|Living or Retiring in Catemaco
Kilowatt cost is federally regulated and excessively high, (11 cents on average per KW in the US vs 21 cents in
Mexico) but it is also heavily subsidized for low volume users. Billing is every two months. A typical newcomer will
be happily surprised with the low cost of the first few bills until the electric company adjusts the tariff.
Expect to pay 1000 pesos (with federal subsidies) every 2 months for an active 2 person household without AC, or
a lot more, or a lot less depending on equipment and usage. Wattage is standard 110 watts. Most houses have 2
prong outlets, so buy 3 prong converters. Line protectors are an absolute necessity for computer equipment.
Propane or LP Gas
Almost all stoves and water heaters operate on gas, but there are no gas pipes, or gas tank rentals.
A new tank will cost about 600 pesos and you should buy two with a switchover. Gas tanks are delivered on
unpredictable schedules, but can just as unpredictably be ordered for delivery. Unless you fill your own tanks at
one of two suppliers a few miles north of Catemaco, your beautiful new tank will be exchanged for a dilapidated
one on your first refill. A full tank (10 gallons) weighs about 90 lbs and costs 200+ pesos to fill and you may be
cheated as to volume. A tank should last about 40 days for 2 people. Propane gas is cheaper in Mexico than the US,
1.40 per gallon vs 2.75 per gallon. Large stationary tanks can be bought and are filled on order.
The state of Veracruz runs the local water company. Water is gravity fed and has very little pressure. Depending
on where you live you may not have water 24 hours a day, so a rooftop storage tank or a dug well are a necessity.
The water is not drinkable, mainly because of antiquated water lines that have intrusions of ground water. Cost at
present is 95 pesos per month, including sewage. If you have a large garden your water bills grow exponentially.
Water filters (40 peso cartridges) are a must and you will know why after you change the first one in a month.
Bottled water is a necessity and there are 8 or more suppliers delivering 5 gallon jugs for 14 pesos each. But first
you have to buy new ones, 45 pesos each.
Curiously many local water heaters have no automatic turn on and off function. I found that out the hard way.
Pickup is several times a week, but not necessarily on the same days. If you have a nice garbage can, someone will
probably steal it. Cost is 4 pesos per bag / container, and if you are not home when the garbage man comes to
collect, you will be unsuccessfully running all over town to find a place to dump it.
If you rent, the owner owns the locks. Changing keys costs about 100 pesos.
In Catemaco there are dozens of properties for rent. Almost all are unfurnished and lack stoves,refrigerators and
screening. Rents range from 1000 pesos on way up. Owners do their own rental and there is no real estate listing for
. Rents traditionally go up 10 % every year.
There is now a gringo ghetto in Catemaco with 6 apartments and casitas, fully furnished, usually fully rented at around
US 400+ a month for long term rentals and is fully supplied with the people you missed up north..
Catemaco and most of Los Tuxtlas are within the 31 mile federally reserved coastal zone of Mexico and you need an
FM3 visa or better to buy property and you can only legally own it via a fideicomiso, which costs anywhere from an
application fee of US 3000 dollars on up plus 700 dollars and up a year to maintain.
Zoning laws and building codes exist but are not enforced and can really affect your serenity. Property taxes are
ridiculously low, often less than $15 per year.
see Catemaco Real Estate
Construction requires several permits and the paying of the equivalent of social security taxes to workers.
Construction material cost is similar or higher than the US. Anything out of the ordinary is much higher. Fortunately
custom work masonry, iron and woodwork is much less expensive because of low labor costs.
General contractors are available to build, but the custom is to use a "maestro" (master bricklayer, etc.) to ramrod a
building crew. He will be paid weekly about 1200 -1800 pesos weekly and will hire assistants at 700-900 pesos (2009).
Then you'll need a plumber, an electrician, an iron worker, a glass installer, a carpenter, a tile layer and whatnot. The
latter all work on estimate and compared to the cost of the "maestro" are comparatively expensive.
A rock bottom concrete block house shell costs about US $12 per square foot, without input of any of the other
tradesmen, like windows, electric, plumbing, etc.
Catemaco and San Andrés have numerous hardware stores and building suppliers. Their inventory is extremely
utilitarian. The nearest larger building supply center is in Acayucan, 50 miles away. Veracruz City now has a Home Depot
with an adequate but expensive and amputated selection compared to the US.
