How to Maximize the Cost of Living in Mexico

Updated: Sep 19

If you are one of the thousands of Americans wondering about the cost of living in Mexico, you are not alone. The U.S. Embassy estimated in 2019, more than 1 million native-born Americans have moved to Mexico.

Moving to Tijuana is an impressive mission and many people, just like you, are considering the option these days. Especially if you are local to San Diego and rent control just can’t happen quickly enough.

Living in Tijuana could help you save money, and maybe even find a better way of life. Here are 5 tips to help you decrease the cost of living in Mexico, specifically in Tijuana, and make it a positive experience:

Shop the Sobreruedas First for Used Items

“Sobreruedas” are the same as garage sales or Swap Meets in the United States or “Tianguis” in Mexico City. They offer dirt cheap, used items for a great discount. These are everywhere throughout Tijuana on various days of the week and you can find some AMAZING deals here for very unexpected things. The trick is to stick to your budget and prepare a list of acceptable things to buy before you go, if at all possible.

Shop the Saldos Stores for New Items

“Saldos” or variety stores, usually get most of the merchandise from pallet or lot bulk purchases. These are stores that normally don’t have a set inventory, if you see it one day, it may not be there the next day. You’ll find a mix of prices here and a huge variety of anything from kitchenwares to garage items, tools and toys. They are sometimes cheaper or the same as the local Coppel department store or Amazon online. Not necessarily cheaper than Tianguis or Sobreruedas or garage sales are almost always cheaper because those are usually used items.

I love these stores because they are plentiful, and I can find a wider variety of appliances or random kitchen and cleaning supplies, than in other chain stores like Calimax or Walmart (on the Mexico side). Often you can get a great discount, but the biggest perk is more variety, rather than huge savings.

Secure a Checking Account

Charles Schwab is one of the few checking accounts that reimburses all international ATM fees. It’s imperative and a lifesaver to have an account like this. Our landlord (and many local landlords) require that we pay in dollars, so going to the ATM here instead of crossing the border each time is a huge bonus.

Customer support at Schwab is also terrific and I rarely wait for more than 3 minutes on hold to talk with someone. One time, they declined my card at Calimax (because the charge appeared fraudulent as I had been spending money earlier that day in San Diego). The cashier was kind enough to let me call Schwab while she checked out other people, I resolved the issue and then was able to pay for my groceries immediately after.

Conserve Electricity

There is no such thing as indoor heat so be careful to save electricity on space heaters, or the government municipality will charge big fees.

The first year we came without our winter hats or boots. Ever since then, we wear more fleece than I ever touched in Colorado.

We learned about the electricity penalties after paying $400 USD one month for leaving our oil-filled electric heater on each night, for a week. If your bill is large enough, the CFE will penalize you with DAC fees for 6 months for using too much electricity.

The only heater we have now is in the bathroom to help eliminate the steam and make it a bit more comfortable. Mold accumulates here very quickly, so a small space heater in the bathroom is essential.

Trust, you will get used to the cold. And once you go outside, you can usually lose all the layers and enjoy the sunshine.

Get a Mailbox

I have used mailboxes (not Post Office boxes) now for 15 years and pay about $50 for a 3-month lease. Some people don’t like the extra expense, but I find it invaluable in certain situations:

– DMV will not usually question or check to see if your address is a PO Box so I have my mailbox address on my license and registration.

– Some checking accounts do not verify the address (like Charles Schwab), others do (like Capital One) so it really depends on the validation system they use.

– Amazon shipments are held at the mailbox for (sometimes) weeks at a time, as long as my payments are current and they aren’t taking too much space.

– Share the love with friends in Tijuana that need a U.S. address for shipments.

If you are lucky enough to have family that will share their San Diego address with you, mailboxes are not essential. Also, there are mailboxes within walking distance of the border in San Ysidro if you don’t have a car.

Get in Touch

Really the hardest part about moving to Tijuana is making the decision to jump in with both feet. A little planning and preparation will help you get there.

Make sure to get in touch if you want a weekend rental tour and we’ll help you tour some apartments or homes that you are interested in.

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