Living on Cozumel Island
Cozumel is a fascinating and colorful place to live. Never a dull moment! Always something funny or interesting or lively going on thanks to the mix of Mayan and Mexican cultures with a toss in of some Cubano and other Caribbean cultural influences.
And of course, the seemingly endless stream of happy tourists having the time of their life and creating a party atmosphere every where you look adds to the joyous atmosphere. It’s invigorating living in a place where so many people are smiling!
The locals — both Mexican nationals and ex-pats like us that choose to call Cozumel home are typically friendly, open-hearted and quick to jump in and help if they see a need.
If you are looking for a charming, safe and relatively affordable place to relocate or live part-time, you should definitely take a good look at this sweet little island.
We’ve lived full-time on the island for several years. If you’re reading this page, you probably already know what a great place Cozumel is for a vacation. Here’s our take on what it’s like to live here full or part-time.
Cozumel possibly holds the record for one of the safest places to live in North, South or Central America. News in the local rags here is filled with tales of moped accidents, true. But there are seldom reports of violent crimes and these are typically crimes of passion.
Why is Cozumel so safe? It’s an island. The only way to get away is by boat or plane. And the only way to GET there is by boat or plane. This means that the opportunistic young thugs that take the bus from other parts of Mexico to prey on tourists and home owners on the nearby mainland coast seldom make it over to the island. The ferry ride is expensive. And then how do they make their get-away.
There is also a huge navy presence here and they have been known to step in as needed when needed.
Taxi drivers, believe it or not, are a major crime deterrent. There are hundreds of taxis roaming the city and the island round the clock. They see everything that’s going on and they report it to the police and then join in the chase and capture. It’s not good for business so they pitch right in and are a real force for keeping the island safe.
This is not to say the island is crime free. House robberies are a fact of life for those that don’t spend some time paying attention to home security. There is the occasional purse snatching–always big news in the local papers when it happens.
But, in summary, you might lose your TV or computer if you forget to lock your front door or leave the bathroom window open Or a thief might take a camera if you leave it in plain sight on the back seat of your unlocked car. But you’re not going to get murdered in your sleep or caught in the crossfire in a police shoot out. In some other parts of Mexico this is a real possibility. On Cozumel? Not likely!
Cost of living on Cozumel is not as low as it would be if you settled in a small back water Mexican town or far inland from resort areas. However, you can buy homes here that are spacious and literally built like rocks for literally a fraction of what it would cost for a comparable in a US resort town.
Food prices are similar to what you’d find in a grocery store in a smaller US city. Restaurants prices range from delicious lunches in small Mom and Pop places as low as $7 to high end pricing with entrees in the $12 to $25 range.
You save big time on all labor costs here, however, and the standard of service is typically very high. Plumbers and electricians, gardeners, maids, garage mechanics, painters and the list goes on–the prices they charge will quickly spoil you. To give you one example, our full-time Mayan housekeeper is paid the US equivalent of about $150 per week for a 6 day work week and she is extremely happy with that wage!
Property taxes are very low by US standards. Figure $750/year or less even for a very large home.
A big expense to factor in if you decide to move here full or part time is electricity. You can keep the bills down by finding a home that already has good cross ventilation and orientation. But most folks who haven’t lived a long time in the tropics will be uncomfortable without AC in the bedroom at night during the warmer 6 months of the year. Figure $100-$200/month or so to keep your bedroom chilly. More if you find you need it during the day and/or throughout the house.
These writers have lived on Cozumel long enough to appreciate all the amenities we have now — but didn’t used to. High speed internet is readily available. Cable TV now features a sizeable number of English language channels. And with the internet you can even stream Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and the like.
There are several small English lending libraries. But with a Nexus or Kindle Fire you can purchase and download internationally from Amazon and have a whole world of books at your disposal.
There are now enough Big Box stores to satisfy “first world country” tastes–3 enormous groceries, a Sam’s Club, two large Coppel department stores. And a ferry ride across the channel takes you to a Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and a Costco.