Plywood and pine lumber is very expensive. Lumber is usually rough cut into 2 or 3 length. Hardwoods are next to
illegal, and pressure treated lumber is a mystery item. Trim mouldings are usually hand made. Hardware is a nightmare.
Home Depot has helped, if you are willing to travel 100 miles for 1 1/4 inch finishing nails.
|You need a tourist visa to live in Catemaco. The visa has a maximum duration of 180 days and cannot be renewed City
or Coatzacoalcos and it will take a minimum of 3 trips, unless you get lucky. Renewals usually take 2 trips.
Closest renewal trip for tourist visas is Guatemala, about 8 speeding hours away.
You need an FM3 or better visa to open a bank account, buy property, or get a driver's license
The names of the visas changed in 2010.
See the link to immigration on the bottom.
Technically, as an FM2 or 3 visa resident, you will have most of the rights of a Mexican citizen, except for voting, some
property restrictions in the coastal and border areas, employment and political participation. Practically, if you run afoul
of Mexican law, to avoid deportation, you will be at the mercy of the best attorney you can find and deep financial
pockets. It is a complicated issue, that generally affects almost no foreign visitors unless they mess with Mexico.
None of the above visas allow you to either work or run a business in Mexico. There are more complicated and
expensive versions of the above visas, which do allow you to do so.
Good help is hard to find, same here as there. Going rate is 100 pesos per full day plus food and presents.
Drop off laundry service is now available at many places, but there is no self-service laundromats, except in a
few hotels. There is one dry cleaner in San Andrés.
Almost no one in Catemaco speaks English, but there are dozens of language schools teaching English in town
This is not Miguel Allende. Generally expatriates avoid each other, except for the dwellers in a local trailer park. At
present, I believe there are a total of maybe 20, including mostly Europeans and a handful of so called "pochos",
(Mexican US citizens who have come to live here).
|Cost of Living in Mexico
Rolly Brook - Good all around guide to living in Mexico
Mexico Real Estate Guide (dead)
Healthcare in Mexico
Some Useful Links
|This page should answer some of the usual questions we
get from readers.
Catemaco, Veracruz is a paradise of spectacular natural
beauty, balsamic climate, a no stress atmosphere and fairly
decent access to most anything interesting in southern and
The notes below are not unique to Catemaco. They probably
apply to any small town in Mexico that is off the gringo track.
As of January 2010 +/-.
Cable TV costs 286 pesos monthly (2012) and offers no options or a listings guide. Most offerings originate in the US
with many channels offering English speaking programs. Non cable TV barely receives 3 Mexican channels. Cable is
not available outside of Catemaco City
.Satellite TV is also available, with a normal package costing around 650 pesos on up. Small dishes with basic
programming costing around 400 pesos are becoming popular.
Phone & Internet
Telmex is the local monopoly. There may not be phone lines where you live. Even if there is an existing line, installation
cost will be about 4000 pesos. I pay about 1000 pesos a month for full internet and free local, national and US calls.
More basic services including internet begin around 500 pesos.
Even the street sweepers carry them. Best local service is provided by Telcel and Movistar. Cost per minute is
outrageous (app 2.5 pesos per minute), and most of the county's outback has no reception.
No English papers, magazines or books are available in the area. (The Casa de los Tesoros now has an interesting
selection of bring one, take one books.)
I don´t trust Mexican mail, because I used to lose mine. A 25 year Catemaco resident disagrees and says he has no
problem. He has a post box in the only post office in Catemaco. Fedex, UPS, & DHL deliver in Catemaco.
Bancomer is the only bank in Catemaco. There is also a Scotiabank ATM next to the clock tower. In San Andrés are 7
more banks. There is no obvious money changer in Los Tuxtlas. Banks now do not exchange dollars (that may
change again 2012), and the local pawnshops only accept gold and silver.
You need an FM3 or better visa to open a bank account. The only major US bank with a Mexican connection is
Citibank which owns Banorte. You will need accounts in both banks to do costless transfers.
and leave your American Express card at home.
