Editor’s Note: This article was first published in December 2008, and updated again in August of 2011. It has been one and a half years since our last update, so its time to do it again. What follows is the original article with some added comments and updated prices. For comparison, we have included the the 2008 and the 2011 prices in parentheses wherever possible, so we can all watch the trends.
In editing the article and putting in the new prices, we found a lot of interesting changes. The prices of tomatos and martinis have not changed, but the price of gas and electricity sure has. Some price changes are hard to quantify… the price of real estate is all over the map, and while prices are not rising as much as they were a few years ago, they haven’t exactly fallen either. We hope you enjoy the update and we look forward to your comments!
What Does It Cost to Live in Merida Mexico?
One of the most common questions we have been asked by readers of Yucatan Living is also one we often hesitate to answer: What’s the cost of living in Yucatan? Our standard (and rather evasive) answer has been: “Well… it depends”. We are particularly surprised by those who ask us, “Can a person live on $4,000 dollars a month down there? Or $2,000 dollars?” Because the answer to that, of course, is “Yes! There are thousands, maybe millions, of Mexicans living here on much less.”
Unlike the United States and other developed counties where money talks and the consumer is king, Mexico and the Yucatan in particular, do not have homogenous economies. In so-called “developed” countries, most people have a wage-earning job, drive a car, shop at the mall, save with an IRA, use a credit card, pay income taxes and share a common – if not equal – economic reality.
But the long and very special history of Mexico has produced a different economy here. Either through imposition or experimentation, Mexicans have incorporated, and to a varying extent maintained, economic systems inherited from Native America, Colonial Spain, the Napoleonic Empire, the Catholic Church, Capitalism, Socialism and Communism, just to mention the heavy hitters. There are whole communities in Mexico that still live off the land, like our great, great grandparents who settled the “wild west”. At the other extreme, the richest man in the world makes his home in Mexico. And almost every other conceivable economic arrangement and social class is also found here.
You Paid Too Much
While the trend is that more and more Yucatecos are joining what we call the “money economy”, most campesinos still prefer to bargain and barter, avoid banks and loans, and minimize formal payrolls and income taxes. While those in Gringolandia tend to pay top dollar, Yucatecos boast of finding el precio mas barato (the lowest price) for their last purchase.
When we first moved here, a gringa friend of ours had composed a little ditty entitled “You Paid Too Much!”. We don’t remember the lyrics or the tune, but we remember and appreciate the sentiment: no matter what you tell someone you paid for something here, the reaction is almost universal… you paid too much! At first it was unnerving, causing us to walk around feeling like we had been duped at every turn. This is an easy feeling to adopt when you are an expatriate; sometimes it can feel like there’s a big dollar sign (or pesos sign… coincidentally, they are the same!) printed on your forehead, and you are the only one who cannot see it. Gradually, we have gotten used to this feeling and realize that it is just the symptom of a mindset that is always looking for a bargain.
Lifestyle in the Yucatan… It Depends
These and other significant economic and cultural differences mean that the cost of living in Yucatan (and much of Mexico) depends more on your lifestyle and personal financial decisions than they probably do in your own country. There are simply more options here. Many commodities can be found at very different prices depending on location, context, and quality. The Mexican economy is like eBay, a swap meet and a garage sale wrapped in a department store in a mall at Disneyland (we refer to Cancun). For example, you can watch the same Hollywood blockbuster in an art-deco theater in downtown Merida for about $2.50 USD that would cost you $8.50 USD lying in a barcalounger in a modern cineplex in northern Merida. Or you can go to a government-sponsored film festival at the Olimpo or Teatro Merida and pay $1.50 USD to see an art film. Or you can buy that film for $25 pesos (about $2 USD) from the guy who comes by your table selling piratas (pirated DVD’s) and watch it at home. You see? It depends…
When in Rome… Uh, Merida!
One important way to reduce costs is through immersion and assimilation. The more Yucateco you become, the less you’ll find yourself paying (and willing to pay) too much. It’s obvious to most of us who live here that speaking Spanish and adapting to local traditions will almost always guarantee finding a lower price or a lower-priced alternative. What’s not immediately obvious is how thrift becomes a way of life when it is supported by the culture that surrounds you. You can drive across town to Home Depot for that machete (yes, you might like to have one here), or you can walk to the corner hardware store and buy one for less. The choice is yours. But you are bound to feel more comfortable at the corner store if you speak a little Spanish and are willing to become a part of your neighborhood.
About the Mexican Peso
With only a few exceptions (real estate and lodging come to mind), you’ll be paying for everything in pesos. After the horrific peso devaluation of 1994, there have been important changes in Mexican finance, which includes a virtual peso “peg” to the U.S. dollar. For about six years after 2000, the Mexican peso tracked the value of the dollar at an exchange rate of 11 pesos to one U.S. dollar, plus or minus half a peso. In mid 2011, when this article was previously updated, the exchange rate of the peso was about 12.3pesos to the U.S. dollar. For comparison purposes and quick calculations, we will use the 12 to 1 ratio in this article, though in the last year, the peso has been as high as 14.3 (May 2012) and is now about 12.3 at this writing (Mar 2013).
Unlike Europeans and Latin Americans, who are conditioned to think in multiple currencies, most norteamericanos have a difficult time understanding the value of anything not quoted in dollars. But it’s not that difficult. Just divide the price in pesos by 10, and then give yourself a 20 percent discount. For example, something that costs $100 pesos costs $10 dollars minus 20%, or $8.00 dollars, mas o menos.
