Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan

We moved to the Yucatan, specifically Chelem as part of our retirement agenda. We chose this because we felt it was one of the best places in Mexico to retire to. As boomers on a limited income, we were searching for an affordable place to retire to. 

Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan Mexico gulfside

Living as an expat in the Yucatan, Mexico filled the bill so we sold everything we owned and got on the first flight to Merida.  We did research living in Merida Mexico as an ex-pat, but we decided we wanted to be out of the city and near the beach. Living in Merida we discovered is easy but the temperatures reach over 45 degrees and some days it is the hottest place on earth. So here are some tips for living in the Yucatan.

From Merida, we travelled to the Progreso area and then onto Chelem where we had booked a short term apartment rental at the Bullpen, which sounds terrible but was, in reality, an excellent place to touch down.

There is a lot of negativity about retiring to Mexico and we searched for a while before we found what we believe is the best place in Mexico to live. It’s not an easy task to uproot yourself and move to a new country, but being an ex-pat in Mexico is a relatively easy thing to do.

Pros and Cons of Living in Mexico

fishing boasts on the beach tips for living in the Yucatan

We have some amazing people we love in Canada who all want to pop down for a visit so I thought I would write this blog post so they know what to expect and of course what any visitor can expect. These are my 10 tips for living as an expat in the Yucatan, Mexico.

Top 10 Tips for Living in the Yucatan

Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan Mexico gulfside

The Gulf of Mexico side of the Yucatan is very quiet, well at least it is in the winter which is probably why so many ex-pats come down as snowbirds.  You can choose to fly into Cancun and then take a 4-hour bus ride down to Merida or you can grab WestJet that now flies directly into Merida out of Toronto. 

You can get some incredible deals on WestJet and the Canadian ex-pats here are hoping that they will extend their season and add more flights as currently, they are doing very well. Without a doubt, this is one of the best places to live in Mexico as an expat.

the Cathedral in Merida living the expat life in the Yucatan

From Merida, Chelem is around a 45-minute drive. The airport is small similar to a regional Canadian airport and easy to navigate and many of the staff speak English which can be very helpful. Taking the bus from Cancun is longer (about 4 hours) but they have great new buses and an express run that only costs around $60 Canadian.

Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan Mexico gulfside

A taxi ride from the airport to Chelem is around $800 pesos or you can grab a shuttle from a local expat that costs around the same and if you want they will drop by a Walmart so you can pick up some groceries.

Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan Mexico gulfside
Beer on the beach

Progreso, Chelem, Chuburna, Chixculub and other small villages along the coast are by no means rich and loaded.  You will see abject poverty, garbage on the roads, rundown houses and shacks and lots of street dogs.  But don’t let that break you down, and understand that many Mexicans live in poverty and the minimum wage is dismal at around a few dollars a day.  

As an ex-pat living in the Yucatan, you can do what you can to help but you can’t fix it but it is getting much better.  What constantly amazes me is the spirit, kindness and generosity of the Mexican people.  We were very lucky in the Yucatan to live in the safest area in Mexico and in order to preserve that safety, you will see a big police and army presence.

