This post on the cost of living in central Mexico was updated in June of 2020.
I’ve been coming to Mexico since the early ’00s and have been living in central Mexico with my family off and on since 2010. As I update this post in 2020, it’s actually cheaper here now than it was a decade ago. When I first came to Guanajuato as a renter, the exchange rate was 11 or 12 pesos to the dollar. When I moved back a few years later it was edging up to 14 to the dollar. These days it’s around 19 or worse, so the cost of living in Mexico is even lower for those who are exchanging U.S. dollars or euros from their earnings or savings.
I returned to the U.S. after spending three years out of five in Mexico for the sake of my daughter’s education. We’ve been back as empty nesters after she went off to college a couple years ago. We did our time stateside so she could get a U.S. diploma and the benefit of a first-world education in a good school district. Sure, the convenience and fast internet were nice too, but not the U.S. prices. 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 housekeeper cleaning up your place, have more affordable health care, and generally feel better off.
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.
When I go shopping at the market or supermarket, most produce costs come in at $1 or $1.50 a kilo. One of the few exceptions is avocados, which are still only at $1.50 to $2 a kilo. I’m guessing you’re probably paying at least a dollar for one avocado where you shop now. We continually buy ripe yellow mangoes already cut up for us at $1.50 for a liter of them. Same for strawberries, even less for watermelon or papaya. You can get a cool fruit popsicle for less than a buck.
We eat out for dinner whenever we feel like it and don’t ever worry about busting the budget. Our family would routinely go to a simple gorditas and quesadillas place and spend less than $9 for three. At the fancy places we have never spent more than $60 for two, including multiple cocktails or glasses of wine. The picture below is when the peso value was lower, but it’s about the same in dollar terms: $2 for a meal. At a simple sit-down restaurant, a 3-course meal with something to drink is typically $2.50 to $4.
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 researching the area in 2009. While I was waiting for my 50 peso haircut ($2.50 right now) 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 $150, and dozens of full houses for $200 to $600. 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.
I recently ran a rental costs survey through a couple local Facebook groups and got 26 replies. More than 50% of the respondents were paying $500 or less per month for rent, many of those furnished and with utilities included. Five people were paying $1,000 or more, but those were large houses with multiple bedrooms and a couple had parking–a rarity in this hilly city with lots of pedestrian-only streets.
You 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:
Utilities are cheap in central Mexico, but are on a sliding scale. For electricity especially, the more you use the more you pay because your rate per kilowatt-hour goes up. In a climate like you have in the central highlands, hardly anyone has air conditioning and you only need heat a six to eight weeks of the year on the coldest nights. For the latter people typically use gas or electric space heaters at night, mostly in the bedrooms.
My most expensive utility bill is my internet bundle, which is $27 a month including cable TV and a landline that includes calls to the USA. It’s getting faster too, with fiber cable finally going into the neighborhoods via Telmex and Megacable. I’m consistently over mbps now with the latter and upload speeds have gotten about 10 times faster than when I first moved here.
As a rule of thumb, a single person could now get by on $1,000 a month easily living in Mexico, especially if sharing an apartment or living in a one-bedroom place. A couple could get by on $1,500 easily and still be able to go out several times a week. 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.
Now that it’s just two of us and our house is paid for, we routinely spend $800 to $1,000 on expenses if we’re not traveling. Our water bill is typically around $10 a month, then we spend another $20 or so for delivery of 5-gallon purified drinking water jugs. My last electric bill was under $13–for two months! A $24 tank of propane for cooking and showers lasts two or three months. The biggest expense is food and booze, both at home and going out, but that’s by choice. Overall, both groceries and going out to eat or drink average half or less what we pay in the USA. Imported items are more, of course, but things produced in Mexico are a bargain.
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 more at the Cheap Living Abroad site.
Or get on my monthly living abroad for less insiders list and you’ll receive regular updates on this subject.