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  • Rachel Olsen

Living for Less in Mazatlan, Mexico: Is it really all it's cracked-up to be?


This is a question that I am confronted with almost on a daily basis. I find myself comparing costs between what I spend in Mazatlan, and what I might be spending if I were still living in Saskatchewan, Canada.

The first time I came to Mazatlan was over 12 years ago, and I came as a tourist for a one week vacation. I remember thinking how cheap it was here, and how great it felt to eat out all the time...and order buckets of beer like it was nothing! The bill at the end of the night was never usually more than 300 pesos for two people, and we always went home satisfied. Now, however, when I go out to shop for the things I need, I find myself thinking "Holy crap! Are they really asking this much for this...!". I wonder if time and inflation are what has made the price for everything seemingly sky-rocket, or if it was just that being on vacation made me see everything through rose colored glasses...I think it may be a combination of both, but I believe it also has to do with where you are in your life, and the types of purchases that you need to make. Speaking with some Canadian ex-pats from down the road, they mentioned that in Canada, they would try to eat at home six nights of the week, and go out for only one evening dinner...whereas in Mazatlan, they go out for at least six nights of the week, and stay in to eat for only one!

This makes sense, as food in Mazatlan is quite inexpensive, generally speaking. You can go to almost any seafood restaurant in the tourist areas and get a fish, scallop, shrimp or lobster dinner for less than $30 dollars. Fantastic racks of ribs are sold 2 x 1 or all-you-can-eat for $15 dollars, and a go-to hamburger and fries will cost around $8.50 dollars. You can almost always find 2 x 1 or even 3 x 1 deals on mixed drinks, and beer is especially cheap! If you want a specific brand of tequila, vodka, or any other hard alcohol though, you will pay prices similar to those charged in Canada or the US. Specialty coffees are also similarily priced to those at home. A grande white chocolate mocha from Starbucks or Rico's Cafe costs about $54 pesos. So, if eating out and trying new dishes are things you love to do, you should be happy with your options, and you will most likely spend less than you do in Canada or the US.

Doctors and dentists in Mazatlan are also much cheaper than they are in Canada or the US, depending on your health care plan. While all Canadians have medicare, not everyone has a dental plan, and as we all know, dental work is not cheap. A crowne in Saskatchewan, Canada costs approx. $1,200 CDN (I've heard it's more in other provinces) whereas in Mazatlan, the procedure will run you about $400 - $500 CDN. Doctors will charge around $400 pesos per visit, but the great thing about it, is that whenever you go to a doctor...you go to a specialist! None of this waiting for 6-months or more to get in to see a cardiologist or neurologist. You simply call, make an appointment, and you are in...sometimes in the same day, and sometimes within the week. The care in Mazatlan, I have found, is really great! It might help to have someone with you who can help translate if you don't speak Spanish...but a lot of the doctors also speak English.

Movies are another thing that you will likely find are cheaper to see in the theatre here, than they are at home. It's true, movies take longer to premier here than they do in the US or Canada, but what's a little waiting when it costs you a fraction of the price to go and see them! All movies are in English, with Spanish subtitles...accept for childrens movies, which are shown in Spanish. So, for most adults, this is not a problem...unless you are like me and love some of the new Pixar and Dreamworks cartoons!

Now for a bit of bad news...anything you would typically purchase from a department store or big box store is going to be more expensive. All electronics are at least 40-70% more expensive. Housewares, linens, towels, brand name shoes and clothing, furniture, etc. is all much...much more expensive. If you are coming to Mazatlan for any amount of time, I recommend bringing these types of things with you from home. There are exceptions to consider, however. Furniture, while extremely pricey in department stores (and of poor quality), is relatively cheap to have custom made to your exact specifications. You can design things yourself, or show your carpenter an image of what you would like, specify some dimensions, and voila! Solid wood furniture, just as you want it.

Labor costs in Mexico are much lower than what they are in Canada or the US. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, etc. charge very low rates. It has been difficult to get my head around this concept, but more often than not, it is less expensive to get something custom made, than it is to go to Walmart and buy it and assemble it yourself!

Big ticket items such as vehicles, new or used, are more expensive to buy in Mexico. Most people who want vehicles while in Mazatlan, drive down in the winter from Canada or the US, making stops along the way and making their trip more enjoyable. Some people leave their cars here all summer, and some make the drive back home at the end of the winter season...it is really up to you. Gas to run your vehicle...that is cheaper in Mexico.

Homes for sale and homes for rent...I guess I can't really say whether they are more or less expensive than they are in Canada or the US, because this depends greatly on which city you are from. Average rental rates for a furnished 2 bedroom apartment in Mazatlan range from about $650 USD to $1500 USD and up...depending on the amenities included, age, location (beachfront/gated community/etc.), and quality of the apartment. Where you choose to stay or buy will depend greatly on your personal preference and style, but there is usually something for everyone.

I have personally lived on a budget of $1,000 CDN per month in Mazatlan, including rent, groceries, transportation, etc. I lived 2 blocks from the beach in a nice little apartment, but I also made a lot of sacrifices to stay within my budget. I did not eat out, I only took the bus (no cabs) if I had to go anywhere that was not within walking distance, and I thought seriously about spending $1 CDN on a chocolate bar (do I NEED it or do I WANT it??). I did not pay for internet or cable TV, and I watched how many calls I made on my cell phone.

So, what am I trying to say??? You can live for less in Mazatlan...and you can live for as little as $1,000 CDN...but you will be more comfortable if you can give yourself a little more wiggle room. Mazatlan is a place where you can live well for less, but you need to know what to buy and where to find it.

Good luck and we hope to see you here soon!

Rachel Olsen


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