This writer’s favorite of the amenities — riding up the moving sidewalk into the huge, modern Mega grocery and checking out the wave action in the Yucatan channel on the way up. We’re also big fans of the wonderful Cineapolis movieplex which has comfortable seating, AC, huge screens and surround sound. All for the equivalent of about $5 US. And they get virtually all the first run features at the same time or earlier than they play in the US.
Cozumel has a dandy little international airport with daily non-stop flights to and from Houston, Dallas, Charlotte and Miami. And during high season even more non-stop flights (Minneapolis for example). There are even more non-stops out of nearby Cancun. If you want to use the Cancun option, locals typically hop the inexpensive Maya Air puddle jumper from the Cozumel airport to the Cancun airport.
Locals and savvy vacationers typically opt to fly directly into Cozumel. It’s a small airport but with all the modern amenities. And lines are never as long as they are in Cancun. Plus the location of the airport is such that you’re a 5 to 10 minute ride from anywhere in downtown San Miguel or the Northern Hotel Zone!
Good medical care is available from several locations on the island including the Clinca San Miguel and the CMC. For maintenance care and general practice — from cuts and broken bones to stabilization after a heart attack — Cozumel gets high marks.
Doctors and nurses are never in a hurry. They are very compassionate and caring. And then have all the modern medications and techniques. Prices are lower than in the US and many US an Canadian insurance companies will now cover care here.
For complicated or specialized surgery most locals make the short air trips to either Cancun (20 minutes by plane) or Merida (60 minutes by plane) where world-class doctors and facilities are available to effectively treat anything you can name and at relative bargain prices. In fact Merida, the capital city of the Yucatan has become a mecca for world-wide medical tourism and many of the doctors at places like Star Medica trained at prestigious institutions in the US.
It also bears mentioning that most prescription drugs are available in Cozumel’s farmacias and the majority do not require a prescription! For example , we regularly pick up tubes of the Retina-A cream, Renova, for a quarter of the price what we would pay for same in the US and no prescription required.
Dental work is a real bargain on Cozumel. There are a number of excellent dentists charging half or less than what you would pay outside the country for something like a crown or a root canal.
Spanish is spoken here, of course, and some Mayan as well. But because of the large and active tourist industry, many, many locals also speak English. For some it’s limited English. But there are lawyers, doctors, etc. who are completely fluent. We have ex-pat friends who have lived here longer than we have and speak probably 15 words of Spanish and know 5 or 6 basic phrases. They own homes, deal with local tradesmen, stores, repair people and do just fine.
That said, if you want to get the most out of living here, it’s a good idea to try to pick up some Spanish. You can do it as you go along — you’ll get plenty of chance to practice. We highly recommend this online Spanish learning tool.
The food scene here deserves its own couple of paragraphs. In our opinion, it’s one of the top pluses of living here. If you like to eat out there are a lot of restaurants to choose from in every price range. From high-style SF priced dining (entrees topping out at around $30) to cheap little joints serving wonderful fried shrimp tacos this place is a bargain for great eats.
Of particular note in the Cheap Way to Get a Delicious, Generous Meal are the Mom and Pop lunch places known as loncherias. Here the “comida corrida” lunch on the run is served up from noon until around 3 PM or until they run out. For around $7 US, typically, you’ll get a soup of the day and a soup starter course followed by a home cooked entre with rice steamed vegetable and plenty of, hot tortillas.
If you’re cooking in, there is a vast array of fresh healthy ingredients from which to choose. Great, inexpensive fruits and vegetables are available year round. Citrus, melons, broccoli and cauliflower, papayas, mangos, avocados and the list goes on. It’s a real cornucopia for the vegetarian palate here.
Super fresh fish, of course, available at all the big markets and also at several fish mongers around town. TIP: For the freshest fish going, show up at the Puerto Abrigo marina around noon and pick up left over catches from the day’s sports fishing tours. Fresh as it gets and cheap!
