Mexico City offers more affordable living than its North American neighbors in almost every single aspect of daily life. Rent is much cheaper. Food, for the most part, is less expensive. Services are a lot less expensive (transportation, most types manual labor, medical visits). At the same time, the city provides close to the same quality of life you’d have back in the states. Being a city of over nine million means that you have every service imaginable available to you. You get the benefit of a modern, mega-metropolis, but with some heavy discounts. The cost of living in Mexico City may even surprise you.
Where Did All the Money Go?
Like most places, you’re probably going to spend the majority of your money on rent. For me, that wasn’t always the case, which could mean that rent is cheap. Or maybe I tended to spend more on food, drinks and entertainment. I’ll start with housing, then work my way down to the non-essentials, but almost equally important—coffee and beer.
Mi Casa es…Mi Casa
Neighborhood plays a big factor in rent, obviously. But, even in two of the most touristic and popular areas in CDMX, you can pay below $450 in rent for a shared accommodation. You might even get your own bathroom. ¡Qué suerte!
The two colonias I’ve stayed in are La Condesa and Roma Norte. Both offer restaurants, cafés, parks, public transportation and good nightlife within walking distance. For the average Mexican worker, these areas might be considered expensive. As foreigner paying with USD the exchange rate is more favorable. I was pleasantly surprised at what I could afford.
My first accommodation in La Condesa was through Airbnb. These are a bit more expensive as they’re geared towards foreigners. But, since I’d never been to Mexico before, it allowed me to see reviews for hosts and feel “safer” with my choice. Other local services exist, too, such as Vivanuncios and CompartoDepa. I was more comfortable since I’d used Airbnb many times before.
I paid USD $445 per month for a one-bed and shared a bathroom and the rest of the living space with a couple from Argentina. The room was discounted by 20%, since I was staying a month. I definitely recommend doing this if you’re thinking of using Airbnb. A month provides a generous amount of time to walk around the neighborhoods and look for something less expensive. Numerous buildings have Se Renta signs which list a number to contact for available apartments. If you’re Spanish is decent, this can also be a route to finding cheaper digs.
The apartment in Condesa felt more like a private home, as we had separate entrances and our own private terrace. It was quiet since we sat far back from a busy street, and besides the dogs barking at 7 am, the apartment was relatively calm day and night—a luxury in Mexico City.
As for the area itself, in Condesa I had two popular parks and the famous Bosque de Chapultepec (park bigger than Central Park and Golden Gate Park) less than a 10 minute walk from my apartment. Newer restaurants and bars were right outside my door, too. And a metro stop was five minutes away if I needed to reach another part of the city.
La Roma (Norte)
The second (and current) apartment I live in is in the colonia of Roma Norte. Here I split a 2-bed, 2-bath apartment and pay USD $395 per month. All services are included and we have someone clean our apartment five days a week. Yeah, that surprised me too. I’m not messy/dirty enough to warrant five days per week, but I’m also not going to argue about a clean apartment. For the price, the services included, the location and its surrounding parks and nightlife, I’m really not sure where else in North American you can find a deal like this. Like Condesa, I’m surrounded by bars and restaurants and have a metro stop five minutes from my apartment. La Roma has proximity to just about anything you want to see or do in CDMX and the walkability is pretty amazing.
Pro tip: La Roma is my favorite area so far, but my street is super noisy. Make sure you check the traffic and noise situation before you pay that first month, regardless of the area in which you choose to live.
I Know the tacos are good, but seriously, there’s WAY more
Food definitely commands the second spot on my list of expenses. But, due to the size of the city and diversity of incomes, it’s completely possible to meet any type of budget. My advice: buy your fruits and veggies at the local, established markets or at pop-up markets that are held once a week in various neighborhoods; eat out meals from street vendors (your stomach will settle after a few weeks) because these are delicious, convenient and usually cost effective; and have sit-down meals at the small spots serving food within the markets.
When you go to the markets, you’ll have your choice of vendors. For the most part, their prices are going to be close enough to one another that the only real difference would be in the quality and availability of produce. Take your time, buy from friendly people and ask prices if you’re unsure.
To give a better idea, the last market I went to was Mercado Juarez, which is in Roma Norte/Juárez. Here I spent $5.50 for four avocadoes, four tomatoes, three onions, three peppers and five bananas. I also ate at one of the many small “restaurants” here. A set menu in Mercado Juarez is about $2.60. For this price you usually get some type of soup or rice, a warm basket with two or three tortillas, a main course (flautas, tacos, tortas, enchiladas or a few pieces of chicken in a creamy sauce) and about a liter of a watered-down, but still super sweet juice product. Another example would be from Mercado Medellin where I had three tacos, a side of beans, a chicken soup, a bread roll and a small salad for about $3.40.
Street Food: For Better or Worse
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can saddle up next to any of the thousands of street vendors here. In my neighborhood, tacos and tortas are king.
