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Living in Mexico

A Practical Guide to the Way of Life in Mexico

If you are thinking of living in the Mexico, you are not alone. The weather, the culture, and the affordability make this country a very attractive destination for expats. Learn all the fascinating details surrounding the rich Mexican Culture, and practicalities about the local transportation systems, emergency numbers, and more.

Need to move abroad? Organizing an international relocation is not something you should do on your own. As expats, we understand what you need, and offer the the essential services to help you move and live abroad easily. Contact us today to jump start your move, and begin the preparations with our free relocation checklist.

How is it like to live in Mexico and why is it an expat favorite? People move to Mexico for a variety of reasons: professional, personal, or a combination of both. It’s a popular relocation destination in Latin America. Be it for its stunning scenery or the lower cost of living, Mexico plays host to over a million expats annually.

As you plan your move to Mexico, many questions will arise. You will need the answers to understand what’s required and what you can expect from your life there. In this section, we will provide you with the information you need about the pros and cons of living in Mexico, the local cultural and social etiquette, driving in the country, the public transportation system, national communications, and all the practicalities that will come in handy.

Pros and Cons of Living in Mexico

Weighing up the pros and cons of living in Mexico is necessary when planning your relocation. It is important to focus on the positive, but so is being prepared for obstacles.

For this reason, we  put together this list that touches upon topics such as the weather, food, safety, visa policies, healthcare, and more.

Benefits of Living in Mexico

Living in Mexico can be a great experience. Many expats decide to call this country home because of its colorful and rich culture, but there are more practical benefits too.

The Weather

It’s common knowledge that if the weather is not great, it’s difficult to really enjoy a place. Fortunately, Mexico has great weather most of the time and it’s quite diverse. The country has arid deserts in the north, with some grassy plains in the middle. It also has temperate climate thanks to its two main mountain ranges and forests. Last but not least, you will find tropical weather with some savannahs along the coast and the south.

The Cost of Living 

A significant benefit of living in Mexico is the favorable exchange rates with most countries. You will likely find everything more affordable than in your home country. Bear in mind that prices vary based on region, but overall there are significant cost reductions in transportation, rent, food, and entertainment. For detailed information on this topic, visit our section: Cost of Living in Mexico.

The Food

Mexico is a foodie haven, whether you are having a late-night treat at a small-town taco stand or a multi-course tasting menu at one of the many fine dining restaurants in Mexico City (also referred to as CDMX). Every plate is a feast of the senses. Make a note of these dishes to try once you arrive: Chilaquiles, Pozole, Tacos al Pastor, Tostadas, Chiles en Nogada, Enchiladas, Mole, and Tamales.

The Beaches

 Measuring nearly 10,000 km (6,300 mi), this vast country features an extensive and beautiful coastline. Mexico’s beaches stretch along four bodies of water: The Gulf of California, the Gulf of Mexico, the Pacific Ocean, and the Caribbean. This wonderfully diverse coastline has a lot to offer, from secluded spots surrounded by jungles and ancient ruins to white sandy shores with turquoise waters and a myriad of water sports.

The Healthcare System

This may come as a surprise to some: Healthcare in Mexico is very good. Every medium to large city has at least one first-class hospital. They are usually staffed by highly trained doctors, who tend to speak English very well. The country’s efficient healthcare system consists of public and private schemes. Expats who are employed here will have to contribute towards a compulsory public health insurance. For more detailed information, read our section: Health Insurance and the Healthcare System of Mexico Explained.

Disadvantages of Living Mexico

The Language Barrier

If you do not speak Spanish, you might find daily life in Mexico difficult at first. According to a study by Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad, only 5% of Mexicans speak English. Outside of the hospitality industry, most people speak little to no English. This means that in order to communicate with your supermarket cashier, bank teller, electrician, plumber, or neighbor, you will need to learn the language. Even though it can initially be a con, it is in fact a benefit, as it will push you to learn Spanish. If you need to start from the basics or want to brush up on your skills, ask InterNationsGO! about getting started with a language course

The Bureaucracy

 Mexico moves at a slower pace and all official-type errands require time and patience. If you have to visit a government office, be prepared for the hassle. You will have to talk to several people, make copies of many documents, attend a few appointments, and go to various locations to get that errand done. The system is complicated and unnecessarily bureaucratic. Simply opening a bank account may become a multi-day task.