As a service to you, our reader, the rest of this article quotes most of the prices in pesos, so you can practice doing the math…
One of the more fundamental expenses is housing, and prices in Yucatan are particularly difficult to generalize. The cost of housing has increased over the last ten years just like everywhere else in the world, but from such a low value that there are still many locations that are affordable by North American or European standards. And the rise in prices was not caused by an over-abundance of loans, as most Mexicans own their homes outright. Mortgages are only now becoming available to the growing middle class, and are still practically impossible to get if you are a foreigner.
A renovated colonial house in the centro historico of Merida that cost $150,000 dollars five years ago may now sell for as much as $350,000. Unrestored properties can still be found for well under $100,000 dollars, but a good one is rarely under $35,000 to $40,000 USD. Compared with prices ten to fifteen years ago, this is quite an increase. The center of Merida, along with the beach areas along the Gulf Coast, have appreciated the most, as these are the most attractive locations for expatriates and retirees. There are places in Merida that are exclusive and expensive, such as La Ceiba, and prices there have been fairly stable. And there are numerous other safe and attractive neighborhoods in Merida that haven’t had as much publicity, such as Colonia Mexico or Chuburná, as well as smaller towns around Yucatan State, such as Cholul, Motul, Izamal and Valladolid, where lower priced homes are still available.
Fortunately for the real estate shopper, there are numerous agencies in Merida and the Yucatan with comprehensive websites where you can gain a broad view of the market. Just Google “Yucatan real estate” or “real estate in Merida Mexico” (when you have a lot of time). And don’t forget that all prices are negotiable.
Of course, another option is to rent, at least until you have some “on the ground” experience with life in the Yucatan, and have shopped the real estate market to your heart’s content. Many foreigners do rent before they buy, but the variety of rental properties makes determining a price range almost as difficult to generalize as real estate for sale. We have rented modest houses in the centro historico for as little as $200 USD per month and as much as $500 USD; these were rented from locals by locals. Now, a typical two bedroom rental downtown with the type of amenities that most expatriates are looking for and in the most desirable areas might go for $600 to $1200 USD per month or higher. A vacation rental home in Merida or on the beach, rented by the day or week, costs a lot more. Click on the Vacation Rental topic on the right side of this page to see some of the local offerings. Or as with real estate purchasing, just type in “vacation rental merida yucatan” into Google and compare prices. While we don’t have an exact measure to report, it is our intuition that these prices have stayed pretty stable. Certainly demand has been steadily rising, but supply of these homes has as well, so prices don’t seem to have changed a lot. If anything, they have maybe gone down a bit as competition has been increasing.
If you’re not a local, you’ll be competing with tourists, foreign professionals and student travelers when you rent. Depending on the condition of the property and its location, you will likely pay more than you might have five years ago. This is especially true of restored colonial vacation rental houses. Unfortunately, these are the most frequently advertised on the Internet. The most affordable properties are advertised by their owners by painting En Renta on the façade. Finding a suitable and affordable rental property therefore usually requires a visit to the area, a leisurely tour up and down the streets of the neighborhood in question, and lengthy communication in Spanish with the owner. For the cost-conscious shopper, we recommend staying in one of the low-price hostels while shopping rental properties like a local.
Income and Value Added Tax
Very few people in Mexico pay income tax. Well, technically, nobody pays income tax. If you are employed at a company that pays salaries and reports earnings, the company withholds and pays your personal income tax for you. But the number of wage-earning jobs subject to income tax in Mexico is relatively few compared to the United States or Canada.
Many Mexican workers earn their income, in whole or in part, abajo de agua (literally “under water”, but it means ‘under the table’). These workers include private farmers, artisans, independent contractors and construction workers, small restaurants and other sole proprietors of small businesses. This practice is not illegal. In Mexico, you can choose to participate in a “gray” economy, without reporting any profit or loss to the government, or you can participate in the formal economy through serialized invoices called facturas, and report both profits and losses. Many businesses must operate in both economies, depending on the client.
To compensate for a lack of tax revenue from income, the Mexican Government imposes a rather steep national sales tax, or Value Added Tax, called Impuesto Valores Agregado in Spanish, which is abbreviated to IVA and pronounced ee-VAH (or ee-BAH by many). You are expected to pay IVA for everything you purchase except medicines, unprepared foods, water and other basic necessities of life.
However, there are many cases, depending on your lifestyle choices, where IVA is not added to the price of your purchase (referred to as mas IVA, or plus tax). For example, you can eat fast food, where IVA is added, or you can eat at a private cocina economica, where it is not. You can contract with a professional cleaning service for your housekeeping needs and pay IVA, or you can hire a free-lance housekeeper. You can buy a machete (you really should get one…) at Home Depot mas IVA, or you can buy it at the Mercado, sin IVA. The choice, once again, is yours: WalMart or Chetumalito (a section of the mercado)? Bit by bit, that 15% savings adds up.
Your property’s value is determined by a state government agency called Catastral or Catastro (strangely, the same agency, two different names, both correct), and is based on the historic value of the property more than the (usually understated) last sale price. Every year, starting in January, you will receive a bill for property taxes, called a predial (pray-DEE-al). In most cases, you will be stunned to learn that this is profoundly less than you paid in your own country. For example, the former Yucatan Living offices, which was a two-bedroom, restored colonial in the centro, had a market value of over a million pesos. It has been appraised by Catastral at $212,000 pesos. We were billed $110 pesos for predial in 2008. And if we paid before March, there was a discount! Predial prices have not changed much in the last few years, but if you renovate your house, your predial will be raised to reflect the new appraised value. Working Gringos lovely home in San Sebastian, which sold for over $300,000 USD in 2012, paid a predial of approximately $300 USD in 2011, just to give you an idea.
Honestly, the property taxes are so low that we compensate by giving back to the city whenever we can. Anyone who asks us for a donation or wants to sell us flowers on the street will get a few pesos from us… it’s our way of contributing to the life around us here. We figure it’s the least we can do. After all, there’s that “$” on our forehead.
As anyone who has shopped for real estate in Merida or along the coast has learned, we are in the so-called “restricted zone”. This means that as foreigners we cannot own property directly in this zone, but must purchase it through a bank trust called a fidecomiso (FEE-day-co-MEE-so). These trusts charge a hefty annual maintenance charge. Just when you thought you were escaping the costs of property ownership: bang, the fideicomiso bill arrives!
Still, adding together the $4,500 to $6,500 peso charge for our bank trust along with the cost of the predial, the net expense is still a tenth of what we paid in property taxes back in California, so we try not to complain. But those annual fideicomiso charges are one motivation for becoming Mexican citizens, which would allow us to own the property outright.
After housing, most foreigners expect to pay for basic modern conveniences like water, garbage, gas, electricity, telephone, cable and internet. The per-unit cost of your monthly utility bills are not negotiable, but the total cost is directly affected by lifestyle choices.
The water supply is delivered by a company called JAPAY (HOP-eye). There really is no shortage of water in Merida, nor in most of Yucatan, so prices are low compared to the rest of North America. The least you will pay in the centro historico is $58.5 pesos per cubic meter for up to three cubic meters of water (up from $50 pesos in 2008). One cubic meter is 164 gallons. An average toilet flush is about 2.5 gallons. A five-minute shower is roughly 13 gallons. A load of laundry in a modern washing machine runs between 30 and 40 gallons. The more water you use, the higher the price per cubic meter, as the table below illustrates. In updating the prices from 2008, we noticed that most prices had been raised 6 to 10 pesos, but in this last update after a year and a half, there were almost no changes.
Water Consumed (M3)
Pesos per M3
4 – 10
11 – 15
16 – 20
21 – 40
$4.5 per M3
41 – 60
$4.8 per M3
61 – 80
$5.5 per M3
You will notice in the table that if you consume less than 20 M3′s per month, you are billed a flat rate. Above 20 M3′s, you are billed per M3. So a consumption of 25 M3′s will run you about $112.50 pesos. To add to this complex billing structure, prices also vary depending on location. In the southern (less affluent) areas of Merida, prices per cubic meter start at $47 pesos (up from $40 in 2008), while in the northern (affluent) areas, they start at $61 pesos (up from $52 in 2008). There is also a higher rate for business locations, which in 2013 is $171.50 pesos per M3. Consumers are billed every other month and in our aforementioned large home, we pay on average about $170 pesos per bill. Yes, we take showers AND we use a washing machine.
Many Yucatecos who own swimming pools choose to drill their own well to fill them, as well as to irrigate their gardens. This probably made more sense back in the day when water was pumped using windmills, but not as much (as we will see) now that the pumps are run by expensive electricity. It may again make more sense if you install wind or solar energy generators, as we know some friends have done at their haciendas. For more information about water prices, you can check JAPAY’s website. You will note that the last price update was January 2012. Since water is a basic human need, prices for water tend to stay fairly stable in the Yucatan.
We are familiar with two garbage collection companies in Merida: Servilimpia and Pamplona. They have different collection days depending on your location. For instance, Servilimpia works Colonia San Sebastian on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. In the tourist areas of the centro historico, they collect whether you pay or not. Sometimes, they forget to stop by for some reason, but in general the service works.
Prices for garbage removal used to be $17 pesos a month across the board in the centro and everywhere else. Now, things have changed a bit, but prices are still eminently reasonable:
- Zona Residencial Alta – $53.00 pesos per month
- Zona Residencial Media – $46.00 pesos per month
- Zona Media Alta – $33.00 pesos per month
- Zona Media Media – $28.00 pesos per month
- Zona Media Baja – $23.00 pesos per month
- Zona Popular Alta – $20.00 pesos per month
- Zona Popular Media – $17.00 pesos per month
- Zona Popular Baja – $14.00 pesos per month
- Fraccionamiento Popular Alta – $20.00 pesos per month
- Fraccionamiento Popular Media – $17.00 pesos per month
- Zona Marginada – $0.00 pesos per month
Have something big or unwieldy you want to throw away? Put it outside. If it is at all valuable or reusable, chances are a neighbor or passerby will pick it up before the garbage truck even gets there. If your garbage requires more effort or ingenuity on the part of the garbage company to haul it away, you might find them banging on your door, even in the middle of the night. Tip them $10 or $20 pesos and they will be happy. If not, they’ll tell you how much they want to take away your couch or old refrigerator, and there’s no reason not to pay them.
