How My Rent Abroad is Always Under $200

I have lived abroad for the past 7 years, including in Mexico (Guadalajara, Mexico City, Veracruz and Cancun) and El Salvador (Quezaltepeque and Ciudad Delgado). I have never paid more than $200 for rent, so I am completely shocked when I see what other expats are paying. I have stayed in rooms for as little as $50 in Mexico City to a huge 2 bedroom apartment for $125 in Veracruz.  I currently live in Progreso, Mexico in my largest home yet, a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom rental which is $375 per month. I have a long term renter who stays in one of the rooms and splits the rent with me, so again, I manage to keep it under $200 USD. 

How is this possible? Below are some tips on how you can get the best rental prices abroad. A lot of it may seem like common sense. But, for people considering the move who have never been abroad, it will be very helpful.

  1. Speak the local Language

If you come to Latin America and do not speak Spanish, you are going to get the gringo price on everything from rentals to restaurant menus to taxi rides. Invest some money in Spanish classes BEFORE you arrive. It is also a matter of respect and you will be treated much better and notice a friendlier disposition from locals if you try to speak their language.

  1. Do not Rent from an online Website or Realtor

Anything that is posted online or comes from an English speaking realtor is way overpriced. If it’s in dollars, that’s even worse. I am a single mom and when I approached realtors in the area, several of them sent me homes over $1,000 USD per month, despite indicating my income limitations. Also, online announcements are often made by the same realtors and are overpriced, knowing that us “gringos” like to research and arrange a rental before arriving.

  1. Do your research on the Ground

There’s no way around this. If you want the best price, you need to arrive, walk around the area you like, knock on doors and call phone numbers. You will find much better prices dealing directly with the people who own the home. And in my experience, most of them are older and not technologically savvy. They won’t post an announcement online even though they can make more money off their rental. You can do this easily by renting an Airbnb or hotel room for a week or month while you do on the ground research. With an Airbnb, you also get someone local who can point out vacant homes and save you a lot of time and effort. I have a master bedroom with private bathroom for rent on Airbnb. For more information, click here

  1. Negotiate the rent 

In El Salvador, we rented a home in a gated community for $200 that was originally listed higher. I noticed that other homes in the same residential area were priced at $200 and told the landlord. She was happy to lower the price. Many rental prices are negotiable (this is where Spanish comes in handy even more!). This is especially true for areas with many vacant homes.

  1. Ask for Help

If you are beginning to learn Spanish and/or have a noticeable accent, ask a local to make the call. They will be able to negotiate on your behalf and get a more realistic price than if you call ­­­­yourself. If you don’t know a local, look for a bilingual taxi driver or waiter to help you out. Just remember to leave them a tip for their service.

  1. Make Local Friends

Before I found this house, I made friends with Rebecca from the lavanderia (who found my first apartment for me), a nice waiter on the beach and a couple who owned a nearby restaurant. They knew that I was looking for a home to rent and sure enough, the couple came through as soon as they saw that this house was for rent. They even called the number, got the price and arranged the meeting for us. In a small town like Progreso, everyone knows each other and trust is built on those relationships. Making friends with the locals will help you out in many ways.

I hope that this article has been helpful for those considering moving to Mexico. You will always find a big range of prices, especially if you are looking in touristy towns like Cancun, Puerta Vallerta and Playa del Carmen, to name a few. If you have any additional questions, feel free to comment below.

If you would like more information on moving to Mexico, please join the Future Mexico Expats group on Facebook. 

 

Cheap Flights: Fly into Mexico from $76 in June

How can a single mom afford to travel so much? Budget airlines that offer dirt cheap flights. To be even more specific, Mexican budget airlines. In the 7 years since I moved abroad, there are three companies that have grown and continue to expand their service to international destinations. They now serve large U.S. cities: Vivaaerobus, Volaris and Interjet. They are also continuously adding new routes in Central America.

Small prices but Big Improvements

When I first flew with these companies, over 5 years ago, they couldn’t accept my U.S. debit card online and the websites were all in Spanish. I remember having to book online, print out a voucher and bring it to the local Oxxo (7/11 style convenience store) to pay in cash. I had the opportunity to fly with all three of them in the past few months, on different routes. I have noticed several attempts to bridge the language barrier and appeal to international travelers. They are now giving instructions in English and Spanish and using bilingual flight attendants. Of course, their websites also have English versions and will accept all major debit/credit cards. Still, when I travel one them, I am usually the only foreigner. Why? Because most non-Mexicans don’t know about these airlines.

