Cost of living in Playa del Carmen – Living in Mexico for $850 a month

One of the most common questions I get asked is how I can afford my lifestyle of travel around the world. First I need to explain that I am working while travelling, so it’s not like I’m living the life of leisure.

I have also been asked if I am the dot com millionaire James H. Clark. I am not (though I’m working on that one 😉 ).

It’s been a while since I have lived somewhere for longer than a month (outside of Melbourne), so having spent a month in Playa del Carmen I have tallied up what the cost of living in Mexico is like.

Playa del Carmen
[Playa del Carmen]

This is my expense breakdown for July 2011 in Playa del Carmen, converted into USD:

Rent $290
Eating Out $300
Groceries $60
Coffee $90
Transport $35
Sundries $75

Total

$850

For $850 I have been living in comfort and eating like a king for way less than a grand a month. This is in US dollars as well – it sounds even better if I convert it into my home currency: $790 AUD.

Rent

This is the biggest variable by far in Playa del Carmen, and if you don’t know what you are doing you could end up paying Manhattan prices. If you turn up at a real estate agent or book through a holiday rental site they will try and charge you $100 a night for the type of place we stayed at.

I was fortuntate in that my house mate had boots on the ground before I got here and negotiated a sweet deal for our apartment. Our accommodation is a modern complex with swimming pool and came to a grand total of $290USD per month per person – less than $10 per day. (Gas and electricity is extra, inlcuded in the sundries items).

Apartment Kitchen
[Apartment Kitchen]

The apartment is spacious and comes with internet and a laundry room, so that is two other expenses taken care of. Oh yeah, did I tell you it comes with a swimming pool?

—- UPDATE —
I have have been getting lots of requests about how to find an apartment in Playa del Carmen. As I mentioned, my friend found the place for me. If you would like help finding a place I recommend visiting my friends site at www.facebook.com/rentingplaya.

Also read this: expertvagabond.com/cheap-apartment-playa-del-carmen/.

Apartment Swimming Pool
[Swimming pool at the apartment]

Food

Having an apartment meant that I could have breakfast everyday at home, and I would occasionally make my own lunch. Other than that I ate out every day for lunch and dinner. If I wanted to I’m sure I could have made this budget come down to $650 rather than $850, but why? I mean c’mon, I’m in Mexico. I’m not going to miss out on a chance to have Mexican food as often as I can while I am here.

Tacos Al Pastor
[Tacos Al Pastor washed down with a Horchata]

The food here has been a surprise for me. I have always loved Mexican food, but there was a lingering concern that Mexican food made in America might have somehow have been better than Mexican food in Mexico. What was I thinking?! I’m happy to report that Mexican food in Mexico is better than I could have hoped for.

Of course it’s not Mexican food every night. There are plenty of other eating options around town if, for some reason, you tire of Mexican. For example we found a Sushi place that have a 2 for 1 deal on sushi rolls every Wednesday. The rolls are surprisingly good considering the lack of Japanese representation in the city.

Fruit juice is a big part of my diet as well, and in Mexico they serve it by the bucket. Well, the one litre styrofoam cup (yes, styrofoam is still used here). A 1L pine/orange juice, no sugar, goes for around $3.00.

Juice Prices
[Juice prices in Pesos]

Groceries
This is the tally from the supermarket across the road. This covered mostly breakfast and fruit, as well as household consumables. While that seems like a small amount for a month, have a look at the price of bananas.

Banana prices in Mexico

Bananas for $9.90 MXN (0.84c USD) per Kilo. Sadly the bananas are not Tabasco flavoured, but from the state of Tabasco.

My Daily Vice – Coffee

Another personal variable here. My expenses are low as I don’t drink or smoke, so you will need to consider that in your own budget. Included in my budget is a two cup a day coffee habit. I can live with that. I started out making my own coffee at the apartment, but it’s just not the same as sitting in a cafe and doing my work there. Unfortunately there isn’t a great variety of cafes in Playa that are work friendly, but at least they know who I am by now.

Transport

Playa is a reasonably compact city so there is no need to get the bus or a taxi anywhere. Our apartment is walking distance from everything we need. A one minute walk to the supermarket, a ten minute walk to the beach and all the cafes and restaurants in between. We were lucky enough to have a car on loan to us, so that helped out with the road trips around the region, but even without a car the buses are reasonably priced.

Other Cost Considerations
Of course your mileage will vary according to accommodation selection and lifestyle choices. Where you eat is also an important factor. Almost all of my meals were at the local places in the back streets behind the main tourist street. They may not look as fancy as the tourist places, but you can be sure you are getting a better deal and authentic food. Same goes for the juice. While that juice sign isn’t visually appealling, you can see they are putting nothing but fruit into the juicer. Who cares what the shop looks like.

