Moving to Mexico City? 10 Things You’ll Wish You’d Prepared For
I had money saved up, a master’s and a bachelor’s degree from an American university, fluent English and Spanish, and the willingness to learn and work hard.
Plus, I’d loved the city since I was a kid. Any time my family had to visit it, I would cherish the opportunity to take it all in.
The energy, the success, the opportunities, the culture, the education, the city’s makeover — so many reasons to love it.
Unfortunately, Mexico City did everything it could to crush my spirit.
Fortunately, I did learn from 10 challenges I was unprepared for, and I hope this will help anyone thinking about moving to Mexico City.
In addition, to be an optimist, I propose possible solutions at the end of each challenge.
1. Ridiculously Expensive Rent, No Appliances
Does the idea of 90% of your income going toward rent sound appealing to you?
How about 100% of your salary only covering half the rent?
If moving to Mexico City means living in one of the good, central neighborhoods, prepare to pay around $14,000 MXN a month for a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment.
Bear in mind, $13,444 MXN was the average monthly salary two years ago — that’s for a person with a university degree. With today’s devalued peso, I suspect that figure’s become stagnant or lower.
Then again, a lot of jobs pay between $6,000 MXN to $8,000 MXN a month, though the minimum wage in Mexico is a whopping $80.04 MXN — per day.
By the way, don’t count on your apartment being furnished. Like, not even a stove, refrigerator or washing machine, the way American apartments have them pre-installed.
Those “elctrodomésticos” are another added expense you must budget for.
Also, a lot of landlords require a credit check — at no expense to them, it’s all on you.
And, besides the utilities, there’s an additional monthly maintenance fee you’re responsible for.
Possible Solution: Get roommates with money. Seriously though, how does anybody afford rent here? I guess they don’t, so they have to live on the outskirts of the city. More on that coming up.
2. Aval: Who Will Vouch For Your Rent-Worthiness?
I particularly loved two apartments — one in Portales ($9,000 MXN/month) and another one in San Miguel Chapultepec ($12,500 MXN/month).
I had the savings to pay a deposit and first month’s rent.
But, wait — money is not enough. You need to have a Mexico City property owner vouch for you, in case you don’t pay the rent month to month.
This person is called Aval, and they let the prospective renter use their property’s deed to affirm the landlord that, in case rent isn’t paid, the Aval will be legally liable to pay up.
What a headache getting an Aval. If you don’t have a relative or friend who will let you borrow their deeds, you’ll have to pay someone to do so.
I came upon this Argentine guy working as an agent for a homeowner willing to be an Aval — as long as you pay 50% of whatever your monthly rent would be.
Hence, for the San Miguel Chapultepec apartment, I would’ve had to fork up $6,250 MXN to my Aval.
Possible Solution: Before moving to Mexico City, have somebody who will be your Aval for free. Granted, this must be a very trusted person or family member. It’s a huge responsibility, the Aval’s personal property is at stake. Also, renter’s insurance can work like an Aval.
3. Great Jobs: Impossible to Find
Remember the average salary in Mexico for a college-educated professional?
Although English speakers can be immediately hired by call centers or chain English schools, don’t expect a decent salary or normal working hours at these cult-ish places.
They say in Mexico, you only get the great jobs with a “palanca” — a good contact in your network.
A good network is key in any country, and it’s hard to be recommended for any top job if your Mexico City contact list consists of 3 people.
Also, a recommendation alone is not enough, you have to be a polished professional to get the job.
High-caliber preparation is required to go through the grueling, months-long recruiting processes at top companies.
Possible Solution: Prepare, prepare, and prepare some more to be recruited by a great company. Keep networking. Become known for knowing what you know. Keep learning, keep mastering your craft, keep polishing your personal habits. Be patient. And keep grinding some more.
4. Crime in Dangerous Suburbs
Don’t get me started on how Mexico is a dangerous, uncivilized country.
There are some really messed up crimes even in the quietest towns in Arkansas.
With that said, any big city has its share of high crime rates.
The “Percentage of economic units that fall victim to crime” in Mexico City is 28.4.
That’s only the city itself, but the metropolitan area of the Valley of Mexico includes towns and cities in bordering Mexico State.
The suburbs known for their merciless crimes are Nezahualcóyotl, Coacalco, La Paz, Valle de Chalco Solidaridad, Chalco, Ixtapaluca, Tlatlaya and Ecatepec.
Particularly “Ecatepunk,” as it’s affectionately called, is so dangerous that even Pope Francis had to come exorcise it last year during his visit to Mexico.
Possible Solutions: Mind your own business. Keep to safer areas of the suburbs during the daylight hours. Or go live in safer neighborhoods inside the city if your salary allows it.
5. The Time-Consuming Commute
Again, given the pitiful salaries, people can only afford to live in the bad parts of either Mexico City or Mexico State and commute every morning to the central part of the city for work.
Then they have to commute back every night.
And even high earners have to spend plenty of time in traffic as some of them live in exclusive places removed from the city, or their houses are in regions opposite their jobs.
Possible Solutions: Live in the same neighborhood where your job is. Take a bike or walk to work if possible. Create your own job and work from home. Or, if you can, freelance and do everything remotely.
6. The Painful, Stressful, Crowded, Polluted Commute
Really, this commute problem is such a big issue that I have to post about it twice.