10 tips for living in the Yucatan

  1. Dealing with the bugs in Mexico: yes there are a lot of them but they can easily be taken care of by spraying your house (remove any pets first) and taking preventative steps before they get into the house.  Bugs does not include geckos and lizards you need those creatures because they eat the bugs.  Mosquito season you will need, screens, nets and any kind of spray you prefer to use.  Deet is the one sure method, but it is considered by some to be toxic so you can try natural methods that all over the net.  This is Godzilla our local iguana, you can hear the lizards chittering as it gets dark and they are superb mosquito and bug catchers.  Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan Mexico gulfside
  1. Booze, yep it is really cheap here and full litre bottles.  Alan just bought a bottle of Jameson’s Whiskey for $260 pesos or $20 Canadian (usually around $60 at home)  and a Bacardi Anejo Rum for $8 Canadian.  A can of Guinness is around $2 and of course, the well-reputed Cerveza costs around a $1 a can if that. Naturally, you are going to want to stock up on tequila so you can make some delicious Mexican Margaritas at home.
  2. Tipping always an interesting exercise.  Here you are expected to tip the folks who bag your groceries, for students around 5 pesos and if it is an older person 10 pesos is good.  When you get your groceries to the parking lot there will be an older gentleman there who will assist you in reversing and that tip is worth 5 pesos.  For restaurants, 5-15% is the expected tip.  Us gringos tend to tip more because we don’t pay attention to the amount of change we have.
  3. Change; that is another sticky area, you don’t want to appear to be hyper-vigilant and expecting to get ripped off but you need to watch your change closely and make sure you get the right amount.  This won’t tend to happen at the bigger stores and obviously paying by credit card it happens somewhat less.
  4. Keep an eye on the gas pump as well, and make sure it is zeroed before your gas is pumped.  A good idea is to present the gas pump person with the amount you want putting in the tank.  Better to not ask them to fill it up and use cash not credit cards.  But even with keeping an eye on things please don’t be obnoxious about it and tip that guy who not only washes your car windows but buff them front and back at least 10 pesos.
  5. No you can’t drink the tap water here, you must use bottled water.  You can wash your dishes with the tap water, take a shower or brush your teeth (just don’t swallow).  There are many freshwater wells and some houses have 2 to 3 wells, water is cheap from the well there is no city charge but your drinking water will cost around 15 pesos for a 20-litre jug, not a bad investment really.
  6. Toilet paper, no you can’t flush TP which is absolutely horrifying to most ex-pats who are used to extensive sewer systems and hotels where you can flush the tp.  The Yucatan has a very low water table so it is virtually impossible to build a proper septic system with a leach field.  Most of the older homes have concrete pipes to a concrete tank and unfortunately, all the wastewater runs into the tank.  Mexicans are the cleanest people I have ever known and they use bleach and heavy household cleaners, this, of course, kills the necessary bacteria in a cesspit and can cause plenty of problems.  There is a really good article here about the whys and wherefores of this.
  7. Collectivos: these are the small van style buses that run between villages and towns here. You can grab a collectivo just by flagging it down.  Here in Chelem, there is a “main” bus station where you can catch one. With the Collectivo you jump on board, grab a seat and hang on.  When your stop is upcoming simply stand and tell the driver you want to get off.  You pay the driver when you get off the bus, not getting on the bus and the average cost is around 9 pesos.
  8. Taxis here are incredibly reasonable.  From Merida airport to Chelem you should not pay more than 400 pesos.  From Progreso to Chelem the cost should be around 90 pesos.  Always ask the driver how much before you get in the cab and don’t believe them if they tell you it is extra for air conditioning.  

10. Shopping: from food to real estate it helps to know all the tips from those who live there. In addition, some food hacks as you get accustomed to Mexican products and the differences in basic items between North American or European and Mexican brands.

Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan Mexico gulfside

Eggs – Don’t be surprised when you see most Mexican eggs are not refrigerated, they are not treated as they are in Canada and the US and retain the natural protective coating. If you buy your eggs from the fridge keep in the fridge out of fridge keep out of the fridge

Butter – Mexican butter is not like North American or European it has a distinctive odour and taste that most non-Mexicans do not like.  Lurpak which is Danish and Challenge which is from the USA is available in the better grocery stores and Kirkland unsalted is available at Costco.  Some say that Mexican unsalted (sin salt) butter is better and many recommend the LaLa brand.

Deli meats and hot dogs; Deli meats are a rare find here; some are available at the better grocery stores but there is no such thing as an Italian Deli.  Hot Dogs avoid FUD products and pick up your hot dogs at Costco if you really need a fix or check out Anita the Sausage Lady who makes hot dogs and sausages from scratch.

Shopping for fresh bread or pan here is slightly different than at home, in the store you grab a big flat metal tray and a pair of tongs and load up your tray with your choices before taking it to the desk to get a price sticker on it.  Much of the bread here is sweet meaning loaded with sugar (Pan Dulce) which is probably why the butter is sin salt.

The packaged bread is also quite sweet and can be a bit off-putting in a ham sandwich.  Bimbo is the bread of choice here for plain white bread, but Bimbo owns Wonderbread and for Canadians, it tends to be a bit sweeter than our own bread.  There are several choices in whole wheat and whole grains and they actually taste pretty good I am guessing much less sugar.

Oaxacan cheese is very similar to Mozzarella and Manchego is similar to Cheddar but not quite the same.  Again most ex-pats go shopping at Costco and buy a large block of cheddar and freeze it along with their Kirkland butter.

Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan Mexico gulfside

In many neighbourhoods the daily bread, water garafons, fish, tortillas, and tamales are delivered by a variety of individuals on bikes and motos, the Propane Gas Truck passes through and you can always recognize it with its high tone girl voice recording singing “Flete, flete el gas!”.  If you need your garbage picked up in Progreso you will pay around 15 pesos to have all the bags collected by private pick up.  In Chelem and Chuburna the garbage is picked up twice a week, supposedly but as many complain sometimes it only happens once a week sometimes once a month.

Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan Mexico gulfside

Food and supply tips for living in the Yucatan

Merida Food Hunt FB page an amazing resource for all those questions about where to get spices, herbs, meats and various other items.

Eterno Kombucha:  Rae Ann does fantastic quiches, kombuchas and a variety of pickles and fermented veggies

Merida Epicure FB page anything to do with food you will find here, from restaurant reviews to cooking classes

Natural Thangs Farmer’s Market:  takes place every Monday morning, except during the off seasons which is generally from the end of May until September

Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan Mexico gulfside

Muelle Market:  Chixulub

Slow Food Market Yucatan:  Saturdays in Merida from 9 to 1 and Weds from 6 to 9.

Thai Bistro:  We finally have authentic Thai take out at the beach, place your order online via Facebook and then arrange a pick-up time.  Great fresh food.

Anita – The Sausage Lady:  Currently Anita is building a new shop and preparation spot at the Beach and her products will be available at the local markets Natural Thangs, Muelle and the Gypsy Market.  Sometimes you can drop by her house and pick up as well.  Anita makes fantastic Italian sausage, bratwurst, salami and much more.

Eeka Boo’s Gourmet Eatery  –  a classically trained chef from FL, moved to Progreso, Erica does private parties, meal planning and prep, baking, wine dinners, catering & cooking classes.

Virginia Jans: Menu includes: Chicken Pot Pie, Sheperd’s Pie, Greek Meat Pie, Lasagna, Meatballs, Mac n Cheese, plus Cinnamon Buns, 3 different cookies and Fudge Brownies!

Rancho Haltun Xiki is a working farm located in Yucatan, Mexico. They provide organic produce and meat products. lamb; mutton; turkey; chicken; duck; duck eggs; chicken eggs

Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan Mexico gulfside

It’s not easy living in the Yucatan if you don’t like heat and humidity but it can be an amazing place to retire to if you have Aircon.


  • Faith was born in Ireland raised in Canada and has lived in over 10 countries in Europe including England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Northern Ireland, Wales, along with Mexico, Antigua, the US and has slow travelled to over 40 countries around the world. Graduating with a degree in Anthropology and Women's Studies Faith is a student of history, culture, community and food and has written about these topics for over 40 years.

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28 thoughts on “Top 10 tips for living in the Yucatan Mexico gulfside”

  1. Im a single 51 year old African American who is retired veteran. Where will be a great place to live Yucatan. I would like to be close to a grocery store to purchase food. Thanks

    1. Hi Eddie, I would suggest Progreso it may not be the prettiest town ever in Mexico but there is a solid expat groups there that ranges in age with most being from the US and Canada. There is a great men’s organization there that meets up every month and gets involved in a lot of different activities. There are grocery stores there and its easy to get a taxi from say Bodega where most folks shop and the taxi is cheap. Plus there are stores and the mercado in centro and lot of restaurants and bars. Faces for example does some great live music in season from jazz to great blues and rock music played mainly by local expats. The beach is very nice as well with lots to do. If you want a little more quiet Chelem or Chuburna but you will need a car to get to the bank and stores. Running a car is cheap though the insurance costs around 300 US a month although they can be expensive to buy as used cars don’t lose their value like in the US. Join Yucatan Beach Friends on facebook that’s where everyone hangs out and they are real friendly and very helpful with information.

        1. I have to admit that it all depends on your definition of “pretty”. Most of the coastal areas are small villages and not necessarily pretty in traditional terms. Chelem and Chuburna are nice but not so much pretty. However, there are a lot of ex-pats and some great places to eat and socialize but you have to remember they are very small fishing villages and so the folks who are locals are for the most part much poorer than the transplanted ex-pats. Telchac and Uaymitun have beautiful gulf views and lovely beaches but no real pretty towns or villages along that upper side of the coast.

  2. Hello, we are a family of 5 who is seriously considering a complete change in pace in life, My husband will continue to work in Canada and commute on days off, and the kids and I will stay in Mexico. We are looking at the Progreso area as a place to call home for at min 6-12 months. of course it is all in the thought stage but any extra information, other blogs to follow, anywhere i can get information on the schools in the area ( i have one going into Grade 10 and one going into Grade 7) Also my oldest is now graduated and will be coming with us, for part or the whole time, is there opportunity for him to work locally ( I know it wont pay much he just needs something to do) We would be looking at the smaller towns or just the outskirts of Progeso as we prefer slower paced life. Any extra info you have would be great, and thanks for all you have provided.

