Traveling to Mexico - Travel Tips

More helpful links and tips for the tourist visiting Mexico
Foreign Embassy List | Helpful Links
Check our "Miscellaneous Information" page for the telephone number of the nearest Mexican consulate.

Helpful Spanish for Travelers

We have put together a PDF file with some helpful phrases for those who do not speak Spanish. Once you click on the link below, the PDF file will appear in your browser. You must have the Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on you computer (most computers come with this software already installed). You can choose to save the file to your computer or you can print the file directly from your browser. Either option should be executed from the PDF portion of the browser window (directly above the file itself, not from the tool bar on your browser). If you need Acrobat© Reader© software, use the link below, it's free, and everyone should have it.

The file will print on nine pages and covers the following subject areas: General Spanish Phrases, Numbers, Time, Days/Months, At the Airport, At the Hotel, At the Restaurant, Shopping, At the Beach, Sightseeing, and First Aid. There is also a simple Pronunciation Guide included.

Click here to display the "Helpful Spanish for Travelers" file.
Below is an example of part of the first page and the format used.

SPANISH PHRASES - General
Yes = Si
No = No
Please = Por favor
Thank you = Muchas Gracias
You're welcome = De nada
Hello = Hola
Good morning = Buenos dias
Good afternoon or Good evening - Buenas tardes
Good night - Buenas noches
How are you? = ¿Como esta usted?
Fine, thank you. And you? = Muy bien, gracias. ¿Y usted?
Goodbye = Hasta luego
Very good = Muy bien
My name is…. = Mi nombre es…
What is your name? = ¿Cual es su nombre?
This is Mr…= Este es el Señor
This is Mrs…. = Esta es la Señora…
Nice to meet you = Mucho gusto
Do you know Mr…? ¿Conoce usted al Señor…?
Do you know Mrs….? = ¿Conoce usted a la Señora…?
Speak slower = Hable mas despacio
Please repeat = Repita, por favor
I don’t understand = No comprendo
I don't speak Spanish very well = No hablo muy bien español.?
Please tell me… = Digame, por favor…
What is (this street) called? = ¿Como se llama (esta calle)?
Where is (the pharmacy)? = ¿Donde esta la farmacia)?
It's over there = Esta alli
I don't know = No se

Attitude

When traveling in Mexico it is important to remember that you are now in a completely different culture and while the people are inviting and friendly, you are immersing in a new and different culture. While you may be accustomed to urgency, in Mexico you will want to go with the flow. Do not expect things to happen at the same pace as they do back home. The “Mañana Syndrome” is very much alive and actively practiced in most parts of Mexico. Remember...”Mañana” does not necessarily mean tomorrow, it usually just means - not today.

While most people you will encounter in Mexico will be welcoming, especially in the tourist areas, it is you to important that you exhibit respect for the culture while traveling. The pace of life tends to be somewhat slower in Mexico, so relax, remember you are on vacation and take a deep breath. Order a round of Margaritas! English is widely spoken in the cities and resorts, but if you'll be traveling in the country you might want to think about learning some key phrases in Spanish. The locals are always happy to help you and become instantly enamored when they realize you are trying to speak their language at any level. Just trying wins their heart every time!

Language

Try to learn, at least a little Spanish, it will be appreciated. You will be surprised at the difference a small phrase or greeting in Spanish can make when talking with the locals. We have a small Spanish primer that you can print and take with you, click here.

Altitude

Many of Mexico's larger cities and tourist favorites are located in relatively high altitudes. Be sure to make adjustments in your lifestyle to compensate for the altitude. The altitude of Mexico City is over 7000 feet and Zacatecas is over 8000 feet.
Also, remember that alcohol is more potent at higher altitudes and the UV rays are also stronger. Be sure to use sun block, at higher altitudes, even in winter, and stay hydrated, drinking plenty of water!

If your vacation takes you up in the mountains, keep in mind that the alcohol's potency is greater, and the sun's UV rays are stronger in higher elevations. You don't want to end up drunk and sunburned! Much of inner Mexico is at high altitude; if you are a workout maven and you live in the lowlands, allow your body to adjust a bit before you resume your activities.

Banking & Money Exchange

Mexico's banks can be difficult to maneuver. While it may seem that the banking institution is doing you a favor by being there, they are usually overcrowded and understaffed. The lines can be unbearable for anyone and you don’t want to spend your vacation time in the bank. Spanish is the primary language spoken in most banks.

Banking hours vary from 8 AM until 6 PM, although many banks close at 4 PM. It is best to check with the local banks. Most banks in Mexico have ATM machines that will give you pesos by using your credit card or debit card. If you want dollars or any other foreign currency you will have to go inside the bank, or use a currency exchange (Casa de Cambio). Some banks do offer a program for U.S travelers and expatriates. In these instances the bank will have staff specially trained to translate documents, and further the client services. In these cases, doing a bit of research on the web for the banks offering such services will be the ideal solution. Bancomer offers a PCU (Preferred Customer Unit) specializing in such services and staff specifically trained to help you do all of your banking.

Your hotel will usually be able to change money for you at a rate that is pretty close to the official currency exchange of the day. There are usually private money exchange businesses (Casa de Cambio) that are easily accessible to most travelers. The exchange rate will vary, just as it does in banks. The exchange difference and applicable fees of using such a resource is generally very small unless you are changing a large sum of money. Travelers checks are easily exchanged, however you will need to be sure you have a passport and one other photo ID ready, or you may not be able to get your money.

If you are going to use your credit card, there are ATM machines readily available, however, most dispense only pesos. Just as you would at home, you will want to use ATMs in busy locations (malls or crowed shopping areas), for safety. Consider travelling with $20.00 bills as they are easy for most store owners to change. If you must use your credit card, and you want to exchange in U.S dollars, you will have to go to a bank.

Buses - Long Distance - Using for Local Transportation

Also see Taxis, below.
Mexico's long distance bus system is an amazing network of routes that can take you anywhere in the country, from almost any city. Most bus lines have three classes of service, Executive Class (Clase or Servicio Ejecutivo), First Class (Primero Clase) and Second Class (Secundo Clase)...you should consider only the first two, if at all possible. Some routes only offer one class, usually the better of the three. Keep in mind travel by bus is not so inexpensive these days, you may want to consider going by plane, just for the convenience and the time saved. We cannot list fares for any of Mexico's transportation companies but we have listed telephone numbers for the major airlines and a few links to some of the major bus companies on other pages.

City bus systems in Mexico are inexpensive and usually go pretty much everywhere in most major cities. They can get very crowded, especially when the locals are going to, or coming home from, work. It can be somewhat difficult to learn the routes, especially if you don't read Spanish. You can usually pick up free bus-route maps and schedules at the local tourism office. Many routes that cover a small area will be apparent, but be careful. Stay alert to where you want to go and if you notice a bus getting more than a few blocks away from your general route...get off. A taxi then becomes a more sensible alternative. Always keep a tight grip on your carry-on items. We do not advise anyone use the bus systems in Mexico City after dark.

Taxis

Taxis in Mexico are generally very reasonable and the drivers can be very helpful. This is true in almost all parts of the country, except some of the more popular resort areas. In resort areas always check the price to your destination before getting into the cab.

Be aware that there are increasing instances of taxi crime, especially in Mexico City. It is not a good idea to hail cabs from the street in the larger cities, especially at night. Use only registered hotel cabs or call a radio cab. If you are dining out, have the restaurant hail a cab from their preferred "sitio" or have them call a radio cab for you. Always get the number of the cab (or license number) they are sending and wait for that particular cab. Always check the number you were given against the number on the cab.

In many instances you may find that renting a cab for the day (or half day) is the most economical way to travel. This is especially true in many of the large cities, if you are going to be making numerous trips. This relieves you of any of the parking hassles, you will not get lost and this method also gives you a fairly decent measure of security. It is not a good idea to just hail a cab from the street and try arranging this yourself, have your hotel or a travel agent arrange the taxi for you.

Four different types of taxi operate in Mexico City. Yellow and white taxis (usually Volkswagens) are metered, as are orange taxis (sitio), which are available at taxi-stands. These charge slightly more, and it is advisable to agree on the fare before starting the journey. Turismo taxis with English-speaking drivers are available outside main hotels. They are not metered and fares should be agreed before starting your trip, lest there be a misunderstanding. Peseros (green and white) are share-taxis traveling on fixed routes, for which fares are charged according to the distance traveled. Radio taxis charge double fee but are very secure. Tipping is not compulsory for any of the taxi services. Most cab drivers in Mexico are friendly and knowledgeable about their cities or towns. Talking to them can yield some of the best places to eat and explore! However, be sure that if the fare is open to negotiation that you come to an agreement before you set out.

Business Hours

Office hours in Mexico are normally 9 AM to 2 PM and then again from 4 PM until 6 or 7 PM. In many places, especially the smaller cities, a “siesta break” or lunch break is observed from 2 PM to 4 PM. In the larger cities many businesses stay open until 9 PM or even later. Banking hours usually do not observe the siesta, and many banks close at 4 p.m.

Driving

It is mandatory that if driving in Mexico you obtain the Mexico insurance policy. Do not drive anywhere in Mexico without obtaining the proper Mexican insurance policy! Your U.S. policy is of no value in Mexico in the event of an accident, unless issued by the car rental company. If driving your own vehicle across the border and throughout Mexico, there are many Insurance Companies within the first 5 miles of the border crossing from which to purchase your Mexican drivers insurance.

Driving most anywhere in Mexico, can be a pleasant experience. With a few precautions, your experience should be mostly safe and enjoyable. It is no more difficult than driving in the U.S., despite what you may have heard. Most Mexican drivers are very polite out on the open road and in the smaller cities. In the major cities traffic jams can be a very real experience, just as if you were at home. If you must drive in the major cities, try to avoid driving during rush hour. Because of the hustle and bustle of Mexico City, and the populous of rush hour, driving in Mexico City is not recommended, even though millions of people do it daily. Be aware of your surroundings, and drive with caution.

There are a few things to remember when driving in Mexico: Watch out for topes (speed bumps), even on the major highways, in every town of any size. They usually begin just as you enter a town and there can be many before you exit the town. Always make sure you have the proper insurance coverage!!

Defensive driving tactics will be required, as traffic laws are seldom obeyed, or enforced. Expect red lights to be run and turns to be made, in any direction, from any lane. Watch out for older cars driving very slow, even on major highways, turn signals seldom used or they are always on, cars with no lights while driving at night, cars with no brake lights.

If you are planning to drive your own car into Mexico there are a few things you should know before you leave.

If you are driving to a border area or the Baja peninsula, no special permits are required. Note: If you are driving to Guerrero Negro, or below, there is the slight possibility that Mexican officials will note on your tourist visa that you are driving a car. This can be a problem if you try to fly out of the country.

If you are driving to mainland Mexico there is a temporary import permit that is required to drive your car into Mexico. The state of Sonora offers a "Sonora Only" permit that requires slightly less of the documentation listed below. The permits are issued at special inspection stations, once you get away from the border area.

Here are some of the things required to get the permit: Valid proof of citizenship (passport or birth certificate), a valid tourist card or visa, a valid vehicle registration certificate or title that certifies who legally owns the vehicle (whoever is named as owner must be present), if your vehicle is financed or leased you will need a letter of authorization from the lender giving you permission to drive the vehicle into Mexico, if the vehicle is leased or rented, you must have the lease or rental contract with the driver's name on the contract, a valid drivers license (non-Mexican). Always have originals available and also a few (3) copies. You will also need a credit card, (American Express, MasterCard or Visa), in the name of the driver of the vehicle. (In lieu of a credit card, you can also make a cash deposit).

This information is for reference only and some requirements may have changed. Contact the nearest Mexican consulate for up-to-date requirements and the costs involved. Check our "Miscellaneous Information" page for the telephone number of the nearest Mexican consulate.

Crime

Mexico has it's share of crime, just as the U.S. or any other country. In most parts of Mexico you will probably feel every bit as safe as you do at home, perhaps even safer. Because bad press drives rating and is BIG NEWS, media hype of the safety or lack of in Mexico is significant. However, keep in mind, it is geographical as it is in your own country. You don’t avoid Disneyland because East Los Angeles is gang affiliated and considered dangerous. Do you second guess visiting San Francisco because Detroit has increased crime and violence? This is no different than Mexico.

