What to Know Before Moving to Mexico City

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Many travelers have told me that they didn’t enjoy Mexico City as much as the rest of the country. As a traveler and expat who lived in DF (Distrito Federal = Mexico City) for two years, I can definitely see why a lot of people don’t view it as a must-see in Mexico. However, this doesn’t mean that I share the same opinion. If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I love Mexico City. Why do tourists dislike Mexico City?

As one of the biggest cities in the world, Mexico City cannot be explored in just a few days. If you live there, you also know that there are many areas that you simply don’t ever want to visit. Mexico City is a huge place and a lot of people feel lost in it. They get confused about where to go and how to get there. I’ve also heard that some visitors feel overwhelmed by the locals, as they’ll try to talk to you all the time, even if you don’t speak Spanish.

What should you consider when moving to Mexico City?

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Understanding Mexico City

Even after living in Mexico City for almost two years, I still cannot say that I’ve seen the whole city. DF has 16 ‘delegaciones’ which can be understood as boroughs and some parts of Estado de Mexico (The State of Mexico), which is technically a different state, are also considered as part of the city by locals. Each ‘delegacion’ is divided into different ‘colonias’.

In Mexico City there’s no such thing as a totally bad or unsafe delegation as even within colonias you might see both good and bad aspects. Quite often to get from one luxurious and safe zone to another nice neighborhood, you might have to drive or bus through a ‘pueblito.’

But don’t worry, it might be less safe in pueblitos than in other areas, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be robbed and killed. I often passed through pueblitos in a bus or car and sometimes I even had to hang around there for a while. Unless you’re really showing off your expensive jewelry or electronics, you’ll be fine. Just be reasonable.

Housing in Mexico City

Housing in Mexico City is relatively cheap and the standards are high. If you’re moving to the city for work, find an apartment or room near your job as the city has horrible traffic and you might spend hours commuting every day. Finding an apartment isn’t easy unless you want to arrange it before your arrival and overpay as there are owners who count on foreigners not knowing the local rates. My advice would be to stay in a hostel or hotel (check some of my recommendations here) for a bit and look for a place while you’re there.

You most likely won’t sign any contract for your flat and even if you do, it might not be legally binding, but it’s Mexico so you have to adjust to their rules. As a foreigner, you will probably be able to afford a house or a room with a cleaner at least twice a week, if not living in the house. I was surprised to see that a lot of places are built with an extra service room for maids as this practice is extremely popular in Mexico.

For a room, you’re going to end up paying between 3000-5500 Mexican pesos a month inclusive ($200-350).I paid 4500 for a room with my own bathroom, cleaner, and access to pool, sauna and gym in Santa Fe. Later on, I was able to find a studio apartment for 4000 MXN ($260) inclusive in Tecamachalco, which is a quiet residential area.

View from the apartment in Santa Fe

View from the apartment in Santa Fe


Transportation in Mexico City

The majority of locals are going to tell you that you need a car in Mexico City because the public transportation is as bad as it is in Los Angeles, even though I’ve never had a problem there either. It took me a long time to figure out the system of Mexican buses and I had to be observant and be one of those annoying people asking tons of questions about how to get everywhere.

Let’s start with the basics. There are 5 types of public transportation in Mexico City: metro, metrobus, RTP, camiones, and microbuses.

Paseo de la Reforma is often closed for events...

Paseo de la Reforma is often closed for events…


Metro in Mexico City

The metro is easy to navigate whether you speak Spanish or not because every station has a recognizable image. The metro reaches almost every area of Mexico City apart from Poniente. There is a special carriage for women on every train with a separate boarding area.

But according to research conducted by a friend of mine, a lot of women (including myself) prefer to ride on the normal carriage. That way there’s a better chance of a man giving you a seat. If you’re in a women-only section there’s no way anyone is going to give up their seat for you.
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Metrobuses

I would compare the metrobus to a tram or overground. It’s a bus that has it’s own route, so it doesn’t have to go through traffic. The annoying part is that you need to buy a special card and put money on it before boarding the bus.

RTP
RTPs are similar to metrobuses, but they do need to stay in traffic as they use a normal road. The most popular route is Villa Cantera – Santa Fe through Paseo de la Reforma. These buses are super cheap – only 1 peso per person and 2 pesos for an express bus. Once every hour or two, there is also a pink bus for women only. You can pay by cash on the bus.