Why don’t you know about these cheap options?

They won’t show up if you search on many of the travel websites, like Google flights, Orbitz, Travelocity, etc. But if you are willing to put a few minutes into checking out flights on their direct websites, you can end up saving hundreds on your airfare. To give you an idea, I flew from Merida to Veracruz on Vivaaerobus in March for under $50 with a baby and luggage. I also recently flew from Mexico City to Guatemala City on Interjet for under $200 again with the same baby and luggage. Below, you will find some of their upcoming deals, what U.S. cities they service and certain travel tips that I have discovered along the way.

Mexico’s budget airlines

Vivaerobus 

Service from: Houston, Texas

Vivaaerobus currently only flies out of Houston, but has extensive routes within Mexico if you plan to visit more than one city.

Best Upcoming Deal: Houston to Monterrey any Sunday, Monday or Friday in June for $76.55 (including 1 carry-on and 1 checked-in bag).

Travel tips: Vivaaerobus operates similarly to Spirit Airlines. They are a no-frills carrier. Expect to pay more if you are traveling with several pieces of luggage. They have three different fair rates: light, basic and smart. Each includes different amenities like additional luggage, preferred check-in and boarding, seat selection, etc. They have limited service from the U.S., but once in Mexico they have many route options at the cheapest prices.

Volaris 

Service from: Over 20 U.S. Cities, Ontario, Guatemala City and San Jose

Volaris has the largest presence in the U.S., serving many major cities and is expanding into Central America.

Best Upcoming Deal: New York City to Mexico City on June 26th for $111.13.

Travel Tips: Sign up for the VClub if you are planning to travel round trip or more than once with this airline within the year. If you pay in pesos, the Vclub costs $500 MXP pesos ($26.71 USD according to today’s exchange rate). However, if you pay in dollars, it costs $49.99. *One note: If you are traveling with a baby, Volaris is the only airline of these three that required an additional payment for infant luggage. This included a stroller, car seat and carry-on diaper bag. The other airlines checked my stroller for free at the gate.

Interjet 

Service from: New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas and several cities in Latin America (including Cuba).

Interjet services a few major U.S. cities, but also Cuban cities and Guatemala City.

Best Upcoming Deal: Miami to Cancun on June 26th for $123.02.

Travel Tips: The light fare option does not include a checked in bag. It is an additional $25 USD for a checked in bag. Often times, you can choose the Optima fare category for the same price or just slightly higher. This option comes with additional benefits. You can choose your seat and are able to change the passenger name or your flight for a discounted rate ($35).

ALWAYS SEARCH IN THE LOCAL CURRENCY

Additionally, you should note that to get the best deal, search in the local currency. The following fares were in pesos and converted to dollars at the current exchange rate of 18.68 pesos to 1 dollar. The difference in the peso and dollar fares ranged from $6 to $33 for the same flight. If you are flying round-trip and/or with other people, that money can add up quickly.

To continue saving on these budget airlines

All three of these companies have sales and promotions all the time. If you are a frequent traveler, it is worth it to sign up for their e-mail alerts. Vivaerobus sometimes has flights up to 90% off (at $300 pesos, just over $15), Volaris and Interjet up to 50% off. Either way, they are basic and cheap airlines that will get you to your destination for a fraction of many other companies.

These were just some of the specials that I found for the month of June. July and August are the high season for American travelers to Mexico, so there are few deals to be found during those months. Of course, if you look ahead to September through December, you will find even better prices in the low season.

 

Mexico: Living at the Beach on $800/month

One of the first questions that people ask before moving abroad is how much money they should expect to spend per month. And the answer is always, it depends. Which is true. This post is specific to the country of Mexico, which right now has a favorable exchange rate for those who are making dollars. But it still depends on the city, location within the city, the size of the dwelling and lifestyle factors. There seems to be two types of expats that relocate to the developing world; those who want to live like a king and those who want to blend in with the locals. I am definitely the latter.

That being said, I do enjoy eating out a couple times a week, and I love my margaritas on the beach. I’m sure we could slice the budget down even further by giving up those luxuries, but I’d rather not. I decided to relocate with my daughter to Progreso, in the state of Yucatan, Mexico. It is a small beach town. There is a retired ex-pat population and cruise ships stop here 2 – 3 times per week, but other than that, it isn’t a big tourist destination, which is exactly what I wanted. It is about 4 hours by bus to Cancun so we are also close enough to a major airport and a tourist hotspot if we want a little more adventure.