Wonderful pork, razor thin sliced chicken pork and beef (milanesa) since labor is so cheap. Excellent bakery items and bread. Several brands of New Zealand butter. (We don’t recommend Mexican manufactured butter — strange taste.) Great cheese and wide variety here.
Only 3 food items we miss: fresh whole milk (prepare to make due with vacuum packed), tender, melt in your mouth, steaks for the BBQ and frozen prepared food.
In the alcohol department, wine is expensive and the selection of moderately priced good stuff quite small. Good bourbon and scotch is available but expensive. Tequila on the other hand is a half to a quarter US prices and there is amazing variety. Also lots of delicious Mexican beers, of course!
A Rich, Evolving Culture
Cozumel is an island where old world Mexican and Mayan culture is still alive and well. If you are a Type A personality and decide to move here, get ready to slow down and learn patience. Or better yet take a deep breath when a workman still hasn’t arrived two hours after his promised appointment or immigration tells you you will need yet another 5 copies of your last utility bill before you can upgrade your visa.
Instead, take a look at the world around you. Slow down, smile and enjoy. There is never much excuse needed for a celebration. Every Sunday evening in the waterfront plaza. Families come out to socialize and people watch. There are children everywhere.
Holidays like Independence Day and the Festival at Cedral are richly and enthusiastically celebrated with fire works, parades, and, in one case, even a wild horse race. There are fishing tournaments and air shows. And Day of the Dead has Cozumelenos sweeping out their family’s crypts and refreshing them with newly cut flowers and touching mementos.
The company that sponsors Iron Man tried out the island a couple of years back. They found city officials and local Mexican and ex-pat volunteers so helpful and accommodating — and the crowds that stayed to cheer on every last contender so gracious and enthusiastic–that it’s now become a regular island event. Athletes flock to Cozumel each November to participate and then stay to mingle with the people and enjoy the balmy beautiful tropics.
Christmas time consumes nearly a month with even government offices shutting down for several weeks. Parties, dinners, children singing carols in the street, light twinkling everywhere in downtown San Miguel.
And let’s not forget the most beloved event of the year–Carnival, a week of incredibly lively and completely memorable fun — dancing, music, free flowing cerveza, 3 parades, streets full of dance troops strutting their stuff. Wild, crazy SAFE fun that the entire island joins in on. And in typical Cozumelenos fashion they have managed to extend the event for nearly 6 weeks before the actual ‘mardi gras’ with various rev it up events.
The Natural World
If you love being outdoors enjoying nature, Cozumel is a wonderful place to be. We are gardeners and take great pleasure in how many plants thrive here. And it continues to boggle our minds just how fast the ones that are best suited to this environment grow! Simply amazing.
If you are a gardener but have never tried it in the tropics, you’re in for an interesting and rewarding time should you decide to move here.
Wildlife abounds. Iguanas are everywhere and fascinating to watch. Swallows and bats swoop through the skies at sunset dodging and diving for insects. There are coatamundis possums, crocodiles and the list goes on.
And, of course, the gorgeous turquoise ocean is always with us. Whether you dive, snorkel or just like to stare at it, it’s going to make you feel great. The colors are breath-taking and it’s warm enough to swim in year round!
We saved the best for last. In our long years of experience, the vast majority of locals here–Mexicans and Mayans–are kind, sweet-natured and down to earth. They smile a lot, too, always looking for a joke or a funny occurrence they can retell later for added fun.
If you live here, you will be interacting with these good folks daily — in the stores, restaurants, garages etc. And folks spend a lot of time outside here, too. So it’s great people watching and easy to meet your neighbors.
The ex-pats who move here are an adventurous lot for the most part, lively, interesting people who have learned to think outside the box and thrive on new challenges like living in Mexico and learning enough Spanish to get by. Check out our Facebook group to meet some of them.