Reading the Washington Post last year, I laughed aloud when I read the story about Mexico’s immigration problem – namely, American retirees. It seems that roughly one million Americans elect to take a “Residente Temporal” visa each year, one of the driving reasons being the low cost of living in Mexico. I had spent more than four weeks there with my friend’s retired parents, and was completely enchanted by the whole experience.
What is the main draw?
Obviously, the low cost of living in Mexico is a huge plus as many people worry about retirement dollars.
Most people in the world are looking for an affordable place to live, and Mexico really delivers. The healthcare system is excellent and treatments as well as drugs are half the cost of those in the US. In this respect, it was very similar to Thailand.
Additionally, the entire country is one that feels packed with culture, history, and diversity.
I met one friendly person after another eager to explain different parts of their culture, food, history or language to me. We had visited a long list of different regions, and in each one we met only nice people who provided us with excellent food and hospitality.
Naturally, it is the weather that also brings a lot of visitors.
Business conditions, thanks to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), are another plus, and it has a thriving economy and developing array of industries.
Its national language is Spanish and its currency is the peso that currently exchanges at:
16.55 pesos to a single US dollar.
To make things as clear as possible, I’ll convert pricing to dollars.
Sold on Mexico for a long-term visit or even to relocate permanently? If not, just consider the different factors influencing the cost of living in Mexico:
Affordable and extremely varied, this is where some effort is required. Why? You don’t want to budget for an apartment that rents for an urban apartment block price when you have a seaside villa in your visions. You don’t want to picture yourself in a quiet and rural area if you are not prepared to deal with the driving or need for transportation required for shipping or services.
So, it is about location, but you also have to go through the official channels.
Start with a Spanish-speaking agent, and then discuss your wishes with them. Find out how to obtain a “guarantor” or citizen and owner who will pledge to reimburse or compensate a property owner in the event of damage. Bear in mind not all apartments or houses require co-signors, especially in smaller cities. But expect a larger deposit. Then explore the areas you will want to live.
Do you want to be near the capital of Mexico City?
Maybe you want a Colonial city like San Louis Potosi? Maybe a large town like Zacatecas is suitable. Keep in mind that urban areas may be less expensive than tourism spots like Cancun, Cozumel, Guadalajara, and so on.
Prices vary widely, but here are some of the averages I saw:
Apartments in good neighborhoods (urban): $500-800 per month
Apartments in good neighborhoods (rural): $300-400 per month
Most apartments will be unfurnished.
Houses in good neighborhoods (urban): $1000
Houses in good neighborhoods (rural): $500
Closed streets is how Mexican landlords describe gated communities, and this may be a good choice if you live in an area where crime occurs or where you feel it would enhance your privacy.
You can cut costs dramatically by sharing a rental, but remember that furnishings, utilities, and insurances have to figure into the cost of living in Mexico.
Like so many other areas of the world, Mexico has a well developed system of roads and transport options. However, the best public transportation and roadways run between major cities. Rural areas are not as well maintained.
Additionally, as I learned upon renting a car to visit my friend’s parents, driving in Mexico is best left to the experienced. Speed limits are closely monitored, but many drivers seem to ignore this. Road signs are not always the best, and maps or good GPS units are key.
I was told by many expats that I should stay only on the cuota or toll roads – especially because I don’t speak Spanish and that a smart driver keeps pesos in the car for tolls. The good news is that any tolls you pay include travel insurance that protect you if the car is harmed by lousy road conditions.
I decided to stick with public transport after a few days of driving, and found that the affordable and efficient system could easily keep the cost of living in Mexico under control.
Taxis are cheap too and I found them affordable enough for short trips at low travel times.
Trains are regional and go between cities.
The exception is Mexico City with a suburban rail that can be used with a train card and a metro with three different systems. Buses are one of the most common modes of transport and Mexico’s system is often described as the finest in the world. There are three classes of buses and some were like luxury coaches. There are also minibuses everywhere.
Metro pass for a month: $23
Taxi (5 miles): $4
Local bus fare: $0.50
12-hour long distance bus (2nd class): $20
12-hour long distance luxury bus: $70
12-hour third class bus (no frills): $10-15
If you’re interested in more information about travel on the cheap, check out this travel resource.
Bus fares for longer distances varies, and though you can get tickets on board, book ahead of time to ensure you have a seat at the best price. The cost of living in Mexico is very affordable, but there’s no reason to overpay for travel!
