I fell in love at first sight with Mexico City during a visit in April 2018. Fast forward 2.5 years, and I never left after my initial visit, and now live in Merida, in the Yucatan Peninsula. Instagrammable Merida is one of the most beautiful colonial cities and is also known as one of Mexico's safest cities.
Before deciding on Merida, I visited about half the states in the country. I lived, off and on, for about a year in Mexico City, truly my favorite place in Mexico. However, in reality, I prefer a slower pace of life, and Merida provided just that. I have been living here for 1.5 years now.
- <skip to budget details>. Monthly budget in Merida = less than $840
I am originally from Miami, so I seek comfortable accommodations and amenities, just not at Miami prices. Surprisingly enough, inexpensive luxury is available all over the country, but given my preference for warm weather, I chose Merida as my home base to explore the Yucatan.
Merida is a medium-sized city with a population of about 900,000 and the 13th largest city in Mexico. Centro Historico, with its historic colonial buildings, still has a small-town feel. When you walk around, you'll usually run into friends or at least one person you know.
The affordable quality of life here is attracting more expats, retirees, and digital nomads to the city. Justifying its reputation as Latin American's new expat hotspot, the amenities here include a reputable hospital system, fast internet, social expat communities, and low cost of living. I find that Merida is conducive to my digital nomad life, and there are so many amazing Merida day trips to take throughout the Yucatan.
While no place is perfect, Merida ticks a lot of boxes. Though not everyone has heard of it yet, this is a very up-and-coming travel destination, especially given its proximity to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, and Tulum.
I truly love living here and shining some light on this colorful, tropical city. I'm so excited to share my personal experiences and tell you all about the cost of living in Merida, Mexico, and the lifestyle here.
Getting To Know Merida
Enjoy a quiet cup of coffee in the Colonial Zone's many cafes
As mentioned, Merida ticks a lot of boxes — but if you don't like warm/hot weather, and don't want a relatively slow pace of life — it might not tick your boxes! To find out if it is, you'd first want to visit, maybe even in the hotter months of May-September.
Traveling to Merida
Merida is easy to visit, as Merida International Airport (code: MID) is only 20 minutes from downtown. Currently, there are only direct flights from Miami, Houston, and Oakland in the U.S., but the airport is currently undergoing an expansion, so more will be available in the future. If you can't get a direct flight, the Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Tijuana Airports have connections.
Merida's tropical weather
May-September are the hottest months, with normal daytime temperatures of about 90°F (32°C). With the humidity factored in, temperatures often feel 10°F (5°C) warmer. Expect those temperatures to drop at night to around 80°F (27°C). Many residents simply stay indoors during the day.
Though it's quite hot, some homes don't have air conditioning, as Yucatan locals actually prefer to live without it. If this doesn't apply to you, make sure to find a place with AC and even a pool, though both are additional costs.
Tourists can escape North American and European winters here. The cool season from November to February still hits high temps above 87 degrees (30.6°C). January is the "coldest" month with an average low-temperature of 65.5°F/18.6°C.
Merida short term rentals
With six months available on your FMM Visa, you can explore Mérida, and other Mexican cities, to find a good fit. Mérida is an affordable city with plenty of unique Airbnbs in Merida you can rent for a few months while getting a feel for the city.
After some time in Merida and being in a few foreigner and expat groups, the thing that seems to dissuade people most about Merida is the weather. This city is in the tropics, and the temperature range starts at HOT and rises to REALLY HOT hot during the summer months.
What Is The Cost of Living In Merida, Mexico?