Mexico City has a little more that it's fair share of crime, but much of the crime (not all) is completely away from tourist areas. Many of the high crime areas are areas that most tourists will never be near. There is an increasing amount of crime involving taxis and buses (see below). It is best to use only radio taxis or taxis that your hotel provides. If you are out at night be extra careful, have your restaurant or night club call a cab for you and get the license number of the cab that they called. Do not wear fancy jewelry or flash large sums of money, especially at night. Don't walk alone, don't use the subway or buses at night. Use common sense and you should be OK.

Note: Similar warnings are in place for most large cities in the United States and most other countries in the world. Do not be afraid to travel to Mexico City because of these warnings, just remember to use caution and common sense.

Parking

Parking on the streets in the larger cities is often nearly impossible and always difficult, except on weekends. If you must drive, and park, try to use private parking areas. They offer some degree of security and are usually very reasonable. Never leave any valuables in plain sight, if you must leave something in your car, put it in the trunk before you enter the parking facility.

If you are ticketed for parking illegally, you will have to pay a fine and it is highly possible your car will be towed. This can get rather expensive. In some areas the police will take your license plates, to make sure you will pay your fine. This can become very time consuming, especially if the police do not immediately return to the police station.

Telephones

BEWARE!!!! The phones all over most tourist related cities, usually bare a sticker or notation on the front of the phone of a business. They are marked "TO CALL LONG DISTANCE TO THE USA & CANADA, SIMPLY DIAL 0" The writing is in black and “USA” is in blue letters with “CANADA” in red letters. They also have pictures of credit cards on the signs. The phones are put there by a private phone company and are VERY, VERY EXPENSIVE. You will probably faint when you see your phone bill or credit card bill.

Time Zones

Most of Mexico is on central time. Baja California Sur is on Mountain Time and Baja California is on Pacific Time. Some of the northwestern section of the country also observes Mountain Time. Nayarit, parts of Sinaloa and all of Chihuahua and Sonora observe Mountain time. Quintana Roo is the only Mexican state that observes Eastern Time.

Tourist Permits

You will need a tourist permit (FMT) to enter Mexico. If you are flying, your airline will furnish this for you. Keep the copy that Immigration officials give back to you at the airport in Mexico. You must have this document to leave the country. If you should lose your permit, it is possible to get a replacement through the local immigration office (INM), if there is one. This procedure can take up a lot of your vacation time, so be careful and keep your copy of your FMT in a safe place while you are traveling. If you lose your tourist permit call the SECTUR tourist office in Mexico City (5250-0123), the local Immigration office or your embassy or consulate.

If you are driving you will still need an FMT which you will have to get at a Mexican Immigration office near the border. You are allowed to pass to the major border cities in Mexico, for less than 72 hours, without obtaining a FMT. Contact the nearest Mexican consulate for up-to-date requirements and any costs involved, Check our "Miscellaneous Information" page for the telephone number of the nearest Mexican consulate.

Walking

Regardless of what you may see, pedestrians actually do have the right-of-way. Be very careful crossing the streets. Watch out for cars that are turning from the wrong lane and watch carefully for cars even if you have the green light. Complete stops (by vehicles) at intersections (with stop signs) are very rarely observed.

Do not walk alone after dark, especially in deserted areas of the city. Know the shortest route to your destination and stick to it. Leave your valuables in the hotel security box if you are walking at night.

Be careful when walking, the sidewalks (and streets) can be very uneven. Cracks holes, steps, old signs that have been partially cut and many other things, protrude out of, and on to the sidewalk which can make walking very difficult. Low hanging signs can also be a problem. Watch out! Stubbed toes seem to be one of the injuries most often suffered by tourists.

Traffic can be a bit more random in behavior in Mexico than what you may be accustomed to. Keep your wits about you when traveling by car and watch out for the same sort of reckless or inconsiderate drivers you might avoid in the U.S. Tips: Use your street smarts when it comes to walking alone at night or carrying valuables, especially in “off-the-beaten-path” areas.

