Live and Retire in Mexico: Cost of Living

Live and Retire in Mexico: Cost of Living

Many people want to retire in Mexico because they have heard that the cost of living here is lower than in the U.S. or Canada. Mexico became famous for being cheap in the 60s and 70s and I have no doubt that it was. My experience from 2001 to 2007 (at the writing of this page) has been that cheapness is relative because buying power is relative. When you are spending dollars in Mexico your buying power is stronger than when you are spending pesos in Mexico, so in that sense the cost of living in Mexico is lower than up north.

Mexico is Not a Sunnier Version of the U.S.

A less than obvious factor that makes the cost of living in Mexico higher than we dream is that many things that we take for granted up north are not automatically in place in Mexico. For example:

  • -Unsafe drinking water means that we must have a water filtration system or purchase bottled water.
  • -Occasional contact with unsanitary water or food causes loss of productivity and incurs medical costs for treatment.
  • -The monopolized telephone system charges outrageous prices causing people to avoid using the phone and thus generating the hidden costs of lost potential. People sometimes have to contract a variety of other services to meet their needs and thus expend extra time and money.
  • -The relatively poor transportation system makes travel more time consuming and tiring. Though the excellent bus system probably more than offsets this cost.
  • -The unreliable electrical system may create a need for alternatives.
  • -The rampant class-ism creates a lack of customer service in industries nationwide.
  • -Corrupt police and the Napoleonic Code of Law mean that in the case of an accident greater amounts of time and money may be required to deal with the legal effects.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Mexico is not a sunnier version of the U.S. It’s a developing country. The only way to truly calculate these “costs” in your life is to experience them and see for yourself before you decide to live or retire in Mexico. In my book Mexico: The Trick is Living Here I tackle the complex topic of cost of living in Mexico by giving descriptions of different lifestyle “levels” with estimated costs so that people can see where they might fall on the broad range between “living like a local” and “living in luxury.”

image of cover of e-book: Mexico The Trick is Living Here
Here’s what one reader had to say about this humorous, practical e-book.


“[I was impressed with] your ability to get right to the heart of what’s important in life, and especially to truly “see” the Mexican people. I don’t know if that’s because [your husband is Mexican], because you have been forced to immerse yourself, or just because you have extraordinary insight, but I think it’s the most important thing you have to contribute. I will tell you this: by far more important to me than the information re: how to register your car or get a FM3 visa, were things like:

* real life information on lifestyles,cost of living, and the average Mexican home

* the story of your personal healthcare experiences

* building your “posse” of people around you who make your tacos, do your laundry, etc.

* the importance of close relationships with your neighbors

* social graces like how to greet and say goodbye to everyone

* the section on the varieties of fruit and neat stuff like ice cream

* all the little glimpses of simple day-to-day life

“Nobody else provides that kind of information, and that’s what you are really good at.”

–Dave Brown, Colorado

If I Retire in Mexico Will it Lower My Cost of Living?

The most obvious factor that makes Mexico less cheap than we dream is that there are many places where prices are quite high. Ajijic, near Guadalajara, Cuernavaca, near Mexico City, and Cancun in the “Riviera Maya” are all examples of places in Mexico that have a high cost of living and they are certainly not the only ones. Obviously, the presence of a high percentage of Americans, Canadians, and other foreigners drives prices up (as well as the presence of lots of Mexico’s richest, too).

“Your book is unique, most useful and a smart idea.”

Hi Julia,

I am enjoying the book. Thank you so much.

…You are doing a great, useful, down to earth service and all the anecdotal info and style of your writing is great. I feel like I am talking to a friend. Not being adventurist, but so tempted to make the change….

thanks again, Dan Serbin

For example, renting a tiny house in Cuernavaca costs between $400 and $800 U.S. dollars a month. If $400 sounds cheap to you, then you need to understand what I mean by tiny. Tiny in Cuernavaca can be the size of a camping trailer, with no parking, an unreliable water supply, and usafe stairs. Would you pay $400 a month to live in a camping trailer in someone else’s back yard? That’s the way many of the least expensive places to rent are set up.

Of course, the best way to get a good sense for the true cost of living — for you as an individual with your own personal priorities and activities — is to rent in the area you’d like to move to for 6 months or so. That’s why I chose to present the different lifestyle “levels” in the cost of living section of my book. I try to give my readers an idea of whether or not they would find their new life in Mexico comfortable enough based on their financial resources. e-book

You wouldn’t buy a car without first researching its safety, comfort, reliability, and gas mileage.


There’s NO NEED to make planning to retire in Mexico like reading the newspaper through a glass of water when you can have REAL ANSWERS. Treat yourself to a book which will clear up your doubts. Click here to learn how.

The prices I give in my book are estimates that will give you ballpark ideas of how much it costs to live a certain way.

Mexico: The Trick is Living HereDear Ms. Taylor;

Thanks for writing such an informative, enjoyable and readable e-book! The information you have provided is helping me with my planning for an extended stay, 2-3 months, in Mexico.