|Total Monthly Expense||$840|
|COST PER MONTH|
|Rent- Furnished Studio Historic Center||450|
|Housekeeping Services 3-hours 2 times per month||20|
|Water/Sewer/Garbage-INCLUDED Electric Only||INCLUDED|
|High Speed Internet||INCLUDED|
|Cell Phone- 3 GB Internet Per Month||10|
|Total Housing Expense||480|
|Home Cooked Meals 7 times per Week||97|
|Street Food 6 times per Week||35|
|Mid-Priced Restaurant once per Week||53|
|Personal Chef ($200 per Month)||-|
|Total Food Expense||185|
|1st run movie once per Month||6|
|Budget Night Out-Cantina Beers twice per Month||18|
|Private Yoga Classes twice per Month||10|
|Big Box Gym (Weights and Group Classes)||10|
|Uber/Taxi 2 times per Week||17|
|Total Transportation Expense||18|
|Travel Health Insurance||50|
|Health Care Expense||50|
|Woman's Haircut- Home Service 6 times per Year||13|
|Personal Care Items- Shampoo, Soaps, Etc.||20|
|Household Items- Laundry Soap, Tools, Dishes, Etc.||20|
|Full Service Laundry 2 Loads Per Month||10|
|Total Personal Care and Misc Expense||63|
|Exchange Rate to $1 USD to MXN (Mexican Pesos)||20.3|
Merida's social scene
Pre-pandemic, I attended many Merida meetups, took Spanish classes, and explored other parts of the Yucatan Peninsula at least once a month. I personally enjoyed taking long walks, listening to my audiobooks, and photographing this beautiful city.
As the demographic skews in the 30s-50s range, Merida is not a party town. There are some cool cantinas and hidden speakeasies that only advertise by word of mouth, but this isn't an all-night town. Even in the hippest of places, I never spent more than $8USD on a drink in Merida.
How do costs in Merida compare to the United States?
Merida is geoarbitrage heaven; the value of a dollar goes a long way here. An $840 per month budget here buys you a very comfortable life. That monthly budget is worth over 16,000 Mexican Pesos. Considering the Yucatan has historically the lowest wages in the country. Your cost of living in Merida will be staggeringly affordable. Even if you wanted to live more lavishly, spending over $1200 per month would take effort.
Moving here from the US can save you over 70% from a MCOL city like Portland, Oregon.
$3,060 per month in US vs $864 in Merida
Living in Mexico can cut you expenses by 71%
Expense Estimates: The Earth Awaits
HOW DOES COST OF LIVING IN MERIDA COMPARE TO OTHER CITIES?
What Kind of Lifestyle Can I Afford On $840 Per Month?
When temps hit 100 degrees, lounging in the shade of hacienda courtyards is a way to beat the heat
Let's add some context to the $840. Here are the average prices for a single person in a US city (Portland) compared to Merida.
The Top 4 major costs in the US are housing, food, transportation, and healthcare. These 4 expenses make up 68% of the average costs in larger cities.
Key Living Costs
Total Average Per Month
Save 70% on Major Monthly Expenses
The lower cost of living in Merida could save you over $26,000 per year. Now look closer at the standard of living an $840 budget buys you.
How Much Is Rent In Merida?
My apartment in Centro Historico (historic downtown) Mérida is a large studio with a rooftop patio, and all bills included for $450USD per month. For a two-bedroom/one-bathroom house on the outskirts of downtown with AC and a pool, your rent and bills would be closer to $1,000USD per month.
I found my apartment in Mérida housing Facebook group; in general, Facebook is the easiest way to network in Mexico. As with my apartment and an Airbnb, rental properties in the city center (Centro Historico) that cater to expats and foreigners will include all utilities (electricity, water, etc.).
Here are a few recommendations for Merida's best Facebook groups for housing:
- Merida Casitas for Rent for renters
- Merida Casitas for Sale and
- Homes Merida, Mexico, for an affordable property to purchase.
For those who plan to rent a home, utilities here also run pretty low. If you watch energy and water consumption, you'll spend no more than $300USD per month for both. For top-of-the-line internet and WiFi in Merida, figure about $50USD, and a cell phone with calls and data will run $25-50USD.
How Much Is Your Monthly Food Budget?
Panucho ($1.30 / 27 Pesos)- a Yucatán specialty tortilla stuffed with refried beans, then layered with your choice toppings
Food prices are inexpensive, both groceries and eating out in the mercados and on the street. I like to cook at home to eat healthier. My monthly costs are about $150USD for groceries.
INSIDER TIP : If you stop at local outdoor mercados (markets) over indoor grocery stores, you can save even more.
To eat out on the cheap, head to the local mercados and pick up snacks from street vendors. Nothing beats the prices for $0.50 USD tacos and $1 USD tortas (sandwiches) on the streets in Mexico! When you want a nice dinner, Mérida has that as well, in its upscale Yucatecan restaurants.