Water

Don't drink the water unless you are absolutely sure it is purified. Most all of the larger hotels and restaurants have purified water systems. Be careful - ASK - Never assume! If there is the slightest doubt, don't take a chance. Bottled water is cheap insurance! Why ruin an otherwise perfect vacation or business trip? It is never pleasant to be sick, especially in a foreign country.

Drinking Water

Most larger hotels and restaurants, as well as private villas, have state-of-the-art purification systems that make the water safe to drink. Tips: Do NOT assume, however, and never, ever drink water you are not sure of. Bottled water is a cheap price to pay for vacation insurance!

Travel Insurance

A little bit of forethought can save you and your fellow travelers a lot of expense and heartache in the unlikely event circumstances interfere with your vacation plans! Almost everyone has had a vacation that didn't go completely as planned. Maybe rain washed out a couple of days of a beach trip, or the van you had reserved turned out to be a compact sedan. These small "speed bumps" are a fact of life, but when the truly catastrophic interferes with your vacation, it will help your peace of mind greatly to have travel insurance to cover the money you've laid out in advance for things like airfare, hotels and other expenses. Don't let a canceled vacation also become a financial nightmare! Another insurance policy to keep in mind is car insurance. If you drive your own car into Mexico, your U.S. policy will not cover you. Shop online for the best prices for "vacation" insurance policies that will cover you at a reasonable rate. For last-minute needs, you can also purchase policies at most border crossings. Whatever your travel plans, work with your travel agent or vacation planner to make sure you are covered!

Insurance - Car

It is highly unlikely that your U.S. car insurance is valid in Mexico, and you most certainly do NOT want to drive uninsured. You can buy insurance at most border crossings, but you'll get a better deal shopping ahead of time through online brokers.

Translators

If you need a dedicated translator for your trip, consult your nearest Mexican consulate or embassy, where you can get a list of people certified as expert translators by the Mexican government. The list is free! As with any business, of course, you'll have to use your own good judgment as to who to hire, but the list is a good starting point. Any business and legal document translations must be certified through appropriate governmental channels, but any official translator will be able to guide you through the process. For tourist needs, you won't be likely to need a certified translator. In most towns, cities and resort areas you'll be able to find locals who can provide translation services for a small fee. Tip them as you would any other person providing a service and you'll find out all those great spots only the locals know!

Health Topics

Before traveling to Mexico (or anywhere abroad), it's a good idea to find out what immunizations you should have, or medications you should take along. A little advance preparation can do wonders! A visit with your doctor before you leave the country for any trip, not just to Mexico, is a good idea. Take along your itinerary and a description of the kinds of places you'll be visiting (mountains, jungles, deserts, etc.) along with a list of any special activities you're planning, such as bungee jumping.

Also keep in mind that most destinations away from the coast in Mexico are at high altitude. Your doctor can tell you what precautions you'll need to take and recommend things to help ease your transition to breathing at high altitude. The old saw about "don't drink the water" is still in effect. Stick to bottled water for drinking. However, high levels of cleanliness are prevalent in all food preparation facilities in the tourist hotels and restaurants, so eat, drink and be merry! It's best if you see your doctor 4-6 weeks before you travel, in case you need any vaccinations before your trip. This will allow time for them to take effect and, if you're taking a jungle trip, it will allow time for any anti-malarial drugs your doctor prescribes to be effective.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that you see a health-care provider who specializes in Travel Medicine. Find a travel medicine clinic near you. If you have a medical condition, you should also share your travel plans with any doctors you are currently seeing for other medical reasons.
For more information: http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/destinationMexico.aspx

Plastic Surgery Destinations

Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende Mexico

Medical tourists are US citizens venturing outside the United States for cosmetic surgery and other medical and dental procedures. Guadalajara is becoming the city to visit in Mexico, not for a vacation but rather for plastic surgery.

Surgery vacation packages to historic San Miguel de Allende are being offered that include air fare, surgery, spa treatments and tours. Medical tourism companies provide varying amounts of information about their doctors for clients who want to check out the qualifications of their surgeons. Some offer resumes and references from previous clients, while others provide little more than a doctor's name.

