Living in Guadalajara

Some Thoughts on Living in Guadalajara, Mexico

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Guadalajara is a marvelous town with an excellent quality of life. It is a big city that feels a lot smaller than the census reveals. The economy is strong, the population is cultured, and people love living here. They come from all over Mexico to study, and many decide to stay. Recently, more international immigrants have decided that living in Guadalajara is really nice. 

I am one of those international immigrants. I originally came to Guadalajara for school but I met a girl and decided to settle down and start a family. I love living here. I joke that the only thing that Guadalajara is missing is the beach. However, there are a lot of spectacular beaches within a few hours of Guadalajara. 

One thing to keep in mind is that Guadalajara is going to be different than wherever you are moving from. I know that it is hard to avoid but using ‘home’ as a base point to constantly compare to Guadalajara is not healthy. It would be a shame to always do your shopping at Walmart and Costco. Learning Spanish and keeping an open mind about new ways of doing things will make the experience much richer. The local markets are way cooler than Costco and that isn’t even scratching the surface. Living in Guadalajara is really enjoyable but it is different from where I grew up.   

Why do you like living in Guadalajara?

What I like the most about Guadalajara is the juxtaposition of traditional and modern styles that you come across all the time. Architecture, food, world views, and many more will surprise you around every turn. 

Geography and Transportation 

The metropolitan region has over 5 million inhabitants but after visiting Mexico City it feels like a very big pueblo. The different neighborhoods and municipalities have a small-town feel. Guadalajara, Zapopan, and Tlaquepaque are different cities but it is hard to tell where one begins and the other ends.

The Periférico freeway is a circle that contains the urban part of the metro region. The area outside of the Periferico is suburban and later rural. Calzada Independencia runs north to south paving over what used to be a river that split the city in two. The east side of the Calzada was underdeveloped and poor while the west side of the Calzada was wealthier and more well developed. You can still see a difference in the different types of architecture. 

The traffic at rush hour is brutal. There are a couple of different rush hours actually. There is holiday traffic to the beach, school traffic, and work traffic. There are not nearly enough lanes of traffic to accommodate the number of cars that want to drive downtown which was originally designed for horse-drawn carriages, not cars. And the entrances to Guadalajara get backed up most days when the freeway turns into a surface street.

Oh yeah, and the rain. It rains like crazy in Guadalajara and even though it rains every year people forget how to drive in the rain. The first rain of the year is famous for the smell of damp earth as in the song. It is also famous for traffic accidents because people forget to slow down. Plaza del Sol, Calzada Lázaro Cárdenas, and Avenida 8 de Julio  flood like clockwork. 

It takes a little bit to learn the cycles of traffic in a new city. It is best to arrange the shortest commute possible. Try to make your life as local as possible. It is nice to have a bunch of small businesses close. Ten years ago I used to commute from the Minerva to Monterrey Tec off of Avenida Aviación. I couldn’t imagine doing that now. It would be much wiser to rent or buy something closer to where you will be spending your time. 

I have some friends who work in the Technology park off of Avenida Vallarta by Pinar de la Venta. They found a great house in the next town over, Nextipac. They say it is like stepping back in time to live in a tiny town but still have Guadalajara 20 minutes away when there is no traffic. They come into the city on the weekends but during the week they have both work and school 5 minutes away. There are some great new schools going on in that area. The Guadalajara Metropolitan Region is growing outwards at a staggering pace. 

There are a lot of neighborhoods that are walkable but people need to remember that the sidewalks are not in good condition. I know several temporary residents who have tripped and fallen. Some neighborhoods are much more difficult than others to push a stroller because of the state of the sidewalks. 

The bicycling culture has really taken off in Guadalajara. Sundays are car-free days from 8 am to 2 pm along more than 25 km of main roads open only to bikes, skates and pedestrians. The State of Jalisco has been putting in tons of bike lanes. There has been some controversy over taking lanes of traffic to make them exclusively bike lanes. More people than ever are using the bike lanes. Personally, I think they have been a huge success. 

Ubers are cheap and taxis are cheap. It is nice to find a private driver who is trustworthy and charges fairly.

Public transportation is crowded at rush hour but pleasant otherwise. 

The new line 3 of the metro is the best line yet. It connects the municipality of Zapopan, downtown Guadalajara, downtown Tlaquepaque, and the long-distance bus terminal. Line 1 & 2 don’t really go to the touristy areas.

