Remote Work Lures Record Relocation of US Citizens to Mexico

What started off as a pandemic escape for Americans seeking affordable destinations with few Covid-19 restrictions seems to have staying power

Unlike Mexicans in the US, Americans can work in the Latin American nation for as much as six consecutive months under their tourist visas provided they are paid abroad.
By Jose Orozco and Rafael Gayol
November 04, 2022 | 02:11 PM

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Bloomberg — US citizens are settling in Mexico at rates not seen since comparable data became available in 2010, with permits to reside temporarily in the country soaring 85% from the year before the pandemic.

While US authorities struggle to contain record migrant encounters at the border with Mexico, its southern neighbor granted 8,412 permits to Americans through September, compared to 4,550 in the first three quarters of 2019, according to a Mexican government migration report.

That number may be just a fraction of the influx of US expats as Mexico has said for years that the true figure of Americans moving to its shores is undercounted. More Americans also received permanent residence this year, with the number rising 48% from 2019 to 5,418.

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What started off as a pandemic escape for Americans seeking affordable destinations with few Covid-19 restrictions seems to have staying power. The increased presence of Americans, many of them remote workers, has implications for everything from the tourism industry to real-estate prices.

Unlike Mexicans in the US, Americans can work in the Latin American nation for as much as six consecutive months under their tourist visas provided they are paid abroad. And while technically it isn’t allowed, many choose to go back to the US briefly and reenter Mexico to renew their six-month period in the country and keep working.

Overall, 10 million American tourists arrived in Mexico by air through September, an increase of almost 24% from the same period in 2019, according to the CICOTUR research center at Anahuac University. International tourists overall spent $17.7 billion in Mexico through August of this year, 13% more than in the same period in 2019, according to the tourism ministry.

Many of these travelers stay for weeks or months at a time to work remotely, but there are no official numbers on how many because they’re a “population that tends to be too mobile to be counted,” said Ariel Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

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Top Destination

The top destination for these temporary American residents in Mexico isn’t a beach resort, but the country’s capital, Mexico City. They obtained 1,619 permits in the nation’s capital through September. That’s already more than the 1,417 from all of 2019.

The rise in Americans staying longer troubles some locals concerned about the cost of living, especially in some of the historic neighborhoods that are their prime destinations in Mexico City. Social media is rife with complaints about the so-called digital nomads and their supposed impact on rising rents.

In the leafy, walkable Condesa neighborhood, a favorite of well-heeled foreigners, apartment rents rose by 32% between January and June, according to a report from real estate marketplace Propiedades.com. Nationwide annual inflation stayed at 8.7% in September.

Last week, Mexico City’s government announced an alliance with Airbnb Inc. and the country’s UNESCO office to promote the capital as a destination for remote workers. Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said that the economic benefits of the influx would reach communities beyond the traditional tourist hubs.

“We want now to promote it even more,” Sheinbaum said at a press conference.

Tenants rights groups called the alliance with Airbnb part of an “aggressive touristification” of Mexico City and demanded regulation of the home rental company, according to a statement.

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The city government is studying whether the home-sharing company contributes to rising rents, though so far it sees no relation, Sheinbaum said.

Attracting Americans

More Canadians are also staying on in Mexico. Through September, 2,042 Canadians obtained temporary residence permits nationwide, a 137% increase from the same period in 2019.

The US State Department said this year that 1.6 million US citizens live in Mexico and that the country is the top destination for American travelers. Mexico’s 2020 Census counted 797,266 US citizens including 471,998 US-born children between ages five and 19.

The preference of many Americans owes itself, in part, to decades of aggressive courtship from Mexico, Ruiz Soto said.

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“Mexico’s immigration system is meant to attract US citizens as easily and as quickly as possible,” he said. In opposition to that, Ruiz Soto added, “the US immigration system is meant to deter Mexicans who would come irregularly into the country from doing that.”

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--With assistance from Maya Averbuch

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