In addition, you will occasionally see a group of men (and sometimes women) in orange vests, sporting brooms and rolling trashcans, making their way along the streets of Merida to pick up after those who toss candy wrappers and plastic bottles from their cars or from the buses (which at times, seems to be almost everyone…). We would be knee-deep in modern, brand-name detritus if not for them. The discussion about stopping those people from tossing the candy wrappers in the first place is for another article.
La Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) is the national electric company that supplies power to all of Mexico. Although they are a “World Class Company”, (as the slogan on their trucks continues to remind us), they do not pretend to be affordable. Without a doubt, electricity is the most expensive utility in Yucatan.
We in Yucatan benefit from the previously-mentioned socialist influences within the Mexican economic system by living in a region classified as 1C. This means that because we have an average summer temperature of 30 degrees Celcius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), our electric bills are subsidized during the summer months of May through October. (Or, if you are a die-hard capitalist, you could say we are gouged the rest of the year.)
For a private residence in Merida, the summertime electricity rates are:
up to 300KW/H in 2013
Basic: $0.693 pesos (up from $0.567 pesos in 2008, $0.643 in 2011)) up to 150 Kilowatt Hours (KW/Hr)
Intermediate: $0.808 (up from $0.668 pesos in 2008, $0.742 in 2011) up to 300 KW/Hr (this limit used to be 600 KW)
High Intermediate: $1.040 (this is a new designation) from 300 to 450 KW/Hr
Surplus (excedente in Spanish): $2.772 (also a new designation) per KW/Hr over 450 KW/Hr
During the rest of the year, the rates are:
Basic: $0.789 pesos (up from 0.661 pesos after 150 KW/Hr in 2008 and $0.733 pesos in 2011) up to 75 KW/Hr
Intermediate: $0.960 pesos (up from $0.780 pesos up to 600 KW/Hr in 2008 and $1.229 pesos up to 150 KW/Hr in 2011) up to 100 KW/Hr
High $2.808 pesos (up from $2.350 pesos after 600 KW/Hr in 2008, and $2.593 pesos after 150 KW/Hr in 2011) after 175 KW/Hr
For those who are not familiar with the term “KW/Hr”, it means kilowatt-hour, which is a thousand watts of electricity consumed in an hour. If you burn ten, 100-watt light bulbs for an hour, they consume one KW/Hr of electricity. Naturally, here in Yucatan, low-cost fluorescent bulbs (11 to 17 watts) have been widely adopted, not just to conserve electricity, but also because they survive power fluctuations caused by our lovely afternoon electrical storms better than standard incandescent bulbs.
How much electricity does your lifestyle consume? If you plan to live like most campesinos outside Merida, you do not own a refrigerator. If you want a cold drink or fresh eggs, you walk to the corner store, which serves as the community refrigerator. You don’t own a washing machine either, preferring to wash your clothes by hand. You might own an electrical fan, but you certainly don’t own an air conditioner. You hang your hammock in a shady spot and let the breezes cool you off. Probably the only electrical appliances you own are a (rather loud) radio and a television, along with a few light bulbs (and maybe a string or two of Christmas lights, (para La Virgen).
With the exception of a few ceiling fans, a small refrigerator and perhaps a washing machine, many working class Yucatecos living in Merida don’t consume much more than their campesino cousins, although a growing number own a DVD player and a battery charger for their cell phone.
We observe that the Yucatan middle-class owns an assortment of electrical appliances similar to most middle-class expatriates, but they do not have as many and they are not used as often. You won’t find a garbage disposal or dishwasher in most Yucatan kitchens, including ours. But the obvious socio-economic dividing line is air conditioning. The modern miracle that made Las Vegas possible and lures thousands of campesinos and working class Yucatecos to the malls every summer is what takes the biggest bite out of anyone’s electric bill. Lest we start feeling at all high and mighty, this modern miracle is also probably what makes Merida even liveable for most expatriates coming from the Great White North.
At the Yucatan Living offices, we would often run two “mini-split” air conditioners throughout the business day. (Only for the comfort of our clients and our computers, you understand.) It was not unusual for our bills to run $6,000 to $8,000 pesos per month. In our home, we only had air conditioners in the bedrooms – a common practice among homeowners who chill electrically – and we avoided using them whenever possible. Consume more than 850 KW/Hr on a regular basis, and you will be rated DAC (De Alto Consumo) (High Consumption) and the rate becomes $3.281 per KW with a set charge of $74.69 each month. And no discount during summer months! You guessed it… we were rated de alto consumo. For the luxury of a large renovated house and an air conditioned office, we ended up paying top dollar. And once rated DAC, you can pretty much resign yourself to always being rated that way unless you substantially change your ways. We have learned to cool off with the swimming pool or a cold shower before we resort to air conditioning.
The CFE bill is delivered every other month, so expect to see double when it arrives.
Propane Gas and Carbon
There are no natural gas mains running under the calles of Merida. Every home and office has some sort of propane tank on its roof or in a closet. The gas is delivered from a truck operated by one of several independent companies with names like Z-Gas, Delta Gas and Gas Peninsular. The price of propane has nearly doubled since we moved here in early 2002. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s still one of the least expensive utilities and one of the most efficient energy sources.
