There have been hundreds, probably thousands, of blogs written about the cost of living in Mexico. There is a reason for that. People really want to know what other people are spending to live in a foreign country. I have been asked hundreds of times about my cost of living in Mexico, it’s a huge determining factor for many who retire in Mexico.
Many kinds of people decide to move to Mexico for many reasons and with very different financial situations. Some people move to Mexico just because they like the slower-paced life, but money isn’t a problem for them, or a deciding factor, for moving to Mexico. On the other side of the spectrum, there are foreigners who move to Mexico because they need to stretch their dollars on a fixed income. Then there is everything in between when it comes to reasons why people move to Mexico.
For me, I was a middle-class working American in his 30’s who was simply tired of working 15 hour days just to be a middle-class citizen without any savings. I moved to Mexico to work less, reevaluate my life, and live a more simple life, not ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’. That life will kill you. Over the past decade, I have noticed an increase in younger Americans moving to Mexico. I think younger people are questioning the ‘American Dream’ and the financial and mental cost to achieve that dream.
Is the grass truly greener on the other side? The answer is ‘yes’ for most people. It all depends on how committed you are to living a simpler life. It is very easy to drive your cost of living up in Mexico to a point where you aren’t any better off.
I tell the story about my mother moving to Mexico very often. She moved to Mexico for a change and was largely driven by her fixed income that was difficult to live on in the United States. She moved to Mexico, was so excited about how cheap everything was, she could buy four times the crap that she could in the US (and she did), and go out to eat every day. She was consuming so many things that she was still living from social security check to social security check with an empty bank account at the end of every month. She cut her living expenses in half but managed to spend the same amount of money living in Mexico as she did in the USA. She failed to save anything. She returned to the USA because she was concerned about how she was going to pay for healthcare (stop buying crap?).
Since arriving in Mexico 12 years ago, I have lived in several different locations, including one of the poorest states in Mexico, and the most expensive city. So I have a clear grasp of the true cost of living in Mexico.
How much is rent in Mexico?
Rent in Mexico all depends on location, location, location.
When I first moved to Puerto Vallarta, I rented a one-bedroom apartment with ocean views next to the Molino de Agua, above the Oxxo. The rent at that apartment 12-years ago was $5,000 pesos, at the time with the currency conversion, I was paying $385 USD. It only included water, I needed to pay for all other utilities. But honestly, what a deal to have ocean views and just a few steps from the Malecon. It was sweet.
I also have lived in Oaxaca where I paid $3,500 pesos for a large two-bedroom apartment, and all utilities included. At the time, with the currency conversion, I was paying $220 USD for my monthly rent at a large two-bedroom apartment. It was the largest and cheapest place I have lived in Mexico.
My apartment now in Mexico City, the most expensive place to live in Mexico, is located in Condesa and I pay $9,800 pesos a month for a two-bedroom apartment with all utilities included. With today’s currency rates, I am paying $500 USD a month. That is a very reasonable cost to live in Condesa for those who are familiar with Mexico City. It’s a modest apartment on the park with a balcony.
I also still maintain a small one-bedroom apartment outside of the tourist zone of Puerto Vallarta and pay $3,000 pesos a month, or $150 USD with all utilities included. I spend many Winter/Spring months there and normally one week a month during the Summer-Fall.
All of the places I have lived were located in safe areas and the apartment/house was clean and well-constructed. I wouldn’t consider any of them to be low-income housing, they were all middle-class dwellings in good/safe neighborhoods.
The above has been my experience with the cost of rent in Mexico, however, you can easily get into US rent prices living in Mexico if you aren’t willing to simplify your life. There isn’t any problem finding a small one-bedroom apartment for $2,000 USD if that’s what you are into.
How much are utilities in Mexico?
Utilities are very cheap compared to the cost in the USA. Even 12-years ago, an electric bill under $100 a month was impossible to achieve. In Mexico, you will probably spend $20-$30 USD every two months. But this is where the disclaimer appears. If you use air conditioning, you better count on utilities being the same as the USA, if not more.
I arrived in Mexico in the early spring and moved to an apartment in Puerto Vallarta without air conditioning. It was miserable to me at night when trying to sleep because I had been so used to AC my entire life. When summer arrived, I ran straight to Walmart and got myself an AC unit for my bedroom. I had the best two months of sleep since I had arrived in Mexico, but that all ended when the electric bill arrived. $5000 pesos, at the time, $380 USD. That was only using the AC in the bedroom for 6 hours per night.
Previously, an expat that I had met in Puerto Vallarta tried to convince me that the only way to get used to the Vallarta heat was to not use AC, allow my body to adjust. That was the stupidest idea I had ever heard, at that time, but a $380 USD electric bill changed my attitude really fast. My electric bill was the same as my rent, which rubbed me the wrong way.
