There are so many articles out there about living in Mexico as an expat and some kind of scare people into not wanting to go or focus just on the cost of living being low – there so much more to know about living in Mexico. In this post, I’m going to share some things you definitely need to know about Mexico, some things that are kind of unique to living in Mexico or that I think might surprise you, and also debunk a few common things people say about living in Mexico that after a year, I haven’t found to be true.
Sometimes I find Mexico almost too easy to live in as an expat – and a lot of that might be because I spent five years in a very rural village in India before living here. But I think people who consider living in Mexico need to know what it’s really like and might see that it’s easier than they think to move to Mexico.
If I had a best friend who was asking me should I move to Mexico, these are the kinds of things I would tell her!
For reference, I have been living Merida, Mexico for one year. I have visited Mexico City and while I love it, it was too big of a city for me (think New York, seriously). Merida is a nice in between – a city of 777,000 people with small town vibes. Smaller rural places in Mexico will be different in terms of some of the tips below, as you can imagine, but these will relate to most places that expats choose to live in Mexico.
Living in Mexico: What you should know
1. You can stay as a tourist for 6 months and re-enter, but eventually, you need to get residency
Mexico offers six-month tourist stays to many (most) countries without a visa. After six months you can exit and re-enter. This is similar to what a visa-run in – there just isn’t a visa involved. But, if you are clearly spending all your time in Mexico, officials might eventually deny you entry because it will be clear to them you are living in Mexico, not a tourist, and in that case should be on a residency visa.
Rumor is that they are cracking down on this, but really what weight does a rumor hold? The bottom line is that if you plan on staying a long time – years, then you should get your residency but if you plan on trying it out for a year, then you are okay on a tourist visa. You can read how to get residency for Mexico here.
2. You’re going to need to learn some Spanish
Spanish is the national language in Mexico. While 92% of Mexicans speak Spanish, there are also indigenous languages that are spoken in some areas. Many kids are taught English as a second language and English is spoken in international business settings. But overall, your cashier at the grocery store, the electrician or plumber, your Uber driver, they are mostly going to be Spanish-only speakers. You are going to have to learn the basics, and life will be easier if you learn Spanish.
In Cancun and other touristy places, you’ll find many people speak English. But in Merida and Mexico City, people who aren’t all about working in the tourist industry, you’ll find less English speakers. According to a study taken in Mexico, only 5% of Mexicans speak English and it’s been introduced in only 18% of schools as a second language class. To me, it seems like younger teenagers know a lot of English, maybe from school or movies/tv but when I need help translating I’m luckier if I ask them than an older person.
I have been using Rosetta Stone to work on my Spanish and bring back what I learned in High School.
3. Mexico is beautiful and diverse
When you think of moving here ignore anything you’ve heard about Mexico being dirty! Even the big cities like Mexico City have clean streets and seem highly hygienic compared to big US cities. Yes, there is pollution but nothing to write home about.
When you consider living in Mexico, you can choose from cobblestone UNESCO sites like San Miguel de Allende or colorful Campeche, or you can go hippie beach at Puerto Escondido, or get really into the Mexican spirit in Mexico City. I cover this more in-depth in a post, “Everything You Need to Know About Moving to Mexico,” which really covers the “how to” move to Mexico and “how to” get settled and choose where to live.
There is also so much travel to do once you’re in Mexico, here are 40 of my bucket list items.
4. You CAN live in Mexico cheaper than the USA if you want, but…
…it can also be expensive – that’s down to your lifestyle choices. Forbes said that it’s 60% lower cost of living Mexico than the USA. I guess that must be true then – but when I compare my cost of living here in Merida to what it would be in Columbus, Ohio, it’s quite similar. The cost that is, not the lifestyle. Here I can afford to go out for dinner all the time, have a big house with a pool, have cleaners to help at the house, which allows me to focus more on work and personal time.
Could I live cheaper here than Ohio? Absolutely. Could I spend as much as people in San Fransisco? Probably. It’s all about what you choose to do. The question is do you want to spend less than you did before and have a similar quality of life or spend the same as you did before and have a better quality or life? I talk all about rent and such in my post on moving to Merida.
5. Yes, you can get an electricity bill in your name (and should)
Everyone told us that to do anything here (like buy a car or get a driver’s license or bank account) that you need a bill in your name. They also said that as a tourist, you cannot get a bill in your name. This is not true. Ben is not a resident and as soon as we signed our lease, we took it (and a copy of it, his passport and a copy of it) to the CFE (electricity office). They immediately change the name on the bill to Ben’s name.
Looking back, we should have done it in my name because I have residency and when applying for bank statements and such, I was the one who needed the bill in my name. The lease was in his name though, so it’s not possible to put the electricity bill in my name – it has to be the name on the lease. So think ahead of time WHO you will choose to have the bills in their name.
6. Mexicans are not anti-American
Some people back home ask me if the whole Trump/wall situation has made Mexicans bitter toward Americans. I don’t think so – bitter toward Trump, yeah! But I’ve never met one Mexican who has said a bad word about Americans in general and have found Mexico to be completely welcoming to me as an American.
7. You CAN rent a car and waive the insurance if your home credit card covers you
This is a conversation that comes up all the time in Facebook groups for expats in Mexico. I go into detail about this in a blog post about how to buy a car and rent a car in Mexico. But basically, when you rent you’ll see prices of 50 cents a day. Then when you show up, they will upsell you tons of insurance saying it’s illegal to not take the Mexican liability insurance. BUT if you buy the car rental on places like Expedia, Kayak, Mex-rent-a-car, etc you can see in the fine print on many (not all), that the 750,000 MXN liability is there. Legally, they have to give it to you. But some will deny it. Then you decline all other coverage as your credit card will say you have to in order for them to cover you. You need a copy of a letter from your bank saying you are covered. It takes patience, but it does work and I have done this many times in Mexico.
8. If you take the driving test, the written can be taken in English and the driving test is ONLY parallel parking
Eventually, if you are living here you’ll want to drive here! You can buy a used car and register it in your name. After registering you have one year to get a Mexican driver’s license. You will have to go take the driving test again – it’s 10 questions in English if you prefer and then parallel parking. I have a whole post on how to do this.
The funny thing is, that you never have to actually drive and show that you can go around roundabouts or understand one-way streets. It’s a bit telling! We have Mexican friends who tell us they just guess because who actually reads the driver’s manual? Another friend said they asked for the book but there isn’t one – he had to order one on Amazon.
With your license, you will also be able to use it at places like Chichen Itza or even ferries to pay local prices instead of foreigner prices.
9. Expect more festivals and family-friendly events
Mexico has so much going on at all times from cultural events like holidays and festivals to just general music and dancing in city squares. Of course, it has partying, too, and clubs – but it has so much going on for kids and families.
10. Mexico isn’t just shopping in markets – Costco, Walmart, Sam’s Club, it’s all here
You might be picturing going into a little market and getting your food from a lady selling veggies and hand-made tortillas. You can do this – and there are markets all over the place. But, there are also Costcos and Walmarts in cities all over Mexico. It’s up to you how you want to shop (no judgment here, ever!)
11. Missing American food? Impossible
The Mexican food is delicious but you also have international food from all over the world. You’ll have Thai restaurants, Indian, and even a Texas Roadhouse. There are tons of American chains here and also a lot of expats who run international restaurants offering all kinds of food from around the world. Not that you’ll get tired of tacos, but just in case.
12. You can do the same things here with kids as back home
In case you think that moving here would mean your kids lives will change too much, consider that kids here do just about the same things as kids back home. After school clubs, music lesson, sports, go-karting, laser tag, and bowling. It’s all the same.
If you want things to do on the weekend, there are professional soccer games, baseball games, professional racing like Formula 1, going to concerts, seeing Hollywood movies (yes in English) at the theater.
13. If you buy a house or a new car as a foreigner, you’ll need all the money upfront – not mortgages and car payments
If you come here legally as a resident and open a bank account, you might think you will get a mortgage or buy a new car to make payments on. But not quite. While it is possible to get mortgages from the USA that will cover you in Mexico (rare but possible), most Mexican banks aren’t doing these, especially for foreigners. If you buy a car and want to make payments, the interest is crazy.
