Living Well on a Mexican Beach is Cheaper Than You Think

My wife, Diane, and I are in our fifth year of living overseas and our third year of living in Mexico–which ranked number one in International Living’s Global Retirement Index in 2017. We live in Cancún, a world-class vacation Mecca and gateway to the famous Riviera Maya on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast.

Running south from Cancún, the Riviera Maya’s sparkling beaches are bathed by the tepid, aquamarine waters of the Caribbean Sea. This spectacular, 80-mile stretch of gorgeous coastline accommodates the small fishing village of Puerto Morelos, about a 30-minute drive from Cancún. With its picturesque leaning lighthouse, wooden piers, and small colorful boats anchored just offshore, photographers will always find a fabulous shot here. While it has been “discovered” and is now growing, parts of Puerto Morelos reveal a tiny slice of Mexico as it used to be.

Farther south, you’ll find Playa del Carmen with its world-famous La Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) pedestrian promenade filled with sidewalk cafés, wandering entertainers, chic trendy shops, and unique eateries. Continue south along the coast and discover Akumal and its calm, clear bay, filled with hundreds of gentle sea turtles waiting to swim with you. A bit farther yet, you’ll discover the ancient Maya city of Tulúm, with its magnificent historic ruins and its primeval feel, overlooking the warm, clear, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and sparkling sugar-sand beaches.

Like any other part of the world, your cost of living on the Riviera Maya depends on your standard of living. Some expats tell me their monthly budget is under $1,200. On the other end, you can easily spend upwards of $3,500 per month. This really depends on your choice of housing. Although difficult to find, one-bedroom beachfront condos can be rented, long-term, for $750 per month. Larger, multi-level beachfront condos can rent for $1,200 or more monthly, depending on amenities, size, and views.

I recently spent time visiting with a friend in Tulúm. Her three-bedroom house came complete with a yard and outdoor laundry room. She pays rent of only a few hundred dollars per month and it’s located in the heart of the local neighborhood. She’s lived there for years and has completely integrated into the community.

Homes and condo construction are on the rise along Mexico’s Caribbean coast. It’s not uncommon to see two- and three-bedroom units for sale for $110,000 to $155,000 a block or two off the beach. These units make great investment properties and there are numerous businesses specializing in managing your property when you aren’t there.

Food shopping is generally the second highest expense for most families, and here again the Riviera Maya offers numerous options. Most cities, towns, and villages along the Caribbean Coast offer open markets (sometimes called street markets) where vendors sell directly to the public. You can wander for hours through these markets and buy fruits, veggies, fish and meat, clothing, and other household items. Open markets are far different from a modern supermarket, and costs are much lower. A week’s worth of fresh fruits and veggies will generally cost from $4 to $6. You can also buy whole, freshly butchered chickens (feet and head included), and fresh fish for a fraction of what you would spend in modern supermarkets.

Two other areas of cost savings are in car insurance ($330 per year for full coverage for our mid-size SUV with a 10% deductible) and utility costs. We pay about $35 to $55 a month for electricity for our 1,500 square-foot condo. The price goes up during the hottest months when we use our air conditioning. Our highest bill was $122 in August.

Expats over the age of 60 can receive a senior discount card which provides discounts on many things, including restaurant meals, some airline fares, and movie tickets. Those owning property may also receive a discount on the already low property taxes.

If you go about it the right way, living on the Riviera Maya can be affordable. And with today’s favorable exchange rate on dollars to pesos, the value of this area has increased exponentially. Essentially the whole of Mexico is on sale and there has never been a better time to check out Mexico and the breathtaking Riviera Maya.

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