Camiones & microbuses (micro)
Camiones (big buses) and microbuses (minibusses) are the hardest to figure out, but also the most convenient. Unlike the above-mentioned forms of transportation, they don’t have a strict route and they also (or in some cases mostly) don’t stop at bus stops. To stop the bus, you simply have to tell the driver to drop you off ‘here’ or even just wave to him.

They have a destination plaque written on the front of the bus. But remember that if there’s a lot of traffic the bus can slightly re-route. You can check some routes on RutaDirecta, but my advice would be to remember what goes where. If you’re really lost or unsure which bus to take, hop on something that brings you to Metro Chapultepec. There are a lot of buses stopping there and someone can probably point you to the right one. You can only pay in cash on the bus.

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Paperwork & visas for Mexico

A lot of people asked me if it’s possible to get a job in Mexico without a work visa. The answer is yes, however it depends on what you want to do. Most of the jobs I had in Mexico didn’t require an FM-3 (work permit) and they were legitimate companies. The only place that asked me to show them my residency card was the CPK restaurant. The majority of companies pay in cheques or cash and

I never had to sign an official contract, as everything was an oral agreement. Is it hard to get an FM-3? Unfortunately, it is a long and annoying process, but it allows you to open a bank account, get a driver’s license (I actually obtained mine in Mexico!) and register a business.


Finding a job in Mexico

I’m not going to lie to you and say that you’ll be fine and find a job easily. I struggled for a while and had to change jobs a few times. I started from teaching business English, as I completed my TEFL certificate in Mexico City. Despite what everyone told me, finding a teaching job wasn’t so easy. It turned out that teaching was more problematic than I thought.

Opposite to small towns in Mexico where teachers can get a regular job contract at a language school, in Mexico City as a business English instructor I was assigned different classes at various companies. An hourly rate was quite high. However, every time a class got canceled I wasn’t earning any money. As a result during Christmas for a whole month, I barely had any income.

Finding another job was a challenge and took me a long time. And when I finally succeeded the salary wasn’t enormous. This is why I suggest that if you don’t have a job set-up before you move to Mexico, you could be way more comfortable as a digital nomad, rather than working in the city.


Travel insurance in Mexico

Don’t forget to arrange a health insurance before heading to Mexico. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to avoid unnecessary troubles that might ruin your stay!


Suggested books for moving to Mexico City:

Mexico City Travel Guide 
Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler
The Best How-To Book on Moving to Mexico

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36 Comments

  1. Jul 6, 2015 / 1:12 pm

    Really interesting post. I think far too often people avoid visiting certain places because small areas are considered ‘dangerous’. What a waste! Hopefully people will read this and realise that Mexico City is worth a visit. Can’t believe they have separate metro carriages for women – madness! We’ve never been but will definitely make sure we go when we’re over that side of the world. 🙂

    Gabby

    • Jul 10, 2015 / 11:48 am

      They introduced these carriages also in Brazil 🙂

  2. Jul 6, 2015 / 2:48 pm

    Fantastic tips, thank you so much for sharing! Interesting to read about the nuance of visas and working.

  3. Jul 6, 2015 / 2:58 pm

    Fascinating stuff. I live in a big city (London) but I can’t imagine moving to Mexico City. It sounds exciting, but a little bit overwhelming.

    • Jul 6, 2015 / 3:36 pm

      I think it’s easier to live there than in LOndon 🙂

  4. Jul 6, 2015 / 3:14 pm

    Great tips, even for those who only want to see the city as a traveller. We love Mexico, but we’ve only been to a small part of it (and would love to live in that area).

    • Jul 10, 2015 / 11:48 am

      I was trying to make it useul for both expats and visitors 🙂

  5. Jul 7, 2015 / 12:09 am

    That sucks not having work during Christmas time! Teaching can be a great gig to do on the road but it has its downfalls as well!

    • Jul 7, 2015 / 2:05 am

      yeah, unfortunately 🙁

  6. Olivia
    Sep 1, 2015 / 4:12 am

    Great article! I would love to move to DF for a year or so. I hardly speak Spanish though. Do you think I could still find a job?
    Do you speak Spanish?