99% of foreigners who come down here buy their cars and houses outright. When you buy something as expensive as a house, you will put it in escrow and then the money will be wire transferred. With a new card you can pay on your Mexican card. But expect to pay for it all upfront.
14. Credit cards have VERY high interest fees here
You can get a credit card here and build up Mexican credit. Any credit you had outside Mexico doesn’t work here – you’ll be starting from scratch. You need to get one with you bank. You likely won’t be approved for one from a store at first. The interest fees are as high as 50% though and pretty much no one uses credit cards unless you 100% know you will pay it all off and are just trying to build credit.
15. Your TV’s, refrigerator, kitchen table… it’s all going to cost about the same as USA prices
If you get the quality stuff with brand names you recognize (LG, GE, Whirlpool, Samsung) you’ll pay pretty much the same price it would cost in the USA. The cost of living in Mexico is lower in terms of rent, food, and activities like going out – but “items” are going to cost the same if not more.
Things like a Kitchenaid mixer are 4x more expensive here. Anything that seems luxury or novelty is very expensive here. Forget Le Creuset!
I paid $100 for two Tommy Bahama chairs and an umbrella at Costco – the only place I could find them, which is a lot higher than I’d pay for a standard one in the states. If you need to furnish a house, don’t expect it to be done cheaply. Even the antique furniture here is SO expensive.
16. I can get nearly every beauty product I want in Mexico
No more smuggling stuff in like I had to in India for so many years. If I pop into Walmart, I can get any of the standard beauty stuff I could get in a Walmart in the USA. Not everything – but most of it. There are Sephoras in Mexico and you can shop online.
17. Renting in Mexico typically requires a contract signing in front of a lawyer and sometimes you need an aval
While Mexico seems to have a bank on every corner, in many ways it’s still a cash society. When it comes to paying rent, most landlords want it in cash only. No wire transfers. You’ll usually meet with a lawyer and sign a contract even for a 6-month lease. It’s all quite legitimate here.
Sometimes the landlord will want an aval – meaning they want someone to sign to be your back-up in case you bail and don’t pay. I have friends who found the perfect place but not knowing a Mexican to sign for them, they couldn’t get it. Such a bummer!
18. Don’t forget to pay your CFE bill (which can be quite high if you run the A/C)
This one time we didn’t pay our electricity bill… whoops. When your bill is due (every two months), they slip it into your door handle. Most homes are walled on the streets, so the door is literally on the busy streets and stuffed with coupons every day. We never got ours and didn’t realize it had been two months. Time flies.
We woke up to no electricity and realized it was only our house. We looked online and saw the bill was due two days before. No wiggle room on paying and no follow-up to remind us to do so. They will just shut it off! So stay up to date on your bills and keep notes of when they will be due; don’t depend on it showing up in the mail in case it doesn’t.
It requires a visit to the CFE to pay the bill and then ask them to turn on the meter. Someone has to come out to do that and they did for us later that day, however only because it was 98 degrees out. Sometimes they take their time and it can be days but they said since it’s very hot they were working fast that day to help.
19. Let’s talk other utilities:
Trash: Apparently, this isn’t the norm outside Mexico – but the garbage trucks come by three times a week
Gas: Your drier, stove, and hot water are run by gas. There are no meters on the gas tanks so keep an idea in your head of when you might need to top up or else you run out mid-cooking or right when you want a hot shower. You have to light the gas pilot light if it goes out and you have to light your stove.
Water: Your water CAN run out. Many people have well water and city water. Water is the cheapest bill but if you fill up a pool and have a lot of people shower it can run out. Don’t ask me how – but it does. I *think* it’s because the street water (city water) only comes in twice a day so it depends when you are showering and such. It’s never gone for long.
Electricity: I talked about the bill above. Power here is expensive, just FYI. There is no central air in 99% of homes here and in colder places that goes for heat too – people buy space heaters.
