Budget for a 1- to 2-month trip to San Miguel:
QUICK CALCULATION: For a month you will spend $4,000-$5,000 USD no matter what, because the major pieces of the budget, transportation and accommodations, will be $3,000 ($1,000 accomodations and $2,000 gas/tolls/insurance/hotels if you drive or airfare/rental car or other ground transport if you fly). Then you add dog boarding and/or house-sitting, food/beverages considering you’ll eat out more than usual, and tours/excursions and special activities you wouldn’t do at home. Finally, add the cost of a Mexican cell phone or addendum to your U.S. plan, and contingency amounts for purchases and shipping, and for emergency medical care or activity splurges. It all adds up to $4,000-$5,000 minimum. For a two-month stay, you can probably add $1,500, for a total of $5,500-$6,500.
Airfare or gas (be real about your car’s mileage efficiency and the price of gas, which is more in Mexico now than in the U.S. and goes by liter).
* Tip to avoid getting ripped off at Mexican pumps: order in 20-liter packets vs by an amount. Harder to fix the pump that way. And I get the more expensive “roja” premium gas because Mexican regular “verde” is not as pure as American gas and can make your car ping. [2021 update: Our car is so old…a 2002 Ford Explorer…that I did some research a few years back to find out if we really need to pay for premium gas and the answer is no. So we’ve been using the “verde” gas and it’s fine. If you rent a car, be sure to ask if you need premium gas.]
* If you’re flying to San Miguel, check all three airports: MEX (Mexico City, 4 hours away), BJX (León/Silao, 90 min. away) and QRO (Querétaro 45 min. away) and add in ground transportation, which can eliminate any savings by flying into MEX.
Checked luggage fees. I avoid the fee for the second piece of luggage by packing a full suitcase inside an empty one, and carrying souvenirs home in the larger one. Or if I am donating stuff from the U.S. to a Mexican charity, I bring two suitcases down, empty the larger one, and pack my smaller case inside the larger one on the way home.
* It’s getting so expensive to fly with all the add-ons, that I always compare the cost of upgrading to business class so I get 2 free checked bags and a nice meal on the plane, plus the world-club entry and triple the frequent flier miles, or whatever the perks are. You might find it worth the splurge to be comfortable because the price difference may not be that great by the time you’re done. [2021 update: I recently flew to the U.S. from the Querétaro airport (QRO) and decided to fly First/Business class even though they’re not serving meals due to Covid—but it was only a couple of hundred dollars more than Main Cabin once I added up the luggage fees and premium seating choices. Plus I felt safer being in a wider seat, as the plane was packed and Covid is still a huge concern.]
Ground transportation to/from airports if you fly. Costs vary wildly among public bus/train (second class or luxury), taxi, group shuttle, private shuttle, and car service. Shuttle or taxi/bus combo from MEX is $75-$100/person one-way. From Léon or Querétaro the shuttle is $30/person one-way.
Luxury bus lines:
Tolls if you drive. The tolls from Laredo to San Miguel are $75-$100 if I remember correctly. I usually plan $100-$150 in tolls and miscellaneous stuff for that route, since we have occasionally stopped for a gas cap or tire patch, or I buy a CD or magazine at a rest stop, and I always tip the gas station attendants for washing the windows.
Auto insurance for Mexico and the TIP (temporary import permit) will add $150-$300 to your trip depending on insurance costs.
Yes, because it’s Mexico, I do carry cash for “mordidas” (bribes). In fact, I bring two wallets, one with old credit cards, an expired license, etc., and some cash—and that’s the one that I can reach for in the front seat of the car, or in my purse. The real wallet with travel money and the valid license and cards stays in my luggage. I don’t wear a watch but if you do, just be sure it’s one you wouldn’t mind losing, as it is something to offer if needed. I HAVE PAID A MORDIDA ONLY ONCE—and that was when I got turned around at the border and had to get a guy to open a gate so I could go back through without them checking my passport again and probably detaining me. So I got something of value for the money.
Parking garage or lot fee to store your car while you’re gone or at your destination.
Taxis and tour buses at your destination if you don’t have a car.
HOUSE, KIDS & PETS
Housesitting, babysitting or day care, petsitting or boarding can be major expenses. If you bring kids/pets to Mexico, and then decide to take a weekend excursion, you need to have a friend (which you do!) who can take the kids/pets or you need to pay for care. There are great pet boarding options in San Miguel. Expect to pay around $10 USD per day.
Hiring a housesitter might be a low-cost way to leave pets at home, make sure plants get watered, etc., but you’ll want to budget for that including utilities and for pet food and other supplies the house/petsitter may need.
Veterinary care is a must before you leave if you travel with a pet. Mexico has no quarantine but you do need papers certifying that all shots are up to date and it has to be within 3 days of arrival. When I brought my Cairn terrier, Kirby, in 2008, I got his vet records and then stopped in Austin, Texas, for the final check since the trip would take longer than 3 days. So you need to budget for a vet checkup, and also check if there is currently an entry fee for pets like there is for people (your tourist visa is $30 or so online from Banjercito if you drive, and you can also stop at the migración building at the border to get that, and it’s built into your airfare if you fly; they may charge for pets, too).
Hotels, bed & breakfasts, and vacation rental homes are available in San Miguel on just about any budget. If you must prepay, I recommend buying trip insurance because that’s a big chunk of money to lose if you need to cancel or postpone the trip, or if you get sick here and have to leave early. Trip insurance would cover your flights, too. Better to pay just the hotel deposit if you can.