This list is also a cost of living budget, not a travel budget. If I was travelling around Mexico for a month this would be a different outcome with higher accommodation and transport expenses. Apart from a few road trips around the region, this stay in Playa was with the intention to get some work done, enjoy the beach, and eat as much Mexican food as possible. Mission accomplished.

Other Cost of Living Reports
The cost of living in Playa del Carmen from Simon and Erin at Never Ending Voyage.

For more more information on Playa check out the Playa del Carmen Travel Guide.

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  1. I like that your budget included ‘enjoying’ Mexican food without scrimping.  One of my biggest pet peeves about these kinds of posts is how unrealistic some of them are in terms of lifestyle options.  I could live in many parts of Asia for less than $300 a month slurping instant noodles 3 times a day but that’s just not very fun.  This is a great breakdown of costs without compromising quality of life.

    • So true Samuel. While I have done the budget backpacker thing in Europe, it’s not a fun way to do travel, for me. Plus I’m a terrible cook, so I would rather have someone else prepare my meals.

    • Thanks Michael, it has been a reasonably productive month workwise. I always love reading travel cost posts as well, so I’m happy to contribute to what else is out there.

  2. You spent that much in Mexico??? I was eating out all the time, including breakfast and I eat at least 5 times per day and spent like half of your expenses while traveling around Mexico (including all the buses and taxis) 😛

  3. Thanks for the info.  I took my family on a cruise back in December, and the ship stopped at a little port just south of Playa.  We took a cab over there and sampled the food.  We went to the beach, but it was very windy.  I noticed there were nice little places to stay that were around 20/night!  I couldn’t believe it.  One could easily fly to Cancun, then take a bus to Playa for a really nice vacation for cheap.  Once in Playa, I think $7 will get you on a ferry to Cozumel.  We went there, too.  It was beautiful. 

    • Yes those prices sounds about right. From Cancun it is really easy to get to Playa as there are numerous buses and share vans departing every hour.

      Great picture by the way! A typical scene in Mexico these days.

  4. I haven’t paid for the internet once as it is included in my rent. Also just about every cafe I’ve been to has free wifi (and starbucks has free wifi across Mexico). If you needed to go to a net cafe the rate is around 10 Pesos per hour.

    • Hi James…I lived in Puerto Vallarta for almost 3 years…from May 08 to March 2011….and loved it…I had to come back to the States, a really good job offer…but everyday I miss Mexico.  The thing with me is the internet.  My connection thru telecable was ok….how is  your connection where you are?  Have you ever done  a speedtest?  Just curious.

    •  I noticed you said your rent was $290. but that each of you paid that, so is the rent at that complex actually almost $600. a month?

    • Fair call. I forgot to mention that there isn’t much in the way of shopping here (unless you like cheesy holiday t-shirts) so I have been out of temptations way myself.

  5. that sounds awesome. you just described a very appealing lifestyle to me. sounds like the best deal ever.

      • i can imagine. i have family in the philippines, and things appeared to be rather cheap if you needed them to be.

  6. While the total $ amount is quite low, that’s a pretty unusual mix. E.g., you’re spending essentially the same amounts on rent as you are eating out?!

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    • hi james im coming down to playa for a visit in august,looking at playa or belise for future retirement,im from canada,everyone i talk to says go to belise because of the language barrier(english)but the hospitals and cost of living are much better in mexico.i was gonna purchase a condo and have a large cruiser cabin and come back to work in canada 6mo a year.and possibly rent out the condo when im not there,but if renting is cheap i may just rent, pocket the money from the sale of my house and use the interest from that for the rent,then i have no attachments,what do you think is the better place,im leaning toward playa as i can go in cancun or merida for weekend trips,thanks.

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  9. Nice job on finding dirt cheap rent! On a side note, those tacos are making me pretty hungry..

    What Mexican dish did you end up enjoying the most during your stay?

  10. how about your living in mexico, and its for sure 3rd world, and you are going to be super sick for that 1 month you live there.

  11. You will rarely find a price like that at a real estate agent, so the best advice is boots on the ground investigation. I didn’t find the apartment myself, my housemate friend did. He was already there and he looked around for private for rent signs, and then negotiated from there.

  12. Bali is a great place to live but prices have more or less doubled over the last 3-4 years….plus currency change!

  13. Hey James it is great to meet you and learn about your stay in Playa. I am currently staying in Playa and I blog about it daily. Too bad you were not hear now. I rarely meet people that understand our lifestyle on the web.