    • Sep 1, 2015 / 8:04 am

      Yes, I’m fluent and also a freelance translator from/to Spanish to/from English. I think you can easily teach English if you’re certified (I’ve done that for a bit), but it might be a bt tough to move around. You can learn tho! 🙂

  7. Dec 18, 2015 / 2:02 pm

    Great advises! It’s much better when your are prepared and have some information about the country you are planing to move to. Greetings

  8. Michelle
    Feb 24, 2016 / 7:16 pm

    Great information! I visit the area frequently as my husband is from there. Over the last decade we have discussed moving to DF or the state of Morelos (lots of family there) so it’s always helpful to read the experiences of those who have actually done it!

    • Feb 24, 2016 / 9:01 pm

      Do it! 🙂 I\m sure you won’t regret it 🙂

  9. Hannah Brown
    Mar 30, 2016 / 8:28 pm

    Hi! I am moving to Mexico City in September but am currently looking for a job ahead of time before I get there so I can obtain my work visa before leaving the states (i’m coming from new york state). I’m going there to live with my long term boyfriend (he’s a native to CDMX and is a university professor) and work hopefully with kids/adults teaching english (i’m not fluent in Spanish yet) and to work eventually in a gallery/art scene and continuing my passion for painting (i’m graduating with my BFA in May). Any advice for finding good jobs for teaching english so that they can “back up ” my work visa so i may obtain it?

    Thank you!!!
    Graciass!!
    ~Hannah Brown

    • Mar 31, 2016 / 12:05 am

      Hey Hannah! I actually started my journey in Mexico from teaching, but I also completed my TEFL course there, so they hooked me up with a job – here’s the link: http://www.teachers-latin-america.com/ 🙂 I’d suggest to look for some TEFL positions online on various websites as well.

  10. Alma
    Oct 20, 2016 / 11:49 pm

    Dear Anna~ Are you still telling us about life in DF? I really enjoyed your information. How are things down there October 2016? Here in Trump and Hillary Land, we are feeling nauseous. I plan to move in November or December. I am an ESL instructor with 40 years experience.

    • Oct 21, 2016 / 5:26 pm

      Hi! I live in Playa del Carmen now, but visiting DF quite often 🙂

  11. Adrienne
    Nov 19, 2016 / 8:28 pm

    You never mentioned hostels and hotels you like in Mex City. I’m interested in Roma, Chipultapec area. Moving to Mex City in March for work–pre-arranged English teaching job!

    • Nov 19, 2016 / 9:37 pm

      I haven’t because this is an article about moving to Mexico City. I’m planning on putting together another post about accommodation in Mexico City. However, for now I can recommend:
      Capsule Hostel (Roma Norte next to Reforma)
      Hostel Home (Roma Norte next to Insurgentes)

    • Ren
      May 26, 2017 / 10:36 pm

      Adrienne

      If I may add.. I am renting a 2 bedroom apartment through airbnb.. all to myself for the same price as a hostal. In Roma Norte.. one block from Sevilla metro.

  12. Feb 8, 2017 / 8:09 am

    Loved this write up on moving, working and transportation in and around Mexico City, something I am looking to do sometime soon. Considering I am, as you stated, a ‘Digital Nomad’ of sorts, then I guess I’m already set to take on that same lifestyle there. Looking forward to a change of scenery, livery. community, country and people, and with help from people such as yourself, you help make it much more promising and interesting, to say the very least. Much appreciate the links to the traveler insurance website, that’s definitely key for me, considering I’d travel alone and would love guarantees for my travels.

    Oh, and one more thing, you are stunningly gorgeous, not to mention talented in your writing. Thank you so much señorita Anna, a name that happens to also be my only sister’s. Furthermore, on a side note, my mother was born in Distrito Federal, which is why I feel an urge to make this pilgrimage, considering part of my being does indeed have its roots there. Wish me luck!

  13. ren
    Mar 2, 2017 / 8:18 pm

    Thanks again for another good post! I’m off to El DF in May (I rented a flat in Roma Norte) so I’m very excited to explore the city (it helps that I’m a big fan of Rivera murals).

    Have you ever gone to Teotihuacan (not by tour).. debating if it will be easy enough to get to solo (not into tours)

    • Mar 2, 2017 / 9:25 pm

      I’ve been to Teotihuacan twice, never with the tour actually. It’s very easy. Take the Metro to ‘Autobuses Norte’ which is a bus station where you need to take the bus to Teotihuacan from.

