living in mexico blog

50+ things I need to share with you about living in Mexico as an expat

I’ve been living in Mexico for three years now and I thought to write this post as I feel like these are very important things when one is researching to move to Mexico. Here are some stories about life in Mexico that will help you decide if you should live here.

Reader Mail: Hi Trisha! Great articles about Mexico. I am attempting to live in Mexico this year but I don’t have any idea on how it’s like. I’ve seen that you have been there for years and would love to get some insights. What is the culture of living in Mexico as an expat? I know the system is not like here in the USA but I am really keen to move asap and leave America for good. Super great blog! Any help or suggestions you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
– Ronald Webb, USA

Hi Ronald, thank you for your message and I get this question a lot!

Of course, the culture of living here is not the same as in the United States. I must admit that some things are not very comfortable here (banking is frustrating, you can always find your way around rules if you like, Mexican neighbors are too loud, etc). It really depends on the lifestyle you want to live in Mexico.

I am not really sure what your question is about but I will try to share with you some tips and local advice that I know from the years I am living in Mexico. Good luck and if you ever have more questions, don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail or contact me via Instagram DM.

Xx,
Trisha

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Living in Mexico as an expat: 50+ things you need to know

#1: Mexico always gives a 6-month visa to tourists

If you’re not sure yet if you should get a residency visa in Mexico, Mexico offers a generous 6-months tourist visa that you can easily renew by doing visa runs. I’ve done this three times during my first year living in Mexico and whenever I come back, they don’t say anything.

They just stamp my passport and off I go. As a full-time travel blogger, I go for long periods of time (1-month vacation out of Mexico) but you don’t really have to be gone this long. Even if you just cross to Guatemala for the day, you will still get a 180 days visa when you come back.

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#2: Getting a residency visa in Mexico is easy

Last week, I got my temporary resident visa in Mexico under the new program for those who have been trapped during COVID. They gave me a 4-year visa in one go. However, only those who entered Mexico or have been trapped here during COVID-19 are qualified for this program.

Meaning, you should have an expired tourist card on or before December 31, 2019. You can still do the normal residency visa processing before moving to Mexico as it is not that hard. This program was just easier for me because it did not require me to do my interview outside of the country. I did my interview in INM Puerto Vallarta and all of these took only a week!

#3: Expats in Mexico holding a resident visa don’t need to pay taxes

When I received my 4-year residency visa in Mexico, no one talked to me about the taxes. In one Mexico expats group on Facebook, someone asked, “what about taxes?” I told him the case of all of us holding a legal residency card here: no one talks about it so we’re not really going to ask the Immigration Office, like, “hello, where do I pay my taxes?”

From talking to my lawyer, I found out that you only pay taxes in Mexico if you have a working visa (doesn’t matter if it’s temporary or permanent). The rest of us not working for a Mexican company don’t need to pay taxes.

US citizens have the misconception that if you live abroad, then you are tax-free. You may be tax-free in Mexico but you still have to file US tax returns. This applies to temporary or permanent residency visa holders.

You might also like: Living in Playa del Carmen, Mexico as an American expat
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#4: You can set up a business in Mexico as an expat

Setting up a business in Mexico if you already have a resident visa is pretty easy. I have a digital marketing company that I registered in Mexico and it was an easy process. However, I just always hire a lawyer (extra costs) because things are always faster if you have a contact inside.

Be prepared for mordidas if you set up businesses like restaurants or anything that has to do with the tourism industry. It’s also funny how all the street food vendor carts on the streets don’t actually have business permits but the police don’t check them. I already know a lot of expats living in Mexico who set up their own street taco business and no one checks them! It’s insane and hilarious at the same time.

In the beginning, I also inquired if I can be a temporary resident by registering a business first. It did not work. My lawyer said I have to have the residency because it’s one of the requirements in opening a business in Mexico. I am not sure if buying a property gives you the residency visa automatically but I’ll ask some Real Estate friends in Mexico how it works! (Will update this part)

#5: You can get deported if you have an expired visa (INM clean-up)

The INM sweep in Mexico is random. You don’t really know when you are coming. If you are one of those expats who are very diligent about renewing your visa, you don’t have to worry about anything. However, there are many expats here who never leave the country even if their visa is expired because you only need to pay $500 MXN ($25 USD) for your overstay.

I’ve seen a lot of Americans and Canadians here who got deported only because they were at the wrong time and place. The INM comes out of nowhere and you will know who they are as their uniforms are not the same as the Mexican police. They will barricade roads and check your identification one by one.

