MERIDA, YUCATAN. I often get asked this question; indeed more often since my last column mentioning the ever increasing cost of living in certain European countries (read it here: http://tinyurl.com/m8vthna if you missed it.)
It’s not such a simple question to answer as you might think. Generally, I answer that you can live as cheaply in Mérida as you want to. Want to live like a local on a local budget? You can do it. Want to live like a movie star on a much lower budget than you would need to do so in California? You can do that too. For the purposes of answering the question, the following figures are based on my own experience and knowledge of the basic minimum costs for essential and / or mandatory living expenses, i.e. things you are required to pay, or which constitute basic living requirements for most people. Beyond these, it’s up to you. For ease and simplicity, all figures are quoted in Mexican Pesos. For conversions, I recommend www.xe.com – which as of press time is quoting $13.5 pesos to US$1 USD, $18.5 pesos to €1 Euro, or $22 pesos to £1 GBP. Basically you can divide the figures I quote below by 13.5, 18.5, or 22 to get the figures in USD, EUR, or GBP respectively. Or head over to www.xe.com and let them do the work for you with constantly updated rates.
Let’s start with housing. You can rent a house in a ‘fraccionamiento’ for $2000 - $3000 pesos a month, or less. For a shorter term stay, a house in centro, or for a larger house, maybe with a pool, you’ll pay more. Thinking about buying? Check one of the many real estate websites for an idea of what is available, at prices well below what you would pay for an equivalent property in Europe or North America. Annual ‘predial’ (property tax payable to the city) is due in January. With a discount for prompt payment, mine was $105 pesos (yes, $105 pesos…) for the year. Annual garbage collection fee (in centro) is $140 pesos if you pay in advance for the full year. In outlying neighborhoods it is slightly more expensive. If you own your house, and are not a Mexican citizen, depending on your property location, you may own via a ‘fideicomiso’ (bank trust) which involves its own fees (usually in the range of $6500 pesos per year); your real estate agent would tell you more about these trusts, which are hopefully due for abolition in the next year or so, following which they will no longer be required.
Your bi-monthly electricity bill (from CFE) will depend (obviously) on how much you choose to use. If you live in a smallish house, use your air-conditioning only at night in the bedroom during the hotter months, and cook with gas, chances are your bill every two months will not be more than $600 pesos. On the other hand if you have central air-conditioning, which you run all day, every day, at a temperature of 18°c (65°f), it’s easy to multiply your bill by ten. My bi-monthly water bill (from JAPAY) is normally $62 pesos. Gas for cooking is supplied from the many trucks driving around town, which will fill your gas canister, or sell you one if you don’t have one. A refill costs around $350 pesos, and, unless you are cooking all day every day, will last for a long, long, time.
To keep in touch, a basic phone/internet package (from TELMEX) is $389 a month, which includes 100 local calls, 100 minutes of long distance in Mexico, and unlimited fast internet. If you use Skype or similar for your international ‘keeping in touch’, you will pay little or nothing extra. Want a cell phone for emergencies? Buy one at Oxxo, using Telcel’s Amigo system, which is ‘pay as you go’. The phone will cost you around $300 pesos initially, and a monthly top up of $50 pesos is needed to keep your credit active.
Not into cleaning? While not truly a ‘necessity’, a cleaning lady is a luxury that many people enjoy here in Mérida, and approximately $200 pesos per 4 hour session is a guide price. Don’t want to do your own laundry? Chances are, your cleaning lady will do it for you as part of her duties if you wish (and if you have your own laundry machines), or head to the nearest ‘lavanderia’, where for between $7 and $9 pesos a kilo, it will be washed, dried, and folded for you, and ready 24 hours later. Fancy having someone clear the weeds from your garden? $50 - $200 pesos will take care of it, depending on the size of the garden and of the weeds!
How about getting around? This depends on where you choose to live, and on your personal style. In centro, more or less anywhere is within walking distance. For traveling out from centro, or if you live outside, the buses are frequent and cheap, at $7 pesos per ride. Metered taxis are another option, with a ride in the main part of the city unlikely to exceed $50 pesos.
Can’t survive without TV? Broadcast TV is free. I rarely turn mine on, and consequently don’t bother to contract any additional service; however a good budget option (with some English language channels) is VETV (part of Sky) which charges $169 pesos a month. The bigger satellite and cable companies charge more, have more English channels, and offer a variety of packages.
What about eating? Do you want to do all of your shopping at Walmart, Costco, and Sam’s Club? Expect to pay accordingly. Prefer to head to the markets (San Benito and Lucas de Galvez in centro or the many smaller neighborhood markets around town)? Expect to pay like a local, and enjoy the freshest and most seasonal selections. If you find the markets to be confusing or intimidating, there is a cure for that… Watch for details soon in an upcoming column! Eating out is the same. If you choose to eat in the upscale, air-conditioned restaurants in some parts of north Mérida, you can expect to pay prices comparable to those found north of the border. Or you can enjoy lunch at a ‘cocina economica’, where you will find fresh, local dishes, varying daily, and unlikely to cost more than $60 pesos including soup and a drink.
Healthcare costs – This is a biggie, and one on which you should do your own research, depending on your own situation. I pay less than US$500 (US dollars) per year for a policy with a reasonable deductible. For minor ailments, many pharmacy chains have doctors on the premises, usually free or almost free ($20 – $40 pesos per visit) who will diagnose the problem and propose a treatment).
As mentioned, these are my own observations; things change by the day, and, very much according to your lifestyle. I’ll be interested to hear your comments.
What’s happening in Merida this week? The Merida Fest (formerly known as the Festival de la Ciudad) continues, and will run until January 31, as reported in TYT here: http://www.theyucatantimes.com/2014/01/the-merida-fest-continues-offering-daily-events/
The program is available here: http://www.merida.gob.mx/cultura/contenido/festival_programa.html
Over in Valladolid, the Expo Feria has just started, and will run for the next two weeks, as reported in TYT here: http://tinyurl.com/mgosasc. If you have never been to Valladolid, it’s a great excuse to make the short trip over there.
The program is available here: http://www.dondehayferia.com/expo-feria-valladolid-2014
Fancy trying somewhere new and different for an evening out? This week we discovered “Boyis Bar”, on Calle 35 in Col. San Nicolás. It’s a strange location, and an interesting concept – it styles itself as a ‘Cantina Urbana’, with industrial style decoration complementing the waiters dressed in coveralls and hard hats. It all sounds a bit like ‘The Village People’, but is actually a pleasant choice for a night out in a local setting. Visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/boyisbarmid for specials, directions, etc.
And finally this week, if anyone is interested, we know of a great potential business opportunity for someone interested in opening a bed and breakfast or small guesthouse in Merida, or who just wants a lot of space for inviting family and friends to visit. It’s a 6 bedroom, 4 bathroom house on the east side of centro, 20 minutes walking distance (13 blocks) from the plaza grande and cathedral. It’s unique in design, with a huge yard, event area, roof terrace, etc. It’s been on the market for a while, and the asking price is $1,500,000 pesos (US$111,500 US dollars at today’s exchange rate). Doubtless it needs some work, but could make a great project for the right person. We’re not involved in any way in the sale of the property, however are keen to see this unique property developed to its full potential. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be put in touch with the seller.