You can find meal delivery services via Facebook groups to get prepared food delivered for the week. As dollars and euros go far in Mexico, paying for a catered chef's service will only run about $200USD per month.
Mercado 60 is a new concept "gastronomic and cultural" concept market. Part food court and part art gallery, Mercado mixes live music, local handicrafts, an art exhibition area with 18 different gourmet restaurants serving everything from Thai, French, Lebanese, and Mexican fusion cuisine. Food prices starting at $2 / 50 pesos. Local beers are $1.50 / 30 pesos.
How Much Should I Budget For Entertainment?
Exploring Merida's outdoors is the perfect cheap activity. You can swim in mineral-rich turquoise waters in subterranean pools for $3.
Entertainment and Sports
- Cenotes $3-$5- The Yucatan is well known for its beautiful cenotes, or swimmable sinkholes. There are about 6,000 throughout the region, so there's no shortage of cenotes to explore. Cenotes are a fun budget-friendly way to spend the day
INSIDER TIP : Known for its old school cantinas, Merida cantina crawls are a fun and economical way to spend your nights, as a cantina beer is usually only about $3USD. Many have live music at night, and for the most part, people in Merida are social and friendly, so it's easy to meet others.
What Does Transportation Cost?
A first-class bus ticket from Merida to Chichen Itza only costs $7
Buying a car requires at least a Temporary Residency Visa, though you can always rent a car for the weekend with your passport and driver's license. A weekend car rental with full coverage insurance costs about $75USD.
For more eco-friendly and economical weekend travel, Mexico has an excellent bus system. The country's largest bus company, ADO, has luxury-class buses that service all of Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula. There's Uber in about half the states in the country and taxis everywhere.
In fact, many keep their cost of living low by not having a car in Mérida, as it is a very walkable city and Ubers are inexpensive. Personally, I don't have a car and don't want one. I walk, use Uber when necessary, and take buses for day trips.
Throughout the country, Ubers are very economical. Prices fluctuate but figure about $5USD for a 30-minute ride. Mérida doesn't have a great public transportation system, but since I both hangout and live downtown, I wouldn't need it anyway.
Weekend trips in the Yucatan
On weekends, you're no more than two hours away from Tulum, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or the neighboring colonial cities of Valladolid and Izamal. There are plenty of Mayan ruins for culture lovers, including Chichen Itza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and Uxmal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The closest beach is Puerto Progreso, about 30-minutes from Merida. Pre-pandemic, this beach town was a lively and popular spot for cruise ships, so for a quieter beach, there's Sisal, Telchac, San Crisanto, and Chicxulub. A little further down the coast, there's Bacalar Lagoon, known as "the Maldives of Mexico," and Holbox Island, an up-and-coming Caribbean Island destination
Other Miscellaneous Costs
- Housekeeper $5- Many expats here have someone else who comes to clean the house since this is a very affordable luxury. Cleaning services usually cost about $10USD for three-hours of work.
- Laundry Service $5- I send my clothes out for laundry, and a full-service large load with a wash, dry, fold, pickup, and delivery is $5USD.
INSIDER TIP : As with most things in Mérida, luxury comes at a reduced cost. Though there's no big spa scene, there are several beautiful, restored haciendas located just outside of town with excellent spas. These hacienda-hotels are about $100USD per night; a spa day pass is about $30USD.
How Much Is Health Care?
Personally, I've only been to the doctor once and the dentist once for a cleaning. I was bit by a spider in Bacalar, Mexico, and had to see the doctor and get two prescriptions. I paid out of pocket, and the visit and both prescriptions cost less than $15USD. The cleaning at the dentist was about the same.
Beyond routine medical care, Merida has excellent Health care. There are several world-class hospitals and medical facilities in Mérida. In fact, the Secretary of Tourism in Yucatan state has initiatives to position Mérida as a top medical tourism destination in Mexico.
EDITOR'S NOTE : $50 per month is for Travel Health Insurance. Mexico has a highly regarded healthcare system and inexpensive local health insurance, but premiums vary significantly based on coverage area, benefits, age, and health.