In last year’s sweep, I was surprised how many people they deported! Mexicans love foreigners but don’t get too confident that we can always just get away with things. Mexico is known to have a lenient policy with visas but if there is a sweep, no one can really get away with that.

Related: Mexico digital nomad visa, explained
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INM officers can stop you on the streets and ask for identification.

#6: Getting things done in Mexico is easy as long as you have the right contacts and the money to pay for it

There are many things that you can do in Mexico (legally) as long as you have the money for it. Don’t want to fall in line to have your plate number registered? Pay for a guy and he will do all of it for you. You don’t want to go to the transportation office to do your driver’s license? Pay for a guy and you’ll get your driver’s license in a week.

One time, a guy randomly contacted me on Instagram and offered me a Mexican birth certificate for $$$$. It’s insane! But take note that these processes are legal. I do not have an idea how the handlers do it or manage to penetrate the system but they can and they will.

The reason why these ‘handlers’ came out of nowhere is that it can take you a whole day to do these things in the Mexican government offices. It’s so unorganized and some waiting rooms are not even waiting rooms – you literally have to sit outside in the sun.

Of course, for foreigners like us who are used to the comforts of sitting in an airconditioned waiting room where wait times are shorter, it can get really frustrating and tiring. If you come to think of it, the reason why this is a ‘business’ in Mexico is because of us expats.

#7: When people say living in Mexico is cheap, it’s not entirely true

Mexico’s cost of living is cheap. I spend $75 USD for 10 days of grocery and I pay $600 USD for a 3-bedroom house in Puerto Vallarta. I don’t spend less than $1,000 USD per month but I know a lot of people who comfortably live with this amount. Rent is the biggest bulk of the expenses (as usual) but where I am living in Mexico right now, the cheapest 1-bedroom apartments I know only costs $350 USD and they are not ugly!

The cost of living in Mexico has also something to do with the lifestyle. For example, here, you can always eat out for as low as $10 USD per meal in a nice restaurant so you can do that as often as you like. But back home in the USA, Canada, or Europe, you won’t eat out every day as it is costly. The money you will spend here depends on your lifestyle but I guarantee you that you don’t need to think twice about eating out or even buying a bottle of wine whenever you please. It’s affordable!

#8: If you are from a country that has a higher cost of living than Mexico, then your brain is programmed that everything is cheap

Imagine an Australian coming to live in Mexico – FYI: cost of living in Sydney [Australia] is 193% more expensive than in Puerto Vallarta [Mexico]. O a New Yorker coming to move to Mexico City which is 173% cheaper. You’ll always think that everything is cheap.

The best practice is to condition yourself in the Mexican prices. For example, when I was living in Sayulita, everything was expensive. The tourism boom in this small town meant higher costs. When I moved to Vallarta (and greater areas), everything was way cheaper than Sayulita.

Considering these are only 40 minutes away from each other, the price difference is unbelievable. That’s when I realized that the standard cost of living in Mexico is that of Vallarta and not Sayulita. I do not have the exact percentage details for these two areas but I am speaking from experience.

See also: The best places to live in Mexico as an expat
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My Mexican landlords and my American neighbor, Tim (from Seattle).

#9: The whole of Mexico does not have the same cost of living

When you Google cost of living in Mexico, you will see a lot of results that do not say the area the costs are discussing. To get the best search results, it’s better for you to type the city or town you wish to live in in Mexico because that’s a more accurate result (ex: Puerto Vallarta cost of living, Sayulita cost of living, etc)

#10: Don’t buy a house right away. Rent first

Buying a house in Mexico is very enticing to expats but the most common mistake is that they put their roots right away before getting to know the area. It’s better to find a long-term rent first and have a feel of the area you wish to make as your base. Each destination in Mexico is different so give yourself time to really decide where you want to live.

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I fell in love with Sayulita and lived there for 2 years. I was very convinced that I will live there permanently but when I got to know it, I realized it was not the place for me. Even in my third year in Mexico, I still am undecided where to buy a house. I just know that it’s in Mexico but not sure about the area yet.

#11: Some landlords sign contracts and some don’t

It really depends on the area. Where I lived in Sayulita where people come and go, landlords don’t really sign a contract unless you want a long-term lease. First, they asked me til when I want to stay and I was like, “I’m not sure,” so we left it that way. I ended up living in that house for 2 years without a signed contract. But that’s not a really good option since they can kick you out whenever they want to. This happened to some people I know.

Read: Tips on how to find cheap apartments in Mexico City
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San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is one of the most popular American expat destination in Mexico.

#12: Some landlords require a one year contract and some don’t

So, when I moved out of Sayulita to Vallarta, the landlord requires a one-year minimum stay which made me feel trapped since I want to live in different areas of Mexico. Little did I know that I will like to live in this area I am in now – I am already considering renewing my lease in October! House rental contracts in Mexico are notarized and sometimes signed in front of a lawyer.

#13: You can request some home improvements and the landlord will just deduct the costs from your monthly rent

In my house in Sayulita, I wanted a gate because there was no division between me and the landlord. I politely asked them for one but I found out that I can just find a guy who will make my gate and pay it in advance. Then, the landlord just deducted the price from my monthly rent.

This also happened when I improved a 7-villa that I was renting in Sayulita to put on Airbnb. The landlord liked the design idea and he said they are willing to pay for the improvements by deducting it from the rent.

#14: Bills can be paid anywhere – including convenience stores

You can only do this if your bill is not due yet. If it is, you need to do it in the offices. There are also online apps for paying electricity and water bills but if the bill is not in your name, it will be hard to get the username and password for your account in the app (from the previous owner).

The best thing to do is to put the bills in your name so you’ll also have proof that you are living in Mexico. Bills are always asked here as proof of address (comprobante de domicilio) whenever you are applying for a bank account or Internet at home. Even if you are renewing your residency visa, bills are also a valid identification.

#15: Having a housekeeper or a nanny is normal in Mexico

House cleaners here charge $350 MXN ($17 USD) for 5 hours of work but since I already know my housekeeper for a long time and I spend a lot of time in the house, I pay her $500 MXN ($25 USD). My friends who have kids also have nannies whom they pay Mexico’s minimum wage ($7 USD per day).

But the thing is, once you get closer to these locals, I’ve observed that most American expats and Canadians tend to give them a higher salary. The problem with this is that if we do not have a unified fee for example, for cleaners, they won’t come to those who are paying low.

Remember, people are quite selective here when they want to work. They always don’t want the money unless it’s a great deal. In my area, all of us expats decided that no one should go above $500 MXN so that all of us will be served. Some expats here even give up to $30 USD but in Mexico, that’s really a lot of money!

Related: Is Puerto Vallarta the cheapest digital nomad destination in Mexico?
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Oxxo is Mexico’s most famous convenience store chain where you can pay bills or deposit money.

#16: Home service everything

My car tint? They did that in my house. Carwash? They will take your car and bring it back for only $5 USD. Even before COVID, you can ask for home service on everything here in Mexico and I really love that since I don’t always like driving from point A to B.

#17: If you run out of water or gas on a Friday, nobody will come

Fridays in Mexico are already considered Saturday. Mexicans only like to work half a day and this is a very slow day for them. They’re already drinking at noon and doing lots of parties with their families. From 3 years of living here, I already had the habit to make sure I don’t need anything before the weekend (i.e. water refill, gas refill) because I already experienced a weekend in my life without gas and water – it was insane!

No matter who I called, nobody wants to come because it’s the weekend (even if technically, their offices are still open). The same goes for repairs in your house. For example, my oven in the house exploded out of nowhere on a Saturday and I couldn’t use it until Tuesday (because today, Monday, is Easter Monday in Mexico).

#18: And even if it’s NOT a Friday, the Mexican culture is fond of the mañana habit

Mañana means tomorrow in Spanish. That’s the answer you will get from repair guys, delivery guys, etc. This can get frustrating especially if you don’t speak Spanish but you need to get used to it. My trick is not to stress myself. I wait for them to say 3 mañanas (3 days in a row) until I explode, but nicely.

I realized that if you are not persistent, the Mexicans won’t pay attention to you until they want to. At the moment, my AC repair guy has been coming here back and forth with the same excuse (since January) but I don’t need the AC until summer (end of May) so I still have the patience to wait until he comes. My plan by the end of April is to tell him that it’s already summer and I am going to die of heat. Let’s see how that works out.


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#19: Anyone will offer to repair anything you need to be repaired but it does not mean they know what they are doing

If you’re new in town and you don’t know who’s the proper electrician or carpenter, any local you ask will say they can do it for you. However, they are not trained properly for that job. I hired an electrician for a condo I am managing in Sayulita. He looked like he knew what he was doing.

After the lights were installed, it was all working well but after one month, it became a cause of a small fire because it was not properly done! My super-local neighbor said that I should’ve hired a proper electrician and that the person that I contracted was not qualified for the job.

Expat groups in your area will always have someone to recommend but still make sure they are the right person for the job.

#20: Banking in Mexico can be frustrating

When you move to Mexico, don’t expect the same banking system you receive at home in the USA or Europe. Mexico’s system is a mess! First, you can only open a bank account in major banks like Santander, Bancomer, BBVA, Citibank, etc if you have a permanent or temporary visa.

