The best way to find out about the cost of living in Mexico, or most any other country in the world, is to visit a crowd-sourced website like Expatistan, which provides cost information based on input from expats like you.
You can find well-researched cost of living studies like the Mercer Cost of Living Survey and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living Study, which are done primarily for corporations, but they are expensive.
These corporate studies are done annually to help multinational companies set pay scales and benefits for their employees. If you are a corporate employee, you probably will have access to at least one of these studies through your human resources department. If you are a self-mover – like 80 percent of everyone who moves abroad – you can still buy a study, but they are expensive.
Mercer’s study is available for US$865 and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s report is about US$840. Both studies are very complete and detailed and are based on proprietary methodologies used by the companies.
Expatistan focuses more on cost of living data but also offers a Salary Conversion Report for $49 that provides customized information on how much money you will need when you move to your new city. It also includes an International Schools Database to help families find the best international school in their new location.
A Spaniard who now lives in Prague and is married to a native-born Czech launched Expatistan in 2010.
Born and raised in Madrid, Gerardo Robledillo, 36, has spent most of his adult life working in the information technology industry. After graduating from Complutense University in his hometown in 2002, he began a career in web development in Spain before moving to Prague in 2005 and marrying Andrea. The couple moved to Germany and then Barcelona, Spain for work but soon returned to Prague.
“When I was moving to Germany and back to Spain,” Robledillo said, “I wanted to know if the salary I was being offered was any good. After doing research online I discovered that most of what I found was so bad that I decided to use my web development skills to start a business to help people like me.”
Robledillo told us that most of the cost of living information he found on expat forums and other websites often was out of date and took days of searching to find.
“I launched Expatistan in January, 2010,” he said, “and spent nights and weekends keeping it alive while still working for a company. It took about four years before the site really took off. Now we offer a few other services, including our Salary Conversion Report, which we can customize for users who need to know what salary is required to live in a specific city.”
Expatistan’s user-generated database is somewhat smaller than Numbeo’s but has a more specific focus on cost of living information and is growing rapidly. Both allow you to compare the cost of living between two cities overall and by product or service. Expatistan has a form for users to complete that includes 56 products and services for each of the almost 2,000 cities for which it provides cost of living information.
“We have 151,000 contributors,” Robledillo said, “from 204 countries. The information is broken down by food, housing, clothing, transportation, personal care and entertainment. I study what goes into the cost of living basket. I went into expat expense habits and broke it down into categories and within categories I broke it down into products and services. Each one of those products and services has a different weight within the category to account for the different importance the product has in the category. Each category as well has different weight depending on how much you want to spend. All that produces the full basket of goods and services we use.”
Since Mexico is the #1 destination for Americans and has over one million expats living in the country, we asked Robledillo how it compares with other regions and countries in the world.
“Mexico is among the cheapest countries in the world to live,” he said. “It is in the bottom 25 percent at the same level as Turkey, most of the Eastern European countries and compares favorably to the cheapest parts of Southeast Asia and North Africa.”
So far, Expatistan has reliable crowd-sourced cost of living data for five major cities in Mexico: Monterrey, Mexico City, Querétaro, Guadalajara and Los Mochis. There are nearly 70 Mexican cities included in the database but most at this time have too small a base of users who have contributed information to be reliable.
“For example, in Puerto Vallarta there are just nine contributors and there are 174 prices, so about three prices per item,” he explained. “It would give you a good idea about the cost of living there but it is not statistically reliable. If I was using the data and it said that Puerto Vallarta is 30 percent more expensive than my current city, I would trust that it is more expensive. As we get more user input for other Mexican cities, reliability will improve greatly.”
We asked him what the biggest cost of living differences are between Mexico and the U.S.
“Generally, housing, beer and entertainment are about 50 percent cheaper in Mexico,” he said. “Again, this is not all Mexican cities and all American cities. You have to compare your U.S. city with the city in Mexico that interests you. Doctors and cigarettes are even less expensive, on average about 70 percent. The biggest saving of all is in domestic services. The average hourly cost of a maid in Mexico is US$3 versus US$21 in the United States.”
Some things are not less expensive in Mexico.
“Clothes and shoes are going to be priced the same or slightly cheaper in Mexico,” Robledillo said. “Gas for your car and consumer electronics are also going to be more expensive in Mexico. If you want to join a gym, the monthly rate will be higher.”
Overall, though, living in Mexico will be substantially cheaper for most expats, no matter where they come from. Obviously, someone from California will realize greater savings on housing than someone from a much lower cost state.
“Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Cabo San Lucas and other popular tourist destinations tend to have higher prices that reflect the nature of their economies,” he told us. “Expats will do better in non-tourist areas and large cities like Guadalajara. It is the second largest city in Mexico, but because it is inland and not a major tourist magnet, prices are better and more stable.”
Whether you are considering a move to Mexico, a move within Mexico or a move to another country, a crowd-sourced cost of living site is your best bet to find out how well you will be able to live in your new city compared with where you currently live.