  14. Hi Jim. I just joined. Love your site, love Mexico. I am going to Carmen del Playa in march. I will be staying at the Tukan Hotel and Beach Club. It is on ave. 5 and calle 14 y 16. Do you have any favorite restaurants nearby? How about beach clubs?

    • Hi Brian, thanks for dropping by, I love Mexico as well!

      My favourite restaurants are around 30th Ave. I don’t remember the names off hand, but they are more oriented to locals (and thus a bit cheaper). There are a bunch of places near Mega Supermarket, which is the best supermarket in the area.

      Have fun!

  15. Great info.. I am retiring soon from Alaska after 40+ years and looking at Jamaica, Dominican Repuplic or Mexico. Somewhere I can cruise my 50′ ship from Alaska for all seasons instead of a few months a year. We have been a lot of places but never looked into actual cost of living outside of high dollar vacationing in the major cities (not where I want to retire). I need a marina, beach and oceanside home or land, possible condo. Any ideas??   

    • Sounds like a great lifestyle change to me. I don’t know the Americas well enough to give a recommendation, but having a ship and making your way down the coast sounds like an ideal way to find out!

    •  Hi there,
      I have lived in the Playa area for two and a half years.
      By what you are saying, I would recomend you a place called Puerto Aventuras.
      It’s the only well developped marina outside Cancun on the whole carribbean coast of
      Mexico. It’s only 17 km. south of Playa.
      I have personal contacts with condo owners so don’t hesitate to drop me a line at:
      fjaggi68@gmail.com if you consider trying out this option! Happy sailing!

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  17. Hello, stumbled upon your blog trying to budget how much we should take for our upcoming trip to Playa del Carmen.  How much do you think it will cost for 2 people to eat for 5 days?  Our hotel provides breakfast…

  18. Good overall information.

    I’m getting near ‘retirement’ age myself, and I know Playa del Carmen is on my own ‘short-list’ (along with Cuenca, Ecuador, and Mercedes, Uruguay) of places under consideration.

    I’m a native of Mexico – though living in the U.S. for past sixteen years because of my business. Have friends resident in Playa – am looking to return and visit soon.

    – Gina / flightstomexico.org

  19. Hi James, I’m considering 6 month rentals in Playa Del Carmen. Can you recommend the best way to find good value/priced apartments. How did you find such inexpensive accommodation? Any suggestions are most welcome

  20. Hey James, saw your post read it and loved it. I just visited Playa Del Carmen and couldn’t get enough of it. Thought if traveling around and living there for a few months but can’t seem to find the right place to rent. Looking for something cheap and close to the beach in playa del carmen. How do I find these apartments at these rates? Thank you!

  21. Moving to Playa in a couple days and man would I love to get a deal on an apartment like you did! I don’t plan on going through realtors, I was gonna more or less look for places being rented privately. I feel like i can get a better deal that way. Looking to stay 3 months and then make a decision. Any advice on scoring such a sweet deal would be greatly appreciated.

    Brett

  22. I really enjoyed reading this. My husband and I are looking for a place to move and was focusing on Belize. I made contact with someone there and she told me that even though she likes it she regrets not chosing Playa del Carmen instead. Can you recommend someone that can get us a cheap place for one week so we can come down and explore?

  23. Thanks for your story Michael!
    Truly it depends on the way every individual spends his or her money. We lived for 6 months in Thailand and have been spending around $1000 for 2 people (excluding visa prolongation and journeys to the islands and 3 day border-run to Malaysia). At the same time we have met some people there and they paid almost $1000 only for the housing… As you said, it depends… :) Good job, thanks for Playa prices. Hopefully we will go to Mexico this fall. We are still thinking which city to choose but it must be inexpensive, walking distance or bus ride to the supermarket and the beach (close enough we do not have to rent the car) and not too crowded… Still thinking. :)

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  26. Very informative post! I’ve been researching places for a poor (but up-and-coming?) writer to live for a few years. Lived in the Czech Republic for a year. Am now house sitting around Northern New Mexico…In any case, I’m really considering the Yucatan. Playa del Carmen is now a hot runner. :) Who knows? I may contact your friend about finding cheap (very cheap, I hope) rentals. Thanks again!

  27. The real concern for me arised when I read on Wikipedia’s article for Mexico’s water sanitation practices and how 85% of the sewage water is not treated and that that very untreated water is used by Mexico’s farmers for the irrigation of their crops. That disgusting fact was the deal breaker for wanting to live in playa del carmen.

  28.  I noticed you said your rent was $290. but that each of you paid that, so is the rent at that complex actually almost $600. a month?

  29. Hello James,
    I am targeting Playas del Carmen for retirement. Thank you for the information you are sharing.
    Any rent increased since 2012? I wonder if the landlord can increase rent as they wish. Tks again!