You need to apply for this in-person so expect long lines in the heat, especially now, during COVID as banks only allow 10 people inside, depending on the size of the bank branch. Applying for a bank account in Mexico can take up to 3 hours!

Recommended: How to open a bank account in Mexico as an expat

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After that, they will explain online banking to you which will appear very easy but when you get home to set it up, you’ll realize their mobile banking apps or websites do not work in English. Or even if it does, it’s badly translated so you’ll be confused on what to put in the fields required for you to sign up for your online banking.

If you’re not sure how to set it up or what fields to fill out, you need to go back to the bank and ask for assistance. If you do it yourself and make mistakes, the online banking app can suspend your account (for example, wrong password) and you have to wait a week for it to be deactivated.

#21: You can open a Mexican bank account without a residency visa

But at least make sure your tourist visa is valid. You are allowed to open a bank account as a tourist but only one bank in the country does that (watch the video above). This process was way easier as this bank is small. Most of the clients here are expats without residency visas.

However, this bank is pretty limited and they do not offer credit cards. If you want to build a bank record in Mexico through this, it won’t be valid until you have a residency visa. You can definitely use the bank account for your travel purposes and better conversion rates in Mexico but it won’t be accepted as proof of income if you plan to apply for a residency visa. You still need to use your bank records from your home country.

#22: You can Whatsapp the bank manager (direct contact)

I was really surprised when the bank manager gave me her personal phone number! Mexicans want to keep their customers so bank managers can be accessed directly. Whenever an emergency happens with my banking, I direct dial the manager and she takes care of it right away.

#23: There is a withdrawal fee if you’re not taking cash from your own Mexican bank

If your bank is Scotia and you take cash from a Bancomer ATM machine, Bancomer can charge up to $40 MXN ($2 USD) for withdrawal fees. I’m sure that’s not a lot for you but if add all that fees, it will still sum up to something valuable. You need to withdraw from your own bank here in order not to be charged fees. I did find out that Scotiabank ATMs don’t charge anything. I even used my International bank card here and did not get charged.

#24: You can receive (and send) money using bank card numbers through payment kiosks

My ex-landlord owed me money from my advance deposit. When she was about to return that money, she asked if she can deposit it to my Mexican bank. I gave her the bank account number and the CLABE (code used for depositing money in Mexico) but she told me to just give her the numbers that are on my bank card.

I wasn’t so comfortable doing that since my bank card is also a debit card and can be used for purchasing online. But she told me she only needs the front number (and not the CVC at the back) so it’s safe. Apparently, you can deposit money by using bank card numbers in Oxxo, Kiosko, or Chedraui. It’s more common to do it in Oxxo and everyone does it!

You might also like: How I ended up moving to Sayulita, Mexico

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#25: ATM machines can sometimes NOT give you the exact withdrawal amount but the transaction will go through

ATMs here always run out of cash, especially if you’re doing it by the end of the week. For example, if you put $5,000 MXN as a withdrawal amount and the machine does not enough have cash, it won’t say that it can’t give you the full amount. The transaction will go through and you will receive whatever amount is left in the machine (ex: $3,500 MXN) but in your online banking, it will say that you withdrew $5,000 MXN.

This happened to me a lot and many people told me that it will be returned to me within 24 hours but it never happened! I lost a lot of money from this so the best bet is to just withdraw money from your bank. If your bank card is International, then that’s a bigger problem – it happened to me a lot and I was not able to get the money bank.

#26: You can go by without speaking Spanish. But please try to learn

One of my observations here is that American and Canadian expats living in Mexico for years (some even more than 10 years!) don’t put any effort into learning Spanish because English is widely spoken in Mexico, especially in popular Mexican destinations. Most locals will practice their English with you as they work in the tourism industry but you should also practice your Spanish with them.

I am sure not all of us are equipped with language learning but at least learn the basics. The best way to learn Spanish is when you are doing grocery shopping. All items in the supermarkets do not have English translations so at least get to know those basics. Learning a language is a sign of respect and remember, even if we’ve lived here for years, this is still not our land. It is just being lent to us.

Additionally, if you can speak Spanish, you will never be ripped off in Mexico. For example, as I speak fluent Spanish, I can always get a $500 USD rent to go down to $350 USD especially if I know that it’s the real price of the rent. There is no fixed rent prices here as landlords tend to base it on who’s asking.

#27: Mexicans are friendly but they hate being told by expats

Mexicans are super-friendly but my experience can be different from yours as I speak Spanish and hang out mostly with locals and Latinos. Mexicans are super loving and I never felt harmed by them. They are always helpful and they seem to be just always having fun in life, it’s infectious!

However, I’ve also seen a great divide between American expats in Mexico and the locals as some foreigners come here and dictate how a town or a city should be. I’ve seen many Americans and Canadians participate in the community as they become residents of Mexico but the thing is, Mexicans don’t want anything imposed on them.

I know that most of us foreigners are coming from a place of love and concern but some Mexicans don’t understand that. For example, I volunteer in a dog rescue shelter in Nayarit and if we tell the Mexicans that their dogs should be fixed (spayed, neutered), they will look at you and tell you that it’s barbaric and they don’t want to do it.

Most expats go overboard without thinking that this is a different culture that we need to respect, even if we mean well. We need to adjust to what they believe in or we can change that in levels – things don’t happen overnight.

Recommended: Check out Sayulita – 2020’s Mexican Pacific Coast favorite
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Most of my friends in Mexico are Mexicans since I live in a very local community.

#28: Mexico is a cash society

I don’t like using cash as I feel like it’s so dirty and when I lived in Israel and in Europe, you can use credit cards everywhere! Some EU countries are now trying to be cashless because of COVID (money’s pretty dirty if you come to think of it). Oh, Australia is a cashless society, too!

But in Mexico, almost everyone only accepts cash since they have to pay crazy interest rates if they own a terminal. While you can use credit cards in big restaurants in tourist areas, in general, you still always have to have cash when living in Mexico.

#29: Tipping is mandatory but expats tend to overtip 

The minimum wage in Mexico is less than $10 USD for 8 hours of work so most people rely on tips. A good tip is 15% (from your bill) but the problem here is that we expats think that it’s still small but it’s the fair tip. It’s actually a good tip and Mexicans will be very happy with that.

Many Americans tip $20 USD here (which is also their total bill) so lots of locals look at foreigners as walking dollar signs which ruins the stability of a Mexican town/city. Please only tip basing on your total bill and don’t give a lot. Tourism has badly affected Mexico already and most of all, the behavior of the locals.

See also: How I traveled to Puerto Vallarta on a budget
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#30: You want quiet? Then you can’t live in Mexico

To be fair, I found small towns to be louder than cities. When I lived in a small town, the bars always have blaring music and locals tend to get together more. But when I moved to the city, where I assume there are quiet hours (but not really), the noise was a little bit milder, especially if you live in a family-oriented area like I do now.

#31: Over time, your Mexican neighbor’s daily parties will become a white noise 

The thing is, it’s not the bars and restaurants that are loud. Even if you find a rental home that is away from the tourist areas, Mexicans are the loud ones. They like to party and put on blaring banda music until the wee hours of the morning. Of course, if you live in an American/Canadian neighborhood in Mexico, it will always be quieter.

If you choose to live with locals, then you will always live in a loud environment. But don’t worry, it will become white noise over time. The thing here is that you can complain about the noise but it will happen to you over and over again because the police won’t come. They don’t find it a pressing issue even if you can’t sleep til 5:00 am.

And if you complain, your local neighbors can name you the btch gringo/grinha who’s a party pooper. You don’t want to get that nickname, especially from your neighbors.

#32: You can buy almost anything in Mexican pharmacies

I was pretty surprised how everything in Mexico is ‘over the counter’ (OTC) even those drugs that are not allowed in the US or other countries without prescriptions. However, if you are moving to Mexico or is under maintenance drug that needs a prescription, your prescription from your US doctor (no matter how many he/she issues) won’t be accepted here.

You need to find a Mexican doctor to re-write your prescription. It’s also best if you do research about the Spanish names of your medicine before coming here.

#33: Dental care is cheap

Mexico is a popular medical tourism destination for Americans, especially with dental care. Americans don’t have free medical anyway so they end up paying a lot of bucks for dental care in the US. In Mexico, what you pay in the USA can be 30 – 50% cheaper. All the Americans I know go here for major dental needs.

Read: Is Puerto Vallarta safe?
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#34: Not all areas in Mexico have hospitals

All major cities in Mexico have big hospitals but if you choose to live in small towns, you need to go to the closest city to access a better hospital. Small towns have health centers and can’t really attend to more grave matters.

#35: Most expats here opt to do major surgeries back home (example: the Canadians)

I can vouch for the big hospitals in Mexico as quality hospitals but some of us expats don’t put the same trust. We think that Mexico has lower grade hospitals so if something happens to us that needs emergent care, we tend to not check ourselves in unless it’s the best hospital in the country (which can be costly). Most Canadians here go back to Canada since they have free health care and they are more assured that things can get done the right way back home.