The Service Outages

Although they are not a regular occurrence, outages do happen in Mexico. Occasionally, the electricity or the water will go out without warning. Even though the outage might last just a few hours, you will not get any notice, so be prepared for this. If you work online, consider having a go-to cafe in case your internet goes down.

The Rental Market Challenges

When moving to Mexico, one of your priorities will be to rent or buy a house. Usually, expats prefer to get familiarized with their surroundings before buying. Therefore, renting is the first option. The issue is that renting in Mexico is a very bureaucratic and complicated process. Among many other things, most landlords demand a fiador or aval; essentially a guarantor, that is, a third party who will pay your rent if you are unable to do so. Alternatively, you can buy an insurance policy that serves the same purpose, which is called a fianza.  For all the necessary information about housing in Mexico, read our section on Everything You Need to Know About Finding a New Home.

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Practical Information

When relocating to Mexico, the last thing on your mind will be something bad happening However, you should always be prepared for an emergency. Having the right numbers is the best place to start.

Emergency Numbers

Regardless of the emergency you may be facing, the two most important things to have at hand are the local emergency phone numbers and the citizen assistance number of your country’s embassy or consulate.

Like in the United States, the main number for emergencies in Mexico is 911. It is free of charge from both alandline and cell phone.

Another useful number to have is for the Ángeles Verdes (Green Angels); a roadside assistance service with English-speaking operators, which provides general tourist information and support. You can call them at 078.

Main Embassies

Mexico City is home to most foreign embassies in the country. To be specific, there are currently 86 embassies in the capital. Additionally, many countries have consulates and/or consulates-general in other Mexican cities.

The main embassies in Mexico are the following:

Embassy of the United States

Address: Paseo de la Reforma 305, Colonia Cuauhtemoc, 06500, CDMX.

Phone: 55- 5080-2000

Embassy of Canada

Address: Schiller 529, Col. Bosque de Chapultepec, Polanco, Delegación Miguel Hidalgo, 11580, CDMX.

Phone:  +52-55-5724-7900

Embassy of Australia

Address: Rubén Darío 55, Col. Bosque de Chapultepec, 11580, CDMX.

Phone: +52-55- 1101-2200

Embassy of New Zealand

Address: Corporativo Polanco, 8 Avenida Jaime Balmes, Polanco, Sección 11510, CDMX.

Phone: +52- 55-5283-9460

Embassy of the UK

Address: Calle Río Lerma 71, Cuauhtémoc, 06500, CDMX.

Phone: +52-55-1670-3200

Embassy of France

Address: 339 Campos Eliseos, Col. Polanco 11560, CDMX

Phone: +52-55-9171-9700

Embassy of Spain

Address: Calle Galileo nº 114, Col. Polanco, Delegación Miguel Hidalgo, 11550, CDMX

Phone: +52-55- 5282- 2982

Embassy of Germany

Address: Horacio No. 1506, Col. Los Morales Sección Alameda, Delegación Miguel Hidalgo, C.P. 11530, CDMX.

Phone: +52-55-5283-2200

Public Holidays

There are currently ten statutory public holiday dates in Mexico:

January 1Año Nuevo: New Year’s Day.

February 5Día de la Constitución: Celebrates the promulgation of Mexico’s 1917 Constitution.

March 21Cumpleaños de Benito Juarez: The birth date of Benito Juarez, Mexico’s first President. The date is observed on the closest Monday to his birthday every March.

March-AprilSemana de la Pascua: Easter week holidays vary every year, so check the current calendar for exact dates.

