians my own age (both men and women) better than with anyone in any other major Latin American city I've been to. The two big pluses of Lima for me were the ocean and the food. The ocean views are spectacular, and the sea breeze refreshing. In my opinion, the food is the best in Latin America. It's just about the only LATAM country where I couldn't see myself eventually getting sick of the local cuisine. Although you'll pay a bit more to live here than you would in Mexico City or Bogota, it's still cheaper than nearby Quito, where you'll pay about 20% more for the same quality of life.
Buenos Aires - Like Lima, I wasn't a fan of Buenos Aires. I didn't find the local culture as intoxicating as, say, Colombia or Mexico, and I found the people aloof and dismissive. But, now that I'm getting older, I see the appeal. Things run a bit more efficiently here than in other Latin American cities, it's safer than most other Latin American capitals, there's a good cafe culture and the steak and wine is cheap and amazing quality. If you're looking for that warm and welcoming Latin vibe that you'd get in Colombia, you won't find it here. But, if you're looking to settle in to a reasonably developed, functioning metropolis, you could certainly do worse than B.A...just don't try to start a business down here.
Bajio Region in Mexico - I have a love affair with the Bajio region of Mexico. It's cheap living, reasonably safe, the people are friendly and there are many beautiful cities. It's one of not very many places in Latin America that I could see myself living longterm.
Coffee Region in Colombia - Like the Bajio in Mexico, the coffee region of Colombia has beautiful cities, friendly people and a low cost of living. If you love Colombia and its people, but you aren't a big city person, I'd suggest checking out some spots in the coffee region.
Mendoza, Argentina - Sort of a dark-horse choice, but I really liked this city. Quaint, beautiful with friendly people and cheap, excellent wine and food. I was at peace here. And it's hard to be completely at peace in Latin America! If you're in to outdoor activities, wine and a laid back life. Give Mendoza some serious consideration.
And, since I occasionally get some autistic comments and emails, let me just say:
THESE ARE MY PERSONAL PICKS BASED ON MY PERSONAL TASTES. THERE ARE NO OBJECTIVE "BEST CITIES IN LATIN AMERICA."
What you like will probably be different from what I like. But, as I said before, if you take a look through my website, expat groups and forums and other LATAM resources, you should be able to get a decent idea of what country/city down here is likely to suit you.
So, to recap.
Follow these steps to find your perfect Latin American city.
Know yourself. Dive deep into your desires, values, goals and personality. Learn who you are and what you want. Write these things down and contemplate them before you think about locations.
Rule some cities out based on the 5 characteristics. If you value safety, for instance (and you should), you should cross Venezuela off your list entirely. If you're on a budget of $2000.00 USD or less, may as well cross off Santiago, Chile and Rio de Janeiro. If you want decent infrastructure, maybe don't opt for Bolivia or Nicaragua. You get the idea. There should be some cities - or even countries - that you'll be able to rule out immediately for one reason or another.
Narrow down your cities. Chances are, by now you'll have an idea of where you might want to go in Latin America. Write down ten cities or less and dive in to some Internet research. Find out all that you can about these cities and do some culling. Get your choices down to about 5 cities or less (if you're able).
Book that trip. Now is the time for boots on the ground. Visit the cities that are on your list. I'd say a month minimum is necessary to determine if a city is for you or not. That said, if you really hate a place after the first couple weeks and truly can't find any redeeming qualities, feel free to move on to your next city. If you think you like a city, feel free to stay longer and dig deeper. Remember, this is a big decision you're making. Take all the time you need.
Alright folks, that just about does it for me.
I know, it's somewhat of an unorthodox post about finding your perfect city, but I hope it helped.
Of course, you'll never really know until you go!
That said, if you'd like to relocate to Latin America, but aren't sure where to go and don't have the time to take a long trip, give me a call and I can help you make an informed decision.
All the best,