Is Oaxaca the Right Expat Destination For You?

by | Feb 14, 2022 | Mexico | 1 comment

Are you thinking it is time to leap – leave your job, sell the house, dispose of your belongings and move to a new country? Oaxaca, Mexico could be the ideal destination. Based on a previous blog, “13 Essential Tips for Choosing Your Destination,” let’s dig into the nitty-gritty essentials to see if Oaxaca is right for you.

1. Determine the Size and Type of Environment.

Wow--it's Oaxaca Photo by Gwen Hyatt
Wow–it’s Oaxaca Photo by Gwen Hyatt

With a population of approximately 255,000, Oaxaca de Juarez is the largest city and capital of the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

One of the most colorful and ethnically diverse states in Mexico, Oaxaca has more than 16 indigenous groups.

The ethnobotanical garden (jardin)  showcases the biodiversity of the area including the native varieties of squash, beans, avocados, maize, and chilis.

Economically, the area relies heavily on tourism and is a designated UNESCO site.

2. Consider the Climate and Elevation

Resting at an elevation of 5,102 ft., the region boasts a tropical savanna climate. Average daytime temperatures during the cooler winter months hover around 80 degrees with nighttime temps dipping into the mid to high 40s. April and May’s temps are closer to 90 degrees preceding the rainy season of summer.

3. Explore the Neighborhoods

Numerous colonias or barrios (neighborhoods) are situated within and on the outskirts of the city.

Avoid tunnel vision Photo by Gwen Hyatt
Avoid tunnel vision Photo by Gwen Hyatt

Wandering the barrios will give you a sense of the community, history, culture, shopping, safety, open spaces and parks, socio/economic demographics, types of housing, and much more.

One way to check out each local barrio and its social fabric would be to take a group or private walking tour with a local guide.

To get you started, visit Jalatlaco, east of Oaxaca City’s historical center. This colonia offers idyllic cobblestone streets lined with colonial buildings painted in vibrant blues, pinks, and yellows and is close to El Llano Park.

Colonia Reforma provides a chic, less-touristy-but-still-lively experience. A quieter, more residential neighborhood, the Reforma is only a 25-minute walk from the city center. For those who want to be close to the action, the Zocolo area is the heartbeat of the city, a bustling square bordered by the government palace and the Oaxaca Cathedral.

4. Check Out Short- and Long-Term Accommodations

With tourism contributing heavily to the economy of Oaxaca, there are a plethora of short- and long-term rentals including hotels, apartments, efficiencies, hostels or single-family dwellings.

Be aware that during the high season (Jan – March) and during major celebrations (Dia de Los Muertos in November, the Guelaguetza in July, and the Night of the Radishes and Christmas in December) accommodations book quickly and are not as readily available. I recommend a short-term rental while you explore the various colonias and housing options.

5. Evaluate the Friendliness and Acceptance by Local Citizens and Expats

Whether in a big city or small enclave get a sense of the nature of the locals. I found Oaxaca welcoming, vibrant, engaging and female-friendly.

6. Take Public Transportation – It is Convenient!

Bus service in Oaxaca and surrounding local communities is frequent, reliable, and inexpensive. Collectivos–shared vans–are often used to visit outlying pueblos. Taxis are common and reasonably priced within the city. It is unnecessary to own a car in Oaxaca. It is a walkable city, although I would not recommend it for cycling as many of the streets are cobbled, narrow, and full of traffic.

7. Engage in Local Recreation and Entertainment

Gyms, yoga and meditation classes and outdoor parks are sprinkled throughout the city. Hikes are offered weekly by Hoofing it in Oaxaca, however, it can be quite a ride to get to and from the trailhead.

Oaxaca offers a diverse art culture with theatre, music, museums, art galleries, festivals, and language schools in addition to cooking classes, bridge and chess groups, art classes or whatever you fancy.

 8. Indulge in Local Cuisine and Shopping Opportunities

Soup's on Photo by Gwen Hyatt
Soup’s on Photo by Gwen Hyatt

Oaxaca is a gastronomical delight specializing in mole, pozole, tacos, tlayudas, mezcal and more.

Mercados are sprinkled throughout many barrios of the city offering organic produce, coffee, breads, clothing, shoes, and household goods.

There are ample mini supermarkets, Tiendas de Abarrotes, OXXO convenience stores and yes, there is a Sam’s Club and a Walmart.

And then there is the street food! Artesian shops and street vendors line many streets in El Centro.

9. Explore Work and Volunteer Opportunities

If you are planning on working remotely, check internet reliability, accessibility, and speed at your accommodation. For the most part, the internet is available, but reliability varies.

Volunteering is an excellent way to get involved. There are numerous expat organizations and local nonprofits that may welcome your help and expertise. Start with to begin your volunteer search.

10. Assess Your Language Proficiency and Needs

Many locals speak some English, however, be prepared to learn some basic Spanish to be able to ask for directions when shopping and bill paying, renting accommodations and for basic logistics. There are numerous Spanish schools and tutors available and an active expat community. Intercambios (language exchanges) are offered every Saturday at the Learning Library 

11. Make a Plan for Emergencies and Health Care

Several large hospitals are based in and around Oaxaca along with medical specialists, English-speaking physicians, and ample services for dental, hearing, and vision.

12. Consider the Cost of Living

Oaxaca is economical. The cost of housing and utilities (phone and Wi-Fi), transportation, health care, food, recreation and entertainment, and travel are relatively inexpensive as compared to U.S. standards. Check my blog Living in Oaxaca for $1500/month for more details.

13. Think About What You Would Miss About the Life You Are Looking to Ditch

I suggest making a list of what you would miss about your current lifestyle—friends, support groups, colleagues, family, simple conveniences, your car, home, quality of life, belongings or life treasures. For many, what you gain in your new destinations outweighs what you would miss. It’s a personal decision.

I hope this list is helpful for you as you make your decision. Let us know what other factors you are considering.

by: Gwen Hyatt