#36: You can leave the dogs unleashed on most beaches, but not in Cancun

In the Riviera Nayarit area, dogs roam free in the beach and even in town. I have not seen a more dog-friendlier destination than Nayarit. I was told that in Playa del Carmen (Cancun) beaches, it is required to leash your dogs. Which kind of spoils the fun because you don’t want to spend hanging out on the beach vigilantly watching your dogs.

#37: There are many dog shelters here where you can adopt dogs

The street dog situation in Mexico is very grave since Mexicans don’t really believe in spaying and neutering. I volunteer at a dog rescue shelter here and we’ve been saving dogs from the streets to find new homes for them. If you want to have a pet when you live in Mexico, do not buy dogs. Rescue, adopt, love – there are lots of dogs here that need a home! Let me know if you are looking and I can definitely arrange it for you. There’s a big line of rescue dogs waiting for you!

#38: Most small towns are pet-friendly

If you go to small towns, all restaurants will accept pets. They automatically give your pet water as soon as you sit. Dogs are required to be leashed in some restaurants but in other establishments that I am already a regular, they allow my dogs to roam around only if they are not bothering other clients. Hotels in my area also accept pets! It’s amazing!

#39: There are 1.5 million American expats in Mexico

According to the US State Department, there are currently 1.8 million Americans living in Mexico and it’s the most popular destination in the world for American expats. Expect to be surrounded by many Americans here although it really depends which area. For example, where I live in Puerto Vallarta has more Canadian population than Americans and that goes all the way to the small Mexican beach towns in Nayarit like Sayulita, San Pancho, Bucerias, and Punta de Mita.

If you’re one of those people who don’t like to be around fellow Americans and Canadians, you can always make friends with locals easily but you need to speak Spanish. I believe that we have a choice in changing our environment since I do it all the time – whenever I live in a certain country, I don’t really mingle with Americans as I want to learn the culture I chose to live in immensely.

#40: Every single city or town in Mexico has an expat Facebook group

Expats in Mexico is the biggest group in the country with more than 40k members. This group is active and you can use it as a platform when you’re looking for an area to live in Mexico. Expats in this group give a lot of valuable tips! If you already decided where to live, it’s best to join the local expat group in your town/city since you’ll get more exact answers for your questions in these mini-groups.

You might also like: Is Merida the best expat city for families with kids?

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#41: You will always come across Americans and Canadians no matter how much you avoid it

The first requirement of Americans looking into moving to Mexico is this: “I want an area where there are no Americans.” This might be very easy in not-so-popular towns but I am not saying that you’ll find a place with zero Americans (or foreigners). You’ll always come across foreigners or people from your country no matter what. Even if they are not your neighbors, you will see them in the gyms, yoga studios, or restaurants/pubs in your neighborhood. They’re everywhere!

#42: Expats are very active in the community

Dog rescue shelters, environmental groups, sustainability projects, and anything related to a community cause are always spearheaded by foreigners. If you are new in town and want to make friends, this is your best first step: volunteer in a cause, and from there, you will find your tribe and get to know the community you are in through fellow expats.

Recommended: What’s it like to live in Guadalajara as an expat?
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#43: But according to Mexican law, expats are not allowed to go on rallies or political protests

Foreigners in Mexico (even if you are a permanent resident) are not allowed to attend rallies or anything that has to do with politics – it’s simply not our subject as expats. Although most expats here are very concerned and want to participate in the betterment of the country, we are not entitled to do that publicly. The police can put you in jail if caught.

#44: Mexican banks won’t fund your car loan. If they did, the interest rate is crazy

I bought my car last year (brand new) in Toyota Puerto Vallarta only to find out that I need to pay the money upfront. I asked if I can do a bank loan and they said that the interest rate can go up to 16% per month (as per Mexico’s IVA rules). Additionally, the car will not be named after you if you don’t have a permanent residency visa.

Since I only have a temporary visa, I had to ask an American friend (whom I trust and has a permanent visa) to name the car after him. He only needed to sign some documents and when I get my permanent residency, we will transfer them to my name.

#45: It’s easy to buy used cars in Mexico but can also be tricky

Buying used and second-hand cars are also very big in Mexico for expats but if you do not know any local, I don’t really recommend this. There are lots of stolen cars in Mexico and if you don’t know the humanity of the seller you are dealing with, then don’t do it.

This is the reason why I bought a brand new car for proper (and legal) paperwork. I have a friend who has a car selling business but I only met him after I already bought my car. He is a trusted seller, speaks English and was a former car agent in Toyota (where I got mine). I can connect you with him if you are interested to buy a used car in Mexico!

