Mexico City is becoming a work-from-home paradise for U.S. expats as local prices drop.

“They arrived and said we had five minutes to clean everything up,” Ortiz said, recalling her family’s eviction in February.

Ortiz, 55, and her four siblings inherited Tortería Colima from their father, who opened it as a bakery in 1968. The siblings expanded it into a restaurant that became popular with locals in Mexico City.

For 54 years, the Ortiz family has run their business from the ground floor of a four-story building located on a busy corner in the increasingly attractive Roma area.

But in recent years, the family has watched the community around them change. The influx of foreigners, mostly from the US, has inspired Mexican homeowners to renovate and remodel their properties to accommodate the wealthier arrivals. Ortiz watched as visitors and tourists suddenly became regular neighbors.

“Prices are much higher,” she said. “It’s difficult because a lot of foreigners are coming and they have a lot of money to spend on these apartments and rent.”

The owner of Ortiz followed the business trend. The family tried to back off and keep their space, but after a lengthy legal battle, they were evicted in February. Things more than half a century old were dumped on the street when they were kicked out. The building is currently being rebuilt into luxury apartments.

“A lot of pain… I’m in a lot of pain,” Ortiz said as she washed dishes with her two sisters. Now they work in another restaurant – no longer as owners, but as employees – in a much less central location than Tortería Colima.

Ortiz acknowledged that the devastating impact of Covid-19 and rising global inflation have exacerbated the situation, and she does not blame foreigners for wanting to visit Mexico City. But she fears that as more U.S. expats arrive, more locals will be forced out.

As renovations are taking place on the floors above the closed restaurant, there is a shop window across the street with a sign calling for new tenants. It says “Hi Mexico City!” … in English.

“Please go away, we don’t want you here!”

It is not difficult for locals to understand the appeal of moving from the United States to Mexico City.

“It is beautiful here, their money is worth more, they can live in a house or apartment that is really beautiful and big and create a better life,” said Fernando Bustos Gorozpe. “But there is no interest here to participate and understand the local culture.”

Bustos Gorozpe is a university professor who was born and raised in Mexico City. He noticed that the trend of American expats traveling to the Mexican capital has accelerated due to Covid-19 as Mexico had fewer border restrictions than other countries. This coincided with a growing number of US companies allowing their employees to work remotely. Many chose to make it south of the border, in Mexico City.
View of Mexico City in February.

The US State Department reports that 1.6 million US citizens live in Mexico. But it is not known how long he lives and works there on tourist visas. The Mexican government does not track this data either, but it has recorded more than 5.3 million American tourists flying into Mexican airports between January and May 2022. This is almost a million more compared to the same period in 2019.

Real estate agent Edita Noreiko said dozens of Americans call her weekly with questions about moving to Mexico City.

“Very often it’s from Los Angeles or New York,” she said, adding that most of them are looking to avoid the rise in the cost of living in the United States and cash in on the strong exchange rate.

In 2014, Noreiko, originally from Poland, and her husband, Eduardo Alvarez, a native of Mexico City, set up their real estate firm with a focus on foreigners. About 70% of their business is said to come from clients outside of Mexico who aspire to live in the nation’s capital.

“Foreigners living in Mexico City do a lot of good,” Noreiko said, referring to the tourism income generated by Americans traveling to Mexico. “We need them.”

In the first five months of 2022, tourism from U.S. travelers generated nearly $11.5 billion in revenue for Mexico, according to the country’s tourism minister.. It is on track to surpass pre-pandemic levels.

The State Department reports that 1.6 million US citizens live in Mexico.  Between January and May 2022, more than 5.3 million American tourists arrived in Mexico.

“This is money that comes in, but in the end it ends up in the hands of only a few people,” Bustos Gorozpe. “And the locals end up being pushed out because they can no longer pay for these areas that have become very expensive.”

In neighborhoods like Roma and Condesa, charming cafes and trendy restaurants now cater to English-speaking expats. Bustos Gorozpe noticed that fewer foreigners try to speak Spanish, and in some cases assume that locals should understand English. This has led to growing frustration among some residents.

“Of course, it’s not like ‘we hate people from the outside’,” said Bustos Gorozpe.

But Bustos Gorozpe said the signs posted in one gentrified area do express growing anger.

“They read: “Please leave, we don’t need you here!”

Digital nomads

Eric Rodriguez, 37, is among the US expats who have come to Mexico City in recent months.

Rodriguez originally traveled to Mexico City as a tourist and now lives in the city and works remotely as an economic development analyst for a US agency.

Eric Rodriguez paid $2,500 for a studio bedroom when he lived in San Diego, but today he says he pays just $800 a month for a one-bedroom apartment in Mexico City.

Although his grandparents were born in Mexico, Rodriguez admitted that he is not in Mexico City to rediscover his roots or improve his Spanish, about which he speaks very little. He is there save money while still enjoying a quality lifestyle.

“In San Diego, my apartment (studio) was probably $2,500 (per month),” he said. “Here I have one bedroom and I pay $800 a month.”

Rodriguez and other so-called “digital nomads” can be seen in city cafes or in parks with open laptops busy at work. He said that when he first arrived in Mexico City, he felt nothing but welcome.

“I think there was a feeling, ‘We want people to come here to stimulate the economy. Thank you for being here.” But I know lately locals have been complaining about how the expats living here have affected their own way of life,” he said.

Rodriguez says he’s not sure he’ll stay in Mexico for long. But, he added, “it’s starting to feel right at home.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *