What it Costs to Live in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Ever wonder what it costs to live abroad? In this post, I breakdown the recurring costs for our family of four while living in Panajachel, Guatemala.

A few things about this post:

  • Any of the below can be done for less (or more) money. It depends on your desired quality of living. For this reason I've presented monthly cost ranges where appropriate. When listing finite amounts I provided explanations as to how we use a particular service in order to help others make their own estimates. 
  • All estimates are in US currency. 
  • There are some things we spend money on that are not required. For instance we have a housekeeper. In our opinion, the costs of having one versus the amount of time we'd spend doing dishes, prepping food, washing shoes, cleaning, etc. make it well worth the money.
  • We are a family of four. We have single friends here whose costs are much lower.

Housing

This is our biggest standalone expense by far. As we profiled in the "House Hunting Guatemala" series there were a lot of places to choose from when we first moved here. The places we looked at ranged from $300-$600/month, utilities generally not included. There were cheaper, and more expensive places, around the lake but we've consistently seen this price range to be the norm for the quality, location and size of housing we want for our family. Just like anywhere, if you are willing to live further out of town or don't care for hot water, your rent will go down.

Utilities

Electricity - Our monthly bill is reasonable. We pay about $20/month. Since the weather is temperate (highs average in the low 70's Fahrenheit year-round), we don't have heating or air conditioning. We don't have a TV, dishwasher or washer/dryer, so our biggest power consumption comes from the refrigerator (which is not quite full size from a US perspective). Plus our house is small and has an open floor plan so it's easy to see when a light has been left on. Our friends with bigger homes and more appliances pay double or triple what we pay.

Internet - We splurge on this expense, and it's worth it. We have a 5MB down / 1MB up DSL connection which by US standards is very slow but by Guatemalan standards is en fuego (on fire). DSL is the most reliable and consistent Internet service in Panajachel. There are wireless and cable internet providers but they tend to be flakier than DSL. We pay about $45/month for this service. Most of our friends have 1-2MB down and pay less.  

Propane Gas - If you want hot water and the ability to cook on your stove you'll need a tank of gas. Since moving here gas prices have fluctuated between $40-$60 a tank (including delivery and installation). We go through a tank every 6-8 weeks. It always sucks when you run out because it is either in the middle of a shower or while cooking. The good news is there are at least four competing gas companies in town and they deliver quickly (usually within 30 minutes).  

I buy gas from this business, but I don't actually come here. They deliver.

I buy gas from this business, but I don't actually come here. They deliver.

Cell - As mentioned in our "Phones for Rent" post, cell coverage is prolific in Guatemala and monthly plans are uncommon. Most people opt for purchasing minutes. A minute costs .25 cents but each provider has weekly specials where you can buy minutes at a 3 for 1 discount (making it .08 cents per minute). If you want more info on how this works check out "Buying a SIM Card in Guatemala". We don't use our phones much and we only buy on triple days. Our monthly cost is maybe $20/month total for two phones. This does not include data, and neither of us has a data plan.

Food

The Market (or el Mercado) - It is the place to buy fresh fruits and veggies. We previously wrote about the diversity here. We love this place. We typically buy from our preferred stands, including Rosa, the fortune teller of avocados. I tell her I want avocados for tomorrow and 3 days from now and she'll select the ones that will be perfect for that day. We buy 6-8 avocados a week from her (for 25 cents each). She's never been off. The food is so cheap and so fresh. On average we spend $50-80/month.

These avocados are bigger, tastier and cheaper than the US standard Hass Avocado. They may not be pretty, but they taste fantastic.

These avocados are bigger, tastier and cheaper than the US standard Hass Avocado. They may not be pretty, but they taste fantastic.

This $16 haul included a head of broccoli, bunch of cilantro, bunch of celery, 3 cucumbers, 3 bell peppers, 8 huge carrots, 6 peaches, 4 potatoes, bunch of lettuce, 3 beets, 1 cantaloupe, 1 pineapple, 3 avocados, bunch of green beans, head of cauliflower, 4 lemons, 1 red onion, 1 white onion, 6 bananas, 1 ginger root, 11 tomatoes, bag of lentils, bag of flour, big bag of strawberries, 3 garlics, 2 jalapenos, 18 eggs, and some black pepper

This $16 haul included a head of broccoli, bunch of cilantro, bunch of celery, 3 cucumbers, 3 bell peppers, 8 huge carrots, 6 peaches, 4 potatoes, bunch of lettuce, 3 beets, 1 cantaloupe, 1 pineapple, 3 avocados, bunch of green beans, head of cauliflower, 4 lemons, 1 red onion, 1 white onion, 6 bananas, 1 ginger root, 11 tomatoes, bag of lentils, bag of flour, big bag of strawberries, 3 garlics, 2 jalapenos, 18 eggs, and some black pepper

Groceries - There is one quasi grocery store in town. I say quasi because, by US standards, it is a small store and the produce section is sparse. The store is known as "the Dispensa" and is owned by Walmart. They have a butcher and most staples like milk, soap, rice, toilet paper, etc. which makes it convenient...if that item is in stock. The prices are good but occasionally you can find something cheaper at the market or at a street vendor. We average $80-120/month at the Dispensa.

The Panajachel Dispensa (our almost grocery store). This is one of the few stores in town with a parking lot and free bathrooms. The slogan on the yellow awning reads "Welcome to the lowest prices". Sound a little familiar?

The Panajachel Dispensa (our almost grocery store). This is one of the few stores in town with a parking lot and free bathrooms. The slogan on the yellow awning reads "Welcome to the lowest prices". Sound a little familiar?

Specialty Grocery Items - There are several 'Gringo' stores in town that sell more name brand or luxury products. Items like Jif peanut butter, brownie mix, whole wheat pasta, and good red wine. Since most of the things they sell are imported, these stores can break your bank if you're not careful. Prices range from 10%-100% more expensive than they are in the States. We shop at them weekly (unfortunately the staff at one even knows me by name) and our expenses range greatly. We'd buy significantly less if we didn't have two picky kids to feed. 

Sandra's. Our favorite gringo store in town.

Sandra's. Our favorite gringo store in town.

Eating Out - Panajachel has many different options for eating out. The town has options for sushi, tacos, steak, Italian, Chinese, traditional Guatemalan, and tons of ice cream, pizza and fried chicken. With a few exceptions, the prices are much lower than we were used to paying in the States. My favorite taco joint sells three tacos for $1.25. The best sushi in town has a different 2x1 special on rolls each month for about $8 (and it's good sushi). The kids favorite restaurant is the Circus Bar (it's a pizza and pasta joint). An average night there is expensive for us. Four entrees and a few drinks run about $40. Our monthly expense in this category also varies widely. It is also the easiest to control.

Do you think this place is hard to find?

Do you think this place is hard to find?

Extras

Laundry - Every Monday morning I call Irma. She does our laundry, and a lot of other people's laundry. She charges 65 cents per pound. This is a good rate. It includes same day pickup and delivery. 5-10 minutes after I call, she arrives on the back of her husband's motorcycle. She grabs my clothes and zooms away. 10-12 hours later, she drops off our cleaned, dried, sorted and folded laundry. Our weekly cost varies, but it averages out to $50/month.

A typical week's worth of laundry for our family. We create a lot less dirty laundry here than we did in the States. 

A typical week's worth of laundry for our family. We create a lot less dirty laundry here than we did in the States. 

Drinking Water (aka Agua Pura) - You'll get sick if you drink water from the tap in Guatemala (this is unfortunate since it is the only utility included in our rent). Because of this, we, and everyone else in town, purchase purified or filtered water for drinking and cooking. It is surprisingly cheap. Just like with gas, there are several competing water companies. A 5 gallon bottle of clean, perfect tasting water costs $1.25 (delivered). We go through 3-4 bottles each week, for an average monthly cost of $20/month.

Our weekly delivery of drinking water. 3 bottles costs $3.75 delivered.

Our weekly delivery of drinking water. 3 bottles costs $3.75 delivered.

Housekeepers - Rates for housekeepers range anywhere from $0.65 - $1.85/hour. Like anything in life you get what you pay for. A friend of ours recommended a housekeeper that has been fantastic. While her pay is on the higher side, she gets a lot done within a short period of time. She comes to our house Monday-Friday and works for roughly 2 hours. In that time she does all of our dishes, makes the beds, picks up around the house, cleans the floor AND makes lunch and dinner for Mickelle and I. Average monthly cost $90

Exclusions

Thinking of moving here or some other locale? Here are a few things you'll want to factor into your budget as they are not mentioned above:

  • Excursions - You're in a new place with tons of new things to explore. While many are cheap, they do add up. Especially when you are traveling with a family. One cheap ticket or event times four is no longer as cheap.
  • Treats - You'll want to pamper yourself or loved one(s). The occasional (or common) ice creams, chocolate covered bananas and lemonades are not expensive, but they are not free.
  • Insurance (Health, Life, etc.) - We'll be providing details in a future post. Yes we have them. Most importantly they can make a big dent in your budget.
  • Education - By law expat kids are not allowed to attend public schools in Guatemala. You'll either need to homeschool (which means money for materials) or enroll them in a private school. You also may want to budget for language lessons.
  • Initial Purchases - There will be things you could not or did not bring, or perhaps they did not come with your rental and you had hoped they would. We had to buy a bed and furnish a kitchen.This cost us about $300.  

Thanks so much for reading this post! We hope it helps others in planning for their adventures. If you enjoyed it or have questions leave us a comment below or click one of the Share buttons to the left!