Sopes made with red and green sauces on a plate.

A variety of handmade sopes ready to eat.
Photo © Julie Doherty Meade.

When I moved from the small town of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico to New York City two years ago, I suffered from a bit of sticker shock. “The avocados cost $3 each,” my husband and I would marvel while grocery shopping at Whole Foods on Second Avenue, glumly remembering the days when we could make a big bowl of guacamole for less than the cost of a ride on the subway. Even when I lived in Mexico City, a world-class metropolis far bigger than the Big Apple, my monthly spending was about half of what it is in New York.

It’s irresistible—if a little painful—to tease out these comparisons, so I put together a scratch pad with the cost of common expenditures (and some little luxuries) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico City, and New York. It’s not a full cost-of-living index, of course, but the numbers are revealing. Here’s how they stack up.

Mexico vs. New York City

San Miguel de AllendeMexico CityNew York City
Mangoes at the grocery store/market (in season)$0.50/pound$0.50/pound$2 each (and I can’t bring myself to buy them!)
Six-pack of Corona from the corner store$5$6$14
Routine visit to the doctor’s office$25$40$120
Routine visit to the vet (for one hypochondriac Chihuahua)$20$35$120
Cost of one ride on public transportation$0.40 (city bus)$0.25 (metro)$2.50 (subway)
Monthly electricity bill$15$25$40
Kilo of fresh tortillas from the tortilleria$0.80$1N/A (grrr)
Movie ticket$3.50$4.50$15
Typical quick bite$1 (handmade gordita)$3.50 (three tacos de guisado)$2.50 (slice of cheese pizza)
Typical quick breakfast$0.50 (pan de dulce)$0.80 (tamal)$3 (bagel and cream cheese)
Brunch for two$15 (huevos rancheros, refried beans, bread, coffee, juice)$20 (one plate of chilaquiles, one plate of molletes, bread, coffee, juice)$35 (one cheese blintz, one omelet, one gratuitous croissant, coffee)

Dollar for dollar (or peso for peso), Mexico clearly has the advantage… and that’s just comparing the little things! Our monthly rent for a tiny 600-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn was more than twice what we’d paid for a three-bedroom house in the historic center of San Miguel.

I’m not the first person to make this observation, of course. The lower cost of living is one of the major reasons many expatriates first consider relocating to Mexico. In many parts of the country, the cost of living can run you anywhere from 25 to 50 percent less than in the United States or Canada, and extras like going to the movies, traveling, or eating out can be far more economical.

Still, life doesn’t boil down to cold hard numbers, or even pizza slices versus tacos. For me, the warmth of the people, the sunny skies, the vibrant local culture, and the easygoing atmosphere—that is to say, the overall lifestyle—are what made Mexico such a wonderful place to live.