Cost of Living in Guadalajara

The cost of living in Guadalajara is high when compared to most of Mexico but low when compared to the United States or Europe. There are a lot of people residing in Guadalajara who earn dollars or commissions denominated in dollars. Digital nomads are a small percentage of the population working a currency arbitrage (earning a strong currency yet spending pesos). The Guadalajara tech industry is highly integrated with the US market. Mexican companies and Mexican salespeople sell everything from technology solutions to agricultural products to US clients. There is a running joke that everyone in Guadalajara has a cousin in Los Angeles. People move back and forth and do a lot of business in both directions

In 2022 the rate of inflation is driving up the cost of just about everything from housing to food. The cost of a kilo of tortillas is the most important inflationary marker in Mexico. People can relate to the cost of tortillas more than they can relate to a weighted basket of products that comprise an index. Everybody buys tortillas.

A cheap room can be rented for $3,000 pesos a month in a humble part of town. A nice two-bedroom apartment in a semi-luxury building can be found for less than $20,000 pesos per month.  The price of a rental is going to vary dramatically from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Living in Guadalajara in a historic place called the Glorieta Minerva

Finding a place to live in Guadalajara

The rental market in Guadalajara is becoming much more competitive. Most neighborhoods inside of the Periferico are seeing a substantial increase in housing prices. Gentrification and Airbnb are pushing more people to the outskirts of the Metropolitan Region. 

Renting a furnished unit in Guadalajara can be challenging. There are lots of overpriced antique homes that ask for a cosigner willing to put a property up as collateral. It is a common practice for landlords to charge large deposits that will not be returned under any circumstances. The legal system is incredibly slow so going to court to resolve minor disputes isn’t an option. Some landlords are willing to forgo the cosigner for an arbitration contract. 

If you are going to be in Guadalajara for less than six months Airbnb is the most common place to find a rental. If you plan on spending more time in Guadalajara, then walking the streets is the best way to find a place to live. Many small landlords are wary of using online rental platforms tending to only promote locally with a sign in the window or going word of mouth. 

It may be advantageous to enlist the services of a real estate agent to help find some properties that are not publicly listed. The real estate agent can also help you understand the terms of the rental contract. Professionally managed properties are going to have better maintenance than some old dentist with three properties who doesn’t pay the internet bill on time. 

When I look for apartments online I use:

Renting an unfurnished house requires some interior decorating. Guadalajara is famous for furniture manufacturing. There are both traditional and modern styles. I have bought pieces from Costco and Tonalá but the easiest way to find a wide variety of furniture is online.

Pich.mx is a great online furniture store. They are local to Guadalajara and have a factory. They ship all over Mexico. If you are in Puerto Vallarta looking to go furniture shopping in Guadalajara, you might check them out first.

Residency and Working

Things are changing in Mexico. There was once a time when thousands of foreigners would “live” in Mexico full time with nothing more than an FMM tourist card. An FMM tourist card is NOT the same thing as a visa and may not be used to register a car or open a bank account. Until recently Mexican immigration almost always gave six-month tourist cards to anyone entering the country. That is no longer the case.

The United States has put an enormous amount of pressure on Mexico to limit the number of Central American migrants that reach the United States. More and more US tourists have been picked in immigration checks. Overstaying an FMM tourist card can get you deported. 

One point of contention in the Expat forums is the idea of a work visa. I know plenty of foreigners who live in Guadalajara and legally work here. Many retired Canadian and US citizens tell young people that jobs in Mexico are for Mexicans only. That is ridiculous. English language schools are falling over themselves to help certified and qualified candidates get a work visa. Mexican manufacturing and agricultural companies sell tons (literally metric tons) worth of goods in the US and salespeople with contact lists and relevant experience are always valuable. I even know of a restaurant that helped a manager regularize his stay. Mind you, these are highly qualified and educated professionals with years of relevant work experience. Breaking into a new industry while requesting a company’s help with a work visa will be a challenge.  

Earning pesos is a challenge. I have worked for both Mexican and US companies. I totally understand why so many tech firms are opening operations in Guadalajara. The same position in California earns 7-times as much as the position in Mexico with similar experience and requirements. If you have obligations like student loans denominated in dollars it will be a challenge to earn enough to pay them, and secondly, the process of converting paper money from one currency to another, maximizing the yields, and depositing them into a US account is another challenge. Trust me. 

Small retail vendor in mercado de abastos, Guadalajara
Small retail vendor in mercado de abastos

Shopping

Grocery shopping is so much better in Mexico than it is in the United States but shopping for technology products may leave you with buyers remorse. Mexico is a country with a lot of agriculture and Guadalajara is located close to the coast, the tropics, dairy country, and the highlands. You can find just about anything that is grown in Mexico in the local markets. 

