Mexico City As A Digital Nomad Destination

by | Jan 5, 2023 | Lifestyle, Travel

Mexico City As A Digital Nomad Destination

Mexico City is one of the most popular destinations for digital Nomads, according to data from Nomadlist. Indeed, the city is among the top five most reviewed destinations on the platform.

On average, there are about 15000 self-declared digital nomads on Nomadlist visiting the city at any given time. The exact number must be several times more.

Mexico City: officially Ciudad de México (CDMX), is the capital city of Mexico, the immediate southern neighbor of the US. The city has a population of 8 million within its core, increasing to close to 22 million when the cosmopolitan areas around it are included. 

Historical background

The modern city known as CDMX was built in the 16th century. However, the land it sits on was occupied by an ancient city.  

When the Spanish conquistadors led by Hernan Cortez arrived in 1500, they found a flourishing city of the native Aztecs. However, it was notorious for the human sacrifice of the captured members of tribes living next to the Aztec empire. It is this practice that the movie Apocalypto by Mel Gibson is based on.

Indeed, these acts of human sacrifice motivated the neighboring tribes to join the Spanish in raiding and conquering the city.

After razing it to the ground, the Spanish conquistadors decide to build another city in the same spot.

History, the low cost of living, great infrastructure, rich culture, and a warm climate are some things that attract digital nomads to the city

The Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a Los cielos (Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven), the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas and the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico is built on top of the ancient temple of the Aztecs, the Templo Mayor.

Indeed, it is hard to tell when exactly humans settled on the land. Still, the ruins visible within the city, such as Templo Mayor, and the megalithic structures, including the pyramids in Teotihuacán, is evidence of a highly complex city that must have survived for up to thousands of years.

This history of the city, the low cost of living, great infrastructure, rich culture, and a relatively warm climate throughout the year are some things that attract tourists and digital nomads to the city.

Visa application

Even though Mexico is popular with digital nomads, it doesn’t yet have a visa specifically designed for this category of travelers. Most digital nomads who come into the country use tourist and temporary residence visas.

With a tourist visa, you can stay for up to 180 days. Usually, the stay cannot be extended. Once the visa expires, one has to leave and reapply if they desire to experience more of the city and the country.

Not everyone needs to apply for a visa to enter and stay in Mexico as a tourist. Travelers holding passports, permanent residence permits, or valid visas from the following countries are exempted:

When your visit is approved, you are issued with the Visitante‘ permit at the cost of about $25. You are expected to safely keep it until you leave the country. You will be charged about $45 at the exit point if you lose this document.

Those exempt from the tourist visa and those who need it to enter Mexico have to apply for a temporary residence visa if they intend to stay for longer than 180 days.

The Residente Temporal permit affords you a stay of up to a year with the potential of extension for a further three years. To qualify for this visa, you must have and illustrate sufficient funds or steady income to sustain you while in the country. If you intend to take up gigs with local businesses, you are required to apply for a work permit

The process of applying for a Visa

A tourist visa allows you to stay in the country for up to 180 days, which is long enough to sample and enjoy what the city offers

The process of applying for a Mexican visa starts with collecting the relevant forms from the nearest embassy or consulate. The forms can also be downloaded online. After filling them out, you can send them back to the embassy to determine your legibility or have them ready for submission when you arrive in the country.

Requirements to qualify for Visa

The qualifications needed for a Mexican visa depend on the visa you are applying for. If you are applying for a tourist visa, you must submit a valid passport with at least six months remaining.

You are also expected to share your itinerary and also a return ticket. The immigration office may also expect you to provide a three-month bank statement, proof of residency, and a color passport photo of yourself.

If you are applying for a temporary residence visa, then you need to share proof that you have a balance of not less than $45 000 in your bank account. If you plan to work for a local entity, then you are also required to share a letter of recommendation from the entity.

Generally, the tourist visa is enough for most digital nomads. It allows you to stay in the country for up to 180 days, which is long enough to sample and enjoy what the city offers.

The Cost of applying for a visa

The cost of the visa depends on which visa you are applying for and your country of origin. A tourist visa costs about $45. The temporary residence visa costs between $150 and 350$, depending on your country of origin and whether you are traveling alone or with dependents.

Difficulty in Visa application

Digital nomads coming from countries whose citizens don’t need a tourist visa to visit, such as the US, UK, Canada, and the European Union, have it more than easy. For those coming from other regions, the difficulty depends on the specific country from which you are applying to.

Citizens of some countries will have it a little easier than those from others. With that stated, applying for a tourist or a temporary residence visa to Mexico is generally not as difficult as applying for a visa to Portugal, Spain, Greece, and other destinations in North America and Europe. It is partly because Mexico is not a popular destination for economic migrants.

