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Mexico Essentials: Practical Tips & Information
Practical advice and local knowledge to help you prepare for your visit or move to Mexico.
Shops: Shopping hours in big towns and cities start at around 10 or 11 am, and continue through to between 8 and 10 pm. Shops in cities and big towns are open 7 days a week; smaller places may close on Sundays, except tourist spots at high season. Christmas & Easter public holidays are observed; on other public holidays you'll find most things open in cities and bigger towns and tourist spots. Smaller towns will have more limited opening hours, and in hotter, non-tourist regions may close between 2 and 4pm; check locally.
Banks: Banks in Mexico are beginning to get their act together from a commercial view-point. Branches are now open from 9 am to 4 pm in many cities and big towns, and some even open Saturday mornings. HSBC now opens from 8am to 8pm six days a week. For more information about managing your money in Mexico, connect to the Money in Mexico section on Mexperience.
Office Hours: Commercial Office hours tend to run in line with those of the US and the UK: 8am - 6pm. Lunch breaks usually last an hour, but business lunches can go on much longer. Connect to the Business Center on Mexperience for full details about business practices in Mexico.
Churches: Some churches are permanently open; others are locked up if there is no service going on, especially those hosting valuable art or artifacts. If you visit a church, be mindful of those inside who may be taking part in a church service.
Museums: Museums tend to have specific opening hours, and those outside of the major tourist areas usually close for a day in the week (often Mondays, not always) - so it's best to check beforehand if you want to visit a specific museum.
Archaeology Parks: Archaeology parks are open from 8am to 5pm, and all except those in the most frequented tourist areas (e.g. Chichen Itza in Yucatan) are closed on Mondays.
Public Holidays in Mexico
Mexico celebrates a number of public holidays throughout the year. You can learn more about the dates, holidays and events surrounding them on our guide to Public Holidays in Mexico.
Printing Digital Photos in Mexico
If you would like to print your digital photos while in Mexico, you can visit the photo department inside major supermarkets (e.g. Soriana, Wal-Mart). There are also independent photography shops—especially common in small towns where there are no major shops—where you can edit/print your digital photos, purchase additional memory chips for your digital camera, buy batteries and accessories and purchase a new camera or video equipment (note that photographic equipment is more expensive in Mexico than it is in the USA). Film and videotape for non digital cameras are becoming obsolescent, but may still be available in some specialist photographic stores in larger towns and cities.
Video and Photography Etiquette in Mexico
Museums: Some museums and all major archaeology parks will make a small charge if want to take a handheld video recorder into the museum or site with you; some make a charge for cameras, although this is rare. Some will not allow flash photography, especially on ancient stonework and murals as it affects the longevity of the work. You'll see notices written in Spanish and English that will advise you at each location.
Tripods: The use of tripods at all archaeological sites and some museums requires a permit. If you want to use a tripod you will need to apply for special permission from INBA (the government department that manages archaeological sites and some museums) and there will be a significant fee and plenty of paperwork involved. If you are outside Mexico, contact your local Mexican Consulate for information and details. These sites offer a "package hold" facility for people carrying tripods, where they can be left until you leave the site or museum.
Etiquette: Be mindful of people you photograph, and if possible, ask their permission first - especially in small provincial communities and in the State of Chiapas, especially around San Cristobal de las Casas. Some places have restrictions on photography, and signs will be posted to advise you in such cases.
It's best not to photograph the army or any military installations to avoid any misunderstandings.
Churches: Taking pictures inside a church when there is a service going on is considered disrespectful, so you should refrain from doing it. Taking pictures inside a church at other times is acceptable in Mexico.
Filming Professionally in Mexico
If you are planning to travel to Mexico to film or take photographs professionally (including research, cultural, artistic and educational programs), you will need to apply for a temporary filming permit. Contact your local Mexican Consulate for details.
Legal Drinking Age in Mexico
The legal minimum drinking age in Mexico is 18; three years before the USA's legal drinking age, which is why a lot of older American teenagers 'fly south' to Mexico for a weekend or longer.