Internet: My internet here is faster than my parents in Ohio!
20. Most cars are manual
Just an FYI, when you are renting or buying a used car, keep in mind the majority are manual cars, not automatic. We car-searched for a month and ended up with a manual. It’s fine as that’s what we drove in India and it’s all Ben knows being from England, but I do like the ease of an automatic. It was difficult to find one.
21. It’s normal in Mexico to hire a housekeeper, groundskeepers, nanny, or pool cleaner
This is a personal choice and some people don’t like to have anyone help at their homes, but it is very normal here to hire someone to help you clean if you can afford it. I go into rates and such in my post about moving to Mexico.
22. Get a Mexican SIM card and you can use it in the USA and Canada
You can maybe even use it other places but that’s all I’ve tried so far. I recommend Telcel; it’s served me well! I pay around $10 a month for mine and get 4G and calls. When I’m in the USA, I just use my Mexican SIM and am roaming so usually have to top up, so might have a $20 month that month if I spend half in the USA. I’ve been going back to plan a wedding, so it’s been useful.
I haven’t had a USA phone number in six years so couldn’t tell you the price for it, but I think the Mexican one will be way cheaper. I think I used to pay $50 a month in the USA.
23. No, you can’t drink the water but it’s fine to cook with and shower with
What you have heard is true – it’s not safe to drink the tap water. Although some people do. It was the same in India, you shouldn’t but many locals did. Our bellies aren’t used to the bacteria and so we should not as foreigners.
I do cook with it – although I have friends who won’t and even Ben won’t.
Showering is fine! I get asked this all the time! Just don’t drink the water in the shower, sillies! lol!
24. Yes, you can eat the fruit and veggies
This leads me to the fruit and veggies. You should wash your fruit and veggies with filtered or bottled water. They are totally fine to eat – lettuce and all. Compared to India, the fruit and veggies here are DREAMY! So many options, and such quality BUT compared to my Ohio’s farmer’s market, it leaves something to be desired especially with lettuce, tomatoes (you won’t find those huge juicy ones here), and random things like leaks or celery.
25. You can flush your T.P. in some places but not in all
You’ll see signs in cantinas and smaller local places saying that you shouldn’t flush your toilet paper and can just put it in the trash can. This isn’t that big of a deal and all over Asia, there are places where it’s the norm. Don’t stress about it! Many homes it’s fine to flush – it depends on the sewage system in place so ask your landlord. In small towns like Tulum, you are not going to be able to flush. In airports, you can! It’s something you’ll start to figure out and there are often signs if you can’t.
26. Get an Amazon Fire Stick and buy a VPN app
Yes, you can watch American, English, Canadian and more TV shows here. There are so many ways to do this. You can get a mini-PC and turn your TV into a computer, turn on a VPN, and access any website you would at home like Hulu, Amazon Prime, SkyTV, DISH, Netflix, and more.
You can use a Roku, or get a smart TV here but those will only allow Mexican streaming. So Mexican Netflix and no Hulu (it’s the USA only).
I recommend the Amazon Fire Stick as the easiest option (you can order this in Mexico) because it’s easy to install and voice-controlled. You need to then download apps like Comedy Central or whatever channels you watch. Just log in to someone’s USA tv plan (I use my parents). Then add apps for Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. But some apps will know you’re using a VPN like Amazon Prime so you’ll have to turn off the VPN and use the Mexican one.
27. The “old traditional Mexico” mixes with the new
One amazing thing about Mexico is that the traditional and the contemporary mix together with ease. You’ll see the ladies making tortillas with their hands and big flower markets with pickup trucks dropping off loads of flowers priced 1/10 of American prices. You’ll have street food served from little bicycle stands. But you also have luxury movie theaters, art galleries, new modern architecture, and more that will make you feel like you are in Europe. It’s amazing.
28. You don’t have to be concerned about having surgery here or what would happen in the case of a serious accident
Get good insurance and you won’t have to worry, I should say.
You NEED health insurance here. It’s ranked by the star system, similar to how hotels are ranked. If you get 5-star hospitals then you don’t need to worry about surgery and such. If you get the government health care, then yes I would consider not having surgery at their hospitals. I’m sure that’s not a popular opinion but when ALL of my Mexican friends tell me horror stories and say never go to those hospitals for something as serious as surgery, I believe them.
Here is a blog post all about our health care plan, costs, how to read their plans, and more.
29. People complain about the bureaucracy, but it’s not that bad
In terms of moving here, what paperwork they say you need is the case – it’s not as messy as people make it sound. I didn’t find myself running ragged trying to get things done. If you follow their instructions, you’ll be fine. I got residency, opened a bank account, registered a car, got a driver’s license, moved bills to my/Ben’s name, got health care, and car insurance and more and found it all organized and easy to do.
I think the whole “bureaucracy is a bitch” thing in Mexico is highly exaggerated. Yes, buying a house requires a lot of checking but if you have a great notario and PAY what you need to make sure it’s done right, you’ll be fine. If you think you can do it all alone and barely speak Spanish then yeah, it will be a bitch.
Then again, I was in India for five years and let me tell you – it really is a bitch there, so I guess Mexico might just seem like a breeze!
30. Yes, police in some areas will try to get bribes but in other places, they are your “friend”.
We’ve had it both ways, to be honest. In the Yucatan, I have had only positive experiences. The police presence is huge here. I don’t feel at all like they are out to get me.
In Quintana Roo, have had bad experiences and the police have demanded bribes. It’s going to depend on the area majorly, then also even in good areas, there will be bad apples.
31. You must follow road-rules
Even though not everyone does, you really should. You should signal when you turn, wear a seat belt (I have been pulled over for this), not be on your phone, and do not drink and drive. They do breathalize and will set up check-points.
32. Uber is your best friend here but local transportation is great, too
Uber is in *most* places in Mexico. It’s not in Cancun and some other touristy places that the local taxi drivers are fighting it being there (and it’s dangerous). We had this issue in Goa, too, and I’m glad that where I am now in Merida it’s safe and legal to take an Uber.
In big cities like Mexico City, you can take Uber easy and cheap or you can do the metro. I prefer the metro to buses anywhere – and it’s very safe (with a women’s compartment).
Inter-city and state buses are good, too, and I take the ADO often. I just took one actually to Cancun Airport!
Within your town, there will be local buses that you can take all over the place and most expats do this rather than buying a car. I’m a car person and have to admit, I’ve never taken a local bus in Merida.
33. Your safety 100% depends on the area you live/travel
While I take the ADO from Merida to Cancun often, it doesn’t mean that all road travel is safe. You do hear of bus crashes, and just recently a bus going from Merida to Quintana Roo (I cannot find the article now) was shot at 18 times by robbers trying to get the bus to stop – but the driver didn’t and got away!
They say you’re okay if you drive during the day and take toll roads. We have driven at night to and from Cancun and all around in the Yucatan, but other than that I haven’t done a lot of driving in Mexico.
Many expats drive from the USA to Mexico when they come here for six months a year or if they want to move all their things here. There are Facebook groups with tips on how to do this. There are states in Mexico that you shouldn’t go at all – and others that are okay. Here’s an article that has some of the most dangerous places you should avoid. All the places you hear of expats living are safe areas (for the most part – Cancun, Riviera Maya, they have their issues but it’s a personal choice, I can’t tell you if it’s safe to YOUR standards.) I recommend googling crime rates.
34. The same goes for men
I suppose if you are in a seedy area, you could have issues with men. Most cities have a kind of no-go zone (all over the world, not just Mexico). So use common sense. But in general, men here are totally respectful.
In Mexico City, they have women’s only compartments and our friend there told us harassment is bad toward women. It surprised me because in a year here, I have not encountered this. In India, I did encounter harassment (what they call eve-teasing), groping, and staring. So Mexico City seemed fine to me!
Some people say there is an issue of staring or attention here if you are blonde and I find that inaccurate. I never notice anyone staring at me. In all the places I have traveled to so far, the Uber drivers have waited until I get inside to pull away. They all seem nice – that’s my opinion.
35. It’s all about the cantinas
Those swinging Western-movie doors are where you want to go. Most cantinas don’t look like much from the street, and in some areas of Mexico City, they are lined up door to door, so you won’t know which to choose! Just walk in to one – don’t be nervous!
Most cantinas are popping from 5-10 and they usually shut at 10. The good ones have live music, dancing, botanas (free snacks), and good cheap booze!
36. Long term taxis aren’t an affordable option of travel
Mexicos cost of living might be low, but unlike many areas of Asia where that means you can take a train, taxi, or bus and not pay much difference, that is not the case in Mexico. If you have a long distance to go and the bus schedules aren’t working for you, your best bet is to rent a car. Tour companies that will take you from city to city tend to charge an arm and a leg. It’s best to find a local driver who will be there for you when you have long trips and hire them over and over.
37. For shipping, use FedEx, UPS or DHL.
Local post isn’t reliable, which is a bummer! Some birthday cards have shown up which is more than I can say for India, but I had a huge package from Australia just not show up at all. The tracking ends once it reaches Mexico.
If you have something serious to send, then you should stick to the big players – they cost the same as in the USA, aka a fortune.
38. Customs takes things seriously when you fly into *some* airports
When you fly into Mexico City and have to clear customs, it’s a breeze you just walk past and push a button. No one talks to you unless you are chosen to be searched – which I have been once (when I had my dog with me).
In Merida, it’s a headache. There is ONE person that questions every single person and the line is so long. They search nearly everyone. Drug dogs sniff out your food and they confiscate it. You can’t bring meats and cheeses and such. Processed food is okay. You cannot bring TV’s or expensive things and expect to not pay customs on it – even if it’s old. They will make you pay. So, make sure if you are bringing old stuff you don’t put it in the box to keep it safe – which makes it look new. Think about the things you are packing and how you are packing them.
39. Yes, the food is spicy but only if you add a bunch of spicy salsa to it
The food baseline isn’t that spicy, it’s the salsas that are. Dishes won’t come with salsa on them, you add it – so just avoid adding the spicy ones. If you don’t like spice, you can avoid it here.
40. Tipping is huge here
Like the US, tipping is big here. When you get your bill at a restaurant, you add the tip to the card machine choosing 10, 15, or 20 percent. At petrol stations and grocery stores, you should tip. Your hair salon, nails, the guy who watches the cars in parking lots, you should tip.
41. If you’re expecting Tex-Mex, you’ll be disappointed
You aren’t going to get Chipotle-style burritos here (damn, they are so good!). You will get amazing Mexican food but not “tex-mex” unless you go into a tourist establishment, which you can. But local Mexican food is very different. If you want flour tortillas, you’ll have to ask and only in tourist restaurants will they have them – most will just have corn.
42. Mexicans love a party – and firecrackers
During festivals and birthday parties, expect noise all night long. It’s pretty crazy how hard they party and how late they stay up. How many fire-crackers and fireworks until you get bored? It was the same in India. It’s not every night though, but something to know.
43. Sometimes ordering from Amazon USA is better than Amazon Mexico
You can use your Amazon USA account in Mexico. You just pay a set fee to Amazon when you check out and they deal with customs for you. Sometimes it’s as low as $5. You should compare the price of the item on Amazon Mexico. If it’s a novelty item or imported, it will be very expensive on Amazon Mexico.
As an example, I wanted a pool raft that was decent (not the $2 ones from Walmart). They were $100 on Amazon Mexico! On Amazon USA the same raft was $20 and they charged me $5 for shipping and customs. After I got the raft, I was reimbursed $2 because customs was less than they thought. If customs is MORE than they thought, they take the hit on that.
I’ve done this with several things I’ve ordered to Mexico.
44. Lastly, you’re going to love it here!
If you are thinking about moving to Mexico, get ready for the biggest adventure of your life. It’s an amazing place to live. It’s very expat-friendly, easy to live here, affordable, and fun with all it’s quirks. Enjoy the culture, the food and music, and the kind, welcoming people!
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