It may seem impossible to believe (I found it so) but there are still areas of rural Mexico without phone lines. However, this no longer matters because almost everyone in Mexico has cell service. Monthly plans are available or services that require phone cards are popular too.
Because Mexican Telmex has a hold on the market, they can charge almost any asking price.
Internet access is widely available too, and DSL is the norm. There are many Internet cafes that charge hourly fees for use of Internet connected computers. WiFi is also available in many areas, but is available from Telmex for a fee. And TV services are available via traditional cable as well as satellite services.
New SIM (includes some data, minutes & texts) — $11
Local minute: 20 cents+
International minute: 50 cents+
1 GB Data Plan — $18 per month
DSL Internet — $35 per month
Your cost of living in Mexico has to feature communications of at least one variety, and I suggest a smartphone that provides you with a controllable way of enjoying Internet when needed, but not forcing you to have Internet services installed in your home. Of course, some landlords have rentals that are ready for access and you only have to call to get service started.
Food & Drink
I felt a bit like Oliver Twist when eating in Mexico, fighting the urge to start singing “food, glorious food!” After all, true Mexican food is some of the most delicious and freshest around (second only to Vietnam!). It is not wildly expensive, and I sampled many food carts that had good reputations with locals.
From Chicharron and tortas to tacos and tamales, we ate our fill and kept our wallets pretty full.
When cooking at home, your cost of living in Mexico can be remarkably low.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and fish are in abundant supply, but do vary by location. Daily trips to markets and groceries are enjoyable and help to keep costs under control.
A sample of the prices paid for meals out and groceries includes:
Lunch per person from local café: $8
Fast food lunch: $5
Gourmet coffee: $2
Bottle of decent wine: $7
Fresh chicken (1lb): $2
Fresh tomatoes (1lb): $0.44
Gallon of milk: $3
Loaf of bread: $1.25
Clearly, you can eat very well on a small budget and I spent no more than $40 each week on my food – including restaurants out.
Soccer is considered “the” national pastime in Mexico, but you don’t have to calculate the cost of tickets when budgeting out the cost of living in Mexico. Instead, you can catch it on TV at home, in a local bar, with friends, or just watch a local park or street game at almost any hour. Generally, Mexico is a country with a very laid back pace, so you will have to learn to love siesta and lazy days of dining outdoors.
Parks are a big thing in Mexico and you will find families of all sizes enjoying them.
There are many festivals year round too, and in cities there tend to be good museums. The University of Mexico is the oldest in the country and a great spot to visit. Of course bullfighting and rodeos still occur, though usually in November through March, and in Chapultepec Park and Rancho del Charro.
Cities have the usual bars and clubs, and you will find that meals are later due to the daily siestas.
The costs for entertainment options include:
Movie ticket — $4
Theater ticket — $45
Soccer tickets Estadio Azteca – $15
One cocktail drink in a nightclub — $6
One pint of beer in a bar or pub — $3
Mexican citizens are known for their friendliness and you will make fast friends whenever you head out for a park, festival, or just a dinner. It is not unusual for a stranger to say “provecho” to you when dining out, and this simply means enjoy your meal. Respond with a kind and honest “gracias” as they are simply wishing you happiness!
There are always unexpected expenses, and your cost of living in Mexico can be impacted by them. As a simple example, I left my good leather shoes home and had to buy a pair, and also ruined my iPod at the beach.
These unexpected budget items were unwelcome.
you might want to set aside a bit of extra cash to allow for such things as:
Pair of jeans — $40
Pair of good leather shoes – $55
Microwave (when you ruin your mother’s) — $100
New iPod – $160
Gym membership (per month) — $72
Living near to Mexico City made it easy and convenient to find things, life in more rural areas means ordering by mail (not recommended) or taking a trip into the nearest large town or city. This too can be costly, and may show that a cheaper rural accommodation may actually cost more than one closer to the urban or tourist areas.
Cost of Living in Mexico–Grand Total
The cost of living in Mexico, per month, looks something like this:
Accommodations — $400-$1000
Food and drink — $120
Technology — $70
Entertainment — $100
Transportation — $100
Other costs — $100
Looking at that makes it easy to understand why so many American retirees are heading south of the border for part or all of the year.
With a growing economy, excellent healthcare, good urban and national transportation options, and friendly people, there is much to love about life in Mexico. For anyone considering long-term travel, or emigrating, Mexico has to rate highly for all that it has to offer.
Being so close to South America and the U.S is a big plus too!
Have you ever lived in Mexico? What was your monthly cost of living like? What did you find surprisingly cheaper or more expensive?