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Mexico City: More and more Americans are crowding out the locals


Mexico City is one of the most popular places in the world for expats, especially young Americans flee high rents in their homeland - the borders are open in this direction. The locals are angry.

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Photographer Isabelle Joy Abbitt sits on her patio in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City

Photo: Marian Carrasquero / DER SPIEGEL

Isabelle Joy Abbitt opens her door, perfect

made up, in a bright red knit suit and copper-colored vintage high heels.

In June 2020, the American drove from Los Angeles to Mexico City in her Toyota, 15 days road trip, her move.

"It was just the right moment," she says, "I wasn't tied down and didn't feel like going into lockdown anymore." She explains that she was fed up with life in California, it was always about "losing weight and pumping it up," the tension of people got on my nerves, having to work.

»The atmosphere here is simply more relaxed and creative.«

Abbitt, 27, is a photographer, actress and model.

She now earns her money with commercials for American companies that shoot in Mexico. Yesterday she was at the casting for Dr.


Everything is so commercial in LA, you need a budget for every idea.

»Here I can just go around with friends, have fun and make films.«

Mexico City is the new place of longing for young people from all over the world, especially Americans.

In addition to the 1.6 million Americans officially residing in Mexico

live, tens of thousands have come to the capital with a tourist visa in recent years.

The weather is pleasant, the flat white with almond milk is already available everywhere in the hip districts, but the rents are still manageable, provided you are not paid in pesos.

In New York these days are long gone, in Berlin too.

It's Mexico City hour.

Dreams can still be fulfilled here: set up a gallery, buy an apartment, live for the day.

Abbitt has created her own little world, renting a two-bedroom apartment in popular Roma.

She furnished everything with vintage furniture from the 1970s.

Pin-up girls and Frida Kahlo are glued to her fridge.

The apartment costs 500 euros a month, and she paid the rent for a year in advance.

"I hate roommates," she says.

Here she can afford to be alone.

Abbitt has to leave the country every six months to renew her visa.

Her plan: "I want to stay forever."

Mexico City now occupies third place on the list of »most liveable cities for expats worldwide« – only Dubai and Valencia in Spain are more popular.

Immigrants sit in front of their MacBooks in the cafés in the Roma and Condesa districts, and English is spoken.

Only the waitresses and the careful ones in mistress hoodie come from Mexico

Coated hairless dogs of the Xoloitzcuintle breed, or Xolo for short.

Claudia Sheinbaum, the left-leaning mayor of Mexico City, has declared the influx a program and wants to make her government area the "capital for creative tourism."

To this end, it is even cooperating with the real estate portal Airbnb as part of a campaign.

The demand for short-term rentals has increased rapidly in 2022.

It's always the same cycle of gentrification: after the artists come the traders and brokers.


Locals have to go.

Jorge Rosano, 38, photo artist, has to move out of his apartment in Roma in March after twelve years.

"The front building is already fully let to foreigners," he explains, "they pay up to twice as much." A veritable gold rush broke out among landlords.

“Basically, my friends are all affected by repression.”

Angry residents accuse Mayor Sheinbaum of promoting a kind of “modern colonialism”.

They fear that prices will continue to rise and lament entire neighborhoods turning into expat bubbles.

In Condesa, you can easily spend $12 on a sandwich.

"Gringo go home" is written - in English and Coca-Cola letters - on graffiti on lampposts.

Anyone who earns in dollars increases their purchasing power immensely by moving to Mexico.

The newcomers, who work from home for US companies or produce digital content for customers around the world, earn many times as much as the locals.

On a Wednesday morning, Isai Flores, 32, is waiting in front of the Four Points by Sheraton hotel.

Although he drives many foreigners through the area, his daily rate is just $35.

He dreams of Las Vegas, where he once worked illegally in construction – for $400 a day.

"Only Latinos were on the construction site, no one else wants to do the job," he says.

That's why he doesn't quite understand why they don't want him across the border.

He hopes for another chance to come to the USA.

"It's so simple for them and so complicated for us," he says, adding forgivingly: "It's not their fault.

That's the system.'

In contrast to Mexicans in the USA, Americans in Mexico City do not call themselves migrants, but »expats« or »digital nomads«.

You don't have to cross a dangerous desert to get to the neighboring country or spend years collecting paperwork only to be turned away after all.

Instead, they seem to live in a world of open borders - preferential treatment starts right at the airport: At passport control, a soldier from the National Guard sorts people with European or US documents out of the long queue and takes them to another counter where it is faster .

While immigrants rave about the great "welcome culture," many Mexicans complain about "malinchismo," the tendency to favor foreigners over their own compatriots.

The term leads straight back to the colonial past: La Malinche, an indigenous woman born in 1500, was the slave and mistress of the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortéz.