As for cash withdrawals, US credit and ATM cards may be used to withdraw cash. Bancomer will spit out up to 5000
pesos, the ScotiaBank machine has a slider that will not confiscate your card in case you screw up. Aurrera (mini
super market) returns up to 1000 pesos cash with use of an ATM card. Few stores, restaurants and hotels accept
credit cards in Catemaco, (acceptance is growing 2012).
|Your chances of dying increase here.
EMT equipment, staffing and availability is rudimentary. Bring your own defribrillator if you think you'll need it.
Catemaco has a poorly staffed 16 bed hospital. San Andrés has 2 larger, so called second level, hospitals. In addition
there are several smaller clinics, who may or may not do open heart surgery. The nearest major full service facility is 3+
Dentists are on every street, and so are laboratories which most clinics and offices do not have.
Visits to specialists in San Andrés cost 250-400 pesos, private or clinic family doctors charge 25 to 150 pesos.
There are almost 20 inexpensive generic pharmacies. Only a few handle brand names, with costs similar or a little
cheaper than the US. Any unusual drug will require a special order. Pharmacy and clinic doctors get a commission on
Private health insurance is sold over the internet. There is no agent in Catemaco, but there are several in San Andrés.
Major medical with a 2000 dollar deductible and 20% co-payment cost me 8000 pesos to age 65, and 14,000 pesos 65 -70.
Mexico has the equivalent of inexpensive Social Security insurance that a foreign resident can enroll in once a year.
Locally, anyone who can afford to do so, generally stays away from government health services, unless hospitalized in
Mexico City, or possibly Xalapa, or Veracruz City.
|You can drive a US plated car as long as you have a valid visa. Technically you are supposed to renew your customs
permit, whenever you renew your visa, with Mexican Customs, but I know no one that does so. Only you and your
provable family are authorized to drive the car, and that excludes your gringo friend, your Mexican girl friend and your
You can drive a Mexican car with a US driver's license or anything that looks like a license in English (unless a federale
stops you who can read your library card.)
New cars are slightly more expensive in Mexico because prices are fixed. Used cars are also somewhat more
expensive. US cars often have some different parts than the same Mexican brand.
There is one small major parts store in Catemaco, and many more in San Andrés, which also has 5 new car dealers.
There are dozens of mechanics, but not one has a lift in Catemaco. Any unusual part can take weeks to get either from
Mexico City or mail order. There is now an Autozone in San Andrés)
Gasoline prices are government fixed and at present are about 2.85 dollars per gallon. There are 3 stations in Catemaco,
and one on the coast. A station once pumped 9.5 liters into my 8 liter gasoline jug. Naturally I don't use that station
anymore. By the way, there are 3.79 liters in a gallon, and some of that may be water!
You will not go to jail if you have an accident, but you might!
Car insurance is an absolute necessity, although most provincial Mexican drivers have none. Usually non personal injury
accidents are handled on the spot by those involved, or by local traffic police, who wickedly often place the blame on
whoever has the least cash or lacks political uncles.
In any serious accident or injuries, only your insurance adjuster or deep pockets will keep you out of jail until blame has
Supposedly you cannot buy Mexican insurance with a tourist visa. If you buy Mexican insurance for a US plated car, it
will cost app. 100 dollars extra.
You cannot renew US insurance for Mexico over the internet unless you have US insurance and a US address.
There is no insurance agent in Catemaco, but there are agents in San Andres. Banks also sell insurance. I´m paying 2300
pesos annually for liability coverage for my clunker. Car theft is a rarity in Los Tuxtlas.
There are excellent intrastate buses, good inexpensive intercity buses and horrible municipal buses.
Almost all communities are served by cheap uncomfortable piratas (converted pickups hauling up to 15 people).
Taxis abound, starting at 14 pesos.
Bikes and Motorcycles
With a little huffing and puffing, Catemaco City is easily traversed by bike. Small motorcycles are becoming more popular
and more annoying every day. There are numerous repair shops.
|There is crime in Catemaco.
Today's headline was about someone stealing an empty shoe box.
I can walk or drive 24 hours a day anywhere in Catemaco and feel safe. My Popoluca disagrees and thinks I am
nuts. But I do not feel safe leaving a house unoccupied, and therefore have iron bars on all windows and doors,
same as anyone in Mexico.
Official Mexican crime statistics show almost no crime in Los Tuxtlas. That is because supposedly more than 90% of
crime goes unreported anywhere in Mexico. There is a very obvious police presence in Catemaco 24 hours a day,
except for traffic police who only seem to work 10 hours a day.
