What’s it like living in Mexico?
Generally: absolutely awesome. I’d choose to live in Mexico over the USA any day of the week (especially in the current political climate).
BUT (and there’s always a but) it’s completely false to pretend like living in Mexico is like living in some perfect utopia. That’s just not true.
While the pros of living in Mexico vastly outweigh the cons, at least for me, I’m certainly not suggesting that there aren’t any negatives to expat life in Mexico.
Unfortunately, any time I write *my opinion* about the perceived downsides of a place (like in this piece about Thailand, or this one about Brazil) I get a deluge of horrible emails and comments telling me what an “entitled little b*tch” I am. It sucks, honestly, but I’m going to continue sharing my experience of ALL aspects of a place – not just the positives.
So, without further ado…
Here’s the negative aspects of what it is like to live in Mexico, the few minor (and not so minor) annoyances that bother me about expat life in Mexico.
Downside of Expat Life in Mexico: The noise.
All-night raging parties seem to be the norm, even in fraccionamientos/regulated neighborhoods. Your buttoned-up 45 year old bank manager neighbor will throw frat-style parties that would make even your hard-partying Pi Kappa Alpha brother shake his head in embarrassment… until 4 in the morning or later (or should I say, earlier?).
If you ask your neighbors to turn down the bass because you work your exhausted ass off, and you can’t sleep on a Tuesday because your windows are shaking from 4 houses down – they’ll likely shrug their shoulders and say, “But I’m having a party”, in Mexico, an understandable excuse for being kept up all night by what feels like a rock band in your living room.
My advice? Invest in a good pair of earplugs (I like these disposable ones, but have recently switched to these washable/reusable ones) and an eye mask, and maybe add in a white noise machine or fan or essential oil diffuser for additional noise-masking.
The country doesn’t change for the newbie. The newbie needs to adapt to the country. (though I have to add, many of my Mexican friends bemoan the loud and late hours, especially during the week, and also relentlessly search for a quiet home)
And, no, it doesn’t matter if you pay twice as much to live in a regulated neighborhood, with “strict rules” including supposedly enforceable quiet hours, and silent hours, because…
Downside of Expat Life in Mexico: “Security” and cops don’t do anything.
Your neighborhood (fraccionamiento/cluster) or apartment building most likely has security (a word I use VERY loosely). The main job seems to be announcing the arrival of the pizza guy (and that’s only if you’re lucky)/Uber and hassle the cleaning ladies. It is NOT their actual responsibility to shut parties down or quiet down noisy neighbors.
Yes, your neighbors may continue to party while you’re just trying to catch a few ZZZs before you head back to work, but by calling the police and filing a report to the neighborhood office (IF you live in a fraccionamiento/cluster/coto with rules – I’d recommend checking before signing a lease), at least the party animals will get smacked with a fine, to the tune of 5000-20000 pesos ($250-1000USD) for disrupting the peace and violating the rules.
The “filing a report with the neighborhood/building office” aspect of the above equation is ESSENTIAL because, again, the cops and the security don’t do anything. The only one with apparent authority is the office, because they’ve got the ability to dish out fines and restrict the use of building amenities and access. No one cares about neighborhood peace, but they don’t like having their parking permit revoked until they fork over thousands of pesos.
Don’t get too cocky, though, because that lesson is soon forgotten, and there’ll be more surround sound speakers plopped on the lawn blasting musica norteña loud enough to rattle your doors until the sun comes up.
Downside of Expat Life in Mexico: Classism.
While employing a cleaning lady is a common practice I won’t disagree with and actually really appreciate (I have a cleaning lady come once a week, pay her a very fair wage, and it is AMAZING because I am horrible at cleaning), the way most people treat their maids is… gross to me. More like indentured servants or second class citizens than awesome people who provide an absolutely phenomenal service.