The pricing for electricity in Mexico is much different than what I was used to in the USA. In Mexico, you get a certain block of electricity usage at an extremely cheap rate. That block of utility is based on the electricity usage at your address over the previous year, even if you weren’t living there. And if you use more than your average usage, you pay a lot more per kw of electricity. I didn’t understand that, and obviously, the people who lived in my apartment before me used a lot less electricity than me, so when I turned on the AC I consumed a normal month of electricity for that apartment in just the first week.
If you are careful and adjust without AC, you can have electricity for just $15 USD a month. Or you can budget for $100-$150 USD a month if AC is critical to you, which is probably what you pay in the US now. I am happy to report that I haven’t had AC in 10 years and I sleep just fine. Let me assure you, I used to be someone who would complain about the heat at 75f degrees (23c). You will adjust to the heat.
Boy-o-boy has internet come a long way since I arrived in Mexico. I remember the days full of frustration because the internet was out. It was a common occurrence when I first moved to Mexico. And on the days it was working, it was slower than AOL dial-up, for those who remember the good ol’ days. Now, I haven’t had any internet issues for years and great speed. I have 150 Mbps and I have no problems with managing PVDN or streaming Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, or HBO Max (yes all that is available in Mexico too). I use Telmex because I feel like they offer the best service. I used IZZI and the service was horrible. My internet cost is $500 pesos / $25 USD per month for 150 Mbps, I think that is pretty cheap and I have no complaints about the speed or service.
Water and Gas
When I lived in Oaxaca, I had to pay for my own gas. That is the only time I ever paid for gas in Mexico. At that time, I had to buy the canister of gas about every 8 weeks at $500 pesos, so the cost was $25 USD every two months. So that is my only reference for the cost of gas in Mexico. I assume it’s very minimal because every other place I have lived included gas in the cost of my rent. The same for water. I have never had to pay for water at any place I have lived, so the cost must be minimal. If you are expected to pay for gas and water, I would recommend budgeting $25 a month for both, just to be safe.
Cost of food in Mexico
Mercado and Tianguis shopping
For the purpose of this section, a Mercado is an indoor farmers market. An enclosed space with multiple vendors selling a variety of foods and other items. A tianguis is an open-air street market, normally found in designated neighborhoods one day a week.
I ONLY buy my food at the mercado and tianguis. I do not shop in supermarkets, but they are available if that’s your preference.
Every Tuesday, the street in front of my house is closed for four blocks and a tianguis is opened from 8 AM until 6 PM. This is where I do the bulk of my shopping. I take $1,000 pesos ($55 USD) each week and buy my items for the week. I spend about $250 a month on my primary food groups (veggies, fruits, meats, chicken, cheeses) from the tianguis.
There is a mercado just 3 blocks from my house if I need to pick up some items during the week, but it’s rare. Normally my Tuesday tianguis shopping will cover me for a week.
TIP: Healthy foods are cheaper than fast food and ‘junk’ foods in Mexico. An opposite reality than food costs in the USA where junk food is cheap and eating fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive.
Grocery store shopping
I do not shop at local grocery stores, I try to consume from local and small vendors that can be found at the tianguis and mercado. However, I do look to the largest retailer to supply me with some essentials. I use Amazon Mexico to have toiletries and dry goods delivered. The reason I don’t shop at grocery stores is that I end up buying a lot of junk and things I don’t need. Those items are not easy to find at the tianguis so I am not tempted. I have no self-control. This is why I order toiletries and dry goods online. And I just hate grocery shopping.
In total, I spend $350 USD a month on groceries, toiletries, and dry goods. That is half of what I was spending 12 years ago in the USA for groceries every month. I can imagine it would even cost more today.
I do not have a car. I use Uber, public transportation, and mostly my feet to get around. I have strategically chosen my living location so that I can walk to the places I would most likely frequent (i.e. close to the mercado, a mall, numerous restaurants, and cafes). I could easily live without ever getting into another car, bus, or metro. I can access everything by walking. In a month, I would say I spend about $15 dollars in transportation costs, mostly on Uber.
If you have a car (which I recommend not having in Mexico), you will need to budget for gas, insurance, and upkeep. I have never had those expenses in Mexico, so I am unsure what your budget would need to be.
Cost of Entertainment and Extras
I do dine out a lot. It is my biggest expense but I would never count it as a living expense because it’s a luxury. I consider living expenses to be housing, utilities, and food (cooking at home, food basics).
I easily spend $2,000 pesos ($100-$125 USD) a week in dining out. Normally dining out, or ordering in, and paying for one or two of my friends a couple of times a week is where I spend the $2,000 pesos.
