All roads lead to Oaxaca: the new digital nomad hub in Mexico
Hi Gary, thanks a lot for reaching out!
You are right – I have not written a lot about Oaxaca City because I am currently updating all posts in this blog to be fit for 2021 travels! It’s been really painful to update them all but I’ll work on the content soon!
Anyway, as you know, this blog thrives on reader questions so I don’t want to keep you hanging. I invited Ian Ord, a full-time digital nomad, owner of a successful coworking space in Oaxaca, and he’s also a very good friend of mine.
In this Oaxaca digital nomad post, Ian will share with you all the hacks on how to be a DN in this Mexican City. He has years of experience living there so he is the right person to ask about all these! I will share my personal experience about being a DN in Oaxaca but for now, let’s get the facts from Ian!
Safe travels and let us know if you have any questions! Now I leave the floor to Ian.
Oaxaca Digital Nomad: personal experience
Oaxaca is has been growing as a base for digital nomads for the past few years, and as it continues to grow, it keeps getting better equipped for remote workers. For those interested in culture and food, nature and history, local and ex-pat communities, the cost of living and the feeling of being at home, Oaxaca is an excellent choice for digital nomads!
Oaxaca has a number of co-working spaces scattered around both the historic centre as well as more residential areas. This gives you a lot of freedom in choosing where you want to live while being close to your chosen ‘office’. Most of the foreign amenities, such as grocery stores, movie theatres, Sam’s Club, Walmart, etc are found outside of the historic centre, which could also be a consideration of where you choose to live.
The historic centre is teeming with markets, restaurants, bars, hotels, museums, art galleries and parks, which makes it very liveable if you want to be in the heart of the action. You’ll never have to walk more than a few blocks to find an ATM, laundromat, or simply somewhere to kick back and relax.
Oaxaca is a very safe and welcoming city. It’s not to say it’s not without petty crime, such as occasional pickpockets in a busy market if you aren’t being mindful, though crime is something very few people would ever experience while visiting Oaxaca. Solo female travellers, LGBTQ, people of colour, and everyone in between are able to enjoy the incredible hospitality of the locals without judgement or fear.
Oaxaca is a huge producer of coffee beans, amongst many other specialities, which means there is an abundance of coffee shops on nearly every corner. Wi-Fi definitely varies from place to place, though if you’re just looking for a good cup of Joe in a beautiful setting, few cities will compete with the coffee scene here, keeping you well-fuelled for your online work!
There are many little pockets of remote workers living around Oaxaca City. The most popular choices are in the neighbourhoods Xochimilco and Jatalaco, due to their proximity to the historic centre, and the beautiful architecture and painted houses. They are also amongst the more expensive neighbourhoods, alongside living in the historic centre itself, with 1 bedroom apartments averaging 6,000 to 12,000 pesos/month (between $300-600 USD). Going to some other neighbourhoods, such as La Noria or La Reforma, you are still very close to the centre, though rent could be as low as 4000-6000 pesos/month ($200-300 USD), and still have just as easy access (if not easier) to many amenities.
Wi-Fi can be hit or miss around the city, both in cafes, as well as your apartment. If you plan to work from home, you may want to do a test on the Wi-Fi before signing a lease, or discuss with your landlord if it’s possible to pay for an upgraded account (they are often reluctant, however). Sometimes high speed isn’t available in that neighbourhood either. The fastest guaranteed WiFi is at a select few co-working spaces (not all of them), which will be covered later in the Co-Working section.
Overall, Oaxaca has an amazing scene and is very easy to fall in love with. I came here with the intention of staying for only a month – and that was in October 2016. I’m still here, and still just as much in love with it as the day I arrived.
The digital nomad scene in Oaxaca
Oaxaca has a unique Digital Nomad scene. Where there are some cities, such as Chiang Mai, Medallin, or Playa Del Carmen, which happen to attract more travel bloggers, and many who are just passing through – Oaxaca’s digital nomad scene is much more the online artists, graphic designers, and web developers (though still has it’s share of travel bloggers passing through). Most, however, come to stay long term. As such, the community is tightly knit – though not hard to break into. There is also an older retiree expat community here as well, but most are pretty care-free, into the art’s scene, and like to indulge in a couple of few mezcals.
