What It Costs to Live in Central Mexico

living in Guanajuato

A few years back, when I was living full-time in Guanajuato, I did a post on what it was costing me to live in Central Mexico with my family. Fast-forward to now and I was just back for two weeks. I’m happy to say it’s gotten even cheaper. With the U.S. economy leading the world and countries that get a lot of income from petroleum dealing with a weak price of oil, the greenback is now getting more than 18 pesos in exchange. That compares to 12-14 most of the three years I lived in Mexico.

I returned to the U.S. after spending three years out of five in Mexico for the sake of my daughter’s education. We’re doing our time stateside so she can get a U.S.diploma and the benefit of a first-world education in a good school district. Sure, the convenience and fast internet are nice too, but when we’re back in Guanajuato we feel at home. (And we feel safer, by the way, since there are far fewer guns around for nuts to get their hands on.)

Enough about me though: what’s it cost to live there these days? Well if you’re living in a good school district in an American city, you can probably take just what you spend on rent and utilities in the USA and have enough for everything in interior Mexico. Plus at the same time you’ll upgrade your life considerably. You’ll eat better, go out more if you want, have a maid cleaning up your place, have more affordable health care, and generally feel better off.

Mexican fruit stand

Interior Mexico Costs of Living

On a typical morning I could stroll down to the market near my house and get a 20-ounce fresh-squeezed juice with some seasonal fruit or vegetable blend for about a buck. I may pick up a concha pastry or cinnamon bun for about 25 cents or get a hot breakfast sandwich with ham and chorizo for 60 cents. Tamales range from 30 to 75 cents depending on how stuffed they are with goodies. A coffee to go where they roast the beans from Veracruz on site is a shade over a dollar. If I need to get to the other side of town, as I did when I used to take my daughter to a private school, a taxi is less than $2.50 and a bus is 35 cents. Mexican popsicle 10 pesos

Last week when I browsed around the market and supermarket, most produce costs came in at $1 a kilo or less. One of the few exceptions was avocados at $1.50 a kilo. That equates to about 75 cents a pound. I’m guessing you’re probably paying at least a dollar for one avocado where you shop now. We continually bought ripe yellow mangoes already cut up for us at $1.40 for a liter of them. Same for strawberries, even less for watermelon or papaya. You can get a cool fruit popsicle for 10 pesos.

We ate out for dinner almost every night because we could. One night we went to a simple gorditas and quesadillas place and spent less than $9 for three. We went out to three fancy places and never spent more than $60 for two, including multiple cocktails or glasses of wine. Here’s what it costs if you eat with the workers in the local market: 30 pesos for a meal.

Hidalgo Market meals

Rent and Utilities in Central Mexico

Rents are going to be higher where lots of foreign retirees congregate, in San Miguel de Allende or Lake Chapala. But in a place where there aren’t so many gringos, rents are actually cheaper now than when I first started coming to the area eight years ago. While I was waiting for my 40 peso haircut (a shade more than $2) I looked at the classified ads in the local paper that lists rentals, The Chopper. I found multiple studios and rooms for rent for less than $100 a month, loads of apartments for two for under $100, and dozens of full houses for $200 to $550. Many of the places don’t list a price and you have to haggle: best to enlist a fluent local for help navigating the process.

You also probably won’t be able to line up a long-term rental in advance. It’s best to pay more for an AirBnB place (here’s a video tour of my Guanajuato house) for a couple weeks at first and then move once you’ve had feet on the ground to look around. Keep in mind that some places aren’t even advertised. You just have to be observant:

house for rent guanajuato

Utilities are cheap but are on a sliding scale. For electricity especially, the more you use the more you pay. In a climate like you have in the central highlands hardly anyone has air conditioning and you only need heat a couple months of the year at night. For the latter people typically use gas or electric space heaters at night, mostly in the bedrooms. My most expensive utility bill is internet, which is $20 a month. It’s getting faster too, with fiber cable finally going into the neighborhoods via Telmex. I’m at close to 10 mbps now and will be able to upgrade to 20 this month by throwing in six extra dollars a month.

I don’t live in Mexico full-time right now, and as a result I’m spending three times more per month on expenses than I would there, despite being more frugal stateside and not going out as much. As a rule of thumb, a single person could now get by on $1,000 a month here easily, a couple for $1,500 easily. We used to spend $2,100 a month for three including all the house renovations and furniture purchases we were doing that came out to what rent would be. That included close to $300 a month for private school.

If you want to find the best local places to eat in the city where I have a home, take the Guanajuato Tour with one of my guides. You’ll eat some great food and get the inside scoop on the city’s history.

And remember, there are far cheaper places to live than Mexico if you want to venture further. See a video I did on costs in Mexico and more expat stories at the Cheap Living Abroad site.

