How to Live Well in the Riviera Maya for US $980 per Month

May 17, 2018
By TAO Mexico
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Most people who are considering moving to the Riviera Maya begin their journey by searching for more details to back up the rumor that the cost of living down here is significantly lower than in the United States, Canada, or Europe. Of course, this is absolutely true. However, the amount of money you spend is down to your own personal tastes and desires. You could live like a king in Mexico if you decided to continue to spend money like you were forever on vacation. Those of us who’ve settled here tend to find a good balance, with a regular domestic home life which is filled with dining out opportunities, and plenty of money to travel and enjoy the entertainment interests around the Riviera Maya. Our lifestyle - which doesn’t scrimp and save too much on the finer things - can easily be afforded for under US $1,000 US per month. In Mexico, you tend to pay significantly less, for almost all day-to-day commodities, than you do in the US. This means the normal cost of everyday life is much lower here, leaving you with plenty of spare money at the end of the month to eat out, enjoy day trips and tours, or travel near and far.

A Complete Lifestyle for just $980us per Month?

This is how your monthly bills will likely break down here in Mexico. This is an average for a single, home-owning expat, but will give a good overall understanding of the general cost of living in Mexico.

Insurances & Fees - $330

  • Healthcare Insurance - $120
  • Car Insurance - $50
  • Property Insurance - $30
  • HOA fees - $130

Utilities & Home Essentials - $100

  • Electricity - $30
  • Water - $8
  • Gas Bottles (Water Heater & Stove) - $20
  • Internet - $22
  • Cell Phone - $20

Food, Drink & Lifestyle - $550

  • Groceries - $180
  • Dining Out - $100
  • Entertainment & Miscellaneous - $120
  • Gasoline & Transportation - $150

Most citizens of the United States with think that this is not a lot of money to live the comfortable, happy life I described earlier. It is absolutely possible. To understand why, we need to further understand the costs of goods and services in Mexico.

Breaking Down the Cost of Living in Mexico

September 2017 data comparing the cost of living in Mexico and the United States highlights how much cheaper everyday things are on the Spanish-speaking side of North America. The economic regions across Mexico vary greatly, and the Riviera Maya is certainly one of the most affluent areas of Mexico, but it is still certainly considered cheap by United States’ standards. One of the main reasons life is cheaper in Mexico? The average monthly salary here is only 17% of that in the United States - $541 versus $3,127. Readers should be aware, the economically mobile region of Quintana Roo is considered one of the more expensive areas of Mexico, meaning prices and salaries are higher here than the national average. Having said that, you can still live cheaply here in the Riviera Maya. You could also live an expensive lifestyle if you wanted to. Here are the essential things you need to know [All $ figures quoted are in US dollars]:

Restaurants & Eating Out

Eating out in Mexico is cheap. In fact, sometimes it can actually cost less than buying groceries and cooking at home. You can get tacos in an endless number of family-run restaurants and street food stalls, where you can eat heartily like a true Mexican for very little money. Dinner for less than $5 can simply be five tacos at 50 cents each, a coke for 80 cents, or a beer for $1.40. The Riviera Maya hosts a range of great restaurants which tailor for all tastes. The national average for dinner in an inexpensive restaurant in Mexico is $4.94, where experience says it is more like $10 or $11 in the more fancier touristic areas. The national average for a three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant is $21.97 (more like $27 - $30 in Riviera Maya), while meals in hotels and beach clubs designed for tourists can have prices similar to what you would pay in the US.

Groceries

Groceries can be very, very cheap in Mexico. Not a lot of food is imported into the country, a lot of things are grown here, and so you can easily get supplies from small, local markets as well as numerous large supermarkets. Groceries can cost around half of what they do in the US. For example, a basket with milk, bread, rice, eggs, cheese, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, lettuce, apples, and oranges would be around $24 in the US and would cost only $11.50 here in Mexico.

Home Essentials & Utilities

Household bills are also much cheaper in Mexico than they are in the United States. Mexico’s national average utility bill for the basics is $38.24 while the comparable amount would be $147.93 in the US. There are a number of suitable cell phone packages which give you lots of data and are engineered for those who like to make long distance calls across MX-US-CAN. You can have everything covered on your phone for $20 per month, while a home internet connection will cost around $22 per month.

Buying a Home

Real Estate in Mexico can cost a fraction of what it does in the United States. The national average “price per square foot” of an apartment in the city center is $84.65 in Mexico compared to $207.45 in the US. Of course, this is an average over the entire country, and Mexico has a greater degree of economic variety across its regions in comparison to the US. The kind of homes most expats live in could be considered palatial in comparison to the rustic digs some local folk sleep in in the poorer corners of Mexico. For more information on acquiring the kind of Real Estate in Mexico which is relevant to the expat market, download our useful free guide: “How to buy a property in the Riviera Maya being a foreigner”.

Renting a Home

Mexico City (DF), Baja California, and the Riviera Maya have some of the most expensive real estate in Mexico, but it is still cheaper to rent here than the US. A one-bedroom apartment in the city center has an average rent of $267.82 in Mexico against the United States’ $1,174.56. The same applies here as for buying a home, other parts of Mexico can be very cheap with low living standards, which will skew this national average to what appears to be very, very low. The Real Estate market in the Riviera Maya acts almost like a separate entity in comparison to the rest of Mexico, and broad, national data such as this should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Cars & Gasoline

The average gas prices are one of the few things which are cheaper in the US than in Mexico. Current data shows the United States’ average gas price is around $2.60 per gallon. The average price for a liter of gasoline in Mexico is 16 pesos (88 cents). For a gallon, it would cost around $3.40. Buying a car can be much cheaper in Mexico than it is in the United States. Of course, this depends on which model you want. As an example, a Volkswagen Golf 1.4 would be around $14,300 in Mexico compared to just under $22,000 in the US.

Transportation

Getting around - both locally and nationally - can be very cheap in Mexico. The national bus service, ADO, has some pretty luxurious coaches which are air-conditioned and comfortable for long journeys. Local transportation can cost as little as 40 cents depending on how far you’re going. Mexico has a great culture of local collectivos. These privately operated vans will stop and pick you up around the towns and highways throughout the Riviera Maya and can be a good way to travel up the coast if you don’t have a car. Prices, of course, vary according to distance, for example, I recently paid $11 for an 80-mile drive which took two hours. A range of low-budget airlines offer a quick and cheap solution to visiting the wider reaches of Mexico. For example, from Cancun, you can fly with VivaAerobus to Mexico City for as little as $36.

Non-Essential Items

Luxury items like electronic goods and designer clothes can actually cost the same (if not more) in Mexico compared to the US, Canada, or Europe, but you’re not gonna need that fancy gear anyway…

Currency Exchange Rate Magic

Remember, while you are living in Mexico, you will be paying for things in Mexican pesos, converted from your US dollars at the current exchange rate. At the time of writing [Sept. 2017], 1 US dollar is around 18 Mexican pesos. So, our $980 US is worth:

  • US $980 @ 18 MXN/USD = 17,640 MXN

Interestingly, in January 2017 the exchange rate reached a high of around 22 Mexican Pesos to 1 US dollar. If we see that rate again, our $980 US would be worth:

  • US $980 @ 22 MXN/USD = 21,560 MXN

Remember, we have shown how you can comfortably live off of 17,640 MXN per month here in Mexico. If the exchange rate were to improve again you would have:

  • An extra 3,920 MXN / US $178 to spend per month; or
  • The same lifestyle which now costs US $802 per month.

If you have faith in the future of the US economy, sit back and watch your country save you money!