Derrick Morgan moved to Mexico during the pandemic after a solo trip.
“I fell in love with the culture, the people, just everything about the city,” the 31-year-old attorney and self-described "digital nomad" said.
The warm weather and relaxed Covid restrictions played a part in his decision to spend more time there after he first visited at the end of 2019. He now lives and works in Mexico City during the fall and the winter — he calls himself a "snowbird" — and he stays in short-term rental properties. The most enticing factor? It's less expensive to live there than when he's at his Chicago condominium.
“I was living in an apartment that was just as nice as my condo but for a third of the price. You can’t really beat that,” Morgan said, noting Mexico’s cost of living in general was almost half of what it is stateside.
Mexico City has seen an influx of people migrating to the historic metropolis, especially during the pandemic when remote work made it possible to work from different places. Currently, 1.6 million Americans live in Mexico, according to the State Department, and Mexico City is the fifth rated destination for digital nomads globally, according to nomadlist.com.
While foreigners have reaped the benefits of cheaper housing as they spend money on the local economy, some critics say it’s created more inequality for local Mexicans who are feeling priced out.
The influx of expats with high purchasing power has led to viral videos of local residents condemning them for higher living costs and gentrification in the capital city.
Martin Naranjo, a Mexico City resident, drew attention to this issue in a TikTok video, decrying that locally owned taco stands and bodegas are turning into yoga studios and cafes in certain areas. He spoke about people having to go further away from the city to find affordable rent, food and entertainment as prices climbed in recent years.
He cited signs with crude language that have been posted in Mexico City neighborhoods addressing foreigners who are "new to the area" or working remotely. As he noted, the signs have gone viral on social media.
Morgan said he had seen these signs posted weekly in areas where he's lived, though his experiences have been largely welcoming.
Some locals believe there is little correlation between the rise in prices and the influx of Americans, with some saying the effects of having more foreigners are generally positive.
Hector Romero, a partner at Peter & Romero, a real estate company based in Mexico City, has seen the surge in foreigners looking to live in the capital since the pandemic, with young professionals at the forefront of the movement.
The areas are seeing an economic boost, he said, since new arrivals have high disposable income.
He emphasized Mexico City isn’t cheap, but in comparison to other countries digital nomads are migrating from, it’s considerably more affordable.
“If you’re making your salary in U.S. dollars, pounds, Canadian dollars, you’re better off living in Mexico City.” Romero said.
As for rental prices, they had been increasing before foreigners flocked to the city, he said.
“I think it is a false dichotomy, saying 'I can’t rent now because there are more foreigners,'” Romero said. He believes that the backlash toward newcomers is based on alarmism from locals who are seeing their increased visibility.
“It’s more related to income than it is related to nationality,” he said. He believes those areas with higher numbers of digital nomads are already economically out of reach for most of the locals.
But not everyone agrees with this assessment.
Jesús González, 40, works in marketing. He’s been living in La Condesa for 16 years and working in Roma, both considered higher-end neighborhoods.
“I know there has been a great migration of people who have left and foreigners come and take their place,” he said. “I know many neighbors who do not live in the area anymore due to the rent rising ... I know people who had mortgages but they had to sell them, they could not keep paying.”
Because of the rising prices and the pandemic, some locals have left Mexico City for nearby alternatives such as Cuernavaca or Puebla, where there are larger properties at steeper discounts.
According to González, foreigners have been buying properties, and not just in higher-end areas.
“In my experience, it has nothing to do with social status. (Foreigners) buy anything from penthouses to small apartments ... They’re interested in the glamor of buying apartments in these historic areas," he said.
Mexico City's government: Yes to more 'nomads'
Last month, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced the city signed an agreement with Airbnb to increase the number of digital nomads coming to live and work there, a partnership that has the backing of UNESCO.
At a press conference, she said the city hasn't seen a link between more Airbnb rentals and higher rent prices, adding most digital nomads choose to stay in the expensive neighborhoods, such as Condesa, Roma and Polanco, which already had high rents.
Sheinbaum said her administration was aware of concerns and will continue to monitor the situation.
One of the most popular ways foreigners are generating income in the city is by purchasing properties and renting them out as Airbnbs.
“For me, it’s now cheaper to live in an Airbnb than to rent,” said González, who believes expats have a chokehold on the cost of living in the area.
González feels the effects aren’t limited to the housing market. He notes that in addition to residential properties, newcomers are now operating commercial businesses that have also been prosperous.
The wave of new arrivals has increased commerce, spurred new businesses and higher pay for some locals. But, he added, in the process of gentrification, some gain and others lose.
“I say we should view the influx of foreigners from two perspectives: It benefits a lot — full restaurants, high commerce, cafés. That’s a positive development," González said. “On the other hand, the formula is simple: The economic power is totally different from the local people, so they come and take over.”