Thursday, July 18, 2024

Expat guide to living in Puerto Vallarta

I can tell you the minute I knew I wanted to live in Puerto Vallarta. It was Dec. 17, 2013. It was my first time visiting and I had spent a whirlwind four days in town. On my final morning, I took a swim in the Bay of Banderas. It was 7 a.m. — the city was still sleeping. It was just me, the cool sunlight reflecting off the bay, and mist rising over the lush jungle peaks. I said to myself, “I will live here one day.” Five years later, that dream came true and I have never looked back.

So now that you’ve decided to relocate to Mexico, and chosen Puerto Vallarta as your next home base, let me offer a heartfelt congratulations! Trust me, I get it. The decision to go expat is a big one. But rest assured, this charming Pacific coastal city is one of the most convenient places and enjoyable places in Mexico for expat life.

Puerto Vallarta has become an extremely easy and convenient place for expats to settle down. (Doug Golden/Unsplash)

Not only is Puerto Vallarta safe for expats, it’s one of the most vibrant and culturally diverse cities in Mexico. Overlooking the Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta is a buzzing resort town that combines a massive international presence with centuries of traditional roots. Expats here will find their neighbors are a wonderful mix of locals, tourists, and other expats who all mingle together in a cohesive, multicultural community. In fact, that’s my favorite thing about Puerto Vallarta. Our friends are not only from the U.S. and Canada, but all over Mexico and other parts of the world, as well.

As the city has grown and expanded over the years, it has become an extremely easy and convenient place for ex-pats to settle down, packed with essentials like grocery stores, hospitals, public transportation, and banks, and amenities like Uber, bars, restaurants, beautiful beaches, and mountains. 

Cost of living in Puerto Vallarta

The cost of living for expats in Puerto Vallarta greatly depends on what kind of lifestyle you want to have. You can find an affordable year-long rental for less than 17,000 pesos per month (US $990) or splurge on luxury condos that can cost upwards of 60,000 pesos (US $3,500) per month. For ex-pats who want to purchase property, condos start at around US $100,000 but can go as high as US $1 million and beyond. It all depends on what creature comforts you want or need to live happily in paradise. Do you want a clifftop infinity plunge pool overlooking the bay? Or maybe all you need is a strong A/C, Wi-Fi, and a short walk to the beach. The good news for expats in Puerto Vallarta is that you have options.

Where do most expats live in Puerto Vallarta?

This is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct vibe.

Marina Vallarta is one of the most expensive neighborhoods to live in, with beautiful bay views and access to upscale facilities like gourmet supermarkets, restaurants, and luxury shopping. This is also where the cruise ships dock so it can be very busy here during the season.

Versalles has been a rising star recently as more and more condos spring up along its cobblestone streets. The quiet, residential neighborhood has seen an infusion of fantastic restaurants and bars lately, as well as a growing community of expats and young locals. It’s also close to big supermarkets like Costco and La Comer. While my husband and I were renovating our condo in the Santa Maria neighborhood, we always chose to rent in Versalles and if we were to move, this would be the neighborhood we would choose.

5 de Diciembre is the beginning of downtown Puerto Vallarta. This beachfront neighborhood is quieter than the neighborhoods downtown, yet is still within walking distance of all the action of Zona Romántica. The perks of 5 de Diciembre include plenty of apartment options, restaurants, coffee shops, one of the best beaches in Puerto Vallarta, and a grocery store.

Puerto Vallarta Centro is the best option to live in. You can find restaurants, bars, beach parties, and nightlife. (Alonso Reyes/Unsplash)

The next neighborhood down is Centro, where the world-famous Malecón begins. Centro is a busy neighborhood with lots of tourist-heavy restaurants and bars. It can get loud here at night, but it’s one of the best neighborhoods in Puerto Vallarta if you want to be close to everything.

Crossing the small bridge over the Rio Cuale from Centro will put you in the Zona Romántica, the historic heart of Puerto Vallarta. The oldest and most beautiful part of the city, Zona Romántica is also the most active when it comes to restaurants, bars, beach parties, and nightlife. 

