Living in Mexico City

Planning to move to a city of tacos and two-hour lunch breaks? Mexico City might just be the destination for you. Still, there's plenty of other elements to consider...

Feature by Kate Morling | 14 Jun 2016

Ever wondered what it would be like to run away and join the circus? Well, a move to La Ciudad de Mexico may be exactly what you’re looking for. Clowns and mariachi bands commandeering your 7am metro ride, streets lined with ‘corn on the cob’ venders, a government full of corrupt ring-leaders and taxi drivers who perform disappearing acts with your belongings; Mexico City is a maze of adventure and excitement. But like the rollercoaster, it certainly has its up and downs…

Pro: Finding work as an English teacher is as easy as abracadabra

If the ‘world language’ is your native tongue and you have an IQ that allows you to function as an independent adult, well paid work as an English teacher abounds. Options include everything from teaching in preschools to teaching business English to CEOs and big-timers. Those with TEFL certification or a university degree will be in higher demand; however these credentials aren’t obligatory. The widely admired British or Australian accents will take you places an American or Canadian accent can’t, though neither nationality will find themselves struggling to secure clients.

Unless you speak a reasonable level of Spanish or have been transferred by an international company, finding work as virtually anything else is like trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Con: Big schools will rip you off

Do your homework and make contacts. Many of the big schools pay as little as 80 pesos an hour (yes, that’s about $4 USD). The payoff is that often they will sponsor your working visa, provide a secure and steady flow of classes in one or two locations, and offer ready-made session plans.

The best way to make money as an English teacher is to find smaller run companies such as BE School or EFA who provide more personalized classes to individuals and groups. Be prepared to travel to homes, cafes and offices across the city but also expect to be paid three times more than that offered by the big schools.

Many teachers will find themselves sourcing classes from four or five different companies while freelancing on the side. Craiglist.mx is the best place to start.

Pro: Time is relative

Mexico City runs on Latino Time; la vida runs at a slower pace. Two-hour lunch breaks are not uncommon – however, expect to have a 9am-7pm (or even 9pm) work day. Unless you live the life of an English teacher, in which case you’ll be dusting the sleep from your eyes for your 7am class and downing coffee around 3pm in preparation for your afternoon classes. Many freelance teachers find their mornings and afternoons full, leaving plenty of time to gobble down tacos and work on your expanding waste line during the day, and still make a comfortable wage.

Con: But… Time is relative…

Don’t expect anything to happen on time, even if they say ‘a tiempo’. Your clients are likely to arrive 30 minutes late to an hour-long meeting. Showing up early is considered rude and if you ask someone the time they are likely to round it to the nearest half hour. There must be a black hole around here somewhere.

Pro: Tacos

‘Nuff said.

Con: Transport to Tacos

Much like the haunted house, transport in Mexico City will give you night terrors. With 22 million inhabitants in Mexico City and millions more commuting from the city’s outskirts, getting yourself from taco stand A to taco stand B can be problematic. But fear not, Mexico City offers a myriad of entertaining transportation options for practicing your best sardine impression on the metro, to daredevil rides on the smoggy ‘kombi’ busses, which scoot citizens to every corner of the city. Make sure your health insurance is up to date.

If public transport isn’t your thing and you find yourself more suited to the ‘fresa’ crowd (literal translation being ‘strawberry’ – street translation being ‘I’m far too cool and important to slum it with you plebs’), overcharging (and sometimes thieving) taxis are ample, but the far cheaper and safer Uber will be your lifeline.

Driving in Mexico City may get you killed and riding a scooter or bike definitely will. But you came here to ride the rollercoster, right?

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Pro: Living ‘fresa’ in La Condesa

As a foreigner in Mexico City, chances are, when searching for your new home, you’ll find yourself gravitating towards the upmarket avenues of Polanco or more hipster La Condesa and La Roma areas, where sausage dogs and vintage Converse All Stars rule.

With tree-lined boulevards, fairytale-inspired parks, boutique shopping and the best bars, restaurants and cafés Mexico City has to offer, you could find yourself with little reason to leave the safety and western comfort of La Condesa, La Roma and Polanco. But you’d being selling La Ciudad short. Venture beyond these westernized pockets to where the real cultural experiences (and food) lie.

