What is it like to move to and live in Cancun?
Cancun is mainly known as a popular tourist destination. But, the city also attracts people from all over the world who decide to move here.
This interview is part of the Ask an Expat series. In this series, I interview people living all over the world but outside of their home country. I try to help paint an honest picture of the ups and downs of life abroad, share tips about moving to the place the expat now calls home, and information about what to see and do here.
Expat Life in Cancun, Mexico
Age: 47 (but 27 in my spirit)
Home town: A small town in the north of Italy
“I caught the travel bug at a relatively late stage in life when I was already in my thirties.
At that time I was working for a tour company in Milan, as a customer service agent. I wasn’t happy with my life there. I felt that something was missing, and I was sure it was not the love relationship I didn’t have or the financial struggle. It was something deeper but I couldn’t figure it out until I went on a vacation to the United States.
I had a blast and a sense of freedom and fulfillment that is difficult to put into words.
Driving on those neverending roads, the immensity of those landscapes, the blue of the Pacific Ocean, it was freedom. It was a window on the world and its infinite possibilities.
After a trip to Mexico, I knew what I wanted. I spoke with my boss and asked her if I could start working for them as a tour rep.
That meant living in the destination we send our customers to and assisting them, selling tours, and taking care of every aspect of their vacations, issues included.
She agreed, I resigned from my current role and was rehired with a seasonal contract that would have been renewed every 6 months. I left all the benefits that a regular job would have given me, including pension, and social security.
My parents didn’t understand my decision, but I was over the moon. I felt lighter and never have I been so sure about a choice I made.
I had finally found my dream and was going to live it.
The first destination was Mexico, where I basically learned all the tricks of the job. It was hard because I was very insecure and couldn’t deal with challenging situations. However, that experience helped me to gain more confidence and I learned a lot.
Every 6 months I was sent to a different destination, which was my favorite part of the job. Every change was a new country to discover, a new home, new friends, new me.
I had a blast. I lived in Seychelles, Egypt, Jamaica, Antigua, destinations that I could only afford to see in travel magazines. But I was there, they were my homes.
I did this for about 5 years, until I started to need a career change.
I knew going back to Italy was not an option. I loved to live as an expatriate.
While I was pondering over my future an amazing job came unexpectedly and took me back to Mexico, to Cancun precisely, which became my home for the next 7 years.
Again another great decision. Not only was I living in Cancun which is one of the most exciting tourist destinations in Mexico but I was also constantly traveling to Caribbean islands for work. I was living the dream and I was well aware of it.
After 7 years things started to change within the company unfortunately and so did my job. I eventually left that job and set off for a journey through Mexico and Latin America, while working on my blog and taking on some other occasional gigs.
I had the time of my life, I met so many interesting people, saw and photographed so many amazing places. It was the freedom that I had been dreaming of.
I eventually ended my trip in Peru and went back to Mexico, to live in Cancun again.
I found a great online job, which gave me the much needed financial freedom and also the possibility to work remotely, which means that I could keep traveling when I wanted.
Unfortunately, because of the current situation, I’ve just been laid off. But, I believe that things happen for a reason, and now I have the time to work on my blog, to learn how to make digital art, which is my other great passion, and to read more.
Life is and will always be a work in progress, even when we are living our dream and we think we have “arrived”.”
Why Did You Move to Cancun?
“I was working in a hotel on the Caribbean island of Antigua but I didn’t like the job and I was pondering over my options.
Out of the blue, a friend of mine told me that he was leaving his job in Cancun for personal reasons and he was offering the position to me.
I did the interviews, I was hired and moved to Cancun.”
What Do You Like About Living in Cancun?
“My favorite part of Cancun is the beach and the turquoise water.
There are days in which the color of the ocean is so beautiful and intense it seems unreal. So magical.
Also, Cancun is logistically a good place to live because of the international airport. And if you want to explore Mexico, a great network of busses depart from Cancun.
And last but not least, you can find anything you need in terms of shopping and services. Like any big city.”
What Do You Dislike About Living in Cancun?
“There is one thing that I really miss now that I live in Cancun and that’s a historic center.
I love colonial cities where you can walk around the cobblestone roads and admire the ancient architecture and sit in a lovely cafe. You don’t have that in Cancun because it’s a relatively young city, built in the 70s, for tourism.