Comments
  1. Michael R

    How is the water supply for long term living?

    • Dan

      Tim can correct me if I am wrong, but most locals buy 5 gallon jugs of water and put their tap/pump on top and drink out of that. It’s not much different than an office water cooler, except the water is room temp (easy to get used to) and the bottle isn’t upside down.

      • Tim Leffel

        Yes, you pump it from the top or keep it upside down in a dispenser. You can buy an electric office type one that will keep it cold if you want, but most don’t bother.

  2. Tim L.

    The last drought was 8 or 10 years ago I think. We never had any issues the three years we were there. The central high desert of North America is getting wetter because of global climate change. As for drinking water, we pay around $2 for a 5-gallon container delivered to our door. We usually have 3 at a time switching out.

  3. Veronica

    Back in the day, I went to private schools in Mexico City, when we moved to the States, I was skipped from 7 to 8th grade, and after two months went right to high school, which was too easy. No comparison in quality of education–or in amount of serious homework. More like European lycee or gymnasium in France and Germany. I think the so-called “first world education” in the States is of very poor quality. Americans have a too big a need to be entertained. It’s no wonder homeschooling is on the rise if the parents want a qualitiy education for their children.

    • Tim Leffel

      We weren’t in Mexico City. We lived in a city of 150,000 where she would have gone back a grade or two when returning to the USA, not up. And she was at the best school in town, unfortunately. Only the very biggest cities can provide the kind of education you received. Education reform is having a tough time moving forward—look at what’s happened in Oaxaca where it’s mostly been a rejection of accountability and qualification for teachers. (Who also don’t get paid much at all.)

      • Veronica

        Re: “Education reform is having a tough time moving forward—look at what’s happened in Oaxaca ”
        What’s in question there is the public school system, which is pretty poor everywhere in Mexico. Same with health care, and all public services generally.
        As for the vaunted “reform,” the Mexican governments have been working toward a model that will work as well as NAFTA did in its areas of “reform” and “development.” Plenty of good mid-level culturally ignorant technocrats to run the the burgeoning corporatocracy for the moneyed classes. “Pobre Mexico, tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!” One could add a line regarding the pathologically self-centered venal and endlessly corrupt elites that run the country. Salinas de Gortari, Cedillo, Fox (Coca Cola!), Calderón, Peña Nieto…what a humanly mediocre and wretched lot. Mexico used to have what Russell Kirk felicitously termed “the unbought grace of life.” That has essentially vanished from the land, as it has from the States. The Brave New World cum 1984 modernity-matrix is overshadowing almost the entire globe, along with the globalist violence towards the “3rd world”.

  4. J. Absalom

    Another liberal hypocrite.

    Talks a big game about international living, but makes damn sure his kid receives a prestigious U.S. degree from a “good school district.”

    • Tim Leffel

      J – My daughter went to school in Mexico, in Spanish, for three years. She now goes to a public city school where she will get a normal state high school diploma. Yours?

  5. Katie

    Sounds like your daughter has gotten the best of both worlds, with years of school in two cultures and two languages. I’m not sure what’s hypocritical or liberal about that. Unless liberal means “more enlightened” and less “rah rah USA we’re the best at everything.”

    • rubiagringa

      Well said Katie!!!

  6. S.S

    Hello Tim,

    I’m thinking of relocating to Guanajuato for 2 to 3 months starting in September. I have many questions, but the one I’ll ask at this point Is about the general character of the city. I’m looking for a place that isn’t like Mexico City, completely hectic and overpopulated, yet not really a sleepy, quiet town either. I get the feeling that Guanajuato might be a little too slow-paced. What’s your take on this? I’m 35 male and traveling by myself if that helps flesh out my question….

    • Tim Leffel

      I don’t think you’ll know that until you get there. Try it out and see! If it’s not the right fit, any other place in Mexico is a bus ride away.

  7. Jorge Dominguez

    Public–and compulsory–education in Mexico, as in almost all the developed and developing world, has the same fundamental aims. H.L. Mencken got it right:

    “[The] erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardised citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.” ~ H.L. Mencken, 1924
    See also Gatto’s devastating history and critique:
    Gatto, J. T. (2003). The Underground History of American Education. New York: The Oxford Village Press.

  8. Erika

    Hi Tim, because of this blog, I moved here! As of 3 days ago, so thank you! I know this isn’t the most appropriate spot to ask for personal local recommendations, but we are alone in the city and I have got to know where you get your coffee! I’m having a hell of a time finding decent grounds around my barrio (de las Presas). :)

    • Tim Leffel

      Cafe Tal roasts their own beans from Veracruz. There’s a new outlet near the Governor’s mansion on the Presa de la Olla and the original is on Sangre de Cristo. Even the pickiest coffee snobs who have visited have raved about it. You can get beans or grounds to go. There’s another place called Conquistador that roasts their own. A little closet of a place near the Diego Rivera house.

