I have been living in Guatemala for three years between 2004 and 2006, and in 2011 for 7 months in between extended European and US travel. This post is more based on my experience then than now because I have bought my house and this region of Northern Guatemala doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of expat lifestyle, while it is amazingly beautiful, everything is still priced reasonably and there are few expats. It is growing fast though, three malls and counting!
Usually, foreigners live either in the capital city, because they have a job there, in Antigua Guatemala, a nice colonial town 20 miles from the capital, or on the shores of volcanic lake Atitlán, three hour drive away, a more laid back setting.
You can find a two bed apartment in the capital for $500-800, fully furnished, in a gated condominium with private gym and pool for the more modern buildings.
This was my place in Antigua for a few months, at $600 furnished with all bills but elec included.
A three bed flat or house will set you back $1200-$2000 depending on the location and services included. Most rents include water rates and some cable and internet. Electricity is generally on top.
In Antigua, rents are about 20% cheaper, although if you want a walkable location expect to pay $600 for a one bed luxury place or a two bed mid range one.
Around Lake Atitlan you can find nice houses with volcano views for $500 and up.
All those prices are for properties with Western standards. Most come with a fireplace, colonial furniture, a washer and dryer… You just need your clothes to move in.
If you want to rent a local place you can do so for $300/month in the city and $100 in Atitlan, expect no hot water, generally no views, and no services.
Food is really cheap here. Our food budget for two is about $200/month or less, but we eat lots of meat, bacon and cheese, and drink our fair share of alcohol. You can cook your meals for less than $1 per person per meal, or go to a local restaurant and have rice, beans, and a little meat for $2.
Meat: $3/lb, $4 for the very best cuts, $1.50 for ground meat
Fish: $2/lb around our lake, $3 at the market
Tomatoes, potatoes, onions: $0.4/lb
Avocado for a mean guacamole: $0.5 a piece
5 corn tortillas: $0.13
3L soda: $1.45
Beer: $0.5 a can. Milk is about the same price at $1.5 per liter.
5 gallon drinking water $2.
As long as you prepare your meals, food is very cheap. Convenience food is expensive, whether is is ready meals from the supermarket or junk food.
Mc Donald’s meal $4.8
Local fried chicken meal, 1 chicken breast, chips and drink $3
Sometimes you have to pay for water, it is generally a fixed rate of $5 or so every month, most condos have their own well. If you have a meter, expect higher rates, at $40+ per month.
Internet is $40 or so per month for a decent package, and $40 for a smartphone plan with data.
In the city we paid around $30 per month for electricity, most houses pay much more, $80-$100 because once you reach a threshold the rate gets higher.
One of the nice things here is you can hire staff easily to focus on more important aspects of life.
A full time maid-cook-nanny $200
Full time couple handyman/maid $300
Cleaner per day $7-$10
My devoted handyman makes $200/month and gets paid 14 months/year. If you lay people off, you have to pay them another month worth of salary for every year worked.
Most expats have their own car, gas is $5 per gallon.
A public bus costs roughly $1 per hour of travel. There are small shuttles for tourists that take you to all the cool places for $15/$20.
You can visit a local doctor for less than $10, but you do get what you paid for. If you go to Guatemala city, there are state of the art equipments, with doctors trained in the US, and procedures cost between 30 and 50% less than in the US. Many people visit Guatemala to get dental treatment or a non urgent surgical procedure like hip replacement or cosmetic surgery. Do your homework before, bad doctors have websites to drag foreign patients too!
Dinner for two in Antigua Guatemala will cost anywhere from $10 to $150, there are a few great restaurants with Western prices, although a mid range steak place will cost around $50 with wine.
Most attractions are free or under $5, like national parks, volcanoes, museums… and there are lots of free things to do in Antigua.
Where we live entertainment is mainly going out to eat and the quality isn’t so good so we tend to eat at home.
A hotel night mid range cost around $30, chain hotels in the city $80, beautiful colonial boutique hotels $100-$200 per night.
Budget for two
A couple can easily live in a $600 nice house with $50 bills and $200 for food, a $200 maid and $450 for fun and transportation, a total budget of $1,500. Ours is around $1,000 I think (yes, I don’t budget, throw a cyberstone at me!), but we live in a paid for house.
On a related topic, check out the cost living in the Philippines.
What do you think? Are you surprised some things are so cheap or expensive?