Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - This article is based on my knowledge of Puerto Vallarta after living here for five and a half years. However, you could use these reasons just about anywhere in the world when considering relocation. One of the most frequent questions folks ask me is, "Should I rent before I buy?" My answer is always YES... and here's why:
1. Will you like living here? If you have not lived in a new place, especially overseas, for at least six months, how will you know if you want to go through the huge process of moving and living there? Rent first... it's much easier.
2. Where do you want to live? In Vallarta, you have many choices, but if you don't know the different areas of Banderas Bay, how can you make this decision? Do you want to live near the beach? In the center of town? Up where you have a view? Out in a more rural location? By renting in several of these areas over the course of a couple years (or a couple visits), you can get a very good idea where you eventually want to settle down and where you don't.
3. What part of Banderas Bay? North, South, East or West? They each have their own unique character, rentals, prices, environment, and of course neighbors. And the added challenge of transportation... by city bus, taxi, or rental car... depending on how far out you live. I know some folks who rented in a smaller town 45 minutes from Vallarta because it was cheaper... and they almost never got into town... is that what you want?
4. What type of neighborhood are you looking for? Do you want to be immersed in a local Mexican neighborhood where markets, fresh produce, pharmacies, and taco stands are just a five minute walk away? Here you will meet entire families who have lived in the same building for generations, get invited to their street parties, listen to their music, sometimes all night long, and know they are there for you if you ever need help. You may also meet other expats here looking for the same experiences you are. Or would you prefer something like what you left back home... a condo in a building with many people (mainly other gringos) but where you might have a security guard, a pool, and of course higher utility and usage fees. Or maybe a single family home in a gated community north of town? With grass even? And well-manicured green spaces? Or perhaps a smaller town 30-45 minutes by car or bus to downtown centers?
5. Bring your own car? It is a long drive from the US or Canada. You will need a special permit, obtained when you cross the border. You will need Mexican auto insurance. And you can only stay six months under your tourist visa so you will have to drive back home before then. I don't recommend a car until you are sure you are going to move here. The public transportation systems are good and frequent and cheap. And walking gives you a much better idea of your neighborhood and surrounding attractions. When I first moved here, I would take any bus to the end of the line, then hop on the return bus... best way to get your bearings.
6. Most rentals are furnished. This is a great advantage and one I did not expect until I moved here. No worries about bringing or buying anything except your personal belongings. I came with two suitcases. All I needed... anything else I might have forgotten, I could usually buy.
7. How to find a rental? Once you decide on the area you want to rent in, there are several options to finding the place you think you want. There are several good rental agencies in town. Some specialize in specific housing types such as villas or condos or apartments. You can also walk some neighborhoods and look for "Se Rente" signs in windows. If you speak some Spanish, you can also ask around those neighborhoods. If your budget dictates an economy rental, these can be found in the weekly Spanish publication "Mano a Mano" available in most OXXO stores. Be sure to ask if they are furnished before going to look. A bit more difficult option is to ask friends you may already have here or to check out coffee shops, where bulletin boards may advertise rentals.
8. What do rentals cost/month? You will find prices ranging from $150 USD/month for a basic studio in a local neighborhood, little furniture, and probably no utilities paid... to $4,000/month for a three bedroom luxury condo on the beach, furnished and utilities included. In high season (November-April), the prices are higher per month and if you opt for a longer term contract, prices will drop depending on how many months you rent for.
9. Do you have to sign a lease or contract? Many will require you to, especially if you want four months or more. Some will also require first and last and maybe a deposit. Others won't require anything but the first month up front. All depend on the owner. Can they evict you before the contract is up... no. The law here favors the renter. Can you leave before your contract is up... yes, but don't expect your deposits back. This actually works in your favor if you decide you don't like the neighborhood, you can just up and move whenever. I have never known a landlord who came after a renter for breaking their contract... too much trouble.
10. What about utilities? Most rentals include water. The kind that comes out of a faucet. Drinking water in 20 liter bottles you can either buy at the local grocery store (tienda) or have delivered from trucks that drive through the neighborhoods. Once they know you, they will stop all the time to check if you need water. They will even bring it up to your place, which is a great service, especially if you live on the third floor like I do. I tip them if they will also open the heavy bottle and tip it over into my water dispenser. Some rentals may also include gas (propane), Internet, and on some newer buildings, solar hot water. Renters are responsible for setting up and paying the electric (CFE) bill which comes every two months. If you are to buy the gas, the same goes as for the water trucks... .the gas trucks travel the streets. You just have to catch them. They will bring the full tank to your place, hook it up, and take the empty with them. You pay the driver.
11. What about pets? This is becoming a popular request. If you are coming for several months, you of course want to bring your beloved dog or cat with you. The trouble is, there are still very few rentals here that allow pets. There are many pet owners in Vallarta, and it is not a problem if you are the owner of the building or apartment. But many owners do not want stranger's pets damaging their property. The concept of a pet deposit is also not common. I suggest you leave your pet with friends back home for your first exploratory visit to Vallarta. While here, you can research the possibilities of bringing your pet while you are researching your locations. Hopefully, rental inventory that allow pets will become more popular in the near future as this request becomes more common.
A note about immigration: You can stay in Mexico for 6 months on your tourist visa, which you get on the airplane or at the border. If you are considering becoming a resident, you need to know about the new regulations, the most important point being you must now apply at the Mexican Consulate near your current home in your current country. As a new applicant, you can no longer apply in Mexico.
If this doesn't answer all your questions about whether you should RENT or BUY first, please email me at: sandra.learn.vallarta(at)gmail.com. Visit my website, EscapeRouteVallarta.com, for other articles on escaping to and living in Puerto Vallarta.
Sandra Cesca is the author of the book "Walking Puerto Vallarta and beyond" detailing her walking tours through her photography, and the owner of Learn Vallarta. To learn more about her work and experiences in Mexico, visit EscapeRouteVallarta.com, or send an email to sandra.learn.vallarta(at)gmail.com.
Click HERE to read Escape Route Vallarta articles by Sandra Cesca.