Younger digital nomads with no pre-existing conditions can expect to pay roughly $30 per month for PRIVATE emergency medical insurance. Expats moving to Merida for retirement can pay as low as $40 per month for PUBLIC health insurance (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social or IMSS) or up to $170 per month for PRIVATE medical insurance.
Will I Have To Pay Taxes Living In Mexico?
The Mexican government does not follow a strict 183 day rule for tax residency. The country considers you a resident for Mexican tax purposes when you establish a home in Mexico. If you have a home in another country, then Mexico uses a "center of vital interests" test.
The law here states your center of vital interests is considered located in Mexico if either
- more than 50% of your income comes from Mexican sources in a calendar year or
- The country is the primary place of your professional activities.
Get A Free Tax Consultation and $25 off your US Expat Tax return
What is Not Included In The $840 Budget? Taxes!
The US has a double-taxation treaty with Mexico, but as a US Citizen still required to file a US tax return each year, regardless of where you live. Expat taxes are complicated, but the IRS has options to reduce the tax you need to pay, including the exclusion on foreign income, and the tax credit. Speak with a tax accountant for details. Nomadic FIRE has partnered with Expat Tax Specialists offering a FREE 30-minute consultation.
Full Disclosure, this is an affiliate link. If you use the link, I earn a commission from the company at no additional cost to you. You get the benefit of $25 off your return and a FREE 30-minute consultation with a Tax Advisor.
What Are The Visa Requirements For Mexico?
Step back in time and experience Merida's colonial past
The good news is that visitors from nearly all countries get a 180 day (six-month) FMM Tourist Visa for free upon entering the country. Passport holders from almost all North American and European countries will not need a visa to travel to Mexico, and you can check here to see if you'll need one.
EDITOR'S NOTE : What is an FMM? - Though most Americans casually refer to the FMM as a tourist card or tourist "visa," it is not officially a visa. Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM) is a document allowing some nationalities (including Americans) to enter Mexico without a visa. Mexico's INM (Instituto Nacional de Migración) stamps the form when you enter the country.
FMM prices depend on how you enter. As of January 2020, US citizens flying in pay $30 / 575.00 pesos. Land border crossings are ~$22. Save time getting stamped at immigration by completing the application form online.
FMMs cannot be extended or renewed. After six months, you will need to leave the country for a visa run.
Key Takeaway: Expat life in Merida, Mexico
When compared to Miami, I describe my daily life in Mérida as laid back and relaxed. There are great cafes to start the day at or use as a workspace for digital nomads. In Mexico, as long as you buy something, you can stay in a cafe all day because the culture is incredibly hospitable.
With so many expats, retirees, and digital nomads, there are regular meetups in various cafes all over Mérida. I've attended everything from social coffee club meetups just to hang out and meet others living in Mérida and digital nomads groups to socialize with other professionals.
There are often nighttime and weekend festivals in Plaza Grande (Main Plaza) in Centro Historico, like Merida en Domingo (Merida Sunday Market). Head to Plaza Grande in the center of the city on Saturday nights for a video mapping display on the Mérida Cathedral and to see a traditional Pa Ta Pok Mayan ball game.
I have traveled to over 40 countries to give you the best ways to save, invest, and live overseas for less cost than in the US. After five years of traveling, my list of places to live keeps getting longer. To give you more information on the best places to live abroad, I partner with experts from the expat community.
You want insider information from people with feet in the street? I only work with expats with real-life experience living in countries you want to know about. Together you get updated info on the best neighborhoods, detailed Cost of Living examples, money-saving advice, and recommendations on the local places to eat, drink, and see.
Are you a travel blogger with information you can share on living in another country? Contact me and let's talk about collaborating on a guest post.
EXPAT CONTRIBUTION BY: Shelley Marmor
Shelley is a former Miami travel magazine editor who ditched the office for the world! After traveling solo to 14 states in Mexico, she decided to live in Merida, Mexico full time. Shelley now helps other women cross Solo travel and Mexico travel off their bucket list through her Travel Mexico Solo blog and Dream To Destination podcast. Head to her Instagram to see lots of amazing Merida, Mexico photos.