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An Expat’s Guide to Relocating to San Miguel de Allende

An Expat's Guide to Relocating to San Miguel de Allende

Expats in San Miguel de Allende enjoy a relaxed lifestyle amidst breathtaking scenery, historic landmarks, and stunning architecture. If you’re looking for a globally renowned destination with old world charm and modern amenities, this colonial-era city should be on your list.


For seasoned travelers and cultural pilgrims, San Miguel de Allende needs no introduction. Condé Nast Traveler named it “The World’s Best Small City”, not once, but five times between 2017 and 2022 for its boutique hotels, farm-to-table restaurants, and timeless architecture. CNN Traveler also named it “The Friendliest City in the World” in 2022 for its open and welcoming attitude to foreigners.

Its public squares, cobblestone streets, and stucco houses with brightly painted doors and pink sandstone facades evoke the warmth and splendor of Southern Europe. The Mexican government declared the city a national monument in 1926. El Jardín—the town square—and the surrounding blocks of the historic center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 due to its cultural and architectural significance.

For expats in San Miguel de Allende, the city is ideal because of its pleasant climate and affordability. It has a thriving arts scene with colorful festivals and cultural events such as the Candelaria Festival, Day of the Dead, and Festival de San Miguel. The city also offers an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, art galleries, and services.


Nestled in the central highlands of Mexico, near the rugged terrain of the Sierra de Guanajuato Mountain Range, the city is surrounded by gorgeous countryside with rolling hills, lush vineyards, hot springs, and haciendas. The warm summers and cool winters are perfect for those who enjoy a variety of outdoor activities like hiking and mountain biking.

Located in the state of Guanajuato, approximately 200 miles northwest of Mexico City, this Spanish Colonial village—considered the cradle of Independence—boasts spectacular views of nearby mountains and valleys. The city is situated in the Bajio region of Mexico—the geographic heart of the country—which harbors many historic towns and cities, including Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, and Queretaro.


The city proper of San Miguel de Allende is home to about 100,000 residents while the larger municipality has a population of about 175,000. Although there is no official registry for expats in San Miguel de Allende, the Financial Times estimates that foreigners make up nearly 15% of the population, although city records indicate that permits to purchase homes by foreigners have been issued to about 23,000 individuals.

San Miguel de Allende has a diverse and active expat community that provides support to newly arrived foreigners. There are social groups and organizations that host parties, cultural exchange programs, and volunteer opportunities.

The city attracts young professionals, business owners, and retirees from the United States, Canada, and Europe who love its cultural offerings, reliable internet connections, and quality healthcare. In recent years, San Miguel de Allende has also seen an influx of middle and upper-class Mexican families—especially from Mexico City and Queretaro—that are drawn to its accessibility, safety, and heritage.


Expats in San Miguel de Allende are known for their linguistic diversity. Although Spanish is the official language of Mexico, English is widely spoken among tourists and the large expat community. Some countryside resident locals also speak Nahuatl, Otomí, and other indigenous languages. In most instances, expats will be able to communicate effectively in English. However, learning a few basic phrases in Spanish—assisted by the dozens of local Spanish language schools—can help them connect with the city’s cultural heritage.

Time zone

Like many places in Mexico, San Miguel de Allende follows the Central Time Zone (UTC-6). In general, the city is one hour ahead of Pacific Time, two hours ahead of Mountain Time, and one hour behind Eastern Time in the U.S. However, it’s worth noting that as of 2023 Mexico does not observe Daylight Saving Time (DST) at the same time as the U.S., putting it equal to Mountain Time about half the year.

How to get around

San Miguel de Allende doesn’t have a subway or light rail system but it has a safe and local bus system with affordable fares and routes throughout the city and the surrounding areas. There are also many taxis—their fixed fares are about $3 USD throughout the city—and companies like Uber serving the city. Bike rentals and horse-drawn carriages offer a more leisurely alternative to the buses and cabs.

Walking is also a convenient way of exploring the city, which has narrow and pedestrian-friendly streets. Comfortable shoes are a must for expats in San Miguel de Allende – the city’s cobblestone streets are difficult to walk in heels.

Both Leon (BJX) and the Queretaro Intercontinental Airport (QRO) are about equidistant from the city—roughly a 75-minute drive—with each airport served by several domestic and international airlines with direct flights to several cities in Mexico and many U.S. destinations, including Chicago, Dallas, and Houston.


San Miguel de Allende compares to a compact, dense European village, highly walkable with narrow, pedestrian-friendly streets. The vast majority of its shops, restaurants, markets, and cultural attractions are located within its historic center, generally within a 20-minute walking radius from the town square. However, some areas in the city have uneven terrain and steep hills that can be challenging for expats with limited mobility.

