The Cost of Living in San Pancho, Mexico

After living on Mexico’s Caribbean coast for three months in Playa del Carmen we travelled to Cuba, Mexico City, and Guanajuato before settling down for another three months—this time on the Pacific Coast in the tiny beach town of San Pancho (officially called San Francisco), 50km north of Puerto Vallarta. As in Playa we discovered that living in Mexico is much more affordable than travelling around when the cost of hotels and buses can really add up. By slowing down and getting to know a place for longer we not only had plenty of time for work and relaxation, but also spent much less.

These are our monthly expenses in San Pancho in USD for two people.

Monthly Expenses in San Pancho
Casita rent $400
Food $585
Drinking Water $19
Transport $37
Entertainment $23
Miscellaneous $35
Total Monthly Expenses $1099 (£700) for 2 people

We actually spent $187 less per month than we did in Playa del Carmen, although this is mainly due to getting a good deal on our accommodation, as we spent slightly more on food here.

So what does $550 (£350) a month per person get us in San Pancho?

Accommodation

Our San Pancho casita

Our San Pancho casita

We got a good deal on our beautiful casita as we are subletting from a friend of a friend who has a long term rental here. We are about 10 minutes walk outside of town up a steep hill, but the payoff is a peaceful location overlooking the jungle. Our two storey casita consists of two spacious studio apartments (we use downstairs as our bedroom and upstairs as our work and living area), two terraces, and a garden filled with flowers, butterflies, birds, lizards, and the all important hammock.

We have a fully equipped kitchen (yay, an oven!), reasonable internet (it can be slow but it’s mostly fine), a washing machine, and it’s beautifully designed with lots of Mexican artwork and an open-air design that brings nature into the house (literally sometimes). All our bills including a gardener and cleaner once a week are included.

As I said, we got a good deal and I’m not sure you’d be able to get such a nice place for this price for a short/medium term rental. There are only a few hotels in town and most people who visit are American expats or people renting holiday homes—the weekly rates can be quite expensive. You can get a much better deal by renting monthly and the best way to find a place is by coming here and asking around.

Our friends Victoria and Steve of Bridges and Balloons paid $500 a month for their one bedroom apartment with roof terrace in the centre of town (read more about it here), and Shannon from A Little Adrift paid $375 for a studio apartment (read her total living costs here). If you are prepared to go basic (no hot water or internet) you can get a room in a shared house or studio for much less.

Overall I’d say apartments are cheaper in San Pancho than Playa del Carmen as good deals there are getting harder to find and are only possible outside of the centre of town.

Food

San Pancho food

Tasty eats in San Pancho: hibiscus flower sopes at Bistro Organico, cheese and mushroom quesadilla at Eva’s, veggie taco at Baja Taqueria, and pizza at Darjeeling

We eat out more often in San Pancho than we did in Playa del Carmen and our food costs are slightly higher because of it. We ate out more in our first month than we do now (many places have closed for the low season) but it averages at 3-4 times a week, cooking at home the rest of the time.

Meal prices range from 50 pesos ($4) for two quesadillas and soft drinks at a taco place to 400-700 pesos ($31-55) for dinner for two at the town’s best restaurants (despite its small size there are some great restaurants here). We are also regulars at Cafe Paraiso where Simon is addicted to their frappuccinos and we both indulge in the brownies, coconut cupcakes, and banana bread.

Cooking at home is much cheaper and we spend less than $50 a week on groceries. We buy corn tortillas from the tortilleria, fruit and vegetables from a stall, and everything else from the little grocery store El Indio. I thought we’d miss having access to a big supermarket but we can really get everything we need here and it’s a much more pleasant shopping experience. We only go to the supermarket Mega (about 30 minutes away on the bus) about once a month when we need to withdraw cash as the ATMs here charge a high withdrawal fee. While there we end up buying treats we don’t really need (Simon disagrees) like imported cheese and salt and vinegar kettle chips.

You could definitely spend less on food by avoiding the coffees and treats, cooking for yourself, and only eating at the cheap taco stands. As vegetarians though the cheap options are limited to cheese quesadillas as this small town doesn’t have the variety of Mexican vegetarian dishes that we found elsewhere.

Drinking Water

The kitchen and Simon's desk

Note the garrafones on the left of our kitchen

We buy 20 litre returnable garrafones that cost about 25 pesos ($2) each and last us 2-3 days. We drink a lot of water so this cost might be higher than for most people.

