39 Things You Should Know Before Moving to Mexico

August 9, 2017

I’m quickly approaching my one year anniversary of living in Mexico and I thought now would be an appropriate time, to sum up, some of the things that I have learned since B and I moved our life here. So if you are moving or traveling to Mexico, or just curious about life down here, feel free to check it out! 

 


Daily Life 
1. Almost all bills need to be paid at the Oxxo
This includes your cell phone bill, water, electricity. The only bill we can pay online is our internet bill, which makes sense kind of, except when you forget to pay your bill and your service gets cut out.

the oxxo

2. If you are a foreigner prepare to get a lot of attention
This is common in most countries where you are an obvious minority. So if you are blonde, red headed, super white, black, or tall expect to get some (often unwanted) extra attention. Which is why you should…


3. Avoid wearing clothes that will get you extra attention
You are absolutely free to wear whatever you would like and don’t let men’s reactions guide how you dress in the morning. However, as a foreigner I already stick out so much already I try to avoid making myself a bigger target and try to blend in as best as I can. 

For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why Mexican women didn’t wear shorts outside in the blazing heat. One day I decided I would make a go of it because DANG! it’s hot outside, but after one (modest) short wearing escapade I decided switched to pants indefinitely. I felt extremely uncomfortable being stared at and catcalled while walking through town, so this is 100% my experience and opinion.

I have also found that staring and catcalling is less frequent if 1.) you aren’t walking in a city 2.) you are walking with a male (eye roll) and 3.) if you are with a group of people. 

READ: Why I Don’t Mind Always Being A Gringa

4. You shouldn’t drink the water.
I imagine everyone is somewhat familiar with this rule. In San Luis Potosí the majority of locals don’t even drink the water so try to stick to bottled water or dispenser water. I do take ice in my drinks, brush my teeth with the water, and buy drinks and fruit from side carts. However, I also had diarrhea for 6 straight months, so don’t listen to me.

glass of water with blue background

5. Don’t flush the toilet paper
The majority of Mexican plumbing is old and can’t handle the toilet paper. You can usually tell what toilets you can’t flush toilet paper down because there will be a small trash bin next to the toilet and it will be filled with TP. So always be polite and put it in the trash.

You don’t’ want to be the gringa/o that plugs the toilet with your tp. Fortunately, our house is a newer build and can handle toilet paper, so if you come to my house you better put that tp in the toilet!

 

6. Mail takes a while to arrive
If you have family or friends who even bother putting your super long address on a piece of mail before sending it, prepare to wait at least 3-4 months for it to arrive. I sent a postcard to my niece and nephews in March (4 months ago) and they still have yet to receive it. On a positive note, this has helped curb my Amazon prime addiction. 

pink mailboxes

7.  Bureaucracy
It takes a long ass time to get any type of official paperwork done here. I’ve had to go to immigration 5 times to get my temporary visa filed, and I’m still waiting on my work visa hoping I will get it before I move back to the USA. The hardest thing is that you have to allocate either a whole day or at least a half a day to get things done, which can be difficult to do if you are working. 


Money 

8. Always carry small change/ coins
There is always a chance to use those coins! Tipping the bagger at the grocery store, tipping the guy that pumps your gas, the valet (they valet for everything here), and basically anyone who helps you out.

Mexicans hustle hard and there are always opportunities to get your car washed at the stop light, get your car guarded or washed while you are in the grocery store, get your groceries packed in your car for you and all of this can be done for just a few pesos.

9. Cash rules
You can often expect to pay more with a card than cash. Grocery stores will actually have two different set prices for items, a card price, and a cash price. It took us a few months to figure this one out.

As a renter here in Mexico we also have to pay our total rent in cash, which can be difficult because we have to plan out our ATM visits a week or 2 in advance since the ATM only allows a max amount of cash you can take out. Why don’t you use the bank you ask? Well, we only get paid part of our salary in pesos, while the other part is deposited in our USA bank account. (Also, banks seem to always be closed here)

10. The peso to the dollar is mobile people!
Good thing we bought that washer and dryer when the peso to the dollar was at 22 to 1, it has now significantly dropped to 17 to 1. Moral of the story, the peso to dollar exchange is always changing and that goes for whatever currency you are getting paid in. 