 May 1Día del trabajo: Labor Day

September 16 Día de la Independencia: Commemorates the date when Father Miguel Hidalgo made the grito de dolores (cry for independence) on September 16, 1810 in the town of Dolores Hidalgo. This event ultimately led to Mexico’s independence from Spanish rule.

November 1 and 2Día de los Fieles Difuntos: Day of the Dead celebrations. This is one of Mexico’s most important religious holidays. It is celebrated on All Saint’s Day (November 1) and All Soul’s Day (November 2).

November 29 Día de la Revolución: Commemorates the start date of the revolution in 1910, led by Francisco Ignacio Madero. The date is observed on the third Monday in November.

December 1 Transmisión del Poder Ejecutivo Federal: Mexico’s Federal Government and Presidency is elected every six years. The country observes a public holiday on the date of transition, which is on December 1, every six years.

December 25 Día de Navidad: Christmas Day

Main Airports

There are 61 airports in Mexico. The biggest one is Cancún International Airport (CUN) with flights to 118 destinations in 26 countries. Listed below are the 5 most important airports in Mexico.

Cancún International Airport

Address: Carretera Cancún-Chetumal Km 22, 77565 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico.

Phone: +52-998-848-7200

Website: cancunairport.com

Guadalajara International Airport

Address: Carretera Guadalajara Chapala Km 17.5, 45659 Jalisco, México.

Phone: +52-33-3688-5248

Website: aeropuertosgap.com.mx

Mexico City International Airport (also known as Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez)

Address: Av.Capitán Carlos León s/n, Colonia Peñón de los baños, C.P. 15620, Delegación Venustiano Carranza, CDMX, México.

Phone: +52-55-24822424

Website: aicm.com.mx

Monterrey International Airport

Address: Carretera Miguel Alemán km 24, 66600 N.L., Mexico

Phone: +52-81-8625-4300

Website: oma.aero

The New International Airport (built to aid the Benito Juárez International Airport)

Address: Av Capitan Carlos León S/N, Peñón de los Baños, Venustiano Carranza, 15620 Ciudad de México, CDMX, México.

Phone: +52-55-2482-2424

Website: aicm.com.mx

Culture and Social Etiquette

Mexico is the third largest country in Latin America and has one of the largest populations—over 100 million. It is home to more Spanish speakers than any other nation on the planet. Mexico’s culture is heavily influenced by a combination of its Mayan and Aztec ancient civilizations and European colonization. The pride in their native heritage is reflected in their traditions and each region has its unique cultural practices and celebrations. There are many indigenous groups, such as the Mayas, Zapotecs, Tzeltales, Tzotziles, Nahuas, and Otomis, which have all influenced the country’s cuisine, medicine, rituals, and language.

All the above creates a colorful and vibrant culture. When you are in Mexico, you will feel, taste, and smell the richness in everything around you.

Mexican Culture

We will first discuss five pillars of contemporary Mexican culture, followed by local social etiquette.

Family and Community

 In Mexico, family relationships are typically very close and one of pivotal aspects of life for most Mexicans. One thing you will quickly notice is that hosting parties at their homes plays a huge role in Mexicans’ lives. Being welcoming and making guests feel like part of the household is inherent to the values and customs of the country.

Cuisine and Drinks

 Mexico’s centennial culinary art will be one of the most joyous aspects of your new life. The country’s cuisine varies between regions, each having its own culinary traditions. There are some common denominators; for instance, tortillas and other foods made from corn are staples everywhere, as are peppers, tomatoes, rice, and beans. Mexico has a wide range of eating-out options. We will briefly refer to them here as it is important for you to identify these names:

  • Taquerías: Taco stands or small eateries that specialize in the quintessential Mexican fare, filled tacos.
  • Mercados: Colorful produce markets, many of which have food stalls.
  • Comedores: Canteen-style cheap eats.
  • Fondas: Small eateries, usually family-run. They serve comida corrida (fast food) and budget meals.
  • Restaurantes: They range from simple diners serving local dishes to chic establishments with multi-course menus, dress codes, and hard-to-get reservations.