Transport

Everything in San Pancho is walkable in no more than 15 minutes so our only transport costs in town are a taxi about every 10 days to stock up on water. They are too heavy to carry up our hill and the water truck that delivers the garrafones can’t make it up here.

Other transport costs included here are a few bus trips to Mega, a return bus trip to Puerto Vallarta (for our short break to Majahuitas), and a few visits to the nearby surf town of Sayulita 6km away. Although the bus to Sayulita only costs 10 pesos ($0.80) per person they aren’t very frequent and you have to walk to the highway to pick one up, so we usually get a taxi back which costs 100 pesos ($8).

Entertainment

Jalapeno margarita at Bistro Organico, San Pancho

Jalapeño margarita at Bistro Organico

We haven’t done any tourist activities like boat trips since we’ve been here as they are quite expensive if you don’t have a group to share the cost. Simon did rent a surfboard for an hour in Sayulita for 50 pesos ($4), and the rest of the entertainment expense is on alcohol when not included with a meal. We don’t drink often but have indulged in the occasional margarita on the beach or glass of Mexican wine while watching a game at the town’s incongruous fancy polo club. The main attraction in San Pancho is the beach and that’s free.

Simon boogie boarding in San Pancho

Fighting the waves with a boogie board is free

Miscellaneous

This includes other items like suncream, toiletries, medical supplies, and a new hat. The biggest cost is a data plan for our Mexican SIM card for our iPhone 5 which is 299 pesos ($24) for 1GB of data with Telcel and lasts a month. Simon has written a detailed post about setting up a pre-paid Mexican SIM over on Too Many Adaptors. It’s the first time ever that we’ve had internet on a phone and as well as getting Simon hooked on Foursquare (he’s basically mayor of San Pancho), it’s been useful during the occasional power cut when we can switch to using 3G and continue working.

Surfers at sunset in San Pancho

Surfers waiting for waves at sunset

We have loved living in San Pancho and have found it very affordable without depriving ourselves of anything we wanted. We spent much less than we would have travelling around Mexico as we’d have had to pay $40-50 a night for a simple hotel room with private bathroom. Slow travel wins again.

You can read more about San Pancho and our casita and see our cost of living in Playa del Carmen.

As always we keep track of our travel expenses using our Trail Wallet iPhone app. It has made the process much easier as we can set a daily budget, choose the categories we want to track, and easily add new amounts while we are out and about. If you need some help staying on budget then Trail Wallet is available in the App store for $2.99.

Trail Wallet

Trail Wallet

72 thoughts on The Cost of Living in San Pancho, Mexico

  1. I love your cost of living posts guys :)

    I think San Pancho looks amazing, looks very quaint and Mexican. It’s crazy to think you only spent £700 for both of you in such a beautiful place. I spend more than this myself living in cloudy UK haha but definitely looking to hit up Mexico for a few months early next year.

    Thanks again, appreciate it.

  2. It seems that San Pancho is fast becoming another mecca for digitial nomads along with places like Chiang Mai and Medellin. It’s definitely on our list of places to settle for a while now.

    We’ve also been using prepaid data on our phone for a while now (especially here in Bolivia where wifi is quite unreliable), and Zab has a similar addiction to Foursquare: maybe there’s a help group somewhere.

    • Honestly it’s really weird that that’s happening. It has only been Victoria, Shannon and us here in San Pancho (we’re the only ones left) so it’s not really on the Chiang Mai level. I actually don’t think San Pancho would suit everyone at all—it’s really tiny, quite isolated without a car (buses aren’t very regular) and there’s not a huge amount to do. We love it but you do need to like peace and quiet.

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  4. Love these posts guys, they help us plan our next trip :) San Pancho sounds like a place I’d love, and the perfect place to get some work done without too many distractions.

    • If you like being somewhere small and quiet then it is a great place to work although the internet can be variable and definitely not as fast as other places in Mexico like Playa del Carmen.

  5. Very jealous, it looks amazing. Great breakdown on prices, you did very well on your accommodation and with how good the food looks I can’t blame you for eating out. Jade will also need to join this foursquare help group or maybe we can organise an intervention.

    • For a small town there are some excellent restaurants so we definitely wanted to take advantage. Ha, yes there definitely needs to be a Foursquare intervention—I just don’t get it myself.

  6. That food looks amazing. Hadn’t heard of San Pancho but it’s now on my list of places to spend a month or two in. I much prefer the quieter locations so I can work and this looks perfect.