11. Most things are cheaper here
Depending on where you shop you can buy most things cheaper here than you can in the United States, but when it comes to well-known branded products (ex. Nike, Adidas, Banana Republic), vehicles and other “luxury” products they are much more expensive than they are in the US.



Driving / Transportation

mexico city traffic


Driving has probably been the most frustrating thing for me to get used to as an expat. I wouldn’t say that I am rule-driven, but I do receive a certain amount of comfort in the knowledge that everyone is on the same page and following the same rules. This is not the case in Mexico. 

12. Road rules are flexible 
You will rarely see road signs and if you do they will most likely be stop signs, but those really just mean yield, so many people don’t follow them anyway. The speed limit is basically the flow of traffic, I’ve never even heard of someone getting pulled over for speeding here, so speed away. I am not sure what the turning rules are, but people do whatever they want, including taking a left turn when they are the far right lane…. which is incredibly terrifying when you are going straight. 

 

13. Bribes 

I have yet to get pulled over, I say yet because I expect that it is coming. Police officers almost always are looking for a bribe when they pull you over, even if they pull you over for a legitimate reason. So just pay.

We have a friend that is Mexican that was pulled over and didn’t have any cash on him. He had to talk to the police officer for 45 minutes just to convince him he really didn’t have any cash. He even told the officer that he could take his car because he really didn’t have any cash. Finally, after 45 minutes of going back and forth, the police officer gave up and walked away.

We have been told that if you are Mexican you can be expected to pay anywhere from 100 to 400 pesos, but if you are a gringo/a expect to at least pay 600 pesos, which really isn’t that bad, close to $30. I mean wouldn’t we all bribe cops in the USA if we could get out of a ticket for $30?
(Edit: This is strictly from my experience living in San Luis Potosí and may not apply to all states and cities of Mexico. I would reccomend asking for a ticket and not offering a bribe when being pulled over by the police).

photo source

14. Roads are jank
Rarely there are lanes painted on the road and if they are they are faded from years of the sun beating down on them.There are is also an ungodly amount of potholes. I’m not talking about your friendly neighborhood potholes, I’m talking behemoths, lose a tire potholes, maybe fall in and come out in China potholes. They are ridiculous and if you hit one when you aren’t paying attention, expect that you will need a new tire. My husband has popped 3 tires since we have been here so far. Also TOPES – road bumps from hell.  They usually sneak up on you at night or possibly in the day when they aren’t marked.

Fun fact from my husband:
When replacing tires here in Mexico there is a secret key for a special lug nut on the tire. This prevents people from stealing the tires off of cars. So when buying or renting a car make sure you have the secret key.

 

15. Road flooding
When it rains here it rains hard, so naturally, with the bad drainage system the roads flood, think a good 1-2 inches of water in the street. The rain also causes quite a few delays; including traffic and people. My students are always at least 10-15 minutes later than normal when it has been raining outside.

16. Traffic is horrendous
Traffic is bad in most big cities in Mexico and rush hour can easily turn a 30-minute commute to a one hour plus commute. It is so terrible in SLP because so many people work in the industrial parks outside of the city and when people leave they all leave at once. Cue traffic jam.

17. Parking
If you park in a parking lot where you need a ticket, which is most parking lots, then you must pay for your ticket either inside at the cash register or at a machine outside of the store. Then when exiting the parking lot you must feed your ticket into a machine that will then allow you to exit the parking lot. If you are not used to this and forget to pay first, it can be an embarrassing ordeal when you hold up a parking lot line. 


18. The buses do not have bus stops
 
I have only taken the public bus two different times and thankfully I knew someone who was familiar with where the bus stops were at. So if you plan on taking the bus you just have to figure out where they usually stop. I would ask someone.

19. Ubers are safer than taxis 
Taxis are not a safe transportation option in most Mexican cities and definitely not in San Luis Potosí. Ubers are the safest option and I used to take one on my daily commute to work and haven’t had any major issues. Also, you should always sit in the front seat when riding in an uber, since it is believed to be safer for both the driver and the passenger. 