She translated and negotiated for him - and ultimately helped to conquer the Aztec Empire.

Around 500 years later, Magdalena Jensen, 36, is sitting at Café Quentin in Mexico City's hip Roma district.

She was not fleeing gang violence, natural disasters or political persecution, but the British 'nanny state'.

The American lived in London for a long time, shortly before the lockdown she fled.

"I don't need anyone to tell me what I should or shouldn't do." Freedom is the most important thing for her.

"Mexico seems to be the only major economic power in the world that still prioritizes the value of freedom," she explains.

In London, Jensen worked in the music industry, everything was hectic and stressful.

Now she is the CEO of a consulting company she founded herself that offers online coaching and mediation.

Your "work-life balance" is much better here - but so is the medical care if you pay privately.

In addition, the country is hostile to families;

she is planning a baby.

And she feels safer on the subway than in New York.

"Of course," she says, "a lot of crazy things happen in this part of the world." But she likes adventures.

Even a little bit of corruption is somehow part of it for Jensen, it makes everyday life easier.

The smugglers who bring migrants from Latin America across the US border are called “coyotes”.

It costs up to $20,000 per person, depending on whether you're willing to haul a backpack full of drugs - and still often ends in deportation or worse.

The Americans in Mexico City also work with so-called coyotes.

In this case, they are lawyers with particularly good connections to the Ministry of Migration.

For a paltry 800 dollars, the way to the residence permit can be accelerated.

Jensen also owns one, she does not want to go into detail about the circumstances.

Of course she is aware of her privileges.

However, she believes that in the medium term too

the standards and wages of the local people

would rise.

Mexico City is just in a jerky transition phase.

"But it's completely normal for many people from all over the world to live in a large metropolis."

On a Wednesday evening in January, around 15 young people stand in a whitewashed room with high ceilings and abstract paintings depicting tropical rainforests hanging on the wall.

The round of introductions begins: A Mexican skateboard influencer is there, a banker from Hong Kong, a real estate portal manager from Boston, Ross from Seattle is a business broker, Conor from California is a digital marketing specialist, Kathleen,

originally from Russia, wellness coach and developer of a cocoa drink with power mushrooms.

At Art/Works, a hybrid of gallery and co-working space, a weekly pass costs $60, making it unaffordable for many locals.

"Nevertheless, we try to create an inclusive space," says studio manager Anna Laura Hafner.

For example, they offer free art workshops or networking meetings where Mexicans are also welcome.

In the basement of Art/Works, Hafner, 35, is painting yellow stars on a leather jacket for a vintage collection she plans to sell.

The pictures of the rainforest on the upper floor are also hers.

They were created after a trip to Costa Rica to "improve her mental health and break fixed thought patterns."

The costume designer is from Woodstock, New York.

As more and more wealthy New Yorkers moved to the Catskills, accelerated by the pandemic, she could no longer afford anything there.

“You have to make at least $100,000 a year now,” she says, knowing full well that she is now helping to gentrify another city.

She is dating a Mexican artist with whom she now lives part-time in her apartment.

Meanwhile, they rent out his studio for around three times the rent

on Airbnb.

"I'm a victim and a perpetrator at the same time."

Hafner misses the forest in her home country.

She would also like to introduce her boyfriend to her parents.

But that's difficult.

He would need a tourist visa for the United States.

This contribution is part of the Global Society project

Expand areaWhat is the Global Society project?

Under the title »Global Society«, reporters from

Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe

report on injustices in a globalized world, socio-political challenges and sustainable development.

The reports, analyses, photo series, videos and podcasts appear in a separate section in the foreign section of SPIEGEL.

The project is long-term and is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

A detailed FAQ with questions and answers about the project can be found here.

AreaWhat does the funding look like in concrete terms?open

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has been supporting the project since 2019 for an initial period of three years with a total of around 2.3 million euros - around 760,000 euros per year.

In 2021, the project was extended by almost three and a half years until spring 2025 under the same conditions.

AreaIs the journalistic content independent of the foundation?open


The editorial content is created without the influence of the Gates Foundation.

AreaDo other media also have similar projects?open


Major European media outlets such as The Guardian and El País have set up similar sections on their news sites with Global Development and Planeta Futuro, respectively, with the support of the Gates Foundation.

Did SPIEGEL already have similar projects? open

In recent years, DER SPIEGEL has already implemented two projects with the European Journalism Center (EJC) and the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: the "Expedition ÜberMorgen" on global sustainability goals and the journalistic refugee project "The New Arrivals", within the framework of which several award-winning multimedia reports on the topics of migration and flight have been created.

Expand areaWhere can I find all publications on the Global Society?

The pieces can be found at SPIEGEL on the Global Society topic page.

Source: spiegel

All news articles on 2023-02-05

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