When it comes to drinks, tequila is number 1 in Mexico. The country is well known for this alcoholic drink made from agave cactus. Mexican laws establish that it can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and some municipalities in the states of Nayarit, Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas. If straight Tequila is not your thing, make sure you enjoy a few Palomas in the summer; a refreshing tequila-based, grapefruit juice cocktail.

Arts and Music

 A whole book would cover only the basics on Mexican Art and Music because there is so much to explore in this sphere. Wherever you go in Mexico, you will be amazed by the incredible artistic expression. Vibrant, colorful paintings, jaw-dropping architecture, and beautiful crafts are in every corner of the country; you will see talented Aztec dancers performing in Mexico City and Mariachis striking up in different venues around the country. Mexico has bestowed the world with iconic artists; look into Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Fanny Rabel, Juan Rulfo, Octavio Paz, Juan Gabriel, and Vicente Fernández, just to name a few.

Sports and Adventure

Although everyone’s idea of adventure is a bit different, one thing is for sure: Mexico’s landscapes cater to all. Throughout the country, you will find beautiful and diverse scenery, which you can enjoy on calm hikes or by engaging in daredevil stunts. From bar-hopping in Mexico city, to exploring colonial towns like San Miguel de Allende by foot, rafting down the swirling waters of the Rio Antiguo, or surfing a sand dune in the Algodones, pick any type of adventure you like, and you will be able to find it Mexico.

Some of the most popular sports in the country are soccer, baseball, boxing, and the famous Lucha Libre.

  • Soccer, known locally as fútbol is everywhere. From local matches to international championships, the fervor you will experience is intense.
  • Baseball gained popularity in certain regions of Mexico when it was imported by US soldiers during the Mexican War.
  • Boxing is one of the most popular sports in the country. Mexico has gained great global achievements in this sport, with over 200 world champions; more than any country on the planet.
  • Lucha Libre, or free wrestling, is similar to US professional wrestling. It has elaborate storylines and outrageous mask-wearing characters. The luchadores are known for their aerial acrobatics. You can check out the lineup on the website of the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL).
Holidays and Parties

Local celebrations and national holidays provide expats an excellent opportunity to experience Mexico at its most raw. The fiestas and celebrations can be fun, loud, rowdy, and vibrant, but also religious, introspective, and poignant. Make sure you join the Semana Santa y Pascua (Holy Week and Easter) celebrations. They are divided into two weeks: Semana Santa and Pascua. In this time, businesses, universities, and schools close, while families spend time together. The celebrations include parades, ritual ceremonies, and dramatic reenactments.

Another very important period is the world famous Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The yearly celebrations take place on November 1 and 2. The first day is known as Día de los Angelitos (Day of the Little Angels) and pays tribute to children and infants who have passed away. On the second day, families remember and celebrate their lost loved ones. They visit cemeteries, bringing flowers, favorite foods, and other gifts to those who have passed. Throughout the day, families get together to drink, eat, and reminisce. You will also see beautiful parades with elaborate floats and people in ornate, embellished costumes.

Mexican Social Etiquette

As you adapt to your life and community in Mexico, you will begin to encounter diverse social situations, and with these come rules of social etiquette.

Language and Form of Address

In Mexico, it is common to use the formal form Usted (formal, singular “you”) when addressing strangers or people who are your seniors. For friends, and generally people who are close to you, the informal form is preferred.

Business Etiquette

In Mexico, social and business etiquette are intertwined. Mexicans will only work with you if they like you on a personal level, so developing relationships is pivotal to your business ventures. To form these relationships, you will need to be aware of what is expected from you. We’ve complied a brief list to help you make a good impression.