I have come to learn that the supermarkets do not have the best quality produce. The wholesale markets have the most beautiful fruits and vegetables that I have ever seen at the best prices. The experience of shopping at a traditional Mexican market is different from shopping at a US supermarket but once you learn how it works you will realize it is way better. For example, there are no shopping carts but for 20 pesos (1 US dollar) a guy with a dolly will wheel your order to the car for you and help you load it up. He is an expert at packing and will do a better job than you can anyway. 

Fruit truck in Guadalajara, Mexico

If you don’t have time to go to the wholesale market then walk over to the local fruteria (fruit and vegetable store) or abarrotes (family run corner store). Listen for the fruit truck or ask your neighbors when they come by. It always seems that just when I am stressing about finding time to go shopping I hear the fruit truck’s loudspeaker announcing that he is out front. The fruit trucks usually come by in the afternoons and evenings when more people are home. The traditional markets are best in the morning and they close early. 

You will get used to using the metric system more quickly than you realize. 

Oxxo is way more than a convenience store. It is a financial institution for the unbanked population. You can pay just about anything there for a commission. Oxxo is prolific just about everywhere so they aren’t the best point of interest for giving directions. It’s like saying you live near the Starbucks in LA. They are everywhere.

The supermarket is convenient because they have everything in one place but the specialty stores have the best products. The local carniceria (meat market) will filet the chicken how you want. They also have some of the best prepared foods section that you can find like homemade salsas, rice, beans, pastas, and a plethora of things made out of nixtamalizado corn (tlacoyos, sopes, gorditas, tortillas, tamales, chips, tlayudas, doraditas, etc).

Do business with the people in your neighborhood. Supporting your neighbors pays for swim lessons for a kid that you will cross paths with. When you buy from Walmart the profits are repatriated off-shore. It is not the same thing. 

The water companies operate trucks that deliver beverage products house to house. FEMSA is a Mexican comglomerate that operates Coca-Cola in Mexico among many other successful operations. I like the taste of their water, Agua Ciel. I buy both still and sparkling. The still water comes in 5-gallon jugs (garafones) that are kind of heavy. They deliver twice a week and sometimes bring special deliveries on other days. We buy Santa Clara milk from them and maybe a Coke from time to time. I can’t drink the water out of the tap in the United States anymore. I love the taste of Agua Ciel and will drink filtered water for the rest of my life.

This is just a small list of places that I love in Guadalajara. Carneceria Zapopan, Filete de Oro, Herman Delikatessen, Xokol tortillas, X-Picy farms, EcoHuerta garden for seedlings and herbs, La Casita for US specialty foods, Santa Clara Providencia for dairy products, Cossara Berries, Café Estelar, Pachuco Vinos, Mezonte Agave Spirits, Toyo and Aju Mart. 

Yes, I shop at Costco and Liverpool but I try to keep it to a minimum. There are certain international and gourmet products that I can only find there. I find the prices to be exorbitant but I like the Costco toilet paper. Try not to be exclusive and always keep an eye out for local businesses you want to support. 

Local products will be substantially cheaper than imported products. Colombian coffee, Italian Parmesan, Japanese tea, Argentine yerba mate, and USDA Prime beef will be much more expensive than you are used to. In many cases, you can find something local to substitute. 

Gyms and Pools

There are a lot of different ways to stay active in Guadalajara including gyms, yoga studios, martial arts studios, spinning clubs, and pools. You can find an option at just about every price point. The country clubs function at high-end gyms but they are really expensive. Sport City is a wonderful sporting club with a great community of people. I really enjoyed working out there and meeting people that I would see around town. Two of the nicer yet affordable gyms are Be Wellness in the Minerva and Move Wellness in the Glorieta Chapalita. Just about every neighborhood, no matter how wealthy or humble, will have a couple of great gym options. 

Trying to find a pool might be a little more complicated. Guadalajara is a big city and there are lots of options but I still miss the public pools in California. I swam at Sport City in Galerias Mall for years and I love that pool. They closed down during the pandemic and reopened as Energy Galerias at a discounted price. The Metropolitan Park has a swim center that was built for the Panamerican Games with three large pools and classes all day long. You have to sign up with a class and swim at the same time. Unfortunately they don’t have a drop-in free swim program. The bathroom and lockers are a little rundown but the pools are in excellent condition. 

Out by the Chivas Stadium is Carril4tro swim club. They cater to some of the serious triathletes in the Guadalajara area. There is a bicycle track next to the stadium where the triathletes will combine cycling and running to their swim workout. In Chapalita there is another triathlon training facility called Neonatacion & Triathlon. Their facility is kind of small and you will be sharing a lane most of the time you are swimming there. 