See also: The truth about renting a car in Mexico
living in mexico

#46: After a while, your driver’s license back home will not be valid in Mexico

It’s only valid after a certain time (3 months) but after a while, if you get stopped by the police and they saw that you have been here or living in Mexico for a while, you will be fined for not having a Mexican driver’s license. I did not know this and I have been in Mexico for over a year. I only knew about it when the police stopped me one time, on the way to Guadalajara.

Getting a driver’s license in Mexico is easy and they also give it to non-residents (tourist visa). However, the line at the office is crazy long but there are always those guys whom you can pay and they will do all the process for you. I got a permanent driver’s license without appearing in the transportation office but I paid a lot for it.

If you do this yourself, they will only give you a driver’s license that’s valid until your residency visa expires. If you want my contact, get in touch with me!

#47: The police can search your car as they please

I don’t know why the police like to stop me for no reason but here in Mexico, since they are everywhere, they can ask you to stop anytime even if you are not overspeeding or not doing anything wrong. They are also allowed to search your car without a warrant, which one time, pissed me off because a car is considered private property.

I told them that where I am from, they cannot do that without a warrant or at least tell me if I did something wrong. But my Mexican friend, who was in the passenger seat at the time told me to just shut up and stop speaking in Spanish.

Check out: A 10-day Oaxaca state road trip – everything you need to know
living in mexico

#48: Learn how to deal with “mordida,” the police bribe

Unfortunately, the police in Mexico will always ask for a bribe no matter what, even if you don’t want to do it. So, in the previous item, my friend said I should stop speaking Spanish to the police. I only do this because I thought that I will be ripped off more if I speak in English but the thing is, most Mexican police don’t speak English (unless they are Policia Turistica) so if they can’t communicate with you, they can’t send the message that you need to bribe them.

The next time I tried this, I was stopped for a very minor wrong turn. The police did not ask for a bribe but gave me a ticket instead! It worked! The ticket cost $200 MXN ($10 USD) and my lawyer paid it at the transportation office. My lawyer was actually surprised that I got a ticket because usually, they will let you go if you pay them. And mind you, they don’t ask for small amounts.

#49: Busses don’t follow rules

There are no bus stops here. Busses stop wherever they please and people can hail the bus on the spot they want to – even in the middle of the highway! I only experienced one year of taking public transport here and I was so confused about how to take a bus (somewhere) since there are no proper bus stops in many areas.

Then, a local friend of mine said just raise your hand wherever you please and the bus will stop for you. It was true when I was living in Sayulita but here in Puerto Vallarta, it’s a little bit more organized as there are lots of bus stops.

See also: Does the Sayulita lifestyle fit you? Get to know if you can live in this small town!

living in mexico

#50: But private cars need to strictly follow road rules

Well, you need to do this so that the police won’t have a reason to stop you. They always just ask for the mordidas from private cars. Most traffic signs are in Spanish and I am really surprised they have not put English translations to it despite the number of expats living in Mexico.

It’s also strange that Mexicans don’t like wearing seatbelts but if it’s you, as an expat or a foreigner who’s not doing so, they will stop you. Mexicans are crazy drivers so you need to have the guts to be able to drive here.

#51: There are car tint rules in Mexico

Mexico is a hot country and summers here can get really humid. When I bought my car, it didn’t have a tint. Everyone can see me from the outside. Apart from the heat, there was no privacy and I became uncomfortable with it (especially if the police can see me clearly).

Last summer, I had my car tinted only to find out that I can not choose the darkest shade as the state I am living in (Nayarit) has car tint level rules. Basically, they need to see how many people are inside the car and if they don’t, they will have a reason to stop you.

Since it was already too late, I already tinted my car super dark, my Mexican friend just told me to put my windows down every time I am driving on federal highways. I know this tint rule only applies in the state of Nayarit so check it in the area you are living in Mexico to be sure.

#52: There is Costco in Mexico (and other groceries you have back home)

The image of Mexican groceries are markets on the streets or small kiosks so when my American friends saw one video of me shopping in Costco, they were like, “there’s Costco in Mexico?!” Of course there is! Mexico is as developed as the USA when it comes to these kinds of things.

Everything you can buy back home, you can buy here, too. Of course, in Mexico, it’s a little bit costly. I love shopping in Amazon Mexico because they have exactly the same Amazon USA products which is amazing. However, what I’ve observed is that it costs 16% more (Mexico’s value added tax) so shopping on Amazon MX can be costly, especially if you know that it’s way cheaper in the USA for the same products.