  • Most Mexicans businesspeople speak English; however, make sure you learn basic phrases in Spanish like gracias (thank you), por favor (please), and disculpe (excuse me).
  • Do not use first names unless specifically told to do so. Instead, address people by Señor (Mr.), Señora(Mrs.) or Señorita (Miss), followed by their last name.
  • While friends hug or kiss each other on the cheek, strangers shake hands when greeting and saying goodbye.
  • Although in many cultures it is considered inappropriate to ask personal questions, in order to develop relationships in Mexico, you will have to be friendly and warm. It is usual for people to ask about family, friends, customs, and hobbies, even in business contexts.
  • Hierarchy is a crucial part of the business culture. Top executives make the important decisions, and they expect to do business with executives who are at the same level.
Business Attire

In business contexts, it is advisable to dress more on the conservative side. Dark suits and ties for men are the best option. To be safe, women should also wear formal business attire. Avoid jeans, low-cut shirts, and mini or tight skirts. For more detailed information about working in the country, read our section: Your Guide on Jobs and Finding Work in Mexico.

Social Interactions

As an expat, you will become aware that learning and adjusting to local customs and practices is vital. Polite and courteous mannerisms are an intricate part of the Mexican social fabric. However frustrating or indignant a situation may be, patience and tolerance is appreciated and rewarded. Even in casual encounters, Mexicans usually address each other with respect and a degree of formality.

Greetings

When greeting people in Mexico, some level of physical contact is the norm. Strangers typically greet each other with a handshake, but friends generally say “hello” with a kiss on the cheek. The same is done when saying goodbye. When greeting a group, you will be expected to greet each person individually, instead of addressing the entire group.

Table Manners

When sharing a meal with others, people usually say “buen provecho” before eating. Buen provecho is the equivalent to the French expression “bon appetit” or the English expression “enjoy!” Be aware that when eating out with friends or acquaintances, it is not common to split the bill among the diners. Usually, one person treats the others, and next time you gather for a meal, another party will be expected to pay.

Tipping

In restaurants, it is customary to tip between 10 and 15% of the bill. In bars, a 10% tip is the norm. According to local custom, tipping chambermaids is optional. Bear in mind that these jobs usually pay the minimum wage, so even a small tip can go a long way. At a hotel or airport, it is customary to tip porters between a 115 and 230 MXN (5 and 10 USD), but you are expected to pay more if you have many bags and/or if you are in an upscale hotel.

Although it is not necessary to tip a taxi driver, they are always welcomed. Finally, at gas stations, a small tip of about 5% of the total sale is expected for gas station attendants.

Punctuality

It is not a myth that in Mexico, as in most Latin American countries, there is less urgency when it comes to punctuality. It is usually not considered rude to arrive late to a social gathering. That said, punctuality is expected in other situations, such as doctor’s appointments, business meetings, or any other official event.

Driving in Mexico

The minimum age for driving in Mexico is 18 years old. Drivers who are over 80 years old will be required to attend an appointment with an optometrist for an eye test to obtain or renew their license.

Renting a Car

Renting a car in Mexico could be a good idea if you want to freely drive from region to region or city to city without worrying about public transportion schedules. It is also more convenient if you want to explore rural areas where public transportation is scarce and unreliable.

However, car rental in Mexico City is not advised as it has extremely heavy traffic. Renting a car to drive around most colonial towns and cities in Mexico is not a good idea. These locations are best experienced on foot. Moreover, public transport in towns and cities is very good and travelling by taxi is affordable.

Car Rental Documents and Other Requirements

Most car rental companies require drivers to be at least 25 years old. Some accept drivers as young as 21 years old who have held a license for over two years, however, you may incur in a surcharge. Licenses from most countries are accepted for driving in Mexico but do enquire about yours in advance. If not, you will need to get an International Driver’s License. The driver will need to have a credit card in their name to make a security deposit.

Insurance for Rental Cars

The first thing most people do is check for car rentals online. Be aware that the prices will be quite low online if the insurance is not added to it. Make sure you can add the insurance online or at least ask how much it will be once you arrive at the rental car company. The cost of insurance can easily double the initial price.