Skype subscription or cell phone plan with service between Mexico and the U.S. (Instead of upgrading my entire monthly phone plan, I used to pay $5/month to add Mexico calling to my AT&T cell plan vs paying $5/minute. Now I use WhatsApp or Skype but that means I need a data plan.)
* If you are driving it is critical to have at least one cell phone in the car with access to the internet so you can use GPS if lost, or look up an embassy phone number, etc. But prevention is the smartest thing: be sure you have roadside assistance, embassy, consulate, and police numbers in your phone. There are highway signs with emergency numbers posted, too. It really is very safe, and you are only planning for James Bond-type situations here, which hardly ever happen.
FOOD & BEVERAGES
* Note: You eat and drink at home, too, so you can choose to add this to your trip budget or not. It only matters if you know what you spend per day at home—then you’ll know whether you are spending more or less on vacation than for everyday life. In Mexico.
If you’re staying for a month or two (not a week, in which case you are likely to splurge every day), I would plan $30 USD per person per day to cover 3 meals with a drink or two per day, even if you plan to cook a lot at home. That gives you $5 for breakfast, $5 for lunch, and $20 for dinner. Some days you will skip breakfast but add happy hour or a late-night pizza, so it all works out. This assumes most meals are shared. A single traveler needs to plan a bit more.
Food stipend ($30/day) x no. of travelers x no. of full or partial travel days (airport food is super expensive so even if it’s all day in the airport, you’ll spend $30).
Special food events. Plan the exact ticket amount for anything you’re already committed to (Medievel Banquet, charity fundraiser, wine tasting, etc) – otherwise figure $50 USD per person per event, and estimate how likely you are to seek these out (once a week? once a month? plan for 1x anyway, even if you don’t think you’ll use the money, because fun things do pop up!).
TOURS & ENTERTAINMENT
It depends on what kind of traveler you are, but if you’re new to the place, you are likely to spend at least a few dollars a day on trolley tours, home and garden tours (the one here is 150 pesos, I think, or about $10 USD per person), or tours to sites of interest (here it’s horseback riding, or a concert, or going to the newly excavated pyramids at Cañada de la Virgen, or it’s to Comonfort or Dolores Hidalgo to buy pottery, or to Guanajuato for a walking tour and museums that have entrance fees).
As a general guideline, for Mexico I’d plan $5 USD per person per day, and it should cover a weekly outing.
Anything you know you’ll do should be in the budget. For example, if you want to spend Sundays at the hot springs, and you know it’s $10/day entrance fee, budget for $10/person x no. of weekends. A hot air balloon ride is 2700-4400 pesos ($175-$280 USD) per person. A typical day tour might be 2500 pesos ($150 USD)/person including lunch or a tequila tasting. A two-day tour with rappeling or zipline, horseback riding and hot springs, including hotel and meals, is 6300 pesos ($400 USD)/person.
Some entertainment options in and around San Miguel de Allende:
- Coyote Canyon Adventures (horseback riding, ATV tours, pyramids, hot air balloon)
- Hot springs
- Escondido Place
- La Gruta
- Mayan Baths
- Xote (best for kids)
ART, SOUVENIRS & OTHER PURCHASES
In Mexico you will find artwork, jewelry, furniture, ceramics, leather, silver, indigenous clothing and toys, craft items and other souvenirs. Decide in advance how much you will spend on these things and stick to your resolve!
Shipping and insurance (antiques, artwork, dishwear and other ceramics, iron or copper items, huge tin star lamps, decorative items like Catrinas, etc., all are better shipped than in luggage, or at least you’ll have to pay someone professionally to pack them for checking on the plane). Check online for a general idea of shipping and insurance costs. My friends from Australia paid $800 USD to have a box of souvenirs sent home and it took two years to get there.
Plan to buy some of the same things you would at home anyway—a pair of shoes especially for walking on cobblestones from San Miguel Shoe Company especially for walking on cobblestones, a hat, sunglasses, a hummingbird feeder from Camino Silvestre.
* If you’ve ever spent the night in a hospital on vacation, you know it’s good to set a little money aside for whatever might happen. Same thing if you’ve ever decided to splurge on skydiving or scuba diving. Better to plan for the expense and have money left over if you don’t use it.
A friend recently hired a musician from California to play in a concert here in San Miguel, and the man got food poisoning. So I skipped the concert and took him to the hospital, where he was attended by two doctors and several orderlies because of a shift change. He was given tests for all his vitals, and he threw up a lot. Final bill for a not-quite-all-night stay, about $300 USD. Note that I took him to the “gringo” hospital, H+ (formerly Tech 100 and before that it was called Hospital de la Fe), because he doesn’t speak Spanish. But when I had a heart scare and went to the “local” hospital, where I was checked by a doctor and attended by a nurse, it cost me nothing—$0.00!
When I took my son to Australia, our flight was delayed in L.A. and we were pooped out. So I paid something like $300 or $400 for a world-club membership and we got to sleep, shower, eat, and play games on the computer until our flight to Minneapolis. Sooooo worth the money. A one-day pass is $50.
Some people come to Mexico on vacation and end up adopting a dog or cat, which means they need to pay for vet checks and shots, and buy a crate and collar and food, before they leave. Total cost is anywhere from $100-$500 USD per animal.
At the very least, make sure you have a credit or debit card with access to a few hundred dollars. Don’t carry the cash.
Not everyone needs to think about this, but Aarón and I put this line in our budget when we travel to the States because we miss his music gigs and my karaoke nights, and that is literally money out of our pockets.