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What It Costs to Live in Central Mexico

living in Guanajuato

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.

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

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.

eating for cheap in central Mexico

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 a Vrbo or 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 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. 

Mark V.

Saturday 14th of December 2019

How about Atzalan, Veracruz., Mexico? Small safe village high in the mountains. About and hour from the coast. Temperature is perfect. Little cold in the winter. Hotels rent for approximately $150.00 US per month. No bills, cable TV and computers with internet around the corner that rents for a few pesos per hour. Eat out almost every meal with a drink maybe $2.00 depending where and what you eat. I love authentic Mexican food. Taxis for about 30 or 45 minutes maybe $2.00 US and buses 30 or 40 cents. Beautiful friendly women everywhere. Easy to make friends, just learn to speak Spanish.

Chikena Pierre

Thursday 30th of November 2017

I'm thinking about living aboard either Mexico, Honduras, or Guatemala. I want to be near the water. And I want to do an immersion program to learn spanish. My concern is I have a three year old child. Can you give me some good locations that will fit my needs. I want to keep my expenses around $2000. Thank you for your time.

Tim Leffel

Thursday 7th of December 2017

Have you read the best book on this? There's not a quick magic answer to this. See or A Better Life for Half the Price on Amazon.

Diana Seese

Wednesday 18th of October 2017

I am a 64 year old single woman that would like to move to Huatulco Mexico. I live on social security and would like to rent a room or 1 bedroom from a family. I need to be in safe clean area is the only requirement. I do have a little companion dog 4 lb yorkie. I am looking to move in about April 2018. So i have some time to find a place, do you think this is possible. I would like the water close but wouldnt mind 10 blocks away or so.

Tim Leffel

Tuesday 24th of October 2017

A U.S. social security check is more than most working Mexicans earn, so you should be fine. Hard to set up in advance though, especially in English. Rent a place short-term or get a cheap hotel and then start looking around.

Barb Clemens

Monday 7th of August 2017

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


Friday 14th of April 2017

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

Friday 14th of April 2017

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.