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.
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.
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.
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:
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.