Many people make their cleaning lady wear a uniform (that either looks a bit like hospital scrubs or a bit too close to the French maid stereotype), use a separate entrance, and sometimes even a separate bathroom. A common way to refer to a maid is NOT by her name, but as “muchacha”, which roughly translates to “girl”… regardless of how old she is.
People who clean public spaces (like parks) also wear a uniform, typically bright colored, which serves to protect their clothes and bodies of course, but also seem painfully not very weather-aware (guys cleaning in the heat of summer are wearing thick canvas bodysuits).
Downside of Expat Life in Mexico: Water is not a guarantee.
In Mexico City, we lost water for almost a day. Not so bad, until the water came back on, and we realized an hour into a movie that the sink faucet had been left open… flooding our ENTIRE apartment. Our bad, obviously.
In Puebla, we lost it for almost a month. (In Rio we lost it for over a week when we lived in a 4th story walkup, and that’s a story from hell I won’t go into here. But it involves lugging water jugs up a ridiculous number of stairs).
One day, the water pump at our house was constantly whizzing. We called our amazing handyman-on-speedial, and he popped over to help out. He brought me to the front driveway, lifted up a hatch (a la Lost), and showed me a huge empty tank.
Apparently, water stoppages are common enough that many houses and apartment buildings will at least have a big tank underneath your driveway, which ends up costing about $30USD a week to keep water running through your pipes. Unless you check your tank by lifting up the hatch every day, you won’t know when the water is out. When you need a refill, you call up your water-guy-on-speedial (as you do), and ask him to come by when he can.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been without water for more than a few hours – but it’s not nice. I like showers. I like clean dishes. And going without water sure as hell made me more appreciative of this amazing resource I used to take for granted.
In Puebla there was a long stretch where we only received water into our tank from the city 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and at extremely variable times (sometimes 8am, sometimes 9pm, welcome to Mexico). We had to budget accordingly and made sure Sunday wasn’t both a sweaty exercise day (requiring hair washing) AND laundry day… lest we wake up on Monday without water to wash our hands, let alone take a pre-work shower.
Downside of Expat Life in Mexico: Gas isn’t certain either.
Newsflash: there aren’t citywide gas lines. In every city I’ve lived in, each house (or apartment building) has a big gas tank. We had no idea until we ran out of gas to cook breakfast one morning (thanks, landlord), as in Mexico City we had a gas meter and received a gas line directly into our apartment.
Now, when you figure out that you’ve run out of a gas, you call your gas guy, who sends two 14-year olds (and that’s being generous) to throw a ladder against your exterior wall, while one shimmies up two stories onto your roof, the other tosses the gas hose, and they fill up your tank.
In many standalone houses in Puebla, there’s no way to check the gas level from downstairs, or anywhere in the house, aside from the mostly-inaccessible roof. So, you don’t know you’re low until your water heater shuts off or your stovetop won’t light up to wilt your spinach in the morning.
In Puerto Vallarta, there was a city-wide (and state-wide) gas shortage for over a month. People were driving hours to get cylinders filled up, and it was nearly impossible in many cases to get gas delivery to your house; all the gas was going to hotels.
Downside of Expat Life in Mexico: Internet instability.
We pay a pretty penny (for Mexico) for reliable high speed internet. Actually, that needs quotes. “Reliable” high speed internet.
We’d been having a pretty healthy no-problem streak with our internet (HALLELUJAH, one utility that isn’t a complete headache), when we jinxed it by commenting how awesome it is not to have to deal with that, too.
And then the internet just stopped.
We spent hours on the phone with technicians, who eventually told us they’d send someone to take a look…
In FIVE business days (which worked out to be a little over a week, with a holiday that Monday).
It didn’t matter that he explained I work from home, that we don’t want to pay for over a week of service that we’re not getting (yep, we’d be expected to continue paying the full price for a full month, when we wouldn’t be receiving at least 1/4th of that), that over a week without Netflix is basically torture (hehe that one’s a bit dramatic). The customer service rep plead basic business bureaucracy, a 5 business day wait is the policy for broken internet, deal with it. A few more pointless phone calls later, and we’d given up and resigned ourselves to getting our projects done at a nearby coffee shop…
when lo and behold, a real Sabbath miracle: the internet popped back on.