Usually tacos run anywhere from $0.25-$1.00 per taco. I have a hard time trusting twenty-five cent tacos, and most people here have advised me to avoid them, too. Usually an average promotion is three tacos for $2.00, which I’d say is a safe bet. You pick your meat, then load them up with any of the huge community-bowls of toppings sitting atop the counters: guacamole, peppers, onions, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and even pineapples.
On the other hand, you have a ton spots serving up tortas. They’re basically just grilled sandwiches using big bread rolls and are usually pretty fat. A typical one might have ham, cheese, peppers, onions and a spicy sauce. These go for $1.25 to $3.15 and are always super filling.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Eating out at restaurants here offers a change up from the typical fare found around the city. You can easily find good Mexican food for a decent price, but you also have your choice of sushi, burgers, pizza and anything else you’d expect a mega-city to offer. The prices tend to vary pretty heavily, so there’s not really an average you can expect. If you stay away from the fancier restaurants, however, it’s not difficult to have a nice dinner for two with a few drinks, two entrees and maybe dessert for $30 in what I’d consider a more modern restaurant. If you look out for the more traditional ones—they always feature a “menu of the day”, similar looking tables, metal chairs and big jugs of juice sitting atop plastic tablecloth. They’re everywhere, they’re delicious and here $5.00-$6.00 goes a long way.
Rent and food are my two biggest expenses. If I had a budget of $1,500 and subtracted my rent and food expenses, I’d still have over $250 to use for transportation and entertainment. At the moment, Spanish practice for me tends to involve going out and drinking. That is, conversational practice. Just like their neighbors up North, Mexicans love drinking, and it is a huge part of social culture here.
Can You Put a Limit on This?
What can you expect to pay in CDMX for a night out? Just like the United States, it depends on where you go. At the average pub, typical Mexican beer (12oz bottle) runs $1.80- $2.50 without any type of 2X1 promotions.
For liquor, mezcal is a famous here and people tend to have it alongside their beers. An average mezcal might cost $3.00-$4.00, but can quickly run up over $6.50 for a good one.
As far as clubs go, some have covers, but even one of the nicest ones I went to the cover was still under $10. Drinks in these places vary wildly, but expect to pay between 25% to 50% more than a normal bar for a drink. The bars do “close” relatively early, most around 2:00 am. The caveat is that some of these bars close their doors to new entrants after 2:00 am, but will allow those already inside to keep partying well past 4:00 am.
Beans, Among Other Things
Another essential (for me) here and in any city is coffee. Mexico is a great place to enjoy your caffeine at a discounted rate, since the country produces the tenth most coffee in the world. Expect to pay anywhere from $1.50- $2.25 for a cappuccino in most parts of the city. For an American comparison, Starbucks serves their Chiapas coffee in alto size for $1.30 and their grande for $1.70. Most third-wave, or independent coffeehouses here charge a little bit more, but you can still get a nice Chemex or V60-extracion for about $2.00. A far cry from the $5.00 pour-overs I’ve see in the US. But hey, labor is cheaper here and the product doesn’t need to be imported, which provides an obvious discount. The fact that you can also find a coffeeshop on almost any given corner in the city means you won’t likely run out of new spots for quite a long time.
Besides food and drink, one of the cheapest things about living here is the transportation. Coming from any other city in the world, you will pay more for the metro. Mexico City has one of the cheapest metros in the world at just over $0.25 per ride, with station changes included. The government subsidizes this rate since millions of people rely on it every day to move around. The above-ground metro-bus also zig-zags the city nicely and provides service to areas where the metro can’t reach. The cost is $0.20 per ride. The only issue with these is that they still stop for lights and aren’t on a separate road, so you still do have to wait on traffic.
Even though the city is super walkable, it is gigantic, which means sometimes you do have to take a car when the metro simply doesn’t make sense, or after it’s closed—12am. Uber has a huge presence here and are considered to be safe. Fares obviously are super variable, but a 5km (about 3 mi) ride that lasts 20 minutes and is “off-peak” will run you close to $3.75. During surge pricing that ride might look closer to $4.75.
The other option for getting around the city is by using the “ecobici” system. This bikeshare program allows the rider to pick up and drop off her bike at hundreds of locations. If you have a Mexican friend use his credit card, you can pick up a yearly pass for only $20. This fee included unlimited rides up to 45 minutes and then has a fee of $1.95 for additional hours.
Finding that Mexican friend gives you the ability to use the bike for 51 more weeks for only $4.00 more. Deal of the century.
The Promising Peso
With rent, food, drinks and transportation accounted for, that’s the general rundown for the cost of living in Mexico City. A Budget of $1,500 can go super far. For the three months here, I spent between $1,100 and $1,400 each month. The final word is that most of my experience is based on the neighborhoods of La Roma and La Condesa and is generalized to reflect this. I have checked out Centro Historical, Cuauhtémoc, Juárez and Narvarte, too, and can say for certain these areas will offer cheaper rent, food, drinks and generally be less expensive than what’s listed above. If you want to spend around $1,000 per month in Mexico City, I’d recommend checking out these other four neighborhoods. They are less expensive, but still unique and within immediate proximity to almost everything CDMX has to offer.