What to expect

Like many Mexican cities, San Miguel de Allende retains a bit of the siesta culture, or the traditional practice of taking a midday break between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. It’s not uncommon for some businesses—those unrelated to tourism—to close for a few hours during siesta time, but that practice has generally faded away as the city has become such an active-all-day tourist destination.

Further, government offices follow regular business hours and typically don’t close during this period, although some may have reduced staff or slower service as employees go on break. It’s best to call ahead before visiting any government agencies, like the American consulate.


Why Expats love san miguel de allende


Founded in 1542, San Miguel de Allende was the first stop on the Camino Real’s silver trade route from nearby Guanajuato and one of the first cities to be liberated from Spanish colonial rule in 1821. It gets its name from Fray Juan de San Miguel and Mexican Independence war hero Ignacio Allende. The arrival of Chicago native and World War II veteran Stirling Dickinson in 1937 paved the way for the city’s present incarnation as an expat destination for art lovers and would-be artists.

Dickinson co-founded the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes with Peruvian artist Felipe Cossío del Pomar several months after setting foot in the city and invited former U.S. soldiers to attend Bellas Artes on the G.I. Bill of Rights. The city welcomed hundreds of visiting painters and sculptors following World War II, many of whom established local art studios and galleries.


The Spanish left an indelible mark on San Miguel de Allende, bringing religious art and Baroque—especially Mexican Churrigueresque—Rococo, and Neoclassical architecture to the ornate churches and huge cathedrals that dominate the cityscape. San Miguel de Allende hosts 28 cathedral-sized churches and other prominent structures including:

  • Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel – This imposing Neo-Gothic church was built in the 17th century and stands in the center of the city.
  • Templo de San Francisco – Built in the 18th century, this church and former hospice features the city’s best Churrigueresque-style architecture with a Neoclassical interior, religious paintings depicting St. Francis of Assisi, and sculptures of Don Quixote.

Outdoor attractions

  • Jardín Botánico El Charco del Ingenio is an 88-hectare botanical garden located about a mile northeast of the city center. It features a vast collection of cacti, succulents, and various native plant species. Guests can join birdwatching and walking tours along its nature trails, waterfalls, and outdoor amphitheater.
  • Rancho La Trinidad is an organic farm encompassing roughly 10 acres on the city outskirts where local restaurants get much of their fresh produce. Seasonal crops include leeks, beets, squash, and carrots.

Shopping and retail

  • Centro Comercial La Luciérnaga is a modern shopping center with over 60 retailers and restaurants located just outside the city.
  • Fábrica la Aurora is housed in a repurposed textile factory with over 40 galleries, studios, antique shops, and cafes.
  • Mercado de Artesanías is filled with stalls selling handcrafted jewelry, traditional ceramics, Oaxacan rugs, homemade sweets, medicinal herbs, and locally sourced honey.
  • Parque Benito Juarez is a public square with play areas, pathways, benches, and vendors. The splendid 19th-century government building Palacio del Ayuntamiento is located along its eastern edge.

Culture and diversity

San Miguel de Allende has a diverse population with different nationalities. American retirees, remote workers, and content creators make up a large portion of the expat community followed by Canadian retirees and snowbirds. The city is also home to expats from Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom along with Mexican residents who were born and raised in the country.

Food & dining

Over the last decade, the city has emerged as a world-class culinary scene—over 550 restaurants populate the city’s TripAdvisor list—with an array of fine dining restaurants, casual eateries, cafes, and food vendors serving authentic Mexican fare as well as international and fusion cuisine ranging from Thai to French, Lebanese to Indian, German to Peruvian. San Miguel de Allende has an amazing street food culture with food carts and stands selling tacos, quesadillas, grilled corn with cheese and chili powder, and other traditional snacks.

San Miguel de Allende and the state of Guanajuato is also known for a local delicacy called miner’s enchiladas, which are fried corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, onions, jalapeño peppers, and grilled chicken then topped with carrots, lettuce, potatoes, and guajillo chile sauce.


The city has an array of rooftop bars, nightclubs, and live music venues—the site posts them all—for expats who want to grab some drinks, experience the culture, and listen to jazz, rock, classical and traditional Mexican music. There are also several festivals and events offering drinks and live entertainment, including the San Miguel de Allende Food Festival and the San Miguel de Allende International Jazz & Blues Festival.