Neighborhoods with digital nomads

Mexico City is a huge city, both in terms of population, which is over 20 million inhabitants, and area, which is about 1,485 km². It is also highly diverse when it comes to neighborhoods.

It is also a city with high-income inequalities, and that translates to the arrangement of neighborhoods (Colonias). The city has neighborhoods as affluent as Beverly Hills in Los Angeles and Mayfair in London. A London-based wealth consultancy firm WealthInsight has ranked Mexico City as having the highest number of dollar multimillionaires (1850) in the world.

On the other hand, the city has neighborhoods with most residents living in extreme poverty. According to recent data, close to 30% of the population in the city and the rest of the country live under $5.5 a day.

Like in any other city, the more affluent a neighborhood is in Mexico City, the more it is organized and secure. It is also the case that the more affluent a neighborhood is, the more costly it is to live in it.

There are less expensive neighborhoods that are also secure enough for foreigners to stay in

It is important to point out that in some of the less affluent neighborhoods, you can live safely, especially if you can fit into the local community. That allows you to spend less, especially on rent.

With that said, as a digital nomad in Mexico City, you have to weigh between safety and the cost of living when picking a neighborhood to stay in. If money is not a huge issue, you should consider staying in the Roma Norte, Polanco, Bosque de Lomas, Santa Fe, or La Condesa Colonia.

These are some of the most secure neighborhoods in Mexico City. They have an international feel and are popular with ex-pats, tourists, and digital Nomads. Nearly everyone staying there can communicate in English.

They are also the most expensive to live in, especially in regard to accommodation.

Besides the high accommodation cost, the most affluent neighborhoods in Mexico City might not give you the authentic Mexican experience.

Finding less expensive neighborhoods that are still secure enough for foreigners to stay in is possible. Such neighborhoods can expose you to the authentic Mexican experience. The list of such neighborhoods includes Portales Sur, Nápoles, Narvarte, Del Valle, Postal (all in the Benito Juárez borough), Escandón, Anzures (Miguel Hidalgo borough), Santa Maria la Ribera, Cuauhtemoc (Cuauhtemoc borough), Del Carmen (Coyoacán).

Cost of living and Cost of living arbitrage

Besides the climate, the rich culture, and many tourist attraction sites, the other reason why many digital nomads choose Mexico city is that it provides a great experience at a relatively low cost of living.

According to Nomadlist, you need, on average, about $2000 a month to live comfortably in the city. The rent can be as low as $300.

Meanwhile, according to data from Numbeo, Mexico City is up to 70% cheaper than London and 60% cheaper than New York and Los Angeles.

In particular, consumer prices in Mexico City are 19.44% lower and rent 29.48% than in Lisbon, the most popular destination for digital nomads in Europe.

Rent in Mexico City is up to 50% lower than what you can pay in New York, Vancouver, and London

Food is generally cheap in Mexico City. Compared to most cities in North America and Europe, you are likely to pay as much as 70% lower. For example, a report by Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine indicates that the median price for tacos in the US is $11.28. In Mexico City, tacos cost below a dollar on average.

Commuting around the city is also relatively cheap, especially compared to other cities in North America and Europe. For example, the metro bus service charges a flat rate of 5 Pesos (about $0.25) to all stops in the city. Meanwhile, the subway costs about 3 pesos.

You can also rent a bicycle for about $19 a week. If you prefer renting a car, that will likely cost you as low as $5 a day.

Bike share station in Mexico City.

According to data from Nomadlist, it costs, on average, $70 to rent a five-star hotel in the city. You can also find places to stay through Airbnb, and on average, it will cost you between $50 and $150 a night in affluent neighborhoods like Roma Norte.

Apartments cost between $1000 and $3000 a month. It can be lower in less affluent neighborhoods. According to Numbeo, rent in Mexico City is up to 50% lower than what you can pay in New York, Vancouver, and London.

Internet

The Internet is generally accessible throughout most parts of the city. However, there is no free wifi as a free service from the city authorities in most neighborhoods.

Some apartments and hotels do provide free wifi to their customers. If you stay in an Airbnb, you will likely need to buy your data in some apartments.

The fixed broadband internet costs between $30 and $50 a month, depending on the download speed.

Meanwhile, you can access high-speed internet in co-working spaces in the city.

You can also access the internet through mobile service providers, in particular AT&T and Telcel. Their monthly plans range between 300 and 800 pesos (about US$15-$40). According to data from Statista, the median mobile internet download speed in Mexico City is 24.28Mbps. Meanwhile, the median download speed for fixed broadband is 48.45 Mbps.

