Mexico: the new land promised to migrants
TIJUANA, MEXICO (AFP) – While many migrants risk their lives to pursue the American dream, Gabriel Zarate fled the rising cost of living in California and settled in the Mexican border town of Tijuana.
The 38-year-old Chilean American now goes to work in San Diego as an English teacher during the day and returns home to Mexico in the evening.
“One of the main reasons is the cost of living in Tijuana. It’s significantly cheaper than in California,” Zarate said.
Additionally, he added, “I love Mexicans and the food.”
His neighbor and fellow English teacher Mike Rachfal also left San Diego, where he was paying $1,275 a month to rent a studio.
“Here it’s about half,” said the 36-year-old.
Cheaper rents can be a hot topic in Mexico, where wages are much lower than in the United States (US) and people also face rising costs of living.
Tijuana is one of the fastest growing cities in Mexico for real estate prices – up 10.7% in the first quarter of 2022 from a year earlier, according to the Federal Mortgage Society (SHF), a public company.
The average price of properties bought by US citizens is around US$270,000 – “three times less than what the same property would cost in the United States”, says the president of the local association of real estate agents, Ruth Sastre .
In Tijuana, a bustling city notorious for gang violence, new apartment buildings are springing up with English “For Sale” signs and dollar prices. With more than 1,000 murders in the city already this year, safety is an important consideration, but Zarate said “in general, I feel good about Tijuana, especially downtown or around the border.”
“It’s like any big city. There will always be places that are rougher or more complicated than others,” he added.
It’s a similar story just south of Tijuana in Rosarito on the Pacific coast.
“After a housing boom that began a decade ago, up to about 12,000 people from the United States now live in the resort town,” said the president of the local construction industry association, Jesus Rincon Vargas,
In total, around 1.6 million US citizens are estimated to live in Mexico, according to their country’s embassy, which does not keep official records.
They can stay for up to six months on a tourist visa or apply for residency.
Apart from the lifestyle and cost of living, the relatively relaxed immigration rules are part of the draw for remote workers who flock to Mexico, especially the capital.
Brian McDonald, a 34-year-old software developer from the US state of Oklahoma, spent more than a year in the Latin American country, drawn by its budding tech scene.
“Mexico City seems like a kind of gateway for growing businesses and I like working with start-ups,” he said.
“It’s a very friendly culture,” McDonald added.
Office-sharing company WeWork has seen a large influx of digital nomads in Mexico City neighborhoods popular with foreigners, spokeswoman Cristina Sancen said.
“Mexico City has an incomparable climate. For foreigners, it is a cheaper city. It is also a cosmopolitan and highly developed city with start-ups and businesses,” she added.
Some foreigners working for American companies also choose to settle south of the border.
Kirsty Hall, 23, from Scotland, chose Mexico City as her remote workplace while helping to create a San Francisco-based tech start-up.
“I can walk everywhere here. I can ride a bike. Today I roller skated to work. Public transport is great and it’s very cheap. The people are very welcoming too,” Hall said.
The influx of foreigners has divided opinion among residents of the capital, some of whom see the city’s popularity as one of the reasons for gentrification and rising rents.
“I’ve heard there’s a bias towards digital nomads in Mexico City, but I haven’t experienced it personally,” said Blazej Mosinski, 23, from Poland, who is interning at distance to San Francisco “solely for financial reasons”.
Other challenges with working remotely in Mexico include slower internet speeds than in US tech hubs and security issues.
“I was robbed by the police two weeks ago on my way home,” McDonald said.
But “the rest – the good food, the cost of living – makes up for all of those things,” he added.