A typical three-bedroom colonial home has a 300-liter stationary tank on the roof. At a price of $6.65 pesos per liter (up from $5.48 pesos per liter in 2008 and $5.94 pesos in 2011), it costs about $2000 pesos to fill it. The gas heats the calentadores (water heaters), secadora (clothes dryer) and is used for cooking, although we often use the campesino method where cooking is done on open wood fires or with charcoal (…in other words, we use a barbeque with carbon (pronounced car-BONE)). A tank lasts us five or six months, so we figure we pay an average of about $400 pesos a month for gas. The government now supplies a handy dandy gas calculator for your convenience.
To save both gas and electricity, we try to hang our clothes out to dry as much as possible, and only use the clothes dryer for rainy days and during the rainy season. We also disable our water heaters during the summer months or if we are gone from the house for more than a week or so. By the way, just like everything else here, if you use carbon for your barbecue, you can buy it in two ways. You can get the branded briquettes you are familiar with at Costco or WalMart, or you can buy a small bag or two at your corner store. That carbon is made locally in the countryside, and costs $8 to $15pesos per bag.
Anyone who reads the financial press or studies Mexican history knows the entire oil industry is consolidated into a state-run institution called Pemex. The Mexican government nationalized the oil industry after the Revolution and sets the prices for gasoline at legislated intervals. Despite protestations and seductions from free-market advocates in Gringolandia, this native bit of socialism has been working out rather well for “We The Consumer”. In addition, we are pretty sure we save a lot of precious hours of our life not worrying about which gas station has the lowest prices, as the prices are all the same at every Pemex station.
There are two grades of unleaded gasoline at the pump. Regular is called Magna and premium is called, well, Premium. A liter of Magna currently costs $11.14 pesos per liter (it was $7.05 pesos per liter in 2008, and $9.32 pesos per liter in 2011). Premium costs $11.70 pesos per liter now (in 2008, $8.77 pesos per liter and $10.32 pesos per liter in 2011). To convert to dollars per gallon, here’s the math:
(Pesos-per-liter times 3.7854) divided by pesos per dollar
Using an exchange rate of 12 pesos per dollar, the cost of unleaded regular gasoline is (drum roll, please) $3.51 USD per gallon. It was $2.93 USD per gallon when we last updated this article in 2011.
If that sounds like great news, then you probably spend a lot of time in your car. However, you don’t have to drive very much in Merida. Many who live in the centro find themselves walking more, and if you need to make a quick trip to the mall or the mercado, you can always find a taxi, combi or a bus to take you there. A bus ride to anywhere costs $6 pesos (up from $5 pesos in 2008 and no change from 2011). (Find out everything you need to know about taking the bus in our article about Taking The Bus in Merida). A typical taxi ride costs about $30-35 pesos (up from $25-30 in 2008 and no change since 2011). And in many cases, what you need – groceries, prescription drugs, dry cleaning – can be delivered to your home at no additional cost.
By the way, now in 2013, gas prices are set to automatically increase a bit every month. You can track the changes in gas prices in Mexico at this website.
It is your civil responsibility in Mexico to carry auto insurance. A policy to cover everything your vehicle does to others, but without coverage to yourself, will cost you about $2,000 pesos a year. The cost of total coverage depends on the kind of vehicle you have. For our ten year old SUV, the cost for car insurance was about $7,000 pesos last time we updated this article in 2011, which is about $585 USD a year. Prices for auto insurance have not substantially changed since then.
Like everywhere else in the world, your telephone options are mind-boggling. And even though Telmex (and its little cellular brother Telcel) is still the monopoly of old (oops! did we say ‘monopoly’? Carlos Slim would not be happy with us…), it has been increasingly forced to compete with other companies, if not in price, at least in features. You may want to compare offerings from Axtel, Telefonica, Movistar, IUSACELL, and others (not to mention VoIP options) before making any decisions, but you could find yourself spending a significant part of your life shopping telephone service. We aren’t going to go into all the possibilities here, understandably. But we’ll give you an idea of what costs are from the leading provider.
If your new or restored home has never enjoyed telephone service, you’ll need to order a new line from Telmex. This process has been known to take weeks and costs about $2,000 pesos for the installation. After that, basic service is $200 pesos a month, which includes 100 local calls. Additional calls are $1.50 pesos flat rate (They used to be $4.50 pesos flat rate… a price that has gone DOWN since 2008!).
If you want to upgrade your Telmex service, there are several options. In 2011, for $400 pesos a month (it was $600 pesos per month in 2008), you could order “Telmex 1000” service, which included 100 local calls, 100 minutes of long distance within Mexico and a 1 MB broadband Internet connection with wireless router. For twice the bandwidth and unlimited long distance calls within Mexico, you could order “Telmex Without Limits”, which costs around $990 pesos (it used to be $1,100 pesos in 2008) per month. Now that same package is called Paquete Conectes (which translates to ‘connecting packets’, an awfully technical telephone term…) and costs $389 pesos per month. The package includes 100 minutes of calls to cellular phone numbers, 100 local phone calls, 100 national minutes (within Mexico) and internet (called Infinitum) at 3 MBPS. “Telmex Without Limits” (Sin Limite) now costs $999 pesos per month and includes unlimited local, national and international calls, 100 minutes of calls to cellular phone numbers and an internet connection at 10 MBPS.