How to find an apartment in Puerto Vallarta

If you already know where you want to live in Puerto Vallarta, finding an apartment is the next step. Facebook can be one of the biggest resources when it comes to finding an apartment in Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Vallarta also has a wide variety of living setups, from studios to one-bedroom condos, to full homes with gardens and pools. 

You can also use a traditional realtor in Puerto Vallarta, many of which speak English like Vistalegre, Vallarta Paradise or Golden Rentals

Ex-pats can also find long-term rentals on Airbnb. These apartments or homes are fully furnished and often heavy on luxury amenities. You will pay more of a premium for these rentals, especially taking into consideration the Airbnb fees and cleaning fees. However, Airbnb rentals tend to be contentious in many destinations in Mexico because of the effect it has on the local housing market. It is one of the least socially responsible ways to find a rental, but it is an option.

Getting around Puerto Vallarta

Most neighborhoods are walkable, but Puerto Vallarta is a big city, and getting around requires some form of transportation. The public bus system is efficient and cheap costing only 10 pesos for local travel. Buses operate from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. on most routes. 

Taxis and Ubers are also abundant in Puerto Vallarta, as well. Taxis operate on a price-per-zone rate, while Ubers are priced by distance. As in many places, Uber is typically much cheaper. I don’t have a car in Puerto Vallarta and get by just fine on foot or with Uber.

You do not need a car in Puerto Vallarta, but should you want to buy a car, there are plenty of dealerships. The caveat is that to legally purchase a car you need to be a legal resident of Mexico with a CURP number (similar to a social security number) and an RFC number (tax identification number).

Buying groceries in Puerto Vallarta

As a major destination, Puerto Vallarta has a Costco, Walmart, and Sam’s Club, as well as major Mexican grocery store chains like La Comer, Mega, and Chedraui. For those wanting a more local angle to their purchases, the Olas Altas Farmers Market runs every Saturday at Lazaro Cardenas Park in the Zona Romantica.

Living in Puerto Vallarta essentials

Electricity: Power in Mexico is provided by the state-run firm CFE. The most popular way to pay your CFE bill is at a CFE branch. There are three in Puerto Vallarta. You can also pay through a Mexican bank or at a partner establishment, like Oxxo, Walmart, Chedraui, Ley, or the Xoom app. CFE also has a mobile app and an online payment portal, but these tend to be the most stress-inducing ways to pay because they often don’t work. 

Internet: Wi-Fi is fast and consistent in Puerto Vallarta. Most people get their internet through Izzi, which can be easily paid for via the Izzi app, through partner establishments, or Xoom.

Language: These days it’s more common than ever to hear English in Puerto Vallarta. That certainly helps makes things easier as you’re relocating down here, but it might be a good idea to try to learn some Spanish either before you get down here or while you’re living here. Being able to communicate in a country’s native language adds so much depth to any expat experience. Speaking Spanish in Mexico will open so many doors when it comes to building friendships with neighbors, conducting business, running errands, and so much more. Part of the reason you wanted to live in Mexico was to be immersed in its culture, right? Language is one of the best ways to do that.

Food delivery: Uber Eats and Rappi are the two main delivery app services used in Puerto Vallarta.

Enjoy living as an expat in Puerto Vallarta

I’ve seen Puerto Vallarta change and reinvent itself so much over the past decade. No longer the sleepy beach town it once was, it has evolved and transformed into a thriving, 24/7 multicultural community. And yet, it still clings to its traditional Mexican roots, with local markets, traditional celebrations, and plenty of off-the-tourist-trail beaches, communities, and villages to explore. I can’t imagine living anywhere else in Mexico and I hope you love living here, too. See you at the beach. 

Meagan Drillinger is a New York native who has spent the past 15 years traveling around and writing about Mexico. While she’s on the road for assignments most of the time, Puerto Vallarta is her home base. Follow her travels on Instagram at @drillinjourneys or through her blog at


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