Video: Puerto Vallarta shopping costs – I spend $75 USD every 10 days!
living in mexico

#53: There are courier groups on Facebook if you’d like to buy something from the US

Since Amazon MX is more expensive the Amazon USA, lots of Americans, Canadians, or even Mexican Americans offer to bring products from the USA whenever they are visiting back home. It’s so funny that this is always the topic on Mexico expat groups on Facebook.

Every area has a courier guy who will offer to buy you anything from the US. I find gadgets the most common ask. Apple products are 25% more expensive here than in the USA. You can order through Amazon USA and have it shipped to Mexico for sure. But you will be surprised how the customs will tax you – it’s like 50% the amount of the product you ordered!

#54: Every single brand that you have back home is also in Mexico

H&M, Forever21, Pull and Bear, etc are all here in Mexico. The country has lots of modern shopping malls where you can buy whatever you need. Everything about shopping (that you are used to having back home) is here so you don’t have to worry about that. They are only in major cities (not small towns) but I heard Playa del Carmen has Louis Vuitton now! That beach town is always an exemption when it comes to developments. It grows by the year!

#55: The cartel does not care about you

The image of Mexico to the world is the drug cartels and though they are still present in Mexico, you won’t see them unless you are connected with them. Many Americans and Canadians who move here fear for their safety and they blame the cartel for it. However, the cartel does not care about you unless you are dealing business with them. But if you’re not, relax. Nobody will kill you or go after you.

#56: Some Mexicans are afraid of dogs

I live in Mexico alone but I have 3 dogs. I feel very protected. Mexico is a pet-friendly country but whenever I am walking my big dogs around the neighborhood (or anywhere), Mexicans always ask, “muerde?” (“do they bite?”). On the beach, the parents always shout at their kids, “don’t run!!!” whenever a dog passes by.

They believe that dogs will come after their children. They’re so used to street dogs fighting on the streets and being violent but little did they know that if a dog is cared for, it will be your great companion. Dogs are also not part of the family here as they are more of a guard dog than a pet. If you have dogs at home, don’t worry about your safety and always say that your dogs bite even if they don’t.

Do you like what you’re reading? Does it help? I take a lot of time creating valuable and meaningful content. If you like to support my content creation and my blog, consider donating to my coffee fund. Thank you in advance!

Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She'd like to believe she's not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.

Comments

  • Mike Morley
    April 9, 2021

    Thank you for listing all the insights of living in Mexico! Very informative!

    reply
  • Billie M Baird
    April 20, 2021

    Hi Trish. I’ve been reading your posts most of the afternoon, and I already feel more at home. I landed in PV almost a week ago, and love it again, already. A lot of your tips are just what I need to know. I’m an older, single lady, trying to learn Spanish as I go. And now that I’ve escaped, I don’t plan to return to the U.S. for a long, long while. And right now the sun is setting, so it’s down to the malecon to find a good cup of coffee and people to chat with. Thanks for being you, and sharing! Hope we can talk more. Billie

    reply
  • Eric
    May 11, 2021

    The explosion of expats moving to Mexico is making everything more expensive for us locals who cannot compete on price for housing, services and products, especially in coastal towns and cities. I do not see the allure of coming to Mexico, a chaotic and informal place where nothing gets done unless the drunk and lazy locals are bribed, or so states this article. Mexico is a developing country and as such do not expect to find the comforts and convenience you have in your respective countries. Besides, foreigners never make an effort to integrate and always seek out to isolate themselves in their own cozzy enclaves, as in the case of Ajijic, Cabo San Lucas and even San Miguel de Allende, for example.

    reply
  • Jorge G Martires
    May 13, 2021

    Trisha:
    1. Regarding resident visa during pandemic: Can I get a 7-day FMM tourist visa, allow it to expire intentionally and apply for a 4-year resident visa?
    2. I am dual US-PH passport holder: Is it more expeditious to use PH passport for reeident visa application?

    Thanks.

    reply
  • July 21, 2021

    Hola Trisha,
    Thank you for posting about living in Mexico as an expat. My wife and I moved to San Miguel de Allende in 2005, where we didn’t know a soul and could barely speak the language. We made every rookie expat mistake one could imagine. For example, it took us three days to find out where to get a key made. As a result, I wrote NOBODY KNOWS THE SPANISH I SPEAK, a humorous memoir about our first two years in San Miguel (available at Amazon and Fuze Publishing). Off and on, we’ve lived in Mexico full-time for nine years. We absolutely love it here, for many of the reasons you cited. My new book of humorous essays (DOGS, CATS & EXPATS) will be available this August. Although far from proficient, my command of Spanish improved over time. Vaya con nachos!

    reply

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