The Magic of the Baja – Expat Living That’s Close to Home

Interested in the cost savings of a life abroad, but still a little nervous about straying too far outside the American border?  The Baja region of Mexico offers many options that are safe, beautiful and affordable.  Even better, there are active communities of expats who can give you advice and encouragement.

In this series we’ll be looking at a seven locations across the Baja that offer a high quality of life for a low cost of living.  You might also be surprised to find that these areas boast very low crime rates.  Much of the dangers reported on the news about Mexico have to be kept in perspective.  You wouldn’t wander into bad neighborhoods in any major city in the U.S. so do the same in Mexico. 


You may be surprised to discover that even Tijuana, which has the highest crime rate in the region, has a lower crime rate than two thirds of the cities in the U.S.   It is also the same size and population but has a slightly lower crime rate than Philadelphia.  For more information about the safety of the region check out the Baja Insider.


So now that we’ve got that messiness out of the way, let’s take a look at all the juicy details regarding life in Baja California Norte.


Rosarito Beach


About thirty minutes south of the border is the beach town of Las Playas de Rosarito (Rosarito Beach).  There are over 10,000 expats living in the area, some full-time and some part-time.  They make up about a quarter of the city’s population.  One reason is that it boasts beautiful beaches and has mild weather similar to San Diego, just 20 miles away.  This bustling city is a thriving tourist destination and boasts fantastic restaurants and activities.


Many Americans who live there call it “San Diego South,” because they have many of the same amenities, but for a much lower cost of living. 



Just another hour down the road from Rosarito is the larger, but less touristy city of Ensenada.  This is a true Mexican city, with a population closing in in 500,000 and about  20,000 expats.  The climate is cool and moist, similar to the San Diego and Rosarito.


The region has been called the Napa Valley of Mexico due to the vineyards and wineries on the surrounding mountainsides.  Because of those vineyards and the abundance of seafood, Ensenada has become somewhat of a mecca for foodies and wine lovers.  It also is developing a lively art district and regular art walks.


Many large chain U.S. stores, such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Cosco have made there way here.  Cost of living in Ensenada is about half that of the United States.  Though rentals and purchase of property can vary tremendously, you can find a 2 bedroom home for rent at $300 – $500 per month, depending on location and amenities.

San Felipe


From Ensenada head south and east until you hit the gulf of California.  This once sleepy village is now a growing town in it’s own right.  With a population approaching 20,000 and a few thousand expats it offers a more quiet style of living than it’s cousins to the north.  


It also has a somewhat warmer climate, with winter temperatures in the mid seventies and summer temperatures in the eighties and low nineties.  The area offers wonderful outdoor activities on the gulf, as well as geothermal hot springs.  They are also known for their green building efforts and eco-homes.



These cities offer Americans lovely retirement options for those who want to live well on a budget.  But there are also many younger Americans and families moving into these areas to take advantage of the cost of living and recoup some of their losses during the economic downturn.  They are happily surprised the quality of education and the cultural perspective of children respecting their elders.


As if all this isn’t enough, there is more that the Baja has to offer.  In our next post, we’ll turn our attention to Baja del Sur, the southern state of the Baja region.


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  • Calogero Mira

    Nice photos!

  • This is helpful. We’re trying to decide between Punta Banda (love the beach), Ensenada, Bajamar and Rosarito. We have four dogs, play lots of tennis and don’t speak much Spanish (yet!). We want to be on or at least have a nice view of the water. A helpful and friendly ex-pat community, a safe place to walk the dogs, and people to play tennis and socialize with are important to us. I’d also like to be able to volunteer at something, learn to cook good Mexican food, pursue something artistic and take Spanish lessons. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you.

    • Ann

      Thanks for your Comment. You will find what you’re looking for in all the places you mentioned. Something else you might want to consider is travel time. Both Punta Banda and Bajamar require travel time to get to many of the services you may want, such as medical, and to a wider selection of restaurants. I have friends who live in both places and love it, plus they are good with jumping in the car and driving for 45 minutes to Ensenada (Punta Banda) or 30 minutes to Rosarito (Bajamar). If you want to be able to walk to many places or spend less time driving, you will need to consider Rosarito or Ensenada. Everywhere you mentioned is lovely. The biggest differences are that Ensenada is truly a city, Rosarito is a large beach town, Bajamar is a gated community, and Punta Banda is a somewhat remote gorgeous location with limited services. You’ve picked quite the variety to consider and good for you. Clearly, you are open to enjoying the diversity that is Baja. I hope that was helpful to you.

    • Help is on the way…

      I suggest Punta Banda, this is a great community. With the La Jolla campground across the street you can enjoy the Hot springs at the ocean and its free ….you will get free medical once you register with the consul general you get free medical and ambulance services (if needed), which is right there in Punta banda; and you take the bus to town for doing your sopping, they also re-paved the road so it is a much better quality of life. As the residents who live there, they will help you and they have a theatre and band so there is lots to enjoy, plus fishing and easting healthy. What are you waiting for, go now!