I don’t have a printer at home and I’m requesting permission to store an electronic copy of your book on my iPod until….

–Peter A Cassidy
British Columbia, Canada

Mexico is Expensive if You Aren’t Spending “Dolars”

Another factor that can make the cost of living in Mexico extremely high is to have to earn money in Mexico. High paying jobs in Mexico are rare and hard to find. Most jobs don’t pay enough to live on and often the hours are long and split shifts are common. To top it off, if you retire in Mexico, then you are probably over 50. Mexico is “ageist” and it’s increasingly hard to get a job once you pass about 40 years old. I suggest that you do not live or retire in Mexico unless you have some U.S. or Canadian dollars to spend — or are just on a one or two year lark and have a way to move back north.

What do YOU Need
to Learn About?

By reading this book, you will learn about the things you wouldn’t have known you needed to learn about.

See also The Cost of Living in Mexico Depends on Your Lifestyle for a useful way to figure out what your personal buying power will actually be once you live or retire in Mexico.

Cut The Negativity and Give Me the Facts, Please.

To help you figure out the cost of living in Mexico, click here to see a detailed grocery list.

Budgeting in Mexico

Click here to read some tips on budgeting when you retire in Mexico.

Click here to read about how much and how rapidly prices have been increasing (2007).

Click here to read a real-life case study of costs for an expatriate in Ajijic.


Expatriate Experience

An Expatriate Experience:
Inside Out or Outside In?

By Michael Shepherd

Have you ever walked down a residential street at twilight as people have turned on their lights but not yet closed their curtains? The homes look so warm, cozy and inviting that you envy these strangers their ideal lives. For that is what they appear as you pass by on the outside, looking in. On such an illusion our ex-pat life is based.

Here is the link to Michael’s website:

An American-Irish expatriate couple share their Greek island experience by offering lodging and information including maps and photos. They provide content and links for Paros, the Cyclades, Greece and the world of living abroad. Learn more at:

As we have passed through various tourist areas my wife, Karin, and I have looked on the lifestyles of the locals and yearned for their apparent simplicity in the midst of splendor. It started on our honeymoon in Mexico leading us to host a Mexican exchange student a few years later which in turn lead us to visit his and a second student’s families in Mexico. The hook was set. Our experience as visitors, as honoured guests of the locals was vastly superior to that of mere tourists gawking at the quaintness of the culture.

Since then we have traveled in many countries and found something to like about each of them. We love the excitement, adventure, discovery, and romance of the foreign. We search for depth; we want to meet the real people not the jaded tourist industry personnel. Both of us are avid students; we learned and studied everywhere we went. We developed an international perspective and felt so worldly wise. Yet, by the time we got to England we struggled to keep a straight face the first time an English B & B matron asked us, “What time shall I knock you up in the morning?” Our minds were stuck in our teenage phrase for getting pregnant—”knocked up”.

Also we felt duty bound to improve attitudes towards Americans. The gap between perception and reality was first driven home to me when hosting a group of young Nigerian businessmen through Rotary International in Portland, Oregon. As they became comfortable with our open friendliness one hesitantly asked if they could see my gun. “My gun? I don’t own a gun!” They all exhaled, for they sincerely believed that they had to be extremely careful not to offend an American or he would whip out his pistol and shoot them dead. After all they had seen it many times in the cinema.

Now fast forward to our youngest child being 22 and out on his own, my 18 year old business humming along OK, and our middle age lifestyle getting boring. We do a house exchange for two weeks in England and find ourselves thinking why not live like this permanently. Back in our safe, comfortable surroundings of hometown, USA we fantasize at all the possibilities and begin researching the alternatives. Two years later we had bought a small grocery store in Ballydehob, West Cork Ireland—mortgaged to the very hilt.

Our family said we were foolish; our friends said we were brave. We replied confidently that we were following our dream but also had all the possible scenarios covered. Everything was planned to a tee. How right they were, how wrong we were.

Upon moving into our living quarters above our shop in a 200-year-old stone building in a picturesque village we discovered the glow of the fireplace off the wood paneling as seen from the street was a false front. We couldn’t get the #&@%# stove to stay lit in the coldest January the locals could remember. The shop assistant who was going to help us learn the trade didn’t show up our first morning. The Lotto organization decided our taking over was a good time to cancel the outlet. For the first year every week we learned a new and more frustrating difference between doing business in Ireland versus the States.

We also made a few social faux pas. For instance, during Karin’s first trip back to Oregon I stayed to mind the shop. Our helper was behind the counter chatting about Karin’s absence with a couple customers, John and Mary. I sauntered over to make the comment, “It certainly has made a difference in my pants!” They all froze for a long pregnant moment as I tried to figure out what I had said. Mary chuckled and asked, “Oh, how is that, Michael?” And it hit me. “My trousers that is, they have a lot more room,” I said as I thumbed the waistband to show them. Everyone laughed and changed the subject. (In Ireland pants refers to underwear, trousers to outer.)