If you are looking for swim lessons for babies then you should start with El Patito on Avenida Sebastian Bach. They are an institution of Guadalajara swim lessons and really good at what they do. My kids loved swimming here. 

Schools and Education

One of the reasons that Guadalajara is such a great place to live is the educated and cultured population. There are educational opportunities for all social classes. Guadalajara could be considered a college town. People from all over the world choose to study in Guadalajara because of the quality of education and value. The medical schools are a particular draw to the region. I know students from the United States, Hati, Germany, Poland, Brazil, and Chile that loved their educational experience in Guadalajara. 

There are a number of educational systems in Guadalajara that work as feeder schools moving students from daycare all the way through university. The University of Guadalajara is by far the largest and should really be called the University of Jalisco because they have campuses all over the state. 

I studied at the Tec de Monterrey (ITESM) campus in Guadalajara and value every peso that I spent there. The Tec is a secular institution that was originally modeled after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology but has grown into one of the largest educational systems in Mexico. There are Tec campuses in just about every urban area in Mexico. The largest Tec university campuses with the largest selection of majors and graduate degree programs are located in Monterrey, Mexico City, Queretaro, and Guadalajara. The suburb around the Guadalajara Tec campus is one of the nicer parts of the metro region. It has grown a lot in the last ten years since I was a student there.  

The Universidad Panamericana is a Catholic school associated with Opus Dei. They originally opened as a business school in the 1960s but have grown into an educational system that starts with daycare and preschool and works all the way through grad school. My niece attended the UP-affiliated preschool and she and her family loved it. There is a very strong sense of community. Opus Dei is very religious and very conservative. There are no gay parents and no divorced parents at the kindergarten. 

The ITESO campus is a Jesuit-affiliated school in the southern part of the city on the border of Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque. While it is still an expensive private institution the Jesuit order puts much more emphasis on service than some of the other schools do. The kids are mostly rich but they are more outdoorsy, well-rounded, and a little more hippy than the Tec and the UP. The Instituto Ciencias is the feeder school for the ITESO and has a wonderful reputation in Mexico. My favorite famous alumnus is director Guillermo del Toro. There are quite a few politicians who studied here like Governor Enrique Alfaro. 

The Autonomous University of Guadalajara has one of the most prestigious medical schools in North America. They recruit Spanish-speaking students from across the continent to study at their facilities. The campus in Providencia is full of Spanish-speaking students from the United States who found it more affordable to study in Mexico than to study in the United States. Many of them will go on to do graduate work in the United States.

The American School Foundation of Guadalajara is one of the most prestigious high schools in Mexico. Many of the students go on to study at prestigious US universities. It is an elite institution and some people complain that it is elitist. Many of these students have studied together since preschool and breaking into the clique can be difficult for a transfer student. These are also some of the wealthiest families in Guadalajara. 

Healthcare

Guadalajara has excellent health care at many different budgets. There are several excellent medical schools, modern hospitals, and a society that truly values the medical profession. There are lots of great doctors in Guadalajara.

Medical facilities can be found for all different income levels including the public healthcare system. If you have kids, you will most likely be getting their vaccinations at the IMSS. 

It is a good idea to get some insurance. Those who enter the country on an FMM tourist card will most likely purchase traveler insurance from an international organization. Those people who enter with temporary or permanent residency may more easily purchase private insurance from a Mexican provider. The Mexican provider will allow you to personalize your care with access to different-tiered hospitals and medical centers. The price will also be denominated in pesos rather than dollars, hopefully saving some money. 

Mexican pharmacies are famous for selling drugs much cheaper than in the US. However, not everything that is available in the US is also available in Mexico. 

Some of the good hospitals in Guadalajara the San Javier, Puerta de Hierro, Mexico-Americano, Santa Maria de Chapalita, and Real San Jose. There are many, many more.

Salud Digna and Chapo are great, cheap places to get tests done. There are tons of optometrists and dentists, and so many more specialists that I could never fit them all onto this article. If you are looking for a specialist is is likely that the medical centers in Puerta de Hierro and Monraz will have someone. Talk to a receptionist. In Puerta de Hierro there are whole floors of nothing but pediatricians. Your insurance provider will have excellent recommendations for doctors and hospitals. 

Conclusion: Living In Guadalajara

I get the feeling that this article is going to be a work in progress. The more I think about it and reread it I am remembering more sections that I want to include. I first came to live in Guadalajara in 2009 and I have loved it ever since. I love the proximity to my hometown and the cultural ties between Mexico and the United State. I want to encourage more people from Mexico to experience the United States and more people from the US to experience Mexico. I hope this article helps. Cheers.

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