Progreso is a small, quiet and relaxing beach town.

Our Expenses in progreso, mexico

Rent: $200 USD monthly for a furnished studio apartment with separate kitchen and bathroom. Utilities (electricity, water, cable, and internet) included.

Part-time nanny: $35 per week

Food: $30 per week ($25 at the grocery store and $5 at the market)

Well baby visit: $20 once a month

Vaccines: free

Formula and Diapers: $16 per week

Transportation: $3.50 per week. (I take a taxi to the supermarket at the entrance to the town once a week.)

Laundry service: $3 once a week

Spending money per week: $57.50 for eating out, buying clothes, medicine, etc.

Personal Insights on mexico

As you can see, we don’t spend much money at all compared to living in the U.S. Mexico has always been a bargain for expats, but even more so recently. The exchange rate, which is nearly 20 pesos to 1 dollar, helps save a lot of money monthly, especially on formula and diapers. I also make my own baby food with fruits and vegetables from the market and a blender.

One of the biggest money savers is that we don’t need a car. Our apartment is located 2 blocks from the beach and 4 blocks from the town’s market and supermarket. Everything is within walking distance and my daughter loves to go for walks in the stroller. Our other entertainment is the beach, which is free.

Her stroller is our main mode of transportation, even on the beach.

And although she isn’t quite ready to play at the parks, there are plenty of them around. Overall, Mexico is a very family friendly country and you can find children playing in the streets and at the parks well into the night.

There are plenty of free parks for kids and some have exercise equipment for adults.

I try not to eat out every day, but when I do want to treat myself to a margarita, they run about $3 at the beachfront restaurants and food is $5 – $8 per plate. If I go to eat at the market, meals are $2 – $3.50. At the end of the week, I always have spending money left over.

Additionally, if I were a single person, I would be spending just $576 monthly, as the nanny, pediatrician and baby items run about $224 per month.

To make sure you get the best deal possible when you move to mexico or abroad

  1. Learn the local language. If you don’t, you will end up paying much more for housing.
  2. Rent a hotel room or Airbnb for a few days. You will find the best rental prices by walking around and looking for “for rent” signs.
  3. Ask the locals (The lady that owns the laundry mat found our current apartment for us).
  4. Weigh the pros and cons of the location. You may pay more to be downtown but if you save on a car payment, gas, maintenance and insurance, it may be worth it.
  5. Ask your landlord about throwing in appliances and/or furniture. Mine was able to lend me a gas stove and propane tank so I didn’t have to purchase one myself.

Do you have questions?

I hope that this has been helpful to you if you are considering moving abroad. If I have forgotten anything or if you have a question, please comment below.

If you are considering moving to Latin America, I provide online Spanish lessons. You can find more information about them here.

Note: Prices are in USD and have been calculated at a 20 pesos to 1 dollar exchange rate. The actual rate at the time of this post was 19 to 1. In recent months the peso has fluctuated between 18 and 22 to a dollar.

 

The 5 Must Have (and cheap!) Products When Traveling with an Infant

It’s not easy to be a minimal packer with an infant. But it is possible. My daughter, Sofia, and I started our journey when she turned just 3 months old. She was born in El Salvador. It took us a few weeks to straighten out her paperwork with the American embassy, get her American passport and then her first round of vaccines so we could begin traveling abroad. The vaccines weren’t a requirement but I just felt more comfortable with her having at least one round. Since then we have gone to Guatemala City, Cancun, Progreso (Yucatan, Mexico) and now we are located in Veracruz. We have been traveling for 6 weeks so far and although I thought that I had thought of everything… there are things we have had to pick up along the way. Although it’s tempting to buy secondhand walkers, baby gyms, and bouncers to keep her occupied, we always travel on budget airlines (think Spirit), and so packing light is a priority. To keep our travel cheap, and avoid additional luggage fees, and in the spirit of being a minimalist, I have been very selective in what I have packed and purchased for her.

*FYI: This blog will be updated as we continue to travel and discover new finds that make life easier for baby and myself.*

#1 A Foldable Travel Bed

There are two options for this and I own both of them. One way to avoid overloading your luggage is to leave the pack and play at home. My daughter isn’t crawling yet and is very happy to co-sleep with me in the same bed. There is the regular co-sleeping travel bed (if you are traveling to an area that doesn’t have a mosquito problem) and the one with a mosquito net over the top if you decide to go the tropical route. Right now we are using the 2nd option, as Veracruz is very hot, humid and full of mosquitos. But the best part is that this travel bed is foldable and barely weighs a thing. I also flip it over and use it as a tummy time mat and when we go to the beach, I throw a lightweight sheet over the mosquito net to keep her in the shade as she sleeps. As you can see from the pictures, this option is best for newborns to babies about 6 months of age

Travel bed with mosquito net.

Her improvised tummy time mat.

#1 – Non-Tropical Option

#2 – Mosquito Net Option



#2 Chair to High Chair Converter

This is my favorite purchase so far. I bought it when we arrived in Veracruz from the US Amazon website. I realized that as we went out to eat with friends, my daughter would feel out of the loop and bored in her stroller, which keeps her located lower than a typical restaurant table. In order for her to join the “action”, I needed something else… but she isn’t quite ready for a regular restaurant high chair and many places abroad don’t even offer them, so I came across this converter. It has harness straps so it is more supportive than a typical restaurant grade high chair, and can be used with almost any chair. The best part is that is folds up very small and can be tossed into my purse (I don’t even carry a diaper bag). This product is recommended for babies up to 35 pounds so I know we will be using it for a while.

This cover converts almost any chair into a high chair.

My baby is able to use it at 4 months old. And it goes up to 35 pounds.

 

#3 Manual Food Puree Device

I spent a great deal of time in the Mexican Walmart viewing my options for making my own baby food. There are the obvious choices, blenders, and food processors, but they require electricity. We are often on buses or airplanes and even in restaurants at times there is not a nearby wall outlet. Plus, I wanted something small that could be carried in my purse/diaper bag. I found this gadget which resembles a large garlic press. You put the food into the bottom part and it smashes it by connecting the handles together. It comes with a spoon to feed the baby directly from the device and a cover to save any uneaten food. I love this because it means when we eat out, or even at home, my daughter can have the same exact food as I eat. No extra preparation and if we are on an airplane/bus/in rural Mexico I can easily mash up some food for her on the go – without electricity. This does mean that I have to eat healthier but I am willing to make that sacrifice for her.

The on the go food pureeing tool.

Nuby food masher.

The product that I have seem to only be available in Mexico. Here is the link to the Nuby Mexico if you happen to be in the country.

Below is the 2nd choice that I was considering. It’s slightly larger but it is also a great option. It has a bowl and separate masher. It comes with a spoon and lid to save the leftovers.

#4 Mesh Feeder

When I originally planned this big international trip for my baby and myself, I did it at a specific age. I wanted to avoid the teething stage. And well, don’t you know it, the week we get to our first Airbnb in Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico, she starts teething (at 4 months!). I was so happy that I happened to throw a mesh feeder into the duffle bag “just in case”. This has been one of the most valuable things for us as we travel. I can stuff it with ice so she relieves the pain on her gums, and also gets a little extra water (In tropical climates, the doctors recommend giving infant a few ounces of water each day because of the heat. I understand that this is not usually recommended in the U.S.), and even try out some new foods. The mesh part means that she has to mash the food completely before it exits the feeder, so basically, she is making a puree herself. You can put small pieces of frozen fruit for hot summer days or soft, cooked vegetables. She has been using it since she turned 4 months when the doctor gave the go-ahead to start eating actual food but she is just getting the hang of how to hold it herself now. I still have to help her a bit but she loves it. Also, I have found that in restaurants, the waitstaff is more than happen to bring me ice or small pieces of fruit to put in her feeder. It makes for a better dining experience for everyone.

This is a lifesaver at teething time or on very hot days.

#5 Foldable Bathtub

At home, we use a fillable bathtub which allows her to be immersed in the water. But on the road, I wasn’t about to bring that huge plastic tub with us, so I found this option. This bathtub folds up nicely, is made of mesh so it is very light and it also serves as a chair to feed her in and a beach chair (under very close supervision of course since there are no securing straps). Bathtubs themselves are very rare in Mexico so I end up filling up a large bucket with water and using a cup to “shower” her with the water

Her “bathtub” which also doubles as a place to feed her and her beach chair.

*Disclaimer: The above are affiliate links from Amazon which means that I get a percentage of the sale for referring you to the product. However, these are all products that I have purchased and we use as we travel. I try to find inexpensive items that will be useful for as long as possible to stay within our budget.