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Living in Mexico
A practical guide to the way of life in Mexico
As an expat living in Mexico, you’ll experience what French poet André Breton called the surrealist country par excellence, where modern art and culture coexist with breathtaking scenery and Aztec pyramids. In preparation of your life in Mexico, read our Guide for info on housing, healthcare, and education.
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Life in Mexico
- Housing in Mexico tends to be cheap, but there is a housing shortage. Choosing the right borough is crucial.
- For your search you can choose between using a real estate agency or searching yourself.
- Mexico’s healthcare system is composed of private systems and public ones, like the Seguro Popular. Other specific healthcare plans exist as well.
- Both international and local schools are available. Local schools allow deeper integration into the Mexican community.
As an expat in Mexico, you will form a multitude of contradictory impressions as you travel through vibrant cities and across the serene countryside. When planning your stay in Mexico, you needn’t be overwhelmed by the country’s cultural differences and diversity, however.
Affordable Housing with the Help of Spanish
Living in Mexico is fairly cheap compared to many other countries. Of course, the cost of living depends largely on the location of your residency. When you decide to spend time living in Mexico, be sure to investigate which residential areas are best avoided. Crime levels are often higher in certain urban districts. Speaking to locals and other expats in Mexico will go a long way in figuring out the best place for you to settle down. Most expats in Mexico live in Mexico City. For a list of the most popular boroughs among expats, have a look at the article Moving to Mexico City.
If you do not already speak Spanish, it is highly advisable to take the time to become at least proficient in the language in preparation of life in Mexico. It can be rather difficult to find a place to live with an insufficient command of the local language.
Relying on Real Estate or Embarking on the Search Yourself?
In lieu of learning Spanish, you can also consider hiring a real estate agent to help you get a good deal and avoid paying an unreasonably high rent while living in Mexico.
Agents usually know the best neighborhoods and are more than willing to assist foreigners living in Mexico with their house-hunting. It could be a good idea to talk to a few different real estate agencies to find the best rates. Agencies may list the same postings at different rates.
If you do indeed speak Spanish, newspaper ads and online searches present a cheaper alternative. These can be good sources for a lot of information on various types of accommodation, and this is a common approach to find apartments or houses. Scouring newspapers with classified housing sections, such as El Universal (website in Spanish only), could pay off.
Another way to find your dream home is by getting in touch with local people. Mexicans tend to have an open and outgoing character and will surely be happy to talk to you and help you out along the way.
The Issue of Housing in Mexico
For decades, Mexico has experienced a serious housing shortage in the bigger cities. Particularly lower income groups have suffered from this lack of affordable housing options, as is evidenced, for example, by the Neza-Chalco-Itza barrio in Mexico City, one of the biggest slums in the world.
In the past, different government agencies have supported the development of affordable housing for people living in Mexico. In 1974, for instance, the National Workers’ Housing Fund Institute began to provide loans to create new housing space for Mexican workers. This did, however, not improve the situation for low earners. Especially in urban areas such as Guadalajara, Mexico City, or Monterrey, the local housing shortage is still a big problem for people on a budget.
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Healthcare and Education in Mexico
The Much-Debated Mexican Healthcare System
Mexico’s healthcare system includes small private systems as well as universal health insurance programs. The result is a mixture of private, public, and employer-funded healthcare schemes. Aside from public insurance and the private healthcare sector, state employees and members of the military enjoy separate insurance schemes.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, however, Mexico’s healthcare system is relatively unequal. Despite an abundance of high-quality medical services and facilities, many people can only afford basic care. Although the government has begun spending more money on healthcare, it still has one of the lowest per capita expenditures of all OECD countries, outspending only Turkey and Estonia.
Mexico began its efforts to provide full healthcare coverage in 2004, with a program called Seguro Popular (Popular Health Insurance). This program was designed to make various preventative treatments affordable for the less fortunate. Since then, 50 million previously uninsured people have benefitted. The opinions on the Seguro Popular are divided; some believe that it ensures healthcare equality once and for all, whereas others still see a lack of quality in the services provided. Whether unequal or not, healthcare is now at least universal in Mexico.
As vaccinations and preventative drugs have been made widely available, malaria rates have been steadily dropping over the past decade, and tuberculosis mortality is also on a downward trend. Conditions have been improving , but both afflictions still present greater risks in Mexico than in most of the Western world.
Public Healthcare Coverage for Employees
In addition to the Seguro Popular, there is also a regular healthcare insurance coverage for employees, which is provided by the Institute of Social Security (Spanish only). Those covered pay a monthly premium calculated based on their wages, with both the state as well as their employer chipping in.
The Institute of Social Security also runs its own primary care units and hospitals. The quality of these facilities varies quite a bit: Not all are as well-equipped as many private hospitals, and the staff mostly speak Spanish.
Expensive, but High-Quality Private Healthcare
Residents in Mexico with private medical insurance include mostly foreigners and wealthy or middle-class Mexicans. Private insurance grants access to high-quality services and special treatments. Some Mexicans also pay for private care themselves to benefit from medical services of better quality than their public healthcare coverage provides.
Currently, the private health sector is still on the upswing. Especially in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey, new hospitals are being built to provide specialized care and treatment to patients. Monterrey, in relatively close proximity to the US border, has become the center of medical tourism. Here, US citizens try to escape the higher medical costs and more expensive treatments in their home country.
International or Local Schools?
The Mexican education system consists of three general levels: Basic education, upper secondary education, and tertiary education.
Aside from many public schools and universities, there are a number of international schools in Mexico, too. Among the most well-known institutions are the Edron Academy in Mexico City and Prepa Tec from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. American, German, French, and Japanese schools are available as well, with most of them located in the bigger cities; Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey.
Basic Education with an Indigenous Flavor
Basic education in Mexico consists of preschool, primary school, and lower secondary education. Primary school is grades one through six. Upon completion of primary school, your children can move on to lower secondary school, grades seven through nine. In addition to standard primary school subjects, the curriculum also allows for classes dealing with the linguistic and cultural background of Mexico’s indigenous groups and scattered rural population.
The Different Options in Upper Secondary Education
There are two types of upper secondary education in Mexico; high school and professional technical education. High school usually consists of a three-year program. Finishing high school will grant access to tertiary education.
Most professional technical programs have a three-year curriculum as well. Here, students are prepared for certain technical professions and working life in general. If they take additional subjects, however, students may still be able to qualify for tertiary education.
Not Only University: Tertiary Education
In general, there are three types of tertiary education. First, higher technician studies allow students to train with technically skilled professionals within a specific field. Second, students can obtain a bachelor’s degree at technological institutes, universities, and teachers’ colleges in different fields of study. These programs take four years or longer to complete, depending on the school and the field. Finally, postgraduate studies are divided into specialization studies, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees. For each of these, a bachelor’s degree is prerequisite.
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