By KELIN DILLON
While Mexico City (CDMX) and the nearby Mexican cities of Cuernavaca and San Miguel de Allende have long been known for their flourishing expat communities, economic hardships brought forth by the covid-19 pandemic has prompted a new influx of foreigners into the Mexico City metropolitan area who look to match their high-income remote jobs with Mexico’s low cost of living – all while gentrifying areas and pricing locals out of their longtime areas of residence along the way.
Though Mexico City already boasted a large population of digital nomads – that is, freelancer workers with the opportunity to work from their computer anywhere in the world – the pandemic’s workplace evolution from expected in-person office time to completely remote working standards has allowed these types of individuals to pack up and move their lives to places like Mexico, where their income stretches much farther.
Mexico’s lax visa restrictions have only amplified the issue, as U.S. citizens can enter the country for up to six months at a time as a tourist without needing to acquire an official visa from the government or declare their income.
Though this trend has been portrayed in the media as being specifically American in nature, especially when considering that the Mexico City time zone is the same as U.S. Central Time and therefore easily adaptable to U.S. work schedules, Mexico City has similarly become a hotspot from foreigners hailing from Europe and across Latin America.
“Mexico City is experiencing a boom because it’s been on the map as a good option to live; foreigners are coming, mainly from the United States, but there are also a lot of Europeans,” said owner of Mexico City coworking space Haab Alejandro Ickowicz. “The barriers have finally been removed and the time zone is the same, so CDMX becomes an option for remote work for American companies.”
Nearly 20 million foreigners entered Mexico in 2021, up 34 percent from 2020 – though it must be noted that international travel was at an all time low in 2020 due to the ongoing pandemic and its subsequent travel restrictions – while approved applications for permanent residency similarly increased by 45 percent year-over-year.
Colombia and Venezuela in particular doubled their amount of permanent residents in 2021, rising by 54.9 percent and 61 percent, respectively, when compared to 2019.
As a result, demands for properties have increased all across Mexico City, especially in trendy neighborhoods like La Condesa and La Roma. Here, a spacious apartment that would cost up to $4,000 per month in U.S. cities like New York and San Francisco can be rented at a fraction of the cost in Mexico for around $1,500 on average.
Many landlords have decided to evict their long-term tenants in favor of renovating their buildings to attract this foreign and comparatively wealthy clientele, pushing out local Mexicans from the place they call home and expediting the areas’ continued gentrification.
“The rents here are cheaper and that is why foreigners have decided to come to this area, which also offers endless pet-friendly spaces and a wide gastronomic and cultural offer,” said vice president of Lamudi Marketing Daniel Narváez. “However, this phenomenon has been alienating the local population and increasing costs, which also affects the floating population, that is, those who work in businesses or in companies established in the area.”
One such instance involves the Ortiz family, who had owned and operated their restaurant the Tortería Colima in La Roma for more than 54 years before being unceremoniously kicked out by their landlord with little warning this past February.
“They arrived and told us we had five minutes to get everything out,” said Sandra Ortiz. “It’s difficult because a lot of these foreigners come, and they have a bunch of money to be able to spend on these apartments and rents.”
According to Bloomberg Businessweek Mexico, the increase in rental prices and gentrification are the main effects of the influx of foreigners, and while the high income nomads may be injecting cash into the Mexican economy, most of the money ends up in the hands of the few at the top rather than among the population foreigners presence has affected the most.
“If there is no policy of mobilization, of added value, of capturing the increase in property values by the city, there is no way to recover the income generated by the city itself,” said urban development specialist Rosalba González Loyde.
Another qualm against the growing foreign population is its lack of willingness to assimilate and learn Spanish, with many reported instances of foreigners instead having the entitled expectation for Mexican workers to understand and respond to their requests in English – despite consciously choosing to live in a Spanish-speaking country.