Best coworking spaces

Most of the most popular co-working spaces in Mexico City are located in the affluent colonias, particularly Roma Norte, Polanco, Bosque de Lomas, Santa Fe, and La Condesa.
The following is a list of some of the most popular co-working spaces in those neighborhoods:

Crypto Community

There is a growing community of crypto enthusiasts in Mexico City. Several startups have been launched to provide crypto-related services in the city and the rest of the country.

Crypto enthusiasts often meet in co-working spaces around the city. You can discover these events by using tools like Meetup and Eventbrite.

Nomad Expat Community

The digital nomad community in Mexico city is among the largest in the world. Besides connecting online on platforms like Nomadlist, you can also interact and network in any of the many co-working spaces in the city.

Most of the ex-pat community in Mexico City lives in Roma Norte, Polanco, Bosque de Lomas, Santa Fe, La Condesa Colonias, and other similar neighborhoods.

Local Nomad Job Opportunity

Visitors on tourist visas are not allowed to take jobs by local businesses. Even on temporary or permanent resident visas, one cannot take jobs until they have applied for and received a work permit.

That means as a digital nomad in Mexico city, you might have limited options to only what you can get from your online marketing and your networking efforts with other digital nomads.

Popular recreational activities and fun spots

There are many things one can do in Mexico City. The list includes visiting ancient city ruins, such as Teotihuacan, about an hour’s drive outside the city, and Templo Mayor in the middle part of the city known as Centro Historico.

You can also visit other structures in the Centro Historico area, including the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral and Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Mexico City has the largest number of Museums in the Americas (over 150) and the second in the world after London.

You can also explore the city’s unique architecture, some are century-old and others are relatively modern.

Most of the Colonias in the city have parks. You can take walks in them and explore the rich botanical gardens some of them have to offer.

Security/safety

When most people think about visiting Mexico City, security and personal safety are major factors they must consider. While security and safety are major issues, knowing what to expect and how to plan your stay might not significantly impact your stay in the city.

“Your safety in Mexico City depends on the neighborhood you are staying in or visiting”

Indeed, the city and the country have a reputation as the most insecure in the world.

Crime rate

The most common crimes in Mexico City include pickpocketing, robbery, vehicle theft, kidnapping, and homicide. Scams are also common, including strangers accidentally pouring something on you and stealing from you while feigning to help you clean the mess. There are also fake ATMs in some parts of the city that can steal your data.

With that stated, your safety in Mexico City depends on the neighborhood you are staying in or visiting. For example, neighborhoods like Roma Norte, Polanco, Condesa, Centro Historico, Escandón, San Rafael, and Coyoacan have low crime rates. Indeed lower than most cities in the US.

On the other hand, neighborhoods like Tepito, Iztapalapa, Ciudad Neza, and Doctores are extremely dangerous. It is important to point out that crimes against women are generally high in Mexico City. This is why public transport, particularly the subway, metro, and tram, have designated cars for female commuters.

Dos and don’ts 

To protect yourself and your personal property, you should do the following while staying in Mexico City:

  • Choose a neighborhood with less crime to stay in. 
  • While in public, especially in neighborhoods known for high insecurity, such as Tepito market, don’t wear your jewelry or display expensive watches or electronic devices. Indeed, don’t put on designer clothes or any item that draws attention to you as a tourist or someone who might have a significant amount of money.
  • While walking in the city, keep to the streets and paths everyone else uses. Keep away from the back streets. And also, do your research about the places you plan to go to and the path you should take before you do. Talk to those who have stayed in the city longer than you, especially fellow digital nomads, and take their advice. You will likely get useful information from those who already know the local area well.
  • During night outs, keep company, you know.
  • Avoid going out alone at night. In particular, don’t take walks even if the distance is short. Use Uber instead. Also, avoid public transport if you can during the night. 
  • If you want to go to a nightclub, go to those that are located in neighborhoods with many foreigners. It is important to point out that you can easily be a target for this reason. Criminals know where foreigners hang out, and this might seem a more lucrative place to undertake their activities.
  • Don’t involve yourself with activities that will put you in contact with organized crime. That includes buying drugs or filming in areas with criminal activities, such as the sale of drugs or counterfeit products. 
  • Avoid flaunting cash. The most risk to your safety as a foreigner comes from the impression some might have that you are wealthy. And being wealthy might be different from what you may think. For example, spending $100 might seem insignificant to an American, but that is the monthly earnings for most households in Mexico City.

Cultural and social norms

Mexico City is largely a modern western city and is not very different culturally from New York, Lisbon or Madrid. However, it has its unique characteristics.

