Society and Culture in Mexico

Diverse Society

This guide gives an overview and introduction to Mexico’s modern-day society and cultural norms

When you live and work in Mexico you’ll encounter a country that has distinct traditions, culture, language and customs to those which you’re used to in your home country.

See Also: Social Etiquette in Mexico

Business Hours in Mexico

Mexico’s business hours vary depending on the type of commercial establishment.

Office hours in Mexico are becoming similar to US office hours. See Finding Jobs and Working in Mexico for details.

Generally, shops and department stores based at malls are open seven days a week and open later in the morning to stay open later into the night; they often stay open later still at weekends. Small corner shops and independent traders will open varying hours depending on their location (some may stay open 24 hours) and some close on Sundays.

Most diners stay open until around midnight (later at weekends); a few are open 24 hours. Restaurants tend to close around 11pm on weeknights and 1am at weekends. Coffee shops stay open to between 10pm and midnight.

Fast food restaurants and take-away (e.g. pizza) stay open to around midnight on weekdays and a little later on weekends.

Supermarkets are usually open from 8am to midnight; a few stay open all night, but only in big towns and cities. At Christmas time, supermarkets extend their hours, usually operating 24-hour shifts to cope with demand.

Bowling alleys, cinemas, and ice-skating rinks stay open until around 11pm, sometimes later at weekends.

Some of the convenience stores, like Seven-11, Circle K, and Oxxo stay open late into the night and a few have 24 shifts.

Pharmacies are usually open until around 10pm, although every area has at least one pharmacy open 24 hours. In smaller towns and cities, pharmacies use a rotary system so that there is at least one open 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Museums close at 5pm, unless there is a special event or exhibition on, in which case they may advertise extended opening hours.

Bars and cantinas may stay open all day and night, or close in the early hours, usually between 1am and 5 am, depending on the establishment.

Night clubs in Mexico begin letting people in around 11pm (at the earliest) and stay open until 7 or 8 the next morning.

See Also: Mexico Business Hours in the Mexico Essentials Guide and
Business Etiquette in the Doing Business in Mexico Guide.

[Menu]

Public Holidays in Mexico

Mexico marks a number of important anniversaries and significant historical events with official public holidays.

From 2006, Mexico introduced the concept of long weekends by taking three important holiday dates and making the official holiday the nearest Monday to the date. The concept is similar to Bank Holidays in the United Kingdom.

See the following links on Mexperience for more details about long weekend holidays in Mexico:

Mexico Essentials: Public Holidays in Mexico

See Blog: Bridges to Cross

[Menu]

Mexican Government Structure

The United States of Mexico is governed by a congressional system where the President of the republic is both head of state and head of the government.

Mexico is a multi-party democracy where voters nationally elect a President to serve a six-year, non-renewable, term in office.

The Federation, made up of 31 States and a Federal District (Mexico City) is divided into three branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial, as set out by Mexico’s Constitution.

The Executive branch is headed by the President, advised and supported by a nominated cabinet consisting of Secretaries of State.

The Legislative branch is exercised by the Congress, a two-chamber house made up of Senators and the Chamber of Deputies.

The Judicial Branch is exercised by the judiciary, headed by Mexico’s Supreme Court.

Political Parties

Although there are a couple of dozen small political parties throughout Mexico, the political scene is currently dominated by three:

PANPartido de Accion National: Elected into power for the first time after 71 years of one-party rule, the PAN led Mexico for 12 years until the PRI re-took the Presidency in the 2012 elections.

PRIPartido Revolucionario Institucional: The party formed a few years after the 1910 revolution and which held political power in Mexico for seven decades until the reign was broken in 2000 by the PAN, headed by former President Vicente Fox. The PRI re-won the Presidency in 2012 under the leadership of Enrique Peña Nieto.

PRDPartido Revolucionario Democratico: Mexico’s youngest political party, formed in 1989, it gained tremendous political momentum in the 2006 elections and its representatives in the Congressional Chamber continue to wield significant political influence.

