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 delegacion 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 neighbourhood, 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 in the bus.

Camiones & microbuses (micro)

Camiones (big buses) and microbuses (minibuses) 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 cancelled 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 insure 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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21 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)

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