      • Ren
        Mar 5, 2017 / 1:40 am

        You are awesome, ext time you and your bf are in NH, drinks are on me!
        I’m psyched to visit el DF, and also trying to figure out what other day trips I’d like to stay. Im only there 9 days.

    • Tobias
      Apr 18, 2017 / 4:22 pm

      Been there 4 times now, 2 times by organized tour, one time by rental car, one time on my own by bus. Public transport is no prob at all. As already mentioned below, buses leave from station Norte. The route not served by big operator (Pulmann, Flecha Rojo, ADO,…) but an operator dedicated to transport to there (think even named Teotihuacan). When you enter the bus station, the counter in on the far left end of the station.

      My tip: Buy some “pastes” at one of the bakery places inside the bus station (~Mxn35 each). Pastes are kind of empanadas, prepared with different fillings, like meat, chicken or mole. Typical food from central Mexico, north of DF, that’s why you get them in the North station only, not in one of the others. I think pastes are originating from the state of Hidalgo.

      When visiting Teotihuacan, don’t forget to take drinking water with you! There are only very few places at the different entry gates where you can buy drinks, no vending on the site. Also a hat and sunblocker are not to be missed. The sun is heating up the site pretty much and sun is burning from top.
      For lunch, get out at Gate 5 (south of the Sun pyramid) and ask for the Cave Restaurant (Restaurant La Gruta), just a few min walk from the exit. To be honest, it is quite a touristic place – but it’s still a nice experience to dine within a cave. Even thou I am more for less beaten paths, I enjoyed it there.
      With your entrance ticket to the archeological site, you can re-enter and finish your visit to the pyramids – or cross the archeological site to get to your desired exit gate.

      • Ren
        May 26, 2017 / 10:33 pm

        Gracias!

        I’ve been in el DF all week. I love it, but I’ve lived by the sea all my life and I struggle with the altitude. The tips for Teotihuacan were spot on. Much appreciated Tobias!

  14. Tamalitos de Chipilin
    May 22, 2017 / 8:05 am

    Mexico City is possibly the most fascinating, historical city in the Americas. But let’s be honest. Most gringos don’t quite ‘get” Mexico as a whole, much less its capital. The reasons for this is varied. The stereotypes paraded in the media, the language barrier, the seemingly alien spicy foods, etc. Someone once said that the real Mexico starts at 1,000 meters above sea level, and there’s some truth to that. Gringos flock to the beaches and the coasts, but that’s not where the deep soul of Mexico is. Since time immemorial, the peoples of Mexico have built their most sophisticated and densely populated centers inland and upland. The epicenter of that is that Valley of Mexico, and its heart is Mexico City. You don’t get Mexico City, you don’t get Mexico, the cultural, political, economic center since 1325 when a nomadic band of warriors saw an eagle devouring a serpent, and saw that as good augur to establish their capital there. What other capital in the Americas gives you such storied history?

  15. Jo Anna
    Jun 21, 2017 / 5:14 pm

    Love this post, and I am looking to visit Mexico City in the very near future. Thank you so much for sharing this information.

  16. Okan
    Jun 23, 2017 / 5:38 pm

    Hey Anna,
    It is a very informative article, thank you so much! The idea of living in Mexico City sounds fantastic for me but the thing is: I’m so scared of those mosquito-borne diaseases like dengue fever and malaria. My question is what measures did you take in order to protect yourself from bites and is it really such an epidemic all over? Thanks a lot in advance.

    • Pablo
      Jul 7, 2017 / 10:53 pm

      Mosquito-borne diaseases like dengue fever and malaria are not an issue at all in Mexico City.
      Don’t worry about that.

      • Tobias
        Jul 9, 2017 / 7:14 pm

        I lived in Mex City for approx 1.5 years w/o any vaccinations for those kind of things. I would not worry about that. Was even in South western forest area (December… not rain season) w/o any. Just take lots of mosquito protection with u when going to there, just because they are annoying.

  17. Pablo
    Jul 7, 2017 / 10:55 pm

    I rent a very nice furnished apartment in Mexico City, very close to the US Embassy and Av. Paseo de la Reforma. If your need information, feel free to contact me [email protected]

  18. Mayori Matos
    Jul 23, 2017 / 8:14 pm

    Hi, Anna.
    I hope this message finds you well.
    Where did you get your TEFL certificate in Mexico City?

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