Most Yucatecos of every economic persuasion own a television. What’s more, you can watch television while waiting in line at the bank, having your hair done, strolling down the aisle of your supermarket, riding in a taxi, or having your teeth cleaned. At many drinking establishments, you’ll be greeted by at least half a dozen flat-panel televisions encircling the bar overhead. Yucatecos love television.
There are several local broadcast channels you can watch for free, but most people purchase a cable or satellite service. The cable provider in Merida is CableMAS. They offer various packages of different local, national, sports, movie and pay-per-view channels. They also offer Internet services. Basic service with 26 channels and a 3 MB Internet connection (in 2008, it was only a 256 Kb Internet connection and a 1 MB connection in 2011) costs $380 pesos per month (up from $350 pesos per month in 2008 and in 2011).
In 2008, the only real option for satellite service was from SKY, (famously pronounced, esk-EYE here) a part of Rupert Murdoch’s global news and entertainment empire. A few years back, they purchased Hughes DirectTV, eliminating the competition at the time. In 2011, a standard SKY package cost $250 pesos per month (down from $400 pesos per month in 2008), but included more channels than the basic cable package. For about $650 pesos (this price did not change from 2008 to 2011), you could have nearly all available channels, including familiar movie channels like HBO, Cinemax and Showtime, along with news from Fox, CNN, BBC and Bloomberg. Other English language channels include Discovery, TLC, National Geographic, Warner and E! Now in 2013, SKY’s basic package costs $169 pesos per month and can go all the way up to $743 pesos per month for all the additional add-on channels.
In 2013, Dish TV is offered through your Telmex account. For a cost of $164 pesos per month for one TV (it was $150 pesos per month in 2011) you can have access to more than 40 channels. That price goes up to $274 pesos per month for up to 3 TV’s. For an ‘all access’ package, you will pay about $429 pesos per month (it was $400 pesos per month back in 2011), and enjoy more than 79 channels (60 channels in 2011). The Dish TV packages also provide the convenience of being able to pay in your Telmex bill. Talk about a monopoly! (oops, did we say that again?).
The Cost of Health Care
Like everything else in Mexico, there are multiple socio-economic levels of health care, ranging from free to affordable. If you opt for free or co-paid government-sponsored services, you may have to wait longer and the conditions will be less agreeable. If you choose a private hospital, you will pay more but will be treated to world-class facilities.
There are also several, affordable health insurance options that will take the sting out of any expensive procedures or chronic conditions. For example, our health insurance is multinational, which means it covers costs anywhere in the world. Being rather young and healthy, and because routine health care in Mexico won’t bust our budget, we chose a high deductible plan ($5,000 dollars) that costs about $1,500 USD per person annually (in 2008, it cost $1,200 USD per person annually and in 2011 it cost $1,400 USD per person annually). Emergency services are not subject to the deductible, and we have been reimbursed for emergency room visits here in Merida. If you want to live like a local, you can sign up for health insurance through IMSS, the Mexican health care system. There are age and other restrictions, but if you qualify, that insurance will run you about $300 USD per year.
We have written several articles about our medical experiences in Yucatan, as have others (take a look in our Health Section), and there are plenty of sources of information on the internet about this subject, so we won’t elaborate here. In short, there is very good healthcare available in Mexico and it is surprisingly inexpensive compared to Gringolandia. In addition to great prices, we have found that there are none more patient or gentle than Mexican healthcare workers. Many medications can be purchased without a prescription (although that is no longer true of antibiotics or some other commonly-abused drugs such as pain killers). We recently surveyed the prices of some basic dental and medical services, and here is what we found:
Dentistry (prices taken from www.yucatandental.com, Dr. Jesus Sanchez)
Dental implant: $1750 USD ($13,000 pesos in 2011)
Porcelain crown: $280-360 USD (was $2,000 pesos in 2008, $260-350 USD in 2011)
Root Canal: $200-290 USD (Was $1,200-1,700 pesos in 2008, $180-260 USD in 2011)
Cataract Surgery: $15,000-17,000 pesos per eye.
Reflective Surgery (Eximer Laser): $15,000-17,000 pesos per eye
One Hour Doctor Visit : $400-600 pesos per visit, same as 2008 and 2011
Blood Tests (in 2011, prices taken from Biomedicos, the leading local laboratory)
Hematology: $142 pesos (was $100 pesos in 2008, $132 pesos in 2011)
Cholesterol: $105 pesos (was $70 pesos in 2008, $82 pesos in 2011)
Glucose: $95 pesos (was $50 pesos in 2008, $82 pesos in 2011)
Uric acid: $105 pesos (was $60 pesos in 2008, $82 pesos in 2011)
Hepatic test: $533 pesos (Was $350 pesos in 2008, $396 pesos in 2011)
Triglyceride: $108 pesos (was $70 pesos in 2008, $88 pesos in 2011)
Urea: $103 pesos (was $60 pesos in 2008, $82 pesos in 2011)
Urine Test: $110 pesos (was $80 pesos in 2008, $78 pesos in 2011)
Glucose, cholesterol and uric acid tests together: $421 pesos in 2011, and now cost $415 pesos in 2013. In 2011, they charged an additional $65 pesos if they came to your home, and now in 2013 they charge $84 pesos for a home visit, depending on the location. (In 2008, a complete blood test taken at your home, including reports was $750 pesos)
Advil (12): $45 pesos (was $20 pesos in 2008, $32 pesos in 2011)
Aspirin (40): $28 pesos (was $20 pesos in 2008, $24 pesos in 2011)
Insulin (10ml): $600 pesos now, and in 2008 and 2011 (depending on the brand)
Pedialite (500ml): $30 pesos ($25 pesos in 2011)
Prozac (28): $772 pesos ($700 pesos in 2011)
Tabcin (Cold medication) (12): $42 pesos (was $20 pesos in 2008, $37 pesos in 2011)
Tafil (Xanax) (90): $686 pesos ($750 pesosin 2011)
Viagra (1): $170 pesos (was $150 pesos in 2008, $170 pesos in 2011. Also, there are now generic options, starting at $80 pesos per pill in 2011, now $60 pesos in 2013)
Food is where the choice of lifestyle really kicks in. But again, the range is broad, and you can eat well for very little if you choose to eat local cuisine. As our article on grocery shopping explains, there are a variety of places to shop for groceries, and as any walk or drive through the city will show you, an almost infinite number of places to eat. You can check out the Yucatan Restaurants section of this website for a never-complete-but-always-trying list of restaurants in and around Merida and the Yucatan Peninsula, with approximate price levels when we know them, as well as hours, addresses, directions and reviews.