Everything in Cancun is either modern or in need of some TLC. There is no art scene here and very little culture. For me, that’s definitely the main downside to life in Cancun.”
Is Cancun Safe as a Place to Live?
“I would say yes.
I won’t deny that there have been some events that have given Cancun a bad and unsafe reputation, but those events were not targeting regular citizens and, even less so, tourists.
Of course, petty theft occurs, just like anywhere else in the world. We, both travelers and locals, just need to be careful and use some common sense.”
What Is Your Favorite Thing to Do in Cancun?
There are many things I love to do in Cancun, one of which is paddleboarding or kayaking in the Nichupte’ lagoon, either at dawn or at sunset.
Also, I love going to Isla Blanca, a secluded beach just outside Cancun.”
What Is Your Favorite Place to Hang out in Cancun?
“My absolute favorite place to hang out is Sirena Morena, a vegan/vegetarian place on the Avenida Nader. It’s a lovely venue in a lush garden where they serve delicious healthy food. I love to work from this place.
Cancun has developed a lot in the past couple of years and many other great places to hang out have opened.”
What Is the Expat / International Community Like in Cancun?
“I don’t really hang out with the expat community in Cancun, to be honest. Not for any particular reason though.
But I know there are many foreigners living in Cancun, also thanks to the high number of Spanish hotel chains and tour companies.
The majority of expats in Cancun work in tourism-related jobs and restaurants or have their own company.”
Any Tips for Moving to / Living in Cancun?
“Well, it all depends on what you are looking for.
Cancun is a big city but life revolves mainly around Avenida Tulum which is a long trafficked avenue, and the hotel zone, where the beach is.
Local transportation within the city is not the best, and taxis don’t really have the best reputation. The first thing you want to do is get a car so that you can move around easily.
If you are looking for a quiet place to live, Cancun is not really for you. The city is chaotic and not very attractive in itself.
But, as I mentioned before, there is everything you need to be comfortable and amazing things to do in the surrounding area to enjoy your time off work.
The cost of living in Cancun really depends on your needs and preferred living standards. You can find a nice, small unpretentious apartment for 300 USD. But if you love more comfort you’ll need to raise your budget.
Also, restaurants are plentiful and there is such a variety that you can spend anywhere from 5 USD to 100USD depending on where you go and what you eat.”
Any Resources You Found Useful During the Process of Moving to And/Or Building a New Life in Cancun?
“First of all, you need a good lawyer for your paperwork.
Tourists are allowed to stay in Mexico for 6 months but if you intend to settle here and work you will need to get a special visa. The immigration process is a nightmare. A good and honest lawyer can assist you through the process though and thankfully it’s relatively cheap.
I have interviewed my immigration lawyer to offer information for those would love to move to Cancun.
The best way to find a place to live in Cancun is to walk around the neighborhood you want to live in and call the number that you can find in the rental announcements you see on buildings.
You could use a real estate agency as well, but they are expensive.
Start by renting an AirBnb or VRBO and then look for a longer-term rental once you are in Cancun.
Is There Something You Just Have to See or Do When You Are in Cancun?
“Definitely spend a few hours in Isla Blanca, a pristine beach just outside Cancun.
Go kayaking at sunset in the Nichupte’ lagoon and take the ferry to Isla Mujeres.
If you come in summer you cannot miss swimming with whale sharks.”
Isabella describes herself as a clumsy solo traveler and wannabe artist on an endless journey through Latin America and wherever the road will take her.
She wrote a useful article with practical tips for traveling alone, and you can follow her adventures on her blog Boundless Roads.
About Cancun, Mexico
Cancún is a city in southeast Mexico on the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula.
It is a popular tourist destination in what’s called the Mexican Caribbean. Peak season in Cancun tends to run from December to April.
Cancun was built in the 1970s on a site selected as the ideal spot for a new tourist development by the Mexican federal government.
It is composed of 21 kilometers of pristine white beaches, turquoise seas, a bountiful underwater world, and world-class vacation amenities.
Cancun’s hotel zone is almost entirely built around the tourist industry, and downtown Cancun is where most residents live. You can find many good restaurants, shopping centers, markets, and clubs in the downtown area.
Cancun is considered the gateway to the Mayan World (El Mundo Maya). Mayan temples and ritual sites are everywhere, some smothered by lush jungle, others easily accessible.
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