20. Transportation in Mexico is 
relatively cheap 

If you want to travel throughout Mexico you can do it cheaply, comfortably, and safely… just maybe not quickly. Mexico has some really nice busses, I’m talking air-conditioning, wifi, tv, and reclining seats. Depending on where you are traveling to it just might take a little longer. The bus tickets are priced relative to how far you are traveling and typically run around $25-30 for a 3-8 hr ride. I recently found out I can travel from SLP to Chicago for $180 USD, which might take me over40 hrs to get there, but still. That’s impressive.

21. Price of gas is more expensive
Gas is cheaper in the US. In Mexico gas costs about $.88 or (15.70 pesos) per liter, while in the USA it costs $.61 or (10.94 pesos) per liter. The Mexican government stopped regulating gas prices at the end of 2016, which caused gas prices to rise in some areas 20%.

Eating out / Food

 

chilaquiles with mole
22. Mexico is more than just tacos and tequila.
Mexico has such a rich food history and each state has their own dish specialties. My favorite food here in San Luis Potosí is Enchiladas Potosinos – a dish local to San Luis. I also have become obsessed with Gorditas and Chilaquiles (pictured above). 

 

23. You can drink (alcohol) in the car
Well, everyone except the driver that is and that often doesn’t stop many. I have seen people walk out of the grocery store crack open a beer bottle and hop into the driver’s seat. Be careful out there! (Edit: This is not looked at positively all throughout Mexico. Different states and cities have different laws, learn them and abide by them). 

24. They add lime and chili to everything

I have yet to get used to this. I do not like chili in my fruit smoothies or on my watermelon. On the other hand, I have started to take a liking to having lime in my mayonnaise.

25. Salad and vegetables can be hard to come by
I’m not sure if it is the climate, the culture, or that it is just difficult to clean and keep vegetables fresh here, but they are just not that common to serve. You have to go to a nicer restaurant to find fresh vegetables and salads on the menu or you can obviously buy them from the grocery store. 

mayo with lime in mexico

26. Meals happen later
Expect all meals to take place about 2-3 hours later than US meal times. My stomach starts grumbling around 11:30 and I do my best to make it to 2 o’clock if I can help it. This also means that Bobby and I beat most dinner crowds when we walk into a restaurant at 6:30 -7 p.m. The dinner rush doesn’t really get started until 9 p.m. Meals don’t only happen later. 

27. Meals last longer too
I have had a lot of dinners that lasted from 8 pm to midnight which feels like a long time to be sitting while surrounded by wine and postres (desert).  After you have had your Entrada (appetizer), your meal, and a dessert, you must also have some coffee. Due to the fact that dinners are long and unpredictable, this means you have to ask for the check (la cuenta por favor!) because the waiter/ess doesn’t want to be rude and bring it to you before you are ready for it. 

28. You should make reservations, even if it is a weekday
If you are eating at a taco stand or a bar this isn’t necessary, but if you plan to eat out at a nice restaurant the hostess will expect you to have a reservation, even if the restaurant is dead. I still don’t make reservations, but I should so I can stop getting dirty looks from those hostesses. 


29. The climate is on point!
Being a Michigan native I’ve become accustomed to cooler climates and was a tad worried that when I moved to Mexico I would shrivel up and die from the heat. Well what a pleasant surprise, apart from a few scorchers in May, the temperature has been relatively cool here. It’s also dry here in SLP as we are in the desert and situated at an elevation of 6,000 or so feet which welcome sunny days and cooler nights. 


30.. It rains a lot here as well
Locals try to tell me it doesn’t, but I’ve been here almost a year and from where I am standing it seems so. I guess it just depends on what you consider “a lot”. It is also rainy season right now, which means it rains for about 30 minutes once every other day or so. I love the rain so I don’t mind a bit and with the rain comes cooler days, which is always a plus.



Culture 

small white clock

Photo by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash


31.Everything takes a bit longer
If you have traveled to Mexico or lived here you are familiar with “Mexican time”. This just means that everything happens about 45 min – 1 hr later than you would expect or plan. In order to compensate for this, I just act like everyone is my mother (sorry mom!) and tell them the meeting time is actually 30 minutes earlier than planned. 