  7. Hi Erin,

    I am from Playa del Carmen, Mex. Last night I went to sleep at 1 am reading your blog.

    You both have great life traveling.

    I read about the list of items to travel, what is your opinion to replace the laptop for Ipad and the memory drive for iCloud?

    I am enjoying reding your posts. My partner and I traveled too, but i never considered to backpack luggage.

    Form now I’ll a backpack traveler with the essential things.

    Thank you for sharing your ideas and knowledge.

    • It really depends how often you’ll use it and what you’ll use it for. A laptop is essential to us as we work as we travel, and it’s also useful if you want to store and edit your photos as you go. If you are just browsing the net and sending emails an iPad would be fine. Relying on iCloud will depend if you have good internet in the places you are visiting.

  8. Loving this breakdown! Mexico looks beautiful and congrats with the low cost of living! I’m impressed. :) And it’s nice to see, that our budget is actually possible (we have aroung $1700 between the two of us pr. month) – thank you!

    Can’t wait to start traveling. :) Thanks for the inspiration – that means a lot.

  9. Hi Erin! Great blog you have here. I’m currently in PV and was wondering if you knew off hand some decent places (with internet – yes) for around that same price range?

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  11. Simon & Erin,
    Do you take any notice of the Foreign Office travel advice when deciding on where to go? They have a warning about Mexico, but San Pancho seems to be safe.
    Thanks

    • We do take a look but most of the warnings (including for Mexico) usually only apply to small areas of the country, often where tourists don’t go anywhere. For Mexico the warning is just for Ciudad Juarez which is far away from anywhere most tourists go. San Pancho is one of the sleepiest, safest places we’ve ever visited!

  12. You guys are so good at being on a budget! Steve and I didn’t keep very good track of our budget but I’m pretty certain we spent more than you. Living in eyeshot of Paraiso didn’t help, as well as a one minute walk from Cielo Rojo! Plus I imagine we may have indulged in a few more margaritas and polo brunches! That said, I think we kept it under 1000 GBP each month. Damn, I miss San Pancho!

    • We didn’t try at all. It helped that we are up the hill and away from temptation – you guys were in the heart of it all. If Simon lived that close to Paraiso he’d be a nightmare :) His coffee expenses have gone way down this month as it’s been so steaming hot that we haven’t been able to face the walk back up the hill too often.

  13. Very helpful! Andy and I are looking into places to stay for 1-3 months during the winter, and while I don’t think we’ll make it to Mexico this time around, it’s definitely on the list for the future.

  14. Thanks for sharing guys! We’ve been living in Chiang Mai for the last five months and after a short two month travel stint in Europe starting next month we’ll be back home for Thanksgiving and then making our way to Mexico. We want to spend 3-6 months down there, but with what seems to be so many awesome places to live on both the Pacific Coast and the Yucatan, we’re confused to where we want to begin!

    San Pancho sounds excellent although I’m thinking it might be a just a little too small for us. We’re looking for something slightly bigger and we’re hoping to score some fast Internet or else I might go postal. LOL ;-) Keep up the good work guys.

    • Mexico is a great place to live for a while and there are loads of options as apartments and decent internet are pretty easy to come by. San Pancho is small, so you might prefer nearby Sayulita (also small but lots more going on) or Puerto Vallarta (a bigger city), or we loved Playa del Carmen and had really fast internet there.

      • Wow! Nice and wonderful work done Erin! But please I won’t to enquire am a Nigerian and am planning coming to. Mexico to settledown is there any kinda of job that I can get as a torist, something I can be doing to survive if I should run out of budget because I have budgeted 2000 dollars, please urgent reply thanks

        • We know some tourists there who were working in bars and restaurants so it might be possible but I don’t know much about it.

    • The more expensive restaurants accept them but other places don’t. You’ll definitely need cash on hand and it’s best to get it outside of San Pancho as the ATMs there have high fees.

  15. Erin,

    My husband and I are in the preparation stages for taking a sabbatical with our three young children. He is in the middle of a job transition and we have decided if we are going to do this now is the time before we jump back into the next season of life. Our original idea was to travel the US, but we have friends who took a sabbatical in Mexico so I started researching what that could look like. That’s when I stumbled upon your blog. San Pancho sounds ideal. We come from a small rural community and that’s what we are looking for. Our goal is to have endless amounts of time to focus on our kids so the beach is the only entertainment we need. Also the spotty internet sounds perfect to me as it can be such a huge distraction from our reason for going off the grid. I am wondering if you would mind me emailing you with questions I have. Things like how to go about finding a place to live and whether we should bring our car. Thanks again for the inspiration to step out of our comfort zone and take a new adventure!

      • We have been considering driving our minivan down from the US, but I have been reading that it is safer to fly to southern Mexico because it is in the northern border states that most of violence is happening. What is your opinion on this? If we do end up flying is it hard to buy a vehicle down there? We plan to do most of our getting around on bikes, but with three small children it makes me a little nervous not to have a vehicle available.

        • We don’t have any experience ourselves but generally we found the security concerns overstated in Mexico. Also our friend who lives in San Pancho brought her vehicle down and often drives back and forth with no problems. I think maybe cars are more expensive in Mexico but I’m not sure. I’ll ask my friend if she has any advice. I think a car will be useful as supermarkets are quite far away (there are small shops in town).

        • Here’s what our friend said:

          It’s safe to drive. I have done the border crossing drive myself, alone three times and with other women twice. I’ve driven from Seattle to Mexico City, Mx City to Oaxaca, Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido, PE up the coast to San Pancho, alone. I have never encountered anything remotely dangerous. There are certain things I strongly suggests – one is not driving at night. But this has less to do with fear of bandits or violence. It is because even on the best roads in Mexico you can encounter a cow, potholes the size of a VW Bug or a truck parked in a lane without lights or flashers. You have to be very on your toes day at night because of these and any number of things we would just never see on a highway in the states (an old man riding a bike oncoming in your lane).

          I have alway crossed the border at the Nogales truck crossing south of Tucson without a hitch. I have more info about this if they choose to drive. Or there is a lot of info online both on official sites and forums.

          I don’t have any experience buying a car here. I understand they are much more expense than in the states. And licensing a car in MX I have heard is an administrative adventure (one I think is probably worth having:-).

          Mexico has recently changed it’s visa and importation laws surrounding cars and who can keep them and for how long. It’s confusing at best even after attending a meeting the joint departments held last spring. The easiest way to enter with a car is on a tourist visa. You can keep a US plated car for six months then need to return it to the country of origin. MX requires you to pay a deposit upon entry that is returned when you pass back out or is forfeited if you stay longer than six months. I have been told that if you stay longer (and you are willing to forfeit the deposit which was about $350 US when I crossed a month ago) that your car is illegal and could be confiscated. I have been pulled over for speeding while my car was illegal and only had to pay the obligatory mordida (bribe – usually 200 pesos).

  16. Thank you so much for your input and for being willing to seek advice for me from your friend! I greatly appreciate it. Do you normally go to puerta Vallarta for supermarket shopping?

    • We did most of our shopping in the little shop El Indio on America Latina, and usually got our vegetables from the stand next to it and tortillas at the place opposite. For a bigger supermarket we sometimes went to Mega which is just outside Bucerias. We usually only went there as the ATM was cheaper than in town.

      • Erin,

        Thank you so much for all the great help and info. The advice from your friend gave us great insight and confirmed what we have been reading other places. We are moving forward with our plans to head to San Pancho and are excited, nervous, and a little overwhelmed with all the preparations that need to be made. Working on getting passports for our three children this week! I have a few more questions that I would like to pick your brain about if you don’t mind…

        -Do you have any insight on medical insurance/health care in MX?
        -What things would you recommend we bring with us that are hard to come by in Mexico?
        -As far as clothing is most modest American attire appropriate?
        -What is the postal system like? Should or shouldn’t we expect to use the postal system to mail things back and forth between the states?

        Again I want to thank you for all of your help! I have been sending all of my family to your sight to learn about San Pancho and ease their fears about us leaving the country :). I was hoping that maybe you guys would be staying their longer term so that we could meet, but I just read that your plan was to leave back in July. Blessings to you!

        • I don’t know about medical insurance as we’re not American so things are different for us. We had regular travel insurance. The health care is pretty affordable there though. We know a couple who lived nearby and had a baby in Puerto Vallarta. I’m pretty sure they paid for it themselves and had a great experience without it costing too much. There’s a small hospital in San Pancho.

          I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. We weren’t living there for long so didn’t need anything in particular. Expats might have different suggestions as they live there for longer.

