I moved to Oaxaca City, Mexico mostly on a whim. I’d lived in Florida for 16 months (read: 15 ½ months more than I wanted to), and needed to get out.
But since I was just starting my freelance career (and life as a digital nomad) again, I needed to go somewhere with a low cost of living. I didn’t want to deplete my savings and have to take content marketing jobs I didn’t enjoy; I wanted the time to build up a steady stream of clients.
And Tyler wanted to learn Spanish. So with those two requirements — and of course, a desire for good weather! — we started looking at countries like Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.
I’d been to every one but Bolivia, and had spent a few months living and volunteering in Nicaragua.
My friend Shannon of the beautiful blog A Little Adrift had lived in Oaxaca the winter before, so it stood out to me as somewhere we should check out. It went on the list, along with Medellin, Sucre, Cuenca, and Antigua. We looked at Airbnbs in each city, and they were cheapest in Oaxaca.
When we started reading about the cuisine of the city, we were sold. If there’s one thing that convince either of us to move anywhere, it’s food.
Overview of Living and Working in Oaxaca City
It was a great choice.
Oaxaca City is fantastic; set in the mountains and filled with delicious Mexican food and fascinating native culture.
It’s super cheap (more on that below), the people are friendly, and the wifi’s pretty fast.
The city has a decent expat scene, but it’s not too digital nomad-y. People there want to engage in the culture and the community, and learn Spanish. They’re not there simply for “geo-arbitrage” purposes.
I made some lovely new friends, including Jodi of Legal Nomads, Drew, Elisa of Craft Your Content, Leah of The Sweetest Way, Kathy and Kyle of Wherever With You, and Ian and Nest of Where Sidewalks End.
With a population of 255,000, it’s a near-perfect size: big enough to have all the amenities, but not overwhelming.
Did I mention the food was unbelievable?
If you’re curious about living and working in Oaxaca as a digital nomad, here’s everything you need to know. (Plus, tips for anyone who just wants to travel there, too!)
Cost of Living in Oaxaca City
For two people — one of whom is hungry literally every two hours — we spent an average of $1,215 US per month, or $41 per day.
And that’s living a carefree lifestyle, or as Tyler says: “We spent $1,200, but that was not being careful; we were doing whatever the F we wanted.”
That included getting drinks and going to the movies once a week, going on a few overnight trips, and eating out three or four times a week. It also included doctor’s appointments, a massage, some shopping (RUGS!), and yoga. We could’ve certainly spent less if we wanted to.
On a tighter budget, I’m guessing you could easily live off $800-$1,000/month — for a couple.
Here’s a chart of how that shook out:
While we were living there, the exchange rate was about 20 pesos to one U.S. dollar. We tracked our expenses using the Trail Wallet app, which you should download if you haven’t yet! That’s also where I got these pretty charts.
Besides regular expenses like groceries, laundry, taxis, etc, we had some expenses you might not:
- Gym/Yoga: Tyler’s gym cost 350 pesos a month, and my yoga studio in Oaxaca cost 400 pesos (?) for a five-class pack.
- Movies: We loved going to the Cinepolis movie theatre here. It was pretty deluxe, and played English movies with subtitles. On a weeknight, we could get two tickets, caramel popcorn, and gummies for less than 150 pesos.
- Spanish lessons: This is the majority of the miscellaneous category, as our private lessons cost 140 pesos per hour. Our first week, we each took two hours a day, and after that one hour a day. During the second month, we went down to four times a week between us.
- Dentist and doctor’s appointments: Also included in the health category is a dentist’s appointment (700 pesos) and doctor’s appointment (800 pesos). Also a massage for 800 pesos; that counts as a health expense, right?
Our Airbnb in Oaxaca City
We stayed at a basic Airbnb that was an eight-minute walk southeast of the Zocalo (main square). Our neighborhood was a bit more local than Xochimilco and the areas just north of the Zocalo, which we liked.
It wasn’t our first choice apartment, but by the time we booked, many of the cheaper apartments were already taken. January and February are the high season in Oaxaca.
The unit was dirty when we arrived, but our host refunded us for the first two nights and had someone come and clean it on our second day.
Although it was huge, it had a kind of institutional grime to it — the walls were dirty, there were huge stains on the pillows, etc. I got used to it, but I can’t say it was my favorite rental ever. It also lacked a lot of the cooking supplies we needed.
That being said, the location was great, the view was phenomenal, and having an extra bedroom was really nice for guests.
(If you haven’t signed up for Airbnb yet, use my link — and we’ll both get a discount!)
Private Spanish Lessons in Oaxaca City
Also recommended by Shannon, we took our Spanish lessons from a teacher named Lety. She taught one-on-one lessons for 140 pesos an hour; we could meet at our house, or at a library near Santo Domingo.