Metropolitan Cathedral Mexico City.

Mexico as a country is very religious and largely a Catholic society. Over 70% of the population professes the faith. In particular, the majority venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe, the claimed appearance of Mary, mother of Jesus, said to have happened in the 16th century on Tepeyac Hill, Mexico City.

With that stated, the freedom of worship is protected under the law, so travelers and tourists are not expected to observe religious demands.

How you might be expected to behave

While there is freedom of religion and cultural open-mindedness in Mexico City, you will have a better experience interacting with the locals if you observe a few dos and don’ts.

Cultural dos and don’ts 
  • Don’t express negative opinions about the Catholic church and, in particular, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
  • Show courteousness to those you interact with.
  • Express respect to those who seem older than you.
  • Don’t hesitate to greet those you come into contact with.
  • Learn some Spanish or at least a few common words and phrases.
  • Avoid political topics in your conversations

Political and economic stability

In terms of economy and politics, Mexico is a country with as many challenges as potential. And that is reflected in the capital city.

While it experiences a significant amount of poverty, the city is also home to thriving enterprises, millionaires, and billionaires.

The city does experience some political instability, especially around election time. However, this generally does not endanger visitors

Meanwhile, while the country and the city experience high crime rates, Mexico is a politically stable nation with general respect for the rule of law.

The nature of politics and government.

Mexico City is one of the 32 federal entities in Mexico. While 31 of those are states with governors at the helm, Mexico City is not. The city has a mayor elected to serve a term of six years. 

The city does experience some political instability around election time. However, this generally does not endanger visitors.

Economic indicators

Mexico City has an income per Capita of US $47,924, the second highest in the country after the state of Campeche (US $67,233).

Language and language barriers 

Mexico City is a Spanish-speaking city. While there are hundreds of indigenous languages spoken there, you have a better chance of interacting, especially with the locals, if you can speak some Spanish. 

Less than ten percent of Mexico city dwellers can speak English. This poses a challenge for digital nomads who can’t speak Spanish.

With that stated, you can have an interactive stay without knowing any Spanish in neighborhoods like Roma Norte, Polanco, Bosque de Lomas, Santa Fe, and La Condesa. Many residents of these neighborhoods can speak English and other foreign languages.

Health and Vaccination 

Mexico City is generally safe for its residents regarding diseases, especially communicable ones and those transmitted by pests. 

With that stated, cases of Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B are relatively common. It is also probable to be infected with rabies if bitten by animals, in particular stray dogs.

The city is full of street food; indeed, Mexico City is known for its wide variety of food. While you shouldn’t shy from experiencing this part of the city, understand that it is possible to get foodborne diarrhea from sampling the options offered.

Common infectious diseases

The infectious disease you are likely to catch while in Mexico City is Tuberculosis (TB). However, its prevalence is largely negligible. 

The other infectious diseases to guard against are sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, the prevalence of these diseases is more or less similar in cities in the rest of North America.

Common insects spread diseases.

Mexico City has had a history of mosquitoes. While this pest has been put under control, for the most part, it is not unlikely to be bitten by one.

The diseases mosquitoes in Mexico are likely to spread are dengue fever, chikungunya, and Zika virus. However, the chances of you getting infected with these diseases are very low. According to a report published by Lancet, 128 507 cases of dengue, 4752 cases of chikungunya, and 25 755 cases of Zika clinical cases were reported between Jan 1, 2008, and Dec 31, 2016.’

How to protect yourself from common diseases

There are several ways you can protect yourself from infections, these include:

  • Get vaccinated. The CDC recommends travelers to Mexico City get vaccinated for Chickenpox, Diphtheria, measles, Polio, Shingles, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, and rabies.
  • Don’t drink tap water while in the city.
  • Eat food prepared in a hygienic and controlled environment
  • Take steps to prevent mosquito bites by using insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, especially during evenings, and staying in accommodations with screens and good air conditioning.

Clinics vs. Hospitals

Mexico, as a country, has some of the best medical facilities in the world. A number of these are situated in the capital city. Indeed, it is not difficult to get medical care while in the city, especially if you have medical coverage.

Some major hospitals in Mexico City include Hospital Angeles Mexico, ABC Medical Center, and Hospital Médica Sur.

Health Insurance

Your health coverage options might be limited as a digital nomad on a tourist visa. You need a cover that can take care of you while you are in the country beyond immediate emergency care.  

A few service providers have medical covers designed for ex-pats in Mexico. The most notable are Cigna Global, GeoBlue Xplorer, and IMG Global Medical. The products of these service providers will cover immediate emergency care.

Electronic standards 

The Mexico power supply voltage is set at 127V with a frequency of 60Hz. That means if you are coming from the United States, Europe, or other parts of the world that have different power voltages and frequencies, you need to get yourself an adapter from a local electronic shop to streamline the supply and protect your devices.

Telephone and internet plans 

In general, calling rates and internet bundles are cheaper in Mexico than in the rest of North America. There are also many options to choose from, especially in Mexico City.

How to register for a Sim card

Immediately you touch down in Mexico City, you can get a local sim card in one of the stores at the airport. The major service providers are Telcel, Movistar, Verizon, and AT&T.

Mobile phone plans and cost

The plans are cheaper than the rest of North America and Europe. For example, you can get a daily plan that costs $5 from Verizon. That price includes 500 MB of data.

Meanwhile, Telcel has a monthly unlimited call and text plan that costs $20 and includes 10GB.

The population of ex-pats 

The population of people visiting or working in the city for multinationals is significant. Indeed in estates like Roma Norte, Polanco, Bosque de Lomas, Santa Fe, and La Condesa, most residents can often be more than the locals. You can easily thrive in those neighborhoods if you speak English and not Spanish. 

However, if you want a real, local experience, you should find accommodation and visit other locations, but you should learn at least some Spanish or find a reliable tour guide. 

Payment services and infrastructure 

The financial system in the country and particularly Mexico City is highly developed. The city is home to many banks and financial providers. The financial inclusion in Mexico is among the highest in the Americas.

Popular domestic payment services

The most used payment method in Mexico City is payment cards (47%) and cash (17%). Most shops will accept payment through a debit or credit card. For street vendors, however, you better have physical cash to pay.

Meanwhile, there is growing adoption of digital wallets, which you can use to pay for metro tickets and other services.

While not many merchants accept crypto in the city, you can use a crypto debit card like that issued by Clubswan in any stores that accept Visa and MasterCard.

Accessible international payment services

Bank transfers into and out of Mexico work smoothly, especially given that major global commercial and retail banks such as BBVA, Santander, and HSBC have a presence. You can also conveniently use services such as PayPal and Wise. 

Currencies and exchange rates

The local currency is the Peso. It exchanges at the rate of about 20 pesos to the dollar. 

You can convert your foreign currencies in any of the many exchanges in the city. If you have crypto, you can convert it using International exchanges that operate in the country or local ones such as Bitso.

If you have huge volumes of crypto, you need to liquidate using a service like that offered by Cluswan.

Transport infrastructure and services

When moving from one point to another in the city, you have many options. You can hire a car, which gives you much flexibility as you move around.

However, renting a car comes with the challenges of driving on roads with a different culture, and the traffic can be overwhelming. Also, parking fees can be quite costly, especially in the more posh estates. 

You may opt to use Uber and taxis instead. It costs less than $5 for most rides within the city. 

The city has several companies that rent out bicycles. You can pay and pick one from designated locations within the city. The city has well-established cycling paths, so you can conveniently move about while simultaneously burning calories. 

A wide network subway system also services the city. This is complemented by metro bus, tram, and cable car systems.  The cost to use this service is generally under a dollar for all locations.

Climate and seasons

The climate of Mexico City is subtropical highland. The city is generally warm between March and June, with temperatures reaching around 83°F during the day.

The period between June and September is the rainy season. 

The coldest season starts in  November and ends on February 3. During this time, the temperatures can reach as low as 44°F and the highest being  71°F. 

October to May is generally the dry season.

Cuisine/food

Mexico City is a paradise for anyone who is a foodie. The choice of foods is extensive, and the places to eat are numerous. The streets are filled with restaurants ranging from expensive ones to ones where you can eat on a budget.

The city is also full of street food. Nearly every corner you turn, there will be a stand selling anything from soft drinks, fruits, and tacos to seafood. 

Tax requirements on digital nomads

If you are staying in the country as a digital nomad, with more than 51% of your income coming from clients outside the country, you do not have any tax obligation. 

If at least 50% of your income comes from businesses within Mexico, you are expected to pay tax between 0% and 30%, depending on how much you earn. You may need to talk to a tax expert regarding this.

The common concerns

The following are some of the things digital Nomads who visit Mexico city don’t like, according to Nomadlist:

  • The freedom of speech is curtailed
  • Security and safety is a major concern
  • The city is crowded
  • The quality of healthcare is not great
  • The majority of people can’t speak English well.

On the other hand, many like the city because of the following:

  • Low cost of living
  • Fast and reliable internet
  • Places to go for fun
  • A warm climate throughout the year
  • A significant number of digital nomads interact and network with others.
  • An open, accepting, and accommodating local community.
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