Living in Playa del Carmen for 2 years as an American expat
American expat Allison Sicking has been living in Playa del Carmen for the last two years. In this expat series, Allison shares all her insider tips about living in this Mexican paradise. Read along and see if Playa del Carmen is ideal for you!
Reader Mail: Hi Trish muchas gracias for your Mexico content! It’s been really helpful in deciding where I should live in Mexico. I’ve been thinking about being a digital nomad in Playa del Carmen but I can’t find a lot of genuine resources online. Is Playa a good place to be based in? I heard a lot about safety issues and I’d like to know what you think about that too. If you can recommend how to find apartments in Playa del Carmen, that would be great, too. Thank you so much for all your help! I truly appreciate you and your blog.
– Candice Baker, USA
Thanks for reaching out! I have been to Playa del Carmen a lot for long stays but have never really “lived” there. I don’t consider myself as an expat in a particular area if I did not live there for more than 3 months. I only do 2 weeks to one-month visits in Playa.
So I called for reinforcements! Allison of Viva La Travelista is an American expat who’s been living in Playa del Carmen for 2 years. Since you are American, she can give you deeper insider tips that you can relate to.
Should you have any additional questions that weren’t answered in this post, please get in touch with me via Instagram. In the bottom part of this article, you will also see Allison’s social media profiles.
Good luck and I hope you make it to Mexico! Now I give the floor to Allison.
Hola! I’m Allison, an American expat who lived and worked in Playa del Carmen, Mexico for almost two years. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, I moved to Playa del Carmen in 2018 after accepting a job offer to work in marketing for a Mexican hospitality brand. I had spent my college years learning Spanish and it had always been a dream of mine to work abroad so I hardly hesitated to book that one-way ticket! Plus, I already have a good friend living in Playa del Carmen, which made the transition that much easier.
Working for a Mexican company was a valuable professional experience but I eventually transitioned to working remotely in the field of digital marketing, which is what I do now and absolutely love. While I was living in Playa del Carmen, I also created the travel blog Viva La Travelista, to share my travel stories and empower others to travel safely and confidently in Spanish-speaking countries.
In this living in Playa del Carmen expat guide I’m sharing some useful tips for anyone that is looking to make the move to Playa del Carmen. Living in Mexico can definitely have its challenges, but I can assure you it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Living in Playa del Carmen: personal experience
Culture in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is known for its beautiful beaches and vibrant Fifth Avenue, which is a pedestrian-only street where you’ll find the majority of restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops. But one thing Playa del Carmen is not known for is its culture. Because it is such a tourist destination, authentic cultural experiences can be more difficult to find and are primarily centered around the ancient Mayan culture. I’m not saying that the Mexican culture is non-existent in Playa del Carmen but at the surface level, it is more difficult to come by.
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However, on the flip side, leisure experiences are abundant and can be a lot of fun. Living in Playa del Carmen allows you to tap into all the tourist activities that many people only get to experience on vacation. Options for tours and activities are absolutely endless including snorkeling, scuba diving, catamaran sails, paddleboarding, ziplining, and adventure parks.
And one of the most unique experiences is visiting one of the many incredible freshwater cenotes, which are hidden natural swimming holes you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
In addition, Playa del Carmen is a great hub for visiting other popular destinations in the region like Cancun, Tulum, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Bacalar, Holbox, and Valladolid. These destinations make for great day trips or overnight stays.
What’s it like to be a young expat in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen is an amazing international destination to be a young expat. In fact, it’s one of the most popular digital nomad destinations in the world, making it a great place to network with like-minded individuals. There are numerous coworking spaces, coffee shops, and beachfront restaurants, perfect for remote working.
The coworking spaces in Playa del Carmen are digital nomad hubs, making them a great place to meet new people and get work done. They often organize networking events, workshops, and professional development opportunities for members of the digital nomad community.
One thing I love about Playa del Carmen is that your experience living there will be what you make of it. If you want to party, you will find vibrant nightlife with numerous bars and nightclubs. If that’s not your scene, you can stay in or chill out at a low-key beachfront bar. And if you’re looking for a spiritual, vegetarian, or vegan community, you’ll find those too. It’s cool that there’s really something for everyone’s unique interests.
Transportation in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen has a robust transportation system, which makes it very easy to get around if you don’t own a car. The downtown area is almost completely walkable or bikeable, and almost everything is located just a few blocks away from the beach. If you need to travel further distances, you can take a taxi, which is abundant and inexpensive.
In addition, one of the most popular forms of transportation is taking a colectivo, which is a shared van service that goes up and down the main highway to get to nearby towns like Cancun or Tulum.
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Food in Playa del Carmen
Playa del Carmen has a vibrant restaurant scene featuring cuisines from all over the world. Of course, there’s no shortage of Mexican food, but you’ll also find many high-quality Playa del Carmen restaurants with Italian, Asian, French, and American dishes. In addition, you can try out many tasty and inexpensive street foods such as marquesitas (rolled wafer), cochinita pibil (pork), and elotes (Mexican street corn), which are very popular in the Yucatan region of Mexico.
Living in Playa del Carmen: is it safe?
As a single female living in Playa del Carmen, personal safety was definitely one of my top concerns. It’s important to know that crime does exist in Playa del Carmen. Petty theft is most common as it’s a destination where tourists are more easily distracted and more likely to be intoxicated. In addition, there are drug-related incidents, but in my experience, it was always targeted crime, and bystanders were rarely involved.
It’s important to always be mindful of your surroundings and be careful not to make yourself a target. I always recommend learning at least some basic Spanish and following these Playa del Carmen safety tips, which will make you less likely to be taken advantage of. In addition, I was willing to pay more for my apartment rental for added security and peace of mind.
Connecting with fellow expats in Playa del Carmen
To be honest, when I first moved to Playa del Carmen it was difficult to make friends outside of work. I’m admittedly an introvert, so meeting new people can be a bit outside of my comfort zone. However, this completely changed once I started getting involved in the local coworking spaces. Just by visiting one coworking space, I was able to meet some welcoming nomads, fellow bloggers, and local residents and eventually made some amazing new friends.
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So one of my biggest pieces of advice is to get involved in the digital nomad community early! Check out one of the popular coworking spaces like Nest, Bunker, and Selina to find out which space you like the best. Then join their Facebook or Whatsapp groups to learn about and participate in their local events and meetups.
If you’re not a digital nomad, the Mexpats Club is also a great way to meet other expats at their monthly meetups. Here are some of the most popular PDC Facebook groups I used to connect with fellow expats in Playa del Carmen:
- Expats & Locals in Playa del Carmen
- Mexpats Club (Expats living in Playa del Carmen)
- Digital Nomad Crew Playa del Carmen & Tulum
- Ladies of Playa del Carmen
Pros and cons of living in Playa del Carmen
Before I moved to Playa del Carmen I was living in Chicago, so I was first drawn by the allure of white sand beaches and warm weather all year round. But after getting to experience all that Playa del Carmen has to offer, I was surprised to find so much more, namely a warm and welcoming international community and some incredible hidden gems.
At the same time, Playa del Carmen is not for everyone and while living at the beach may seem glamorous, I can assure you it still has its drawbacks. Playa del Carmen is not as cultural as other destinations in Mexico and really isn’t the best destination for learning Spanish, as many of the customer-facing locals do speak English. Plus, safety can be a concern.
So to recap, here’s my list of the top pros and cons of living in Playa del Carmen:
Pros of living in Playa del Carmen
- Caribbean beach destination with warm weather all year round
- Welcoming international community
- Low cost of living
Cons of living in Playa del Carmen
- Not as cultural as other destinations in Mexico
- Not the best place to learn Spanish
- Not as safe
Cost of living in Playa del Carmen
In Playa del Carmen, I lived comfortably on $1,800 USD per month, living in a modern 1-bedroom condo rental and eating out a few times a week. You can definitely spend less if you stick to a budget, but I chose to live in a newer condo rental with more amenities.
Food Costs in Playa del Carmen
Food costs in Playa del Carmen are pretty inexpensive if you eat at home. There are a few major grocery stores including Walmart, Mega, and Chedraui, as well as convenience stores like Oxxo and 7-Eleven. However, if you eat out all the time at the restaurants on Fifth Avenue, you’ll pay prices similar to restaurants in the United States.
Rent Costs in Playa del Carmen
Long-term rentals in Playa del Carmen are available for every budget. You can expect to pay around $500 USD for a studio or shared unit or up to $1,500 USD for a modern 1-bedroom condo rental. I would recommend using Facebook Marketplace or a Facebook rental group to look for long-term rentals.
One thing to be mindful of is electricity costs, as they can be extremely expensive, especially in the heart of downtown Playa del Carmen. Always ask to see past electricity bills to know what you’re getting into.
Shopping Costs in Playa del Carmen
Shopping in Playa del Carmen is mainly centered around Fifth Avenue, where you’ll find the majority of shops for souvenirs, clothing, and swimwear. The shopping in Playa del Carmen is fairly decent but doesn’t have as many retailers as you would find in Cancun.
There are three outdoor malls along Fifth Avenue where you’ll find women’s clothing retailers like H&M, Forever 21, Zara, Bershka, and Old Navy. Prices for clothing, shoes, and swimwear are pretty similar to prices in the US.
Transportation Costs in Playa del Carmen
If you don’t have a car, it’s pretty easy to get around the downtown area of Playa del Carmen just by walking. For further distances, can buy a bike or use Biciplaya, which is a pay-per-ride bike rental service. Taxis around town will cost around $3-$5 USD and colectivos cost around $2-3 USD to get to Cancun or Tulum. Unfortunately, Uber does not exist in Playa del Carmen so you’ll need to pay cash for taxis.
Personal Care in Playa del Carmen
Personal care is pretty inexpensive in Playa del Carmen. You’ll be able to find personal care products from familiar brands in grocery stores, or there are also high-end cosmetics stores like Sephora and Mac. You can expect to spend on average $15 USD for a manicure or pedicure, $15 USD for a bikini wax, and $30 USD for a high-end haircut. Massage services are also abundant in spas or on the beach and can cost around $40 USD per hour.
Visas, medical care, and other important things
The great thing about Mexico is that upon entry foreigners are automatically granted a tourist visa for 180 days. Once this expires, you must leave the country and re-enter in order for your visa to be renewed for another six months. If you plan to stay in Mexico long-term, you can also apply for a temporary or permanent residency visa, depending on your circumstances.
If you are a legal resident of Mexico, you will have access to the public hospital system. However, these can be very crowded and often have long wait times. Most expats in Playa del Carmen choose to purchase a private health insurance plan, which is accepted at many of the private hospitals.
I personally purchased an expat insurance plan primarily for emergencies, which is much lower cost than health insurance plans in the United States (around $40 USD per month). Most medical expenses such as doctor visits, dentist appointments, and prescription drugs are paid for out of pocket, as they are much more affordable.
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