One of our fruit and vegetable vendors, Paddy, was the flirty type. He wore tight jeans and was always making comments to and about our girls. Karin just ignored his occasional double intentres. So one fine sunny spring day Karin and I had gone to Schull for lunch. One of us had to be back at two to relieve our help. So Karin decided to stay and walk around the warm, pretty harbour with my encouragement that it would easy to get a lift back when she was ready. But when the time came, a couple cars passed without stopping and she felt very uncomfortable. So she started walking back into town and saw Paddy’s lorry. She went over to see when he would be heading back. She complained to him that no one would give her a ride. His mouth dropped open, he smiled, and said, “I’ll be glad too.” Then Karin remembered that here the common use of ride is sexual slang. Her face turned red and she back-tracked to “A lift, back to Ballydehob and my husband, who expected me an hour ago.” She sat next to the door with the young assistant in the middle.

But oh boy, did we enjoy the lifestyle. Young people complain about village life where everybody knows your every coming and going but we found it brought back our youth to know and be known. Karin would go on a “quick” errand up the street and be back 45 minutes later with all the latest gossip. On a busy day driving up the street was like being in a parade with all the waving. We loved the people, we loved the music, we loved the casualness of it all. I don’t have the ability to describe Ireland in fewer than 1,000 words. Suffice it to say, I know of no one who visited who did not immensely enjoy it.

Several friends and relatives were persuaded to holiday at our Irish dwelling. They saw that we worked hard to produce a living that would not be up to their standards back home. Yet they, as we so long ago in Mexico, recognized the joy of immersing themselves into a foreign culture.


Both in West Cork and in Paros we heard many stories of musicians, sailors and the like who came for a short visit and never left. Thus we were not alone in having succumbed to the delights of a beautiful life compared to a prosperous one. The everyday gorgeous scenery somehow wins out over suburban buildings and traffic.

After five years of operating losses we liquidated the business, made a profit on the property and began searching for a way to turn our hard won experience into an income. Our eyes drifted South to the land of Socrates, Plato and warm sun—where truly the locals must live a charmed life. Once in Athens the first two people I asked recommended Paros. So I quit asking and went there.

Once again we are spending the profits of our earlier life while struggling to make ends meet. During my regular afternoon swim at Livadia Beach with the beautiful bodies on the sand, the attractive buildings along the harbour and the mountains as a backdrop to the warm water and sun I thought: Lord help me remember this scene when I am old and poor in a public nursing home.

The cycle continues as we share our piece of paradise by operating a small guesthouse on the island of Paros. We help our guests enjoy their holiday and gain an insight to the Greek culture. They then return to their land of hypermarkets, traffic and high-paying jobs while we spend our winter with wind, rain and ouzo at ˆ4 per litre.

Karin and I are still wandering the residential areas peeking at the bougainvillea-covered terraces wondering what it would be like to live in that house. It has to end some time, I guess. We can retire as soon as I win the lottery.

Back to Letting Go of Materialism.


Live or Retire in Mexico: Trip to the Bank

A Live or Retire in Mexico Illustration:
A Trip to the Bank as a Major Cognitive and Emotional Effort

Before you decide to live or retire in Mexico, let’s break your thought process down into all of the individual questions you will have to answer before stepping out your door to do a simple errand such as going to the bank.

 1. Where is the bank?

 2. How will I get there? Car, bus, taxi?

 2A. If by car, do I have gas?

 2B. Do I know the route?

 2C. Where will I park? Is the parking safe?

 2D. If by bus or taxi, do I have change or small enough bills?

 2E. Do I know which bus to take and where to get off the bus? / Do I know how to tell the taxi driver where to take me?

 3. What documents are necessary for the transaction I want to carry out? (Sometimes they are different from back home.)

 4. What Spanish phrases will I need to use to communicate my needs?

 5. Shall I take a book to pass the time on the bus or in line?

 6. Is there a bathroom nearby that I can use? (You may chuckle now, but this is often a major consideration for me before heading out on the bus to take care of various transactions.)

 7. Do I know how to get back home? (For example, where is the bus stop for the return bus route?)

 8. How long will this errand take me? Should I take water? Should I wear comfortable shoes? Will I need to eat before I come home? 

Do you really know what your lifestyle as an expatriate in Mexico might be like? People love this book.

I starting reading your book and I couldn’t put it down.  I loved it.
I chuckled at some of your experiences and felt your frustrations
at others.

I would like to interview you over the phone [for my web site].

Linda” (creator of

Add onto the above the fact that it’s hot, sunny, you consider personal safety measures, you sometimes feel like you stick out like a sore thumb banks are miserable places etc. etc.

All of the above questions are things you don’t even have to consider back home.  This is why it is critical when you live or retire in Mexico, that you take things slowly and do things one at a time. 

After 6 months to a year, you will find that you are equally as comfortable in your new surroundings as you were before you moved. Just know that it will take time—especially if you don’t speak Spanish before you become an expat.

Back to Some Things to Consider Before you Live or Retire in Mexico