The easiest way to meet other Digital Nomads is through co-working spaces which thrive on the community vibe, such as Convivio. There are also dozens of Expat Facebook groups, but get a good mix of really cool, and grumpy trolls. Don’t take it to heart though – most are really good people and cool in person, but perhaps have grown tired of telling people not to go to Starbucks while here, and to support local businesses instead. The local coffee is a bazillion times better anyway. 😉
Oaxaca Internet speed for digital nomads
Oaxaca’s WiFi is a bit slower than most Digital Nomad hubs. Fiber connections are fairly new here (installations starting around 2017), but they haven’t covered the whole city yet. If you need lightning speed internet, or work on huge video files, etc., Convivio is the only place in the city to offer 200+ MBs, due to the high end equipment they use, though you will likely find the 30-40 MBs average around the city sufficient for most work.
SIM cards are very easy to get! There are a few choices which have decent coverage, though TelCel is definitely the most widely used. They even have some pay and go options called Amigos Sin Limites (friends without limits), which offer unlimited social media use on top of the data you buy. Just look for a big blue and white TelCel sign, and you can be in and out with your new Sim and data in 10 minutes. Just be aware of how long the top up you’re buying is valid (I buy 3GBs of data, with unlimited social media, for 200 pesos ($10USD), and it’s valid for 30 days).
Cost of living in Oaxaca City
Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in all of Mexico, and as such is amongst the least expensive (keep that in mind when tipping or bartering… a little extra goes a long way – 10% is the norm).
If you’re on a shoestring, you could probably get by for $600USD/month, with basic all-inclusive accommodations, buying produce in the markets, and eating occasional street food. If you want a little more comfort and entertainment, plan on spending up to $1000 USD/month, all-in. There are options to suit almost all budgets here.
Getting around town is pretty easy. Almost everything is within a 20-40 minute walk (and often closer). There are a bounty of taxis, which have set rates based on what zones you’re travelling between (no meters, it’s 50 pesos within the same zone, or 70 pesos if travelling to the next zone). There are buses for the more daring, at only 8 pesos each ride, but are a bit difficult and intimidating to figure out, as there are no bus route maps. Uber doesn’t exist here, but Didi does. It’s like uber, but works exclusively with taxis, and often has better rates than the taxis. Download DiDi here for 30 pesos off your first ride!
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Finding a place to live in Oaxaca is easiest on foot, looking for Renta signs in the window, but if you want to have a few places to look at before you arrive, this is the best Facebook group to watch. Just keep in mind, if a place seems too good to be true, people will pounce on it as soon as it’s posted. Well valued listings usually only last a day, max, so be sure to turn on your notifications so that you can respond to those postings as soon as they’re listed.
Oaxaca is known as the gastronomical capital of all of Mexico, with some of the best and most diverse food to try! You can easily find street tacos for 10 pesos each ($0.50), and a Torta for 20-30 pesos – but if you want to try it all (and I’m sure you will), you’ll be looking at an average of 80-160 pesos for most sit-down meals ($4-8 USD). I personally love cooking, and so I buy from local farmers’ markets several times per week, usually leaving with a huge reusable shopping bag full of produce for about 100 pesos ($5USD).
Mexico Visa for digital nomads
If you weren’t already considering Oaxaca, Mexico as your next base, you might be starting to now. Mexico is one of the most appealing countries to DNs because almost everyone gets a free 6-month (180 days) FMM tourist visa on arrival (make sure to check the visa requirements of your nationality prior to arrival – some countries DO need to apply in advance at a local embassy or consulate). If you want to stay for more than 6 months, you can also apply for a Mexico digital nomad visa.
After your FMM runs out, you’ll have to leave the country and return 3 days later for a new 6-month FMM. If you go over your visa, you’ll need to pay a $25-35 fine at the airport before you can board your flight. It is never recommended to overstay your visas, however, as this could prevent you from re-entry in the future.
SEE ALSO: COUNTRIES WITH DIGITAL NOMAD VISAS 2021
North Americans who know they want to stay in Mexico for long term can then apply for a Temporary Residency Visa. You’ll need to return to your home country for the interview at the Mexican consulate, as well as proving a minimum income from abroad of at least $1500 USD/mo, and $30,000 USD in savings. Once you have this, you are ‘basically’ a citizen (not quite, though you can live here legally without leaving).