She’s kind and progressive and can flex the lesson to your needs. She even offers classes over Skype. Her email address is letyg_salinas(at)yahoo(dot)com if you’d like to arrange some classes!
Volunteer Opportunities in Oaxaca City
I volunteered at Fundacion En Via, an organization that offers interest-free microloans to women in nearby communities. By request, they started giving English classes to women and children, and now they seek volunteers to teach those classes.
I taught on Mondays and Wednesdays in a community called Tlacochahuaya. I taught two one-hour classes to 6- to 8-year-olds. The kids were very cute and the other volunteers friendly.
Although the volunteer coordinators are quite supportive and there’s a curriculum to follow, first-time teachers might find it a little overwhelming.
The only thing I didn’t like? Because of the distance to the community and our use of public transportation, I was gone from my house for five hours each time — out of which only two were spent teaching.
Much of En Via’s work is funded by sustainable tourism; by tours you can take of the villages to meet the women. If you get a chance to do so while you’re in Oaxaca, I highly encourage you to take one of their tours!
Coffee Shops in Oaxaca City
Cafe Brujula: Oh boy did I love the cappuccinos here. There are two on the pedestrian street called the Alcala; I worked at the southern one, which has an outdoor patio.
La Nueva Babel: Close to my favorite bakery Boulenc, this wasn’t exactly a coffee shop. But it had wifi and lots of seating options. At night, it often has live music.
Pochote: Beautiful courtyard with a handful of organic food stalls. No wifi, so great for intense writing sessions.
San Pablo Cafe: Inside the yard for the Museo de Textiles. Good wifi and pretty setting.
Restaurants in Oaxaca City
My tamale lady: I wrote about Rosario in Roads & Kingdoms. She’s on the southwest corner of the Zocalo, next to Del Jardin.
Tastavins: My friend Jodi shared this gem with us, where you can get superb Mexican wine for 25-35 pesos per glass (and a free tapas with each one!).
Santo Sabor: A reliably good menu del dia place, where you get a soup, entree, dessert, and drink for 70 pesos.
Tacos Sierra: This amazing pastor taco place was right near our house.
Sabina Sabe: Loved this hip mezcal and tapas joint. The pequeno gigante might be one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. The food’s awesome, too.
La Michoacana: Quality helado for $1/cone. Several locations in the city.
Boulenc: This bakery is seriously unbelievable; the pain au chocolat might change your life.
There were many other delicious restaurants in the city, but most of them were shown to me by Jodi (and I don’t want to take credit!). If you’d like to get the inside scoop on all of them, sign up for her food walk.
Things to Do in Oaxaca City
Cooking Class with Que Rico es Oaxaca: Loved this Oaxacan cooking class with Alfonso and his mom! Amazing food, amazing time.
Templo Santo Domingo: I’m not big on churches, but you must go inside this one — it’s pretty stunning.
Pueblos Mancomunados: You can explore these remote villages with a hiking tour. (My friend Leah wrote a great post about our trek to the Pueblos Mancomunados.) To book, go to Expediciones Sierra Norte.
Monte Alban: Just 20 minutes from the city of Oaxaca is an ancient Zapotec city that dates back to 500 BC. Definitely worth the trip!
Hierve el Agua: You can read about my trip to the petrified waterfalls here.
Tlacolula Market: Every Sunday, a huge and colorful market occurs in this villgae. It’s an easy bus ride from Oaxaca City; you can catch the bus outside the Chedraui La Noria, or the baseball stadium north of town.
Digital Nomad Essentials in Oaxaca City
Prana Yoga: Small yoga studio on the north side of town. There isn’t a huge selection of classes, but the teachers are good and the space is nice.
Cinepolis: How we loved this movie theatre so. Super modern and cheap.
Chedraui: The biggest grocery store around. We went to the one near our house, but the one in Reforma has the biggest selection of North American products.
Central de Abastos: Supposedly the biggest market in Mexico, this place is HUGE. And it has the best prices on produce.
Thrift store on 20 de Noviembre, between Independencia and Guerrero: Featuring clothes for men and women, this place has a decent selection at bomb prices. Everything in the front room is 70 pesos; everything in the back room is 50.
Ticket Bus: Rather than schlepping all the way to the bus station, here’s where to buy long-distance bus tickets in Oaxaca.
Dentist: Dr. Cynthia Robles (51-470-46); convenient and friendly female dentist.
Gynecologist: Dr. Ayala Barahona Tzatzil (52 951 513 2600); I went here for my annual lady appointment. She was great, with modern facilities. And if you don’t speak Spanish, her English is impeccable.
Do you have any other questions about living and working as a digital nomad in Oaxaca City? Leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer!