Normally, I support local businesses by avoiding coming to big chain places, but today is not such day. Today I really want to feel a taste of American capitalism and come to Starbucks for a Pumpkin Latte. Pumpkin flavored food is what I miss most about home since I moved abroad three years ago. Now that I am here, on the beautiful terrace of one of the MANY Starbucks on Miguel Angel de Quevedo Avenue, let’s talk about money.
As an expat, I have experienced Spain and Mexico in ways a passing traveler would not. I have had local jobs where I have been paid in the country’s currency. Lately, I have been thinking a cheerful “No, thank you. I prefer to work from home and get paid in dollars.” It could be that this will change back in the future, but for now, I am happy to get out of the rat race.
Unfortunately, Mexican salaries are…well…a reason to sob. Teachers are generally not well paid in many countries around the world, but I have yet to suffer such a personal recession while working full-time. Last year, I was living on a $600 a month salary (speaking in dollars for the sake of my readers that may be less familiar with the peso). That is right. $600 to cover rent, food, transport, and “fun.” Although counting coins to see if I could get a beer with friends on the weekend was far from fun.
I realize that there will always be people who are in worse (or better) conditions than ourselves. I am not interested in the comparison game of fortune. This blog entry is for those hoping to work and live in Mexico City, which is in fact full of endless life and culture. When I first came here (on a 10 day vacation) my euros from Spain doubled in value! This gave me poor expectations on what life here would be like. Once I made the jump from Madrid to Mexico City and started working at a franchised kindergarten, I realized my salary was cut in half and I could no longer afford the lifestyle I expected. I guess I thought my Mexican salary would match the living costs of the big city.
Traveling around the country was simply out of the question. I jumped from a dodgy street to a less dodgy street, renting tiny rooms in houses that looked like they were crumbling. Finally, my partner and I made a glorious move to Coyoacán after having little luck with apartments we could afford. The move to Coyoacán meant higher rent, of course, but it improved our quality of life beyond measure.
I am glad my first year was hard. I am glad I worked hard for half the money. I am glad I could not afford nice groceries and had to stick to free weekend activities (this was especially hard because I became friends with people making twice or more of what I was making). Simply put, I am glad I could not afford a fancy Pumpkin Latte. For that experience, I am financially smarter and even more financially independent than I have ever been before. I am not suggesting you go and accept a job offer that will make you struggle. But if you grew up in a middle-class (or higher) American household like me, I do suggest you (and I) embrace the financial setbacks of living in developing world economies.
As a kindergarten teacher in Mexico City, I was making $600 a month ($12,000 Mexican pesos). My teacher assistant was making about $200 a month…(roughly $4,000 Mexican pesos). My assistant (at the time) was a mother of two. How on earth could she work full time, get paid $200 and provide for her family? My partner and I live in a tiny studio apartment in a nice (but not luxurious area). Our rent is $500 ($10,000 Mexican pesos). We saw apartments in less expat friendly neighborhoods for twice our current rent. This reality of the every-day Mexican employee breaks my heart. It is no surprise people live in their parents’ home until they get married. Unless you are in a financially privileged family, life in this city can be discouraging. Mexicans work really hard. It is not uncommon for people to have 2 or 3 jobs in this city. My middle class United States self never struggled as much as my middle class Mexican self.
Now that I have painted a more realistic picture, you can see that spending your 10-day vacation in Mexico City is economical and smart! You can get a STUNNING apartment on AirBnB for $30, spend under $10 in meals (under $3 if you are into street food), and never run out of places to see. As a vacation spot, Mexico City is not only exotic and fun but extremely affordable to American tourists. That said, if you need some concrete details on living costs…
- Desired monthly salary: $1,000 USD / $20,000 MXN (at least)
- Rent for your own apartment: $600 USD / $12,000 MXN
- Rent for a room in hip neighborhood: $300 USD / $6,000 MXN
- Weekly groceries (including wine bottle): $30 USD / $500 MXN
- Weekly Public Transport (no Uber): $3 USD / $50 MXN
- Taking your date to an expensive restaurant and leaving a nice tip: $60 USD / $1,100 MXN
- Flying to Oaxaca: $160 USD / $3,000 MXN
- Beer at a hip bar in a hip neighborhood: $2.6 USD / $50 MXN
- Theater play in small venue: $20 USD / $400 MXN
- Movie Theater tickets: $4 USD / $75 MXN
- Gorgeous artisan necklace at artisan market: $10 USD / $200 MXN
Whether you are paying us a fleeting visit or taking that bull by the horns and becoming an expat in Mexico, I hope these price estimates help you make financially smart choices. For teachers looking to work in Mexico, I recommend only taking jobs at International Schools as they will be more likely to pay you a salary in the twenty thousands MXN. International companies will also have better clue on practical and legal matters regarding work visas and expat friendly neighborhoods to rent apartments. But for me, the most liberating experience has been working from home, making dollars, and not being tied to the rat race of city life. Teaching English online is a great way to take that first step, and live in developing countries without having to struggle through the economy. For now, as long as you make euros or dollars, your salary will double in worth for less effort and time. I’m sold!
Now that you have an idea of basic expenses like rent and groceries, let’s talk about the really exciting thing. The fact that you have it on your mind to move abroad, to make wild memories, and to surpass self-doubt. Let’s talk about your courage and resilience. Let’s talk about you being here, on this blog post, reading about that expat life and its realities. Let’s talk about you, the sleeping adventurer that is now waking and getting set free. You can do this. You, of all people, you most definitely can.