As temporary residence visas are a little bit of a process, some just leave to a neighboring country like Guatemala, Belize, or the U.S., and then return to Mexico. Just be advised, even if you stay a minimum of 3 days out of the country, Mexico hold’s no obligation for you to re-enter if they feel you are abusing the system.
Oaxaca City cafes with strong wifi
In general, Oaxaca cafes have ok WiFi. They weren’t all made with the Starbucks ‘stay all day’ philosophy for online working, however, so many just have the basic plans for checking your email or messages. The better the coffee – the less likely they have great WiFi (which kinda makes sense). All places listed below have some combo of strong WiFi, comfortable seating, good coffee/food. You may click on each of the cafes below for directions.
Café Brújula (Calle Macedonia Alcala)
This is actually a local chain of coffee shops, each with its own character and vibe, though the most popular is the one located directly across from Santo Domingo church – the most iconic colonial church in the city. If you’re lucky, you may even get a window seat to work from with a gorgeous view of the church. The wifi and coffee are both decent, but wifi speeds certainly slow down when the place is packed (which is often). My fave coffee here is the Frappuccino.
Mondo Cafe (Calle Reforma)
This place has some of the best coffee in the city, and some amazing baked goods too! The staff are super friendly, and the WiFi is decent too. It’s pretty small though, with only 3 tables, so you’ll want to get in early for a seat, or may need to wait a bit if it’s already full. They also have buy 10 get 1 free coffee stamp cards (and after you have one, you’ll likely fill the card)! I usually like to ask if they have any special new coffees in that week.
A.M. Siempre Cafe (Xochimilco)
This is a long time favourite. It used to be the only coffee shop in the neighbourhood, though now the street is lined with them. The inside is a decent size, yet cozy, and decorated by some antique style furniture. The food is great, as is the coffee, and the WiFi is decent too. I’m a sucker for their cappuccinos and lattes.
Newbie Cafeteria (Jatalaco)
This is probably one of the most hipster vibe cafes in the city, with lots of outdoor seating, in a pathway covered in graffiti. Though the internet and coffee aren’t quite as good or fast as the other spots, if you want some nice outdoor space to work in, this place certainly has it for the character. The owner is especially nice and hospitable too.
Co-working spaces in Oaxaca City
Oaxaca has a growing Co-Working space scene, though as you likely already know, not all co-working spaces are created equally (or at least with the same goals for the digital nomad in mind).
Convivo (Calle Murgia)
Without a doubt, Convivio is known as one of the best coworking spaces in Oaxaca. Not only was it the ‘first’ true co-working space, but it has also maintained its status due to having the strongest Wi-Fi (200 MBs+), cleanliness, and amenities galore! Enjoy live music and DJ’s on weekends, become part of the growing community of Digital Nomads that base out of here, and dine on what they locally coined “Oaxasian” food – popular Asian dishes which have been delicately balanced with local flavors (the Ramen with barbacoa, and Bao buns with carnitas are my all-time faves)! Free mezcal and coffee/tea for monthly memberships are a nice touch too.
Day passes cost about $10, and monthly passes are about $90 USD.
Work Coffee Inc (La Reforma)
In the La Reforma neighbourhood, this little spot has made a name for itself for many of the locals who work remotely. Not only does it have a common work area, and some great coffee (for purchase), there are also some private offices and a board room which you can rent. The WiFi is still pretty fast, at 50-100 MB/s, sliding options.
Shared office day passes cost about $7, and monthly passes are about $60.
Selina (Calle Murgia)
Being the biggest chain co-working space in Oaxaca is worth noting that there is a Selina here. That being said, it is likely better known as a hostel and rooftop bar. Though the co-working space is nicely laid out, the internet speeds have been clocked as slow as 85 KBs!! My grandma’s toaster has faster internet. I’m not sure if this was a temporary issue, though I’ve had many friends stay there who complained of the same issue. It’s still a nice, central location – and a short walk to Convivio if you are staying there, but need to work.
Shared office day passes cost about $10, and monthly passes are about $100.
Accommodations in Oaxaca for digital nomads
Fortunately, accommodations in Oaxaca City are really affordable. These are the cheapest Airbnbs in Oaxaca with a good wifi connection. Most of these accommodations don’t have fiber-optic but since Oaxaca City has good infrastructure, even the cheapest Internet plan works well.