No matter what length of time you find yourself in Mexico these tips are for you. We’ve lived in Mexico for close to 3 years and that time came with a few valuable lessons.
Decline the ATM conversion rate
The best way to get pesos in Mexico is through an ATM machine, or “cajero.” Skip currency exchange places all together, if you can. Before arriving in Mexico, arrange to get a few pesos from your bank – enough to get you through your first day or two. Then head to an ATM as it’s the easiest, most convenient way to get pesos.
One thing to note is that ATMs in Mexico are notorious for giving unfavorable conversion rates. As a result, you end up losing $$ with every withdrawal. When the ATM prompt asks if you’d like to accept or decline the conversion … always decline. When you decline, you’ll receive the exchange rate from your own bank, which is usually better than the exchange rate from a foreign bank.
Process Transactions in Pesos
There’s a little something called dynamic currency conversion which is a process where the amount of your credit card transaction is converted at the point of sale. This service can offer the conversion rate of your home currency or the local currency. It might seem better to process your transaction in your currency (ex. USD). It’s what you’re familiar with and it’s easier to understand. Unfortunately, this option comes with an unfavorable conversion rate since merchants can set this rate at one favorable to their business. Paying in the local currency is your best bet.
Pay Rent in Pesos
Similarly to declining ATM conversion rates and processing credit card transactions in the local currency, it’s recommended to treat your rent as the same type of transaction. This is another money saving tactic. We signed a year lease in Merida, Yucatan on a townhouse that rented for $8,500 MXN a month. In 2019, that was roughly $450 USD. The Mexican Peso fluctuates frequently, even day to day. In less than 6 months, $8,500 was equivalent to nearly $410 USD. We were saving $40 a month paying in pesos. As a result, we withdrew a few months’ rent at that rate so as to not miss the opportunity.
Don’t Rent Sight Unseen
Let me explain. This lesson is directed at long term rentals. It’s wise to put feet on the ground and lay eyes on a space you’re about to dish out money for. This might be common sense but we’ve heard the horror stories. We’ve also done enough apartment visits and walkthroughs to thank God that we hadn’t rushed into anything too early. Housing can be tricky in a new place. Especially if you haven’t seen it. It might feel secure and comforting to know that you’ve booked accommodations for your long term stay only to find out it isn’t a good fit.
We typically book a short term Airbnb/Vrbo/hotel that gives us enough time to scope out different neighborhoods. We set up various apartment viewings and take note of the environment, checking the house for mold, critters, water issues, and so on. At that point, we’re in a better position to see the best areas and housing stock for us.
Mexicans WILL Celebrate
If there’s one thing Mexicans will do … it’s celebrate! It’s a beautiful part of the culture to witness, appreciate and even participate in. Roman Catholicism is the dominating faith in Mexico. Mix that with deep ties of indigenious traditions, Mexican culture and history and you’ve got a calendar full of festivities.
Some of our most memorable moments were hearing mariachi playing on various street corners or restaurants, and witnessing parades and fireworks aligned with important historical dates. We’ve even gotten the opportunity to look in on Semana Santa and Dia de los Muertos traditions.
There’s no way around it. There will be dogs. Many people here own and take great care of their pets. Unfortunately, there are still many stray dogs that roam the streets of different parts of Mexico. The strays we encounter are never aggressive. They usually mind their business, take naps on the sidewalk or street, or meet up with their pals for a stroll. Dogs that do have homes might barkingly greet you from behind property gates or rooftops.
Tortillas are LIFE
Tortillas rule the day in Mexico. Whether corn or flour, mostly corn lest ye be judged, you’ll receive this thin, round Mexican staple with every meal. We could order a whole baked chicken with fries and still receive a bag of tortillas with them. Are you eating breakfast? Tortillas. Lunch? Tortillas. Dinner? You get it. If you weren’t given tortillas, you should probably feel offended.
If you’re eating in, nothing is better than going to your local Tortillería and getting a fresh batch of still warm tortillas. Better yet, fresh masa dough to make tortillas at home on your tortilla press.
Try New Things
Mexico is a place that beckons you to try something new. You’ll definitely encounter new things and I’m almost certain your experiences will be richer the more you dive into the unfamiliar. Let’s take chili with limon, or Tajín seasoning for example. Its a spicy, sweet, red seasoning that you’ll see in some interesting places – like fruit, vegetables, meat, or the rim of your cup of cerveza. Don’t knock it till you try it.
We also dove head first into the world of tacos. There’s your typical beef, chicken, and shrimp tacos. Then there’s fabulous meat taco variations such as birria, barbacoa, marlin, mantaray, octopus. If you’re adventurous, try lengua/tongue (a new favorite), tripa/tripe, sesos/brain (we didn’t like it).
And we’re bringing it back to tortillas. Mexico knows how to combine tortillas, meat and cheese. You’ve probably heard of quesadillas. But have you had gringas, vampiros, and taquiquesos? It’s a combination I never knew I wanted, and now it’s almost always what I order.
Bring Your Patience
This is one element to meter your expectations with. Each country has its own pace of doing things and Mexico is no exception. It’s relaxed and it’s laid back. Getting excited or agitated won’t make anything move faster. We’ve learned that the people are patient. Even though some processes seem to take longer time than perceived necessary, patience is a way of life.
Pro tip: Don’t go anywhere near a bank on the 1st or 15th.
One word you’ll hear in Mexico is “ahorita.” This word has many meanings as it relates to time. It could translate to ‘now’ or ‘sometime soon.’ Don’t be fooled. That’s anywhere from now to weeks from now.
Bring Specialty Items
Any item or brand that is a creature comfort is one you should stock up on before coming to Mexico. Many things are available to you in Mexico. But there are some things that aren’t or that are a bit pricier on this side of the border. Cotton sheets, jiffy cornbread mix, grape jelly, shea butter, certain spices or particular brands of alcohol make this list of elusive or expensive items. This also goes for larger shoe and clothing sizes.
Luckily, Amazon and Amazon Mexico both operate efficiently in Mexico. This is a great option for some items you might miss from home.
This list of tips for living in Mexico can go on and on. Mexico is a great teacher. Leave a comment of your go-to tips from time in Mexico.