    1. Hi Taunia – I would strongly suggest joining the FB group Yucatan Beach Friends. The majority of the folks on their are expats from Canada and the US and they now live in Progreso, Chelem and Chuburna. I personally know of at least 6 or more families with children aged from around 6 up to teenagers although I have to say there were not a lot of teenagers around. Progreso is an easy place to live, there are schools in the town for all ages including secondary and if you don’t have a vehicle it is pretty easy to get around with local buses and walking.

      Personally I would suggest Chelem or Chuburna near the beach – if you rent second or third row back from the beach you will find it a much cheaper rent and just as easy to get to the beach. Chuburna has an area called gringo Gulch which is a high populations of expats and they are all pretty friendly. Chelem and Chuburna basically sit side by side and many can’t tell where one stops and the other begins. They are both very laid back places with lots of expats. Jill who runs the Bullpen has two boys my guess is they are between 10 and 15, she moved to Chelem from the US around 6 years ago and has lots of experience with the school systems and knows pretty much everybody. Most of the little restaurants in Chelem are run by expats from Canada and the US. I have posts here about both locations.

      However I will say if you rent at the beach (Chelem or Chuburna) you will need a car to get into Merida and Progreso for supplies, school and shopping things like that. Cars are expensive as they retain their value but insurance compared to Canada is laughably cheap, as in we insured our car for around $250 Canadian a year fully comp and with rescue service…lol…Fixing a car is just as cheap a whole new paint job for example will cost around $300 Canadian, we had a tie rod replaced for around $150 bucks when in Canada it was well over $1500. Check out my articles on both Chelem and Chuburna to see I keep them updated and you will see a few names there plus the best place to meet people is the Farmer’s Market and the Gypsy Market held in Chuburna they have sort of rolled them both together now.

      I am not sure about jobs for the older boy as both Chelem and Chuburna are pretty poor and have no real work available. He may find a little job in one of the restaurants but it is highly unlikely. The rule is always hire Mexicans first which is understandable. Spanish would also need to be spoken as well.

      Hope that helps a little but trust me Yucatan Beach Friends is amazing and they are so supportive you can also check out they are based in Merida but have some great local info and all in English.

      good luck and have fun – Faith

    1. Apologies for the mix up it was $300 per year, it pretty much astonished me as a Canadian since we paid that a month in Canada.

  3. Looking to retire in less than a year. Have talked with several Mexican friends and they all talk glowingly about Yucatan. We will be living in a (approx. 60′) boat which will be our only home. This will allow us to travel to the U.S. easily. Do you have any info regarding Marinas or public boat areas in the general Merida area we might find attractive?
    Also, what is required to establish residency in the Merida area?

    I have enjoyed reading the information you have provided. Thank you.


    1. Hi Don, There are a lot of sailboats in the Gulf Coast, Merida is around an hour sometimes less from the coast so my guess is the closest actual marina would be the Yucalpetén Marina. You can find more information on it here this is a pretty nice marina quite large and has some good hotels and amenities nearby. I think you would need a car though as getting to a grocery store from here would be a chore. I did write a piece on how to get your mexican residencea you will find that here I would suggest you go on Facebook and find the group Yucatan Beach Friends and join it. This is a great knowledgeable group for the area from Sisal down to Chuburna and the folks are incredibly helpful. There will probably be some boaters on there who can help as well.

  4. We were in Chelem in October this year (2019) and our realtor said that not flushing the toilet paper is not so true anymore. It’s for the very old houses.

    1. Yes I know many of the newer houses that you didn’t have to do this with, however, since most beach houses are not new I don’t know a single property on the area that didn’t have this as a rule. Probably more precautionary than necessary but since 3 out of the 4 houses we rented didn’t know where the septic system was I am guessing they had this as a general rule.

  5. Linda Vermeulen

    My husband and I have travelled many times through out the Yucatan and have been seriously thinking of retiring there in the near future. We have thought of the north Merida area, Progresso, Chelem but also Izamal. We loved Izamal but can’t seem to find any expat blogs on living there…do you have any insight into living in Izamal? Also what is it like to move there with a dog? Are there decent vet services around? Thank you.

    1. I personally don’t know of anyone living in Izamal but I have a few ideas you can check out. Look for these groups on Facebook – Expats in the Yucatan, Yucatan Living which is a Facebook group but also a magazine as well and Ex-pats in the Yucatan. These groups once you join are very friendly and you can ask questions there to find out more information. You can also try Yucatan beach friends a Facebook group as well it covers the beaches up and down the Yucatan from North Merida to Chuburna and I am sure if anyone knows about Izamal they will be in that group. I do know there are plenty of great vets in the area as we used to do spay/neuter clinics around Merida and Izamal and the whole area has some amazing vets. Hope that helps a little.