Cocina Economical (pro tip)
I love eating at cocinas economics. They are small restaurants, normally run by older women, and have a simple menu of the day with a set price. Probably 2 or 3 different plate options for the day that include a soup, the main course (chicken or beef, rice, salad), a dessert, and a flavored water drink. The typical price is $50-$65 pesos ($3-$4 dollars). I eat at these places a lot when I am traveling. Good homecooked style meal by a Mexican grandmother, what else could you need!
The pandemic has changed the way I plan entertainment, in a good way. Now, most entertainment is having friends come to my house for game night and movie night. Grab some beers and tacos and really enjoy the company of friends. The cost is minimal and it’s just more meaningful now. I might spend about $20 USD on each game or movie night to buy some beers. There are street tacos and a street hamburger and hotdog cart just outside my house, so dinner is settled.
I take advantage of the free entertainment in both Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta. In Puerto Vallarta, the beach is my number one choice for free entertainment. I love the water, the sounds of the ocean, the breeze. It’s better than meditation for me. I don’t go to crowded beaches, I like peace when I am on the beach. In the evening, you can always find something happening at the Arcos on the Malecon, a free music or theatre show.
In Mexico City, Chapultepec is very close to my house, a large park and forest in the city. Larger than Central Park in NY. The entrance is free and also the zoo inside the park is free to enter. You can spend all day in the park, having a picnic, seeing a street performer, visit the Canadian totem poles. The totem was donated to Mexico by Canada on Mexico’s 150th anniversary of independence. There are also free museum nights that I take advantage of in Mexico City.
Traveling around Mexico
I have visited all 32 States in Mexico since I arrived, most of that travel has been in the last six years since I launched PVDN. Travel in Mexico is cheap, easy, and safe. Sometimes I will fly to my destination, but mostly I like to take first-class buses. I love a bus ride. I take the late-night bus so I can sleep (save hotel room costs) and arrive at my destination in the morning and ready to enjoy the full day. First-class bus tickets in Mexico are very cheap. I have traveled by bus from Puerto Vallarta to Cancun, that is how much I love the bus (although I did return by plane).
When I travel, I am not searching for fancy restaurants and bars at my destinations. I stick to street food (and the cocinas económicas), visit free museums, explore the historic center of each town, their main churches, and the monuments that tell the story of the location’s history. I keep my costs very low. I stay at basic hotels, not resorts or 5-star stays. I am happy in 3-stars. I prefer basic living. Fancy is very uncomfortable for me.
When all is said, I take at least 2 trips per month in Mexico for an average of 3 nights each and spend $300 total. ($150 per trip), including transportation on a first-class bus, hotel, food, and museum entries. Travel is a huge part of my life that I can’t give up, but I have learned how to do it on a budget.
Summary of Cost of Living in Mexico
Most topics covering the cost of living in Mexico dive into entertainment, splurge spending, clothing, etc. I don’t want to do that because that isn’t a cost of living and it will be drastically different for each person. But the costs that don’t change much from person to person are housing (middle-class living), utilities, and food necessities, those are your true cost of living.
These are my monthly necessity costs as a single person living alone:
- Rent: $500 USD (Two-bedroom apartment in one of Mexico City’s most expensive neighborhoods)
- Utilities: $25 USD (I only pay internet, everything else is included in my rent)
- Food (basic grocery needs): $350 USD (includes all food, dry goods, and toiletries for a month)
In total, my cost of living in Mexico is $875.00 USD per month for the necessities.
I easily spend a total of $1,500 USD, nearly twice my cost of living, when I include entertainment and my second apartment in Puerto Vallarta. Dining out and traveling around Mexico are my primary non-essential spending choices. I can say that for $1,500 USD a month I live a full life and I am completely happy and don’t feel like I am missing anything due to a lack of money. I could easily live on $1,000 USD a month in Mexico without any complaints.
To give a good reference point. I was spending $1,000 USD on rent for a two-bedroom home in the USA before I moved to Mexico. Just the rent in the USA was more than my total essential spending in Mexico. I am able to breathe easier not worrying about how I will buy food next week.
And while the cost of living in Mexico is a huge draw for expats, including myself, it’s the people and culture that keep me here. More on that in my next series, How to Live in Mexico; 10 Things I love about being an expat in Mexico.
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Ian Hayden Parker is the founder of PVDN and has been living as an expat in Mexico for the past 12 years. You can contact Ian Hayden Parker to suggest a topic for the next issue of How to Live in Mexico by submitting your feedback here. You can also join the PVDN Newsletter to receive daily news and more articles like this, join the newsletter here.
How to live in Mexico is a new series of posts dealing with life as an expat in Mexico and lessons that have been learned over the last 12 years as an expat. This series is opinions based on my own experiences as an expat in Mexico and each individual should expect different experiences through their own personal journey.