The draw of the surgery vacation for the medical tourist is not only the reduced cost of the surgery, but just as important, the discretion. Tour operators make planning for surgery south of the U.S. border as simple as booking a vacation.

Car Rentals / Airport Transfers / Private Driver

When vacationing in Mexico, you'll have plenty of options when it comes to getting where you want to go. The major car rental companies are all here, but why not try what savvy travelers know is the best way to get around: the motor coach. These are not the grimy buses you might be used to; they're more like luxury train cars, with big, comfy seats, refreshments and even in-cab movies.

The limitless places to explore in Mexico are really best seen by car. Be aware, though, that the driving laws and customs may be very different than what you're accustomed to. You'll need the following if you'd like to bring your own car across the border to explore Mexico's wonders:
- a temporary car permit (this can only be obtained at the Mexican border).
- a car insurance issued in Mexico (insurance of your country is not accepted).
- a valid driver’s license
- a current car registration and an original car title (original is required).
- a valid International credit card.
- a temporary importation application.
- a signed declaration dated with your scheduled return to your country.

All that may make a car rental sound like a great idea, and in fact it is! Rental cars are usually newer models, already inspected and equipped to travel the countryside. Your travel agent or tour broker will likely be able to offer you a package deal, with the car included in the price of your trip!

To ride in style, hire a private car with a driver. You'll be surprised how reasonable it can be, and you'll have a tour guide to show you all the spots the locals know and the tourists may never see!

Resorts and hotels will in most cases have airport transfers arranged for their guests. While making your reservations for your stay, the concierge staff will inquire as to your flight arrival and times.

If you have rented a private villa, inquire with the broker, or your travel professional as to airport transfers or ask them to schedule a private driver to meet you upon arrival.

Maps & Borders

The U.S./Mexico border is almost 2,000 miles, a huge open door inviting you to explore all that this fantastic country has to offer!

From San Diego and Tijuana in the west to Matamoros and Brownsville in the east, the territory directly along the U.S./Mexico border is rough and inhospitable, with very few urban areas. It's mostly desert, with the usual plant and animal life. The Rio Grande, which forms the border between Mexico and Texas, empties into the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville and Matamoros. One of the main attractions along this famous waterway is at El Paso, Texas/Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. To the west, the border spans the vastness of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts, the Colorado River delta and the northernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula before ending in the waves of the Pacific Ocean.

The Mexico border is served by a total of 23 crossings. Expect to pay a fee when crossing from either side. There are additional fees if you drive into Mexico from the U.S., and you'll need to purchase Mexican car insurance to cover you in Mexico. It's best to buy the insurance ahead of time online … you'll save a lot of money! For a really great trip, try one of Mexico's motor coach tours. These luxury buses are an economical and very personal way to experience the country up close and find those hidden spots most tourists never see.

All about Mexico has maps free for your convenience:
http://www.allaboutmexico.com/maps.html

Currency – Exchange Rates

When you travel to Mexico there are basically three tiers of the exchange rate: the "official" rate (the highest), the local bank rate (median) and the "street" rate (lowest). Tip: Use caution when dealing with informal money traders.
http://www.xe.com/ucc/

ATM: ATMs in Mexico dispense peso notes just as ones in the U.S. give dollars. Tip: Use the same precautions as you would at your local bank to protect yourself and your PIN number.
http://visa.via.infonow.net/locator/global/jsp/SearchPage.jsp

General Social Pleasantries Information

Handshaking is the most common form of greeting. It is not unusual to be kissed by man or woman on one cheek or the other in meeting a second time and each time thereafter.

Attire

Casual clothing is acceptable for daytime dress throughout Mexico. If travelling to beach resorts, the dress code is very informal for men and women and nowhere are men expected to wear ties.

Mexico City is the exception, because it is the seat of the government and the home base for many of the corporations. Tip: The "no smoking" sign is rarely seen in Mexico, and any zones where smoking is forbidden will be clearly marked. Resorts, especially those catering to a U.S. audience, usually have more lung-friendly policies. Be prepared to be greeted warmly, especially by those with whom you've made friends. A reserved demeanor is not at all a common thing in Mexican society!

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