See Also:

Mexico’s Political Structure (wiki)

Mexico’s Political Parties (wiki)

Mexico’s Constitution (wiki)

[Menu]

Mexico’s Legal System

Mexico’s Legal System, underpinned by the Mexican Constitution (wiki) is based primarily upon Napoleonic Law (wiki), although it has been transformed over the years and, like the Constitution itself, the legal system has American and Socialist characteristics blended into it.

[Menu]

Marriage and Divorce in Mexico

Marriage in Mexico: A legal Marriage in Mexico will be legally recognized world-wide; however you must get your certificate notarized to authenticate the document.

See Also: Guide to Getting Married in Mexico

Divorce: Under Mexican Law, one spouse must be legally resident in Mexico in order to be able to file for divorce here.

[Menu]

The Military in Mexico

Military Installations in Mexico

Mexico’s Military is made up of Army, Air Force and Navy Corps.

If you are passing-by one of Mexico’s military installations, you should avoid loitering and avoid taking photographs or video footage.

You may, at times, see army personnel guarding public buildings or demonstrating a presence in public spaces: they do not like to be photographed of filmed and will usually wave you away if you try. If you insist you may have your photography equipment confiscated.

See Also: Video and Photography in Mexico

Military Road Blocks in Mexico

If you are traveling by road on Mexico’s highways, you are likely to encounter, at some point, a military check-point and you may also see military patrols driving on the highways too.

Check-points are set up in random places, often (but not exclusively) along coastal roads and highways crossing remote areas. The road blocks are there to prevent the trafficking of narcotics, illegal contraband (e.g. the illegal transportation of fine woods from protected forests that do not have a licence for sale), as well as deter and intercept those involved in organized crime.

Being stopped at a military check-point may seem scary at first, but the personnel will treat you respectfully, and usually ask you to do things such as open your trunk and perhaps the hood of the vehicle you are driving. They may also make an internal check of the vehicle in addition to checking underneath it using mirrors. If they suspect foul-play they may ask everyone in the vehicle to step-out and then undertake a thorough check of the interior.

The key is to always to remain polite and calm and comply with their instructions. Check-point personnel are usually amiable and will even provide some local knowledge (e.g. directions) if you need some (you’ll need to speak Spanish).

If you are detained by the military or police for any reason, you should ask for permission to contact your Consulate for assistance.

See Blog: Military Checkpoints in Mexico and  Consular Assistance in Mexico

Military Conscription

‘The Draft’ is still practiced in Mexico and all males reaching the age of 18 must register into the conscription program and thus enter Mexico’s ‘conscription lottery’: those who are selected by the lottery to attend will need to complete a full year of military service, which in fact comprises of attending military drills at weekends and is not full-time, comprehensive military training.

If you are married to a Mexican national, and your children have dual nationality, then your boys will need to enter the conscription lottery: being a dual national does not exempt you or your children from Mexican military conscription.

See Also: SEDENA, Secretaria de Defensa Nacional, (Defense Ministry)

[Menu]

Police Forces in Mexico

Mexico’s Police are organized into two main groups:

  • Preventative Police Force (Policia Preventiva)
  • Judicial Police Force (Policia Judicial)

Preventative Police maintain law and order and provide a security presence on the streets of Mexico’s towns and cities. Their powers are limited: they do not investigate crimes and only get involved with the Judicial Police at the request of the Justice Ministry.

Judicial Police have considerably more power and jurisdiction. They are organized into three types: operations (uniformed and plain-clothes officers); investigating agents, and specialists, e.g. forensics.

Police Jurisdiction in Mexico

There are several Police Jurisdictions in Mexico:

  • Municipal
  • Mexico’s States
  • Federal District (Mexico City)
  • Preventative Police in Mexico City
  • Judicial Police in the Mexico City
  • Federal Police Forces
  • Special Forces

Municipal: Municipios are the local government delegations (similar to Counties in the USA) across Mexico’s thousands of small towns and cities outside of the Federal District (Mexico City). Municipios maintain a preventative police force only.

Mexico’s States: Each of Mexico’s 31 states maintain a Preventative and Judicial Police Force. State police enforce state laws in addition to Federal Laws.