Although it has been rare in the past, requests for proof of age or identification when asking for an alcoholic beverage in Mexico are on the rise. However, it is still nowhere near as strict as the USA, where anyone who looks underage is immediately asked for identification.
The Effect of Altitude
Many places in the interior of Mexico are situated at altitude (for example, Mexico City, Guadalajara and most colonial cities) and at high altitudes, alcohol will have more effect on you than if you were drinking at, or close to, sea level. See Blog: Breathing Easy at High Altitudes
Alcohol Licensing Laws in Mexico
In most Mexican states, stores, restaurants and bars are allowed to sell alcohol 24 hours a day. However, some state restrictions do apply; for example in the northern state of Sonora, that borders the US state of Arizona, establishments cannot sell alcohol between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Mon-Sat, and on Sundays, they cannot sell alcohol from 3 p.m. until 7 a.m. the following Monday.
Drinking on the Street in Mexico
Technically, it is illegal to drink on the street in Mexico, but some people do, especially in tourist areas. If you want to drink a cold beer while walking down a street on a hot day, go ahead; but don't be stupid and get drunk on the street: it will call attention to yourself, and you may end up having to deal with the police who, in such a circumstance may apply the letter of the law to your behavior.
Drinking and Driving in Mexico
Drinking and driving is a serious crime in Mexico. If you drink, take a cab: taxis are very affordable in Mexico, there is absolutely no need to take your car if you are drinking.
Drinking and driving is still more common in Mexico than it is in places like the USA and Canada and so, if you're driving at night, or if you are a pedestrian near a tourist area with lots of bars, be extra vigilant of cars and traffic, especially in the early hours of the morning, when drunk drivers may be about.
Mexico's police are stepping up their campaign against drunk-drivers with stiff penalties (including the prospect of prison sentences) for offenders. In Mexico City, the police are now setting up roadside breath tests on routes leading to and from popular night spots.
Don't drink and drive in Mexico: foreigners do not get any leniency for driving drunk. If you hurt or kill someone in the process, you will end up in serious trouble and face the prospect of a long prison sentence in a Mexican jail.
English Language Media
The only English daily in Mexico is "The News", which was re-launched in 2007 after an absence of several years, the result of its parent Mexican paper Novedades being closed. "The News" is widely available in Mexico City and its distribution is being expanded to tourist destinations and other large cities.
Some magazine kiosks at airports and a few specialized stores sell U.S., British or European newspapers, some of which can be a day or two old.
English-language 'global' news magazines such as Time, Newsweek, People, etc are available in their U.S. editions in cities and large towns in Mexico. The British based magazine 'Economist' is now available at larger news stands in the big cities.
Newspapers and magazines can be bought on street corner stalls. Many supermarkets are now beginning to stock newspapers and magazines too; but not all of them.
Spanish Language Newspapers and Magazines in Mexico
Mexico has a wide selection of Spanish language newspapers from all sides of the political spectrum. Click on the names in green to view the online versions; all are currently subscription-free except Reforma.
Latin Trade - Online version in English of the popular magazine that is dedicated to trade in Latin America
El Economista - Financial/Business Press, in Spanish
El Financiero - Financial/Business Press, in Spanish
Reforma - Mexico's biggest daily, in Spanish (subscription required)
El Universal - One of Mexico's biggest daily papers, news online does not require subscription, in Spanish
Magazines in Mexico
Popular Spanish language magazines include:
Proceso - A weekly publication with informed commentary and opinion about Mexican and Latin American politics
Mexico Desconocido - A travel magazine with lots of photos, dedicated to highlighting travel and tourism in Mexico
Take your family to Mexico with confidence. Read the comprehensive guide about Traveling to Mexico with Children for detailed information about making the most of your family visit to Mexico.
The rules for minors (people under the age of 18) and lone parents* traveling with their children to Mexico have changed. See the Link to the guide above for full details.
*Lone parents includes single parents, and parents who are traveling with children and without their spouse or partner.
See Blog: Mexico's Tipping Culture
Also See: Social Etiquette in Mexico
Tipping in Mexico
Tipping is common in the United States: it is almost second-nature and practiced frequently at most service establishments. In many European countries, it is not so common or customary to tip people for services.
In Mexico, not only is it customary, it is expected and appreciated in return for good service.
Most people working in Mexico's tourism and service sectors rely on your tips to supplement their basic pay and they give good service to prove that it makes a significant difference to them.
When you are traveling in Mexico, always keep some loose change in your pocket because you never know when you're going to need some of it for a tip.
Even fringe services like someone at a taxi rank opening the door for you (and perhaps putting your cases in the car's trunk) should receive a small tip (just 1 or 2 pesos will suffice in these cases).
Some hotels and tours indicate that "all tips are included in the price"; if this is the case, fair enough, and there is no need to tip further. You may still wish to leave a small tip for the maids at the rooms you stay in, or offer the tour guide a small tip at the end of the program.
Although tips are frequent in Mexico, the amounts are relatively small, and they really can make a different to the person whom you are rewarding.
If you did not get poor service, you should consider tipping in these situations:
Restaurants - 10% - 15% is normal, depending on the class of establishment and level of service you received. At diners and similar places 10% is sufficient; at higher-end restaurants and bistros, 15% is expected for good service.
Hotels - Bellboys should be paid around US$1 per bag; Concierge around US$2 equivalent if they do something for you (e.g. book a table at a local restaurant); more if they undertake some particular research (e.g. found you a local tour operator, car rental agency, or chauffeur). If you don't speak Spanish, remember that they will also be acting as translators for you and you should take this into account with your tip.
Hotel Maids - Many people leave a tip for the Maid, about US$1-US$5 equivalent per night's stay, depending on the class of establishment. It's best to leave your tips daily as the maids who are assigned to look after your room are probably on a rotating schedule and may not be on duty the day you leave.
Gasoline Service Stations - If you rent a car and buy fuel, 3-5% of the cost of the fuel is normal, with 5-10% of the cost of the fuel if the attendant provides additional services (water, oil, tire pressure, etc). It's usual to leave a few pesos tip within a rounded amount; for example, if you are filling up with $200 pesos of fuel, then you may tell the attendant that you want $190 or $195 pesos of fuel; you hand over the $200 peso bill and the attendant keeps the change. Read related guide to Driving in Mexico. You'll need to ask for the additional services if you want them.
Car Valets - If you drive to a bar or restaurant and have your car parked by the establishment's valet service, you should tip the attendant around US$1 equivalent in pesos when you leave, unless the valet has a pre-advertised rate (probably higher than this) in which case, pay that rate and no more.
Porters - When you arrive at a bus station, airport or hotel there will usually be a group of porters nearby waiting to take your bags. US$1 per bag in pesos equivalent is sufficient; perhaps a little more if the bags are over-sized, particularly heavy or if the attendant offers some additional value, for example, some local advice or directions.
Bus Station Taxi Rank Attendants - If you carried your own bags to the official taxi booth at the bus station, you may find that there is an assistant waiting nearby there who will offer to carry your bags once you have purchased your ticket. You don't have to allow this person to help you, but if you do, you may find it more efficient getting the next taxi from the rank. See Traveling by Bus in Mexico for more details. US$1 in pesos equivalent is a fair tip. See Traveling by Bus in Mexico.
Taxis - If you take a cab from the street, it's appreciated if you round up the meter charge to nearest 5 or 10 pesos depending on the comfort and speed of your journey; however, taxis hired from taxi ranks at hotels or official taxi ranks should be paid the advertised rate (or the rate you agree in advance) and no more. Also read the guide about Traveling by Taxi in Mexico which includes a link to current taxi prices in Mexico.
Bars and Cantinas - Tables at these are often attended (you don't need to go to the bar to order food or drink) - and a tip of 10% of the value of your spending that evening is normal.
Car Park Attendants - Often, car parks will have an "attendant"; a man or woman dressed up in a security-type uniform, who may direct you to a free spot, and see you reverse out when you return. These attendants are often older men who also keep an eye on things while you're away. 2-3 Pesos is sufficient; a little more if they help you load your shopping bags into your car.
Spas - For personal services at Resort Spas, 10-15% of the value of the service (e.g. a Massage) is normal. If you're staying at a Destination Spa, you can tip good service personally, 5-10% of the service's 'stand alone' value is fine; or you can add a tip to your final bill, to cover everyone—even the 'behind the scenes' people: 10-15% of the bill is sufficient. For more information about Spas, read our guides to Spas in Mexico.
Toilets / Restrooms - Public toilets / restrooms are a rare sight, and if you find one, it may not be very pretty! Some public toilets now make a small charge for entry, and you'll find these are usually reasonably clean and tidy. If one of these is not available, go to a restaurant, bar (even if you're not eating or drinking at it) or department store if there's one nearby. You may well find an attendant there who is looking after the place, making sure it's clean tidy; some may hand you a paper towel to dry your hands. Near the wash-basins, you may see a small wooden box, sometimes with a piece of cloth inside (and usually a coin or three on it). 2-5 pesos tip, commensurate with the class of establishment, is sufficient.
Stop-Light Entertainers - In Mexico City particularly (but not exclusively) you may find that one or more informal entertainers begin to perform a short skit. The 'performance' may include juggling, eating fire, miming, etc. After the performance is over, the people walk between the stationary cars in search of a small tip. Tipping is at your discretion.
See Blog: Rush Hour Variety
Stop-Light Windscreen Wash - Some people will "wash" your vehicle's windscreen, sometimes whether you want their service or not! Tipping is at your discretion.
Angeles Verdes - Meaning "Green Angels", these are trucks that are painted green and travel along Mexico's interstate highways helping people who have broken down. Their help is free, but they will charge you for parts and fuel if your car needs it. Be sure to tip the attendant; the amount is discretionary and should relate to how much help they were in a particular circumstance (e.g. more at night) and on how much work they have done for you. Read more about Traveling by Road in Mexico with Mexperience.
Bargaining and Barter in Mexico
People who visit Mexico rate shopping at the local markets as one of the most rewarding travel experiences they encounter.
Mexican traders do love a good barter, but beware: if they feel you are trying to devalue their goods too much, they will become upset and may even refuse to trade with you.
Bargaining and barter are common activities in Mexico, especially at markets and artifact stores and handicraft workshops.
Never accept the first price you're offered, but be realistic with your offers, and don't become too aggressive with your position.
Speaking Spanish - If you speak Spanish (even broken Spanish) you stand a much better chance of getting a better a deal on your purchases. This another good reason to Learn Spanish in preparation for your next visit to Mexico.
Markets and Street Traders - Mexican market traders are usually polite people who enjoy a good trade negotiation but, equally, they may become offended if you are too obstinate and will simply cease bargaining with you completely. Keep in mind that the people selling arts, crafts and artifacts are generally poor artisans making a simple living and often supporting a family. Some may also be the creators of the wares they are offering for sale, so any deep devaluation of their work might be taken personally, too.
Department Stores, Malls - Department stores and large (chain) hotels will not barter with you—you'll have more luck bartering with the check-out assistant of your local supermarket!
Taxis - Some taxis are not metered (especially in small provincial towns) so strike a bargain with your price before you get in. Also read the guide about Traveling by Taxi in Mexico which includes a link to current taxi prices in Mexico.
When you're traveling in Mexico, you must take extra care when drinking water, or fresh beverages that may have tap water added to them. Also check the ice—ask if it was made with tap water especially in more rustic establishments and rural areas. Salads can also be dangerous if they have been rinsed with tap water; so again, the rule is: if in doubt, ask first! All main hotels and good restaurants use purified water throughout.
All commercially produced beverages, including bottled and tinned water, fizzy drinks, wine, beer, spirits, etc will be perfectly safe for you to drink.
