Editor’s note: This post on the cost of living in Guanajuato has 2014 in the URL, but was updated in August 0f 2019, when the peso was around 19 to the dollar. I have left some of the comments that are still relevant and useful.
I moved back to Guanajuato, Mexico for the third time in late 2018 and it’s now my permanent base. My daughter lived here with us the first two times and spent three years in school in Mexico, but she is now in college in the U.S.. We bolted and headed back to our paid-for house on the fun side of the wall once she got settled in and now we just go back for visits and business.
Central Mexico is quite cheap, so much so that Mexico is featured in my book A Better Life for Half the Price and in the 5th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations. It wasn’t always the case: just five years ago the greenback got you 13 pesos. Now that one dollar gets you 19, it’s a great bargain.
Cost of Living in Guanajuato
If you’ve got some time, check out the video below to get a sense of what prices are like. There’s been some mild inflation over the years, mostly because imported items have gone up, but I still pay 30 cents for the city bus, $2.60 for a taxi across town, $2.60 for a haircut, $16 for a thorough house cleaning, and less than $10 a month for my electric bill. Going out has gotten a lot cheaper than when I first moved here (you can still find dollar beer places in this college town) and it’s rare to spend more than $5.50 for a concert or symphony performance.
The aesthetics of Guanajuato are great and it’s been here since before any English set foot in America. Most of the traffic moves through tunnels under the city, so it’s a very pedestrian-friendly place to live. There are only two streets in the historic center that have cars on them. The rest are pedestrian-only. Second, the weather is gorgeous almost all year. We’re at an altitude close to 6,500 feet here, so it can get a little chilly at night a couple months of the year, but the climate is agreeable enough most of the time that houses aren’t built with heat or air conditioning and the outdoor cafes are busy for 12 months. It’s usually blue skies, sun, and highs around 80 in the daytime.
We’re usually happy to see a bit of rain in the summer though, when I sometimes get views like this from my house:
I can turn down a bit of the stress in my business here because I’m spending less than half what I did in the USA on basic living expenses. The first time we were here we rented two side-by-side apartments for a total of $800 a month, all utilities and internet included. Now we own a house outright, so we’re pouring money into improvements and furniture instead. Here are some hard numbers though for regular monthly expenses when we were a family of three:
– Daughter’s private school was a shade less than $300 per month
– We spent about $100 a month on transportation getting her there & back (not walking distance)
– We averaged about $50 a month on other local taxis and buses when she was here, now it’s more like $10.
– Here’s a picture of one month’s water and electric bills, in pesos. The 114 peso water bill is about what we’re seeing now in 2019 and it’s equivalent to $6. The 324 electric bill is actually higher than we’re seeing now with two people in the house and even that is equivalent to $17–for two months! Gas averages out to about $6 per month and our cable internet/TV/phone bundle is about $27 a month. We splurged on that…
– Drinking water in 5-gallon jugs averages about $15 a month, delivered to our door.
– Mobile phone charges when we had local ones was $54 for 3 of us. (Now we’ve kept our T-Mobile family plan)
– Our maid comes twice a week and cleans the house top to bottom. That’s $126 per month.
– Food varies wildly, but a liberal estimate is $300 a month on groceries, $200 eating out, not being careful at all
– Entertainment and fun $200 per month
– Medical/dental come in spurts, but let’s say $200 per month out of pocket max, plus an international expat catastrophe insurance plan that covers us in the USA, another $330 or so per month. More on expat health insurance here.
Property taxes are paid annually and this is another expense that has gone down as the peso has dropped. We now pay less than $150 per year. Our house repairs, renovations, furniture, and other purchases vary depending on how flush we are that month. But if we estimate $500 per month, that puts the total monthly expenses at around $2,060 not counting travel.
Teatro Juarez, home of $2.50 to $5.50 performances
I want to emphasize that this is for a family of three that’s not being all that frugal. We eat out far more than we did in the USA, I don’t hesitate to order a beer or two when we’re out, and we take advantage of things like $5 symphony tickets and $4 ballet performances. You could certainly live here for far less if you wanted and many people do. Considering that we were spending $2,100 a month in Tampa just on rent though and another $1,000 on health care, our Mexican living budget feels like a screaming bargain. We can spend another $1,000 on travel, visas, and shopping and still just be up to what we used to spend on those two items alone.
Some expats who have moved to my city complain that rental prices are going up here, which they are in the places that can be rented out successfully on Airbnb instead. You can’t blame a landlord for doing the math and maximizing what they can earn.
It’s a saturated market here for vacation rentals though, so that problem mostly applies to the apartments and houses right in the historic center. If you look through the local paper Chopper, you can find rooms with a bath to rent for less than $100, furnished two-bedroom apartments for less than $500 including utilities, and full houses with parking space for $800 or less. This requires some hoofing it around and communicating in Spanish (or getting a helper to do so) though. Most of what’s available to rent is not posted online, especially in English. For more on that subject, see this post on how to find a place to live in another country.
Daily Life in Guanajuato
Every time I move back here I lose 10-15 pounds. I don’t diet, drink less, or go to any gym. Getting around in this city requires lots of walking at high altitude though and like most people, we need to climb a lot of stairs to get to our front door. We always have to hoof it up the callejon—the alley that goes up to our neighborhood. When delivery men brought a refrigerator and stove, they had to carry it up these stairs you see at the right.
My day to day work life in Guanajuato hasn’t changed much when I have moved back, which is a bit of a problem in terms of getting better at Spanish. At some point soon I need to break off some time and go back to classes for a while in order to advance, but that’s probably not going to happen until I’m done paying for the kid’s college expenses and she’s off our payroll. I’m just not using Spanish enough each day because I’m holed up in my home office, working in English. I do use it when out and about of course. I try to take a walk each day or go out for lunch to enjoy where I’m living and I have a glorious view from my office window.
Life happens on the streets here, not in front of the TV, which is another thing I like. It’s always bustling in the center and people hang out and talk. Mobile phone use goes up all the time, but most locals seem to have the discipline to put them away when they’re out with friends having coffee, a meal, or drinks.
I’ll continue to write more on life in Guanajuato and living in Mexico later, especially since I have hundreds of pictures from this gorgeous place sitting on my hard drive. You can see some of them in my Instagram feed and here’s a video on hiking around Guanajuato.
Meanwhile, if you’re passing through, get in touch! If you want to see the city through my eyes and my stomach, sign up for my Guanajuato street food tour.
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