      • Erika

        Thanks a million!! No more instant coffee! :)

  9. Jeanette Locher

    are there a need for teachers? I prefer high school age kids, can teach either art or ESL

    • Tim Leffel

      Yes, but assume you’ll work for Mexican wages, so you lose all the arbitrage. There are better options in big cities with State Department positions.

  10. Clinton Skakun

    I started out in Merida, later moved to Playa del Carmen, Cancun and then Tijuana (below San Diego). This new year will mark 5 years of living here. Have to say eastern Mexico is by far my favorite.

  11. lucastusher

    Hello,

    For the past few months I have been considering relocating to Mexico. I am use to the expat lifestyle of learning a new language and assimilating into the host’s culture. Anybody have any ideas of best place in Mexico?

    My greatest concern is the local attitude towards the foreigner.

    In Cambodia I wore the same style of conservative clothes and spoke their language. In the countryside they were very open and friendly, in Phnom Penh not so friendly. I am looking for the same thing in Mexico, ride a motorcycle year round, teach, live in relatively safety, and enjoy living in a foreign country.

    Thank you,

    Lucas

    • Tim Leffel

      The USA and Mexico are joined at the hip so foreigners are not a novelty in most of the country. As anywhere, the more you learn the language and the customs, the fewer hassles you’ll encounter.

  12. Ra Delman

    Appreciate much that your writing about destinations / opportunities is mostly not the hyperbolic pap we terrified retirees are being fed by the likes of International Living Mag and its offshoots. Plenty of opportunity to sell hot air to 50 and 60-somethings– those many folk seeking options to the grey horizon of scrimping by that has come to characterize U.S. retirement for many.

    Am currently in Mexico but finding it a challenge to get clear, definitive info about visa options, car importation options tied to visa status, etc. Any no-nonsense resource you might mention?

    • Tim Leffel

      Your best resources are the people who have already done either. You’ll find plenty of them anywhere you go, plus local message boards. From what we know, importing a car is seldom worth the hassle. It’s a whole lot easier to pay a premium and buy locally. The visa laws are very straightforward until you get to permanent residency and you’re four years away from that.

  13. lu states

    i get exactly $1026 SS, and my rent in california is $1000. i believe if i could live in the cooler mtns…..and close to the states, would be better than a far flung place. i am a single woman who is 67 years old. and want to pay $300 or less rent, so i can pay for groceries, medical, ” life “. i have stayed in san miguel, and visited guanajuato. am i dreaming, or is it possible ? i can live in a studio, take my own furniture, and would like a pool or patio, if possible. will it be safe for me ? i don’t have many friends, so no one will miss me here. i don’t speak spanish, but it seemed to not be much of a problem, as i recall. is this a decent choice ? any information would be appreciated…….very much. thank you, lu

    • Tim Leffel

      Away from the coasts you can find a small apartment for that amount if you’re not super picky. At 67 though, be advised that Guanajuato City is super hilly and has lots of cobblestone pedestrian-only streets. That’s why Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende are so much more popular with retirees.

  14. Kevin

    I dream of living overseas. I’ve travelled a lot and really appreciate foreign cultures. When I was a kid we had exchange students from Mexico, and the way they described it really summarizes how I feel… “Estados Unidos is so plastico”. Things feel more real in other places.

    Love the site, except for the leftist garbage you throw in from time to time… like turds in a nice bowl of jello.

    Other than that, keep up the good work!

  15. Mark

    Hey, Tim, I stumbled on your article as one of the first places to read about expat living, and it’s got me interested. One thing that’s not often discussed in articles about cheap living is how much it would cost to get there. Lisbon or Prague sounds nice, but $1,300 round trip for one does not. A flight to Leon seems to run less than $500. I presume it wouldn’t be too hard to get a bus or train to Guanajuato from there?

    • Tim Leffel

      See today’s post on budget airlines for other options—you can fly to Portugal for cheap from some spots. But yes distance does matter. The Leon airport is 20 minutes from Guanajuato, about an hour and a half from San Miguel. Ajijic is only about 30 minutes from Guadalajara.

      But usually people only fly home once or twice a year (if that) after they move, so it’s not a major consideration.

  16. Barb Clemens

    Hi
    I am state side but recently visited Rosarita loved it
    My Aunt and I would like to move there
    Not buy just rent hopefully with ocean view
    Is it safe and what about healthcare and close hospitals
    Thanks
    Barb C

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