A post in Expat Daily News a few months ago listed, as the title states, 10 Reasons Why Latin America May NOT Be The Place For You. Looking over this list, I realized that a number of these points are actually not completely true about Mexico – at least not most places where I’ve lived or visited (including Playa del Carmen, and even Mexico City).
My guess is that two main factors are involved: one is large numbers of foreign tourists, expats and investors in some areas; the other is that a changing and growing economy (resulting from NAFTA) has meant a changing lifestyle. Whatever the reason, the image of the drunken Mexican asleep with his sombrero down over his face, leaning back on a cactus, with a bottle of tequila in his hand has little to do with reality of day to day life; locals work hard, sometimes up to 10 – 12 hours day, 6 days a week – more than any American or Canadian I know. This means that living in Mexico, you will enjoy a few more conveniences; on the other hand, there are some things that never change.
First, these are the points I noticed are quite different:
1. Credit and Debit Card Systems are Available in Many Stores
The blog I referred to above points out that you shouldn’t count on relying on your credit card, and “cash is king.” While this is still true in isolated areas, or working class neighborhoods of large cities, tourist areas like Playa del Carmen and the economically active parts of large cities have large, modern stores that always accept cards – sometimes even your debit card from back home. The most common convenience store chain (OXXO) is on just about every corner, accepts cards, and offers extra little services like paying your bills and putting credit on your cell phone.
2. Morning Person? – No Problem
Many Mexicans start work very early in the day, and if you get up at 6 am for your morning jog or bike ride, you’ll definitely find others; depending on your neighborhood, you may be the only one exercising, though! The local bakery might just be opening. Very few people were up partying at 2 am; those who were, were probably tourists. Don’t get me wrong; Mexican’s love their late night parties, but because of regular work schedules, these are kept mostly for the weekends.
It is worth noting that Mexican’s won’t eat at the meal times you are used to. Breakfast is very early (before work), and those whose schedule allows for it have a second breakfast around 10 or 11 am (called “almuerzo”). The biggest meal is around 1-3 pm. The last meal is usually sometime between 7 and 9.
3. Electricity and Internet are Reliable.
Electricity is fairly reliable in more highly developed areas; it will go out temporarily during thunderstorms, perhaps only a bit more often than back home. Also, if there is electric work in the neighborhood, they will shut it down. The difference is, they don’t notify you. You’ll have to collect news from the local gossip chain to find out when you’ll get it back. Work, however, is usually completed efficiently, and the service comes back quickly. (This is not always the case for road work, however.) In my experience, the internet only cuts out when the electricity cuts out. Mexico properties in many areas have access to high-speed, reliable connections with unlimited usage at very good prices. Packages are offered by the phone or cable company.
4. No Need to Wait in Lines
Just about all bills can be paid on line, at the OXXO convenience stores mentioned above, or at grocery stores. This is, of course, a recent innovation here, but has become very common, very quickly. When you open your bank account, they will offer you a good, modern and safe online banking service. Banks stay open until 4 pm (as opposed to the 1 pm mentioned in the other blog). Some banks may offer you a “Preferred Customer” card, letting you go into a special line with faster service. One bank has a very effective system where you take a number when you go in, and wait in a comfortable, padded seat – they provide a very large number of chairs, and your number will appear on a LED screen, indicating which teller you should go to. The waiting time is the same, but it’s much easier to read a book or a magazine.
NOTE: If at all possible, avoid going to the bank, ATMs or even the grocery store on payday – the 15th and last day of every month. Almost everyone gets paid on these days, and almost everyone is in the bank or going shopping. You’ll be there for hours. If you avoid these two days, get your internet banking service set up, and find out which bank branches are the least frequented, you will avoid about 90% of all line-ups. There will still be a few traditional line ups in city offices, and similar places, but these will be few and far between.
5. 24-Hour Stores Do Exist.
They’re definitely not as common as other parts of the world, but the big chain convenience stores again, located on every corner, are all open 24 hours; one of these, along with 24-hour drug stores, will probably be a short walk from your Mexico home. Although 24 hour grocery stores don’t exist, they do open at 7 am and close at 11 pm. I actually knew a person from Mexico City once who complained that there weren’t enough 24 hour stores in Toronto when she visited there – opposite to what you ‘d expect!
The other side of the coin…
The other reasons why “Latin America might not be the place for you” vary in Mexico, depending on the specific type of place you’re in, but you’re more likely to run into these issues:
As pointed out in the article, you can’t “expect everything to start and end on time.” People will be late for meetings, and planned presentations from reputable organizations can start up to 30 minutes late. If you like to plan your schedule tell people that appointments or activities are about an hour before you actually expect them to take place. (I know an Australian who keeps insisting on emphasizing over and over again to co-workers and guests that meetings and get-togethers start a 5 pm sharp, for example. “This is NOT on Mexican time,” she repeats. At 6 pm, she and maybe one other person are still waiting for people to start arriving. And this is after 5 years of living in Mexico!)
2. Business in Person
While the use of phone, fax and e-mail is always more and more common in business, most people do prefer meetings in person still. Also, if you are visiting any government office or public service, don’t expect to be able to make an appointment by phone, and count on spending at least half your day in that office, without accomplishing anything. Immigration is probably the most frustrating office you’ll encounter. If you get to the point of receiving a Mexican passport, however, the passport offices are very efficient, well-organized and fast. The staff is also very helpful. Hopefully a sign of more changes to come …
3. Kissing and Hugging
“Germ-a-phobes” are not the only ones who might be put off by Mexican greetings; if you consider hand shaking an affectionate form of greeting someone, you like personal space, and prefer that strangers don’t touch you, you’ll have to adjust. And once you get used to it, you’ll have to learn who and when you hug or kiss; there are unwritten rules.
4. Public Restrooms
As mentioned above, new modern malls and nicer restaurants will probably keep their restrooms clean and well-stocked. But if you’re visiting local taco shops or going sight seeing in places a little more off the beaten track, you’ll have to get used to different standards, and as the author of the other blog pointed out, carry your own toilet paper. Some places give you paper when you pay the 50 cents to use it. (Don’t think that the payment means anyone’s actually going to clean the place up!)
5. Driving Habits
Larger Mexican cities, and places where there isn’t a big tourism industry are a whole different world of driving. The whole family on the moped (father, mother, 2 kids and a baby) is common just about anywhere in Mexico. In places like Playa del Carmen, however, you will be surprised that people respect the rules a little more, and do stop for pedestrians. (Don’t count on the cabs, though.) They generally complain about crazy drivers from the big cities. But following lanes or parking rules would be too much to ask. Turning right from the left lane, or left from the right lane is pretty common – usually done to take advantage of an empty lane to bypass the longer line of cars waiting to turn the same way.
TOPMexicoRealEstate.com; Mexico’s Leading Network of Specialists for Finding and Purchasing Mexican Properties Safely
About the Author: Thomas Lloyd, founder and president of TOPMexicoRealestate.com, has numerous diplomas and certifications in Mexico Real Estate topics and is one of only a few professionals to hold Mexico’s new degree in real estate, accompanied by a Professional Identification Number, “cedula profesional.” He has over 15 years of direct experience in Mexico’s business culture.