Hey guys! Welcome to American Expats, a new series that shows you what expat life is like in cities around the world. Next up: Laura, a freelance writer and blogger who has been living in Mexico City for two and a half years. Here, she talks about celebrating the Day of the Dead, learning Spanish, and where to find the best street food in the city.
I’m Laura and I’m originally from New York. My boyfriend, Luke, and I have been living abroad since we graduated college in 2010. Mexico City is home number five after living in New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and the UK.
I moved here two years ago to get serious about freelance writing (the cost of living is much lower than New York!). In that time I’ve managed to turn my blog into a full-time job and work with some amazing publications both online and in print.
On visas: I’m actually on the tourist waiver here in Mexico. Since I work for myself as a freelancer with mostly US companies, it made sense for me to keep my business registered in the US, keep my US bank account, and just pop out of the country every six months. Getting a visa as a freelancer is actually quite easy as long as you can prove you are earning over $1,200 a month.
I never thought I’d end up living in Mexico City for so long. I usually just tell myself six more months and here I am two and a half years later! The visa process is even easier if you secure a job here in Mexico before you arrive because you can do all of the paperwork in advance.
On making friends: When I moved here, I joined a few language groups and a running group on Meetup. But I found the best way to meet people was through Facebook groups.
I’ve also made new friends by reaching out to people through Instagram. Moving to a new city is SO hard and putting yourself out there to make friends can often feel like dating, but the alternative isn’t great either.
On the weather: Mexico City has two major seasons – wet and dry. It rains almost every day from about late-June until mid-October. During the dry season, it’s bright, sunny, and the temperature hovers around 75 degrees.
Before living in Mexico City, people described the weather as a perpetual spring and I think that’s pretty accurate. While it can get a little bit chilly during January and February, I haven’t seen snow in two years and for that, I’m so grateful.
On where to eat in Mexico City: There are SO many great restaurants in Mexico City. One of my favorites is Sud 777, which is run by chef Edgar Nuñez, who trained at elBulli. I also love Lorea, Fonda Fina, Pehua, and Meroma. Another favorite is SI MON Bar a Granel, a bar where they serve up small-batch mezcal and Mexican-made cured meats and cheeses.
For budget eats in Mexico City, I love Tacos Álvaro Obregón in Roma, Taquería El Greco in Condesa, El Huequito in the Centro Histórico, El Turix in Polanco and if you’re visiting for the first time you can’t miss churros at El Moro (they have locations in every neighborhood, but the one on Río Lerma is my personal fave).
On Mexican breakfasts: One of my favorite traditional Mexican breakfast foods is chilaquiles, a plate full of tortilla chips topped with spicy salsa, cream, cheese and your choice of eggs or meat. I usually opt for a few fried eggs on top. They go perfectly with a spicy salsa verde.
On the cost of living in Mexico City: Mexico City can be considerably more expensive than other parts of Mexico, especially to live here. If you want to live in a central and hip neighborhood like Condesa or Roma, you can expect to pay between $400 and $700 USD just for a studio or one bedroom. Like many cities, if you want a roommate or you choose slightly less expensive neighborhoods, you can pay much less.
On learning Spanish: Getting to a basic level of Spanish was pretty easy. After less than a year my restaurant Spanish was on-point. But getting beyond beginner definitely took some studying and perseverance. While Spanish is by no means a difficult language, it still requires some work and finding the time to study and the confidence to speak it when I knew I might get it wrong were two of the most difficult hurdles for me.
On traveling around Mexico: Traveling around Mexico from Mexico City is incredibly easy. There are four bus stations that connect you to cities and towns around the country, the airport is well serviced by Mexican airlines like VivaAerobús, Volaris, and Interjet which make it very cheap to hop around Mexico.
Some of my favorite places that I’ve visited outside of Mexico City are Mérida, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puebla, Tulum, and Puerto Escondido. All offer something completely different.
On Day of the Dead: There’s nothing quite like Day of the Dead in Mexico City, the day when people celebrate the lives of loved ones who have passed. There are a lot of ways to celebrate the holiday in Mexico City as a tourist. There’s a parade that will run down the main street of the city, Paseo de la Reforma, for the third year in a row this year. There are displays set up in the Zócalo. You can eat Pan de Muerto, or death bread (don’t worry it won’t kill you!). It’s a sweet bread with a cross on top and is served absolutely everywhere leading up to November 1st.
On healthcare: Mexico has a public healthcare system that locals and permanent residents can access, however, the wait times are often months long for operations and unfortunately there just aren’t enough hospitals and doctors for the 20 million people that live in this city.
There are, however, a lot of private hospitals and doctors which cost significantly less to go to than they do in the US. I have emergency health insurance which will cover me for those just-in-case moments, but otherwise, I pay out of pocket to see the doctor (which sometimes costs as little as $1 if it’s just the common cold).
Often you don’t even have to see the doctor for things like birth control pills or antibiotics – the pharmacist is able to prescribe those at no extra cost.
A friend of mine recently gave birth and paid out of pocket – it cost her $2,000 USD for everything from initial checkups to walking out of the hospital two days after giving birth.
On safety: I feel as safe living in Mexico City than I did in New York and other cities I’ve visited around the world. Sure, there are places you don’t want to go, just like there are probably places in your city that you avoid, especially at night.
I take Ubers after dark and I never walk alone anywhere at night. I’ve never, ever had a problem, but I think it’s just smart as a young woman traveling on her own in a big city to avoid putting yourself in those situations.
On the worst part about living in Mexico City: The traffic! Waiting in traffic feels like a right of passage, complaining about it to friends a local past time. It took me a long time and a really tough lesson in patience to learn to just accept that I need to give myself an hour or more to get somewhere. I listen to a lot of podcasts now.
On missing home: I always miss my family and friends. There are babies I’ve yet to meet and weddings that I have to miss. My parents aren’t getting any younger and my siblings are spread across the country. I try to call and text and email as often as I can, but I’m sure I can better.
If there’s one food I miss more than anything it’s a good New York bagel. I always get an everything bagel with cream cheese and lox when I’m back. No other place in the world (that I’ve been to at least) makes bagels quite like New York.
On living in Mexico long-term: I think Mexico City probably has a time limit for me. I’m 30 years old and I love the chaos of the city, I love music blaring at all hours of the night (most of the time at least), I love the food scene, I love the bars, I love how everything is open so late.
But will I love that in five years time? In 10 years? I think eventually the traffic will finally break me.
Thank you so much, Laura!