Queretaro, Mexico has never had a big reputation as being a tourist or expat destination. However, with the more popular expat towns in Mexico becoming over saturated such as Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro has potential to become a new expat destination.
Queretaro already has a somewhat established expat community due to the many international corporations that operate within or nearby the city. The combination of this already established community and the fact that Queretaro is one of the most affluent cities in Mexico means that Queretaro already has all the amenities that an expat coming from the US or Canada would want.
The easiest way to show how Queretaro may just be the best expat destination in Mexico would be to compare it to the town that many would refer to as the current owner of that title; San Miguel de Allende.
San Miguel de Allende vs. Queretaro
First, let's quickly go over some of the pros for both Queretaro and San Miguel, and then further down, we'll get into the details for each point.
Lower cost of living
Easier airport access
More restaurant and nightlife variety
San Miguel de Allende Pros:
Larger expat population
City Size, General Population, and Expat Population
City Size and population may be the point that is most up for debate, as which you may prefer is totally personal preference. Data from 2010 on the Spanish language Wikipedia puts San Miguel at about 160,000 residents and Queretaro at about 1.1 million. Reliable data for 2018 is a bit harder to find, and both of these cities have definitely grown a ton over the past eight years. Some local estimates put Queretaro as high as 1.8 million. Regardless of the numbers, it is clear that Queretaro is a much larger city.
Being a larger city definitely has its advantages, however there are also some disadvantages such as traffic and pollution. Even if you're not a fan of big cities, there are plenty of quiet neighborhoods that you could settle down in Queretaro. Then you could have all the amenities of the big city with the tranquility of somewhere like San Miguel. The centro as well a few other neighborhoods in Queretaro also have some of the colonial charm that you find in San Miguel.
San Miguel has a much larger expat population, and you can really feel it since San Miguel is a much smaller city. Depending on your personality, this could be a good or bad thing. However, there is one definite disadvantage to the large expat population in San Miguel, and that's cost of living.
Cost of Living
The large expat population in San Miguel have definitely driven up costs. Therefore, a similar lifestyle would cost less in Queretaro than in San Miguel. If you were very determined, you could probably get by on less than a $1,000 a month in both cities. A more comfortable budget for a single person or couple would likely be closer to $2,000. However, these numbers all depend on personal preference. Rents in both cities could range anywhere from $200-$1000 a month depending on your tastes. You'll get more bang for your buck with rent in Queretaro. Groceries and eating out will be similar, but a small advantage goes to Queretaro.
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One criteria many expats look at when moving abroad is the proximity to a major airport so that they can easily get back home and visit family. Queretaro has its own international airport just outside the city with direct flights to Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta and many more Mexican cities. Queretaro is also in closer proximity to the Mexico City airport, but only by about a half hour. Del Bajio Airport outside of Leon is an option for those in San Miguel and offers similar routes as the Queretaro Airport.
Airport Travel Times
From Downtown Queretaro:
Queretaro Airport (QRO) - 30 minutes
Mexico City Airport (MEX) - 3 hours
From San Miguel de Allende:
Queretaro Airport (QRO) - 1.5 hours
Mexico City Airport (MEX) - 3.5 hours
Del Bajio Airport (BJX) - 1.75 hours
Queretaro's big advantage is having its own airport just 30 minutes outside of town. However, for most flights, many will need to go to Mexico City and as shown above, the difference from San Miguel and Queretaro to the Mexico City Airport is only about a half hour.
Restaurants and Nightlife
Queretaro easily takes the prize in this final category. This is where Queretaro's size really comes into play. Being a larger city, Queretaro has way more variety when it comes to restaurants and nightlife. In Queretaro you can find just about any international cuisine as well as restaurants with food from all around Mexico such as from Sonora, Oaxaca, Yucatan and everywhere in between.
For a city of its size, San Miguel definitely has some great restaurants and bars with a lot of variety, but it just can't compete with a city that has ten times the population.
Choosing either of these cities will come down to your personal preference. However, the purpose of this comparison was to highlight the often overlooked Queretaro. Many expats flying into the Queretaro airport immediately leave on their way to San Miguel. However, Queretaro is a great city that combines modern Mexico with its colonial heritage. So next time you come down to this part of Mexico, take a few days in Queretaro and find out for yourself!
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