          It’s a beach town so the dress close is pretty relaxed. Local women wear shorts and tshirts. Just don’t walk around town in a bikini and you’ll be fine (the beach is OK of course).

          I wouldn’t trust the postal system too much. We didn’t try in San Pancho but in Playa del Carmen we got two parcels sent from England and only one made it after a very long time.

          Good luck with it all and really don’t worry too much. It’s a very easy place to live and you’ll meet other expats who can ease you in.

    • I’m planning on going with my wife and two kids (2 years old) to San Pancho. Just wondering if the place is kids friends. Do you know if the restaurants have high chairs, for instance? Did you happen to see kids around? Thanks.

  17. Hey Guys. I lived in San Pancho for a month at the turtle camp. I want to go back next year and live for the year, but I would like to love outside of the compound. How did you find your house? Did you go through a realty agency? I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks.

    • We found our place through a friend of a friend. Most people we know found places by just walking around, responding to signs and asking people. Good luck!

  18. TOO Funny! the yellow house in your first picture is the house we rented in 2006! I love San Pancho! I am currently trying to convince my husband that long term travel is the way to go :) LOVE this blog!

    • Dani, do you mind me asking what a house right there on the beach cost you to rent? Also thanks for the info about Costa Azul! We are planning a trip to San Pancho with our 3 kids. That little tidbit will be quite valuable for us!

  19. HELLO SIMON AND ERIN
    We are two friends from Greece planing travelling to Playa del Carmen&riviera Maya this February.
    Do you think it’s possible staying there for 25 days with 800€ each?won’t do crazy things we are only interested in meeting the locals and enjoying the sea.Also would like to go to TULUM and Puerto Aventuras
    Are there any scooter rentals, e.g. Like Thailand?
    Thank you for your time
    Dimitris

    • It’s definitely possible if you can find a good deal on accommodation (there are hostels) and eat mainly at the street stalls and cheap local restaurants (head away from 5th Avenue).

      Unfortunately there aren’t any scooter rentals. We hired a car for one day but you can get to most places by public transport.

  20. Dear Erin,

    Lovely reading you. Would it be too much to ask for a contact for the friend of your friend who rents your former casita long term? It being high season it may be taken, but it’s worth asking, wouldn’t you say? We are currently in Yelapa – just figuring out what’s worth exploring across the bay and an extended stay there would really help!

    Thank you,

    Linda

    • Our friend Tara has now left the house as when she returned after the rainy season the house was quite a mess (leaks, cockroaches etc). She said the owner was coming back in December to sort it out. I don’t know if he is living there right now but he may be open to renting it out so if you’d like to try here are his contact details:

      Jim Gardner- jimgardner90@yahoo.com

  21. i see you guys work from your computers…what was the internet like? I work from my computer too but need pretty good internet…any suggestions on places to go for excellent internet to work?

  22. Hey Erin! I was just wondering what is the best way to go about finding a casita in San Pancho? I’ve spent a few months in Sayulita with friends, but I’m looking for a semi long term rental in San Pancho. Could you possibly point me in the right direction?! Thank you!

    • The best way to find somewhere is to come to town and ask around in the shops and restaurants. The places online are expensive.Try Inez who owns Maria’s, Trini of Ola Rica’s brother at San Pancho Properties (office across the street from Maria’s). Good luck with it!

  23. Good to see you’re still answering questions here – thanks for that and for the great posts.

    I will be in San Pancho at the end of June/start of July. Your post mentioned that some restaurants close for the “low season,” which I assume includes June/July. How’s the variety of dining options during that time? Does anything notable close?

  24. thank you so much for your blog. i’ve visited san pancho a few times and i really love it. you’ve answered some basic questions already and i plan to rent for a month on my next visit to see how it works for me. i’ve only talked to one expat living there so my knowledge is limited and i don’t know whether that person gave me unbiased advice (she and her artist husband have a restaurant/studio on the main street not far from the beach). the other question i would have is what the median age of the expats is in San Pancho. please don’t hesitate emailing me any further thoughts.

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  26. Thank you so much for all your info and advice on San Pancho! I’m living in Ohio now but planning to move/retire in San Pancho. Making my plans;hoping to be there in October. I will have $1200 monthly which seems to be sufficient. Thanks to you, I feel good about this major move. So happy to be near the ocean and see beautiful
    sunsets and best of all, it’s affordable:) I will be alone, yet I’m not worried. Looking forward to meeting other expats and retirees. Thank you so much!

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