Art and culture

  • Museo Histórico Casa de Allende is located within the former residence of Mexican Independence hero Ignacio Allende. It features exhibits and displays that offer a glimpse into the city’s history.
  • Instituto Allende is a premier institution offering art programs, workshops, learning courses, and Spanish classes. It was incorporated into the University of Guanajuato after its founding in 1950 and hosts the San Miguel de Allende Arts (SMA) Festival.
  • Fábrica La Aurora is housed in a former textile factory that harbors pop-up shops, galleries, workshops, restaurants, and offices.
  • La Esquina Toy Museum harbors a collection of over 1,000 handcrafted toys, including dolls, trucks, trains, horses, miniature Ferris wheels, and musical instruments.
  • Biblioteca Pública harbors one of the largest bilingual collections in Mexico with more than 50,000 volumes. The library features three reading rooms, cafe, theater, and courtyard inside an 18th-century building.

Wine, beer & spirits

  • Allende Brewing Company is a brewery and taproom that produces craft beers using traditional techniques and the finest ingredients.
  • La Santísima Trinidad Tasting Room in Centro offers tasting from their Tuscan-style winery north of town, where the vineyard boasts a lakeside restaurant and hotel.
  • Cava Garambullo specializes in natural wines and eco-friendly growing and farming methods.
  • Cervecería Dos Aves is a family-owned microbrewery located known for high-quality craft beers and traditional brewing methods.
  • Dos Buhos is a wine bar, tasting room, and restaurant specializing in fine wine made with 100% grapes from the establishment’s own vineyards.
  • La Cava Restaurant & Wine Cellar offers an exclusive dining experience with access to an extensive wine list.
  • Octagono is a tasting room focusing on natural wines that are fermented and storied in clay vessels beneath the ground.
  • Vinoteca is a shop and wine bar offering craft beer, cocktails, and an assortment of Mexican and international wines in the historic center.
  • Casa Dragones Tasting Room features samples of arguably one of the best tequilas in the nation, started in San Miguel de Allende by the resident founder of MTV.


Visa requirements

Expat visa requirements may vary depending on nationality, length of their stay, and purpose of visit. Popular visa options for expats include:

  • Tourist visa (Forma Migratoria Múltiple/FMM), – Citizens of Canada, the U.S., and many European countries don’t need a special visa to enter Mexico for visits of up to 180 days, they simply receive a tourist visa upon entry to the country.
  • Temporary Resident Visa – Visitors who intend to stay for more than 180 days can apply for a Temporary Resident Visa, which is valid for up to four years and allows expats to live and work in Mexico.
  • Permanent Resident Visa – This allows expats to live and work in Mexico for an indefinite period and can be obtained after holding a Temporary Resident Visa for four years or longer.

Driving in Mexico

Driving in San Miguel de Allende and most other Mexican cities is generally safe with caution and preparation. It’s important for expats to familiarize themselves with local driving laws and customs as well as road conditions, traffic, and infrastructure.


Regardless of immigration status, foreigners can purchase and own property in San Miguel de Allende and other places outside of Mexico’s restricted zones. Once their offer on a home is accepted, international buyers must obtain a Secretaria de. Relaciones Exteriores (SRE) permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to have the deed put under their name. They can work with a real estate agent or attorney to obtain an SRE permit, which requires the buyer’s signature.


San Miguel de Allende has a pricey and sophisticated international real estate market that caters to buyers in search of permanent residences, vacation homes, and investment properties. In general, properties located closer to the city center command higher prices. Buyers will also find spacious properties on the outskirts of the city.

The homes in the historic center feature exquisite colonial-era architecture with courtyards and fountains. Some properties in and around the historic center tend to be on the smaller side though many buyers are willing to sacrifice space to live in a central and picturesque location. There are also several neighborhoods offering larger lot sizes and estate-style properties in outlying areas away from the historic center. These properties offer plenty of outdoor space with gorgeous views.

The San Miguel de Allende housing market has become more competitive over the last few years due to its increasing popularity with tourists, expats, and travel editors. Home prices have increased along with demand for housing.


  • Centro Historico
  • Guadiana
  • Guadiana (you’ve repeated this name)
  • Guadalupe
  • Juarez Park (this is not a neighborhood, delete it)
  • San Antonio
  • Ojo de Agua
  • Atascadero
  • Balcones


Whether you want to grow your real estate portfolio, find the perfect vacation home, or simply enjoy life in San Miguel de Allende as an expat, the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices team is here to help you navigate the buying or selling process in the luxury real estate market.

Top producer and licensed broker Greg Gunter—a local expat since 2009—joins Mexican real estate expert Alma Cecilia Ramirez at the only direct U.S. franchise of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in San Miguel de Allende, and the first & flagship office for the brand in the entire country of Mexico. The team provides access to exclusive listings and luxury properties in the city. They facilitate transactions with ease, offering exceptional service and genuine results.

If you’re ready to join the expat community in San Miguel de Allende, call our international toll-free number 877.217.5959 or send us an email here. You can also reach out to Greg Gunter here or Alma Cecilia Ramirez here to set up a real estate consultation.