The commutes are painful, whether you’re driving or riding public transportation.
Ah, who am I kidding, it’s 1,000 times worse if you’re on the metro or bus systems.
Public transportation becomes so crowded it’s literally suffocating during rush hours.
Like, a packed sardine has more room inside a can than you do on a metro’s wagon.
You’re bound to smell your neighbor’s armpit for 3 metro stops before another armpit comes right to your nose.
Then, if you’re riding a bus, prepare to inhale delicious diesel fumes all the way home, not just from the overall smog-filled city, but from your own bus.
And if you’re on a bus, don’t plan on sitting comfortably.
You’re most likely standing up the whole time, grabbing on for dear life to the rails, and smelling a neighbor’s armpit for 3 bus stops before another armpit comes right to your nose.
Possible Solutions: Get a job in a safer suburb and do all your daily living there, only needing to go to the central Mexico City area for a few errands. Create your own business near your home.
7. ‘Hoy No Circula’: No Car For You
You figure, “Public transportation’s not my thing anyway. I’ll buy a car and I plan on putting up with traffic if I need to be more comfortable.”
Yet, in 2016, Mexico City had the worst air quality in years and drivers weren’t allowed to drive their cars.
Actually, this is already a thing — drivers can’t drive their car one day a week.
It’s the “Hoy No Circula” program — your car must be off the streets during a certain day, which is determined by your license plate’s final number and the color of your tags.
The “Megalopolis,” as the local politicians came to call it during the 2016 air pollution crisis, had such un-breathable air that there was a double dose of “Hoy No Circula”.
So you might have your nice car, but you won’t be able to drive it two days a week if the pollution levels reach the critical numbers of a “contingencia ambiental” (“environmental contingency”).
Possible Solutions: Buy a hybrid or an electric car, they’re exempt from the “Hoy No Circula” program. Schedule a carpool so you and your coworkers have a ride even on “No Circula” days. When all else fails, do your best to live in the same neighborhood where your job is. Take a bike or walk to work if it’s possible.
8. Water Problems
The joke is, “Don’t drink the water in Mexico.” It’s more like sound advice.
However, if you’re in the poorer regions of Mexico City, you’ll be lucky to get any water. “About 70% of the city has fewer than 12 hours of running water per day,” according to The Guardian.
It can feel like an “Hoy No Circula” of water.
Likewise, for drinking water, you’ve got to replenish your big 20-liter jugs from the big corporate soda makers. You can either schedule your water jug deliveries, or go to the supermarket and carry your water by yourself.
Possible Solutions: Live in a good neighborhood with a clean, steady water supply. Get a great water filter right to your tap.
Already said it on a previous post: You need to have the right documents with you before you line up for hours to get any bureaucratic process started.
If you don’t, you’ll have to do it again, and wait hours and hours again, plus that commute makes it even more stressful.
In our case, we were staying at my cousin’s place in the suburb of Atizapán, needing to take Uber to the Immigration (INM) offices in Polanco for my wife’s permanent residence process, which we started in the United States.
We ended up doing this 4 times because there were no clear instructions on how to have the paperwork filled out correctly. Each time we went, something else came up that they failed to mention the previous instance.
Until finally, we submitted the paperwork, only to be rejected two weeks later because of a technicality. Bear in mind, they didn’t mention this to us in 4 tries.
Luckily, we fixed everything, but ended up going to the INM office 6 times total. And, according to expats we asked for advice, that’s the most efficient INM office in all of Mexico!
Possible Solutions: Call ahead to get ALL the information, down to the last box. If they don’t answer their phones, keep calling until they do. Get all your documents in order before leaving the house.
10. Mix of Welcoming and Unwelcoming Attitudes
Going back to the Aval problem, I was ready to rent the apartment in Portales.
The landlords were a nice couple, two locals who’ve lived their whole lives in the same city and attained success as younger professionals.
They were understandably skeptical of renting to a stranger who was just now moving to Mexico City with only his savings and no job lined up.
However, they played with my feelings.
They said they were ready to rent to me, to come sign the contract with my Aval, only to turn around a couple days later saying they received a better offer and were going to rent to this person instead.
I lamented how hard it is for a new person to start out in the big city, especially when the people of influence are the same people who’ve been in the Megalopolis for generations and generations.
How can anybody possibly get a chance when everything’s stacked up against outsiders?
On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of people I met in Mexico City were incredibly welcoming and understanding of my situation.
In fact, most of them lived the difficulties I faced in Mexico City — hardships that needed to continue in Cancun the first few months, for the good of my personal, professional and spiritual growth.
I met Mexicans born in other states, like me, who have become part of the fabric of this city that turns strangers into friends. Russians and other internationals in Mexico City are very supportive, too.
Even locals show a lot of empathy for their compatriots coming in for a chance at big city life.
Mexico City is now used to a mix of people from all over the world who come and go: those who try their luck and leave right away, those who are struggling but sticking it out for a while longer, and those who fight it out until they successfully settle and integrate in the end.
Possible Solutions: Surround yourself with the latter group of people. Know rejection is a natural part of life and you can’t take it personally — it’s for your own growth, it makes you stronger. You already got out of your comfort zone by moving to Mexico City, so keep meeting people and keep being strong. And keep preparing and polishing all aspects of your life.