Downside of Expat Life in Mexico: Opening a bank account is a full-day ordeal.
It took us almost 5 hours to open a bank account. That’s also the supposed fast track, for a “luxury” bank account at a place called Santander Select.
5 hours from the time we arrived at the bank and started the process, until we left the building. (I was HANGRY by the time we left)
And that’s arriving with all the proper paperwork prepared, all the correct visas and documents and whatever other bullshit they might need. What they actually needed: proof of the current working position, immigration information (visa, etc), passport, and current banking information in Mexico.
Bring a book. I can’t complain, because while it requires 5 extremely unnecessary hours of bullshit, with that bank account they give you a Priority Pass (cue angels singing and a shaft of light descending from heaven), which has revolutionized my flying experience.
Downside of Expat Life in Mexico: Delivery dates are… suggestions at best.
When you move into a big empty house, the first thing you want to do is get furniture. So you can, ya know, sit and eat and sleep and feel like a human being again after moving your whole life from one city to a new one.
Furnishing our house in Puebla, we planned ahead, knowing Mexico by then, and bought our furniture weeks before our move-in date. We had all of the purchase orders include the delivery date in writing. All of the store salesmen PROMISED that the furniture would arrive on or before that date.
Not one thing arrived on time.
Not the fridge, the couch, the bed, on and on and on. We didn’t get our bed until my husband started protesting in person at Sears, and even that didn’t help until he donned a shirt that proclaimed Sears as providing the worst service in the world. The bed arrived just two days later.
Sears, Liverpool, and Palacio de Hierro delivery were the worst. For some reason, lower-end Dico was the ONLY furniture place to ever eventually show up on time.
Downside of Expat Life in Mexico: Traffic is insane.
Somehow, we’ve chosen 3 of the most traffic-heavy cities to live in, one right after another (Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City). While Mexico City is in a league of its own, you’ll still encounter intense traffic in any of the bigger cities during rush hour (and also sometimes Saturday afternoon, at least in Puebla. No idea why). It’s not all predictable, though. Random roads will be shut at random times, or 3 lane highways will be taken down to one so that a bit of painting can get done… during one of the busiest times of the week. We were once stuck on the road from Mexico City to Puebla (which usually takes an hour and a half) for five hours. In the middle of the night. No rhyme or reason to it. That’s nothing, though, as my friend spent twelve hours going the same length.
While the traffic is somewhat unpredictable, we still plan any and all outings to avoid traffic-heavy time periods, because we don’t exactly enjoy sitting in stand-still traffic for hours on end, breathing in fumes and burning up fossil fuel.
Downside of Expat Life in Mexico: Crime happens.
But it happens EVERYWHERE in the world.
If I had a dollar for every time someone responded to learning I live in Mexico with, “Mexico is dangerous” or “Mexico is not safe”, like they’re the utmost authority on Mexico when they spent a week in Cabo twelve years ago… I’d be a millionaire in a big ol’ penthouse overlooking Puerto Vallarta.
There’s way less violent crime – especially against foreigners and people uninvolved in drugs – than the media would like you to believe, thought it still exists.
For the most part it’s just a bunch of petty crime. There’s pickpocketing and stealing. If you leave your car parked in the street in some cities (even sweet Puebla), chances are you’ll come back to it in the morning and be unable to drive off because someone has snatched your tires. Seriously.
Something that has been life-changing for me has been investing in security cameras. It gives me peace of mind coming back late at night and living alone. I use Arlo (specifically the Arlo Pro system, which is waterproof, rechargeable, has two way audio, night vision, a remote-triggered alarm, and a bunch more perks all that connect to your phone via an app), but there are a ton of equally inexpensive, easy-to-use, and awesome options.