    2. Hello, Linda! Surprising to see someone else from Gimli here. I am doing some research and have had my eye on the Yucatan for several years. y friend here has a itme share in Chelem so I’m pumping her for info. Other friends go to Progreso every year except this year of course. Maybe we’ll meet up there sometime. You can check my fb page if you like.

  6. Amanda Lopez-Hernande

    Hello, What area in Yucatan would you suggest for a young married couple? My fiancé and I are thinking of living in Mexico for about a year after we get married. We don’t need to be on the beach, but we would love to be close enough to go whenever we want. Where can we have access to some fun and safe night life as well? We are also looking for a good community of young couples and/or families that we can be a part of. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    1. Personally, for affordability and safety, I would highly recommend Merida. Close enough to the beach but with a very active cultural city. You can enjoy music, dance, theatre, ballet, opera and so much more and it’s very affordable. There is a great artistic vibe in Merida so you will see lots of art studios and creatives living here. Merida is one of the safest cities in Mexico and it is very affordable for renting and just living. You have the best of all worlds here from any of the great box stores like Costco, fast food places and real authentic Mexican dining from Michelin starred to street food. Transportation is easy with local buses and taxi’s, there is tons of free entertainment and if you love a bike ride they close down the Paseo (the main street) for bikers, walkers, and roller skating on Sundays – it’s the day every family comes out to enjoy just hanging out. Check out my friend Cassie’s website Mexico Cassie, she moved her family from the UK to Merida and has tons of information on her site about everything from cenotes to visit too where to get great food and what to do in Merida.

      1. Rosalind Kincaid

        Hi Faith, I just retired and am considering relocating from the WDC area in the US, to the Merida area. I’m wondering if there are many older expats living in the area and if so which neighborhoods are best for someone looking to establish new friend circles. Where am I more likely to meet more mature expats. Do you know of any Facebook/blog groups I could join for resources and advice? Will greatly appreciate any information you can give me. Thanks!

        1. Hi Rosalind, there are loads of retired expats living in Merida and the beach areas of Chelem, Chuburna and so on. One of the best FB groups is which is English speaking expats and Snowbirds in Merida – a really helpful group There are also the following groups you can take a look at these all deal with Merida and the beaches areas Once you join a few you will see lots more groups, there’s almost a group for everyone and everything in the area. These groups are brilliant for meeting folks and getting to know the various areas to live, how to renovate or buy property and lots of spin-off groups that meet monthly or weekly. There are quite a few women’s groups that meet for support and lunch as well that post on these FB groups and there are lots of single ladies who live in the area because it is just so safe so you will have a great retirement if you choose the area – just be aware that it is hot LOL and I mean hot as in average temperatures of 30+ and very high humidity.

  7. How strict are they when trying to move my household goods into Mexico when I retire there? I read things had to be itemized with model and serial numbers ..lotta work .. everyone says to sell everything.. not always that easy ..

  8. Hi, please let me know about the crime rates in Chelem and the surrounding areas, if I purchased a home there for vacationing are there management and security services that would ensure my appliances, furniture, and other valuables would be there when I came down to vacation? Would it be safe if my wife and kids wanted to vacation there? Any information would be appreciated. Thanks

    1. Yes you will find plenty of management services in Chelem and the surrounding area. The crime in the area is that of poverty and as such leads to break-ins of property and theft of valuables however the crime is non-violent. Extremely rarely does anyone get hurt and I don’t remember a case where it has ever happened. It is the safest place in Mexico to vacation and I can assure you that your wife and kids will be safe and have plenty of friends to hang out with when they vacation. I would recommend joining some Facebook groups to virtually meet folks before you get there, or rent a property for a while and see what you think yourself. I highly recommend joining some Facebook groups that are specific to the area. For example this one is for future ex-pats wanting to come to Progreso This is for Americans in Progreso further down the beach you can find Chelem and Chuburna and here is a group for that you will find a wealth of information from the folks that post in these groups and they are super friendly and helpful.

  9. John Behrendt

    Hello my name is John and I would like to know how long does it take to get a permanent or temporary visa ? My wife and I will be moving from Canada. Thank you

    1. Hi John, currently with the world situation visas can take a lot longer than usual given that many of the consulates are closed. It used to take a few months to obtain a Visa once you had all your paperwork together – but now from what I understand it may take 6 months or longer.

  10. Thank you for this article. I’m curious If you can direct me to any informational resources on the following places: Chiapias, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero and Oaxaca. I’m especially interested in the state of Oaxaca and will be visiting as soon as I get my visa.

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