So, let’s talk about groceries. A recent trip to various grocery stores resulted in this informal price survey, with 2008 and 2011 prices in parentheses:
Coke 500 ml: $7 pesos ($ .60 USD in 2008, $6.5 pesos in 2011)
Loaf of 540 grs. multigrain bread: $28 pesos ($20 pesos in 2008, $24 pesos in 2011)
Box of whole milk: $15 pesos ($13.50 pesos in 2008, $15 pesos in 2011)
Box of 510 grs. Special K Cereal: $38 pesos ($37.40 pesos) in 2008, $42 pesos in 2011
Tomatoes per pound: $12 pesos ($12 pesos in 2008 and 2011)
Haas avocados per kg: $12 pesos ($12 pesos in 2008 and 2011)
Papaya per kg: $12 pesos ($ 5.5 pesos in 2008, $10 pesos in 2011)
Bananas per kg: $9 pesos ($4.9 pesos in 2008, $9 pesos in 2011)
Granny Smith Apples per kg: $35-40 pesos ($18 pesos in 2008, $28 pesos in 2011)
Mexican limones per kg: $5-10 pesos ($5-10 pesos when we added these to the list in 2011)
Philadelphia cream cheese: $22.50 pesos ($22.58 pesos in 2008, $22.50 pesos in 2011)
Bag of 3 kg (6.6 lb) cat chow: $108 pesos ($86 pesos in 2008, $92 pesos in 2011)
Can of Purina cat chow: $10 pesos ($8pesos in 2008 and 2011)
Bag of 4 kg (8.8 lb) Purina Dog Chow: $129 pesos ($99 pesos in 2008, $110 pesos in 2011)
Arm and Hammer (1.36 Gal.) Laundry Soap: $93 pesos ($84.50 pesos in 2008, $100 pesos in 2011)
Generic (1 kg) (2.20 lb) Laundry Soap: $19 pesos ($15 pesos in 2008, $19 pesos in 2011)
Instant (100grs.) Nescafe: $32 pesos ($30 pesos in 2008, $42 pesos in 2011)
Pound of sugar: $8 pesos ($5 pesos in 2008, $8 pesos in 2011)
Absolut Vodka (750 ml): $218 pesos ($195 pesos in 2008 and 2011)
Whole Chicken (3.50 lb): $60 pesos ($ 42.80 pesos in 2008, $55 pesos in 2011)
A bag of charcoal (large): $35 pesos ($32.02 pesos in 2008, $35 pesos in 2011)
Pack of Marlboro’s at OXXO or similar: $42 pesos ($25 pesos) in 2008, $38 pesos in 2011>
Carton of Marlboro’s at Costco: $400 pesos ($261 pesos in 2008, $350 pesos in 2011)
Prices Vary by Season and Store
Now, keep in mind that some of these products come from the United States, so the prices are probably higher here. A note about tomatoes, which are NOT from the United States. Tomatoes are cheaper in the local markets, and the cost varies by the season. Tomatoes can go as low as $8 pesos per kilo, or as high as $30 pesos per kilo, depending on the season. Coffee is grown in Mexico, so as long as you don’t insist on an American brand, you can find it cheaper. And it will be even cheaper (and probably better) if you have time to go to one of the coffee shops downtown and have it ground right there for you. Chickens are locally raised, as are pigs and turkeys. But beef can be more expensive, especially if you go for the Argentinian beef that is not raised in the Yucatan. Prices of anything grown or raised locally will be even lower if you go to the local mercados, and even lower at the central mercado.
Of course, the savings in price has to be weighed against the time and money it costs to run to all those different places to get everything you need. It definitely is cheaper to eat local foods from local stores and shop in local markets.
You’ll find everything from taco stands to fast food outlets to gourmet restaurants in Merida. If you live in a major urban area in the States or in Canada, you’ll probably find fewer foreign food choices here, such as Thai or Indian restaurants. A new exotic restaurant (anything from Asia, basically) is always cause for celebration among Merida expatriates. Often those restaurants do not last long, and at this writing in 2013, they are still hard to find.
