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Living in Oaxaca City, Mexico

I have been living in Oaxaca since early March of this year, almost 2 months now. The plan has been to go back to Spain but it hasn’t been easy as I’ll discuss here.

Digital Nomad Physician

First, I’ve been able to live in various places of the world because of I’m a digital nomad physician. As in, I can work remotely and don’t have to rely on a single location.

The governing bodies want this to change quickly. After all, you don’t want your physicians living in Mexico or Spain and taking advantage of the FEIE. Us docs are big spenders and a big source of taxes.

But I still do my consulting – I do some gigs on Upwork, and connect with people on LinkedIn for projects. For the past year, I’ve consulted for a healthcare startup earning somewhere around $75 per hour.

Moving Back to Spain

I moved to Spain in 2017 and have only had to come up for my many medical board investigations. But the pandemic made it hard for me to move back beacuse of my US passport.

Then I met my partner and since she doesn’t have a visa we have’t been able to go back. Currently I’m able to go back with my non-lucrative visa but she can’t … so …

It’s been tormenting me a bit because I’ve been obsessed with moving back. Finally, a few months ago, I realized that it’s not healthy to think of it this way.

I don’t want to suffer in my own head – why put the pressure on myself to go back. Yes, I own property there but that’s money I’ve already spent, why sweat it?

The plan now is to go back whenever it’s possible, whenever it feels easy. I’m loving living in Mexico, I’m not itching to be in Spain right now even though I miss my place and my friends.

Moving to Oaxaca, Mexico

I can’t quite say that I moved here because I always imagine moving to be a permanent process. Then again, this is where I’m living right now. Oaxaca, Mexico – Oaxaca City, to be exact.

This city’s economy relies on tourism for income. 75% of employment is in the tourism industry. I don’t consider myself a tourist here even though I’m not paying taxes.

We moved to Oaxaca City because of the culture, the history, and the way the city has grown over the years. It has exceeded my expectations, for sure.

The city proper itself isn’t too big – you can walk from one end to the other in under 1.5 hours.

1. Housing

Finding places on Airbnb is easy. And you can negotiate better prices out of Airbnb.

A nice 1-bedroom might cost $600 – $800 per month. This will include WiFi, water, electricity, and gas.

oaxaca city apartment on airbnb

For $300 – $400 per month you can get an unfurnished spot but you’ll have to pay for the utilities separately. And it generally is good to speak Spanish, have a high income, or be willing to use the expat groups in order to find these long-term places.

2. Safety

Oaxaca City is quite safe. We’ve been walking late at night and in most neighborhoods, you feel quite safe. Nobody is looking at your crooked and you see others walking about.

building in oaxaca city and the street and cars

I haven’t heard of any bad stories yet.

Even in cafes I tend to leave my stuff to go to the bathroom and it doesn’t feel like someone is going to walk off with my stuff.

3. Food

Most of the produce is grown locally and a lot of stuff is handmade and sold. You’d have to go out of your way to find highly processed stuff.

making salsa at home in oaxaca city with local ingredients

We have a lady who comes by our place every Tuesday with a massive bag of organic produce she grows in her garden. With $10 I can get a pretty hefty bag of produce from her.

A coffee or espresso might set you back $2 and a meal might cost around $4. You get a coffee for $1 and you can get a good meal for $2. But then you skimp on quality – maybe.

4. People

People in Spain are curt but if you become friends with them they are wonderful. They just don’t have a lot of the nice mannerisms we are used to as Americans.

People in Oaxaca City are incredibly friendly. They are warm, they are helpful, and they laugh and smile a lot.

If you’re willing to attempt to speak their laguage they make every effort to communicate with you.

5. Sustainability

As a long-term place to live I don’t think Oaxaca City would make my list. Water is hard to come by and the quality is questionable.

There are almost no solar panels on roofs. There is no rain collection systems. The streets are saddled with 2-stroke motorcycles and tons of taxis.

The pollution and lack of trees isn’t something that’s going to turn around anytime soon.

6. Climate

It’s hot. It’s dry. And in the summers it rains at nights.

You have cockroaches, but not a ton. The air is perpetually polluted and on the main streets, the diesel exhaust is nauseating.

There are few trees and the way the buildings are build you don’t get much relief from the sun if you’re walking about in the middle of the day.

7. Working Remotely

I work from cafes or restaurants or from my place. The Wifi is pretty good and rarely drops. If it does it’s for a few seconds.

I pay $10 for a 4-week SIM with 5 gigabytes from AT&T or Telcel.

There are a few coworking spaces scattered about for $5 per working session. But I found them to be way too loud or hot or dark.

8. Transportation

I’ve been walking everywhere. But there are taxis everywhere which are safe to take. There are local transit buses which are usually loud or packed.

The taxis are around $2.50 for a local trip in town. The buses are 50 cents for a local trip.

There are shared taxis to go to longer distances – collectivos.

There are minivans which are fancier than the collectivos to go to nearby cities and pueblos.

And, finally, there are massive buses like the ADO bus station where you can go all the way to Mexico City or nearby Puebla.

Learning Spanish

A lot of people speak enough English that it won’t be hard for you to survive living in Oaxaca City. But it’s so much more fun to converse in Spanish.

Much like Spain, people will try to speak English because it’s easier for them or because they want you to feel more comfortable.

Too bad – I’ll speak to you in my janky ass Spanish anyways. But I’m usually funny about it. As in, I don’t take myself too seriously and throw in a few words from English if needed.

A Spanish teacher will cost you less than $10 per hour and you’ll learn a lot with some basic grammar and engaging in multiple conversations per day.

I’ve been listening to Spanish podcasts, reading children’s books, watching Spanish movies, and talking to the people who live here in Oaxaca City.

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