Federal District (Mexico City): Also referred to in Spanish as Mexico, Distrito Federal (or just DF): Mexico has a centralized political and economic model, and Mexico City, just as in Aztec times, continues to be the heart and hub of the nation’s political, economic and social power base. Mexico City has an estimated population of 22 million people (which includes the city proper and the greater metropolitan areas surrounding it). Because of its size and complexity, the Federal District maintains the largest Preventative and Judicial Police Forces in Mexico.

Preventative Police in Mexico City: The Preventative Police Force in Mexico City is the nation’s largest force and is organized into three groups: Preventative Police Officers (sub-organized into Sector Police, Metropolitan Police, Transit Police, Tourist Police, Feminine Police, and Granaderos, charged with protecting the historical center of the capital), Auxiliary Police and Banking Security Police.

Judicial Police in Mexico City: Known as the PGJDF (Procuraduria General de las Justicia del Distrito Federal) this force reports to the Attorney General and investigates crimes and complaints about crimes, dispatching officers to investigate them. It is organized into Judicial Police, Investigators and Specialists.

Federal Police Forces: Mexico’s Attorney General has its own Judicial Police Force, formerly know as the PGR, (Procuraduria General de la Republica), but now renamed to the AFI (Agencia Federal de Investigaciones), a sort of US-style FBI. The force investigates federal crimes including drugs and firearm crimes, kidnapping and other organized crimes.

Mexico has a second Federal Police Force, known as the PFP (Policia Federal Preventiva). The Federal Preventive Police are charged with maintaining law and order at a national level and the force brings together the Federal Highway Police, Federal Banking (Fiscal) Police, and Federal Immigration Police.

Special Forces: Mexico has several special forces including an Emergency Rescue Squad, a Task Force Squad (dealing with terrorism and bomb threats) and a so-called “Alfa” force which deals with Organized Drug Crime.

[Menu]

Crime in Mexico

Crime statistics ballooned in Mexico during the 1990’s; some studies suggest that the economic crisis of the mid 90’s and the crack-down on organized drug trafficking were some of causes of the sudden increase in crime.

Since then, Mexico’s economy has stabilized and a number of police-related security organizations have been brought into being by congressional decree (like the Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Publica) to help alleviate insecurity.

Kidnapping became an infamous problem in Mexico for a time, and still remains a concern in some areas, especially “express” kidnappings where a victim is held for a short period of time — usually long enough to force money to be withdrawn from an ATM for example — and then released. Most major kidnappings involve rich people (or their family members) in hope of extracting a ransom from the victims.

The biggest reported crimes are robbery and petty theft (e.g. pick pocketing and bag snatching). Violent crime is actually very rare in Mexico outside of Mexico City and even rarer for foreigners to be involved when it does happen.

Most violent crime in Mexico revolves around organized crime and especially drug crime: territorial and other disputes often end up in bloodshed in the drug trade. Of late, places like Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana and Acapulco have been in the news due to drug-related violent crime; however innocent tourists and foreigners have not been left by-and-large untouched the incidents.

Crime reporting levels, and prosecutions from reported crimes, are very low in Mexico. Notwithstanding this, if you become a victim of crime in Mexico, you should report it to the police (you will need to file a police report to claim on any insurance you may have) and, in the unlikely event that you become the victim of a serious crime, you should contact your consulate, too.

See Blog: Consular Assistance in Mexico.

See Also: Safety in Mexico

[Menu]

Religion in Mexico

Mexico’s people are very religious and predominantly Roman-Catholic, although Mexico is an open and extremely tolerant country which allows all religions to practice their faith openly and without fear of reprisal.

Churches of all Christian denominations may be found in Mexico City and you will also find all other major faiths (e.g. Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist) represented in the capital, and elsewhere. The district of Coyoacan, in Mexico City, is well-known for its extensive numbers of theological book stores covering virtually all religions and beliefs.

In the provinces, Roman Catholicism is the dominant faith and most churches you visit throughout Mexico will be Catholic.

In rural places with strong indigenous roots, for example, in San Juan Chamula, you will also find religious orders which are a blend of Catholic and Indigenous beliefs.

[Menu]

Local Knowledge about Mexico

For more in-depth local knowledge about Mexico, also read the following guides and blogs here on Mexperience:

Mexico in your inbox

Our free newsletter about Mexico brings you a monthly round-up mix of recently published material, as well as gems from our extensive content archives.