Shop for delicacies like imported crocodile or artisan honey at San Juan Mercado in El Centro, or drink pulque (an oddly slimy alcoholic drink made from the sap of fermented agave) at one of the city's many traditional pulquerias, such as La Hija de los Apaches in Colonial Doctores.

Con: Cost of living in Condesa

A room in a share house can range from 5000 pesos a month to selling your left lung. Your own hipster apartment could set you back somewhere between 13,000 peso and selling both both lungs. It all depends on how fresa you intend on being.

Your tacos in Condesa will cost double than anywhere else… but you’ll look shit-hot eating them with Mexico City’s finest.

A wage of around 20,000 peso a month will see you living the fresca life comfortably and is easily achievable teaching English. Venture only slightly outside of the bubble and you’ll find yourself feeling like a millionaire.

Pro: Weather

Locals will whine about La Ciudad’s temperamental weather, but compared to the UK, Mexico City looks like the Caribbean. Sunny days occasionally wind down to late afternoon thunderstorms and the variation between summer and winter is somewhat mild.

That said, June through September brings rainy season with storms that may last an hour or two and flooding that may make your commute last much longer.

Con: The sun’s disappearing act

While the days are sunny, you may not actually see the sun.

Mexico City’s contamination problem is undoubtedly its Achilles heel. The Air Quality Index frequently hits double the acceptable levels due to the 3.6 million automobiles which traverse its roads and highways, contributing to both air pollution and traffic congestion.

The problem is only exacerbated by the city's high elevation (at 2,400m) and surrounding mountains, which act to contain the effluence produced. In a bid to control the problem, the government frequently implements a 'no hoy circulation' rule preventing a portion of its citizens from driving on certain days, greatly upsetting the fresca population.

Pro: Did I mention tacos?

We all love their Tex-Mex counterparts, but you haven’t truly appreciated a taco until you’ve sampled those found across La Ciudad de Mexico. From those hiding in baskets on street corners to gourmet fish tacos parading in Mexico’s finest restaurants, such as El Parnita in Roma Norte, you’ll never be far from your next taco.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. Away from the westernized interpretation (or defilement) of Mexican food lies the true jewel of Mexican culture; eating.

Tortilla chips sautéed in red or green salsa, smothered in cream, cheese, refried beans and crowned with un huevo estrellado (runny fried egg) will cure any mescal hangover. Richly spiced tomato-based soups peppered with crispy tortilla pieces, avocado and pork crackling present themselves as main meals, but will undoubtedly be followed by an onslaught of main courses. And quesadillas oozing with cheese and tinga de pollo (shredded chicken cooked in a sauce of red and green tomatoes, chipotle chili and onion) will always taste better in a 4am tequila haze.

There’s no denying it, Mexican cuisine will enslave your taste buds and you’ll soon find yourself joining the thousands of expats unable to ever leave…

Con: You WILL get fat

Dieting is simply impossible in Mexico City when you are constantly stalked by stands selling tortas (huge buns filled to their extremities with assorted meats) and haunted by the smell of freshly grilled pastor. Don’t bother. Buy yourself a 15 peso freshly squeezed juice, tell yourself, ‘Well, that’s my vegetable intake for the day,’ and go and eat another taco.

Pro: The element of surprise

There is a fully grown pet pig named La Chata being exercised along the street, a man with a furnace attached to a trolley and an obnoxiously loud whistle selling roasted sweet potatoes and you’ve just learnt the city’s water has been switched off for four days.

Because Mexico…

Con: You never know what’s around the corner.

It may just be a bus… This is not the country to be in caught in without health insurance. Mexico’s public health care system is slow and underfunded making private health care a must.

If you, like many other immigrants to the country are cheating the system and living off an easily obtainable tourist visa and simply skipping over the border every six months, travel insurance is your best and only option.

Ready to join?

Mexico City is a whirlwind that can only be tamed by embracing its extravagance. Searching for reality within the maze will only leave you lost and confused.

Close your eyes and eat whatever they give you. Drink mescal until everything that felt weird feels normal. Take the metro and dance with the mariachis. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself never wanting to leave the circus.