The federales (high way patrol) are a highly dangerous breed with amazing powers to do you harm. Swallow all
your pride and treat them with utmost respect! And unbelievably, some are honest and will offer to arrest you if you
try to bribe them!
As far as I know, there are no speed traps in Los Tuxtlas, nor breath analyzers. Wrong! I just saw the first radar
Corruption is a way of life here. Do not fight it, unless you can prove that you are right, have the time and are able to
pay to do so! Carry money in small denominations! Once you live here, make a substantial annual donation to the city
traffic police force, and they will leave you alone during the next year.
|You will be in the wrong place if you depend on others to entertain you.
There are dozens of inexpensive eateries, offering typical Mexican fare of average quality, on mostly interchangeable menus.
San Andrés has some more advanced eateries, but you need to travel to Veracruz for anything rated "cuisine", or even a US
hamburger. Sushi, Chinese, and Italian are available in San Andres. Catemaco has one Italian and one Spanish restaurant.
Several open air discos, apparently designed for 15 year olds, destroy the late night ambience on the Malecon. At present
there are only 1 1/2 clubs that qualify as adult friendly (2009).
The carretera (federal highway) houses a dozen or more cantinas all unofficially catering to prostitution, both straight and gay.
|You may not last long in Mexico if you retain un-Mexican attitudes!
Noise - Although noise pollution laws exist, Mexico is much more noise tolerant than other countries.
Courtesy - Mexican generally are much more courteous than other nationalities, and expect the same.
Tolerance - of anything negative is common, primarily because those who are affected are afraid to complain.
Time - Punctuality, keeping appointments, and on time performance are not as obligatory as in other countries.
Hands - Hand shakes are obligatory, but absolutely keep your social hands off women!
Driving - If a Mexican driver knows you saw him, he will generally take the right of way. Don´t look at him or her!
Bad Mouthing - Generally conversing Mexicans know more about your country and their own than you do. Shut up!
Illiteracy - Especially in the countryside do not expect your written directions or your Spanish to be understood.
Lying - You can lie as much as you want. Mexicans do so mostly because they are too courteous to tell you the truth.
|There are no English speaking facilities in the area.
Mexican education begins at age 3, with 3 years of kindergarden, followed by 6 years of primary, 3 years of secondary,
3 years of bachillerato, and 4+ years of university attendance. All schools, except universities, are well represented in
Catemaco, plus a private university and technical schools in San Andrés. More than 60% of the population has less than
a secondary education, or is illiterate.
|Please advise errors or omissions.
|There are lots of inexpensive fresh fruits and vegetables available from stores, market stalls and street vendors in
Catemaco, including unusual flavors and versions, but standard store veggies are generally not on par with fluffed
and polished US products.
Meats and poultry are usually slaughtered fresh and of fair quality. Just don't think prime steak in Catemaco.
Cost is similar to the US. Catemaco now has its first integrated grocery store (a mini Aurrera since 2010), plus there
are dozens of vendors of different food groups with selections smaller than a 7-11.
Milk is only sold in 6 months shelf life cardboard cartons, but there are many varieties of fresh cheeses. Frozen food
is not sold in Catemaco, except by ice cream vendors. (Now Aurrera in Catemaco has 4 feet of freezers and the
chain stores in San Andrés have more feet, but little selection.)
Liquor is freely available with prices below the US for Mexican brands. Beer is more expensive. Distilled sugar cane,
the equivalent of rotgut moonshine is unbelievably cheap.
Cigarettes run about 40 pesos per pack, and indoor no-smoking laws recently took effect in Catemaco.
The nearby town of San Andrés was invaded in the last few years by small stores of Walmart and Soriana which
stock most common necessities. Anything out of the ordinary needs a trip to Veracruz. And favorites require an
internet mail order catalog.
|Catemaco realtor - but no rentals
|Rent! Do Not Buy!
Living in an isolated small town in Mexico is only recommendable to very few individuals, including Mexicans. Unless you
form roots within the community or you are committed to something you will probably leave within the first year.
|If you do not own and drive a car - you will be living in the wrong place.
Inter county public transport is uncomfortable, unpredictable and makes it difficult to reach half the places of interest.