Guest blog post by Kevin Knox
Kevin is a semi-retired coffee taster and buyer, world traveler, gourmand and student of yoga and meditation. He and his wife, Erin, currently spend their time between San Miguel de Allende, and Chapala, Mexico. To follow his writings and musings, click on his blog here.
Last week, in the discussion of comparing the popular Mexican Retirement Destinations of Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende, Kevin focused on San Miguel. This week, he will offer you his perspective on comparative Costs of Living.
Relative Costs of Living
Real estate in central San Miguel starts at about double the price of comparable properties at Lake Chapala, but rents, on an apples-to-apples basis, are the same or less than asking prices at Lake Chapala. One finds a mixture of dollar and peso denominated rents in San Miguel and more opportunities to rent directly from owners rather than paying real estate agency prices.
Utility costs are on par, with the important exception of propane or firewood for winter heating in San Miguel, so that’s one additional expense for living there that could add several hundred dollars a year depending on the severity of a given winter’s weather and the size of your home.
More than compensating for that expense is that in San Miguel, provided one lives in or near centro rather than out in the countryside, a car is neither wanted nor needed. You can walk everywhere, and unlike Lakeside, which has a relatively poor transportation infrastructure with buses running limited hours and taxis that must be called rather than hailed, San Miguel has 25 peso (less than $2) taxis plying the streets at all hours and an excellent bus system. At Lakeside we (and most other people we know) find a car to be all but essential, especially during the rainy season, but at San Miguel you’ll be far happier without one, as streets are narrow, traffic is heavy and parking either hard to find or expensive.
Food costs for meat, produce and local Mexican foods from tacos to stews to burritos are lower in San Miguel than at Lakeside, with far more choice, but with a very important caveat: there are many more opportunities to blow your budget on fancy restaurants and international cuisine. Lakeside has relatively few restaurants and arguably none of an international caliber, while San Miguel has everything from Chinese to Thai to French and Italian, plus jazz clubs, flamenco shows and an endless procession of festivals and special events that, as one friend puts it, “can create a giant sucking sound in your wallet without even trying.”
Health care costs are about on par between Lakeside and San Miguel, but with a couple of important differences. In both places there’s an abundance of bilingual doctors who cater to expats paying out-of-pocket, but Lakeside has no hospital facilities so in the event of anything serious occurring one has to hope to make it by car or one of the two ambulances serving the entire area to one of several world-class hospitals in Guadalajara, 45-60 minutes or more away depending or traffic. San Miguel has excellent hospital facilities right in the city.
Relatively expensive private insurance is available in both places. For those looking to join the Mexican system San Miguel has the great advantage of the Seguro Popular system, with no annual fee, an excellent hospital in the city and none of the discrimination against expats and arbitrary ejections from coverage that continue to plague the IMSS clinic at Lake Chapala.
Which Place is for You?
One thing for sure is there are fantastic expat communities in both of these places, and both are extraordinary places to live. In my opinion, anyone wishing to explore Mexico as a retirement destination would be well advised to come on down and rent for a year in one or the other of these places. Then make it a point to take a deluxe bus to Lake Chapala, San Miguel de Allende and – for the more adventurous – the city of Oaxaca and the lovely colonial town San Cristobal de las Casas before even thinking about buying property or putting down roots.