To make tap water safe, boil it for at least a few minutes; perhaps longer in locations situated at higher altitudes as the water boils at lower temperatures there. Water purification tablets and drops are available, but these generally have an adverse affect on the water's taste. Another option is sterlizing pens that use ultra-violet light to purify, but don't change the taste of the water.
See Blog: Bottled Water in Mexico
Mexico's electricity system is the same as that of the USA: 120 V; 60 Hz. Any electrical equipment you carry with you that operates at the higher (240v) rate will need to be dual-voltage (e.g. hair driers). A lot of electrical equipment (like video cameras, digital cameras, laptops) that operate on 12 volts via a product-specific adaptor will happily cope with dual voltage—check the adaptor and the device instructions to be sure.
You may need a socket adaptor. Most plugs in Mexico are the same as in the US; two flat prongs. Some have a third, circular prong for earth, and adapters can be sought for these too if the plug you want to connect to doesn't have the third (earth) prong socket.
Also See: House Maintenance in Mexico
What can your consulate in Mexico do for you?
Foreign consulates in Mexico can usually help with administrative tasks like replacing a lost or stolen passport, provide you with a list of lawyers if you get into legal trouble, (and let your family back home know you're in trouble), liaise with Mexico's foreign office to make sure that you are being properly treated if you've been arrested, and in exceptional circumstances, provide you with a loan to pay for repatriation home if you become completely stuck (you will need to pay the loan back).
Foreign consulates and embassies cannot get you out of trouble. When you are in Mexico, you are bound by its laws and customs and subject to its legal penalties if you fall shy of the law, intentionally or otherwise.
See Blog: Obtaining Consular Assistance
Although Mexico now adheres to the Daylight Saving Time (DST) protocol, Mexican clock-time change dates do not always synchronize with the clock-time change dates in the US & Canada and Europe, so check this year's DST schedule for precise details.
Mexico Clock Changes in 2013
Sunday, 7 April 2013, at 2 a.m. clocks are turned forward 1 hour to 3.a.m.
Sunday, 27 October 2013, at 2 a.m. clocks are turned backward 1 hour to 1 a.m.
Time Zones in Mexico
Mexico's has three time zones.
Most of Mexico, including Mexico City and Merida, adheres to Central Time in the USA (same as Dallas, TX) and is always six hours behind GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).
The second time zone starts just north of Puerto Vallarta (Puerto Vallarta itself is not affected) and affects all areas on the coast north of here (including the popular beach destinations of Punta de Mita and Mazatlan) and ALL of Baja California Sur, including the popular areas of Los Cabos, La Paz, Loreto and Todos Santos. Note that Chihuahua City is NOT affected by the time zone change as it is too far east. This time zone adheres to Mountain Time (same as Denver, CO); one hour behind Mexico City.
The third domestic time zone begins in the northern reaches of Baja California (the northern area of the peninsula). This area adheres to Pacific Time (same as Los Angeles, CA) and is therefore one hour behind Mountain Time (e.g. Los Cabos, Mazatlan) and two hours behind Mexico City.
Consult an updated map for the precise location of the time lines.
Clock / Time Changes in Mexico
In 1996, Mexico decided to change its clocks in the fall and spring of each year. Before this time, clocks were never changed in Mexico.
Mexican clock-time date changes may not be synchronized with those of the US & Canada and Europe, so check this year's clock-time change date schedules in the spring and the fall for precise date information about when clock-time will be altered.
Mexico's State of Sonora does not Adhere to DST Protocol
The only exception to the clock change is Mexico's northern state of Sonora, which borders the US State of Arizona, which is one of the few US states which do not move its clocks at any time of year to allow for DST; because of this, Sonora does not moves its clocks, either.
Travelers arriving in Mexico from the east (e.g. from Europe) do not generally experience severe jet lag as they have gained time traveling west. Returning from Mexico and traveling east (e.g. to Europe) can be tiring, as time is lost traveling east.
Read this Related Article in the travel health guide here on Mexperience for tips and advice about how to minimize the impact of Jet Lag when you travel to and from Mexico.