Your guide to expat life in Mexico

Living in Mexico

Mexico offers expats a relaxed lifestyle, wonderful weather and a beautiful coastline, along with access to good schools and high-quality healthcare.

In our 2016 Expat Explorer Survey, Mexico was ranked 7th for its thriving social life. It’s a friendly place to live and people will go out of their way to help you. Property is cheap and the cost of living is low – so most expats enjoy a better quality of life than they did back home.

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Accommodation

You’ll have plenty of options when it comes to housing, from inner-city apartments and colonial style homes to condominiums with all mod cons. Properties differ wildly in terms of style, quality and price – so it’s worth researching the market before you move.

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Furnished/unfurnished

Most properties are rented unfurnished and some don’t even have basic appliances. Local furniture is cheap, including custom-made items.

Renting property

Many landlords require a guarantor. This must be a Mexican resident who’s also a landowner. Some properties may be in worse condition than they first appear – so inspect them carefully before you sign a contract. As well as your rent, you’ll also have to pay for utilities. Make sure you pay on time because providers are quick to suspend services.

Buying property

Property in Mexico is much cheaper than in Europe and the USA, which is one of the reasons why it attracts so many American retirees. You’ll find some beautiful Spanish-style properties for sale – and the purchasing process is relatively easy.

Culture changes

Family is at the core of everything in Mexico, taking precedence over work. It’s a predominantly Catholic country and religion is celebrated in all aspects of life – from the colourful architecture to the many festivals throughout the year. There’s an element of machismo in interactions between men and women, sometimes bordering on sexism by Western standards.

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Family

Extended family is as important as the nuclear family – and it’s common for newlyweds to live with their parents. Children, particularly boys, are adored and fawned over.

Community

Mexicans are warm, congenial people who are known for being helpful. This strong community spirit can cause delays in daily life because a request for help is never turned down.

Gender inequality

Although women are revered as mothers, men are the dominant decision-makers in the family – and they can be very demanding to show their authority.

Greetings

Women pat each other on the forearm or shoulder when they meet. It’s best for men to wait for women to offer their hand first. A kiss on the cheek is customary among friends.

Social etiquette

If you’re invited to someone’s home for dinner, never take red or yellow flowers because they’re associated with the Day of the Dead. Mexicans will often arrive late for social occasions, but it is considered rude to arrive any more than half an hour late to a dinner hosted at the home of a Mexican.

Inequality

Typical of developing countries, there are huge discrepancies in wealth – and poverty and unemployment are widespread problems.

Bureaucracy

Mexico is very bureaucratic, which is a source of frustration for expats and locals alike. Getting almost anything done usually requires reams of paperwork.

Education

Mexico has public, private and international schools. Wealthy locals usually send their children to private schools while expats often prefer the curricula followed by international schools.

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Public schools

Public education in Mexico faces some challenges. Schools are under-resourced, particularly in rural areas, and there’s a high dropout rate because many local children have to help bring in an income. Public schools in urban areas are better, but the standard of education is still quite low.

Private schools

Most private schools are bilingual and have better facilities and a broader curriculum than public schools. Because standards can vary, it’s important to visit the school, meet the teachers and check it’s accredited by the Minister of Public Education.

International schools

Most international schools are in urban centres like Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Many of them follow the British, American, German, French or Japanese curriculum. Fees are high and places are limited – so it’s best to apply as early as you can and try to get an education allowance included in your employment package.

Homeschooling

Some expat families send their children to public school in the morning – so they can learn Spanish and make local friends – and then homeschool them in the afternoon.

Take time out before you start to have a crash course in Spanish. Get the basics early and do all you can to work the time into your schedule to keep the training up.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

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Keeping in touch

Mobile

State-owned Telmex has had a monopoly on the telecoms industry for decades with Movistar as its only major competition, but the market is becoming more diverse with the arrival of providers like AT&T. You can choose from various prepaid and contract options – and some packages also include Internet, landline and cable TV services. Because international calls are expensive, many expats use online services like Skype to stay in touch with people back home.

Internet

Mexico has over 60 million Internet users. Competition between service providers is fierce and there’s a wide choice of packages and speeds – so it’s worth doing some research to make sure you get the best deal.

English media

Most Mexican newspapers are in Spanish, but there are some that cater for English speakers. The News is a popular English-language daily that’s published in Mexico City. There are also a few English-language radio stations such as Imagen Radio and Red FM.

Healthcare

Healthcare in Mexico is generally of a high standard and most cities have at least one world-class hospital. Because consultation fees and treatment costs are very low, the country has become a medical tourism destination, particularly for uninsured Americans.

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Public healthcare

Public healthcare is subsidised by the Mexican government. Expats who pay a portion of their salary into a health fund are covered by the IMSS (Mexican Social Security Institute). A lot of doctors have trained overseas and speak English. But some hospitals and clinics are overcrowded – so you may prefer to use private healthcare facilities.

Private healthcare

Although private healthcare in Mexico is cheap, many expats take out medical insurance to cover the cost. Be aware that not all hospitals accept international insurance policies.

Pharmacies

The number of pharmacies in Mexico has increased in recent years because the country has become a popular place for North Americans to buy prescription drugs cheaply.

Emergency services

All emergency services in Mexico can be reached by dialing 911, but some insurance companies give policy holders an alternative number to call.

Health hazards

The introduction of universal healthcare in Mexico has greatly reduced TB and malaria rates, but you should still take precautions if you’re moving to a malaria risk area. And make sure your vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, rabies and typhoid are up to date. There have been a number of cases of the Zika virus in Mexico, you should keep an eye on the latest developments to see if your area is affected.

Getting around

Mexico’s public transport systems are very efficient, but you’ll need a good command of Spanish to navigate them successfully. Although the country’s roads are generally well maintained, look out for speed bumps (known as topes) and livestock, particularly when you’re driving at night.

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Driving

Mexico has numerous toll roads – always have some pesos in your car because US dollars aren’t accepted. You’ll often come across roadblocks where you may be asked for your home and international driving licence and details of your car insurance. If you break down, you can call the Angeles Verdes (Green Angels) on 078. Their roadside assistance services are free, but you’ll have to pay for parts and petrol.

Metro

Mexico City and Monterrey have metro systems. Given the traffic congestion, they’re the best way to get around the cities. Keep a lookout for pickpockets, especially during the crowded rush hour. Mexico City also has a metro line to the airport.

Buses

Mexico’s long-distance bus network is among the best in the world – and it’s a low-cost, luxurious and efficient way to travel. You can choose from three classes – tourist, executive and first (which includes reclining seats and movies). Buses in towns and cities can be uncomfortable and overcrowded, especially during peak hours. Tickets for these are cheap and you can buy them on the bus.

Trains

The regional passenger train network in Mexico is limited – so it’s not the easiest or quickest way to travel between cities. But if you want to explore some of Mexico’s historical regions like the Copper Canyon, travelling by rail is a great choice. Mexico City has a suburban train service that connects the outlying suburbs to the city centre.

Air travel

Given Mexico’s vast size, flying is often best way to travel across the country. Many budget airlines operate domestic flights while Mexico City and Cancun have direct flights to Europe, Canada and the USA.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in August 2016. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.