Moving to Mexico as an expat means making a few key decisions, one of which is where to live. Assuming you have a city chosen, I think it’s more accurate to say in Mexico, you need to now choose how to live.
The reason I say that is because the neighborhood you choose will dictate — in many ways — your style of living.
Let me explain.
In Mexico, there are three common living lifestyles, which I guess if you think about it, are similar to living anywhere in the world. You have the central home. The gated community or apartment / condo living and the suburbs.
The central home
In Mexico, living central often means living in an independent house because, as with most towns and cities, the center is the original beginning which normally started with houses. These houses in Mexico are smaller and certainly old but can offer some advantages.
One is they are super-centrally located, and if well maintained over the years, truly can be a nice choice for living. Another advantage is the lot size. If you like to garden, own pets or just like space, an old centrally located home will be your best bet in finding that bit of additional space.
Something else these places offer is maintenance payment free living. If you’re on a tight budget and would feel financial pain for dishing out between 600 to 1,500 peso per month extra, this type of lifestyle will save you that money.
The downside to central house living is being central, which in every city these days, means an increased risk for noise pollution and petty crime. Just something to consider. It also means your house is completely independent, meaning it will not be secured beyond a concrete fence.
While some people don’t mind the tall wall of concrete, I lived that way for a year in my first house and always felt like I was in jail. I could not accept it as being a normal way of life, and by the time that year ended, I couldn’t wait to be rid of that house.
Central condo and apartment living
To me, these are one in the same. Call it a condo. Call it an apartment. Enclosed living in a tall building with on-site amenities are very common throughout Mexico. New, modern units are more commonly being found with central city addresses now that many foreigners are relocating to the country.
This type of living can be pleasant for those who are content with a patio rather than a yard and prefer having maintenance done for them with onsite amenities such as a pool or lobby. For that, however, you will pay. Maintenance fees in Mexico do not generally mean maintenance per se, but more like HOA fees that everyone pays to keep the place running.
I’ve seen HOA fees in Playa del Carmen (for example), as high as $3,000 USD per month for a large, luxury unit overlooking the sea. One needs to be careful when singing contracts in Mexico. Always ask about the maintenance fees.
While condo / apartment living will ensure maintenance is done for you, it often (but not always) also means 24/7 security personnel on the premise. You can ask to make sure, but you should also be able to tell from 1) the style of the building (a lobby desk means 24/7 service) or if you don’t see a lobby, 2) check the maintenance fees. They should be high enough to reflect private security, so a minimum of 650 peso per month.
This type of lifestyle also makes it easier to meet others and make friends (and enemies) if you’re the social type. Sharing an elevator, meeting in the hallways, at HOA meetings or even at the pool or palapa area will ensure an increased chance of meeting others.
Independent living in the suburbs
The older I get the more I enjoy peace, quiet and nature so I’ve opted for suburb living. Populated towns will have public transportation running to most suburb communities, so if you’re considering a suburb and are without a car, not to worry.
Unless you’ve inherited a Mexican farm, all private suburb communities are gated (public are not gated). This means a drive through manned gates to enter the community. Most communities have electronic cards that automatically activate the pluma (or arm) that allows passage for residents. Guests need to be let in manually after leaving identification. This is standard practice.
Inside these communities are both independent houses, attached homes (townhouses) and apartment / condos. They range widely but offer a more quaint living experience. The amenities for each community will differ, however, each will require the additional maintenance fee each month for things such as park cleaning, on site gardeners, pool chemicals, road repairs, security personnel, etc.
They also offer residents extras such as community pool, walking trails, larger lots, parks and playgrounds, private parking, etc. Again, you will pay for this, but if it’s fresh air and security you’re after, this could be a good lifestyle choice for you.
A main difference
Living inside private communities usually (not always) means there’s an administrative body in place. That’s sort of the whole point behind them. In my case, we have an administrative office that has set hours. This is where you go to make payments, make requests, suggestions and complaints.
Our community, which is an established Mexican community (as opposed to a new expat community) is also a legal body which means our administrator can enforce laws, that if broken, result in a fine which is handed out by city officials. Although this has occurred, it is not common, but sometimes renters don’t feel the rules apply to them so they fight the system. The administrator always wins.
In saying that, a private community will also have established noise bylaws. Ours, for example, is no noise before 9:00 a.m. and after 5:00 p.m. This not only includes construction work and parties, but also barking dogs. Since we’re in the suburbs, inside quited noise distractions means silence for all other than natural animal noises. That’s what we pay for.
If you live in centro and have these rules built into your own private community paperwork, there’s not much you can do about surrounding noise — traffic, barking dogs, construction work, club, pubs and private parties.
While some people have a great tolerance for this, I am not one of them. I truly enjoy the suburbs and my private community, and after all these years, have found a Mexican lifestyle of livng that works for me. I wish the same for you as well!