Having Mexican insurance is essential because if you are involved in an accident, according to Mexican law, uninsured drivers may be arrested and held until the incident is settled.

There are different types of insurance:

  • Supplemental Liability Insurance (SLI);
  • Personal Accident Insurance (PAI);
  • Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) or Collision Damage Waiver (CDW).

Your credit card company might cover LDW or CDW insurance. You will need to get in touch with them and double check. For your credit card coverage to be valid, you have to pay the rental’s full price on your card and refuse the LDW/CDW from the car rental company.

Driving a Rental Car

Be aware that, with the purpose of reducing pollution, there are restrictions on travel into Mexico City with rental vehicles. Expats should try to avoid driving at night, especially in rural areas, as roads are not well lit.

Speed Limits in Mexico

  • Urban Roads: 19-25 mph (30-40 km)
  • Open Roads and Highways: 62-68 mph (100-110 km)
  • Rural Roads: 43 mph (70 km)

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Public Transportation in Mexico

Mexico is a huge country, so the efficiency of its public transportation varies significantly depending on location. For instance, getting around Ciudad de México in public transportation is not easy, but highly recommended to avoid the traffic of the most congested city in the world. However, if you are in small town or the outskirts of a city, where traffic is not as intense, you could take a taxi or even a mototaxi. 

Cost of Public Transportation in Mexico:

  • Buses are the main form of interstate public transportation. They range from modern coaches to retired school buses. The cost will depend on the route, the distance, the type of bus, and the ticket class that you purchase
  • Taxis are common throughout the country. Be aware that although some taxis run on a meter, others don’t, and you are expected to negotiate a price with the driver in advance. If you can, avoid hailing a taxi off the street as they might be unregistered and thus unsafe. Alternatively, you can call a radio taxi or use a sitio (taxi rank). Another option is to use ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Didi.
  • Metro systems can be found in Mexico City, Guanajato, and Monterrey. Second to New York, Mexico City has the largest metro system in North America, and it is a great way to get around the city. You can only buy fares in cash inside the ticket booth in the station. Rides cost a flat rate of 5 MXN (0.20 USD). You can also purchase a tarjeta (smart card) for 10 MXN (0.50 USD). You can recharge your tarjeta with up to 120 MXN (5.50 USD) at a time.
  • Metrobus is a fast transit system with dedicated bus lanes in CDMX. Its addition to the capital’s public transportation network has greatly improved traffic congestion. The fare is 6 MXN (0.25 USD), which you pay by tapping your tarjeta at the barrier. There are cash-only machines to buy or top-up the smart card in all stations.
  • Trains are almost non-existent in Mexico. Services have mostly been discontinued, leaving basically two options. You can ride Mexico’s most famous train, known as El Chepe, which is situated in the Copper Canyon Railway. Or, you can catch a tourist train known as the Tequila Express, which goes from Guadalajara to tequila country. The cost varies depending on the distance you are travelling and the ticket class you buy.
  • Mototaxis were technically banned in CDMX back in 2017, but according to a recent survey carried out by the “National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Informatics,” there are 273,000 mototaxi journeysper day. These are motorcycles with trailers welded to the back, which can carry up to four passengers. Each ride costs around 5 MXN (0.25 USD).
  • Colectivos are essentially shared taxis or vans. They don’t have an official timetable, take passengers on a fixed or semi-fixed route, and stop anywhere to pick up or drop off people. Fares may vary depending on the route and schedule.

Do you want to relocate? If you have never moved abroad, the process will be overwhelming, and if you have, you know the burden that lies ahead. Whatever stage you are at, InterNations GO! can help you with a complete set of relocation services, such as home finding, school search, visa solutions, and even pet relocation. Our expert expat team is ready to get your relocation going, so why not jump-start your move abroad and contact us today? Best to start early!

Updated on: June 29, 2020

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