A meal at Burger King costs about $55 pesos, more than the kids working there make in a day (but that’s another story). A taco at the Wayan’e taco stand costs $7 pesos and a drink $10 pesos, and we’ve never met someone who didn’t rave about the food. A hamburger at Hennessys Irish Pub in Merida costs $95 pesos, and meals at any upscale restaurant can run from $120 pesos up to and over $300 pesos. A martini runs from $70 pesos up to about $120 pesos, depending on the restaurant, and that price has not changed in three years.
Again, you can spend as much or as little as you want. You decide.
Nearly every expat we know here has someone cleaning their house. We do too. This is an affordable service in Yucatan, and with all these tile floors, practically a necessary one. Housekeepers are paid anywhere from $125 pesos per day to $250 pesos per day, and a lunchtime meal should be included. Laundry is often not included, and some people hire specialists just to do their laundry. Those specialists charge about $150 pesos per day for cleaning and ironing. Laundry services abound, as do dry cleaners. Yucatecans are known for dressing in white and always being clean, so there is no shortage of services towards that end.
Gardening is another service that is easy to come by. Gardeners are usually paid about the same as housekeepers. Our gardener costs about $50 pesos per hour and comes once a week. There are viveros (nurseries) here that will deliver and install plants, and there are landscape consultants who will design and install a garden. They will cost a lot more than our gardener, but still probably less than in the USA or Canada.
Plumbing and electrical maintenance is also a rather constant expense. Not regularly, like a gardener, but in a tropical environment with a lot of rain, lightening and humidity, stuff happens. Whether you need a shower head replaced or a hose bib somewhere where you didn’t have it before, or a new tinaco on the roof or a whole new kitchen, plumbing services will run you about $50-75 pesos an hour. Electrical is sometimes done by the same people, but more and more we are finding specialists who just do electrical work. And usually, they don’t charge by the hour, but by the job. You describe the problem and they quote a price that doesn’t include materials. You pay for materials up front, which they will purchase and return with your receipt. The obra de mano (the work that they do) is paid for when the job is done.
Painters are another type of worker you might end up seeing every couple of years. Our painter charges us $24 pesos per square meter, plus materials.
A typical expatriate-targeted handyman service still costs about $150 – $175pesos an hour plus supplies. You can hire them to do anything from ironwork to painting to plumbing and electrical repair. You can usually find a local guy in your neighborhood with the same sort of offering for less (maybe $50 pesos per hour or $150 pesos per day), but he typically will have less knowledge about the type of quality you are expecting.
La propina is a very important part of the Mexican economy, and it behooves one to carry a pocketful of coins wherever you go. We keep a stash in the car at all times. If you drive and consequently find yourself parking somewhere, you are bound to run across a little (usually old, sometimes handicapped) man with a red cloth who will guide you into your parking space as if you were a returning 747 at a major airport. He will expect a tip when you get out or when you return. After grocery shopping (where it is customary to tip the person who bags your groceries between $5 and 10 pesos), you can expect those same guys in the parking lot to help you with your groceries (especially if you are a woman) and they should also be tipped about the same. Waiters, of course, should be tipped (the normal 15-20%, depending on the level of service). People who make home deliveries should be tipped. Anyone who helps you through your day should be tipped. 5 pesos here, 10 pesos there. It adds up, but not to very much. It helps grease the economic skids, and it is an important part of some workers’ income. So when in doubt, tip! And tip generously, but not OVER-generously. Our prices above for tips are on the high side, but give you a general idea. Don’t forget, as a foreigner, you generally have a $ on your forehead and are expected to tip. Not tipping makes us all look bad.
A Random Price List
Here’s a smattering of prices for other things you might find yourself buying on a semi-regular basis. Feel free to add to this list in the Comments section!
Purified water 4.4 Gal: $22 pesos ($20 pesos in 2008, $22 pesos in 2011)
Spanish lesson: $250 pesos per private class, in 2008, 2011 and now
Movie theater ticket: $61 pesos, on average (Now some complexes offer senior discounts, and the prices are different in each cinema complex. Prices range from $50 pesos to $70 pesos, with VIP tickets ranging from $80 to $100 pesos, and 3D movies from $70 to $100 pesos. Of course, the most expensive ticket is the VIP 3D movie, ranging from $70 to $130 pesos. In some movie theaters there is a discount for seniors at $46 pesos. These prices are the same since 2008.
Santiago’s movie theatre ticket: $30 pesos ($25 pesos) (this is the cheapest movie ticket in Merida for a first run movie), true in 2008, 2011 and 2013
VIP Lounge ticket (barcalounger seats): $80 pesos ($80 pesos in 2008 and 2011)
1 liter bottle of fresh-squeezed orange juice: $15 pesos ($12 pesos in 2008, $20 pesos in 2011)
… depends more on the season than the year
Yes, we know. Somewhere in this article, we paid too much for something. Elsewhere, maybe we misquoted the price we most recently paid. We do not have a full-time accountant or economist on the payroll, but we do what we can. This article is not intended to be an exact accounting of our expenses here or a promise about what your expenses will be. It is intended to communicate the idea that living a thrifty lifestyle is more easily achieved in Yucatan than in many parts of the so-called developed world (looking at you, California!). But your mileage may vary. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. And in the end, the savings you take is equal to the effort you make.
As always, and especially on this article, we and all the other readers welcome your comments. This has always been a very popular article and there are a lot of comments. Read them for more information, and then add yours! What do YOU want to know the cost of?