It can be a bit of culture shock when coming from the USA where we put such an emphasis on being punctual. It means you just have to learn to relax and be a little more flexible which is by far easier said than done.

 

33. Mexicans are super Catholic
Thanks to the both political and religious Spanish conquest of Mexico the majority of Mexicans are strict Catholic. Many go to church every Sunday, which also means many stores and restaurants are closed or close early. Due to many Mexicans being highly religious means there are a lot of national holidays that come from the church.
photo source

34. All of the holidays
Due to the fact that most of the country practices Catholicism it means that there are many national holidays to be celebrated. Which include Día de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Dec 12), Las Posadas (Dec 16 – Jan 6), Navidad (Dec 25) Semana Santa (Holy Week) and much more. 

35. Everyone is super polite
People are quite polite and often willing to help even when they don’t know the answer. If you ask for directions to a place and the person doesn’t know they will still give you an answer, so nice, I know. So, be sure to ask more than one person if you want to get to the right place… just in case.

Whenever eating a meal and someone passes by your table expect to hear “provecho” or “buen provecho” which means essentially good eating or have a nice meal. You should pick up on the habit as well!


36. Machismo and sexism are extremely prevalent.
Machismo which is a strong identity of masculinity and pride is extremely prevalent in Mexico as well as much of Latn America. The macho culture is all pervasive in Mexico and many think its emphasis on male pride is a contributing factor in the high rates of violence against women that Mexico is experiencing.

As I have not personally experienced any physical attacks, I know many who have. I have however experienced machismo in the small comments and the attitudes exhibited towards me. When I order a wine they bring it to my husband to taste, wearing clothes that expose my legs becomes an invitation for staring and cat calls, and when I tell people I am married they ask why I don’t have children. These are just a few, many of them I have experienced in the USA as well.

 

Womens March Mexico

 

37. Status is everything
Status is extremely important for Mexican women and men. Status is shown through who you hang out, where you eat, where you live, what car you drive, and how you dress. People will go out of their way to eat at American companies (even if they suck) Chilis, Dairy Queen, Costco, Carls Jr. because of the status it brings. I still don’t understand how Chilis makes it down here when they have real Mexican food for a quarter of the price. 

Women dress to the nines daily and manage to wear stilettos through an 8hr work day and then they walk through those cobblestone streets like a boss! I actually worked at a school where they told me I had to wear makeup and heels every day. Which I laughed and wore flats… which brings me to.

38. Privilege has never been more obvious
The white privilege here is heart breaking. We wake up every day in a country that is not our own and are overcome with how much privilege we have. We live in a private neighborhood, both drive cars and can afford to eat at considerably nice restaurants. All of this privilege comes from the opportunities we received based on where we were born. While I wouldn’t say my circumstances were always comfortable and easy and I worked hard in school and at work, but people here work just as hard if not harder than I did and only receive a fraction of the results.

But what shocked me the most was the privilege gap between Mexicans. There is a strong correlation between being fair-skinned and living a more privileged life. A friend that told me his wife is darker than her siblings and they have treated her differently ever since she was a child, like she is feeble or not capable as her siblings with lighter skin, even though they are of the same blood! I have another friend who said she would never be able to get into a particular school or work at a certain company simply because of the color of her skin. Don’t believe me? Go into a restaurant and see the contrast between who is serving and who is dining. 

39. Mexico is incredibly diverse
I’m not sure where else in the world you can find such a diverse country and culture. Mexico truly has something to offer for everyone, whether it is beaches, mountains, jungle, or desert. Traveling in just two states this last month I was shocked with the diversity of the terrain and plant life. Mexico also has an incredible history, diverse groups of people and an astounding variety of cuisines. I feel like I will never be able to complete my list of to sees in Mexico. 

READ: 19 Destinations You Need to Visit in Mexico Now


 39 Things You Should Know Before Moving to Mexico
More about Eemma Iseman

2 Comments
    1. Emmah, you have learned alot in a year!! And you write beautifully! Uncle Roy, and I will be at Chris’s wedding, Lord willing!! Great information on where you live! Love you Em!!💙💚💜💛

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